top of page

Loreologizing Jungian Theory into Story

Craig Chalquist, PhD

When all is said and done, we are never proof against fantasy. It is true that there are worthless, inadequate, morbid and unsatisfying fantasies whose sterile nature will be quickly recognized by every person endowed with commonsense; but this of course proves nothing against the value of creative imagination. All the works of man have their origin in creative fantasy. What right have we then to depreciate imagination?

– C. G. Jung, Modern Man in Search of a Soul

How magical the language of mechanism felt to early psychologists! Bent on selling psychology as a hard science, they filled it with instinct hydraulics, emotion valves, energy dynamos, consciousness spectra, attraction and repulsion. “Psychic apparatus,” as Freud’s translator put it. Contemporary psychologists still do this, but they’ve followed trends in marketing and shifted to cybernetics. Nevertheless, a few psychodynamic holdouts cling to the steampunk vocabulary.

C. G. Jung, who gave us some of this vocabulary, like to blend his metaphors. In one passage he compares symbols to devices like dams that channel water; but in another, he speaks of persona, shadow, active imagination; archetypes as gods, fantasy as formative, and dreams as nightly theater. Like Sir Isaac Newton, Jung stood between two philosophical ages: Mechanism and Magic. Where Newton has been called "the last of the magicians," Jung represents their return.

What if we took this storied language even further? What if we tried to magic it up a bit?

As a loreologist, I study how we craft the stories that guide us. Psychology, as I’ve learned from practicing and teaching it for decades, is a story that too often tries to be a set of objective facts. There are facts in it, but its academic, research, clinical, and commercial arms operate as though possessed by the mad spirit of Procrustes, the innkeeper who mutilated his guests. The tools of Procrustes were machined ultimately by Hephaestus, god of mechanism and grandson of Saturn, imposer of rigid protocols.

Jung, who warned us against possession by collective myth remnants, also discovered during his “confrontation with the unconscious” (see his Red and Black Books) the raw experiential sources of the shapes our gods take: namely, primal creativity as symbolized—but not restricted—by the image of radiant Phanos, fabled progenitor of all. This discovery came five decades ahead of the book Creative Mythology, where Joseph Campbell noted that, although the old mythologies lay in fragments, the zone of mythic creation was not the village or temple anymore, but the hearts of creatives tending the mythopoetic imagination.

In simpler terms, we make the stories we live by, and that includes the story of the psyche. So why not be consistent and describe it as a story, or involved in story?

In a spirit of playful inquiry, or what Amanda Leetch calls “playing attention” in her dissertation on mythic themes alive in Lowell, Massachusetts, let us translate key entities from Jungian depth psychology into more fanciful language. By “entities” I mean psychic processes we tend to objectify. This move, which could be performed with other varieties of psychology, invites feeling into whether a less conceptual and more storied description of ourselves deepens our sense of who we are and what we have in psychological common with each other.

Anima/Animus: The notion that each masculine mind includes some feminine aspects, and vice versa, has hardened—reified—into trying to access little men and women in people’s heads. This is all quite binary. If we must use these terms at all, can we at least deliteralize them into relational styles anyone can express regardless of gender identification? If I find that a documentary has a lot of animus but little anima, for example, I mean it gives me arguments and facts but little feeling or depth. Do we really lose much if we use mind and soul as descriptive terms and forget about tracking homunculi?

Active Imagination: This has been described as directed daydreaming. Invite in a fantasy figure and converse, even stepping into its world if you can. Except for its intent as a tool of analysis, I’ve never been clear on how active imagination is worlds-apart-different from creative fantasy. Tolkien said the Elves taught him storylines. Le Guin learned about Earthsea from dragons. Yes, we learn about ourselves too, but it’s not always just about us (see “Ego” below), is it?

Archetypes: In theory, a universal theme or presence like Life, Death, Totality, Transition, or the Sacred; in practice, a frequent confusion of a cultural image with such a motif (e.g., a supposed “King archetype”). The Gnostics of old called their archetypes aeons and their shadowy counterparts archons. My Assembling Terrania Cycle, a gathering of speculative fiction about humanity’s slow maturation, refers to them as Powers, recognizing how they operate beyond the human psyche. A problem with “archetype” is that too much has been stuffed into it: gods and spirits, the themes animating them (Great Mother, Beauty, Warrior, Hero), anything mythological (Hillman), pivotal situations (Initiation, Resurrection)…We could perhaps say primal themes or motifs and then name which entities they point to, as above with Procrustes and his accomplices. When I explain archetypes and myths to the public I sometimes refer to collective themes and fantasies. If we go on with “archetype,” we might consider not using it to eternalize something we think is special.

Complex: This is an area where Jungian psychology posits pathology (e.g., “father complex”) in common usage if not in theory. Don’t we really mean getting stuck in an old story? One in which we overidentify with one of the characters and by doing so interpret the story literally? “My next lover will love me the way Mom never did”; “If I hadn’t done x, I would not have been at fault for y.” When we do this we lose the ability to reinterpret or reimagine the tale, which traps us. I can’t think of a good word or term for a translation; perhaps we can take a leaf from Hillman’s book and call this sort of stuckness literalism.

Compensation: When we are overly intellectual, emotions tend to surge upward eventually. Dreams bring us back what we try to ignore. The psyche abhors one-sidedness. In other words, like a dancer on the move, it prefers rebalancing.

Dream Analysis: Jung compared dreams to nightly dramas and analyzed them. Replacements of “analysis” have been proposed: “tending” dreams, “reanimating" them, etc. If we hold dreams as stories within the larger story of our life, then our aim is to connect the two, creatively; dream play rather than dream work.

Ego: How about protagonist instead? Or stage director? Or just I?

