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Rona and other myths undercut our cosmological arrogance

In Oceanic mythology Rona is a fierce female cannibal who eats her beautiful daughter’s lover.¹

Another Oceanic myth tells of a male god, Rona, who fights the moon to rescue his abducted wife.² According to this story, when the moon tires from the battle with Rona, it wanes. When the moon regains its strength, it waxes.

This is a good example of what might be called alternative logic, lateral thinking or, for some, anthropomorphism. From his fieldwork, the depth psychiatrist Carl Jung observed that archaic myths are logical and meaningful to so-called primitives, just as scientific explanations appear logical and meaningful to many so-called advanced, thinking persons.

More recently, postmodern critiques of science tend to view theories as working myths or fictions instead of facts. This makes sense if one is willing to admit bias and the limits of human understanding.

English: Karl Popper in 1990.

Karl Popper in 1990 (Photo: Wikipedia)

Take Karl Popper, for instance. He points out that scientific theories are never really proved, per se, but only supported. Also, scientific theories are subject to falsification, modification or radical change through, as T. Kuhn suggests, a paradigm shift. We know that Newton’s Laws of Motion perform well for conventional problems. But Einstein’s work is required for areas that Newton couldn’t observe and probably didn’t imagine.³

Somewhat ahead of his time, Jung says he treated so-called primitives with respect and, when interviewing local elders and tribesmen, didn’t challenge their beliefs or try to convert them to a modern scientific or, for that matter, Protestant Christian perspective.4

A considerate move on Jung’s part. Imagine if advanced extraterrestrials publicly visited Earth. Let’s say the visitors could see beyond our common view of directional time and the (apparent) solidity of matter. These beliefs are important to the functioning and psychological security of 21st century mankind. So if ETs revealed too much knowledge too fast, they’d likely blow our minds as David Bowie put it in the song “Starman.”

Likewise, had Jung tried to convince indigenous peoples that the sun’s rising did not depend on contemplation and sacrifice but, rather, the Earth’s natural rotation, he might have upset their psychological wellness.5

This raises questions about our “developed” cosmological assumptions and how they tie in to the idea of progress. Clearly this topic can go in many directions. I touch on some of these in entries on numinosity, spirituality, mysticismscience, psychiatry and scientism, among others.

¹ See for the source of these and also for this Wikipedia retelling:

According to Māori legend, a Ngaio tree can be seen on the moon:

The man in the moon becomes, in Māori legend, a woman, one Rona by name. This lady, it seems, once had occasion to go by night for water to a stream. In her hand she carried an empty calabash. Stumbling in the dark over stones and the roots of trees she hurt her shoeless feet and began to abuse the moon, then hidden behind clouds, hurling at it some such epithet as “You old tattooed face, there!” But the moon-goddess heard, and reaching down caught up the insulting Rona, calabash and all, into the sky. In vain the frightened woman clutched, as she rose, the tops of a ngaio-tree. The roots gave way, and Rona with her calabash and her tree are placed in the front of the moon for ever, an awful warning to all who are tempted to mock at divinities in their haste.

English: Hand-colored photograph of Carl Jung ...

Hand-colored photograph of Carl Jung in USA, published in 1910 (Photo: Wikipedia)

² Ibid.

³ See Reddit – Ask Science.

My PhD thesis suggests that Jung thinks and behaves like a postmodern before the idea of postmodernism becomes fashionable. Jung’s father, Paul, was a Protestant minister who said Carl had to “believe.” Jung later writes that he doesn’t know how he is to find this belief. With access to his father’s theological library, the young Jung took to Latin and religious studies like a dove to water.

Jung interviewed a Hopi elder and other Native Americans who held these beliefs. See


Emanuel Swedenborg – Mystic or Misguided?

Emanuel Swedenborg  (1688-1772) was a Swedish scientist who, after recovering from a psychological crisis, became a mystic claiming to speak on a regular basis with angelic, alien and demonic beings.

Although thought-provoking and laid out in an orderly manner, some of Swedenborg’s writings seem questionable.

