© 2000 - 2003 by Ann K Elliott
The drama of the archetypal life of Christ describes
STEPPING STONES TO HIGHER CONSCIOUSNESS
The Ancient Mysteries
An ancient way of envisioning the soul’s journey was in progressive stages through descending and ascending levels of consciousness. The purpose of some of the world’s most ancient teachings was to guide neophytes safely through these stages. Until as recently as the twentieth century, knowledge of this process was considered sacred and limited to word-of-mouth transmission supported by geometric and diagrammatic constructs, with the journey itself requiring careful preparation and close supervision.
As if hiding in plain view, the stages of the soul’s progression towards union with God is contained in the stepping-stone events of the life of Christ. This progression would inspire the magnum opus of the medieval philosopher-alchemists, whose work in turn would lead Jung to discover the parallel pattern of events in the individuation process of depth psychology.
The quote at
the beginning of this chapter suggests that a person is transformed by his
or her higher destiny, and that the self-discovery to which persons are
called requires each to follow where the inner voice of Self leads with the
same faithfulness as Jesus. “In every feature,” Jung writes,
Christ’s life is a prototype of individuation and hence cannot be imitated: one can only live one’s own life totally in the same way [Christ lived his and] with all the consequences this entails.2
A Framework for the Process
Recent mind/brain research suggests the ancient mysteries were transmitted by modes of perception that engaged the visual and intuitive functions of the right hemisphere of the brain. Diagrammatic images and glyphs (as in hieroglyphics) were effective means of doing this--of engaging the mind in a symbolic mode of perception that increased receptivity to the transforming light contained within the mysteries. Through an expanded and encompassing scope of mind, perception of the interconnection between all things is heightened. As the mystic’s goal is unitive consciousness, this also may have been so for those participating in the ancient mysteries.
Central to how sacred teachings are transmitted is some sort of framework onto which the stages of the process can be ordered. Here again, the main events in the life of Christ fit onto such a framework and correspond remarkably to the archetypal themes of other religions concerning the transformation of consciousness. The ordering structure is sometimes a ladder, or a spiral stairway, musical scale, the rainbow spectrum, or some other gradation that marks movement between higher and lower levels of consciousness. The prime example is Jacob’s ladder upon which he sees angels descending and ascending between heaven and earth.
The benefit of such a framework is the ease with which the systematic symbolism of different cultures, religions and ages can be seen to correspond to one another, and thus bear witness to the one truth under girding the different paths to God. The importance of this for our times is the hope it offers that the many peoples of the one God will come to a realization of their unity.
The Annals of Time
Besides the “Who am I?” and “Why am I here?” inquiries into one’s higher personal destiny, there are also the “we” questions: “Where in the annals of time are we?” “What stage of our collective human destiny is presently unfolding?” “How do our self-reflective, personal lives serve the higher collective destiny of humanity?”
For as far back as can be pieced together from the remnants of human history, the starry heavens have been the screen onto which the archetypal images of the collective unconscious have been projected. Similar to how the psychological mechanism of projection works from the personal unconscious onto a person, group or situation, so the ancient sky-seers projected images from the collective unconscious onto groups of stars in the heavens. The outlines of the images they saw in the stars were projections from the archetypal psyche in much the same way as dream symbols are. And as projections from the unconscious they were similar to what persons can see in others but not in themselves, except they withdraw their projections and re-examine them for self-revelation. Thus the wisdom of the stars is in the reflection they afford into the archetypal depths of human nature. And now as then, the wise are those who are able to use their projections to gain insight into the “big picture” of human consciousness, and how, like in the heavens, certain patterns appear and reappear cyclically.
When the forefathers of the Hebrews migrated to Canaan they brought with them the ancient Mesopotamian sky-seers’ division of the heavens into twelve “houses.” Each of the twelve sons, who would become the twelve tribes, was assigned one division of the heavens. And since the axis of earth has a slight wobble that causes it to make an elliptical rotation once in approximately 26,000 years, the view from the polar axis shifts every 2,000 or so years from one heavenly stage to the next. With this shift the glyph by which an age is know changes to the one for the next aeon. Because these glyphs have remained basically unchanged for thousands of years, they have passed the test of being true symbols rather than mere signs. They therefore are the actual carriers of the forces they symbolize. As rotationally-changing motifs, they also contain clues to changing collective patterns. And for this reason the glyph for the age now beginning offers hope.
