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Jung and the wilderness



I made reference to the idea that Christ went into the wilderness and there discovered “a voice”—there are at least two ways to take this discovery. The Jungian interpretation would be that what Jesus rediscovered in the wilderness was the evolutionary wisdom that is repressed in civilisation, perhaps represented as a racial “blood memory”—or “an archetype” as we say, more politely, today. Palestine in the 1st century AD was already pretty over-civilised, even if it was on the edge of the Roman Empire and literally provincial. In particular, the Jews had made a religious decision, centuries before, to downgrade agriculture as an important activity and to hit the books instead. So Jesus came, almost in JG Frazer style, as a “nature god” or god of regeneration—of birth and death and rebirth, like the seasons—to bring the Jews back from the books, back from legalistic games, and into the arms of nature.


In this interpretation, what Jesus called “Father” was this archaic voice from the blood: when the carpenter spent a long time alone he was tempted—particularly to go back to the towns and resume “normal intercourse”, bartering and negotiation, with his fellow man. He refused this temptation and instead followed “the voice”—the experience was blissful for him up to the point he was on the cross when, as the physical pain became too much, he cried out “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”. Within the Jungian interpretation, we can see this as Christ’s biological systems being overwhelmed by the pain and the blissful state being suspended.


Ted K, the notorious “Unabomber”, might be seen as similar to Christ in this regard—a man who “got in touch with nature” and began a campaign to end man’s estrangement from it. Yet the comparison does not hold, for Uncle Ted became convinced industrial civilisation was wrong before he left it—he used the very modes and thought processes of the civilisation to condemn it; and he continued to “think like a modern” in his little hut surrounded by his bombs.


There was no “voice of my Father” in Uncle Ted—and that is why he did not ultimately found a religion or a truly powerful protest against industrial society, the impetus never came from within and, personally, I doubt that what really bothered Ted K, secure behind his rationalistic mask, was industrial society. If if he had gone into the wilderness for 40 days and come back with “a message” perhaps it would be so—but he didn’t.


I don’t accept this Jungian take on Christ for various reasons that are not really rational—I think it had a spiritual reality; however, the general scheme, the retreat into nature, the clearing of the Satanic temptation (mostly, but not exclusively, man’s manipulative schemes), seems to me to be accurate. The muddy water has to be still to clear—then the voice speaks, then you follow it…to the end.

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