Carl Jung often wrestled with the tension of the unity and plurality of our souls. This was not just an academic exercise for him as different archetypes and figures, such as Elijah, Salome, Philemon and Siegfried were instrumental in his own development. Jung saw this plurality as the original state of humanity, writing:
“This is an age-old experience of mankind which is reflected in the universal supposition of a plurality of souls in one and the same individual. As the plurality of psychic components at the primitive level shows, the original state is one in which the psychic processes are very loosely knit and by no means form a self-contained unity. Moreover, psychiatric experience indicates that it often takes only a little to shatter the unity of consciousness so laboriously built up in the course of development and to resolve it back into its original elements.” CW 8.365
The way we usually cope with these diverse voices is to construct a single persona – a unified picture of ourselves which we present to the world and which our egos become identified with. However this construction comes at a cost, it involves pushing the unwanted or socially unacceptable parts of ourselves into our personal shadow. These neglected parts of ourselves then burst out in displays of emotion when we are under stress or feel threatened or exhausted. Alternatively they remain walled off in our psyche where they are no longer accessible to us as a source of life-energy.
This is our dilemma: without a strong unifying core, our lives and minds can become fragmented, yet the cost of this unity is suppression. Who will save us from ourselves? Enter the shape-shifter!
The ancient archetype of the shape-shifter allows us to move between different archetypes and parts of ourselves more consciously and ritually. It is the shape-shifter who facilitates our daily switch between our work as a healer or salesman to mother to lover. Without the shape-shifter we cannot make those transitions fruitfully, smoothly or consciously and they will bleed into one another. Likewise when we need to make transitions from one stage of life to another, from adolescent to adult or from worker to elder we need the shape-shifter to complete the journey. The shape-shifter also gives us access to our ancient biological selves, winding back our evolutionary clock so that we can access our inner wolf or stag. Jung also wrote of the hope that we could make these shifts purposely and described this process as an “civilized achievement”.
All these well-known facts show beyond a doubt that, on the heights of our civilization, human consciousness has not yet attained a reasonable degree of continuity. It is still dissociable and vulnerable, in a way fortunately so, since the dissociability of the psyche is also an advantage in that it enables us to concentrate on one point by dismissing everything else that might claim attention. It makes a great difference, however, whether your consciousness purposely splits off and suppresses a part of the psyche temporarily, or whether the same thing happens to you, so that the psyche splits spontaneously without your consent and knowledge, or perhaps even against your will. The first is a civilized achievement, the second a primitive and archaic condition or a pathological event and the cause of a neurosis. It is the “loss of a soul,” the symptom of a still existing mental primitivity. CW 18.442
At the October Numinous group (see https://www.meetup.com/Connextions/) we will be explore the archetype of the shape-shifter and its importance in our spiritual and psychological development. Part of this journey is developing our shape-shifting skills which will we explore in practice.
In looking for ways to develop our capacity to shape-shift, I have become interested in the work of Padma Menon at http://www.movingarchetypes.com.au/. Padma explores how we can embody archetypes through movement and dance. drawing upon traditional Indian and Western dance. It looks like a great way to deepen our capacity to shape-shift and embody different archetypes. I have invited Padma to come and work with us over the weekend of May 18th to 20th next year (2018) here in Melbourne. Details will be posted on this website and in the connections meet up in the next few months. Learning to shape-shift is one of those skills that needs to be brought back out of the theater into our everyday lives.