Addendum: Psychological parallels of Odysseus’ Mythical Journey

  1. Addendum: Psychological parallels of Odysseus’ Mythical Journey


Jung (1916/1957) in his essay The Transcendent Function described a process of psychological change, i.e. self-regulation of the Psyche. His findings have great psychological implications with respect to clinical work. Follows I present his model and add comments pertaining to the archetypal process described in the myth of Odysseus and Calypso.

  1. Difficulty of adaptation. Little progression of libido: Odysseus ship is wrecked on the Ogygia Isle
  2. Regression of energy (depression, lack of disposable energy): Odysseus is exhausted and injured. He realizes he is stuck and mourns the loss fellow warriors he lost in the sea.
  3. Activation of unconscious contents (fantasies, archetypal images)/Compensation: Odysseus is caught in fascinans of the numinosum and falls in love with Calypso and forgets his journey.
  4. Symptoms of neurosis: Theocalypsis: Odysseus’s personality changes through regressive restoration of persona. He creates rationalizations to justify his stage at Ogygia and denies love for Penelope.
  5. Unconscious or half-conscious conflict between ego and contents activated in the unconscious: Odysseus questions Calypso and attempts to free himself from her influence
  6. Activation of the transcendent function, involving the self and archetypal patterns of wholeness: Theonemesis: Zeus is sending Hermes to free Odysseus
  7. Formation of symbols (numinosity, synchronicity): Odysseus realizes meaning of his journey and is now eager to come back to Ithaca to live out his destiny.
  8. Transfer of energy between unconscious contents and consciousness. Enlargement of the ego, progression of energy: Odysseus is happy and full of energy builds up a boat.
  9. Assimilation of unconscious contents. Individuation: Odysseus sales back to continue his quest.


VI.       The Conclusion and Summary


In this paper, I explored the questions of religion from the perspective of Jungian psychology. As themes concerning matters of religion are complex and multifaceted, the focus has been on a relatively narrow perspective. Questions of religion I explored from an empirical and naturalistic standpoint, confined to the frame of contemporary depth-analytical theory. Metaphysical and theological speculations have been avoided without dismissing them as unsubstantiated or fantastical. Instead, I rendered them simply irrelevant in terms of the current study. My religious beliefs have not been expressed, nor has the existence of God been debated. However, I stand with humility and awe in front of the great mystery which reveals itself through the psyche and the life as such. Therefore I harbor the utmost respect for human religiosity and worship with all those places it claims to have in human life. Nevertheless, in the present paper, I have attempted to cover the psychological and phenomenological aspects of religion and not the object of religion itself. By any means, the current work should not be considered to be a critical inquiry to theological questions and should be considered an empirical exploration of religion from a psychological perspective.

My main goal for this paper was to briefly explore the broad question of what religion is from a psychological standpoint and the functions of religion. Here, I closely examined radical, excessive, unadaptive, and extreme forms of religion and worship, as well as the religious mindsets as they pertain to all areas of life, including social and individual aspects. I have drawn important insights pertaining to this matter from various sources, which include Jungian literature, as well as works of social psychology, developmental psychology, philosophy, sociology, anthropology, poetry, spiritual and religious texts, and mythology.

An important distinction between religion and creeds appears in Jungian theory. Religion is defined as an experience of an archetypal reality with the concurrent rational assignment of this experience to a transcendent source. Rudolph Otto (1917) called this experience numinous and postulated two main components of numinosum: tremendos and fascinans. According to Otto, the experience of the holy is always paradoxical and evokes deep emotions of mystery, fear, and fascination. His concept was adopted by the Jungian community and was applied to all experiences concerning archetypal energy. I have attempted to explore the idea of numinosum and its representation in human psychology and it became the most important cornerstone of my paper. I have recognized and delineated religion as the most important modus humans apprehended in archetypal reality. Religion is organically intertwined with the psyche, and therefore, we cannot talk about the psyche without taking religion into consideration. Anima religiosus est: The psyche is naturally religious, endowed with religious function, and a container for numinosum. Corbett (1996) put it this way: “Numinous experience is synonymous with religious experience” (p. 15). Human maturation, therefore, coincides with the maturation of religious conceptions. The basis for religion is a primordial state of unconscious identity, which Levy Bruhl (1923) called participation mystique. The evolution of religious worship stems from this natural state of mind and proceeds through the stages of animism, totemism, and polytheism to monotheism. The ontogeny and phylogeny of consciousness advances through the withdrawals of projections of unconscious contents (archetypes) and through returning them to their source. Thus, the ego is formed. The development of consciousness can be defined as a process of making the unconscious become conscious. Any time the unconscious becomes integrated into ego, psychic transformation is discussed. Religion, from a Jungian perspective, can be understood as a tool for such transformation. Religion can be thus viewed as a creation of conscious connection between ego and the Self; what Edinger (1972) called ego-Self axis.

