Psybernet > Writing > Autonomous psyche

Autonomous Psyche or Soul

I am collecting snippets here on the autonomous nature of the psyche or soul - by me (unless specified) or others.

James Hollis in a post: Introductory Thoughts

Soul has its origins before us and, perhaps, continues after us. Soul may batter the ego into submission, even crucify our desire for the "normal" life. Jung made an extraordinary comment once about God. He said, to the best of my recollection, "I call God that which throws itself across my path and thwarts my conscious will." It is strange to think we might find the godly in the depths, in the Slough of Despond, but on such occasions, as Christopher Fry once wrote, "Affairs become soul-sized, thank God."

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Jane Griscti <>
Archetypes, Shadow and the Syzygy
Sat, 19 Aug 95 16:27:40 EDT

In para. 8 he says '...they were present from the beginning. Their relation to instincts has been discussed elsewhere.' In para. 40 he describes the anima/animus (archetypes) as '...functions which filter the contents of the collective unconscious through the conscious mind' and, later in the same paragraph, he calls them '...autonomous factors...'

I found a reference to archetypes and instincts in 'Man and his symbols' where Jung says:

    "Instincts are physiological urges perceived by the senses.
     They also manifest themselves in fantasies and often reveal
     their presence only by symbolic images. These manifestations
     are what I call archetypes" (p 69)

Elsewhere in the same book he describes them as 'motifs' that appear spontaneously and compares them to the axis of a crystal -- it has no physical experience of its own but shapes the final form.

"The imaginal is the autonomous domain of soul, a third world, which is as different from the empirical domain of matter as it is from the rational domain of mind. And just as mind has the clarity of ideas, and matter the certainty of facts, soul has the vision of metaphor. Jung's true genius is that he understood that the proper object of psychology was this imaginal domain of the soul, and not that of matter, which belongs to the physical sciences, nor that of mind or spirit, which belong to that of mind or spirit, which belong to philosophy and theology. "


Dolores Brien, Robert Romanyshyn spoke about depression as a necessary response to the technological deprivation of the soul. He continues with this theme in Part II with a discussion of his new book The Soul in Grief: Love, Death and Transformation .

Thu, 17 Oct 2002 15:48:11 +1300


Psychotherapy can easily becomes anti-psychotherapy.  At the root psychotherapy is therapy, attention, care of the *psyche*, soul or life force.  That is not quite the same as social forces, or even personal ambition, the area psychologically designated as the ego, or persona.  Self is a little more ambiguous.  Often capitalised in Jungian writing it is more that the social or personal aspect of one's self.  So who is the client? Is it the psyche itself?  It is part of the art of psychotherapy to attend to breath, the soul, the life force beyond the more immediate manifestations of it.  A person is of course a *whole* however within that whole are warring factions. Which side is the therapist on?  The ego, the day world goals?

Immediately we are in a realm of immense complexity.  There ontological difficulty... does this psyche *exist*? We are such empiricists, our age looks for how we would not just *know* but how we would measure something. Yet Jung spoke of the *objective psyche* and called himself a scientist. We are presented in the psychotherapeutic relationship with the opportunity for unique insight into the workings of the soul, yet can we do that?  The very fear of being unscientific may obscure the possibilities.

There are ethical complexities.  The work needs to be client centred and with the client's consent, yet to posit a life force that is also "unconscious" that may point beyond immediate gratification or reduction pain leaves it open as to who is calling the shots.  To say the work is soul centered not egocentric is fine, yet how can that be distinguished from the therapists agenda and beliefs?

These two obstacles may seem severe yet it is the essence of psychotherapy to work with and through these complexities and to resolutely NOT avoid the difficulties. This is not really unfamiliar territory. Presenting problems are routinely distinguished from underlying problems. Confronting the client's perception of reality or on the other hand entering into the clients reality are familiar processes the psychotherapist uses. The materialist mode of causality simply can't be used in psychotherapy and a life force of some undefined source is implicit in familiar questions such as: "How do you think obesity has been useful for you?" This implies that the out of control eating was controlled by another unconscious aspect which had its own motivation.

The questioning of the client's and the therapists agendas is part of the whole process of analysis of the transference and counter transference.  The therapeutic relationship, like all relationships will highlight aspects of the participants life that would otherwise remain hidden.

Idea such as of the autonomy of the psyche, unconscious forces revealed via transference on the one hand as fundamental to the psychological enterprise yet on the other hand they are ridiculed and taboo in our culture, in current psychological training and in the agencies which fund psychotherapy.

The task of psychotherapy is difficult.  It becomes doubly so when the pressure is on to be *against* the psyche.  To be part of the problem for the psyche.  It is all to easy to submit to that pressure.  For some it is not even submission, but they willingly take on jobs such as advertising, where the task is to understand the psyche so it can be persuaded to greater consumerism.

Note:  While grappling with the above I  managed to find (using Google no less!) something I'd written in 1995 for one of the original Psybernet Zines.

