“Though in many of its aspects this visible world seems formed in love, the invisible spheres were formed in fright.” —H. Melville
“Primus in orbe deos fecit timor.” (Fear produced the first gods of the Universe.) —Lucretius
Joseph Campbell took great joy in telling the story of when he was interviewed on the radio about metaphor, every time he tried to explain what metaphor was, the interviewer would interrupt and say, “You mean it’s a lie.” Contrary to being a lie, metaphor, and myth as metaphor, offers great mysterious depths to be explored that never end in one answer or one dogma.
Metaphor focuses on the rich history of religion, mythology, creativity, imagination, symbol, psychology, and the world of possibilities and open interpretations. I am regularly amazed at the loss of metaphor in our popular culture. There always seems to be limited options: physical literality or simile. One of the areas that we’ve lost so much metaphor is religion. For example, the only possibility in much religious thought about Jesus is that he was either: 1) A liar, 2) A lunatic, or 3) The Messiah. Why are these the only three possibilities? Instead of loading the question, theologians load the answer. What about the possibility of metaphor? Jesus was raised in a barely post-Hellenistic society, i.e. grounded in much Greek thought. This is the culture that brought us so much metaphor through myth and story telling. What would this mean, that Jesus was maybe speaking metaphorically? Would Jesus’ statements somehow be devalued if they were to be seen as metaphor?
If we devalue the psyche (the totality of our inner world), and the truth and reality that is present in the psyche, then, yes indeed, those are the only possible answers for what Jesus was about. If we accept another answer, metaphor, possibilities of the unknown and unknowable spring up, and dogma becomes endangered. It would seem that dogma, in this way, is a protective force against the fears of the mysterious and unknown, dogma gives answers and keeps us from asking questions for which there may be many answers. Once again, I am compelled to bring in C. G. Jung. (Jung is prevalent in my mind as I am working on a commission for choir and electronics based on the ideas presented in his book “Answer to Job,” particularly the idea that God is a complexio-oppositorum, an antinomy — unity of opposites.)
It seems that when we discuss ideas of the psyche, that people somehow feel the truth of the psychological world is less valid or pertinent than the truth of the physical world. I think it has to do with our concept of psychology. There is a fear, fear that when something is described psychologically, it is less real than something physically provable, and will be marginalized as “only” psychological. This fear, and the numinousity of objects of religious adoration prevent clear, objective, critical examinations of the objects. We also fear that by defining things psychologically, they will go away. We see this in the simplistic views of talk-therapy, particularly in reductionistic views that “reduce” the complexes of an individual into a simple single source, say, a “moment” in your childhood or something, and that the psychological complexes surrounding this “moment” go away when we talk about them. (Freud would be the classic psychological reductionist, so much that humor surrounding his views pervades our culture to this day.)
Remember, they are called complexes, not simplexes, and therefore should not be simplistically reduced. But it seems to be human nature to try and reduce, to explain away things. I don’t think they go away by talking about them, but we do gain awareness of ourselves, and the psyche. But that doesn’t mean the complexes will leave, any more, than as Jung said, a scientific explanation of light won’t make light go away.
Here is how Jung put it, “If, in physics, one seeks to explain the nature of light, nobody expects that as a result there will be no light. But in the case of psychology everybody believes what it explains is explained away.” Jung did not want to be seen guilty of psychologism, which he viewed as a “primitive mode of magical thinking, with the help of which one hopes to conjure the reality of the soul out of existence…One would be very ill advised to identify me with such a childish standpoint.” He goes on to say (all these quotes are from his book, Answer to Job), “…What most people overlook or seem unable to understand is the fact that I regard the psyche as real…God is an obvious psychic and non-physical fact, i.e, a fact that can be established psychically but not physically.”
This belief that things defined as being of the psyche go away when looked at psychologically seems to encroach on our view of metaphor. If we explain the metaphor, we lose it. The explanation kills it, somehow. I don’t buy that view. I believe the metaphor continues to transcend any explanation and lives on. That is why the great poets and storytellers are still read. And that is why they used metaphors. The idea of one specific meaning/literality, in this case, is a dead end and leads the way to fundamentalism. Metaphors transcend, pointing the way to the world of many possibilities, many answers, and creative solutions to problems that ail this world.