Introduction to The Body

Introduction to The Body
Volume II of the Encyclopedia of Archetypal Images

by George R. Elder

When asked to write for ARAS, I was also asked to consider a theme for the second volume of the Encyclopedia of Archetypal Symbolism. The earlier volume had covered a broad range of archetypal themes: from "Creation and Cosmos," through "Gods," "Goddesses," and "Sacred Animals," to "Death" and "Transformation." What was left? As I browsed through the Archive's outstanding collection of images, it eventually dawned that whatever the subject, I was usually looking at images of the body. While it was true that the Greco Roman mystery of Sabazios alluded to the theme of transformation, it was also true that this god's hand was the key to his cult; Hathor could be honored as a sacred animal, yet it was her strange anthoropomorphic head with horns that distinguished this bovine goddess from other deities in the Egyptian pantheon. Buddha was represented as a human Savior in the first volume of the Encyclopedia, yet his feet were especially revered in the religion. In this way, a new overarching theme emerged, interlaced with other motifs in the manner of archetypal reality: it would be "The Body," by which is meant the human body as well as the anthropomorphic body of the deity. It is the intent of this work, then, to focus upon the body as a religious and psychological reality that carries profound meaning.
As one explores the history of religions, it is notable how often sacred traditions have used a "physical" image to speak symbolically about "spirit." And as one explores the work of C.G. Jung, it is striking to see how readily body imagery came to mind as he expressed his most distinctive contributions to modern psychology. In the essay "The Psychology of the Child Archetype," Jung summarized his point of view:


Modern psychology treats the products of unconscious fantasy-activity as self-portraits of what is going on in the unconscious, or as statements of the unconscious psyche about itself. They fall into two categories. First, fantasies (including dreams) of a personal character, which go back unquestionably to personal experiences, things forgotten or repressed, and can thus be completely explained by individual anamnesis. (CW 9.i.262)

Here, Jung acknowledges the reality of a personal unconscious built up by repressed experiences. But he goes on to describe a more profound "self-portrait" of the unconscious:


Second, fantasies (including dreams) of an impersonal character, which cannot be reduced to experiences in the individual's past and thus cannot be explained as something individually acquired. These fantasy-images undoubtedly have their closest analogues in mythological types. We must therefore assume that they correspond to certain collective (and not personal) structural elements of the human psyche in general, and like the morphological elements of the human body, are inherited. (Ibid.)


Here the deepest structures of the mind that Jung explored-and which he referred to as the "collective unconscious"-are likened to structures of the human body (see, for example, the essay "Skeleton" in the present volume). The depths of the psyche and our physical reality alike are objective and impersonal, and both realms are given to us or inherited (so that we are not personally responsible for the contents or natural condition of either). Both are shared among the human race.
More precisely, Jung likens the variety of contents within this collective psyche-contents that he calls the "archetypes"-to the organs of the body. Putting the matter negatively, he says:

Archetypes were, and still are, living psychic forces that demand to be taken seriously, and they have a strange way of making sure of their effect. Always they were the bringers of protection and their violation has as its consequence the "perils of the soul" known to us from the psychology of primitives. Moreover, they are the unfailing causes of neurotic and even psychotic disorders, behaving exactly like neglected or maltreated physical organs or organic functional systems. (CW 9.i.266)


The present volume intends to honor the "organs" of the psyche by offering intriguing and beautiful images of body parts as found in the history of religions. It offers as well what these traditions have said about their own images in the past and goes on to provide suggestions of ways to understand their psychological meaning today.
And yet from a very different angle, the symbol of the body refers not to the unconscious but to ego-consciousness, likened to an earthy everyday "body" that needs food. Since the images that follow come from the collective soul, they are made available here as a sort of "manna from heaven" for the modern ego, starved as it is for a more profound meaning. "Just as physical hunger is sated, at least metaphorically, by the sight of a marvelous meal, so the hunger of the soul is stated by the vision of numinous images" (CW 10.651)
Of the twelve chapters that follow, the first contains images of the "primordial body," or the primordial psyche in its original wholeness. Subsequent chapters break down this body into its many parts-"dismembering" the primordial unity in the manner of a shamanic initiation-in order to see and appreciate the parts more clearly. Following a roster of universal or archetypal images such as "bones," "eyes," and "heart and blood," the final chapter attempts to bring all the pieces back together as the image of the "transformed body"-in the manner of the final phase of a shamanic initiation that has succeeded. This chapter contains an image of the subtle body (suksma rupa). It is our hope that the volume as a whole will provide a glimpse of this extraordinary "body"-understood here as the collection of the many psychological meanings of our physical selves-and thus provide a modest feeling for that level of enlightenment with which Hindus and Buddhists have long associated the achievement of a suksma rupa.
Let it be noted that we at ARAS value the gross body, the sthūla rūpa, and wish to alleviate the conflict between mind and body. On the other hand, it seems that our physical bodies are being asked today to carry the heavy weight of psychological projections-both positive and negative perception-that do not really belong to the body. The problem is that much of the time we are only vaguely aware that the body itself is an image: it may be obvious that the phallus and vulva express a level of creativity beyond biology; but it is true that hair expresses the creativity of the head, just as the hair represents the center of meaning out of which we live. Acknowledging the richness of the imagery found here may thus hasten the withdrawal of misplaced perceptions, foster a healthy differentiation between what is without and what is within, and thus contribute to the human task of becoming more conscious.
The reader who is consulting for the first time these book-format "records" (as each image with its commentary is called at ARAS) may find the following guidelines helpful.


