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Vulcan Defending Red Mountain

Vulcan Defending Red Mountain (Photo credit: curtis palmer)

Vulcan in ancient myth

In earliest Roman mythology, Vulcan is the god of destructive fire, especially volcano fire.

His temple was usually at the outskirts of a city, officiated by a priest (flamen). And his festival, Volcanalia, was celebrated on August 23.

When the Volcanalia also paid homage to the Nymphs and other deities, live fish were thrown into a fire as a sacrificial offering to Vulcan.

In the classical Greece Vulcan became Hephaestus, the master blacksmith. In his giant forge at Mount Olympus he fashioned the armor and shield of Achilles, as well as Cupid‘s arrows and Jupiter‘s thunderbolts.

He was depicted lame and his offspring were often ugly.

Vulcan (Star Trek)

Vulcan (Star Trek) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Vulcan in modern myth

In the American TV and film Star Trek franchise, Vulcan is the alien race and home planet to which the ever-popular character, Mr. Spock belongs. Other notable Vulcans include Sarek (Spock’s father), T’Pol (Star Trek: Enterprise) and Tuvok (Star Trek: Voyager).

Originally a savage and barbaric race, Vulcans almost destroyed themselves in their ancient past. They overcame global disaster by repressing all emotion in favor of highly developed logic.

Star Trek Vulcans possess supra-human strength and intellect but are less adept at creative, intuitive problem solving.

Deutsch: Carl Gustav Jung

Carl Gustav Jung (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In keeping with the Swiss psychotherapist Carl Jung, mythic symbols are said to evoke the numinous, spiritual aspects of the unconscious mind. So it seems that Star Trek’s creators chose the mythic name of Vulcan, hoping it would resonate with the archetypal images that Western viewers are familiar with.

In this greater sense, then, Mr. Spock and his people may be taken as a continuation of the original Roman myth.

More recently, “Vulcan” was a popular favorite for the name of one of two new moons discovered around Pluto.¹  Astronomical officials, however, decided on the names Kerberos and Styx.


Related Posts » Romulans, Star Trek: The Original Series

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World Soul (anima mundi)

Anima Mundi

Anima Mundi (Photo credit: Cornelia Kopp)

Generally speaking, World Soul (anima mundi) is the idea of the “One” through which all living things on this Earth are said to be interconnected.

The Swiss psychologist C. G. Jung mentions Plotinus‘ term “word soul” when speaking of the archetype of the self. And some Jungians use the term as if it represents an absolute truth, rather than an idea to be tested through ongoing experience and analysis.

Many believe the idea of the World Soul can be traced back to Plato, or possibly to even older, Asian systems of belief.¹

Today, New Age believers, Neo-Gnostics and artists have adapted this idea in countless ways.

Related Posts » Plotinus


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Alan Watts

Emptiness by Miss Gong via Flickr

No one really knows just who the British-born Alan Watts (1915-1973) really was. Scholar, writer, Tantric yogi, ex-Catholic synthesizer of Eastern and Western beliefs—all would apply.

He had such a powerful presence when I was an undergraduate student that he seemed alive when I read his books in the 1980s. We didn’t have the internet back then, so I didn’t know he’d passed.¹

Although I don’t agree with everything he says, Watts was an innovate teacher who mastered the art of spontaneity. And his wit and enthusiasm made him one of the leading advocates of mystical introspection.

Now that I’ve had more time to assess his work, it seems that his abundant charms may have arisen at the expense of rigorous thought. For example, one of his arguments about the West “not getting it” rests on simplistic assumptions and stereotypes. And some proponents of alleged Asian wisdom continue to perpetuate these assumptions and stereotypes today, which I find really boring and sometimes bordering on racism or national discrimination.

In the video, Time: The More it Changes, Watts says that Western psychologists used to explain human behavior in terms of instinct, and now – 1972 – people tend to speak of “drives.” He then gives counterexamples to suggest the opposite. Watts is not driven to eat or have sex, but rather chooses to identify with these activities.

