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  • Writer's pictureKarey Pohn

Importance of Origins

Depth psychology recognizes the importance of going back to origins, to childhood, to word origins, and to the enduring archetypal images found in the myths around the world. Depth psychology had its beginnings in Freud’s recognition “I am Oedipus” (Downing, 2002, lecture). Freud analyzed himself after the death of his father and formulated the idea of the Oedipus complex and the Oedipal stage through which all children pass according to Freud. Chapelle (1993) notes: “Freud recognized in seemingly personal experiences of everyday life universal and timeless human themes . . . seeing the analogies suggested is also beginning to see the poetic basis of mind” (p. 6). This poetic basis of mind is what Flournoy (1900/1994) called the ludic function of the unconscious. Chapelle points out that Zarathustra was Nietzsche’s myth of the eternal return:

At the beginning, Nietzsche and Zarathustra are faced with the sphinx of eternal return. At the end they attempt to appropriate the vision and the riddle. This transformative process is the cornerstone of Nietzschean thought. Its ambition is the creation of a myth to live by that is inspired by eternal return. To think eternal return thus comes to mean to think transformation. (p. 38)

In Myth and Reality, Eliade (1963) explains that to cure the work of time, we must go back, through the reiteration of the cosmic myth, to the chaos of the beginnings, because this is the place out of which everything originally emerged and thus from where new things can come. Prigogine’s far from equilibrium point in chaos theory mirrors this idea. We can free ourselves from time, i.e., our history, by recollection of these events. By recovering the past, in the case of Freudian analysis, the traumatic content of the original traumatic experience can be relived and thus we can in some way lessen the trauma's effect in the present or master it. Archaic man had similar notions. Freud also thought that there was a blissful quality to origins, which to him was the paradisal time before weening (Rank and Grof would go back further to the womb). The techniques used by archaic man were similar to initiation and the hero’s journey, a symbolic “regressus ad utero” (Eliade, 1963). In both, a new mode of being was the result of a return to the origins. As we will see later, Grof’s work supports and reflects this idea.

Origins are important in another way, which the idea of neoteny reveals. Neoteny is a biological term that refers to the retaining juvenile characteristics into adulthood. Montagu (1983) has written extensively on the subject of neoteny, including both the physical characteristics and behaviors. Shulman (1997) in Living at the Edges of Chaos refers to this idea of neoteny, without using the term neoteny, as a characteristic of pedomorphic dynamics. Swimme (1995) following on Brown’s work (2002, 2003) discusses humanity as a neoteneous species. According to Swimme, neoteny is fundamental to our humanity and not surprisingly, play is one of the most important neoteneous qualities. Others neotenous qualities are: the need for love, for friendship, the need to know, a sense of humor, joyfulness, explorativeness, flexibility and openness, along with song, dance, laughter and tears. Neoteny, reveals how powerful our playful origins are, and the importance that evolution puts on play. [Neoteny is discussed at length in the "Kaleidoscope of Culture" section in the "Ongoing Themes" part of the "Mary Poppins" chapter, and in the "Cherishing of Childhood" excursion "Disneyland's Extra Extra Excursions" chapter.]

With Jung and Hillman, we return to the origins, to inillo tempore, through the archetypes themselves, or rather the archetypal images. Depth psychology is thus in essence the psychology of the eternal return, which perhaps explains why the death-rebirth pattern shows up everywhere, and why play is a therapeutic modality in almost all depth psychology schools. One major branch of depth psychology is Archetypal Psychology, which is a refining, deepening and broadening of Jung’s work. James Hillman, originator of Archetypal Psychology argues that the main task of Archetypal Psychology is to “remythologize consciousness—a sacred, psychopompic adventure which goes hand in hand with deliteralizing consciousness and restoring its connection to mythical and metaphorical patterns" (Hillman, 1992a, p. 3). In Archetypal Psychology, soul is viewed as image, which Hillman "riffed off" from Jung’s notion that psyche is image. Rank shared this opinion and suggested that there is a “close relation between double, shadow, soul, and image” (Chapelle, 1993, p. 225). According to Hillman, images are the basis of concrete experience, and everyday concrete experiences are grounded in an autonomous and polymorphous imagination. Chapelle notes:

A psychology based on archetypal images, amounts to a psychology based on eternal return. It views all concrete experiences of everyday life as enactments of recurring universal and timeless themes which are best portrayed as archetypal images. As in the cosmology of eternal return the intelligibility and value of all events and experiences are associated with their eternal recurrence . . . . Hillman’s archetypal psychology is a means to fulfill the promise of redemption that Nietzsche made in his thought of eternal return. (p. 9)

Archetypal Psychology goes beyond the consulting room, into the world, so we can see the eternal return not only in repetition compulsion, but everywhere. As we will see later with Grof’s work, we can experience the eternal return through non-ordinary states of consciousness, using modalities such as holotropic breathwork. As they said in the musical Company “it's much better living it than looking at it!” (Prince, 1970). But we are getting ahead of ourselves, let us go back and see where all of this repeating began, since we have already firmly grounded ourselves in myth.


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