SHENJIVA
A Journal of Inner Work and Therapeutic Arts
Immanence and Identity in Plural Personality
Richard Dagan

Studies Index...

Proteus...

11 June 2012 (Revised: 16 September 2012)

It is a time of confusion. Nothing so very unusual in that, except the fact that in this instance, during this period in which transiting Pluto squares Midheaven, North Node, Venus and Vesta, all under the influence of conjunction with transiting Uranus, things are particularly intense, the changes, very rapid.

For an organizing personality, one continuously engaged in the buildup and breakdown of self-concept, creative work is both driven and therapeutic. One "becomes" whatever role serves to unify and channel multiple elements of self in constructive activity. But in the face of this Pluto square, ups and downs have gone sideways.

This morning I remembered Proteus.

Source: A Glossary of Jungian Terms
Chalquist C. Author of Terrapsychology: Reengaging The Soul Of Place. (2007)
terrapsych.com. chalquist.com.

Archetype: (from St. Augustine and Jacob Burkhardt's "primordial image"; also, a version of Levy-Bruhl's "representations collectives"): a constitutive prototype or form or Gestalt within the collective unconscious; a ruling "organ" of the psyche and Platonic blueprint for its activity. Complexes of the collective unconscious. Images and emotions (both must be present). The psychic form of preformed mechanism for the development of consciousness by ordering the chaos of perceptions into meaningful patterns. Instinctive behavior pattern grounded in the fundamental structure of living matter. Archetypes organize our perceptions, collect images, regulate, modify, motivate, and even develop conscious contents, plot the course of developments in advance, set up bridges between the ego and its instinctive and collective roots, lead the channeling and conversion of instinctual energy, and "represent the authentic element of spirit" and a "spiritual goal."

In a 1936 lecture, Jung defined the archetypes as follows:

While the personal unconscious is made up essentially of contents which have at one time been conscious, but which have disappeared from consciousness through having been forgotten or repressed, the contents of the collective unconscious have never been in consciousness, and therefore have never been individually acquired but owe their existence exclusively to heredity. Whereas the personal unconscious consists for the most part of complexes, the content of the collective unconscious is made up essentially of archetypes.

The concept of the archetype, which is an indispensable correlate to the idea of the collective unconscious, indicates the existence of definite forms in the psyche which seem to be present always and everywhere. Mythological research calls them "motifs"; in the psychology of primitives they correspond to Levy-Bruhl's concept of "representations collectives," and in the field of comparative religion they have been defined by Hubert and Mauss as "categories of the imagination." Adolf Bastian long ago called them "elementary" or "primordial thoughts." From these references, it should be clear enough that my idea of the archetype — literally a pre-existent form — does not stand alone, but is something that is recognized and named in other fields of knowledge.

My thesis, then, is as follows: In addition to our immediate consciousness, which is of a thoroughly personal nature and which we believe to be the only empirical psyche (even if we tack on the personal unconscious as an appendix), there exists a second psychic system of a collective, universal, and impersonal nature which is identical in all individuals. This collective unconscious does not develop individually, but is inherited. It consists of pre-existent forms, the archetypes, which can only become conscious secondarily and which give definite form to certain psychic contents.

Self:

1  The central, organizing, governing      archetype of the collective unconscious and template for the ego. It contains all the other archetypes. The nucleus of the psyche (central fire). It's the archetype of growth. [...]

2  The entire psyche, conscious and      unconscious.

3  An unconscious prefiguration      (blueprint) of the ego. Both a mirror of the subjective ego and a reflection of the whole psyche.

The Self image of wholeness provides a new interpretation/container for traditional and worn-out symbols.

Some of its qualities: unitemporal vs. eternal, unique vs. universal.

Images symbolizing the Self tend to appear during times of inward disorganization or after work on the Wise Old Man/Wise Woman archetypes (which are a second liberation from the parent of their gender). Many of the symbols are quaternities. Conscious contact with the nonego Self, an archetype also known as the God-image, is the highest goal of individuation. In that dialog, ego is to Self as planet is to its sun and feels itself contained in the Self. Whether God (or Goddess) lives behind the psychological image is unknown because the psyche filters every experience.

Jung speculated that the Self puts on bodily form — like a diver's wetsuit — to know itself. Only we can resolve the opposites within the God-image. Jung thought it possible that evolution was a purposeful groping toward Self-realization.

In Jungian terms, the "Self" is an archetype of a different order, encompassing all of the other archetypes. This idea is consonant with my experience of the numinous in a traumatic event at the age of 15. Several years after that revelation, in yet another crisis, I "heard" the name Amun-Ra (Amon-Re) and "saw" the head of a man subsequently identified as Akhenaten (Amenhotep IV). Self-created — without mother or father — a transcendental deity, king of the gods, Amun had no story of his own ... all other gods were a manifestation of him and he was known through their stories. Amun was the essential and the hidden, the Invisible One, the wind, a creator deity. Combining two powerful cults in Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt, Amun-Ra became known as "king of the gods" long before the rise of Akhenaten in the 18th dynasty.

These ideas readily lend themselves to personal adaptation. In my case, the multiple principals comprising personality are sensible in terms of Self, under aegis of whom operates a gestalt in which all principals are understood, cared for, and afforded opportunity for self-expression. Akhenaten's story illustrates the danger of egoic presumption, for example, while the story of Amun-Ra informs the function of ego in plural personality and the transcendent. Multiplicity and unicity.