As the Pisces sign of two fishes swimming in opposite directions (Figure 1a) was a reflection of the conflict and division that marked and scarred the past two millennia, so the coherent “air waves” of Aquarius (Figure 1b) promise a time of accord.
Also encouraging is the new symbolic theme of the heavenly water carrier who, as the Cosmic Christ is pouring out the water of Spirit onto all “flesh.” And incidental to this changeover of symbolic dominants, the entire planet finds itself reduced to the proximity of life in a tribal village, and where the activities of everyone are known to everyone else. As if overnight, the Aquarian air waves are as alive with movement as the Piscean seas once were.
Who could have anticipated the acceleration of activity by which the air waves surrounding planet earth would become such a closely woven net of global interconnections? And now science is surmising what tribal peoples and visionaries have always known: that space is not “empty.” Nor on earth are there any more hidden places, or any more secret mysteries, as from East to West the saced teachings are all “out there” for any who would to access.
Opening to the Light
But accessing the mysteries is not the same as implementing them in one’s life. Receptivity to their light in a way that leads to individual transformation is still what counts.
The mysticism of the ancient Hebrews teaches that there is a house in the back of the head that contains a window through which the light of God can enter. The Kabbalah is said to open this window. Spelled QBLH, each Hebrew letter is also an image: Q is “back of the head”; B is “house”; L is “ox goad”; and H is “window.” Thus the purpose of the Kabbalah is to goad the window housed in the back of the head into opening. What could this mean in terms of the different ways the brain is known to function?
What is now known is that the left hemisphere of the brain controls verbal, logical, linear, sequential, analytical thinking processes, while the right hemisphere is analogical. Its finely-tuned perception is visual, intuitive, musical. Moreover, it perceives wholistically and simultaneously. It expands an idea or concept “into an immense interconnected thought-field” in which “multiple simultaneous meanings” fall into place and are “inwardly felt.” How the two modes differ is superbly explained by Robert and Deborah Lawlor in their Preface to Egyptian scholar Schwaller de Lubicz’s Symbol and the Symbolic3 With underlines, notes and turned-down corners on nearly every page, I have all but destroyed my copy of this slim little volume. The following is an example:
The symbolic attitude of ancient knowledge cultivated the intellect to the extent of perceiving all of the phenomena of nature itself as a symbolic writing revealing the forces and laws governing the energetic and even spiritual aspects of our universe.
Modern science, particularly subatomic physics, has . . . expanded its knowledge of matter to the point where Nature must be considered supra-rational (as being beyond the limits of rational methods and formulae). These new discoveries and ideas . . . demand a new and as yet unfound vocabulary, as well as a radically different approach to education and knowledge itself.4
From the above it can be surmised that what really was being taught in the mystery schools was how to use the right or analogical side of the brain, a mode that utilizes myth, metaphor and analogy, a mode that “connects the dots” and pieces together a felt perception of the whole. It is this mode that gives access to the higher octaves of truth, harmony and proportion, and brings knowledge of the laws of the universe down into individual creative expression. In Blake’s words, it is
To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour. 5
Tapping into Deeper Levels
Evidence also suggests that in some case those being initiated into the mysteries were guided through a prolonged and deliberate process by which inner fears and other hidden, unconscious contents were exteriorized in order to be confronted and overcome. In much this same way the early Christian “Desert Fathers” succeeded in ridding themselves of the inner demons of their unconscious minds by subjecting themselves to aesthetic spiritual practices in combination with extreme sensory depravation. As a result of this emptying of the personal unconscious, they tapped into the deeper levels of the psyche. The “signs and wonders” that followed were recorded in the accounts of their lives, as well as in the lives of other saints--from both East and West--whose inner transformation was followed by supra and paranormal powers.
Jung, in his lifework, would discover the principles of depth psychology as fully operational in the spiritual disciplines and practices of the past. What he and others in the new field of psychology would provide was a language--a terminology--through which the laws of the psyche could be widely understood and disseminated.
