The Imaginal Within The Cosmos: Projection and the Numinosum
At the beginning of the Christian era some members of the Gnostic school probably would have agreed with Ludwig Feuerbach that "theology is really anthropology." The Gnostics used the term *anthropos,* and for them it meant the pursuit of self-knowledge as a means of discovering God; for them, such an explanation was considered a religious quest.
This spark of an idea, this *anthropos,* burst forth into a conflagration during the midst of the 19th century. Feuerbach, a German theologian and philosopher, was initially influenced by G.W.F. Hegel's idea of universal divine manhood as well as by David Strauss' shifting of that idea of divine humanity into anthropology. In turn, Feuerbach fanned the sparks by turning human consciousness away from the divine. He declared that "the task of the modern age" was "the realization and humanization of God...the transforming and dissolving of theology into anthropology."
Feuerbach went on to say that "the consciousness of the infinite is nothing else than the consciousness of the infinity of consciousness." His idea was that the notion of God emerges because man projects his nature into an outside object, calls it God and worships it. God is *nothing by a projection* of man.
In 1927 Sigmund Freud published his FUTURE OF AN ILLUSION. Quite naturally, as the father of psychoanalysis, Freud turned his attention to the psychical origin of religious ideas. He stated that "they are the illusions, fulfillments of the oldest, strongest and most urgent wishes of mankind."
Freud stressed that the helplessness of childhood, humanity's need for protection, gave tremendous strength to these wishes. Man projected his wishes, especially his great need for a protecting father, into an all-powerful divine Providence. Freud related these ideas to his theory of the Oedipus Complex. He referred to his speculation of the killing of the primitive father which evoked an "irresistible emotional reaction with momentous consequences." Because of the great guilt generated by this speculated primal murder, men vowed to respect the father's will thenceforward. Man shaped the figure of God out of the image of the primal father.
Freud went on to say that "primitive man had no choice, he has no other way of thinking. It is natural to him, something innate, as it were to project his existence outwards into the world and to regard every event which he observes as the manifestation of beings who at bottom are like himself. It is his only method of comprehension." This approach to the primitive mind was taken up by Julian Jaynes almost fifty years later.
A professor of psychology, Jaynes presented an inquiry about the breakdown of the bicameral mind. This inquiry led to an unusual interpretation of religious projection. Jaynes speculated that early man was a man who possessed a bicameral mind; this was a mind in which "volition, plannings, initiative is organized with no consciousness whatever and then *told* to the individual in his familiar language, sometimes with visual aura of a familiar friend or authority figure or *god*, of sometimes as a voice alone." Jaynes was saying that one hemisphere of the brain was talking as if God/ or another authority. The voices were actually coming from the man himself, but they became projected into Other.
Freud considered these illusions...religious ideas...as the most important item in the psychical inventory of civilization whose raison d'etre was social control and the defense against nature. Jaynes pursued the same idea. The bicameral mind was social control which led to stable hierarchical organization during the second millenium b.c.e. Bicameral theocracies...such as Sumer...rested on the "voices of the gods." Jaynes goes on to speculate that the institution of writing gradually eroded the authority of the bicameral mind.
Scholars like Feuerbach, Freud, and Jaynes have alerted mankind to the idea of religious projection. Serious thinking people today would be hard put to deny the theory of projection. But there is a problem. Both Freud and Feuerbach are atheists; they use the projection theory as a means of saying that there is no God. The whole idea of God is a delusion. From the point-of-view of the religious quester, their approach is negative and closed. They give us the impression that the issue is wrapped-up and that we should go home and grow up. But for what?
Later thinkers grappled with the projection theory, expanded upon it, took other approaches, and seemed to be more concerned with a possible connection between human maturation and the potential reality of God.
