As our species grew more aware of itself and its vulnerability in a dangerous world, we noticed we had some uncontrollable emotions, instincts, and behaviors that didn’t jibe with our conscious intentions. Suspecting that some remote, all-powerful forces must have created us and were still influencing us, we told stories about them and devised rituals to gain their favor so they’d protect us and help us thrive.
Our God-images originate in the psyche’s archetypal patterns. For example, we’re all born with Mother/Queen and Father/King archetypes and every culture has attributed the qualities children associate with their parents to a Great Mother Creatrix and Great Father Creator. While their myths differed from culture to culture, the same characteristics of ultimate power, knowledge and authority always appeared. Likewise, every culture tells stories about Kings and Queens, Warriors and Monsters, Magicians and Wisewomen, Lovers and Beloveds. These show us how we see ourselves, each other, and the mysterious forces of life over which we have no control.
As our forebears acquired more self-awareness their ideas about their deities changed. Religions are still growing and changing. This is to be expected and welcomed, not resisted. A changing God-image does not negate God’s existence. Most of us see our parents very differently from the way we did as children, but this doesn’t mean we invented them, or that we have to keep believing the same things about them we used to, or that we’ve stopped loving them. It just means our perspective has changed with more experience and maturity.
Moreover, since no two individuals are exactly the same, it makes no sense at all to expect everyone to have the same beliefs about God. What is the same, what is archetypal, is that, as Carl Jung realized, we all have a religious instinct, a compulsion to understand ourselves and transcend our destructive unconscious influences so we can be immersed in the great Mystery of Life. Calling the Mystery by different names or denying its existence doesn’t change it. It simply is what it is. As the ancient saying goes, “Called or not called, the God will be present.”
Jung named our religious instinct the Self, or God-image. This central archetype gives rise to all others. Most interesting to me are those which represent our feminine and masculine sides and inspire our ideas about gender. My goal is to differentiate between the gender-associations that are cultural stereotypes versus those which are universally accepted, and therefore archetypes.
Nobody knows the exact nature of the archetypes, but there are many theories based on the clusters of instinctual emotions and behaviors they represent. My system pairs four basic masculine archetypes (King, Warrior, Magician/Scholar, and Lover) with four feminine ones (Queen, Earth Mother, Wisewoman, and Beloved). Every psyche contains all eight and we each express them differently depending on our genetic and cultural inheritance, experiences, and psychological integration. We cannot control them any more than we can control the deities onto which we project them. But we can befriend them, forgive ourselves for being human, and treat others with compassion with the realization that they are struggling as much as we are.
It’s not correct belief, but compassion that makes a genuine spirit person. So how is your religion working for you? Is your caring real or is it a mask you wear in public and take off in private? If you really want to know, take an honest look at your closest relationships. No cheating. Your shadow knows!