Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
At the start of the millennium, depressed after breaking up with a long-term girlfriend, I entered psychoanalysis. I first went to a psychologist recommended by my company’s HR department, who in turn referred me to a Kleinian analyst in Toronto. (Melanie Klein was of the second generation of Freudians).
For more than six years, I visited him three or four times a week. After a while I chose to sit in a chair facing him, but we started, in classic Freudian fashion, with me lying on a couch, something that initially appealed to me because it linked back to the pioneering days of modern psychology. On a business trip during this period, I made a reverent, excited visit to Freud’s old domicile in Vienna, ascending the stairs to the apartment, which is open to the public, like a Catholic pilgrim visiting Lourdes. They had all passed through this bright stairwell, I thought: Sergei Pankejeff ‘the Wolf Man,’ Carl Jung, Sabina Spielrein, Sandor Ferenczi: all those wild characters in Freud’s career. You could make an argument that educated 20th Century consciousness emerged from what came out in the sessions up those stairs at the end of the 19th.
Eventually, I terminated my analysis after a period of trying to break free. The analysis was frustrating to me because it never got to the crux of the dialogue between analyst and analysand. It did provide insights, it did support me through a critical phase in my magical development, and I certainly can’t blame the disappointments entirely on my analyst. But it all stumbled, for me, over language. Or, you might say, meta-language.
As a teenager, anxious and withdrawn, I stumbled across appreciative references to Jung in a book of essays called Moving Into Aquarius, by the composer Michael Tippett. I couldn’t make much of Jung’s more formal writings when I borrowed a couple of books from the library, (I must have been seventeen at the time), but once I discovered Memories, Dreams, Reflections, I had my in. That book has never been far from me in all the years since.
A key difference between Freud and Jung is that Freud was an atheist. Jung was not a theist in the conventional sense, but he is often called a mystic by those who consider the term an accusation, and his stance was a long way from Freud’s.
There’s no reconciling the two positions, or the data the two schools present. The assumptions in the Freudian and post-Freudian view are scientific and rationalist, and psychoanalytic theory aims to pull order out of the chaotic influences of a disordered world upon the (relative) blank slate of the subconscious. The anxieties and ignorance of parents and other influences affect the development of the growing child in good ways and bad, and the analyst’s task is to help untangle those different threads. To quote Freud’s famous line from Studies in Hysteria, “You will see for yourself that much has been gained if we succeed in turning your hysterical misery into common unhappiness.”
For Jung, there is an inherent organising and unifying principle in the psyche that he called the archetypal Self, and achieving communion with that produces resolution of inner conflict through attainment to a sense of meaning. If – if – attained, such alignment, or union, heralded by a sense of numinosity or profound stillness, leads to serenity, wisdom or joy. To quote an old line, this is where history is redeemed by eternity. The experience might be described as union with God; in Jung’s own work, the Self, as a primordial level of the human psyche, is not described as God, but many people would use the term.
In analysis, I avoided the discrepancy between the different viewpoints until it came up one day, and my analyst admitted he hadn’t read Jung. I assumed at first he meant he hadn’t studied the man, but then he confirmed he hadn’t read any of his books.
I’m a Libra, I’m relatively empathetic, and my years had taught me the importance of tact. I acted as I usually did in stressful situations; I didn’t walk out, or even seriously remonstrate with him. But in retrospect, my response seems absurd. I wouldn’t respect a Jungian who hadn’t once or twice dipped into Freud’s Moses and Monotheism, or The Interpretation of Dreams. From then on, the lie underpinning the analysis was the astral elephant in the room.
I share the blame with my analyst. I should have just said “That’s unbelievable for a literate psychiatrist in the 21st Century.” Instead, I tried to finesse it. And, as I’d already been doing all along through the analysis, I kept on translating my ideas, my views, my feelings, into terms I thought he could grasp. He was open to different viewpoints, but I realised he wouldn’t and couldn’t enter into my primary zone of understanding. Anything idiosyncratically spiritual I said would, inevitably, be translated back again by him into the concepts that made sense to him: the primacy of the mother (a key Kleinian trope), the effects of parental actions in general, and so on.
Not that these aren’t important. Jungians – anyone – knows this. But there’s a fundamental thing about a person’s worldview that, in the psychiatric confessional, is central. If one brings in one’s confusion or anxiety, with a hope of calm as an outcome, then the Freudian perspective will help (using ‘Freudian’ in the broadest sense). If somebody is predisposed towards meaning, and assumes it as the crux of life and its goals, then to the Freudian that in itself can ultimately seem neurotic. The accusation can be expressed sympathetically, or hedged with tolerant caveats, but the fundamental viewpoint is that any kind of ‘spiritual’ experience is a pathological experience of either the mother or the father. The only kind of Higher Self is the superego, which is not a very sympathetic entity on the whole. This difference in perspectives helped drive Jung himself to break with Freud around 1912, after a five-year association.
Even magicians split into ‘Freudians’ and ‘Jungians’. There are rationalistic, atheistic Thelemites who see Crowley as the author of an ethical or socio-political system, and who will dismiss ceremonial magick as mere “yelling at the walls.” And there are people for whom, when the stars align, those same walls dissolve. Since Thelema aims to celebrate diversity, the difference shouldn’t be that important, but it does produce incomprehension and, sometimes sharp disputes.
The initiatory track, the magical path, and certainly the A.A. path, necessarily derives from a Jungian standpoint. It assumes, a priori, a meaningful essence or an innate core of truth that’s accessible to human consciousness. It also requires a healthy dose of Freudian skepticism at times, to offset any tendencies to unicorn-chasing; but there’s an aspect to the quest for the Grail that can’t be satisfactorily expressed in Freudian terms. And given the centrifugal forces in play within western societies at this time, a sense of connection to something like Jung’s archetype of the Self seems a necessary innoculation against the tides of craziness that increasingly disturb the sleep of all of us.
Identifying the effects of two streams in ourselves is critical in individual development. Integrating the magical worldview with day-to-day life is the supreme challenge for many practitioners. My own experience in psychoanalysis led me to look at all this more closely, just as reflecting on it this morning highlighted a few continuing difficulties. After all, the inwardly polarising effects of trying to deal with skepticism, our own and others’, as we simultaneously try to open more interior doors, show up reflected in the world about us, and sometimes nastily so. Understanding why and how we inspire opposition is important for us.
The example of the mature Jung, like that of the mature Freud, offers some help here. Both men struggled with academic and social hostility in different ways; Freud because he was a Jew and, in discussion of sexual aspects of his theories, because he was deemed “a low, dirty-minded Jew;” and Jung from the less dangerous criticisms of a literary and artistic world that embraced Freud so that the older man had become, in W. H. Auden’s line, “no more a person now but a whole climate of opinion.”
The small details of our lives so often define why we have or haven’t become the heroes and heroines of our own ambitious dreams. What seemed right and wise at the time in not challenging my analyst was mere timidity. Yet I learned from it, and I see my decision at the time as being also a necessary protection of self in a process that was also yielding benefits. Guarding one’s own sanctuary, even in a supposedly confessional situation, is sometimes essential.
To do that, we need to learn to recognise, and honour, where that sanctuary lies. On the surface, this seems obvious, but in practice it presents us with endless situations where we have to navigate our way intuitively. Oddly, our errors, if seen clearly, are also guides to that inner truth that only we ourselves can recognise and appreciate. Wise action is a desirable thing, but failing that, wise observation is ever the great teacher.
Love is the law, love under will,