Carl Gustav Jung was Freud's heir apparent, but eventually he broke away from Freud's psychoanalytic theories and developed his own...a keen difference was Jung's more receptive orientation towards interior life compared to Freud's emphasis on the objective life and the empirical. This difference in priority resulted in the way the two men considered religion in relation to the psyche. Freud considered religion to be the universal obsessional neurosis of humanity that had to be replaced with a scientific approach. Jung, on the other hand, considered himself to be a doctor of the soul. Jung formulated a psychology of religion which he then applied to various forms of religion...such as Christianity.
The major issue between Freud and Jung pertained to the nature of the libido. Freud's view was that the libido was the product of sexual drives. Jung took the view that the libido was simply psychic energy, and that the material form in which psychic energy presents itself is fantasy. Freud believed that fantasy, along with events in childhood and emotional trauma, formed a person's past; he insisted that the psyche had to orient itself past these "archaic residues" to a rational, objective future. Jung's concern with fantasy, with the question of the future, led him to undertake a comparative study of fantasy, mythology, and religion.
As Jung's theories evolved, the transformer of libido became known as the archetype; the archetypes appear in dreams and fantasies as numinous images. These images are symbolic and were seen to link a person's consciousness to a deeply embedded psychic background, from which structure unfolds over long periods of time. Jung came to think of the archetypal image as the *instinct as image.*
Jung believed that these archetypal images had developmental import for the individual; he began to elaborate the idea that psychological development took place through a series of psychic fragmentations and integrations. The archetypal images helped highlight these activities which prepared ego-consciousness for new adaptations to the world as well as for the integration of unconscious material.
Jung noticed that persons project their archetypal material on others, especially parents. Much of this material could be seen in its mythic features or godlike qualities. Jung refused to take a reductionist interpretation. He believed that he was actually dealing with a transcendent center of authority and value that resided within man and yet was beyond the parameters of ego-consciousness.
Jung clearly saw the projection of instinctual images...archetypes... into other...parent, doctor, Other (God...but he took the reverse stance from that Freud or Feuerbach). He believed that this situation implicated a transcendent center that could created the foundation for a religious attitude; for Jung this was the *numinosum.* From Jung's perspective, authority passed from an other/Other to the ego. And after the resolution of archetypal projection, the outer Other becomes the inner Other.
The noted mythologist Joseph Campbell certainly agreed with Jung's theories. Campbell readily complied that mythological symbolism has psychological significance, that myths originate from the "unconscious wells of fantasy." But there is a major difference between myths and dreams; and it is here that Campbell jumps from the individual to the cultural. The myths are projections, patterns, but they are consciously controlled. Myths "serve as a powerful picture language for the communication of traditional wisdom." Campbell contested that myths are metaphors by which we live, that they have served whole societies, and that our cultural patterns have been shaped by them.
Campbell did not consider these metaphors, these myths, to be a matter of neurotic projection; rather, in his words, "they link the unconscious to the fields of practical action...in such fashion as to permit a mature and sobering practical comprehension of the fact-world to play back, as a stern control, into the realms of infantile wish and fear." Indeed, Campbell exclaimed that not only are mythological figures symptoms of the unconscious, but they are "intended statements of certain spiritual principals which have remained as a constant throughout the course of human history as the form and nervous structure of the human physique itself."
Mircea Eliade, a historian of religion, considered this kind of projection, or pattern, to be utterly necessary. Eliade noted that myths represented the eruption of the sacred into the world. The myth...the archetype...becomes a paradigmatic model for all human activities. Eliade believed that man's world has to be created; many symbolically has to transform his world into a cosmos. And every creation requires a paradigmatic model. For Eliade, religious man's desire to live in the sacred...the *numinosum*...allows him not to be paralyzed by subjective experiences.
Man connects with a sacred center which renders orientation possible; with this orientation, man has a sense of real existence that counters his terror of chaos and nothingness.
Religious man, according to Eliade, makes himself by imitating the divine models. He stated "that by consciously establishing himself in the paradigmatic situation to which he is, as it were, predestined, man cosmicizes himself...he reproduces on the human scale the system of rhythmic and reciprocal conditioning influences that characterizes and constitutes a world."