1. Each entry opens with a full-page color reproduction of some painting, sculpture, or artifact, accompanied by essential identifying data. These data are worth reviewing: it is often surprising, and significant, to discover the actual size of the work at hand or the medium employed. Furthermore, knowing its location might trigger a desire to see the piece in person. Once time is spent with this page (remembering that it is the actual visual image, not the words, that is our focus at ARAS), one can proceed to the facing page.
2. Below the repeated title and historical identification appears an italicized entry, the "Precis." This succinct comment is developed usually in two sentences: the first states what the reader is looking at; the second provides some reason for the inclusion of this image in the chapter.
3. Next, a "Description" in art-historical fashion helps the viewer to see what is present in the image and anticipates the fuller discussion that follows.
4. The following large section, the "Cultural Context" (which has been prepared with the help of a research specialist in the field at issue), grounds the image in a particular history, stating, for example, what the Romans or the Aztecs felt about the image and why it was important to them. In a sense, this is the "meat" of the Record, analogous to the manifest dream. These facts themselves should not change very much over time, even though our interpretations may change.
5. The "Archetypal Commentary" that follows is usually developed in two sections. The first attempts to show that the image at hand has relatives elsewhere, exists within a family or pattern of imagery worldwide or at least in some other cultures. Here we are not proving the existence of archetypes or arguing against the historical migration of motifs but calling attention to significant parallels-that is, hinting at the real existence of archetypal reality. This approach is similar to amplification in analysis, which puts a dream, a fantasy image, or even a disturbing symptom in a larger context so that one can feel the healing effect of knowing that one's particular "success" or "failure" really belongs to the universal drama of life.


The second section of the "Archetypal Commentary" explores psychological meaning. It is written for those who are not quite satisfied with traditional explanations of religious imagery and yet are unable to discard them as merely outdated. Since the worldview of Western culture is undergoing a major transition at present-and since history has shown the value of reinterpreting old truths in new ways lest what has been gained be lost-we at ARAS share in the task of pouring old wine into new wineskins. This section often quotes Jung and Jungians but just as often "quotes" the image itself, allowing its peculiar nuances to tell us what it may mean today.
It may also be helpful to know in advance that what one record lacks another nearby-or in the earlier volume-may cover, since the many facets of an archetype are often deliberately distributed throughout a chapter. While the Bibliography documents an essay in a standard way, it also lists readily available sources, such as The Encyclopedia of Religion, for further reading. The Collected Works (CW) of C.G. Jung are cited only in the body of the essay, as are biblical references, which unless otherwise noted are always from the Jerusalem Bible, chosen for its beautiful language. Abbreviations for dates are modern: BP, "before the present", BCE, "before the common era, "rather than BC; CE, "common era," rather than AD.
For their invaluable help, I wish to thank first of all the many scholars-listed elsewhere in this volume-who sent me materials and made suggestions without which this work could not appear; they made me seem to know more than I actually do, an illusion performed by every "comparativist." I am particularly grateful to Alex Wayman, Professor Emeritus of Sanskrit, Columbia University, for his willing assistance with Buddhism. The skillful editing of Karen Ready has lent to the sentences a measure of clarity and accuracy they would otherwise lack. But their work and mine would have fallen on stony ground were it not for Annmari Ronnberg, Managing Editor of ARAS, and Karen Arm, Assistant managing Editor, who were responsible for finding the right images, who were on call to fill in the gaps in technical information, and who were unfailing in their encouragement. The vision of Dr. Charles Taylor, Editorial Chairman, lies behind the entire project, as does his insistence that we "incarnate" our efforts like the "body" itself. Thornton Ladd and Dr. Deborah Wesley of the ARAS Board seemed always to know how to revive flagging energies; the Jungian analysts Dr. Edward F. Edinger and Dianne Cordic supplied insight from their depths. My wife and three girls have been gracefully patient.