Psychology & Divinity 2 – The Godhead

Psychology & Divinity 2 – The Godhead

I’m not even going to begin to define this term, although the “nature of the divine” is possibly as close as I can get, and is probably sufficient. I am simply using it as a way of explore that strange and confusing nexus that surrounds what we appreciate as the divine, or God, for those so inclined. As I have explored elsewhere (in part 1), there is a need to differentiate many of the terms used and even created by various disciplines, as well as to see from a deeper and more mythic perspective what these terms and their associated disciplines may mean in our modern era.

One conclusion that I have come to in this and associated explorations is that we may have prematurely neglected the ones used in our own Tradition (by which I mean both Christian and pre-Christian). It is my belief that these can be resurrected – an interesting choice of term – and even reinstated. I would apply this most particularly to the concept and nature of soul, as well as the vexed term religious. For example, this quote was used to effectively launch part 1, but now contains an intriguing, even enigmatic, final sentence:

“It is important to note that the author uses the words soul and spirit based on their original meanings, which are significantly different from their modern usages. In antiquity the Greek psyche, which means soul, did not have the same elevated status that the soul assumed in later Christianity, nor was it confused with spirit (pneuma in Greek), as it later came to be and still is in current usage. For the ancients the soul included parts of the mortal body, mind and emotions, as well as something of the spirit transcending them. It was an intermediary reality between the physical and the spiritual. In a further refinement of this intermediation, the nous appears here as that “fine point” of psyche (soul) that is closest to pneuma (spirit).”

(Translator’s footnote: The Gospel of Philip, Jean-Yves LeLoup)

This interesting quote does two things. First it indicates that the word psyche has been used to fill the void created with the – unnecessary – elevation and spiritualisation of the term soul. In this respect psychology has been afforded an elevated place in our era, but contains one strand (academic or scientific psychology) that equates it with the scientific paradigm and another (depth psychology), which has more significantly filled the theological void. Second, by returning soul to its more traditional – and authentic – meaning, it provides a more interesting and creative parallel relationship with depth psychology.

This leaves us with a choice: either to redefine soul in the light of depth psychology (which I make some attempt to do in part 1) or to revivify its authentic meaning. If we choose to do the latter, the former may not be necessary and, indeed, be obfuscatory. A further irony is that the word psyche itself comes from the Greek, with all the associations of that tradition, as well as being a significant figure in that tradition’s mythological corpus.

In a somewhat similar manner the term spiritual has filled the religious void in our era, although again its traditional meaning is somewhat different and even synonymous with Holy Ghost, thus, being one aspect of the Trinity; therefore having a more limited meaning than the more inclusive manner in which it is used currently. In this modern capacity it is probably the New Age that has most appropriated it, but left spiritual confused with and undifferentiated from soul, a problem not confined to this modern era. It also brings maybe deeper and more fundamental terms, such as divine, into an unnecessarily mundane perspective.

In a similar manner to the way we are exploring soul it may be worth re-examining the word religious before we reject it for another term – spiritual – that may not carry the same depth of meaning: Because, to my sensibility, both soul and religious are terms that carry more depth of feeling that speak of a more fundamental authenticity. (Before you reject my proposition on the grounds of Christian preference, I would comment that this is not my religious orientation!)

In my experience the above comments bespeak much about the overlap and even confusion that exists between depth psychology and institutional Christianity, with the latter permeating more of the psychological field – depth psychology in particular – than we fully recognise. It is possible that an exploration of the term suffering may help clarify this a little more prior to giving some shape and definition to the “nature of the divine”.

Suffering is given all manner of definition in the psychological fields from neurosis and psychosis (psychiatry), to developmental trauma and damage (academic and clinical psychology), and psychic splitting plus shadow (depth psychology). Yet the feeling-toned flavour to all of these carries some old favourites – guilt and judgement – making their negotiation more than a cognitive and psychological exercise. This is because the institutional Church’s influence has flowed through into the psychological fields unbeknownst, which means we need to tackle the complex of suffering more directly; otherwise suffering remains locked in a straitjacket of pathology.

The associations of guilt and judgement with suffering are almost peculiarly Christian. Other religions do not carry the same emotional colouring. Buddhism seeks to eliminate it, Hinduism to deny it, and Islam to explain it. In Christianity the intense imagery of the crucifixion would have us transfigure it, were it not for the fact that the resurrection is not given the same relevance. Also Jesus supposedly suffered for our sins: effectively we are denied access to the transfiguration of suffering on two fronts. Many in the modern era, Jung most notably, have wrestled with this problem, but its resolution remains incomplete.

Rather than explore the other nominated religions (I’m sorry if I offend the Buddhist with inclusion in this statement), it may be worth going back to our pre-Christian heritage and particularly to shamanism. This discipline is more directly accented toward healing in its authentic sense, whereas much of modern psychology maintains our wounding and hence our suffering. A core principle in shamanism is to see wounding as essential, thereby seeing its modern variant, pathology, as essential also. As an aside, pathology is derived from the Greek pathos invoking pity or sadness, and is connate with suffering. In shamanism wounding is characteristically symbolised by images of dismemberment from which the body is renewed or reconstituted.

Consequently we could refer to this healing process as remembering. Now here is a link with the modern era: Remembering (or bringing together of the parts in a new order), symbolised in shamanism in a physical way but pointing to the psychological, sees dismemberment of our suffering selves as essential to healing. This is the position that only depth psychology, of all the psychological disciplines, even begins to approach. The remembering is the healing and implies that, in a psychic sense, we are recalling what we have forgotten. This is the root of shamanism: that we have forgotten who we are and where we came from. This strand moves through many of the religions described above, including the Christian, although this acceptance from the mystical vaults would mean a transformation in the Christian religion itself – not a bad thought.

