A Sacred Marriage of the Imaginal

Jungian Individuation and the Christian Mysticism of Teresa of Avila

by James Liter

Teresa-of-Ávilas-Interior-CastleMedieval philosophers have bequeathed to us amazingly verbose theories on the structure of human consciousness and the resulting nature of motivation and action toward final ends.[1] Mysticism, in a sense, can be seen as a response to the question of what precisely to do with the knowledge of the structure of consciousness and desired final ends. It is not an abstract theory on how or what consciousness is, but a body of contemplative wisdom lighting up of what one can or should do within that structure of consciousness; it is a method or practice of obtaining the desired final end of union with the sacred.[2] This takes the abstract theory of the structure of the psyche and places it in the realm of life application: just how does one live and strive for final ends within the structure of the consciousness? There have of course been many mystical traditions, ancient and contemporary, which have offered answers to this question, and the answers are striking in their similarity, often taking the form of a long process, or journey. The medieval mystic Teresa de Jesus, and the 20th century psychiatrist C.G. Jung offer two similar journey themed theories, both resulting in an emergence into a sacred center of unified sovereignty of self and spirit.

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Jungian Individuation and the Imaginal

jungrb1Although not from a mystical tradition, C.G. Jung wrote extensively on the relationship between psychology and religion, and while often criticized for being anti-Christian, his ideas of the structure of the psyche and of the developmental process actually confirm the main tenets of the faith.[3] His primary interest was of course the structure and development of the psyche, but as we will see, religion and psyche are difficult to separate. Through a process which Jung termed individuation, the individual encounters and integrates opposite aspects of self and the collective other in a process of psychological development.[4] He often used a circular mandala as a symbol for this process, which birthed a unified self into the center.[5] He described individuation as a two phase process – the first being the first half of life in which the individual learns to get along in the world, and the second half being the inward turning and development of the true self.[6] Ultimately, at the center of the mandala, one achieves the coniunctio oppositorum – the integration of opposites – of the conscious ego with the unconscious and thus the realization of the Self.[7]

Jung was insistent upon the numinosity of the psyche which he described as consisting of layers – the personal and the collective – each having their own distinctive, but similar structures and components.[8] The personal psyche is formed completely through personal experience and is broken down further into the personal conscious and the personal unconscious. The personal conscious is most simply described as our common awareness, while the personal unconscious is made up of what Jung initially termed complexes and then later the personal shadow. This shadow complex is made up of thoughts or ideas which constellate around a unifying thought or idea, and have entered the unconscious through the repression of previously conscious but undesired thoughts and emotions. Other shadow material includes psychic impressions which did not have sufficient intensity to reach the conscious, such as sensory impressions.[9]

In contrast to the personal psyche, the collective unconscious does not come about of personal experience, but through the experience of all humanity,[10] and can be viewed as the human “ancestral heritage,” which Jung claimed to be the “true basis of the individual psyche,” [11] While the personal conscious is controlled by the ego, Jung saw no central directing force in the collective unconscious, and insisted on its autonomy and chaotic but intelligent nature.[12] It is only through symbols -metaphor, dreams, and the motifs of mythology – that we come into contact with the collective unconscious. Instead of consisting of the shadow or complexes, the collective unconscious is made up of archetypes, which can be viewed as instincts of the psyche. They are “pre-existent forms” and “complexes of experience” of the human race.[13] Being only form, they are not ideas, thoughts, or behavior as such, but only potentialities thereof. Jung describes the archetypes as the “unconscious images of the instincts themselves, in other words, that they are patterns of instinctual behaviour.[14] Hillman later summarized the archetypes as being:

semantically metaphors. They have a double existence which Jung presented in several ways: (1) they are full of internal oppositions, positive and negative poles; (2) they are unknowable and known through images; (3) they are instinct and spirit; (4) they are congenital, yet not inherited; (5) they are purely formal structures and contents; (6) they are psychic and extrapsychic (psychoid). [15]

Considering the “halves” of the psyche – the conscious and the unconscious – leads to the conclusion that wholeness can be achieved through integration of the two. Individuation is the method in which these halves are unified and a “person becomes a psychological in-dividual, that is a separate, indivisible unity or whole.”[16] The challenge in the process lies precisely in the nature of the two halves of psyche – the unconscious is just that, and hence unknowable, and thus it is impossible for the conscious half to integrate it into a whole. According to Jung, it is commonplace for the unconscious to be suppressed, which leads to any number of psychological difficulties. In the process of individuation, one should become increasingly aware of the unconscious, and Jung holds that both sides of the psyche must be given equality, calling for “open conflict and open collaboration at once.”[17]

