The Evolution of God-Images Part I: A Masculine God

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“[T]he soul must contain in itself the faculty of relationship to God, i.e., a correspondence, otherwise a connection could never come about. This correspondence is, in psychological terms, the archetype of the God-image.” C.G. Jung, CW Vol.12, par. 11.

“It is only through the psyche that we can establish that God acts upon us, but we are unable to distinguish whether these actions emanate from God or from the unconscious. We cannot tell whether God and the unconscious are two different entities. Both are border-line concepts for transcendental contents. But empirically it can be established, with a sufficient degree of probability, that there is in the unconscious an archetype of wholeness which manifests itself spontaneously in dreams, etc., and a tendency, independent of the conscious will, to relate other archetypes to this centre. Consequently, it does not seem improbable that the archetype of wholeness occupies as such a central position which approximates it to the God-image.” C.G. Jung, CW, Vol. 11, par. 757.

Some of us find hope in a supernatural deity that sees our problems and can fix them. From our limited perspective we try to imagine what this deity wants from us. Hoping for its goodwill and benevolent intervention, we try to please it. Whatever God may actually be, the God-images, beliefs, and practices of religion originate in our fears and desires—the normal fears and desires that accompany our growing awareness of ourselves—and our yearning to return to a barely remembered sense of being safe and at one with the Great Mystery of life.

When our primitive ancestors reflected on the Mystery, they may have assumed that because humanity is gendered, the gods must be as well. Earth was the foundation of existence and had an inexhaustible fruitfulness—it felt like a Mother. This experience shaped our earliest images of God. However, Mircea Eliade notes:

“In some cases, the sex of this earth divinity, this universal procreatrix—does not even have to be defined. A great many earth divinities . . . are bisexual. In such cases the divinity contains all the forces of creation—and this formula of polarity, of the coexistence of opposites, was to be taken up again in the loftiest of later speculation.” Mircea Eliade, Patterns in Comparative Religion, 1996, p. 244.

Whether the earliest religions featured Earth Mother, the Divine Androgyne, or the Divine Couple, evidence suggests that reverence for the Sacred Feminine dominated religious thought for many thousands of years. Then about five thousand years ago the solitary Sky Father began to usurp the Great Mother’s authority in the MIddle East. Eliade notes that this supreme God was not a daily physical and emotional reality like Goddess, but an intellectual concept. Idealized and aloof, he lived far from us and was essentially indifferent to our daily needs. Over time he grew increasingly uninvolved with human affairs.

These changes in our God-images occurred because human consciousness was evolving. Psychologically we were leaving Epoch I self-awareness and moving into a new era. This change gave rise to new religious forms with different priorities and perspectives on life. For example, as Sky Father gained supremacy, “religious experience (already meager in the case of almost all the sky gods) gave place to theoretic understanding, or philosophy.” (Eliade, p. 110). Learning to use our brains in more complex ways was natural and desirable. Unfortunately, wherever Great Mother was repressed, people tended to lose touch with themselves, Nature, each other, and their sense of life’s sacredness.

For many people today who follow Judaism, Christianity, or Islam, God is still a separate, superior, human-like dominant father. He dwells at the top of an earthly hierarchy of males who serve him, he holds the power of life and death over us, and compared to him we are ignorant and powerless. In fact, so inferior are we to this omniscient, judgmental male that for many of us it feels like heresy to question him or his rules, no matter how arbitrary they might seem.

Insofar as they continue to elevate and idealize masculinity while disowning its destructive shadow and its complementary feminine partner, today’s religions contribute to individual dysfunctions and the dysfunctional condition of our world. Fear of incurring the Sky God’s disfavor stifles our natural biological compulsion to grow and change, to discover and empower our fuller selves. Our fear simply solidifies our position, and we retreat from life’s inviting warmth into cold dogma. This effectively descries my own spiritual condition for many years.

This post is the first in an eight-part series on the evolution of our God-images. Next week I’ll share more about my childhood God-image. Until then, I invite you to meditate on the assumptions about gender that underlay your personal God-image when you were a child. Did your God have a gender? How did your spiritual beliefs influence your perception of yourself?

Read more about your spiritual journey in Healing the Sacred Divide. This copyrighted material is from pp. 23-26.

Image Credit:  The Creation of Adam. Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel.

Paper and E-book versions of The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon. The Wilbur Award-winning Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications.com. Jean’s new Nautilus Award-winning The Soul’s Twins, is at Amazon and Schiffer’s Red Feather Mind, Body, Spirit. Subscribe to her newsletter at www.jeanbenedictraffa.com.

