Something has happened. Something has happened which has not yet
eventuated. The old spell of the old world has broken, and the old
bristling savage spirit has set in. ... And it all looks as if the years were
wheeling swiftly backwards, no more onwards.
That quote by Lawrence comes from "A Letter From Germany," written in 1928 or 1929 and published in 1934. He goes on to add as he nears the conclusion to his letter:
Like a spring that is broken, and whirls swiftly back, so time seems to be
whirling with mysterious swiftness to a sort of death.
This prophetic observation by Lawrence that was written in the 1920's and published for the world to see in 1934, came to fruition only a decade later. Carl Jung picked up on the dark fatefulness Lawrence anticipated. And from Jung's vantage point, he named the events at that time in Germany as a people seized by an archetype he recognized as Wotan. Nowhere in my recollection is there a more definitive and descriptive analysis of what it is like when a nation falls under the spell of an archetype such as Jung articulated in his essay by the name of that particular archetypal power—Wotan.
We do well not to casually dismiss this historical event, national catastrophe, and terror of what happens when a people sleepwalk into a net of psychical peril. Of course, we can easily dismiss Jung's observations of an archetype named Wotan. We may think, "How quaint, how disingenuous, how removed such an experience and psychological description are from us."
But before we let our 21st century imagination run away with us, we might hold tight the reins of our distractible minds. Consider what an archetype is. Allow yourself to become conscious of the archetype's numinosity, its power to control the minds of not just one person but a nation of people, its capacity to infect an individual with narcissistic importance, and its dominating influence on social, political, and religious leaders one would expect to know better than to be hauled down the corridors of authoritarianism, savagery, and self-importance.
In other words, archetypes are not simply a psychological concept. They are to human beings what instincts are to animals. In an earlier writing, I defined "archetype" as:
primal forms of being arising from evolutionary origins, manifesting
in human beings as universal patterns of behavior, cognition, emotion,
and perception; or as images that appear in dreams, symbols, and
myths; or as deeply felt experiences and encounters that are mean-
ingful but not necessarily explicable through present-day paradigms;
functioning in the human unconscious as formative centers of psycho-
logical complexes; capable of constellating a psychoid field of
connectivity. (Musing in Search of Meaning; p. 80)
It is important to note that we do not inherent specific images but rather the biological, neurological capacity to form the images which is part of our genetic endowment. Because we become aware of images in literature, fairy tales, and myths, we mistakingly think of the images as archetypes. However, they are not the archetypes but rather archetypal images that impact us in meaningful ways because of our capacity to sense in our environment universal and timeless patterns. Carl Jung expresses it this way:
again and again I encounter the mistaken notion that an archetype
is determined in regard to its content, in other words, that it is a
kind of unconscious idea (if such an expression is admissible). It is
necessary to point out once more that archetypes are not determined
as regards their content, but only as regards their form.... .
(Memories, Dreams, Reflections, pp. 392-393)
Perhaps more than any other professional in the field of psychology, Anthony Stevens has worked to clarify what is meant by the word and concept of archetypal powers. Stevens suggests that archetypes "precede all existence" and further that "they are manifest in the spiritual achievements of art, science, and religion, as well as in the organization of organic and inorganic matter." ("The Archetypes," The Handbook of Jungian Psychology, p. 90)
Something so dynamic and formative in our existence helps us understand what's happening to us at this time, personally and collectively. As I said at the beginning of this writing, something profound has happened in our society that must account for the violence and insanity we are experiencing daily. What archetypal powers have seized us?
I will return to this theme next month when we will consider Jung's essay, "Wotan," describing the archetypal power that cast a spell on the German nation and erupted in the rise of Hitler's fascism.