ARAS Connections: Image and Archetype - 2021 Issue 4

ARAS Connections
Image and Archetype

A Special Update on the State of ARAS

by Tom Singer

This edition of ARAS Connections marks a significant moment of transition in the history and development of ARAS. On the one hand, we honor the retirement of Ami Ronnberg who has served as the Curator of ARAS for forty-one years—as well as its Director for a good portion of that time. It has been a remarkable tenure of service and creativity. Ami has overseen the development of many book projects, including the enormously successful publication of The Book of Symbols which has sold 300,000 copies worldwide and has been translated into seven different languages. Under Ami’s devoted leadership, ARAS has expanded its archives, developed educational programs for young people, and brought ARAS into the 21st century with a now vital online presence. Among Ami’s many gifts, perhaps none has been more valued than her uncanny eye for choosing just the right image for whatever the moment has required. She has had a vast palette to work with—the symbolic imagery from around the world and the beginning of time. But, to know how to use that palette is a cultivated gift that no one has mastered like Ami. One only has to turn to our brand new curriculum guide A Journey Through Symbols, to witness the stunning originality of Ami’s eye. Her selections exhibit a freshness of vision, often with images that are centuries old. One example is this amazing collection of images from the section entitled “The Call” in A Journey Through Symbols. We are launching this free, downloadable book in honor of Ami's unparalleled career at ARAS.

In emphasizing the creativity of Ami’s curatorial eye it becomes clear why her retirement is a change and a loss to all who have worked with her over the years. Those of you who don’t know her personally know her through her exceptional ability to curate the universe of symbolic imagery in the many books she has edited. 

It is pretty much a Jungian cliché to talk about how the archetypes of death and rebirth often go hand in hand. Yet the cliché masks the deeper fact of the symbolic nature of change. At ARAS we are witnessing the living truth of how the archetypal twins of death and rebirth are linked so closely in the retirement of Ami and the simultaneous emergence of wonderful new things at ARAS. Fortunately, Ami will continue to serve on the Board of ARAS so her voice and intimate knowledge of symbolic imagery and the ARAS way of presenting it will continue to have a meaningful influence on our work. ARAS is deeply indebted to Ami’s forty-one years of contributions. And, we also celebrate the birth of a new incarnation of ARAS in the form of the exciting, innovative projects that we feature below.

In This Issue

  • Announcing Archipelago Outreach Platform
  • Two New Outreach Programs in Archipelago
    • The ARAS Gaia Project
    • A Journey Through Symbols Curriculum Guide


Announcing Archipelago Outreach Platform

Supported by a generous grant from the Germanacos Foundation.

For some time, we have been gestating ideas of how to reach out to the ARAS audience more effectively with a greater variety of offerings. At the same time, we have also wanted to be more interactive and receptive to the world of ARAS users. Our vision of creating An ARAS Outreach Center led us to the image of the archipelago, which expresses our hope that emerging initiatives will be a place that links ARAS projects to the world.

I first came into contact with the richness of the image of an archipelago many years ago when I arrived at the old Athens international airport for one of many pilgrimages to the Aegean. After I spoke a bit of pigeon Greek to the cabdriver telling him where I wanted to go, he asked me about myself. I said that I was an American psychiatrist who lived in San Francisco. He responded by saying, “I am a Greek cab driver and my mind is like the Aegean, filled mostly with water and a few scattered hard rocky islands.” There are archipelagos in the sea and archipelagos in the mind and in the psyche.

An archipelago is an expanse of water with many scattered and interconnected islands.  For a Jungian oriented group, this is a perfect image of the relationship between unconscious and conscious, both collective and personal. It is also a good image for the relationships between the symbolic imagery of different cultures in different eras. They are separate in their cultural uniqueness but also connected by a sea of common human experience that we call archetypes. And now, we plan to develop our own archipelago of an interconnected worldwide ARAS community, separated by the vast seas of both physical oceans and cultural differences and connected by the archetypal commonalities of being human.

Our new ARAS archipelago will have many of its own interconnected islands, all aimed at the reciprocity of engaging in an active dialogue with the world. We plan to offer books, courses, and podcasts.  We will also be experimenting with curated galleries and forums in which ARAS users can share images and discussions.

To get a quick tour of the content of Archipelago, please see our video on Archipelago:  The ARAS Outreach Center. Descriptions of our first two offerings on the new platform are below.  Both are major innovative programs reflecting our broader emerging vision of a world connected through archetypes and symbolic imagery.


1. The ARAS Gaia Project

Images: Upper left: Statue of Gaia, Palekastro, Crete, 3rd C. B.C., Upper right: Detail from Omen by Dark Sky Aerial. Dancers suspended over the Grand Canyon, Bottom left: Demeter and Persephone: 'The Exaltation of the Flower.' Parian Marble Stele. Height: 56.50 cm.  Length: 67 cm. Depth 14 cm. Dated 470-460 BC., Bottom right: Site Profile Flag #3 (Prospect Park, Brooklyn, NY), Brooke Singer.

