Preface to Volume II of the Encyclopedia of Archetypal Images

Volume II of the Encyclopedia of Archetypal Images

by Charles H. Taylor

In contemporary Western culture, the human body is the focus of much fascinated attention, even obsessive preoccupation. The fascination is especially manifest in the visual images of twentieth-century art, advertising, and photography, ranging from alluring idealizations to hard-core pornography. We apply enormous resources of modern technology, public health, and medical science to postpone or repair bodily illness, old age, and degeneration. A major goal of lifestyle changes and surgical interventions is to prolong the experience of illusion of youth. Yet confronting our obsession with the body is the inescapable fact that in this life our consciousness resides in a physical form that must finally return to dust.
Our unique human awareness that we are mortal is sharpened today by the degree to which we seem to control our material destiny, an apparent supremacy of mind over matter which underscores the irony that ultimately death prevails. The very success we have achieved in holding death at bay deepens our awareness of the split between spirit and flesh that is the peculiar burden of humanness.
In the face of this paradox–that we are able to manipulate natural processes, but ultimately not to conquer them–the urge to find meaning in our brief lives is as strong as ever. Then we remember that throughout human history, sacred art, mythologems, and rituals have treated the body not primarily as matter but also as a symbolic object. As a whole and in its parts the body thus becomes a template for images in which we may perceive larger meanings, reflections of those psychological and sacred depths from which the energy comes that powers fascination with our incarnate form.
At the end of his Divine Comedy, Western civilization's most luminous poem of sacred imagination, Dante presents his vision of the ultimate reality of the Christian Trinity. Viewing the three circles of divinity–which represent the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost of the godhead–the pilgrim is astonished to observe that the second circle of the Son is pinta de la nostra effige, "painted with out effigy" (Paradiso XXXIII, 131). The poet tells us he sees that perhaps even prior to the historic act of incarnation, the human effigy, or fundamental form, is recognizably contained within a profound vision of the essential godhead. At this crucial intersection, God and man are one. This is so stunning to the pilgrim that he tries again and again, as if seeking to square the circle, to comprehend what he has seen. "Through thought on thought," he says,


so I searched that strange sight: I wished to see the way in which our human effigy suited the circle and found place in it–and my own wings were far too weak for that. (135-39, trans. Allen Mandelbaum, New York, 1984)


