The Transformation of the God-Image
Just as we can interpret our dreams symbolically and we can interpret our life as a dream, we can contemplate the history of the world as we would a dream being dreamed by the deeper, dreaming Self that we all share. When we view the unfoldment of the cosmos in this way, one of the things that comes into focus is how the Self, or God-image, which is a living symbol and doorway into the wholeness of our true nature, is continually differentiating and expressing itself in both inner and outer events. Seen symbolically, outer phenomena such as the enlightenment of the Buddha and the life of Christ are seen to be reflections of a mystical process of awakening that is occurring in the depths of consciousness itself, a process which has to do with the birth and the revelation of the true Self in all of us. To quote Jung, "The real history of the world seems to be the progressive incarnation of the deity."
The Self is continually revealing its mystery in symbolic code hidden in plain sight, woven into the fabric of our waking dream, i.e., life, whether these self-secret clues be found in experiences such as the cosmic passion play of Christ, in synchronicities, dreams and visions, in the ordinary events of our daily lives, or in the patterns of global events. The underlying, archetypal motifs which repeat themselves in endless variations as the dramas of history are themselves living, embodied revelations of the ever-evolving God-image. To quote Jung, “…the imago Dei [the God-image] pervades the whole human sphere and makes mankind its involuntary exponent.”
As if speaking a rarified and refined form of symbolic language, the Self paradoxically reveals itself in its own veiling of itself, adumbrating itself in a variety of images which all hide as well as indicate its true nature. If the inner resonance of the God-image is attuned to and awakened inside ourselves, these living images of God reveal themselves to be hyper-dimensional portals into and living symbolic expressions of a more expansive consciousness that is always available to us.
A living symbol that points beyond itself, the God-image is not a concoction of the conceptual mind. To quote Jung, “The God-image is the expression of an underlying experience of something which I cannot attain to by intellectual means.” The God-image is an autonomous phenomenon that is not invented by the intellect, but rather, experienced. Based on a pre-existing, archetypal pattern, the God-image’s existence precedes our cognition of it. Having no hand in its creation, the intellect can only try and come to terms with and assimilate the God-image into its conception of the world. The God-image is a self-produced image spontaneously blossoming from the psyche as a whole that simultaneously reflects and effects what is going on within the very psyche which produced it. The God-image is not a static entity but a living, dynamically evolving process, which is the core archetype, the supreme symbol of the collective unconscious. The God-image is the collective unconscious’ projection of itself, representing the Self as well as the individuation process (the process of realizing our wholeness). Our God-image expresses our conception of and relation to God, while at the same time being the very image through which God is revealing Itself to us. To quote Jung, “As it is a natural process, it cannot be decided whether the God-image is created or whether it creates itself.” Do we create our God-image? Or does our image of God create us?
Seen as a dream, the Christ event was an inner, archetypal process that was occurring deep within the collective unconscious of humanity that literally got dreamed into materialization as its own self-revelation (see my article “”). Seen as a dreaming process that is playing out in the collective psyche of our species, it makes no difference whether the Christ event actually historically happened or not. The Christ-image is a genuine symbol that has arisen in and out of the human psyche which speaks to, is an expression of, and transforms the imagination itself.
When the Christ event is viewed as a dream of the deeper, dreaming Self and interpreted symbolically like a dream, it reflects the incredible polarization and deep inner split existing in the collective unconscious of humanity. This tension of the opposites symbolically played itself out on the world stage in the adversarial figures of Christ and Satan. Christ’s utterly sublime and spotless nature evoked a blacker darkness on the seemingly contrary other side to oppose it, as if the two interconnected opposites reciprocally yet mutually co-arose together. Seen symbolically, Satan, to quote Jung, “represents the counterpole of that tremendous tension in the world psyche which Christ’s advent signified,” and he was related to Christ “…as inseparably as the shadow belongs to the light.”
Christ in himself represents a completely perfect emanation of the Self in its radiant light aspect, lacking nothing, being an open doorway into and mirror of our divine and primordially pure nature. Seen symbolically, however, the figure of Christ is too one-sided a symbol of the multi-faceted archetype of the Self. Christ himself is too overly light and identified with the good, and as the Gnostics realized, he “cast off his shadow from himself,” which Satan is carrying. Because he is the full-blown Incarnation of the Light, to quote Jung, Christ is only a symbol for “one side of the Self [the light] and the devil the other [the dark] [emphasis added]. Seen as dream characters, symbols representing aspects of ourselves, in the figures of Christ and Satan the opposites had become completely severed and dissociated from each other. To quote Jung, “the Christ-symbol lacks wholeness in the modern psychological sense, since it does not include the dark side of things but specifically excludes it in the form of a Luciferian opponent…from the psychological angle he corresponds to only one half of the archetype.” Psychologically speaking, Jung continues, “…the Christian image of the self – Christ – lacks the shadow that properly belongs to it.”