Emanuel Swedenborg at age of 75, holding the manuscript of Apocalypsis Revelata (1766)

He writes, for instance, that spirits told him people lived in wooden buildings and tents on the planet Jupiter:

Their dwellings were also shown me. They are lowly dwellings constructed of wood; but within they are lined with bark or cork of a pale blue colour, and the walls and ceiling are spotted as with stars, to represent the heaven; for they are fond of picturing the visible heaven with its constellations in the interiors of their houses, the reason being that they believe the constellations to be the abodes of the angels. They have tents also, which are rounded off above and extended in length, spotted likewise within with stars on a blue ground. They retire into these in the day-time, to prevent their faces suffering from the heat of the sun. They bestow much care on the fashioning of these tents of theirs, and on keeping them clean. In them they also take their repasts.¹

Similarly, a spirit from the moon apparently told Swedenborg that the voices of that satellite’s inhabitants “made a loud thundering sound.”

With no atmosphere on the moon’s surface, necessary for sound waves and hence hearing, one wonders how this could be possible.

It’s easy to assume that Swedenborg’s accounts simply reflect the popular imagination of his day, suggesting that he was a quack, charlatan or, as some might put it today, mentally ill. But one could argue that some of the problems with his far-fetched claims arise from translation and interpretation, along with his human limitations inherent to living in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Swedenborgs Flying Machine (via Thomas Roche)

Swedenborg’s Flying Machine (via Thomas Roche)

Swedenborgians could argue, for instance, that the beings on the moon weren’t physical but composed of energy or spirit—likewise with regard to the apparent “sound” they made.

Whatever the truth may be, the psychiatrist Carl Jung notes that Swedenborg did have an accurate precognition of a great fire in Stockholm.

With regard to Christianity, Swedenborg’s work presents a novel and creative interpretation of that religion. He suggests that everything occurring in this life corresponds to a cosmic body, which he calls “The Universal Human.” And the different races of mankind apparently correspond to different regions of The Universal Human.

Likewise, Swedenborg says individual merits during Earthly life correspond to favorable afterlife regions in the cosmic body, such as the brain or the eye. But those who lead evil lives end up in undesirable, filth-ridden regions, such as the liver or intestines.

Swedenborg wrote copiously about demonic beings whose sole intent is to drain energy from the living, causing severe pain and distress.

With regard to the idea of the Trinity, Rev. Glenn “Mac” at adds:

Since you mention Swedenborg, it might be worth pointing out that he explicitly spoke up against the idea of a trinity of persons. According to his theology (in, e.g., his book, True Christian Religion), Jehovah the Father and Jesus the Son were not only one God, but also the one and only one person of God. Likewise, the Holy Spirit is the activity of that person, and not a seperate person in its own right. This is somewhat similar to Michael Servetus’ ideas expressed a good deal earlier in his “Errors of the Trinity”. Swedenborg’s idea of a trinity of essentials, rather than of persons, should not be confused with modalism—the idea of there being one God that at various times takes on different functions or modes in sequence. To Swedenborg, the Father was literally God’s soul, the Son his body, and the Spirit his influence/activity, not by analogy, but actually. » See in context

Swedenborg was not only interested in the inner life. Like other historical innovators, he tried to devise technological contraptions that would, in due time, appear in some other form, such as a flying machine (pictured 2nd image above).

Swedenborg’s work has been compiled, edited and commented on by the Swedenborg Foundation.

A student of Swedenborg’s works, Judah, adds:

A final thought: while I enjoy pondering the existence of life on other planets, I find it more enjoyable – and meaningful – to explore the ideas in Swedenborg’s writings that have to do with wisely loving my fellow human beings and our creator – the Divine Human. » See in context

Related » Aliens, Angels, Demons, Vampires

On the Web:

  • Rock and roll song dealing with Swedenborg’s ideas:

¹ Earths in our Solar System which are called Planets and Earths in the Starry Heaven: Their Inhabitants, and the Spirits and Angels there from things Heard and Seen from the Latin of Emanuel Swedenborg, Swedenborg Society, London: 1962, par 59.

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The Shadow

Keira Knightley at the presser for A Dangerous Method, a movie that explores the intense relationship between Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud at TiFF in Toronto. September 10, 2011

In the psychology of C. G. Jung, the shadow is the unconscious, evil side of human nature.

The shadow apparently is one of the first aspects of the unconscious psyche encountered in Jungian analysis.

