What is the Archetype of the Apocalypse all about?

The word Apocalypse (revelation) is from the Greek meaning "uncovering what has been hidden."  In other words, the revelation of new truth. 

What is the Archetype of the Apocalypse all about?
William Van Wishard ¦ WorldTrends  Research ¦ 
www.worldtrendsresearch.com

For starters, it’s at the very core of what C.G. Jung believed is happening to the world today.  Jung's psychology is the only school of psychology that believes there are two centers to the psyche---the ego being the center of consciousness, and the archetype of the Self being the center of what he called the objective psyche, or the collective unconscious.  Other psychological schools certainly acknowledge two realms of the psyche, the conscious and unconscious, but only Jung posits the existence of two totally independent centers. 
 
In talking about archetypes, it helps to note that Jung's experience with archetypes was that they are dynamic patterns, fields of potential, which have both forceful intentionality and complete independence.  They are raw nature at the heart of the psyche, and, as such, serve as the foundational material for our complexes, both “good” and “bad.”  The central archetype, the Self, is the transpersonal center of the psyche, and acts as the instrument and agent of transcendence.  As such, it is indistinguishable from the God-image.   
 
The word "Apocalypse" (revelation) is from the Greek meaning "uncovering what has been hidden."  In other words, the revelation of new truth.  This process operates in four phases: revelation, judgment, destruction, and a new birth.  If we look back over two centuries, we see the revelation of torrents of new scientific, psychological and social truth; judgments or assessments made on the basis of this new truth; the collapse of beliefs and institutions based on the former truth, and are becoming dysfunctional within the context of the new truth; and the sprigs of the new worldview trying to blossom.  Destruction and new birth take place simultaneously, although the popular use of the word apocalypse has come to mean total destruction. 
 
But back to the archetype.  Just because an archetype exists in humans doesn't mean it's necessarily activated.  It could lie dormant for a person's entire life, or for the life of an age.  What Jung sees happening in our era is that the Self, the central archetype of order and meaning, has been activated in the collective unconscious.  And when the Self becomes activated, it means a change in the collective cultural worldview.  At the core of every cultural worldview is the God-image, whether it’s Christian, Moslem, Hindu or whatever.  (Buddhists don't subscribe to a God, but they believe in the Infinite, which, from a psychological standpoint, serves the same purpose.)  But when the Self is constellated, then the process of "uncovering what has been hidden," the Apocalypse, the "revelation of new truth," begins.  And this is a process that takes ages. 

Looking back, it may well have taken six hundred years for Christianity to emerge into being as a “religion.”  Many of the themes Jesus espoused go back at least to Ezekiel, who referred to himself as "Son of Man" (symbolically, "Son of God"), which was the way Jesus referred to himself.  Many of the early Church “fathers” believed some of the Psalms prefigured Jesus.  After Jesus died, it took another three hundred years for Christianity to solidify into a religion.  It wasn't that Jesus suddenly came on the scene, worked miracles and preached magnificent sermons, and presto, Christianity bloomed.  Not at all.  Jesus articulated and manifested what had been gradually growing in the collective psyche over an extended period of time.  And this happened as the gods of the Greco-Roman world were losing their hold on the imagination of the Greco-Roman “creative minority.”  Nietzsche's 1882 cry, "God is dead," was heard throughout the Roman Empire 2,000 years earlier in a similar cry, "Great Pan is dead."  In other words, the prevailing God-image of the Greco-Roman world had been losing its resonance and relevance in the depths of the collective psyche of the Greco-Roman world.  But at the same time, there was a psychic maturation taking place, which the old gods failed to express, but which Jesus expressed and manifested in a manner that resonated in the depths of the collective soul of that time.
 
It might be said that St. Paul was the master psychologist of his day.  What in fact he did was to help the Roman world consciously assimilate the new God-image, the new spiritual dispensation that was already bubbling up from the collective soul, but needed to be consciously assimilated.  If the emerging God-image is not consciously assimilated, then it expresses itself unconsciously-- as opposites--in the contemporary events of the day.  And that’s part of what the whole phenomenon of Red and Blue America is all about, to say nothing of the Arab-Israeli madness.

Joseph Henderson, the only living analyst who actually worked with Jung, said that Jung once told him he loved to read the Bible not only for its spiritual insights, but more for its psychological significance.  Jung felt he gained great psychological understanding by reading the Bible.  As Thomas Cahill has written, the story of the Hebrew Bible is “the story of an evolving consciousness, a consciousness that went through many stages of development.”   While many of the primary themes of the Old Testament (especially the Pentateuch) originated in the Mythic Age, all of the New Testament was written not long after the close of the Axial Age.  The defining characteristic of the Axial Age, according to the German philosopher Karl Jaspers who coined the term “Axial Age,” was the move out of the Mythic Age, into an era when “man becomes conscious of Being as a whole, of himself and his limitations.”  Consciousness, Jaspers wrote, became “conscious of itself.”  Jesus may well have been the greatest exemplar of this emergent consciousness.  So the New Testament (as well as pre-Socratic Greek philosophy and science, which has much more the feel of the spiritual life than does the later dry-as-dust Western philosophy and science, which tend to be one-sidedly rational) were the first expressions after the Axial Age.  So these expressions were vital.  They were a reflection of what Rudolf Otto in The Idea of the Holy called the numinous, a word used to describe the awesome emotional intensity common to all spiritual experience regardless of culture or sect.   This is why Jung felt he learned so much psychologically from reading the Bible.

But we’ve now moved centuries away from that time.  We’ve so completely alienated ourselves from nature and its essential role in the human psyche, and our state of knowledge and psychic development are so totally different than 2000 years ago, that, for many people, the Bible no longer has the same numinosity and living quality that gripped people in earlier times.

So a new process of spiritual redefinition and psychological maturation has been unfolding for at least the past two centuries.  If one believes public opinion polls, God is alive and well.  But when one looks at the products of the "creative minority" of the Western world over the past two centuries, it's clear that those at the cutting edge of life no longer found resonance and meaning in the spiritual tradition that had come to be known as Christendom.  Hegel was the first to spell it out in 1827:  "God has died---God is dead---this is the most frightful of all thoughts, that everything eternal and true is not, that negation itself is found in God."  This belief was echoed throughout the whole of 19th century European culture, and was picked up in the 1920s by American culture (That's what The Great Gatsby is really about).  The public opinion polls are totally misleading in telling us how religious America is.  Those who crowd the mega-churches are the same people who swallow whole the technocratic/utilitarian/consumerist ethic that characterizes American life today.
 
So to summarize: the "archetype of the Apocalypse" is the activation of the archetype of the Self--the central archetype of meaning--that is bringing with it some new worldview, a new God-image, a new relationship to the Divine, and a new stage of psychological maturation for the whole earth.  And I suggest "whole earth" as this process appears to be working itself out throughout the world, albeit at varying rates of speed depending on just how deep established cultural roots are.  But it's clear Africa has lost its earlier spiritual framework, and India and China are both in some sort of spiritual crisis similar to what was seen in the West during the 1800s.          
 
All this was perhaps summed up in the dream I recently had in which I was asked by a friend what is going on in the world.  My response: "What we’re going through is nothing less than a redefinition of man’s relationship to God, to his Creator."  That's the archetype of the Apocalypse at work.          

© William Van Wishard 2004.

E-mail:  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

(Sources: the collected works of C.G. Jung and of Edward F. Edinger.)  11.08.04