Exploring Depths of Experience in Arts, Letters, Science and Ideas
The Myth of the Last Day: C.G. Jung’s Apocalyptic Visions By Steven Walker with ellipses editorial staffGo Back to Table of Contents
Page 1
Page 2
Page 3

So let us reexamine the myth. For example, in the Christian paradigm of Apocalypse, it is the meek who inherit, not the destructive. Christianity is in its essence, if not always its institutionalization, the constant champion of that which nurtures, cares, tends the garden, forgives, and loves without judgement so that all that manifests these qualities of life will be saved in an ongoing glory of life. In this context, the Christian Apocalypse is merely the death of death into an eternal Spring: a rising sun. As for the time of Apocalypse, the resurrected Christ seals off the inquiry over when this event is supposed to take place. Christ states: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.” Under this directive, perhaps we can cease inquiring after when the Apocalypse will take place, and rather redirect our energies toward searching for a beginning; for even on the cosmic level, that which may appear to be cataclysm may in fact be transformative--just as, at the speed of light, matter is converted to energy, and is not destroyed at all. Perhaps the radical images of the Apocalypse itself, whether in Jung’s dreams, or in religious prophetic visions, was that point where a crisis of transformation begins. This transformation is from one attitude to another, one conception of existence to another, from one version of life to another, and is in this sense “creative” and full of promise.

Such a change in attitude from the destructive and the violent to the peaceful, the creative and the fraternal was a challenge that Jean-Paul Sartre, one of the more influential intellectuals of the twentieth century, faced at the end of his life. Having written so much in defense of revolutionary violence, Sartre renounced some of his earlier positions in an attempt to create a new definition of human solidarity. The later Sartre defined “fraternity” as the “relationship of our species and its members,” in which fundamental “siblinghood” is established by the fact that we all are born out of a “mother’s womb.” “When I see a man, I think: he has my origins, he originates like me from Mother Humanity, let’s say, from Mother Earth, as Socrates said. . .” To the objection that this was a “myth” (French intellectuals often disdain myths), Sartre replied that it was not a mythology, but a concrete relationship based initially on a common origin in a mother, and eventually on a set of common goals that would link all human beings through a shared historical struggle.

Thus Sartre, a self-proclaimed atheist, shared with the Muslims, the Hindus, and the Judeo-Christians, a belief that humanity was joined by a common parent - whether it be the spiritual Father of Judeo-Christianity, a common Mother, the dreams of Brahman, the aspect of God who creates the universe in Hinduism - or even, perhaps, within our own collective dreams and desires. These dreams often share remarkably similar patterns, and, as Jung pointed out, images and icons,even over the horizons of diverse civilizations and existential conditions in time. Perhaps these dreams are not so much prophesies as they are portents and warnings; for a vision of a common humanity is not, as Sartre pointed out, a mythology, but becomes incresingly a set of identifiable, concrete human relationships verifiable even in the hidden codes of our own DNA, as well as the artifacts that testify to our shared existence in time.

The suggestion, then, that humanity shares a common bond and identity invokes a responsibility to make choices in favor of that common bond--and therefore in favor of oneself. If one chooses destruction, is one not destruction’s advocate? The destructive paradigm that sanctions annihilation as grounds for renewal may be just a restatement of the oversimplified formula, as the French say, that to make an omelet, one has to break some eggs. But too often history has shown that after the eggs have been broken, it is a mess--not an omelet--that we have made: with no guarantee that the mess will be worth its trouble.

So it might be better to say that, in order to make an omelet, we will have to cook some eggs. As a prototype of caring for the future of humanity, this would mean working with the material at hand (i.e., human lives and social bonds) with patience, delicacy and even flair.

In Jung’s later thought, the alchemical model of breaking down a compound through the application of heat in order to create a new substance symbolized the process of psychological individuation. “Dissolve and join together” was the alchemical command; and Jung used it to designate symbolically a

slow psychological process of coming to terms, through patient suffering and careful attention, with some of the unconscious depths of our human personality. To cook the omelet of the soul, and perhaps even the character of civilization, heat needs to be applied, suffusing what is conscious with what was unconscious, the past with the future, until consciousness and unconsciousness--what we have been and what we can be--merge to produce a more highly integrated state of mind. This is the transcendent function so prized by Jungians. This renewal of psychic energy and strength does require some breaking up of a prior personality structure, or political or legal order, before a new self or society should emerge as a synthesis of the two. One does not simply smash the old order apart. For we do not grow harmoniously by breaking up what preceded us. Such destructive movements, whether in the psyche of the individual or the convulsions of history, are signs of regression. We grow by incorporating the old into the new. If we are driven back on ourselves by our attempts to move forward, this backward step must become a form of archaeology in which the old self is recovered, edified and forgiven--not destroyed. Destroying one’s own past is the psychological equivalent of denial, in which the Apocalypse becomes an evil omen of self-destruction, avoidance, and regression rather than self-examination, recovery, and progression to firmer grounds.

What is truly Apocalyptic about our times, therefore, is our failure to confront and shoulder this fundamental truth of human existence. Our desire to wipe out the past completely, to begin anew with no trace of depth in our own experience, is in this case, merely license to remain irresponsible. To search out and confront our own history and our own depth is truly to build our house on the rock--and to historically circumvent the destructive Freudian harvest of repressed, unresolved conflicts. The Apocalypse is not as important as the infinite adventure of an evolving cosmic drama in which life, moving forward, takes part. Apocalypse, then, comprehensively understood, is merely the passing away of all that is insubstantial--and the continual recreation and renewal of all that is; and the myth of the Apocalypse nothing but the collective Jungian image of our fears of failing to confront, edify, and formulate the growth of our character.

In such a case, the maturity of civilization will evolve in the same way that it does for the individual. The adult personality recognizes that he/she is mortal, vulnerable and finite. Thus adults increases their understanding of the value of life and the necessity for care in dealing with the complexity of human affairs. Only this adult capacity to come to terms with our own history, to confront its anomalies and unresolved conflicts, as well as our own vulnerability - and then to move forward, integrated into a new identity, will create a “brave new world” with “noble creatures in it.” Under this criterion, it is not destruction that is the precursor of transformation, but assimilation and understanding - and perhaps the myth of the Apocalypse was always a metaphor for the price of a failure to do so.

Back to TopPrevious PageContact Us