As the potential for ideas, thoughts, and behavior within the collective unconscious, the archetypes represent and are intimately involved in the process of individuation. Jung had no blueprint for this process, citing instead the need for the imaginal symbols of the psyche, and the understanding of them as archetypal forms from the unconscious which facilitate the process of integration of the opposite halves of the psyche.[18] Individuation is commonly seen as the backbone of Jungian psychology,[19] and many Jungians have developed the theory and practice further. Smith, for example, describes individuation as an “unfolding realization of potentiality,” a differentiation from the persona of the ego, and recognition that it is not the whole of the psyche or the deeper self. Smith also echoes Jung’s recommendation for the symbolic nature of the process, saying it is an ever emerging one, requiring the integration of non-rational and symbolic elements.[20] Stein clarifies the methods of the process by dividing it into three phases roughly corresponding to developmental phases of life, with the majority of the interior process occurring in the phase of mid-life. It is in this stage that the persona of the ego is gradually released and replaced with an identity which emerges out of the images from the unconscious.[21] Through these promptings of the unconscious archetypes, the Self is differentiated from the ego self, providing the individual with a choice between the two. In an ideal process, the importance of the ego self, which has been largely determined through external pressures, is diminished, and a more authentic and deeper self emerges, more oriented to the promptings of the archetypal images.

As the individuation process continues, an integrative balance is found in everyday life; one becomes centered. Jung saw the mandala as a symbol of balance and wholeness, and thus psychologically as a symbol of self, but also of God. The mandala integrates the tension of opposites, the conscious and unconscious, the unification of which emerges in the center.[22] Within this container, there are variables from person to person, most significantly in the images which arise out of the unconscious to form elements of the mandala. It is the task of the analyst to aid in the interpretation of the imaginal, symbols, and metaphors,[23] which are critical in navigating the individuation process.

 

The Imaginal in the Mysticism of Teresa of Avila

sT Teresa 2The use of metaphor in facilitating individuation is beautifully illustrated in Saint Teresa’s extensive treatise on spiritual development entitled The Interior Castle. Written at the behest of her superior Rev. Dr. Velasquez and intended to improve the prayer life of her fellow sisters, this work has become a classic on Christian mysticism, metaphorically describing the spiritual journey as a movement through a castle toward the center in which God resides. Throughout this journey, undertaken through prayer, contemplation, and active service, one encounters “great afflictions and terrible combats,” but if one is persistent and humble, one will eventually work through the different mansions of the castle and arrive at the center in which the union with God is achieved. [24]

Teresa has often been called a “psychological mystic,”[25] and through extremely rich imagery, much of it the same as that often noted by Jung, illustrating the archetypal and universal nature of the imaginal symbols,[26] her story illustrates the same structure of the psyche and the process of individuation as Jungian psychology, but from within the Christian mystical tradition. Imagery is the language of the psyche, and it surely was her use of imagery that led John Dalton, a translator of The Interior Castle, to say of her:

God gave her a particular faculty, among her other sublime gifts, for translating her vast internal experience of the mystic life into intelligible language; and also of conveying what others might have felt or known, but had never been able to express, by means of ideas and illustrations at once apposite and familiar.[27]

The most significant images in the story are those of the castle and the journey itself, and it is these that must draw our attention. The first is the castle, which Teresa described as being “composed entirely of diamonds, or very clear crystal, in which there are many rooms, just as in heaven there are many mansions.”[28] She related this castle directly to the soul, making the symbolism clear, and placing the journey within the castle into the context of spiritual development. In later discussions with Fr. de Yepes, she clarified that her vision of this castle was of a globe with different “dwelling places,” the middle one being the residence of the “King of Glory.”[29] It is within that center, the dwelling place of the King, that the self and God merge into mystical union, what Teresa called the spiritual marriage.[30] The clarity of the castle symbol as soul and mandala and thus the purpose of the entire journey, is describing in mystical and metaphorical language the same process of individuation that Jung described psychologically.