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13 Responses

  1. Jean – Excellent post and I look forward to the reaming posts in this series …. it is so much “up my alley” as the saying goes! I have been on a spiritual quest that I can trace back to the age of 8 — in my early to mid-twenties I was a nun …. then I “walked through” Buddhism for awhile, and found my spiritual home in shamanism and depth psychology (PhD from Pacifica Graduate Institute). I was recently speaking with a friend of mine who is a Rabbi and I was saying I wanted to write on a phenomenology of God. I once started a theology degree and did not continue because I realized I did not want to study what other people thought about God. An Episcopal priest who had taught in that program shared how he was once concelebrating Mass with a woman priest and he came away with the thought that this is how it ought to always be done! I knew I was in the right place when I heard the BBC interview with Carl Jung and he was asked if he believed in God and he responded “I don’t have to believe, I KNOW God.” YES! My own image of God has evolved beyond the need for personification — I think of God as more of an “organizing principle”. Essentially, I think Star Wars got it right with “The Force be with you.!” (and I am old enough to have seen the original Star Wars movie when it was first released!)

    1. Dear Deb,

      Thank you for sharing the fascinating story of your spiritual journey. It contains many parallels to mine. I think mine started at the age of three–unconsciously, of course–when I found myself lost and alone one evening on the shore of Lake Michigan. Both parents had gone up to the beach cabin we’d rented, each thinking I was with the other. As I walked along the curving shoreline, not knowing where our cabin was or which way to go, I decided to follow a light I saw in the distance, hoping it was a sign that someone was there who would help me. I’ve been following that light in the darkness ever since.

      I started reading the New Testament at the age of 17, considered becoming a nun, took an elective course in world religions in college, joined the Episcopal church, experienced three powerful spiritual awakenings by the age of 37, etc. But until I found a kindred spirit in Jung, my God-image was still masculine. For me it wasn’t about Jesus or Mary, but God. I needed an immortal father after my mortal one died when I was 11. My Jungian studies helped me understand the psychological components of my seeking and the true source of my yearning. More about that in the posts to come.

      I really appreciate your taking the time to comment. Blessings on your continuing journey to the light. It’s so lovely to meet another sister seeker on the path! Jeanie

  2. Dear Jeanie,

    This is absolutely brilliant, as always! God to me was once that elderly, white Sky-God, you know the one, “thou Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name” etcetera, etcetera and was definitely masculine. I never thought of him as the Divine Masculine, only some old white geezer at the top of the chain. A puppet-master extraordinaire, who controlled billions and billions of people world-wide. And even though I desperately tried to ignore him, deny him, hate him, he kept that place in my mind right up until I was around 44, which was around 14 years ago when I, appreciatively, met Jung for the second time in my life, and this time we’ve become forever friends.

    Until then I would beg, pray, cajole and fight this masculine image I had in my mind of “The One” who seemed to hold the power to give and take life. I remember the prayers and poems I would write to him as I tried to make sense of my world, most especially being a girl and then a woman, therefore, in the natural order of things, a second class citizen. Later, when I discovered the magick and mystery of the archetypes, especially the Self and the contrasexual Anima and Animus, I knew who God really was and the image I once held in my mind slowly changed into this fully integrated Divine Hermaphrodite, which I’m consciously working on and will no doubt do so until the end of my days.

    Oh, what a joyous and deeply transformative shift in consciousness this has been! It’s affected me on so many levels, most especially eradicating any feelings I once held about being a woman and therefore second-rate to men. How liberating! I’m very much enjoying these rich excerpts from your wonderful third book, “Healing the Sacred Divide” I shall look forward to the next part in your series!

    Love and light, Deborah.

    1. Dear Deborah,

      Yes, I know that God well. Rather, I should say I know “of” him. He was what religion and life were all about for me until I was 47. I placed all my hope in him, argued with him, and was terrified of him. Just as I was terrified of the patriarchal world I grew up in. Unlike your world, mine was not harsh at all by ordinary standards. But I was a deeply sensitive and intuitive child and I knew without a doubt that males came first, females, second.

      Nuanced evidence of that deeply embedded belief permeated the very air I breathed. How was it that no one I knew seemed to know that? I remember yearning throughout my teenage years for someone who could guide me safely through my world. I was certain there were people like that somewhere, perhaps in California 🙂 Seriously! I have no idea where I got that idea. Maybe from the protest songs I listened to in the folk music of the late 50’s and early 60’s. But since I lived in Florida, I thought my chances of ever finding them were as remote as California! Hahaha.

      But find them I did in Jung and Jungian writers, to whom I am forever grateful. And it was Jungian-oriented friends right here in Central Florida who introduced me to them! So I’m grateful to them too. It seems that if you sincerely seek spiritual meaning, pay attention to invitations, open doors, and are willing to walk through, you’ll find them.

      Anyway, I’ve enjoyed this ramble in response to your lovely story. Thank you as always for sharing it here!

      Much love, Jeanie

  3. Thanks so much Jeanie – very powerful. The sort of writing that becomes deeper with each reading of it. The archetype of Father God of the OT is still pretty entrenched I reckon, some sort of father figure who will take care of everything if we pray, idolise hard enough. I’m glad I no longer think or feel so. I feel somewhat liberated!

    The two quotes are excellent. Jung emphasises throughout his writings the wholeness within – or the holiness within. I like that ‘…archetype of wholeness occupies as such a central position which approximates it to the God-image.” ‘ And Eliade’s emphasis that the image does not have to be defined into masculine feminine polarities.