Jung says its positive side is expressed through creativity and humor. According to this view, the representation of the shadow’s darkness in non-violent, socially acceptable channels (e.g. art, music, literature, photography or controlled “acting out”) facilitates mastering it. Otherwise, the shadow could conceivably control the ego.

Marina del Castell Shadow puppetry

If merely repressed, Jung says the shadow might find an opening through the cracks of the psyche and momentarily express itself in disturbing ways. This view depends on a model of the psyche where psychic energy is always seeking expression. If overly contained, psychic energy might boil over and “flip its lid” like a covered pot on a stove with no steam vents.

This might account for the cruel actions toward children by Sister Francesca at the Missionaries of Charity, founded by Mother Teresa.

Another version of the shadow appears as a comic strip, pop culture figure, “Only the shadow knows…” And more recently, the science fiction TV program, Lexx, features His Divine Shadow as the archdeacon of darkness.

Joseph Campbell

Joseph Campbell (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jung and other figures like Mircea Eliade and Joseph Campbell argued that the shadow carries or evokes some degree of numinosity. So if we go to a movie and become fascinated say, with the Joker (Batman) or Darth Vader (Star Wars), we’re almost having a kind of “religious” experience in that we’re going beyond our everyday consciousness into something different and captivating.

Debates continue in religion, the humanities and social sciences as to whether this kind of practice is a healthy venting (or possibly redirection) of unavoidable negative impulses or something that simply fans the flames of evil.

Related » Archetype, Darth Vader, Demons, Dracula, Hermann Hesse, Franz Kafka, Self, Steppenwolf, Trickster, Vampires, Witch, Yoni


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Steppenwolf is a Canadian rock band popular in the 1960s and early 1970s, credited with being the first heavy metal band because the single, “Born to be Wild,” included in its lyrics the phrase heavy metal thunder.

Hesse, Hermann: Der Steppenwolf. Berlin: S. Fi...

Hesse, Hermann: Der Steppenwolf. Berlin: S. Fischer 1927, 289 Seiten. Erstausgabe (Wilpert/Gühring² 155) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Other hits include “Magic Carpet Ride,” which describes a sort of psychedelic mysticism, and a slow moving song called “The Pusher” that seems to condone marijuana use but condemns heavier, addictive drugs, such as heroine. In the “The Pusher” addicts are described as “walkin round with tombstones in their eyes.”

The band still tours and has sold 25 million records worldwide. Steppenwolf’s music has been used in about 50 movies.

Steppenwolf is also an introspective novel by Hermann Hesse that explores the Jungian idea of the shadow, and to which the rock band most likely owes its name.




Structure of psyche as a pyramid according to ...

Structure of psyche as a pyramid according to Carl Gustav Jung. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

M. H. Abrams says that a symbol is anything that signifies something else. Abrams also notes the distinction between public and private symbols. The public symbol, such as the cross, is (apparently) understood by everyone in a given culture. The private symbol, such as an obscure poetic allusion, isn’t.

This distinction, however, is open to debate. Not everyone in a given culture interprets the cross in the same way.

In literature a symbol is

a word or phrase that signifies an object or event which in turn signifies something, or suggests a range of reference, beyond itself.¹

In Jungian depth psychology, the symbol is an image that mediates forces from the collective unconscious to ego consciousness. These forces can be healing (the cross image) or destructive (the serpent image).²

Jung believes that symbols arise from the unknowable archetypes but are understood through archetypal images. Archetypes apparently mingle among themselves; likewise, archetypal images are discrete but exhibit similarities. For Jung, psychic energy flows between the collective unconscious and the symbol in a two-way process.

Jungian Erich Neumann says the symbol acts as both as an “energy transformer” and as a “moulder of consciousness.” As an energy transformer the symbol facilitates the ego’s experience of the numinous, arising from the collective unconscious. As a moulder of consciousness, the symbol operates on the level of collective consciousness by contributing to a given culture’s ideology.

Jung believes that the conscious and unconscious parts of the mind are linked, so trying to ignore one in favor of the other is not a good idea. He’s widely quoted from The Undiscovered Self (1958):

You can take away a man’s gods, but only to give him others in return.