Christianity as a Mystery Religion
Some believe that Christianity in its purest form, and as transmitted in the Gospel of John, was a mystery school with similarities to those of ancient Egypt and Greece. If so, then its teachings were not intended to be grasped through rational, logical, literal-minded, analytical thinking. Rather, its deeper teachings were hidden within its symbolism and in the person of Jesus--not just his words but his every move and manner. If so, then the mysteries of his life were meant to be received in way that allowed them to expand “into an immense interconnected thought-field” of “multiple simultaneous meanings.” Received in this way, the light of God found entry through the window of the spiritual mind.
A succinct summary of the pivotal events marking the life of Christ, the same events that would become the Christian mysteries, are outlined in the Apostles’ Creed.
conceived . . . by the Holy Spirit
The above enumerated events are those celebrated as Christianity’s “high holy days.” They are also the “holy mysteries” contemplated by millions of ordinary Christians who daily pray the liturgy of the Rosary, not in churches but wherever they are, as with beads and imagination they move from the joyous anticipation of Christ’s coming, to the sorrow of the Crucifixion, the glory of the Resurrection, and his consummate return to the heavens.
In addition, the creed speaks of how the inner Christ is conceived, born of the spirit, and its new life nurtured to maturity. But the soul, on its journey, also suffers crucifixion and descends into the lower regions of the unconscious until, at the lowest point, the way down becomes the way up that leads to its rebirth and ascension to new transcendent heights. In Psychology and Religion Jung writes:
[A creed is] always the result and fruit of many minds and many centuries, purified from all the oddities, shortcomings and flaws of individual experience.6
To the above he adds that “to a seeker after truth” a creed is nevertheless not as convincing as a “warm red blood pulsating” personal experience. He also points out that creeds and dogma sometime serve to protect and even insulate persons from a direct encounter with the divine and the demands such a breakthrough makes on a person’s life.7
THE JOURNEY THROUGH FOUR LEVELS
The Annunciation-to-Consummation Cycle
2 below, the Annunciation-to-Consummation cycle is diagrammed with the
descent and the returning ascent moving through the four levels into which
the span of human consciousness ordinarily is divided: (1) the supra or
transcendent realm of consciousness; (2) the level of the ordinary, everyday
conscious mind; (3) the personal unconscious; and (4) the collective or
As diagrammed, the Christ-life pattern is a descent from the Annunciation to the Incarnation to the Crucifixion, and into the deepest Hell of human consciousness. Here the U-turn is made and the ascent begins, leading to the Resurrection, the Ascension and the ultimate Consummation (Teilhard) or Pleroma (Paul)―as the culmination of creation when “God will be All in All.”8
According to apocryphal accounts, between the Crucifixion and the Resurrection the work of redemption was extended into the regions of Hell. Similarly, in Dante’s Inferno it was not until the lower-most regions of the collective psyche had been plumbed that the point of return was reached and the direction turned back up and towards the light.
According to Jungian persuasion, the redemption or wholeness we seek requires knowledge and acceptance of our own inner darkness and our own propensity for evil. Only in accepting our own human frailty can we accept it in others. And unless we at least are conscious of our own failures, and are accepting and inclusive of others, we ourselves will remain fragmented and unrelated to the Whole that God is. In this manner of thought, the movement of the Christ journey is a descent from the light into the darkness, and then bearing back into the light of consciousness a portion of the darkness encountered.
The Upward Impulse
To speak of “descending” into Hell or “ascending” into Heaven is to use space metaphorically and in comparison to other dimensions of consciousness. According to Mircea Eliade, “ascent” is a metaphor used to express the “upward impulse” of the inner life and to indicate “the human condition” that is “being transcended [to] higher cosmic levels.”10 Thus Jesus’ ascensional return to “the heavens” is envisioned by Teilhard as his elevation to the Cosmic Christ, a term that includes “the Whole Body of Christ,” and that leads to “the Christing” of humanity as the Consummation and the still-in-progress Christ event. Jung similarly holds out hope for “the Christification of the many.”
