“When one tries desperately to be good and wonderful and perfect, then all the more the shadow develops a definite will to be black and evil and destructive.
People cannot see that; they are always striving to be marvellous, and then they discover that terrible destructive things happen which they cannot understand, and they either deny that such facts have anything to do with them, or if they admit them, they take them for natural afflictions, or they try to minimize them and to shift the responsibility elsewhere.
The fact is that if one tries beyond one’s capacity to be perfect, the shadow descends into hell and becomes the devil. For it is just as sinful from the standpoint of nature and of truth to be above oneself as to be below oneself. It is surely not the divine will in man that he should be something which he is not, for when one looks into nature, one sees that it is most definitely the divine will that everything should be what it is.” ~Carl Jung, Visions Seminar, Page 569.
“What?” you say? “You mean I have to accept the bad parts of myself? No Way! You must be crazy. I’m not giving in to laziness, lust, selfishness, fear, or greed. I’ve spent a lifetime trying to be perfect. Now you say I have to stop? Didn’t Jesus say, ‘Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect’ (Matt. 5:48)? Well, that’s all I’m trying to be: perfect!”
In the Aramaic language Jesus spoke, the word perfect meant completed, or whole, not always good or spotlessly pure. Here’s the paradox Jung was addressing and we find so difficult to accept: to complete ourselves we have to be honest with ourselves, and this means acknowledging those things in us we think of as bad as well as the ones we consider good. We can’t be complete by accepting only half our nature. For example, by identifying solely with reason and logic, we cut off our capacity for passion, intuition, instinct, and the tender feelings of empathy and compassion. Then we start finger-pointing, name-calling, wall-building, and war mongering.
Accepting our flaws is not for the faint-hearted. Like Christine, the innocent young singer who, in the classic Gaston Leroux novel, earnestly persuaded the Phantom of the Opera to take off his mask, we may be painfully convinced of our puny audacity in challenging the archetypal masters and mistresses of our unconscious, and we may faint at our first sight of the ugliness. But it is only when the ugliness has been unmasked and we can see it for what it truly is that it loses its negative power over us and we can begin to learn from it.
The Phantom was certainly a dark and frightening creature, but behind that hideous face was a pure musical soul with the voice of an angel. If Christine had refused to grant her negative animus its rightful place in her life, she would not have achieved her destiny. Fortunately for her, instead of rejecting the Phantom she came to love him, and in the final act of lifting the mask a second time and kissing his grotesque face, her ego grew up and she developed an honest relationship with her unique Self.
Snow White had the same problem. She was tormented again and again by her wicked stepmother, a dark, vain, and passionate feminine antagonist—psychologically the opposite, shadow side of her own conscious personality—who did everything she could to destroy the sweet passive child who knew nothing of evil. Snow White’s trials were long and painful, but by patiently enduring them she was brought to the point where she could awaken to her masculine strengths (represented by the kiss of the prince), conquer her own evil tendencies (represented by the evil Queen), gain enough balance and maturity to stand on her own two feet, and marry her prince (the Sacred Marriage, or hieros gamos).
In the masculine hero myth, the hero kills his dragons, or inner and outer enemies, thereby earning his way to salvation. It is true that a kind of death always precedes transformation and rebirth. However, the feminine way, which we must incorporate into our psyche as well if we wish to continue to evolve, is not to fight perceived imperfections in order to destroy them.
Rather it is a peaceful way of withdrawing, descending into our own depths, seeing, reflecting, grieving, accepting and integrating. This happens slowly, gradually and naturally, through a diligent desire to let our immature egos die a natural death to make way for the new, the way flowers fade and wilt after they have produced seeds from which new growth will arise in the spring.
No matter how hard we may try, we’ll never be perfected in the traditional sense of the word. But it is possible to become more aware and individuated, and thus less vulnerable to our hellish inner demons. By owning them as parts of ourselves, we’ll be less apt to project them onto others. This is our only hope of moving ourselves and the world a little closer to our enduring ideals of peace and salvation.
Quote and Image Credits: My thanks to Lewis Lafontaine for sharing this quote and these images on Facebook.
The Wilbur Award is given by the Religion Communicators Council for excellence in communicating religious faith and values in the public arena and for encouraging understanding among faith groups on a national level.