English: Group photo in front of Clark Univers...

Group photo in front of Clark University Sigmund Freud, G. Stanley Hall, Carl Jung; Back row: Abraham A. Brill, Ernest Jones, Sándor Ferenczi. Photo taken for Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts publication. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

However, not all psychologists see human behavior as entirely motivated by drives. Even Sigmund Freud, whose idea of the libido is often taken as excessively instinctual, recognized the importance of social forces in regulating biological drives.

Moreover, 20th century existentialists say that what makes us truly human (and free) is a “gap of nothingness” that stands between drives and actions (or inaction). And many Christians speak of “grace” that can override instinctual drives.

So Watts wasn’t perfect. But he did popularize and provoke. And he spoke to an individualistic inner life for those who didn’t feel comfortable with organized religion.

How did he get there?

In 1968 Watts admitted to taking five different types of psychedelic drugs to learn about mysticism.

I myself have experimented with five of the principal psychedelics: LSD-25, mescaline, psilocybin, dimethyl-tryptamine (DMT), and cannabis. I have done so, as William James tried nitrous oxide, to see if they could help me in identifying what might be called the “essential” or “active” ingredients of the mystical experience.²

Nordstrom and Pilgrim take an extremely dim view of Watts’ ideas.

Watts’ mysticism is deviant because it seeks perversely to undo mystical experience. This is done by inferring from the fact that mystical experience is not ineffable, that there is no separation between the spiritual and the physical, which eventually is transformed into the view that the spiritual and the physical are virtually the same thing, which Watts calls his “spiritual materialism”…[this] both precludes the possibility and obviates the necessity of mystical experience. What is perverse about Watts’ mysticism, in a word, is that it is antimystical.
This would not be so perverse were it not for the fact that Watts considered himself to be a mystic, as remarks like “I am a shameless mystic” and “a mystic in spite of myself” make clear.
Watts is a strange and confusing combination of a man-of-letters and a mystic, who used his extraordinary articulateness and literary ability to undermine mystical experience by rejecting the sense in which such experience is ineffable. What one is left with, unfortunately, is, as Zen master Rinzai once put it, “words and phrases, however excellent.”³

This image was selected as a picture of the we...

This image was selected as a picture of the week on the Malay Wikipedia for the 51st week, 2010. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Love him or hate him, according to legend Watts predicted a flash of lightning that accompanied his death. And when he died, a local Druid’s bell apparently rang out in town, off schedule. Later, a lightning flash hit the cable leading to the bell.

Similar paranormal phenomena apparently accompanied the death of Carl Jung, another prominent innovator and advocate of an East-West synthesis. And when Hollywood actor Rock Hudson died of AIDS, a rainbow appeared. So if these stories are true, it seems that God has his ways of letting us know who the real movers and shakers are.

¹ Watts lives on as a computer program who helps to lure Samantha (an OS) away from the protagonist in the film Her. See my audio review

² Alan Watts, “Psychedelics and Religious Experience,” California Law Review, Vol. 56, No. 1 (Jan., 1968:74-85), p. 75.

³ Louis Nordstrom and Richard Pilgrim, “The Wayward Mysticism of Alan Watts,” Philosophy East and West, Vol. 30, No. 3 (Jul., 1980: 381-401), pp. 381-382.

Related Posts » Confucianism, Ego, Id, Superego, Taoism, Wu Wei, Yogi



Hans Baldung Grien, Witches, woodcut, 1508. Mu...

Hans Baldung Grien, Witches, woodcut, 1508. Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain was meant to evoke a witches’ sabbath. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

From his study of African witchcraft, the anthropologist E. E. Evans Pritchard distinguished witchcraft from sorcery: Witches are physically born as such while a person may become a sorcerer later in life.

Both are traditionally associated with evil.