levels of consciousness outlined above are juxtaposed the Christ-life
events, each can be observed as involving a shift from one level to the
next--lower in the descent, higher in the ascent. For example, the
Annunciation takes place on the transcendent level to which Mary is
supraconsciously attuned. With the Incarnation, the Child is born into the
world of ordinary, everyday, conscious reality. But with the Crucifixion,
Jesus departs the ground-level of consciousness, descending first through
the personal, then the collective levels of the unconscious, and “into
hell.” Surprisingly, the only scriptural justification for including the
phrase, “He descended to the dead [or hell],” in the Apostles’ Creed is from
a verse where Paul quotes the Psalmist as saying, “When he ascended on high
he led a host of captives,” and which Paul parenthetically explains:
In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had
also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is
he who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all
Possibly Paul is speaking from the personal experience of one all too aware of his own conflicted “lower” nature, but also as one convinced of the overcoming power of the mind of Christ in him. In fact, a careful reading of Paul suggests he had experiential knowledge of but not the language to describe the principles of depth psychology.
If indeed Christ descended into the lowest depths of human nature, then the Resurrection was an ascent, not from the Cross or the empty tomb, but from the realm of “the dead”―i.e., the unconscious on both personal and collective levels, and for the purpose of setting free what was held captive there. According to Jung, what is retrieved from the unconscious possesses the highest value for the psyche and bestows upon the individual his or her greatest possible meaning and purpose. In the Gospels, whenever the lost is found heaven rejoices.
As diagrammed in Figure 2, the descent and ascent through four levels is accomplished in seven stages. Also evident in the diagram are the pairs of opposite events occurring on corresponding but inverse levels: the Resurrection as the symbolic inversion of the Crucifixion; the Ascension that of the Nativity; and the Annunciation, or initiating event, paralleling the culminating Consummation.
Symbolic Correspondences from East and West
In the Eastern system of Kundalini Yoga there are also correspondences between lower and upper levels of consciousness. This system observes seven major centers of energy called “chakras.” When these are represented as dots and spirally connected, the resulting correspondences are between levels I and VII; II and VI; and III and V, and with IV as the turn-around or U-turn of the spiral. (Figure I-3) This is the same three-and-one-half turn spiral Campbell points to as a primary clue to the universality of the one truth undergirding the systematic symbolism of both East and West.
If this spiral is cut in two along the seven centers and turned horizontally, the motif that emerges is the seven-branched Menorah of Judaism. (Figure 4). In Kundalini Yoga the chakras, representing lower and upper centers of consciousness, are said to be “activated,” while in Judaism the candles are “lighted.” Thus the symbolism of the East, of Judaism, of the descending/ascending pattern of the life of Christ, as well as the discoveries of depth psychology, all share the same archetypal structure.
A fourth parallel to the life-of-Christ pattern is found in the Kabbalah Tree of Life. Sometimes this “Tree” is shown as four interpenetrating circles contained within a larger, all-embracing circle. The Tree is said to span four “worlds,” as shown in Figure I-5. The world of spirit overlaps the world of soul; the world of the soul the world of mind; and the world of mind the realm of nature and the physical body, thus forming five areas and seven levels.
Insert Figure 5
The ten “lights” or Sefirot on the Tree of Life, as they appear in Figure 5, are strategically arranged throughout the four worlds, falling wherever worlds meet. In Figure 6 the Sefirot are shown in their traditional arrangement with their interconnecting pathways, but they are superimposed as well over the four worlds and include the Tree’s one “hidden light,” as well as an uppermost one for the unknowable, unfathomable Ensof.
In a slightly different arrangement of the Tree, the dynamic movement of Spirit through the ten Sefirot is shown in Figure I-7. In Kabbalah symbolism, the ten are divided into an upper “trinity” and seven lower centers of divine activity. The seven are said to correspond to the “Elohim” (plural) of Genesis as the Spirit of the Three-in-One descends through the seven forces or principles of the four created worlds. Figure I-7a shows the path of descent, and Figure I-7b the ascent by an opposite path. Together the two paths complete an alternating circuitry. (Figure I- 7c).