Creed, on another hand, refers to a codified, institutionalized relationship to the numinosum. Therefore, creed is collectively established dogma, and its main purpose is to provide a universal nexus relevant to the experience of numinosum. Creed, as a doctrine, can provide a rational container for numinous experience and mediate its content to man, but it can also dogmatize individual experiences in such way that they become inefficient with respect to their effect of psychic transformation. Additionally, by various means creed can foster defensive functions in religions by resulting in diluting of numinosum, selectively excluding or rationalizing its components and the like. I have shown how creed impacts various components of religious worship --- the experiences of the numinosum, ritualistic practices, and finally, beliefs deduced from the impact of numinosum. The function of creed in human psychology has been explored and its relevance to rituals and social structures has been shown. With respect to ritual, I have demonstrated how ritualistic practices can foster defensive structures, and instead of integrating numinous experiences, they are used to protect against them. The symbolic process, as a process crucial for integration and regulation of numinosum, is missing in many institutionalized religious practices. Many religious institutions are, thus, unable to provide adequate and credible religious [psychological and ideological] containers (Imago Dei) for numinous (archetypal) experiences. That leads to various phenomena of inadequate psychological ego-adaptation, such as hubris, inflation, possession, mana personalities, and one-sidedness.

These phenomena have been examined from the perspective of typology; particularly the role of the inferior function, as it pertains to the differentiation of personality and matters of creed, has also been explored. Thorough research has been conducted with regard to the phenomena of ego-adaptation within the frame of Jungian psychology and the research followed ego development as reflected in Jung’s collected works, the work of von Franz, Neumann, Jacobi, Jacoby, and Meyer, as well as in the work of neo-Jungians and psychoanalysts, such as Corbett, Edinger, Kohut, Kerneberg, Winnicott, Wallin, Kalsched, Bedi, Hill, Nathanson, Casement, Moore, Main, Compaan, Dourley, Samuels, Hillman and others. Even though my primary goal was not to ponder on the question of religion from the perspective of progressive, “adequate” or “adaptive” functioning, this paper has briefly touched upon it by identifying spirituality as a primary, indispensable aspect of individuation. Spirituality in Jungian psychology has more to do with a practical relationship to numinosum than with religious faith as reliance on the protection from a transcendent being. Jung’s theory proposes exploring the psyche and establishing a conscious relationship with various components of the unconscious (the archetypes) and ultimately the relationship with the Self. Further, it opens the door to finding a universal modus of religiosity, stretching beyond the particular religious teachings of this or that religious system. The spirituality of Jungian theory and practice seeks individual accountability as it stands in opposition to the unconscious identification with the mass-soul and with mass accepted dogmas. Morality, arising from the Jungian concept of spirituality, is based on sincere, responsible exploration of the inner and outer world, the corresponding Knowledge, and the conscious assessment of consequences stemming from the ensuing conduct. This morality is in contradiction to accepting dogmas as premises for spiritual knowledge and in contradiction to adopting religious beliefs without subjecting them to critical reality-based rationality; this does not mean rationality of separate cognitive functioning but “knowledge of the heart,” based on the quintessential involvement of all psychic functions leading to the deep and ever-continuous symbolic understanding of reality, the world and the human role in it. Jung called that individuation.

