When a person becomes so identified with a particular spiritual archetype that they fail to separate their own ego from the archetype we call this inflation. A preacher or teacher, feeling that their insights and passion come from beyond them becomes a prophet proclaiming the words of God, a religious leader may develop a messianic complex and identify as a guru or as an incarnation of a god.
Not all inflation is a bad thing! It can allow us to become more than our fragile selves. Every priest needs to become inflated with a priestly archetype to be effective, every healer needs to portray the confidence that the divine energy flows through them to be effective. These experiences of inflation, of course, are initiations of the soul – they send us off on some sort of divine quest. Inflation is common when we start on a spiritual path – we seem to be infused with divine energy, meditating and praying are easy, spiritual experience floods our souls.
Inflation can be a wonderful and helpful experience but it is also dangerous. All religious traditions have techniques and ways of teaching their followers not to become inflated and these are important if we are to guard against dangers on the spiritual path. So Jesus can proclaim “Whoever wants to be my disciple me must take up his cross and follow me.” These allow the spiritual person to be in the presence of the holy and not to get carried away by it. Buddhists try to get disciples to focus on the impermanence of the self as an antidote to religious ego inflation.
One aspect of this inflation is the sense that one knows the truth which is hidden from others. This is a kind of gnosticism (gnosis = knowing). It is common when we start on a spiritual path to think that we have found “THE TRUTH” and that we are somehow above others who do not have that same insight. This comes about because of the excitement of the “AHA” moment when we realize a deep truth about life. The ego can seize upon that feeling a use it to feel superior or part of a select special group.
When we recognize the nature of inflation we can use it to expand ourselves. In the presence of an archetype we are temporarily inflated which means we expand as a person, we engage the divine and we feel deeply. But that is not our doing – it belongs to the archetypal realm and in the quiet of our our minds we can deflate again and become our human searching selves again.