Insert Figure 7
The Descending Phase of the Journey
Both Kundalini Yoga and the Kabbalah provide correspondences to the Life-of-Christ pattern as well as to the individuation process. In the pattern, the descent is initiated with the Annunciation as Phase I. In the individuation process this is the awakening or birth of spiritual awareness. Phase II follows, taking place on the conscious level of the will where a foundation is laid upon which to build a higher spiritual consciousness. Through the inner work of meticulous self-observation and scrupulous self-honesty, the authentic Self is separated out from the false. Metaphorically, this is the winnowing process by which the chaff and the wheat are separated. In this phase the persona is re-evaluated as one becomes aware of how his or her self-images and egocentricities are unconsciously expressed. This prepares the way for the first descent below the threshold of consciousness, into the realm of the personal unconscious where the work of Phase III increases awareness and acceptance of the rejected shadow elements that make up the personal level of the unconscious. From here the process moves to Phase IV and into the deeper, archetypal collective levels.
Two Dark Nights
In addition to being the territory of depth psychology, stages Phases III and IV coincide with St John of the Cross’ two “dark nights of the soul”: the first “bitter and terrible to the senses”; the second bearing “no comparison with it . . . horrible and awful to the spirit.” St John explains the first night as having much to do with our love of self and our own inclinations. That his second night moves into the deeper levels of depth psychology is evident in the following:
For this Divine purgation is removing all the evil and vicious humours which the soul has never perceived because they have been so deeply rooted and grounded in it; it has never realized, in fact, that it has had so much evil within itself.10
For this Divine purgation is removing all the evil and vicious humours which the soul has never perceived because they have been so deeply rooted and grounded in it; it has never realized, in fact, that it has had so much evil within itself.11
Thus the first, more personal “dark night,” prepares the way for the second more “awful” night. In a similar way, the work of integration on the level of the personal unconscious is preparation for the descent into the collective.
The Ascending Phases
With Phase V the ascent back toward the light of consciousness begins. This phase passes again through the level of the personal unconscious as contents of an archetypal nature are identified as being personally relevant and thus raised to consciousness for integration. From the personal/collective synthesis of Phase V, the soul is resurrected from “the land of the dead” (the unconscious), and returned to “the land of the living” (consciousness). In Phase VI, and as a result of the soul’s rebirth, the Self as the inner Christ is in a position to orchestrate the final active phase of the progression by which the divided soul is reunited into a harmonious whole. The symbolism of this final phase indicates that wholeness is a four-fold union of opposites by which body, mind, soul and spirit are co-joined in grand conjunction.
Jung’s Mysterium Coniunctionis describes the conjunction as a “synthesis of psychic opposites.” The Old Testament source of the symbolism is Ezekiel’s chariot; while the New Testament parallel is found in the imagery of the Transfiguration and references to Christ’s glorified body. In the East a similar synthesis is called the diamond body. What seems most likely is that in each case the symbolism is describing a psycho-spiritual process involving the symbolism of transformation and directed towards the creation of an indestructible, eternal body--a trans-dimensional vehicle--and which just may turn out to be transcendent consciousness itself.
The Christ Who Transcends Christianity
As creation has six active phases and an inactive seventh phase, as St Theresa’s Interior Castle has seven mansions, and Thomas Merton’s mountain seven stories, as the Menorah of Judaism has seven branches, and Kundalini Yoga its seven chakras, so the soul’s progression towards completion follows the same septenary pattern and is, in fact, a universally applicable map describing the way to the higher ground of Christed consciousness.
In this chapter a framework has been built on which next to observe the high drama of the life of Christ and how it is being re-enacted in the individual soul. Jung called this sequence “the Christian archetype.” In the remaining chapters the focus will be on each of these events for the purpose of extracting their meaning for lives today, many of whom consider themselves “unaffiliated seekers,” yet nevertheless have heard and responded to the call to come up higher. Hopefully, as in Christianity’s third millennium gets underway, a new compatibility will be found between spirituality, psychology and science, with the Church providing an environment in which together all three can nurture body, mind, soul and spirit.
Chapter One Credits
1 - The Astrological Glyphs of Pisces and Aquarius
Chapter One Notes
1 Jung, Psychology and Religion, CW 11, par.233, quoted by