Chinese Stamp, 1950. Joseph Stalin and Mao Zed...

Chinese Stamp, 1950. Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong are shaking hands. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Along these lines, charismatic political leaders of the mass state cannot avoid being glorified or demonized. This happens through brute force, clever calculation and public fascination and projection. Jung believes, for example, that a placard of Joseph Stalin expresses an archetypal force articulated on the conscious level that both sways and oppresses individuals.

A more contemporary example would be the psychological effect that massive banking towers (symbolizing Big Business) have on the poor and disenfranchised. And in ancient cultures such as Greece, Rome and Egypt, impressive architecture probably had a similar effect on slaves, the exploited, the underprivileged and on less affluent visitors from foreign lands.

No discussion of the symbol would be complete without mentioning semiotics and poststructuralism. These contemporary paths of inquiry might not go into great detail about depth psychology, but they’re important for deconstructing cultural assumptions (see also sign, signifier, signified, denotation, connotation, Foucault, Derrida, Barthes, Bourdieu).

¹ A Glossary of Literary Terms, 2005, p. 320.

² Note, however, that for many the serpent is also healing (see Chakras, Tantra, Kundalini).

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Theosophy [Greek: theos = god + sophia = wisdom] is a non-denominational spiritualist movement founded in 1875 at New York City by the Russian born mystic Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Colonel Henry Steel Olcott, William Q. Judge, among other prominent social figures.

Drawing on the doctrine of reincarnation, theosophy repackages the ancient Gnostic-influenced belief that absolute knowledge is gained through direct, purifying mystical experience.

God, according to the Theosophists, emanates an immortal essence to all mankind. By understanding the hidden wisdom contained in myth and symbol, we may share in the immortality of the divine. This sacred task is called the “theurgy.”

Blavatsky’s most popular work is Isis Unveiled, where she reveals remarkable scholarship. But somewhat like C. G. Jung, Joseph Campbell and others, Blavatsky arguably oversimplifies similarities among different religious, mystical and mythological traditions at the expense of overlooking their real and important differences.

Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (stehend mitte), Hen...

Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (stehend mitte), Henry Steel Olcott (sitzend mitte) und Damodar Mavalankar (sitzend, 3. von links) auf einem Kongreß der Theosophischen Gesellschaft in Bombay (Mumbai) 1881 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The term theosophy, itself, stems back to the 3rd century, where it was used synonymously with theosophy. During the renaissance it also took on the meaning of gnosis, or the alleged private knowledge of esoteric and paranormal realities. In the 16th century theosophy meant several things, including something similar to its current, widespread usage.¹

Mme. Blavatsky and Henry Steel Olcott, a lawye...

Mme. Blavatsky and Henry Steel Olcott, a lawyer, agricultural expert, and journalist who covered the Spiritualist phenomena. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I think it’s interesting how spiritual ideas evolve. Some overzealous New Age enthusiasts latch on to the latest meaning of Theosophy and assume they’ve hit on some kind of unique, absolute truth. Either that or they’re just pretending because they want to sell books and gain publicity. I believe it’s far more fruitful (and responsible) to look at these beliefs and how they’ve evolved within an historical and political context.

Sincere spiritual exploration and opportunistic money-making rarely go well together.


Related Posts » Akashic Records, Anthroposophy, Besant (Annie), Buddhism, Hinduism, Peebles (Dr. James Martin)

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Barbara Thiering

Dea sea scroll display is

Dea sea scroll display is (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Barbara Thiering (1930 – ) is an Australian author of several works, including the best-selling Jesus and The Riddle of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Thiering takes a naturalist approach and believes that the miraculous aspects of the New Testament are just codified political statements. She studied the Dead Sea Scrolls, which mention a “teacher of righteousness” and writes that this teacher existed in the Qumran community, somewhere between 200 BCE and the time of Jesus.

For Thiering, the Dead Sea Scrolls reveal the social conditions and practices of the Qumran community. And she believes the New Testament writings about the nearby Early Christian community can be assessed from the perspective of the Qumran community. For instance, in Qumran all newcomers were apparently initiated, regardless of social standing, with a baptism of water. Members of the inner circle were also given “The Drink of the Community,” which Thiering says was wine.