What Eliade seems to be saying is that man can not do without his hierophanies. A hierophany is a manifestation of the sacred; it could also possibly be defined as a projection, an objectification, or our own archetypal material. It serves the purpose of man, by helping him find his bearings, or making order out of his particular universe. And that is good.
Now what do we have here? We have included exemplars representing both sides of the projection coin. They have stated their position. At least two observations can be stated. The first observation is that the projection theory is well on its way to being established at the scholarly level of a variety of disciplines. The second item is the difference of interpretation. The earlier interpreters, Feuerbach and Freud, seem to react as if almost in a state of shock... in a somewhat extremist manner. They outright contend that there is no proof of God. Later interpreters of projection take an almost leisurely view; they are more expansive and open to what the possibilities of projection might infer. Basically, they are considering an inner Other, that which has been called a Transcendent Center, the Ground of Being, or the Spirit Within.
With the continued advance of knowledge the first item is almost a "given." The early atheists are to be commended for their concern and their personal courage for making public the projection theory. During the 19th and early 20th centuries such exposure could have threatened its authors with professional ruin and deep personal unhappiness. Feuerbach and Freud were brave men.
Rather, it is with the second observation that serious questions arise. The varied interpretations are no answer; there is no proof on either side of the coin. This leaves the whole issue of projection in a quandary.
The negative side of the projection coin--the atheists--countered that since man projects his wishes, fears, and neurotic complexes onto outer objects (namely God), than God is an illusion and therefore does not exist. But there are some small, but sharp voices challenging this contention.
In response to Feuerbach, Hans Kung--a German theologian--quietly surmised that although we project in the object (God) much of ourselves, might this...if being a false object...actually suggest *some sort of reality* that corresponds to our wishing and imagining? Man's psychological experience of God implies nothing against the existence of God. And John Bowker...an English scholar of religion...considers projection more appropriately as replication. Replication is necessarily man's way to speak of the unspeakable. Bowker states "that the possibility cannot be excluded that there may be *x* in reality which in the past sustained those replications and which has reinforced the continuity of such terms as *god.*"
Even Freud makes a small...perhaps intentional...slip in regard to this argument. While discussing religious beliefs as wish-fulfillments, as illusions painfully close to delusion, as insusceptible of proof, he says "Of the reality value of most of them (religious doctrines) we cannot judge; just as they cannot be proved, so they cannot be refuted. We still know too little to make a critical approach to them. The riddles of the universe reveal themselves only slowly to our investigation; there are many questions in which science today can give no answer."
The negative side of the projection coin appears defused. Even Jaynes, who has played the classical fence-sitter, had to admit that "in spite of all that rationalist materialist science has implied... mankind...cannot relinquish his fascination with some human type of relationship to a greater and wholly other, some *mysterium tremendum* with powers and intelligences beyond all left hemispheric categories."
It is this sense of relationship with the *mysterium tremendum* that the later projection interpreters seem to be addressing. Ann and Barry Ulanov...a psychiatrist and religious scholar team... pick up the sense of intuition implied in what Jung calls a "trustful loyalty" to the law of one's own being. The Ulanovs referred to a sense of vocation, something that makes itself felt as a summons to individuals to become a whole self. People feel commanded to develop their individuality. This intuitive feeling can be an immensely powerful religious feeling, a way of knowing God, of feeling This (as Other) incarnate in the deepest strata of our own psyche.
The Ulanovs pointed out that projections attract our attention to the object (as did Kung); they "no longer endow an object with its existence for the subject, a fantasy experience, but instead, function to draw the real existence of the object." The same process applies to religious projections. By becoming aware of our projections we place God outside of our control; and having survived destruction as an extension of our projections God can exist in His own right as an independent Other. "God becomes discovered within ourselves as a Power," a power that cannot be torn apart.
The positive writers see both psychological and religious projections as models. There is a considerable emphasis on patterns, imprints, and paradigmatic models that point to an inborn reality that leads to individual wholeness. These models are a means for the development of the human race.