I think of Jung and Freud.  Westerners, who invented (or popularised and developed) the method of attending to the soul in hourly sessions for a fee. They developed too, training and the professional association, and criteria for membership.

I see this as a rope, modern nylon rope to descend into the depths of the soul. Where previously we used myth, ritual, dance, chants, sacrifices, superstitions and religions, the stuff of life and soul itself -- we now have a nylon rope.

Not that the methods of psychotherapy do not have their own mysteries and rituals and myths and so on, but there was a shift --  the separation, the sense of a scientific approach.  We have in psychotherapy something of the enlightenment, of modernism, of male power (to speak metaphorically).

This has mostly led to a psychological imperialism.  Rarely do we descend that rope to admire the depths of the caves; mostly to plunder and bring back morsels to be used in the world above. That is our conception of healing.

That is Jung's phrase 'psychological imperialism'.  He struggled against it and his own intense enmeshment with the soul life does not make him an imperialist. No, that was not his 'fault'.  Like so many, he was a running dog of the imperialists (ha!).  He was a doctor.  That innocent slip into a professional, social, economic mode meant that psychotherapy (he would have called it analysis)  could happen.

So we are in a dilemma.  We use an anti soul structure to descend into the soul.  We try to use something teachable, logical, ethical, methodological, clean and white, pure and strong -- to go into a dirty darkness, a place of madness of pain and horror and abuse.

The mysteries and complexities pain and horror creep into the work, sneak up the rope as it were no matter how slowly we go. We call that transference, parallel process, therapeutic error. Soul complexity, including all the wars of the gods, their seductions and rapes, murders and intrigues, flood into our fragile organizations.

We create codes of ethics and have agreements about confidentiality and contracts of one sort and another which we hold up like crosses in a nest of vampires.

In this desperate struggle we could abandon the rope.  Let go! Fall into the darkness.  We could abandon the enlightenment. Give up the faith in our structures and organizations.

Or we could do the opposite:  Improve and improve and improve on our methods, our techniques.  Make our organizations more ethical.  Create a socialism where there is imperialism.

Neither option is viable.  We cannot go back into the naivety of the past.  We cannot go forward with this endless refinement of structure.  Nor can we stop either -- we will do both.  We are lost.  I am lost.  I am ashamed of where I have come from and I do not have a clue where to go next.  I cling to the rope and then I just let it slip. Then I am tangled in its mess, then I loose it for a while and feel lost.  Thus as I flounder in the darkness I am part of it, afraid of it.  This very venture into the psyche  is a god.  This is its nature.  It is part of the soul.

Saturday 2 November 2002

Knowing One's Place

There once was a hierarchy of  being,  and it was valued to "know one's place" somewhere between God and mere dust. The way such a perception of the world has been used for control and to induce guilt is bad. However there is another side to the ancient idea which originates with Plato. We need to honour the fact that our birth circumstances are potent. We do not choose many aspects of our lives; we do not choose our genes, our culture, our birth geography or our sexuality.

We can, of course rise above the givens. But we can't wipe out the givens. The givens do matter, no mere positive thinking will make them go away.  We can live beyond instincts, all the better if we can notice them at work.    Rising above givens means knowing them. This puts a new twist on the phrase "knowing our place".  The body is a sort of place, a seat for the soul.

Our circumstances like, nature's forces; weather, gravity the laws of motion won't go away, though like science can mess with nature, we have a way of attending to what we were given. There are the forces that use science to exploit and conquer it.  There is also a more gentle scientific tradition, to awe and wonder in its presence and to simply notice; the works of Joseph Banks or permaculture.

There are manifestations and response to manifestations.  Knowing our place in this process is not such a silly idea.  Even our responses are not fully chosen but arise.  They may well be unconscious responses, yet they are classifiable like the phenomena of nature. This whole gamut of response to the given is the psyche.  Archetypes classify responses. They are like the latin names of plants, they place our responses into a structure.

Another old philosophical idea:  the necessary and the contingent. The idea comes back as the serenity prayer:

GOD, grant me the serenity

to accept the things
I cannot change,

Courage to change the

things I can, and the
wisdom to know the difference.

This one way of stating that there is an autonomous psyche.

There is a link between the Hero archetype and the idea that one can break out of ones circumstances. Heroes can break the chain of being.

Horatio Alger promoted the myth of peculiar specimen of hero.  Alger's heroes, like Operah Winfrey rise above their circumstance.  The myth holds that nothing given is immutable.  The idea is political, it plays into the American dream and is at the source of a crass pervasion of commercial positivism psychotherapy has had to grapple with in the last few decades.  The idea that "You can change your life!" is such a denial that the archetypes, like the deeply worn ruts on a farm track are very hard to avoid and that some are utterly fixed.  The very idea of being the master of ones destiny in this way is to be in the grip of the Horatio Alger archetype, to be a victim of the spin.

Paradoxically the Horatio Alger myth perpetuates the status quo.

Created 2000, Updated: Saturday 2 November 2002