Individuation is a process of becoming oneself, and therefore, it is the highest goal to which the human can aspire. Individuation is not a free-flow in the river of the collective unconscious, but an opus contra naturam, or a conscientious process of building self-awareness that requires strength and sacrifice. The goal of individuation is not to be seen in refuge into certain spiritual practices or beliefs but as a creation of ego-consciousness capable of dignified living amongst the opposites of Complexio Oppositorum. Jung criticized the widespread religious doctrine – privatio boni – postulating that God acts as (and is) an all-good being without acknowledging the dark, evil part of the divine mysterium. The formation of Imago Dei, which suppresses one part of Coniunctio, has inevitable psychological consequences. He presented a theory that broke this taboo and allowed for the creation of a God-image that corresponds with empirical reality in the new age of growing consciousness. He proposed to “dare to know” the God-image in its more complex and paradoxical nature. Jung called for knowledge, not for the sake of knowing alone, but for knowledge as a tool for achieving a higher humanity: a humanity that can live up to the moral obligations presented by modern times. His message gains urgency with technological advancements of mankind and its ability to destroy itself and possibly the life as we know it.

Acknowledging, holding, and tolerating the paradox of existence frees human from illusory one-sidedness and the accompanying doctrines designed to perpetuate it. That requires an ego capable of self-reflection and flexibility when exposed to the change arising from the demands of the constantly unreeling thread of life. That kind of ego responds to the energy of numinosum with progressive instead of regressive exploit. The consequences of the latter are dire enough that existence as a whole depends on them.

The key processes of the ego are the creations of the transcendent function, allowing comprehension of the unconscious by conscious via the symbolic process. Symbolic understanding allows for an adequate and psychologically credible explanation of reality. Seeking refuge in religious doctrines that contradict reality does not mean a mere stagnation of intellectual development, but it can lead to destructive phenomena on individual and mass levels. The effects of numinosum are not annihilated by the act of denial. Au contraire: the more unconscious those powers are made by the unwillingness/inability of the ego to face them, the more archaic, and therefore cruel, they may become. Religious worship as a natural instrument plays an indispensable role in allowing the ego to form a relationship to the numinosum, but as almost every tool, it, too, can function as a defense against it. Protection against the numinosum is equally important for individuation, as it is its integration. However, when the defense becomes a sole function of the creed and thus becomes habitual, neurosis ensues, and spirituality based on reality principles are necessary to resume development. Jungian analysis and Jungian Weltanschauung can play an important role in this, because they grant the ego the ability to redefine its relationship to the numinosum, thus forming a new Imago Dei.

Further, to a greater extent, I have explored the psychological phenomena of stagnating or distorted adaptation. To better understand these phenomena, I researched and referenced the study about fundamentalism of Almond, Appleby, and Sivan’s (2003). Additionally, work on fundamentalism and questions pertaining to radical creed by Armstrong, Putnam & Campbell, Hedges, Harris, Dawkins, Ehrman, Dourley, and Fowler, among others, were also referenced by me. Their research helped to form a clearer picture of the phenomena of fundamentalism and allowed for connecting links between it sociological and psychological aspects to be found. Numinosum was thus explored, not only with respect to individual psychology, but also within the field of collective psychology. Besides studying Jung’s collected works, as a main source in the present paper, the work of Main, Casement, Stein, and Corbett were reviewed and included in the present study. In this paper, I have identified the major characteristics of “strong religion” and I have offered their phenomenology from the perspective of depth psychology.

In addition, the work of Edinger and his concept of the Self became the leading point for the formulation of my own contributions to the question of radical religious dynamics and their expressions.

