Is it possible that all objects are alive? Are the winds, the oceans, the mountains ensouled, and if so, does humanity participate? Jung sensed the truth in this and embraced the concept of Anima Mundi, or world soul.
We can trace this idea back to ancient philosophies. In the sixth century BC, Greek pre-Socratic philosopher Thales of Miletus saw the world as a unified whole and believed that everything in the universe was interconnected and influenced by one another. He supposed that everything was full of gods and all objects contained a soul that was the cause of all motion, permeating and animating the cosmos. Building on this, Plato advanced the idea, positing the World Soul in his dialogue ‘Timaeus.’ Here, the Demiurge created the Anima Mundi from a mixture of necessity and intellect. This soul was meant to be the intermediary between the realm of ideal forms and the physical world. Through centuries and countless cultures, philosophers were drawn to find the all-encompassing theory that explained the structures and principles of the physical world. Finally, in the 19th century, rationalism replaced intuitive inner impressions.
Jung and the Anima Mundi
Born in 1875 to a pastor father and a spiritualist mother, Jung was raised in a world of spiritual forces and religious concepts. When he graduated with his medical degree in 1902, his doctoral dissertation, ‘On the Psychology and Pathology of So-Called Occult Phenomena,’ strove to find the intersection of science, psychology, and esoteric beliefs. This interest accompanied Jung throughout his life. Over time he came to feel the over-development of intellect had deprived humanity of fundamental meaning.
“Man himself has ceased to be the microcosm and eidolon of the cosmos, and his “anima” is no longer the consubstantial scintilla, spark of the Anima Mundi, World Soul.”
CG Jung, CW 11, para 759
While he acknowledged that the modern psyche would not likely accept ancient religious beliefs and practices, he knew the human imagination produced dreams and fantasies that could reanimate modern people’s inner and outer worlds. He came to call this reviving spirit the Anima Mundi.
To bridge ancient beliefs to modern personalities, Jung moved the Gods from Mount Olympus to the inner imagination and called them archetypes. Referred to as archaic images, they lived in an inner field – the collective unconscious. Jung traced the loss of conscious contact with the mythic word to a host of personal and societal ills. He writes,
“We think we can congratulate ourselves on having already reached such a pinnacle of clarity, imagining that we have left all these phantasmal gods far behind. But what we have left behind are only verbal spectres, not the psychic facts that were responsible for the birth of the gods. We are still as much possessed by autonomous psychic contents as if they were Olympians. Today they are called phobias, obsessions, and so forth; in a word, neurotic symptoms. The gods have become diseases; Zeus no longer rules Olympus but rather the solar plexus, and produces curious specimens for the doctor’s consulting room, or disorders the brains of politicians and journalists who unwittingly let loose psychic epidemics on the world.”
CG Jung, CW 13, Para 55
Soul in matter
The search to discover the soul in matter fueled the alchemist’s imagination and experiments. For Paracelsus, it was “the spirit of the quintessence that sets everything in motion, and that is the secret hidden from the beginning of time.” Jung internalized the alchemical processes and understood that when the ego marries the imaginal spirit, or anima/us, and we accept and live in both the material world and our mythic imagination, a new kind of personality is created. The alchemists called it the Lapis. In modern neuroscience, psychiatrist and author Ian McGilchrist calls it “the unity of the hemispheres” in his book ‘The Master and His Emissary.’
Reenchanting the world
When we think of enchantment, we imagine love spells in Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ or the fairy tale ‘Briar Rose,’ where an entire cursed kingdom falls into a deep sleep for a hundred years. But there is a deeper meaning in such things.
Enchant comes from the Latin word in (into) and cantare (to sing), incantare: to sing into a thing. To enchant someone or something is to sing into it or to influence it through imagination and intent. This magical audacity is founded on the attitude that all life and objects abide in a unified field connecting them with all points in space. Thales of Miletus called it Water and said the earth rests upon it.
To reimagine that we are part of a responsive web of life, is to resist the mechanistic worldview that treats nature as a lifeless object to be controlled and exploited. It reawakens a parallel universe where our material actions simultaneously appear in our inner world, not as photographs of our acts but as symbols that reveal the secret relationship between ourselves and those we influence.
To sense our behaviors do indeed ‘sing into’ the objects we act upon, and they, in turn, sing into us, removes barriers of objectivity, and restores feeling. It took thousands of years to wring feeling out of our relationship with nature. The void of feeling between ‘I and thou’ has not been filled with evil or violence or even malice. It has been claimed by the dull gray fog of indifference.
It is indifference that leaves us without feeling for the suffering of others. It is indifference that replaces the ache in our hearts when we call for the industrial development of national parks. It is indifference that permits us to rise up and reign down righteous blows upon others who will not accommodate our demands.
The soul of the world is not something to believe in. It is a natural condition of autonomous inner response that has been interfered with. It is not suddenly calling to us; it has always been speaking. It makes no demands; it does not seek to control; it is not a risk to prosperity or flourishing. It is simply, and always, the inner correlate of our outer life filled with uncanny images and swells of feeling that naturally give us pause before we act because every action we take abides in us even as it changes those we act upon.
~ Joseph R. Lee
HERE’S THE DREAM WE ANALYZE:
“My husband was offered work by his older brother and agreed against my judgment and advice. They had a contract to refurbish the tour bus of an esteemed opera singer. She was glamorous and bohemian but haughty. The bus was dilapidated and strangely decorated. There was a sense that much debauchery had happened there. It even smelled of sex. The job finished without issue, and my husband was told by his brother to call later regarding payment. When my husband called, somebody told him that his brother was not home and he was working late, an obvious lie as both finished work early. I was frustrated at my husband, but he remained hopeful that his brother would pay up.”
BECOME A DREAM INTERPRETER:
We’ve created DREAM SCHOOL to teach others how to work with their dreams. A vibrant community has constellated around this mission, and we think you’ll love it. Check it out.
PLEASE GIVE US A HAND:
Hey folks — We need your help. So please BECOME OUR PATRON and keep This Jungian Life podcast up and running.
SHARE YOUR DREAM WITH US:
SUBMIT YOUR DREAM HERE FOR A POSSIBLE PODCAST INTERPRETATION.
SUGGEST A FUTURE PODCAST TOPIC:
Share your suggestions HERE.
FOLLOW US ON SOCIAL MEDIA:
INTERESTED IN BECOMING A JUNGIAN ANALYST?
Enroll in the PHILADELPHIA JUNGIAN SEMINAR and start your journey to become an analyst.
LET’S STAY in TOUCH:
SUBSCRIBE to our free newsletter.