Through a Jungian Lens

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Approaching the Divine

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An old home for Shiva in My Son, Vietnam

As I have wandered through a number of different places, I always seem to be drawn to scenes such as this one at My Son in Vietnam, ruins of a different culture during the time of the Champa Kingdom. There is no question that Shiva had long abandoned this place. Does this mean that Shiva is no more? Or, does it mean that Shiva has found a different place to call “home?” Of course, this post isn’t about Shiva, it is about our basic human drive to express and contain something that defies expression and containment, that which can only be described as the Divine. I have been in mosques, in temples, in cathedrals and have found each place to be more about the people who worship in them, than about what or who is being worshiped. It doesn’t matter if we call this Divine by a name or attribute to the Divine a gender, none of our conscious acts or words can do anything but point to a Mystery.

“The archetype is a symbolic formula which always begins to function when there are no conscious ideas present, or when conscious ideas are inhibited for internal or external reasons. The contents of the collective unconscious are represented in consciousness in the form of pronounced preferences and definite ways of looking at things. These subjective tendencies and views are generally regarded by the individual as being determined by the object – incorrectly, since they have their source in the unconscious structure of the psyche and are merely released by the effect of the object. They are stronger than the object’s influence, their psychic value is higher, so that they superimpose themselves on all impressions.”  (Jung, CW 6, par. 625)

This explains, to me, how the ruins, even the new places of worship, and the gods that they serve are just renderings of human imagination as containers, as images to point to something that can’t be contained or explained because of the source or wellspring from which the gods and their temples arise – the collective unconscious. And so I am left to leave my analytical thinking engage in a sort of participation mystique that swirls around defying containment by structure, object, or word.


Written by Robert G. Longpré

March 19, 2012 at 3:30 pm

2 Responses

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  1. There are still some 14 Christian churches, looking similar to this in that they have been reclaimed by the jungle, in Goa, India, a Portuguese colony from the 16th Century. To be sure, there are still at least two Christian churches nearby, including a Cathedral, but, since the Portuguese were primarily Catholic, one wonders whether all of these were necessary to make conscious different visions of Catholicism, or whether they represent later incursions by many Protestant denominations.

    Skip Conover

    March 20, 2012 at 10:00 am

    • I was in Goa and saw a number of these churches four years ago. Thanks for adding this, Skip.


      March 24, 2012 at 5:20 pm

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