Enantiodromia: A change of polarity whereby one extreme turns into another. Paul persecutes Christians, falls off his ass, and becomes one himself. This is called a reversal in dramatic terms. Let’s use that and let Heraclitus rest in peace.

Individuation: This labor of becoming fully conscious of oneself on the journey to inner wholeness has been criticized as a project of heroic willfulness. It can be, but considering the alternative… Perhaps, though, we could reimagine it, away from a goal-dominated, ever-ascending Pilgrim’s Progress and into a creative lifelong project involving a deepening ensoulment of story. Then we get the “more individuated than thou” hierarchy off it too. We may or may not grow more enlightened, but however fragmented or inadequate, we certainly can gain in the soulfulness we express.

Libido: for Freud, the psychic energy of the instinct to procreate; for Jung, just psychic energy. Both got the term from Krafft-Ebing. When we have “libido” for something—a lover, vocation, a work of art, or, like Krafft-Ebing, a will to classify—doesn’t that mean we have a passion for it? Analysts sometimes say it has eros, which is also expressive and storied.

Opposites: As we see in his Red and Black Books, Jung’s inner cast of characters made fun of him for seeing everything oppositionally: masculine and feminine, spirit and nature, archetype and instinct, life and death. In other words, binary thinking; psychic splitting. Hillman suggested seeing such “opposites” as pairs. We could also imagine them as polarities.

Persona: This is a venerable term for the character masks worn on stage. How about role.

Projection: Since nothing emanates from one’s head, why not consider projection a case of stage confusion? You are angry with your partner, but at a deeper level, your anger is really with Grandpa. So you are blurry about which stage you are on. If you remain unconsciously determined to cling to the victim role and subtly encourage others to play the persecutor (“projective identification”), you can thus rearrange the stage all you like, but not where or when you think the play unfolds.

Repression: Sooner or later, like Quentin in Arthur Miller’s play After the Fall, we realize that all the characters on stage are also aspects of ourselves. When one of them is incompatible with how we see ourselves in our present role, we backstage them. Healing requires that we eventually welcome them back so we can learn from them.

Shadow: “The shadow made me do it.” As though shadow were some sinister sneak off over there in the corner—rather than how I am with people in daily life. Shadow is how we actually show up but have difficulty acknowledging honestly. In other words, we have role confusion. Maybe we think we’re being heroic when we’re actually pushing someone downhill. In that case we have no “shadow” for keeping it at arms’ length, because it’s us.

Self: The inner divine; the archetype of totality. This doesn’t dramatize easily, perhaps because so many round, square, mandalic, cosmic, and mythic entities have applied for the job. In Gnostic and other spiritual traditions, it is said we harbor a Spark of Sophia, of our Angel or Heavenly Self, even of God. Varying beliefs aside, we might imagine ourselves sensing into that wise glow which directs us on life’s path if we allow it to.

Synchronicity: A five-syllable word, in German and in English, for “meaningful coincidence.” Ancient thinkers called it correspondences, sympathies, and heka (Egypt): sudden alignments between far and near, above and below, inner and outer. You walk down the street mulling a difficult problem and a random statement from a nearby conversation gives you the key. Whether or not we believe in divination, we could say descriptively that we just have received a helpful oracle. Think of it playfully, not as contact with the infallible.

Transcendent Function: A mathematical term borrowed by Jung to mean a third symbolic possibility arising from “opposites.” In the unconscious, long-pent fury; in consciousness, a fear of being angry; through a fiery painting, a peaceful negotiation that bridges the two positions. In myth, overly passive Inanna acquires the assertive death gaze of her dangerous sister Ereshkigal. In other words, synthesis.

Unconscious: Comes in both personal and collective flavors. Often called “subconscious,” which sounds like a mental basement. William James didn’t like either term and used “transmarginal,” which is just as abstract. The Assembling Terrania Cycle nods to the alchemical “true imagination,” the Sufi realm of images, and Corbin’s “imaginal” to describe the Dreamvale, a layer of reality between hard materiality and ethereal potentiality.

Types: We’ve all heard of introverts and extraverts, and, for those with a Jungian background, of a preference for functions like thinking, feeling, sensation, or intuition. The Myers-Briggs adds judging and perceiving, and I’ve suggested the axis heredreaming (when immediate things claim our fantasy life) and theredreaming (immersion in worlds of possibility), two operations often confused with the sensate and intuitive functions. Aren’t these also role styles of our customary consciousness? “What style of writer are you?” “Introverted and intuitive, which can make me hard to follow…”

Wise Old Man/Woman Archetype: This theoretical category stems from Jung’s encounter with inner characters like Elijah and Philemon (as he names them in his journals). However, the characters insist they are akin to Simon Magus and Wotan: in other words, the figure of the Mage, which includes witches, wizards, sorcerers, shamans, alchemists…

You’ll note that these Jungian concepts have all undergone a double transformation, of deliteralization and dramatization. By doing this we depart from the scientific fantasy of objectivity and enter the wisdom realm of the humanities.

We also respect the psyche’s capacity for talking to us in whatever metaphoric language we give it. That’s why Freudian patients dream about breasts, penises, and death drives, and Jungians about God-images, animae, and superior or inferior functions. None of these are fixed entities. They are dramatizations courtesy of the Dreamvale. Attempts to bridge the gap between our daytime limitations and our larger selves.

This exercise could be continued. For example, in letters Jung mentioned an “Invisible Church” of loosely gathered individuators. In the fictional world Terrania, this looks somewhat like the Transdaimonic League of gnostic visionaries who span historical time.

I hope creative souls will consider this kind of verbal alchemy for other aspects of psychology stuck in a mechanistic dream. Our sojourns can illuminate how deeply the motifs of “fact” and “fiction” overlap in the Magic Theater of the psyche.

144 views0 comments


bottom of page