“The method of active imagination that Jung inaugurated in modern psychology is the answer to the classical question of introspection at such a profound level that it changes the image of human being, of the psyche, and what Know Thyself essentially means. Before Freud, knowing thyself in psychology meant to know one’s ego-consciousness and its functions. Then with Freud, know Thyself extended to mean knowing one’s past personal life, a whole life recalled. But after Jung, Know Thyself means an archetypal knowing, a daemonic knowing. It means a familiarity with a host of psychic figures from geographical, historical, and cultural contexts, a hundred channels beyond my personal identity. After Jung, I cannot pretend to know myself unless I know the archetypes—‘The conception of them as daimonia is therefore quite in accord with their nature,’ says Jung. And I meed these peculiar patterns moving within my unconscious.” ~James Hillman, Healing Fiction
Carl Jung associated archetypes with the ancient Greek concept of daimon/daemon. Daimons were considered great and powerful godlike figures or guiding spirits that act within us to determine our fate. Invisible, they can only be known by their actions and images in our dreams, imagination, and myths. As profoundly inspiring forces, they can drive us forward or act against us. As images of our instincts, they connect our minds with our bodies. As universal realities, they connect us with ourselves, each other, nature, and Spirit.
Of the basic archetypes commonly associated with the masculine and feminine principles, most of us identify primarily with one. For instance, you might identify with your archetypal Warrior energy and I might see myself as more of a Mediatrix. Both of us would be true to the ideals and priorities of our archetype and would project their qualities onto our god-images. Your god-image would be omnipotent, I’d see mine as omnipresent.
While this would have probably made sense to Socrates—who some consider to be the father of individual identity and self-consciousness, or self-awareness—most of the classical world believed the gods and goddesses were literal beings who lived atop Mount Olympus, not projections of our minds. Even Plato believed Socrates did wrong because he did not believe in the gods of Athens and was corrupting the youth by introducing “other daemonic beings…” For that, Socrates was condemned to die by drinking hemlock. The tradition of condemning ‘heretics’ for having beliefs different from ours continues until today. We might as well condemn the life force that endowed us with archetypal forces that “speak” to us in ways we have yet to fully understand.
“In Plato’s Symposium, the priestess Diotima teaches Socrates that love is not a deity, but rather a “great daemon” (202d). She goes on to explain that “everything daemonic is between divine and mortal” (202d–e), and she describes daemons as “interpreting and transporting human things to the gods and divine things to men; entreaties and sacrifices from below, and ordinances and requitals from above…” (202e). In Plato’s Apology of Socrates, Socrates claimed to have a daimonion (literally, a “divine something”) that frequently warned him—in the form of a “voice”—against mistakes but never told him what to do.” Wikipedia
Our archetypes/daimons are not the problem. The problem is our ignorance of them. We’re born with the capacity to discern their presence and understand their influence on us, but we still lack awareness of them. If we learn to recognize them, we can be beneficial agents in service of life and love. If we don’t, we will continue to be manipulated by powers that can destroy us.
“There is no analyst for you under the changing moon except the one that is in your own heart.” ~C.G. Jung, Letter to Mr. O
Jung’s method of active imagination transforms our ideas of what it is to be a human being. Know Thyself refers to the archetypal knowing Socrates died for and Carl Jung is now admired for. Both men allowed their inner analysts to guide them to humility and self-knowledge. They took their dreams, intuitions, and synchronicities seriously and chose to use their imagination to reflect on them. In so doing, they found themselves, fulfilled the purpose of their lives, and left us with a more hopeful image of who we can become.
“It will be good for your humility if you can accept the gifts of the unconscious guide that dwells in yourself, and it is good for your pride to humiliate itself to such an extent that you can accept what you receive…Did you never ask yourself who my analyst is?…we must be able to stand alone vis a vis the unconscious for better or worse.” ~C.G. Jung, Letter to Mr. O