When we view the history of the world as the progressive differentiation of the Self, which is to say the incarnation of the deity, we begin to notice that the Self responds to a one-sided image of itself by gradually expressing and giving rise to the part of its totality that is left out and marginalized, just as in dreams the unconscious compensates a one-sided image to a dreamer.
This process can be clearly seen in the minds of the alchemists, who after the Christ event discovered a new God-image within their own psyche. The God-image of the alchemists was a further differentiation over time as well as a revelation in time of the archetype of the Self, which exists outside of time. In their God-image, which they called “Mercurius,” the energy that had animated the Christ event had further extrapolated itself in the imagination of the alchemists by taking into itself its darker half. Jung said, “…alchemy is rather like an undercurrent to the Christianity that ruled on the surface. It is to this surface as the dream is to consciousness, and just as the dream compensates the conflicts of the conscious mind, so alchemy endeavors to fill in the gaps left open by the Christian tension of opposites.”
The wisest of the alchemists knew that what they were witnessing in their retorts was nothing other than a projection, or reflection of the deepest ground of the archetypal, transpersonal psyche. They experienced Mercurius, like the unconscious, as an autonomous spirit very unlike the purely light figure of Christ. Mercurius was ambiguous, paradoxical, and dark, not to mention utterly pagan. Jung said, Mercurius "represents a part of the psyche which was certainly not molded by Christianity and can on no account be expressed by the symbol ‘Christ’…It represents all those things which have been eliminated from the Christian model."
An evasive trickster, Mercurius was a shape-shifter who was considered two-faced and duplicitous. He was related to Hermes - the God of Revelation, the Germanic Wotan, the Egyptian Thoth, and the maleficent Saturn. Saturn is the dwelling place of the devil himself, and to quote Jung, "If Mercurius is not exactly the Evil One himself, he at least contains him." Jung continues, "Mercurius truly consists of the most extreme opposites; on the one hand he is undoubtedly akin to the godhead, on the other he is found in sewers." To again quote Jung "It seems, however, that the alchemists did not understand hell, or its fire, as absolutely outside of God or opposed to him, but rather as an internal component of the deity, which must indeed be so if God is held to be a coincidentia oppositorum." As an image of the Self, Mercurius was a revelation of the Self as a co-incidence of opposites, consisting of and uniting the most extreme opposites within itself. Jung continues, “The concept of an all-encompassing God must necessarily include his opposite…The principle of the coincidence of opposites must therefore be completed by that of absolute opposition in order to attain full paradoxicality and hence psychological validity.”
When the figures of Christ and Mercurius are recognized to be symbolic expressions of two different aspects of the Self, to quote Jung, “Christ appears as the archetype of consciousness and Mercurius as the archetype of the unconscious.” Seen together, the figures of Christ and Mercurius re-present the Self in its totality, in its light and dark aspects, of consciousness and its inseparability from the unconscious. To quote Jung, “The paradoxical nature of Mercurius reflects an important aspect of the Self – in fact, namely, that it is essentially a complexio oppositorum, [a union of opposites] and indeed can be nothing else if it is to represent any kind of totality.”
When viewed relative to and as relatives of each other, the revelation of Christ and the alchemist’s revelation of Mercurius are different symbolic representations of the very same emerging Self. Just like consciousness and the unconscious, the figures of Christ and Mercurius collaboratively illumine each other as complementary and compensatory aspects of a greater whole. To quote Jung, “In reality every intensified differentiation of the Christ-image brings about a corresponding accentuation of its unconscious complement.” In the fully revealed Incarnation of Christ, the Word became flesh such that it precipitated its symbolic complement in the figure of Mercurius, a genuine praising of the logos.
To quote Jung, “Hesitantly, as in a dream, the introspective brooding of the centuries gradually put together the figure of Mercurius and created a symbol which, according to all the psychological rules, stands in a compensatory relation to Christ. It is not meant to take his place, nor is it identical with him, for then indeed it could replace him. It owes it existence to the law of compensation.” Mercurius, Jung concludes, presents “a subtle compensatory counterpoint to the Christ image.” Seen as a symbol in a dream, in the figure of Mercurius the unconscious is compensating its one-sided image of itself in its own evolving self-revelation.
A divine messenger, Mercurius is itself the message, as the medium is truly the message. Though appearing to be a trouble-maker, Mercurius, like Christ, was considered to be a peacemaker, a savior, a guide through the underworld, a server of humanity, the mediator between the warring elements of the psyche, as well as the producer of unity. Mercurius is the figure who acts out the marginalized role, presides over the borderline, the places of transition, and the cross-roads.