    1. Thank you, Susan,

      Along with you and Deborah, liberated is how I feel too. Actually I’m truly grateful for my childhood religious conditioning because it gave me a God-image to which I could compare and contrast my personal spiritual longing and experience. Of course, it never occurred to me to trust my own experience more than established dogma in the first part of my life, but it was a source of nagging conflict and discomfort to see how females were marginalized, used, and figuratively if not literally imprisoned in rigid roles. Not only in organized religion but in everyday life.

      The day came when I grew strong enough to free myself from those chains when I left my last teaching job at a Southern Baptist university with a markedly patriarchal atmosphere. Two nights after the end of my last semester there I dreamed a female friend (no one I knew in waking life) and I had just been freed from a prison run by her father. Father. Father God. Religious institution. Prison. You get the idea. Oddly enough, I honestly didn’t realize how uncomfortable I had felt there until I received that dream! I had a lot to learn.

      You, Deb, and Deborah all hit the mark with Deb’s comment about and organizing principle or Force, Deborah’s comments about the integrated contra sexual opposites, and yours about Jung’s teachings about wholeness. That’s where all this is going, of course.

  4. So interesting, our varied journeys. I guess I was lucky. My father being catholic and my mother protestant, though neither attached to the dogmas of their religion, I was free to not chose one or the other.. Apart from enjoying the liberal creative activities engender by the lovely protestant vicar in the village I grew up in, I never felt coerced to any faith. It was a small group who gave lectures on Jung’s work in my little Bavarian village that introduced me to a wider perspective. From quite early on, the term ‘God’ never sat right with me. My encounter with Buddhism, and later Sufism, confirmed my intuition of One Being, united with all the illuminated souls who make up the spirit of guidance. It’s the cosmic radio channel I tune into to.

    1. You were lucky, Ashen. Thanks so much for sharing your story. There are so very many roads to Oneness. Those of us who happened to stumble onto one are, in my opinion, the luckiest of all. Despite the inevitable ending that awaits us all, the knowing that comes from that awareness provides a solid foundation of trust and peace with whatever comes. I like your phrase, “…united with all the illuminated souls who make up the spirit of guidance.” The spirit of guidance. Yes, I tune into that too. 🙂 Blessings.

  5. That is one of the best descriptions of religions and the God-image I’ve ever read, dear Jeanie. I can say, as a child, I had no chance to make my image of God in no other way, but as a man sitting in nowhere and watching us, deciding either to forgive or to punish us! However, as you wrote, humans’ view towards religions has changed, and I hope they don’t miss the whole spirit in all of us. 🙏💖

    1. Thank you, Aladin. I appreciate your comments. I too saw a man sitting down somewhere “up there” watching us. Maybe I’ll share my story of my first awareness of that next time. I had no other way to see God either, although I often sensed a magical mysteriousness in Nature that felt very special to me. ‘Numinous’ is the best word I can use to describe it now. But I didn’t associate it with God then.

      Yes, our God images do change as we grow more mature and self-aware. Religions change too, although unless we apply a historical perspective to see what they were like when they originated, many of us think our religions have never changed. As far as I’m concerned, change is a good thing unless the change takes us away from compassion toward hate. To advocate hatred and divisiveness in the name of religion is truly sad.

  6. Thank you, Jeanie. This post is so fitting at this time in our warring world. There wasn’t a strong sense of God in my childhood mind, although we did go to the country Presbyterian Church where my grandma led the music and sometimes to the Unitarian Church in town. I remember music and singing at sunset at summer camp. Hardly macho images of God. I recently spent a few months studying the Iron Age with our women’s mythology class and that was an eye-opener. The power of the God and weapons beginning around 1200 BC in Babylon, so close to Sumeria and places with strong Goddess traditions. It shocked me that the God Marduk killed the Goddess Tiamat and ruled without a consort–and so began the Middle Eastern Gods who held all the powers, including life giving.

    In the past 30 years, I notice when I’m in a tight jam (on a slippery road alone at night or in a hospital watching my husband die or feeling abandoned and alone), my prayer is “Help Me, Mother.” The sense of Deity as Masculine faded away–which isn’t to say my sometimes nasty animus has disappeared–but I pray to the Goddess in those moments of desperation, as in imagining the plight of the Ukrainians and the whole world. “Help them, Mother. Help us all, Mother.” Blessings and safety to you.

    1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts about your changing god-image, Elaine. I read the story about Marduk and Tiamat some years ago and was also shocked. Apparently it coincides with archaeological finds in the same region from the same era when there was a major shift in God-images. I too have often prayed, “Help me, Mother,” and not just in moments of desperation but whenever I’m in a situation that’s deeply frustrating and completely perplexed. It’s a comforting prayer, and I believe it’s an appropriate prayer. We’re in desperate need of Mother love and all kinds of healthy feminine energy in these perplexing times. Help them, Mother. Help us all, Mother. Blessings and safety to you too.

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