In Jungian literature, there are different appellations for phenomena concerning possession by archetypes, creating a “strong creed.” This expression includes fanaticism, radicalism, sectarianism, and fundamentalism. I noted that all of these are expressions for “getting stuck in the land of numen.” The common denominator for all these phenomena was possession or inflation by the Self; either by its “light” or “dark”, or both, more complex, sides - which I named theocalypsis, theocalypse. The term theocalypse was proposed to describe the archetypal process of religious inflation by the Self where a specific religious ideology is present and the ideology is referring to a supreme, transcendent being or beings as God or gods. This ideology can exist in the form of doctrine or individual philosophy and basically corresponds to that which is known in Jungian psychology as the Imago Dei. I speak of theocalypsis only where phenomena of inflation by unconscious contents of the Self are present: Theocalypsis = Inflation + Archetype of the Self + Imago Dei. The word theocalypse, theocalypsis, or theokalypsis denotes the process when one is “hiding behind the god/God” while possessed by the archetypal energy of the Self. If either inadequate regulation of the archetypal Self-energy is not a part of the process or the religious ideology is lacking, it would not be considered a theocalypsis; and other terms, such as assimilation, possession, inflation, one-sidedness, or mana personality would be used instead. The term theocalypsis is used to describe the process of “being trapped” or “deceived” by the inadequate regulation of archetypal Self-energy and by the consequent, insufficient (non-credible), or poor representation of the Imago Dei. I believe that the process and phenomenon of theocalypsis is universal and archetypal. I have provided bulk of historical and mythological examples to support my findings. One of the parallels of this process was found in ancient Greek mythology in the myth of Odysseus. Odysseus was captured on the Island of Ogygia by a nymph named Calypso and kept from his [individuation] journey to Ithaca. This story is similar to the mind of a fanatically religious person in that it is trapped (possessed) by unregulated Self-energy and thus prevented from continued spiritual development. The term theocalypsis does not apply to “healthy” religious expressions (i.e., expressions resulting from the creation of an ego-Self axis, to use term of Edinger). Because I recognize religion as the most essential psychic expression, the term theocalypsis is applied only to cases where this function has become deformed for various reasons and is a hindrance for the “incarnation” of the Self and hindrance to individuation instead of its expedient.

I have identified three basic categories (General, Affect and Cognitive) of the psychological characteristics of a theocalypsis. Within each category I have identified eight sub-characteristics. The general characteristics pertain to concepts found in Jungian literature: 1) Hubris, 2) Ethical infantilism, 3) Unconscious identity (participation mystique), 4) Lack of Aidos, 5) Abnegation of Will, 6) Inadequate Regulation of Numinosum, 7) Identification with the Self, and 8) Inferiority of Consciousness. The second groups of characteristics which I called cognitive characteristics are concerned with the cognitive process and approach to religious products (i.e., texts and teachings): 1) Concretism and Literalism, 2) Historicism and Externalism, 3) Selective Rationality, 4) Inconsistency and Intellectual Rigidity, 5) Quazi-Intellectualism, 6) Absolutism and Inerrancy, 7) Millennialism and Messianism, and 8) Dogmatism. The third group of characteristics refers to how people suffering from a theocalypsis deal with the affective (emotional) quality of numinosum. I call them Affect Characteristics: 1) Asymbolism, 2) One-Sided orientation of consciousness, 3) Inadequate relationship to paradox (Complexio Oppositorum), 4) Externalization of archetypal Self-energy, 5) Dissociative selectivity, 6) Moral superiority and moral Manichæism, 7) Reactivity, and 8) Fear of the new and fear of change.

Clinical practice and the observation of the phenomena of theocalypsis have taught me that unconscious possession always yields consequences. Greek mythology recognized this archetypal process in the acts of different goddesses such as Atë, Dike, Nemesis, and others. In this paper I borrowed terminology from Greek language and postulated the term theonemesis to describe the consequences of theocalypsis. The term theonemesis was defined as a manifestation of attempted change by the Self where theocalypsis no longer provides sufficient ego-adaptation. Theonemesis could be understood as a compensatory reaction of the psychic system as a result of possession by the Self. Theonemesis and theocalypsis are both in service of individuation and are mutually interrelated. Experiencing theonemesis could lead to establishing of more adequate God-image and thus a more adequate religious faith. Theonemesis attempts to “attack” where the ego is identified with the Self and thus is under the influence of unconscious, archaic and unadapted contents. Examples of this process were likewise found in historical material and my own clinical practice.

Lastly, I have explored issues concerning change and I have identified facilitators and the basic obstacles to psychological change. The role of Jungian psychology, its theory, and clinical practice have been shown in the process of change as necessary conditions for individuation. The numinosum is the alpha and omega of human life; due to its paradoxical nature, it can be the source of psychological freedom or salvation, on the one hand, but it also could be the source of the worst destruction imaginable, on the other. Both remain unavoidably present. That is why Jung’s work is so important. A hundred years did not take a bit from the Jung’s message and even it made more urgent today.

It is my hope that this humble contribution will help perpetuate Jung’s message and will inspire others to explore the question of religion, not with iconoclastic intentions, but with the intention to help understand religion, so it can better serve the purpose proclaimed by sages.


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