The religious instinct is as basic as the need for food or shelter. Psyche seeks and selects a central, organizing life principle whether consciously or unconsciously chosen. Secular deities range from food, money, or even science, to the gods of addiction; false gods lie behind neuroses and pathology. Traditional religions and cosmologies offer connection to large, well-ordered frameworks of myth and meaning.
Realizing one’s place in the context of larger realities has the potential to connect us to mystery and numinous experience; then we belong to something greater. For Jung the decisive question was whether a person was related to the infinite: “It seems as if it were only through the experience of a symbolic reality that man, vainly seeking his own ‘existence’ and making a philosophy out of it, can find his way back to a world in which he is no longer a stranger.”
“It is dusk and quickly becoming night. I am hidden from view, lying on my belly in a tunnel of some sort. I am looking out onto a clearing surrounded by trees. I see a small, fluffy, grey kitten–innocent, sweet. I want to climb out to hold the kitten and take care of it. Suddenly, a large, dark-brownish black bear lumbers in, crashing through the foliage; it doesn’t see me. I watch it, and am struck by how coarse the hair of his fur is and that the claws are ivory white but thick, strong and sharp. I stay hidden, watching. The bear moves away and as it does, turns into a wrinkled light grey elephant; it is small, but from my point of view it looks quietly significant as it treads by. I am still hidden from view and feel awestruck and numb watching all this. I look down; I appear to be lying on over-sized slate- green stepping stones–oblong, almost triangular. Then to my horror, the stones begin to slowly shift up and along the ground, undulating! I feel a mix of awe and fear when I realize that the stones are actually the scales of an enormous serpent/snake–and my reclining body is being carried along with it. I wake with the feeling that this dream is important to remember.”
Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death (Amazon).