The Purpose of Amplification

From Amplification of Symbols by Harry Prochaska

The birth of a child, the death of a parent are occasions which activate the archetypal substrata which support our common lives. To recognize universal themes when we go through such initiatory experiences grounds us in a process larger than these personal events; they give consolation in moments of crisis as well as support in the daily repetition of the ordinary events of livings. We are thrown into the vortex of the human process; we, ourselves, becomes events in human history, perhaps anonymous, but none the less essential to its evolution in a particular time and place. These events take us beyond the personal into the great chain of being of which we are a part. The positive accomplishments and the negative aberrations are parts of the evolutionary process and we must accept them all as factors in the equation. One reason, beyond pure human sympathy, that child abuse may evoke such outrage is that it is racial suicide, for we are the agents of the renewal of the race, and the violation and sacrifice of a child is an obscene denial of one's responsibility in the process.
These initiatory events are preserved and recalled in the symbolic structure of our psyches. Such structures are configurations of images precipitated from the unconscious by the feeling and affect associated with such events, those encounters with other persons and with institutions which are the part and parcel of the minutes and hours of the passing days.
For many people such configurations are derived unconsciously from the cultural and religious institutions in which they live; they may not be aware of the generating energy and feelings which the symbols both preserve and evoke, nor of their sources in the cultural and collective unconscious. As each person becomes more aware of those symbols which have numinosity for him, he can begin to recognize which of them evolve from his own personal associations with occasions and persons, and which arise from the deeper layers of the psyche. Since an archetype itself exists within the unconscious, it is unconscious also. As we know about electricity only from its manifestations, so we only know of archetypes from the images which they generate in dreams and in our mental and physical behavior patterns. An increase in energy around a configuration of events and our reaction to it provide clues for us to recognize that an archetype has been touched. It is all too easy, because of the immediate power of an event to be caught in the moment and to believe it as a total statement of reality. If, however, we can recognize the moment as only one manifestation in a specific form, we can relate it to similarly generated moments for other persons in other times and places. The archetypal patter, the underlying energy then becomes visible and recognizable. An Archetype (a pattern of energy) crystallizes out of the unconscious. The patterns are expressed in symbols and by amplification of those symbols we can find the layers of meaning which every symbol carries. Because of this layering a symbol always carries connotative values; it is not a one to one equivalent.

[aras-image:2Bh.308,c,10,,,Figure 1 Babylonian guardian lion.]

C.G. Jung writes "Every interpretation necessarily remains an 'as-if.' The ultimate core of meaning may be circumscribed, but not described."1 "An archetypal content expresses itself, first and foremost, in metaphors. If such a content should speak of the sun and identify with it the lion, the king, the hoard of gold guarded by the dragon, or the power that makes for the life and health of man, it is neither the one thing nor the other, but the unknown third thing that finds more or less adequate expression in all these similes, yet-- to the perpetual vexation of the intellect-- remains unknown and not to be fitted into a formula."2
Jung's example of identifying the sun with the lion, the king, the hoard of gold guarded by the dragon, speaks directly to the process of amplification. By finding these parallels as they occur in different times and different cultures we come to know what the sun has meant in different phases of human history and from that accumulation of detail begin to sense something of the shape and nature of that central unconscious core to which all of these might refer. Jung describes amplification as a logical principle, adopting the method of the philologist, that is, finding parallels in a variety of texts which then establish meaning.3 "The most remarkable thing about this method, I felt, was that it did not involve a reduction in primam figuram, but rather a synthesis...[not] a reduction of conscious contents to their simplest denominator, as this would be the direct road to the primordial images which I said previously was unimaginable; they make their appearance only in the course of amplification."4
In referring to symbols used by 14th century alchemists, Jung writes: "It is not surprising that the adepts piled up vast numbers of synonyms to express the mysterious nature of the substances. Like all numinous contents, they have a tendency to self-amplification, that is to say, they form the nuclei for an aggregation of synonyms."5
A symbol can be an agent of transformation in the human psyche. When one mediates on a symbol or an image, particular resonances are evoked from our personal associations with the symbol, as well as the cultural context from which we view the image. By definition an image which functions symbolically is never totally available through explication, for its particular numinosity is related to the connotative values which it holds within a culture or within a pattern of personal associations. While some of these connotations can be named, its value is often related to those half-recognized or unconscious valences which it holds for us, some of which are unnamable. Sometimes statements which are symbolic in content are interpreted as restricted, literal statements of facts. In thinking of "penis envy" or "the return to the mother" literally as specific desires, one settles on a scale of equivalents which rigidly restricts the interpretation of various behaviors into rigid prescriptions, rather than opening interpretation to a wider range of psychic meanings. "...the mythological idea of the child is emphatically not a copy of the empirical child but a symbol clearly recognizable as such: it is wonder- child, a divine child, begotten, born and brought up in quite extraordinary circumstances, and not-- this is the point-- a human child. Its deeds are as miraculous or monstrous as its nature and physical constitution."6