Just as the process of individuation has been divided into phases by Jung and subsequent Jungian thinkers, the journey to the center of the castle is also divided by Teresa into phases which correspond to those in Jungian individuation. The first phase is concerned mostly with external matters of adapting to and existing within the physical world, and while motives are good, the spiritual and prayer life in this phase is usually a result only of directed and continually more difficult effort. [31] This is nearly a one to one relation to the first phase in Jungian development in which the person is concerned chiefly with the development of a socially acceptable persona and with getting along in the world.[32]

The second phase within the castle is joined after a period of difficulty in which disillusionment sets in and the prayer life becomes empty of meaning, and efforts at control and avoidance of discomfort become overbearing.[33] Such difficulties in the transition between phases is also described in Jungian thinking by Stein, who places these “major crises” between adolescence and early adulthood, and again at mid-life.[34] This second phase in Teresa’s castle is marked by an ever increasing inward turning of awareness, in which, similar to Jungian individuation, the person is releasing the accoutrements of persona of the outer world, and responding to the call to intensify the inward journey. Prayer life in this phase becomes less and less an active form and more one of what Teresa called “prayer of recollection;” a letting go of intellectual activity and an increase in receptivity to and immersion in God.[35] In Jungian individuation, this letting go would be clearly recognized as the openness to symbols arising from the unconscious. Teresa not only used symbol to tell the story, she also often speaks of personal visions and “apparitions,” especially of Christ, and clearly differentiates intellectual and imaginative visions, recognizing the higher importance of the latter (162-163), which arise from the depths of the psyche.[36]

Finally, the journey through the castle arrives at the center of the castle. It is here that the spiritual marriage takes place – the integration of the human with the divine.[37] This is a complete integration, as complete as “two tapers exactly joined together, that the light of both makes but one,”[38] in which the self emerges through the inner presence of God.[39] Teresa recognized the spouse as Christ, and while Jung recognized the historicity of Christ, he also felt that the life of Christ exemplified the archetypal journey to the higher self, and that each human was on this same journey. In fact each of us are, in essence, Christ, or rather, the symbol of Christ is the archetypal symbol of the self.[40] It becomes evident that Jung’s idea of the archetypal symbolism of the Christ story adds a deeper, interior aspect to the striving to imitate Christ than what is commonly seen in monastic vows of poverty or abstinence. The striving to live as the archetypal Christ is the journey to the center of the castle; it is the process of individuation. Teresa’s spiritual marriage is a clear indication of the consummation of the individuation process.

 

Ultimately, what emerges from the intersection of Jungian and Teresian individuation is the mysticism of a God-Self composite residing in the sacred center of the psyche. Both Jung and Teresa offer a structure that is at once the container of the psyche and the process of individuation. For Teresa, it is within the orb like castle in which the individual journeys toward integration with God; for Jung, it is within a mandala form that the numinous and sacred integration of the conscious and unconscious psyche occurs. Rather than leaving off after describing the structure and goal, both Jung and Teresa offer a path of practice to realize the final ends within the structure – the Jungian individuation process is facilitated through analysis and uses imaginal methods such as active imagination or dream work; Teresa’s method is prayer and contemplation. Both rely on being receptive to the imagery arising from the depths, and both culminate in the union of self and sacred.

 

NOTES

[1] For a classic example, see Aquinas, Thomas, and Timothy S. McDermott. Summa Theologiae: A Concise Translation. Allen, TX: Christian Classics, 1989. Print., especially chapters 5 and 7

[2] Ibid. pp. 174-76

[3] See Welch, John. Spiritual Pilgrims: Carl Jung and Teresa of Avila. New York: Paulist, 1982. Print. p. 104

[4] See Jung, C. G. The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious. Trans. R. F. C. Hull. [Princeton, N.J.]: Princeton UP, 1980. Print. p. 106

[5] Ibid. p. 130

[6] See Welch, John. Spiritual Pilgrims: Carl Jung and Teresa of Avila. New York: Paulist, 1982. Print. p. 186

[7] See Jung, C. G. The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious. Trans. R. F. C. Hull. [Princeton, N.J.]: Princeton UP, 1980. Print. pp. 191-92

[8] Ibid. pp. 42-43

[9] See Jung, C. G. The Essential Jung. Comp. Anthony Storr. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1983. Print.

[10] See Jung, C. G. The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious. Trans. R. F. C. Hull. [Princeton, N.J.]: Princeton UP, 1980. Print. pp. 42-43

[11] See Jung, C. G. The Essential Jung. Comp. Anthony Storr. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1983. Print.