In legend witches use magical spells and potions to work their malice. Legends also tell of good “white witches,” as found in shamanism or fairy tales. In Africa, the original meaning of the witch doctor was “one who cures the illness caused by a witch.”

In 1326 Pope John XXII responded to Dominican pressure by proclaiming witchcraft a heresy. European witch hysteria became so pronounced in the 14th century that mass witch trials began in 1397 in Lucerne.

In 1486 two Dominican monks wrote the Malleus Maleficarum (The Hammer of Witches or Witches Hammer). The book was a grisly, perverse manual on how to identify and force confessions out of suspected witches, who in most cases were deemed guilty before arrest. Statistics reveal that in Essex of Southwest England 91% of the 271 accused of sorcery from 1560 – 1680 were women.

The Church could legally claim the land and economic holdings of convicted witches. Some believe that in convicting so-called witches, perverse clergy were more interested in worldly than spiritual gain. Most of the condemned were vulnerable women and therefore scapegoats—the poor, the single and those deemed unattractive or different. Accordingly, Carl Jung says the persecution of witches in Europe and North America was a mass projection of the shadow.

UPN took great advantage promoting the network...

UPN took great advantage promoting the network switch by teasing fans of Buffy’s resurrection from The WB’s series finale. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today, witchcraft has become a complicated phenomenon. Many recognize witchcraft as an alternative religion. Aspiring women witches join covens and many practice what they believe is white magic.

A variety of commercial occult products has grown alongside the modern practice of witchcraft.

The idea of the ethically ambiguous witch has also been popularized and, to some extent, normalized through film and TV productions, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

In the TV version of Buffy, the character Willow uses witchcraft for the good but becomes consumed by her quest for magical power and eventually allows evil to dominate her. Although many religious fundamentalists might deplore such an apparently ‘evil’ program, the TV series closes with Willow regaining her humility (and humanity) by allowing love to reenter her life.

Related Posts » Ancestor Cults, Archetypal Image, Glamour, Haensel and Gretel, Latin, C. S. Lewis, Macbeth, Madness, Neo-Paganism, Odyssey, Psychosis, Scholarship, Barbara G. Walker

Of interest:

John Paul II revived the Inquisition»



The late Nelson Mandela might become an archetypal image for “The Saint” or “The Wise Old Man”, much like Mahatma Gandhi has been idealized by those inspired by his larger than life example – Image via Tumblr

Archetype is a term used by the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung to indicate the psychological contents of an alleged collective unconscious. For Jung the archetypes are inherited patterns encoded in the body, universally shared by mankind.¹

Jung often likens the archetypes to ancient deities, saying that the word “archetype” is a scientific-sounding update for a very old idea. Not unlike the gods and goddesses of ancient times, archetypes apparently have a psychic life of their own. And when ego consciousness encounters the archetype, the individual experiences a sense of the numinous.

According to Jung, the encounter with the numinous may be psychologically constructive or destructive, healing or disorienting. The effect of the numinous on the conscious ego depends on two things:

  1. The psychological stability and maturity of the individual
  2. The character and intensity of the numinosity, itself

The experience of the numinous is often facilitated by a meaningful visual symbol (e.g. a mandala) or ecstatic activity (e.g. chanting, music-listening or dancing). Jungian writers and literary critics, alike, often say that the symbol “mediates” archetypal energy. So when the archetype enters into consciousness, it takes the form of numinosity.

For Jung, the self is also an archetype, one of wholeness.

