|This article summarizes some of the ideas in my book The Dairy Farmer's Guide to the Universe--Jung, Hermes, and Ecopsychology. The article was published in the Oregon Friends of C. G. Jung Newsletter, Vol. 6, Issue 1, Oct. 1996-Jan. 1997, pp. 9, 12, 13. Minor revisions have been made.
Jung and the Greening of
Psychology and Education
Dennis L. Merritt, Ph.D.
I discovered Carl Jung while working on my Ph.D. in Insect Pathology in Berkeley in the late sixties. I finally found someone who spoke eloquently about a psyche that was at once beautiful, super subtle and holistic. As a naturalist studying the biological control of insects, I was particularly attracted to the ecological dimensions of Jung’s writings. I saw how Jung’s deep connection to nature permeated to the core of his psychological theories and practice. I believe that Jung will come to be seen as the first ecopsychologist and a touchstone for ecopsychology in the 21st century. Jung basically believed that a person is neurotic if not connected to the land.
Jung’s interest in alchemy and his emphasis on the chthonic dimension of the psyche grew out of his personal connection to nature. Being Swiss, he felt the impact of Swiss myths and pagan rituals, some being enacted to this day. Jung spent the early years of his life in the countryside where he established a deep connection to the land. He was a very lonely, neurotic child who found solace in nature, and associated it with his archetypal personality Number Two and the pagan side of his mother. At age 3 or 4 he had a nightmare about a ritual phallus in a cave. He experienced this as a dark, underground god “not to be named.” This dream forever influenced his approach to religion and spirituality. That dream, plus Big dreams and visions later in his life, compelled him to study alchemy, a pursuit that had captivated some of the brightest minds in Europe, most notably Isaac Newton. The alchemists searched for God not in the distant heavens, but in the earth, matter, their bodies, the feminine and sexuality. Jung’s psycho-spiritual understanding of alchemy became the foundation and core of his theory and practice of analysis.
Jung saw the alchemists as the first depth psychologists, naively projecting a post-Christian collective unconscious into their alchemical vessels and retorts. They recognized the true polymorphic nature of the unconscious, more commonly illustrated by myths and fairy tales such as Grimm’s “Iron Hans,” which Robert Bly used to establish the mythopoetic base of the men’s movement.
The Greek god Hermes became the god of the alchemists because his attributes best exemplified the nature of the unconscious. Hermes links “upward” to his brother Apollo and “downward” to the satyrs and nymphs. A common statue of Hermes was one of his head atop a rectangular column bearing a phallus. This symbolized Hermes’ conscious connection to the primal, chthonic level of the psyche. Hermes’ nymph mother, Maia, was a follower of Mnemosyne--Mother of the Muses and goddess of Memory and the mythic, oral tradition. Each god or goddess represents a particular way of perceiving and being in the world, a world view, a gestalt, of which they are the essence and to which they bring their unique light. Once one has a feel for the particular god or goddess's realm, one can see how it is lived out in people’s lives, in theories, and in behavior patterns. Jung’s life and theories are clearly an embodiment of the hermetic spirit. One can also see how the Homeric myth of Hermes stealing Apollo’s cattle provides the mythic base of British psychiatrist D.W. Winnicott’s professional life and his writings on infant development. Winnicott is an important figure in object relations theory, a system that has come to dominate modern psychoanalytic thought.
Winnicott focused on hermetic topics: how an individual came into existence out of nothing; how the sense of creativity is established in an infant from its spontaneous body movements and sounds being mirrored by the mother; how illusion and a sense of omnipotence is established by an archetypically devoted mother presenting her breast at the very instant something is wanted from within--something spontaneously arising out of hunger; and how illusion and the transitional object, such as Linus’s security blanket for example, becomes the basis of art, religion and culture.
Hermes as psycho-pomp, the only god to guide souls to Hades, offers the mythic underpinnings to the Hospice movement. The dying person’s focus turns to the body as it dies. Hospice helps the dying process by bringing people together and communicating with the nurses, doctors, family members and support systems. The goal is to serve the dying person and establish a sense of closure and meaning to life’s journey, with the hope of going on that mythic journey described by the thousands who have had near death experiences.