[12] See Jung, C. G. The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious. Trans. R. F. C. Hull. [Princeton, N.J.]: Princeton UP, 1980. Print. pp. 280-81

[13] Ibid. pp. 30, 42-43

[14] Ibid. p. 44

[15] See Hillman, James. Re-visioning Psychology. New York: HarperPerennial, 1992. Print.p, 156

[16] See Jung, C. G. The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious. Trans. R. F. C. Hull. [Princeton, N.J.]: Princeton UP, 1980. Print. p. 275

[17] Ibid, pp. 287-88

[18] Ibid. p, 289

[19] See Stein, Murray. “Individuation.” The Handbook of Jungian Psychology: Theory, Practice and Applications. Ed. Renos K. Papadopoulos. London: Routledge, 2008. 196-214. Print. p, 196

[20] Smith, C. Michael. Jung and Shamanism in Dialogue: Retrieving the Soul, Retrieving the Sacred. New York: Paulist, 2007. Print. pp. 114-16

[21] See Stein, Murray. “Individuation.” The Handbook of Jungian Psychology: Theory, Practice and Applications. Ed. Renos K. Papadopoulos. London: Routledge, 2008. 196-214. Print. pp. 199, 209-10

[22] See Jung, C. G. The Essential Jung. Comp. Anthony Storr. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1983. Print.

[23] See Jung, C. G. The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious. Trans. R. F. C. Hull. [Princeton, N.J.]: Princeton UP, 1980. Print. p. 289

[24] See Welch, John. Spiritual Pilgrims: Carl Jung and Teresa of Avila. New York: Paulist, 1982. Print. pp. 1-2 and Dalton, John. Preface. The Interior Castle or The Mansions. London: T. Jones, 1852. Print. p. xii, xiv-xv

[25] See Welch, John. Spiritual Pilgrims: Carl Jung and Teresa of Avila. New York: Paulist, 1982. Print. p. 2

[26] Welch summarizes some of the common symbols as being water, which was often used by Jung to symbolize the unconscious; serpents and devils, recognized in Jungian thought as the collective or personal shadow, which hinder progress, but if integrated properly can be beneficial to the individuation process; the butterfly, symbolizing the transformation and emergence of the self; marriage, symbolizing the integration of opposites and the mystical union with God or higher self; and Christ as a symbol of self. See Welch, John. Spiritual Pilgrims: Carl Jung and Teresa of Avila. New York: Paulist, 1982. Print. pp.3-5

[27] See Dalton, John. Preface. The Interior Castle or The Mansions. London: T. Jones, 1852. Print. p. xii

[28] See Teresa, Saint. The Interior Castle or The Mansions. Trans. John Dalton. London: T. Jones, 1852. Print. p. 1

[29] See Welch, John. Spiritual Pilgrims: Carl Jung and Teresa of Avila. New York: Paulist, 1982. Print. pp. 33-34

[30] See Teresa, Saint. The Interior Castle or The Mansions. Trans. John Dalton. London: T. Jones, 1852. Print. p. 179

[31] See Welch, John. Spiritual Pilgrims: Carl Jung and Teresa of Avila. New York: Paulist, 1982. Print. pp. 97-98

[32] See Stein, Murray. “Individuation.” The Handbook of Jungian Psychology: Theory, Practice and Applications. Ed. Renos K. Papadopoulos. London: Routledge, 2008. 196-214. Print. p. 209

[33] See Welch, John. Spiritual Pilgrims: Carl Jung and Teresa of Avila. New York: Paulist, 1982. Print. pp. 101-02

[34] See Stein, Murray. “Individuation.” The Handbook of Jungian Psychology: Theory, Practice and Applications. Ed. Renos K. Papadopoulos. London: Routledge, 2008. 196-214. Print. p. 199

[35] See Welch, John. Spiritual Pilgrims: Carl Jung and Teresa of Avila. New York: Paulist, 1982. Print. pp. 102-03

[36] See Teresa, Saint. The Interior Castle or The Mansions. Trans. John Dalton. London: T. Jones, 1852. Print. pp. 162-63 and Welch, John. Spiritual Pilgrims: Carl Jung and Teresa of Avila. New York: Paulist, 1982. Print. pp. 193-94

[37] Ibid. p. 165

[38] See Teresa, Saint. The Interior Castle or The Mansions. Trans. John Dalton. London: T. Jones, 1852. Print. pp. 180

[39] See Welch, John. Spiritual Pilgrims: Carl Jung and Teresa of Avila. New York: Paulist, 1982. Print. pp. 181-83

[40] See Jung, C. G. The Essential Jung. Comp. Anthony Storr. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1983. Print.

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