In my last post, “What is Enlightenment” I introduced the Couple archetype. One reader responded with some thoughtful observations about same-sex couples, and I look forward to exploring this rich topic in future posts. But first, I’d like to lay the psychological and spiritual foundation for the Couple archetype. The following material comes from my manuscript, The Soul’s Twins.
According to Dr. Lawrence Odermatt of the Jung Institute in Zurich, the Couple holds profound spiritual meaning for many people in today’s world. Dr. Odermatt’s research has convinced him that the Couple is, in fact, emerging from the collective unconscious as a symbol of the Self. By this he means that people today expect things from the couple relationship that were formerly expected from their God-images, or ideas about The All, and from the religions created around these images.
Dr. Odermatt cites the following as some examples of the spiritual expectations people have about relationships today. People expect the couple relationship to provide a space or place of relaxation and regeneration from the stress of work and economic pressures. This is exactly what people in the past expected from places of worship, sacred rituals, and sacred festivals and days like Beltane, Christmas and the Sabbath.
People want their couple relationship to bring emotional security and satisfaction. This has not always been true. In the past, when marriages only took place between men and women and were primarily for social and political power and financial security, people rarely hoped to be emotionally fulfilled by their marriage partners; they did, however, expect it from their spiritual lives and practices.
People today also want their couple relationships to be containers for their spiritual and intellectual development, for their deepest yearnings and newest insights. They want the couple relationship to nurture their creativity and unique potential, to provide meaning for their lives. These functions too, have traditionally been associated with religion.
Finally, and to me, this is the most telling and pertinent expectation of all, Dr. Odermatt says that today people want partners who will confirm and accept them as unique individuals while at the same time providing them with an opportunity to merge with another so as to experience oneness, togetherness, wholeness. In other words, today the couple relationship is becoming a symbol for the creative union between humanity’s two basic drives, the two halves of the Self:
1. The drive for self-preservation is our compulsion to express our individuality. The need to find, develop and manifest our unique skills and passions in meaningful work has traditionally only been associated with and assigned to males and denied to females. In some parts of the world it still is. Nonetheless, it is inherent in all of us, regardless of gender.
2. The drive for species-preservation is our compulsion to experience oneness with another in caring, intimate relationships which nurture our creativity and bless our community with new life, whether physical, cultural, psychological, spiritual or all four. This drive has traditionally been associated with and assigned to females, and some families and cultures still discourage its expression in males in any outlet other than sexuality.
Humanity is evolving and here, in our time, our collective God-image is undergoing a dramatic transformation. We are imagining God as something far more balanced and complex than a superior masculine spiritual authority who is fascinated by the feminine other—whether the world of physical matter (L.mater or mother), the Mother Church, or women—while remaining separate and aloof from her. In a development prefigured two millennia ago in the beautiful myth of Psyche and Eros, we are imagining God as an inner reality: our potential for a sacred intimate union, a loving partnership between our masculine and feminine sides. This new God-image honors the masculine and feminine principles equally and in all of us as a spiritual reality. In other words, each of us is in and of God.
This way of imagining God has already had thrilling, far-reaching effects. In the social and political arena it has allowed us to consider granting people ultimate authority over what they do with their own bodies and offering full and equal opportunities to everyone regardless of race, religion, gender, nationality, or sexual preferences. Such a God-image also gives contemporary religious institutions far more freedom than their predecessors had to encourage individuality and celebrate mutually meaningful relationships free from fear-based prohibitions and prejudices. And it gives religious groups permission to offer instruction on world religions, mythology, psychology, dreams, meditation techniques, and the newest scientific advances in medicine and physics because of a growing awareness that this knowledge liberates people from debilitating fears and helps them live more purposeful, meaningful lives.
The internal union between our masculine and feminine sides was anticipated by the practice of alchemy in the Middle Ages and the great wisdom traditions throughout the world before that. It was brought to our attention by Carl Jung, who likewise used the over-arching metaphors of masculine and feminine to represent every pair of opposites. Conducting our own magnum opus of uniting our inner opposites into our conscious awareness is our hope for wholeness, individuation and enlightenment.
The coniunctio in alchemy is a union of the masculine and feminine, of the spiritual and material principles, from which a perfect body arises, the glorified body after the Last Judgment, the resurrection body. This means an eternal body, or the subtle body, which is designated in alchemy as the philosopher’s stone, the lapis aethereus or invisibilis. ~Carl Jung, ETH Lectures, Pages 158-167.