But just as he confesses this failure, he is struck by a flash of insight that resolves the problem–not rationally, but in inner vision–and concludes the poem in mystery. He cannot explain what he has seen in a way that is logically correct, but the symbolic image asserting that the human and the divine essences are conjunct is satisfying as an interior experience.
In a sense, the perspective of this second volume of An Encyclopedia of Archetypal Symbolism is concerned with such a vision of the human body: that is, with images that reveal how the body–with its parts of head and hand, eye and arm, ear and breast, leg and loin, skin and skeleton–is a carrier of deep psychological insights and sacred meanings. One hundred outstanding color plates represent artifacts carved, painted, and sculpted in cultures that extend form prehistory to the recent past, and range from the caves of France to the temples of East Asia. These images are presented for reflection, gathered thematically in chapters focusing on particular body parts that are the objects of art and ritual.
The text of the present volume has been written by George R. Elder, a historian of religion with a profound understanding of visual, sacred, and psychological symbolism, and he is rightly understood to be its primary author. Yet the volume as a whole owes its being to the Archive for Research in Archetypal Symbolism, without whose foundation and joint development by its curators and many researchers, it could not exist. The Archive's collection of symbolic images was first began in the 1930s by Olga Froebe-Kapteyn to illustrate the topics of summer meetings of the Eranos Society that she hosted at her home in southern Switzerland. These gatherings were shaped by the ongoing presence of C.G. Jung and included historians of religion, art, and comparative mythology as well as occasional scientists. For a fuller account of the range of these meetings, and of how the Archive came through the Bollingen Foundation to the C.G. Jung Foundation and the C.G. Jung Institutes of San Francisco, Los Angeles, and, more recently, Chicago, the reader is referred to Dr. Joseph L. Henderson's introduction and my preface to the first volume.
Dr. Henderson emphasizes that these Jungian Institutions stand behind the Archive, "not because a symbolic point of view is limited to Jungians, but because Jung was the particular proponent of a broadly archetypal point of view that insists upon transpersonal and symbolic connections transcending cultural and theological boundaries. This perspective is at the heart of the Archive."
A vivid example of the importance of a symbolic attitude is provided in the present volume by the chapter on skin. Two images in particular evoke the vital issue of the projections we make onto differences of skin color, light and dark, "white" and "black." These two representations–White Tārā and The Black Virgin of Einsiedeln–invite us to contemplate the psychological issues that lie beneath the negative, and the positive, meanings projected upon skin color. Dr. Elder's reflections in the Archetypal Commentary on each sacred sculpture–one seventeenth-century Tibetan, the other fifteenth-century Swiss–provide moving examples of how a symbolic understanding of the projections we make can deepen our appreciation of the common humanity we all share.
More broadly, one of the intrinsic functions of the Archive is to illuminate the vitality of ritual, mythic, and sacred symbolism across cultures, locations, and time. Far beyond the claims of any particular creed or body of religious doctrine or ideas, we see in archetypal images like those in this book an essential human engagement with sacred symbols over thousands of years. The passionate devotion and commitment of psychic energy manifest in the rituals, beliefs, and artifacts of each tradition testify to the numinosum that the German theologian Rudolf Otto long ago recognized resides at the heart of our engagement with the sacred.
What we need to grasp today, in a time of intensely destructive ethnic and religious conflicts, is that this sacred energy is verified by its universal interiority in all human nature and not by the exclusive correctness of any one vision of the divine. Whatever out own experience or conviction, it is only by recognizing the overlapping symbolic truths of each vital expression that we can be freed from the urge to coerce each other in the name of fanatical ethnic or racial certitudes. Freedom to worship from the perspective of symbolic understanding is not just a matter of respect for human rights, but becomes itself a primary religious commitment. The sacred wonder that speaks through the images in this book is a clear reflection of the symbolic attitude we require in order to live creatively in a pluralistic world.
The initial edition of the first volume of the ARAS Encyclopedia contained 120 records organized around mythic themes that follow the solar calendar from cosmos and creation to death, transformation, and rebirth. It has been clear, since the formation of the National Archive more than a decade ago, that in due time records in the Archive's files might be stored and ultimately made available in electronic format. In fact, the texts of all records thus far prepared for publication have been entered in a sophisticated electronic database and edited to a more exacting standard than many of the more than ten thousand existing files; these files, developed over many years, are located at the Archive's branches in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Ultimately many of these records will be refined and included in the electronic format, but the larger challenge–a task that has only recently become feasible–is to develop an electronic archive of high-quality color images. The recent development of a research prototype CD-ROM version of the first volume has yielded very encouraging results, but actual publication in this format requires a mix of resources that are evolving rapidly but are by no means fully defined.
In the meantime, the Archive will continue to prepare additional materials for high-quality publication in both book and electronic formats. We believe that when we have completed four volumes of the present kind, we will be able to use the indexed materials in them as the core of a uniquely illustrated and cross-referenced dictionary of especially significant archetypal symbols.
As the history of the Archive summarized above makes clear, a volume such as this has many parents. The more ancestral ones are described at greater length in the first volume, but it remains to give special thanks to those who have contributed in large ways to making possible the development of this second volume. The late Jesse Fraser not only served as the first curator of the Archive, both while it was at the Bollingen Foundation and after it came to the C.G. Jung Foundation of New York, but she also left it a bequest from which the income has been a continuing support. Gifts of endowment from Paul Mellon and from Mr. Bingham's Trust for Charity and a generous bequest from Jane Pratt have also provided income that has met essential fractions of the significant expense required to prepare each manuscript and its images before it is ready for publication. For the underpinning of these assured resources the Archive is immensely grateful, but its work could not go forward without the devotion and generosity of a substantial number of loyal donors each year.
Present and former members of the Archive Board and a number of ARAS Associates have made essential annual contributions to our work. These include in particular Robin Jaqua and John Jaqua, Lucia Woods Lindley and Daniel Lindley, Ann Paras, Carol Sellers Herbert, Mary Ottoway and James Ottoway, Bettina Bancroft, Deborah Wesley, Thornton Ladd, the Frank Cross Foundation (Carol and Robert Shahin), Beverley Zabriskie and Philip Zabriskie, Albert Neilson, Carl Plochman, Peter Mudd, Robin van Loben Sels, and Donald Kalsched, Laurel Morris, Nancy Anderson and Richard Rockefeller, and the estate of Shirley Hamilton.
The C.G. Jung Institute of New York, whose candidates are users of the Archive, has been steady in its support and the C.G. Jung Foundation of New York continues to provide space for the Archive's editorial headquarters, as also the C.G. Jung Institute of Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco house the Archive collections in their respective cities. Indeed, it should be noted that a majority of the individuals who have been major donors to the Archive's publication effort are associated with the Institute in California and Chicago, whose representatives participate in the governing Board and editorial over-sight of the National Archive. In addition, members of the Friends of ARAS in New York have made gifts both financial and in volunteer effort that have been critical to the Archive's well-being.
Those who have contributed to our editorial work are noted in the credits facing the title page and elsewhere in this volume, but I wish to acknowledge with gratitude the remarkable commitment and variety of talents that George Elder has brought to the writing of the text. It is both inspiring and taxing to be responsible for so extended a work and the interpretation of such an enormous variety of powerful artifacts. I believe readers will find the results richly rewarding, both in the quality of the individual commentaries and in the organic texture that emerges from so many sacred images, places, and traditions to create the tapestry of the volume as a whole.
We are also greatly indebted to Shambhala Publications, under the leadership of Samuel Bercholz, for recognizing the potential of a set of illustrated volumes revealing the power of archetypal symbolism in the history of human expression. The publisher's insight, and the work of his staff, especially Jonathan Green and Kendra Crossen, have been central to the creation of books of exceptional quality and appeal.
Finally, I want to thank particularly Annmari Ronnberg, Curator in New York and Managing Editor of the project as a whole, and Karen Arm, Assistant Curator (and artist) who have together given far more than the call of duty to all the tasks involved in the selection of images, oversight of research, management of permissions, development of the index, and perceptive counsel without which a project such as this never achieve incarnation.