The Lutheran theologian Rudolf Otto also used the term numinous in 1923 – “Omen has given us ‘ominous’, and there is no reason why from numen we should not similarly form a word ‘numinous.'” But contrary to popular belief, Otto did not coin the term. Acc. to OED, “numinous” was used as far back as 1647 by Nathaniel Ward (Image via Wikipedia)

In contrast to experiencial manifestations of the archetype, which take the form of numinosity, visible manifestations of the archetypes appear as archetypal images. Jung distinguishes these recognizable images from the archetype proper, which Jung says can never be fully known. Jung calls the unknowable aspect of the archetype the pscyhoid aspect. This distinction between the unknowable archetype and its recognizable image is often overlooked in casual commentaries about Jung. Wikipedia notes:

These images and motifs are more precisely called archetypal images. However it is common for the term archetype to be used interchangeably to refer to both archetypes-as-such and archetypal images

The idea of the archetype has been championed by Jungians and some literary writers as “the answer” to all of the complexities and difference found in world religions. In fact, many Jungians tend to blur real differences by gelling everything into Jung’s handy model. But the idea of the archetype has also been roundly critiqued.³

Jung himself was a complex, confusing and honest thinker. At times he would say that archetypal energies differed. Other times he would lump different religions and symbols together as if they were the same. Jung also writes in his letters than not many people realize he had a Christian bias. He even admitted to being contradictory at times.

Despite the complexity and confusion within Jung’s work, some of his followers have simplified his work into something palatable for the masses. As always, dumbing things down has its pros and cons. On the one hand it can help everyday people to benefit from some of Jung’s more useful ideas. On the other hand, it can leave Jung open to a kind of unjust demonization by fundamentalists and rigid religious thinkers.4

 Related Posts » Hero, Mandala, Otto (Rudolf), Psychoid, Trickster

¹ Jung was a highly educated fellow and probably got the idea to use the word “archetype” from Plato »



4 See for instance “Carl Gustav Jung: Enemy of the Church” by Dr Pravin Thevathasan » And a partially misinformed critique of Jung can be found in “CARL JUNG: PSYCHOLOGIST OR SORCERER?” by Marsha West » By way of contrast, Fr. Victor White entered into a respectful dialogue with Jung. The two agreed on some points while disagreeing on others. This seems the more sensible, mature and constructive way to go. See »

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Archetypal Image

yoda and darth talk peace for xmas by MC – Tumblr

According to the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, the archetypal image is a representation of an underlying archetype. Archetypal images symbolize and mediate the psychological power of the collective unconscious to the ego (i.e everyday consciousness).

Through different types of expression (e.g. works of art and architecture), mankind translates these hidden archetypal forces into the observable world of human culture.

Some modern and ancient examples of archetypal images would be figures like Godzilla, the Klingons, The Cylons, Luke Skywalker, Spiderman, Superman, Superwoman, Batgirl, Marilyn Monroe, Spock, the Magician, the Witch, the Angel, Yahweh and the Devil.

Jung believes the ancients did not always see archetypal images as mere symbols, but often as actual things in themselves. The Indian sun god, Surya, for instance, was not a symbol but a real deity, diurnally traveling across and lighting up the sky in a splendid chariot. Likewise, many American Indian cultures firmly believe their myths tell of actual ancient events and heroic ancestors. And today, Catholics believe that the Eucharist is not just a symbol but the real presence – in essence but not form – of the body and blood of Jesus Christ.¹

how things look from the darth side by MC – Tumblr

On the topic of UFOs, Jung believed the rounded flying saucers of the 1950s were archetypal images of the human self, not unlike the mandala. By the same token, Jung didn’t rule out the possibility of actual UFOs.

However, Jung was not as open-minded with regard to Christian truth-claims, choosing to adapt them to his own theories. At times he speaks of the crucifixion of Jesus, for instance, as producing an upwardly skewed symbol of the self (i.e. the crucifix) instead of seeing Jesus’ death as a saving sacrifice and absolute victory over evil, as do most Christians. Some might argue that Jung’s and the Christian view do not really differ. Others do believe that they differ on important points—most notably, on the nature of and how to deal with evil

¹ Belief, alone, does not create truth out of falsehood. But as Plato pointed out, a true belief does relate to an actual truth, if not knowledge of that truth.

² An interesting follow-up to this point can be found in Jung’s relationship with the Dominican priest, Victor White.

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St. Anselm of Canterbury

Anselm of Canterbury was the first to attempt ...

