Through a Jungian Lens

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Groups and Identity – Participation Mystique

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This is the community Church in La Fortuna.  In the background, mostly hidden by clouds, is the Arenal Volcano.  I would have to say that I grew up with a religious world view.   I grew up a Catholic and went to church when opportunity presented itself, opportunities that weren’t too numerous.  Since my mother wasn’t a Catholic and my father wasn’t in the least interested in the church, it was only when grandparents from my father’s side were around that I learned about the Church.  It was decided that since I was a quiet person and I wasn’t very mischievous, that I would make a good priest.  I actually believed in that possibility for a few years while attending Catholic schools.

By the time I became a teenager, the attraction to a religious life drifted off.  That said, the tendency to lean toward a spiritual life has remained, especially now that my children have grown and found homes of their own.  However, I don’t find any attraction to any church embedded in this orientation toward spiritualism.  The organization of churches seems to exclude true spiritualism for me.

I don’t identify with the church any more as I did in my youth.  Growing up Catholic and going to Catholic schools gave me an identity, gave me a sense of belonging to something.  For a while, this was important.  Growing up a loner isn’t the easiest of childhoods.  Growing up as a gypsy in seven different provinces and going to more than twenty different elementary schools only accentuates the loneliness.  The church filled some of that hole.  But as the years passed, the hole still gaped wide and I found that the church couldn’t fill that hole.  I was left to my own efforts to find my own way through the years of life.  Any identity I had with the church was overwhelmed by the constant disruptions of moving and leaving.

“Identification with the group is a simple and easy path to follow, but the group experience goes no deeper than the level of one’s own mind in that state.  It does work a change in you, but the change does not last.  On the contrary, you must have continual recourse to mass intoxication in order to consolidate the experience and your belief in it.  But as soon as you are removed from the crowd, you are a different person again and unable to reproduce the previous state of mind.  The mass is swayed by participation mystique, which is nothing other than unconscious identity.” (Jung, CW 9i, par 226)

Okay, that explains why Catholicism didn’t “take” with me.  I simply didn’t have “continual recourse.”  Too much time on my own with my own thoughts left me without identification with any group.  Now, in the present time of my life, the lack of identification with an “ism.”  And, this allows me to look at the power that “isms” have in the lives of many of those around me.  I see “tea baggers” and other extreme groups upping the volume and rhetoric in attempts to gain control and impose their collective will upon others.  This is a scary thing.  Any look at history will show the horrors that come with societies and groups captured by the mindset of “participation mystique.”  And so, I have a real worry about identifying with any group.  For in the group, the “self” becomes secondary and often even in last place.  So much for individual or collective consciousness.


3 Responses

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  1. some really interesting thoughts here.
    cool picture too


    March 13, 2010 at 9:46 am

    • I think it is a good photo as well. I have other volcano photos that are more interesting from a volcano point of view which I hope can make it to this blog site eventually.

      Robert G. Longpré

      March 13, 2010 at 6:50 pm

  2. Interesting thoughts. I’m looking for the exact CW reference for a quote from Jung with no reference that talks about Participation Mystique. If you know the reference and meaning, could you share. “The secret of artistic creation and the effectiveness of art is to be found in a return to the sate of ‘participation mystique’…” This clearly does not have the same meaning as your reference…


    January 11, 2011 at 1:06 am

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