Hermes as the messenger of the gods, the god of communication who links gods to gods and gods to humans, offers the mythic base for an interdisciplinary educational system with an environmental focus. Every discipline, every university or college department, has a mythic, unconscious archetypal base. Hermes, by virtue of his inseminating seed/source of all, is what connects everything at the deepest levels and therefore can establish links and communications between all, beginning at the most basic levels. Hermes sacrificed the cows equally to honor all the gods, including himself.
Many attributes of Hermes link him to the body, more particularly to that interim position between psyche and soma, where archetypes become the “images of the instincts” as Jung described them. Hermes’ son Pan, known as the Greek god of Nature, only later became associated with the Christian Devil. Hermes was the last god to join the Greek pantheon and the only nymph’s son to be admitted into the Olympic pantheon. To ancient Greek culture developing philosophy, science, mathematics, etc., Hermes represented a revered link back to the feminine, the body, nature, animism and the oral tradition. The cow-thieving myth is a myth for our time as our culture is poised for the creation of a post-modern world view not totally dominated by science and Apollo. Hermes is also the god of synchronicity, where the boundary between “inner psychic” and “outer reality” breaks down and the Lakota-Sioux sense of “We are all related” is experienced at a deep level.
Hermes is an archetypal figure, a potential in every human psyche, that can be evoked to help us in the late 20th century to reconnect with nature. Myths and symbols, stories and art, dreams and Hillman’s emphasis on the image, even science, can be engaged to help create and deepen our sense of the sacred in nature. Carl Sagan and many other scientists have come to believe that unless we can come to see the environment as sacred, it will be ruined. Only a sense of a sacred environment will provide the foundation necessary to have the vision and political will to change our dysfunctional relationship to nature. This is an area where Jungian psychology can make a unique contribution.
The weather, for example, can be related to symbolically, since its qualities and Promethean variety metaphorically encompass the entire domain of psychic experience. Joseph Campbell recognized the analogy of the seasons to the human life cycle as being the most easily recognizable, universal form of analogy. The ancient Chinese text, the I Ching, one of the oldest and most profound books of wisdom that dates back before Confucius, uses many weather and seasonal metaphors to convey its meanings.
Individuals and therapists can use Big Dreams of animals to help cultivate a sense of the spirit animals of the Native Americans. Jung’s concept of the psyche with his emphasis on the spiritual and chthonic dimensions, on the psychoid dimension of archetypes, on synchronicity and Big Dreams, provides a matrix for us to begin to understand and appreciate the world view of our Native American brothers and sisters.
As an entomologist I have been particularly intrigued with Hermes’ bee oracle leading me to investigate the symbolic significance of insects in the human psyche. Earth could be called the Planet of the Insect, since insects are the most successful forms of multicellular life. Their endless variety of shapes, lifestyles and behaviors reveals the very creativity in nature that we also experience in our dreams. Insects are wonderful metaphors for the unconscious. They are ubiquitous, virtually everywhere, from beetles living in oil pools to survival in the frozen Antarctic. They are usually unnoticed, but have profound effects on our lives. This year, 1996, for example, there will be a projected decrease of 30% for the pumpkin crop in Wisconsin and 25% for apples due to the scarcity of honey bees for pollination. Our attitudes towards insects and our relentless drive to exterminate them, even the pesty ones, reveals much about our conquering, heroic cultural position vis-a-vis the unconscious.
This hermetic, Jungian, Hillmanian approach to nature can also be applied to geographic regions to help people develop a sense of place and root them to the land. What alerted me to using dreams in this manner was a dream I had in Zurich shortly before finishing my training at the Jung Institute. It is one of the simplest and most powerful dreams I have ever had and it consisted of a simple image. I dreamt of a typical Wisconsin meadow or pasture scene. It was a summer field with grasses and probably alfalfa. The typography was gently rolling. There were some trees on the horizon, some insects in the air. It was a beautiful sunny day with clouds in the sky. That was the dream. But the amazing thing about the dream was that every atom and molecule in that scene was alive, had an inner light or spirit. Although I’ve lived in some of the most beautiful scenery in the world--in California and Switzerland--I have never seen or experienced anything nearly as beautiful as that typical Wisconsin pasture scene. I took the usual Jungian approach to such a dream by allowing it to reorient consciousness in its direction, in this case to becoming conscious of the sacred dimension in nature. To this end and because of my background in dairy farming, the biological sciences, ecology and as an analyst, I take it as a personal challenge to articulate the significant contribution Jungian psychology can make to the greening of psychology and education.
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