Anselm of Canterbury was the first to attempt an ontological argument for God’s existence. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

St. Anselm (of Canterbury, 1033-1109) was the somewhat undisciplined son of a noble landowner in Aosta, Italy. He eventually took monastic vows and rose among the ranks to become the archbishop of Canterbury.

St. Anselm is one of the earliest and most important scholastics of the Middle Ages. He’s best known for defining the ontological argument, a theological proof for the existence of God that is still taught in philosophy and theology courses today.

Like most theological proofs, the ontological argument seems self-evident to many believers but usually fails to convince skeptics. In the Proslogion Anselm writes that God is “something than which nothing greater can be conceived.”

So what does this mean? Let’s try to unpack it.

To be the very greatest thing imaginable, that thing must also exist in reality and not just in the mind. Therefore, so the argument goes, the greatest thing – God – is not just a concept, fantasy or hallucination. Instead, God is the greatest conceivable being which exists by necessity.

This argument was rejected on purely rational grounds by St. Thomas Aquinas who nevertheless believed in God. Aquinas believed in God. He just thought that Anselm’s argument was no good.

Portrait of René Descartes, dubbed the "F...

Portrait of René Descartes, dubbed the “Father of Modern Philosophy”, after Frans Hals c. 1648 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

René Descartes used a strategy similar to Anselm’s when rescuing himself from difficulties that arose from his famous ontological argument. You’ve heard this argument, no doubt. It’s the old, “I think, therefore I am.”¹ Descartes knew that he, himself, existed, but he still wasn’t sure about the outside world. He could have lapsed into solipsism had he not further reasoned that God must be fundamentally good, so would not deceive him by presenting the mere illusion of an outer world. Instead, God created a real, outer world that is perceived by the senses—again, because God is fundamentally good and wouldn’t deceive his creatures.

But to return to St. Anselm, his view of faith and understanding is noteworthy and, one could say, reverses much of the worldly wisdom we’re continually bombarded with today. Instead of believing in something because it is comprehensible in the first place, Anselm takes another approach. He forwards these two important phrases:

  1. fides quaerens intellectum (faith seeking understanding)
  2. credo ut intelligam (I believe so that I can understand).

The second statement is based on St. Augustine’s teaching that one should believe in order to understand (crede, ut intelligas).

Taken together, these statements suggest that one must take a ‘leap of faith’ to better understand spiritual truths. For many this is an illogical or non-intellectual approach but it could be seen as logical in two related ways:

English: augustine at the school of tagaste

Augustine at the school of Tagaste (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

First of all, when we recognize the limits of worldly reason in understanding spiritual dynamics it arguably makes sense to, at least momentarily, cede logic to faith. This approach could possibly increase our knowledge—and we would never know otherwise unless we actually tried it.

Second, when one embraces a faith position, the inherent and greater logic of God’s ways – if actual and true – should become increasingly apparent to reason as time goes by (see, for example, Isaiah 55:6-9).

However, if the hypothesized greater logic of God’s ways does not make itself apparent after adopting a faith position, we then, after a reasonable amount of time, would have a logical, perhaps scientific, reason to reject the idea that greater intellectual understanding follows faith.

But, again, we would never know for sure and arguably would not be fully scientific unless we first tried this approach.²

¹ The British rock group The Moody Blues put an interesting twist on this argument in their 1969 lp, On the Threshold of a Dream. A voice-over at the beginning of the song “In the Beginning” says:

I think, I think I am, therefore I am, I think… [last two words are slightly quizzical]

² The Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung was the son of a Protestant clergyman who stressed that Carl should believe and not think. To his father’s dismay Jung replied, “Give me this belief” (C. G. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, revised, ed. Aniela Jaffé, trans. Richard and Clara Winston, New York: Vintage Books, 1961, p. 43). And this spells out the difference in emphasis between the gnostic who believes they know vs. the believer who strives to know or, perhaps, know more.


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