Jung concluded that the psyche travels towards wholeness. Jung's understanding of psychological transformation was linked to stages of development. The transformations that take place in childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood should increase the ego's independence. Freud would not contest this. But Jung differs when it comes to the transformations that take place at midlife and in old age. He felt that in these later stages, the images of projection had a prospective rather than a regressive meaning. The ego submerges itself in archetypal fantasies; at this point, the ego can either resist or go along with the flow of the transformation process of fragmentation and integration. The archetypal symbol... often a *typos*, a God-image...points the way. A person can draw on this symbol for orientation and adaptation; doing this, an individual can repattern himself into a higher stage of development.
Campbell, discussing myths as archetypal symbols, implied that these metaphors have served whole societies; they have served as the mainstays of thought and life. "Youth have been educated and the aged rendered wise." Campbell believed that these images, these inherited symbols, when touched by a great spiritual master (such as Christ or Buddha), serve as a "vehicle of the profoundest moral and metaphysical instruction." Here is a case not only for individual development, but for social and moral development.
There also appears to be a reverse approach...a queer approach of failure...that helps to surmise whether the positive projection interpreters may be on the right track. These positive interpreters believed that when man loses contact with the *numinosum* within himself, when he refuses to come to terms with these images and their correct projection and meaning, then he fails...especially within the religious context. A horrific failure of development looms.
Eliade puts it chillingly. When the sense of the religiousness of the cosmos becomes lost, when we are no longer aware of nor admit the transcendent center within us, the following occurs: "intellectual elites progressively detach themselves from the patterns of the traditional religion; the gods are no longer accessible; the religious meaning of paradigmatic gestures is forgotten; there is a pessimistic vision of existence; and cyclic time becomes terrifying...repeating itself to infinity." (Does this sound familiar?)
This kind of failure is insane. Man, without a relationship with the *numinosum,* cannot proceed successfully. He will ultimately lose all his bearings and descend into the depths of depression; or he will frantically try to whirl himself into a superman, eventually succumbing to deflated failure. His existence will have no value. He will have no value.
So perhaps, when all is said and done, the idea of projection and the *numinosum* points to a great game. One is never going to arrive at the critical analytic proof. Rather, it is a matter of winning the Game of Life. Reason, common-sense, surely reckons on the side of development. What other course can man take?
Personally...I think man has to stake his all on the positive side of projection, on development under the Numinosum. Our real knowledge about this life, about this universe, about that which is sacred is yet minimal. We have barely stuck our nose outside the cave door. But I believe that we had best go with our instincts, with our intuition. We have only just begun to sharpen our critical reasoning faculties; and perhaps, as little children, we tend to forget our older intuitive toy when we have just discovered this new, sparkling rational toy. We have been endowed with many psychical capabilities, and we can ill afford to ignore those which are our most deep and powerful and enriching.
Perhaps there may be something to paradigms, the archetypal images of our projections? Perhaps they are a coded communication, an imprint? Perhaps they are seeds in the genetic matrix...mean to unfold during the cosmic process? I began this article by referring to an ancient school, and now I would like to end with a thought from the ancient Stoics: there is a "spirit deeply infused, germinating and developing as a seed in the heart of each separate thing that exists."
*John Bowker, THE SENSE OF GOD.
*Joseph Campbell, THE HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES.
*Mircea Eliade, THE SACRED AND THE PROFANE.
*Sigmund Freud, THE FUTURE OF AN ILLUSION.
*Julian Jaynes, THE ORIGIN OF CONSCIOUSNESS IN THE BREAKDOWN OF THE BICAMERAL MIND.
*Hans Kung, DOES GOD EXIST?
*Jacob Needleman, CONSCIOUSNESS AND TRADITION.
*Elaine Pagels, THE GNOSTIC GOSPELS.
*Murray Stein, JUNG'S TREATMENT OF CHRISTIANITY.
*Ann and Barry Ulanov, RELIGION AND THE UNCONSCIOUS.
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