Source Quote: Edinger on Nature of Archetypes…

Here are some quite interesting observations by Edward F. Edinger on the nature of archetypes in general, and, from his book of the same title, the Archetype of the Apocalypse in particular.

“What is an archetype?. . . First of all, an archetype is a pattern: a primordial psychic ordering of images that has a collective or generalized quality; it can be understood, therefore, to derive from the collective transpersonal objective psyche – rather than from the personal psyche. That is one aspect of an archetype. The other aspect to which we do not pay quite as much attention – but which deserves emphasis – is that the archetype is a dynamic agency: it is a living organism, a psychic organism that inhabits the collective psyche. In the fact that an archetype is both a pattern and an agency is that any encounter with an archetype will have these two aspects.

As a pattern, we can encounter an archetypal reality and speak about it as an object – an object of our knowledge and understanding. But as a dynamic living agency it appears to us as subject, as an entity like ourselves with intentionality and some semblance of consciousness. Jung refers to this double aspect of archetypes at the beginning of his seminal work Answer Job where he says:

’They are spontaneous phenomena which are not subject to our will, and we are therefore justified in ascribing to them a certain autonomy. They are to be regarded not only as objects but as subjects with laws of their own. . . . If that is considered, we are compelled to treat them as subjects; in other words, we have to admit that they possess spontaneity and purposiveness, or a kind of consciousness and free will.’(1)

The reader should keep that in mind as we proceed to analyze the Apocalypse archetype in particular, because it is like all archetypes when they are evoked, constellated, or activated. This archetype of the (…pick one…) takes on autonomy and tends to direct whatever is of a psychic nature in its vicinity to line up with its own lines of force.”

“… Apokalypsis is just the Greek word that was used for the Book of Revelation which is also more simply called the Apocalypse; in general the term means ‘revelation.’ But, specifically it refers to the “uncovering of what has been hidden.’ The root is the verb kalypto, which means ‘to cover or to hide’; the prefix is the preposition, apo, which means ‘away or from.’ So, apokalypsis means ‘to take the covering away’ from what has been secret or covered – revealing thereby what had previously been invisible. Yet according to general usage, the term ‘apocalypse’ has taken on the larger meaning of the ‘coming of deity to assert sovereignty’ – or the coming a Messiah to judge, to reward or punish humanity.  We have a whole body of literature in antiquity that can be called ‘apocalyptic’ and which grew up around the idea of an Apocalypse.

… This literature exhibits four chief features: 1) Revelation; 2) Judgment; 3) Destruction or Punishment (as the consequence of Judgment); and then 4) Renewal in a New World.

What I call the Apocalypse archetype underlines all this ancient literature. It is composed of a network of interrelated images– as are all archetypes– making up a complex symbol system. … Its contents are somewhat arbitrary since it is in the nature of an archetypal network that it can extend farther and farther – eventually to encompass the whole collective unconscious. And unless one imposes some sort of limit on the procedure one will drown in the process.

…Let me repeat. What we are about to discuss is a primordial psychic pattern of the collective unconscious that is at the same time a dynamic agency with intentionality. When it constellates, it generates itself and manifest itself in the individual psyche and the collective psyche of the group it happens to touch. Put differently, archetypes live themselves out in whatever psychic stuff they can appropriate; they are like devouring mouths – finding little egos they can consume, and and then living out of those egos. The Apocalypse archetype certainly constellated very powerfully at the beginning of the Christian aeon, and that is why so much apocalyptic literature was generated at that time. Now, again – on the threshold of a new aeon – this same archetype is constellating very powerfully…

Rather than keep the reader in suspense, I will answer the basic question of our study at the outset and then allow the remainder of this work to be an enlargement upon it. The question that really concerns me here is this: what does the ‘Apocalypse’ mean psychologically? My essential answer is: the ‘Apocalypse’ means the momentous event of the coming of the Self into conscious realization. Of course, it manifests itself and is experienced in quite different ways if occurring in the individual psyche or in the collective life of a group; but in either case, it is a momentous event–literally world– shattering. This is what the content of the Apocalypse archetype presents: the shattering of the world as it has been, followed by its reconstitution.

… When the imagery of the apocalypse archetype comes up in analysis, it can be immediately recognized as part of the phenomenology of the individuation process: representing in an individual the emergence of the Self into conscious realization. And those four aspects that I mentioned earlier with regard to apocalyptic literature apply also to an individual manifestation: Revelation, Judgment, Destruction or Punishment, and a New World. Here, 1) ‘Revelation’ has the psychological correlation of a shattering new insight accompanied by the flow of transpersonal images into consciousness. 2) ‘Judgment’ is experienced in the form of an abrupt profound awareness of the shadow, which at times can be so overpowering that it can threaten complete demoralization. When someone is confronted with his dark and dubious nature that he has known only abstractly and intellectually, but then suddenly it comes into focus as living concrete reality – that is a big shock. 3) The theme of ‘Destruction or Punishment’ is manifested as the individual’s anxiety in the midst of this transformation ordeal. 4) Finally, the coming of a ‘New World’ corresponds to the emergence of mandala and quaternity images within the psyche – as there begins to appear the possibility of a conscious relation to the Self and its wholeness.”

Edinger, Edward F, Archetype of the Apocalypse: Divine Vengeance, Terrorism, and the End of the World, Open Court, 1999, p.p. 1-7.


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