Though not existing objectively, separate from the creative imagination of the alchemists, it is a mistake to write off Mercurius as merely a figment of the alchemical imagination. Through the figure of Mercurius, the alchemists had discovered what Jung calls the “reality of the psyche.” By saying the psyche is “real,” Jung is pointing out that the psyche in-forms our experience of ourselves and the universe in the most fundamental of ways. It is through the medium of the psyche that we give shape to both ourselves and the world around us. When we recognize the reality of the psyche is when we begin to enter the dimension of experience where our imagination and our experience of ourselves intersect, interpenetrate, and mutually influence each other in a conscious and consciousness-generating way.
The figure of Mercurius is a living example of the God-image making itself known by revealing itself through the image-making psyche. As Jung reminds us, “Psyche is image.” The figures of Christ and Mercurius are different iterations of the same deeper, universal Self imaginatively and fractally unfolding itself within the dimension of the human psyche. A further component of the resurrected body, Mercurius is an elaboration over time of the birth of the Self, an Incarnation which is happening within the creative imagination of humanity. The human psyche is the organ through which we imagine God while God simultaneously imagines Itself into incarnation, in our psyche as well as the world, through our imagination. To quote Jung, “The human psyche and the psychic background are boundlessly underestimated, as though God spoke to man exclusively through the radio, the newspapers, or through sermons. God has never spoken to man except in and through the psyche, and the psyche understands it and we experience it as something psychic.” Just as the eye is the instrument through which we behold the image of the sun, the psyche is the organ through which we behold the image of God.
The paradoxical figure of Mercurius is not only a symbolic expression of a process going on deep inside the human psyche but within the divine imagination as well. The divine imagination is the creative organ of perception animating the human psyche through which the formless archetypal dimension is accessed and translated into comprehensible images. The God-image is a unique phenomenon in that it is the intersection point through which the human and divine imaginations reciprocally in-form and collaboratively engage with each other as if wedded in an intimate relationship.
The God-image is an expression of the unconscious of humanity, while simultaneously being God’s disclosure of Itself to Itself through us. This is similar to how our dreams at night reflect back to us our unconscious, while at the same time they bring consciousness to the very unconsciousness of which they are an expression. Like with our dreams, how the figure of Mercurius manifests, whether as a helper or as a diabolical seducer leading us astray, depends upon if we recognize what he is revealing to us.
The God-image is realizing and revealing itself in the collective unconscious of humanity, which is to say “incarnating,” and we are, whether we know it or not, active participants in and vessels for its transformation. This is a big discovery, genuinely worthy of our deepest attention. Realizing that the God-image is transforming itself is to be contributing to the transformation of the God-image. The degree to which we comprehend this process is the degree to which we become active participants contributing to the very process we are simultaneously comprehending. To quote Jung, “But if consciousness participates with some measure of understanding, then the process is accompanied by all the emotions of a religious experience or revelation.” A true conjunction of opposites, the Self is making itself known in the unconscious of humanity and is inviting us to share and partake in its wholesome, whole-making, and holy nature.
Integrating within ourselves an expanded image of God can only be achieved at the moment when we ourselves change in relation to our new imagination. To enlarge our conception of God is to ourselves grow and become greater in volume, as the limits of who we imagine we are and what we imagine we are capable of expands simultaneously to greater heights and more abysmal depths. Seen in its progression since ancient times, the God-image was mediated in the Old Testament through the law, in the New Testament it was dependent on faith, and in the new psychological dispensation of our time the God-image is centered in and mediated by direct experience.
In the symbolic figure of Mercurius is a spontaneous God-image that has crystallized into and out of the human psyche which is a manifestation of, as well as a doorway into, an inner experience that unites the opposites. In a radical re-visioning of itself, in the figure of Mercurius the unconscious has offered us an image of God which includes and embraces evil as an integral aspect of our wholeness.
The God-image is like a dream that we are dreaming that is simultaneously dreaming us. To recognize what the unconscious is revealing to us through our God-image is to step into and discover within ourselves the dark, unconscious, projected, and “dreamed up” content which is being reflected back to us through our imaginings of God. To expand our conception of God so as to include darkness can only be done, and is an instantaneous reflex of, our embracing the darkness within ourselves. Becoming acquainted with our own darkness is a genuine “illumination,” which is why Jung points out that, “…not only darkness is known through light, but that conversely, light is known through darkness.”
To recognize that the figures of Christ and Mercurius are reflections of a deeper process of awakening happening within ourselves “appreciates” them, as well as ourselves. Appreciated as the mirror that they are, these internal figures, as well as ourselves, appreciate, i.e., grow in value.
The figures of Christ and Mercurius, when recognized as co-related symbols of our wholeness, reciprocally activate, awaken, and reveal the wholeness within us. The evolving God-image, our intrinsic wholeness, has crept under our skin and has empowered our creative imagination to materialize itself as our experience of ourselves. In a sacred IN-pulse, something greater than ourselves is incarnating through us as it reveals itself to us. We are truly made in the image of God, while at the same time our image of God makes us.