The process for ego involves working with multiplicity. This is about communication, not coercion. Akhenaten attempted to force monotheism (worship of the solar orb, Aten) in the context of a culture which approached the monotheistic concept in worship of Amun-Ra, but which also embraced multiplicity in a continuously evolving cult religion. His solipsistic experiment brought discord and divisiveness. The priests of Amun-Ra regained ascendancy immediately after Akhenaten's death.

Another archetypal exemplar is Chiron, who descended into the Underworld after giving up his immortality. There, in the darkness, he began to sense unidentified presences he subsequently recognized as previously rejected parts of himself. Chiron embraced and reintegrated them, healing himself in the process. The message is again about multiplicity, communication, caring, and unicity.

Here's a take on the function of a healthy ego, from Jungian analyst Jean Shinoda Bolen:

Source: Jean Shinoda Bolen. Goddesses in Everywoman: A new psychology of women.
(NY: Harper Colophon, Harper & Roe, 1985:266-67)

[According to] Joseph Wheelwright, a Jungian analyst ... what goes on in our heads can be thought of as being like a committee, with various aspects of our personalities sitting around the table — male as well as female, young and old, some noisy and demanding, others quiet and cut off. If we are fortunate, a healthy ego sits at the head of the table, chairing the committee, deciding when or who should have a turn or take the floor. A chairperson keeps order by being an observant participant and an effective executive — qualities shared with a well-functioning ego. When the ego functions well, appropriate behavior results.

Chairing the committee is not an easy task, especially when there are goddesses in every woman, demanding and claiming power, at times in conflict with each other. When a woman's ego cannot keep order, one goddess archetype may intervene and take over the personality. Metaphorically, then, that goddess rules the mortal. Or an inner equivalent of an Olympian war can occur when equally strong archetypal elements are in conflict.

When a person is in inner conflict, the outcome depends on how the "members" of that particular person's "committee" work together. Like all committees, the functioning of the group depends on the chairperson and the members — who they are, how strong their viewpoints are, how cooperative or how contentious the group process is, and how much order the chair maintains.

So why does Proteus rise at this juncture?

Proteus as envisioned by Andrea Alciato (1492-1550)

Source: Pierre Grimal. The Dictionary of Classical Mythology.
A.R. Maxwell-Hyslop Transl.
Cambridge MA: Blackwell. (1996:395-96)

In the Odyssey, a god of the sea, specially charged with tending the flocks of seals and other sea creatures belonging to Poseidon. He usually lived on the island of Pharos, not far from the mouth of the Nile. He had the ability to change himself into whatever form he desired; he could become not only an animal, but also an element such as water or fire. He used this power particularly when he wanted to elude those asking him questions: for he possessed the gift of prophecy, but refused to provide information to those mortals who sought it from him. [...]

Source: Robert Jay Lifton. The Protean Self: Human resilience in an age of fragmentation.
NY: Basic. (1993:5-6)

No mere chameleon, Proteus is also capable of prophecy, but only if seized and chained, and held to his original shape. The shapeshifting can be equated with wisdom ("Who of those who listen to the poets could teach it, so variegated is it"). [...]

"I do not invoke this mythology as an exact guideline for the contemporary self," continues Lifton, because "it has no single ‘interpretation', and commentators have differed in their sense of its meaning."

Indeed, the mythological metaphor can suggest that free expressions of proteanism depend upon the experience of relatively established corners of the self. [...] Though variation is the essence of the protean self, that self has certain relatively consistent features. Central to its function is a capacity for bringing together disparate and seemingly incompatible elements of identity [...] and for continuous transformation of these elements [...] At the same time, the protean self must cope with, and sometimes even cultivate, feelings of fatherlessness and homelessness, associated with shifts in authority and mentorship [...] One may take on the psychology of a survivor and undergo symbolic forms of death and rebirth that contribute further to shapeshifting. At the same time, one always seeks a degree of form, grounding, and cohesion.

Mockery and self-mockery, irony, absurdity, and humor enable the protean self to ‘lubricate' its experiences and to express the absence of ‘fit' between the way the world presents itself and the way one actually feels about it [...] The emotions of the protean self tend to be free-floating, not clearly tied to cause or target. [...] The protean self has an uneasy relationship to the holding of ideas [...] Idea systems can be embraced, modified, let go, and re-embraced, all with a new ease that stands in sharp contrast to the inner struggle people in the past endured with such shifts [...] Indeed, a large question for the protean self, and one that cannot be answered simply, concerns its capacity to sustain and live out moral principles in the midst of psychological flux. For the entire life cycle, no longer governed by formal rites of passage, tends to be subject to considerable improvisation. The protean self tends also to be aware of historical process and of planetary connections, but is uncertain how to understand and act on that awareness. The overall quest involves a struggle for larger human connectedness, for ways of symbolizing immortality in the form of attachments that transcend one's limited lifespan. [...]

Perhaps Lifton's ideas in fact have broad social application, as he contends; given my rather reclusive experience these past two decades, however, it's difficult for me to formulate an opinion. But as one who experiences the sort of protean shifts Lifton describes, I have three brief comments:

  1. I certainly recognize a capacity to bring together "disparate and seemingly incompatible elements of identity" and to actively transform them, a process experienced as repeated death and rebirth.
  2. There is certainly a sense of not fitting in, of being an outsider, looking in — yet there is concomitant awareness that everything is part of a whole, that everything in the forest is of the forest, everything is connected.
  3. The "capacity to sustain and live out moral principles in the midst of psychological flux" is never really in doubt, notwithstanding challenges from time to time, because the daimonic drive to achieve internal harmony and full expression among multiple internal elements serves itself as a moral principle, which extends to and governs behaviors in social interaction.

Here starts the meditation.

If Proteus represents the Collective Unconscious...