Thiering argues that Jesus’ first miracle of turning water into wine at the wedding ceremony at Canaan reveals the Gospel writer’s ingenious attempt to symbolically convey Christ’s true message—that group membership is not just for a select few, but for all types of people (John 2: 1-11).

Ad for DSS in WSJ

Ad for DSS in WSJ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Thiering likewise says that the miracles of the virgin birth (Matthew 1-18-25; Luke 1:26-38; Isaiah 7:14), walking on water (Matthew 14:25; Mark 6:48-51), the multiplication of loaves (Matthew 14:15-21; 15:32-38), the eating of miraculously obtained fish (John 21:1-11) and the raising of Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1-44) represent the Gospel writers’ use of symbolism to depict natural events and Jesus’ political motives.

Jesus, she claims, didn’t walk on water but walked on a “jetty” (a wharf or a dock). She also sees as metaphorical the Gospel account of Peter getting “out of the boat” to “walk on the water” toward Jesus. Peter’s becoming afraid and beginning to “sink” when the wind picked up is said to be purely allegorical, as was Christ’s “outstretched hand” that rescued him (Matthew 14: 25-32).

Common sense says we cannot “sink” while standing on a jetty. But for Thiering Peter’s symbolic sinking represents his fear of being “number two” to Christ. His sympathy with the rite of circumcision, which Paul abrogated, would make him “sink” in stature.

Citing another New Testament passage that claims it’s better to drown with a millstone around your neck in the sea than suffer the consequences of placing a “stumbling block” before one of God’s children (Matthew 18:6), Thiering says this passage relates to supports her interpretation of Peter’s sinking (Matthew 14:30) because “the same verb” is used.¹

But from a broader perspective, her argument seems questionable. Some scholars insist that portions of the Qumran scrolls were, in fact, imported from outside Qumran. Others say that the scrolls might be commentaries on Old Testament scripture.

Near Qumran, where the original Dead Sea Scrol...

Near Qumran, where the original Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in the 1940s. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Randall Price says that Thiering’s logic sometimes contradicts itself. Price points out that Thiering’s use of the so-called “pesher technique,” that apparently gets at the true meaning of the scrolls, is a false attempt to legitimize what is nothing more than her own individual interpretation, weakly supported (as sometimes happens with overzealous researchers) by a vast amount of illogically applied data.

According to Price, “pesher” simply means commentary.

Florentino Garcia Martinez rather bluntly says:

Thiering’s work is a wholly artificial construction that not only disregards logic and distorts the meaning of events, but trespasses all reasonable boundaries of sound historical reconstruction.²

Poststructural and semiotic approaches suggest that the motif of sinking and being rescued connotes not just one, but a plethora of possible meanings (for instance, losing and regaining faith).

English: Remains of living quarters at Qumran.

Remains of living quarters at Qumran. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Meanwhile, many Christian writers say that the symbolic import of miraculous events need not conflict with their historicity. Instead of reducing the miraculous to the natural and political, the events and teachings in the life of Christ arguably serve a dual function: First, they are actual, for the benefit of those around Christ at the time. Second, they are symbolic for the pastoral benefit of subsequent generations.

If Gospel stories have been exaggerated, we must remember that this was a common technique used in Bible times. Stories were exaggerated for emphasis.  So the details of a big emotional and spiritual event would normally have been exaggerated in its retelling to try to convey the supernatural awe and wonder experienced by actual witnesses.

Another view from depth psychology differs from Thiering’s as well as from orthodox Christian perspectives.

English: Joseph Campbell, late 1970

Joseph Campbell, late 1970 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Depth psychology makes use of the mythic instead of the historical dimension of Christ. Contemporary individuals don’t undergo physical crucifixion, death and visible resurrection. Instead, thinkers like Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell and James Hillman say the Christ story depicts an archetypal truth about psychological transformation.

Individuals sometimes undergo a symbolic death of outmoded, inappropriate ego-attitudes. In the best case scenario, these are replaced by newer, more comprehensive realizations—a symbolic type of resurrection.

¹ Jesus and The Riddle of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Toronto: Doubleday, 1992: 329.

² Randall Price, Secrets of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 1996: 361-369.

Related Posts » Christology, Language