As suffering is one aspect of our human condition, so is the dualism with which it is psychically so closely related, if suffering is seen as splitting or of division. Dualism seems to be a category or classification error of our modern reality-based consciousness. For example, it has been said that a “body-mind dualism… seems to be only a perceptual artifact” (Lionel Corbett), leading to the conclusion that dualism in general could be considered in a similar light. Behind the dualistic opposites and their splitting asunder are patterns that show that they are at times co-existent and in dynamic relationship. Consider the eternity symbol, the lemniscus (a figure 8 on its side), where complementary forces are in opposition at the extremes but come together in the middle, if we consider the image in a dynamic and flowing fashion.

And so to the Godhead.

All manner of terms are used to describe the ineffable from the void to nowhere or the darkness. Essentially this realm, which includes all and everything, is not only unknown but is fundamentally unknowable, hence the term is beyond image and ineffable. God as we know him in Christianity is merely an image, a reflection of the godhead – or what I will henceforth call the divine. Other terms have been used to describe the divine, most notably and recently (Otto and Jung) is numinous that captures something of the feeling-tone or affect that is associated with any image or idea of the divine we may have.

From this position the divine, being the original essence, is brought forth as creation, formation and manifestation, using terminology of the Jewish Kabbala. Following this mystical discipline further there is what is known as the supernal triad; being the crown, with wisdom and understanding below forming a triangle. As an aside, the use of such mapping may be in question, but an examination of extant religions with a mystical dimension reveals they all have such a map and they are strangely similar… well, maybe not so strange when you consider they are all directed toward the same thing.

In this domain we have to entertain all sorts of opposing terms, such as good and evil, masculine and feminine. It could be argued that the failure of Christianity to deal with these, and implied in the crucifixion-resurrection symbolism, has led to its current crisis and hence the need for other disciplines (e.g. depth psychology, feminism) to examine and re-include them. The negation of these factors has allowed other religions, most particularly from the East, to also fill the void (pun intended).

Christianity does have a Trinitarian reflection of the above triangle of crown, wisdom and understanding; being the father, son and holy ghost. It would take us too far afield to describe this as a relatively debased expression of the supernal triad, but I do believe it to be so; principally because it does not negotiate the feminine and the issue of evil and elevates the son unnecessarily. Another triangular version is omniscience (“knowing everything”) and equated with the kingdom, omnipotence (“unlimited power”) and called power, together with the glory of omnipresence (“present everywhere”). The reflections of the kingdom, power and glory, originally derived from Judaic mysticism, are also present in the Lord’s Prayer. (Can you remember it?) Implicit in these terms is the feminine (wisdom, or sophia) and indications how the divisions give rise to the shadow we know as evil. Also they describe the ineffable with qualities that are eternal and infinite, giving a multi-dimensional image to the divine. (No wonder we have problems imagining it in mundane terms!)

Below the supernal triad we arrive at man, as the remainder of the Kabbala describes, although he is included in the Christian Trinity. I would argue that this elevation is premature and obstructive to our own individual journey’s for which Christ is a symbol. Man is the reflection of the divine in most maps, and his task – through suffering – is reunification with the divine. This is what the Christ myth portrays within the crucifixion and resurrection symbolism. Lost to institutionalised Christianity, this journey is reflected in other religions and in the mystical undercurrents of Christianity such as alchemy. It is a deep irony that in one of the seminal gospels (Mark), that Jesus refers to himself mostly as the “son of man” and not as the “son of God”. This is deeply alchemical, tied up with the term anthropos and reflection in the western magico-mystical traditions under terms like the Philosopher’s Stone and the Holy Grail.

From this point we enter into a cross-cultural religious comparison: For example, the triad of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva in Hinduism, and the related Brahman–Atman concept that mirrors the Father–Son one in Christianity and reflected in the more personally related I-Thou concept. We could also do a cross-comparison of the psychological terms, particularly those of depth psychology, such as ego-Self, and how they approach this theological world. I have done that to a limited extent with the soul-psyche issue; but by now my orientation is probably clear, so it is a path we need not go down (although it is an interesting exercise to do).

We could also examine where other terms fit, such as emotion, feeling, affect and thought. The place and role of the imagination and idea are also important. Where does the physical body fit? What about the five senses? There are many strands that could be pursued… but the essence of the above is that we need a clear vision about what we are approaching and its relative supremacy in the scheme of things for mankind; otherwise there is a danger of reductionism and denigration. Most specifically is the sheer number of schema and competing terms, which, if nothing else the above hopes to dispel somewhat by illustrating their lack of necessity, except as conceptual bridges, and that they ultimately satisfy only man’s neurotic tendency to classify and know what is ultimately unknowable.

If we strip modern depth psychology of its unnecessary confusions and see it as a “work in progress”, it may be apparent that it is filling a religious void in the modern era. Effectively it does this by reinstating and reanimating soul both into the modern lexicon (although still confused with psyche) and our lives. This is supported by the affect, image, and ideas that flow from the creative world.

Together, these forces may indicate a movement from the divine itself to provide a healing context and evolutionary thrust into the apparent void of modern reality. If this is the case, it may be worth more deeply considering the religious functioning of and within depth psychology. It may be that this modern discipline is providing a meaningful continuity with the traditions that preceded it to provide a transformation within and beyond these traditions themselves.