Gaia: Then and Now. January-June 2022

The first phase of the ARAS Gaia Project is Gaia: Then and Now, a series of online events presenting a way of knowing essential truths about the earth and climate change through the exploration of archetypal, symbolic images. The series has been designed with an eye towards moving back and forth between the ancient and contemporary stories about the human relationship to Gaia.

Register here!

Click here for the flier for this series.

Click here for full descriptions of each event in the series.


Origin of the Project

With our expanding Internet presence and our growing understanding of how to use it, we have come to realize that ARAS has the potential and capacity to develop a series of ongoing projects in which we explore through our unique perspective major themes that are central to the concerns of the contemporary world. Two projects emerged spontaneously in 2020 that opened us up to the unexplored potential for this kind of application of ARAS. The American disease of racism that erupted once again with the murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020 inspired ARAS Board member Deborah O’Grady to take the lead in producing “On Taking a Knee”, a video collage of archetypal images and music that quickly went viral and was viewed by 20,000 people in its first week online. “On Taking a Knee” demonstrated to us at ARAS that we are capable of contributing to a widening and deepening awareness of the outer and inner (or inner and outer) world. 

The second, spontaneously emerging ARAS outreach effort in 2020 was “Art in a Time of Global Crisis:  Interconnection and Companionship.”  This project was spearheaded by Linda Carter and the Art and Psyche Working Group who worked closely with Ami Ronnberg and Allison Tuzo of ARAS to create a virtual gallery as a place of visual solace and inspiration during the covid pandemic. Five times a week a range of digital media including original artwork, works from well-known artists, photographs, sculpture, works from antiquity, music, and video was posted from the contributions of a world wide participating audience. The content was curated to speak to the emotional and spiritual needs of a locked down world in the grips of a deadly virus. These two projects--“On Taking a Knee” and “Art in a Time of Global Crisis”--  demonstrated to us at ARAS that we are able to contribute to a thoughtful exploration, discourse and understanding of our common humanity and its seemingly endless capacity for destruction and creation.

Based on these two previous experiments in applying ARAS’ unique perspective to racism and the pandemic, we are now initiating the ARAS Gaia Project as our way of responding to the global climate change crisis. We are calling the first phase of this ongoing project Gaia: Then and Now and, beginning in January 2022, it will consist of a series of live webinars that will be taped for future viewing as well. The presentations will focus on our relationship to the Earth as revealed through the study of ancient and contemporary symbolic imagery. With widely varying but complimentary perspectives, the speakers will present commentary, visual images, original videos, and engage with the online audience in interactive dialogue.

There will not be any charges for participating, although contributions to ARAS, a nonprofit, are welcome and encouraged.  

A Vision of the ARAS Gaia Project

"I used to think the top global environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought that with 30 years of good science we could address these problems. But I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy, and to deal with these we need a spiritual and cultural transformation, and we scientists don't know how to do that."  James Gustave Speth, Shared Planet: Religion and Nature, BBC Radio 4 (1 Oct. 2013)

Pale Blue Dot - Carl Sagan

Almost all of the discussion and debate about climate change has focused on the science that supports the notion that climate change is real and caused by human beings  vs. those who deny the reality of climate change, its human causes, and question the validity of the scientific evidence supporting its existence. That the debate has focused on the science is only natural in an era when the scientific method has been embraced for several hundred years as the primary way of knowing the truth about the earth and the universe. For a far longer period of time, there has been another way of knowing about the world—what we might call the mytho-poetic way of knowing. This way of knowing was often conflated with religious dogma and in the ensuing turmoil the idea that there could only be one truth about the world set scientific and religious ways of knowing at odds with one another. The conflict has lasted for centuries. Galileo’s discoveries being see as a dangerous threat to the orthodoxy of the Catholic church can be seen as the archetypal manifestation of this conflict.

At our current time when everything seems to be polarizing in our views of the world, it might seem odd to suggest that the scientific and mythopoetic ways of knowing can also be viewed as complimentary rather than at war. Each way is concerned with facts. Science deals with material facts, while the mytho-poetic deals with facts that are psychological and symbolic phenomena. One might imagine that these different ways of knowing would be swallowed by the beast of polarization, but in fact there has been a quiet but substantial movement towards bridging the science vs religious or mythopoetic ways of knowing. In that spirit, the ARAS Gaia Project seeks to explore the mythopoetic ways of knowing about the nature of the earth and the current crisis of climate change—not by putting itself in opposition to the scientific way of knowing, but rather as offering itself as a complimentary way of understanding our dire situation and how we got there. This inquiry centers around the basic question:  Can we find our way to a renewed sacred reverence for the Earth in all her forms—animate and inanimate. Cormac McCarthy articulates the existential urgency of this question beautifully in his mythopoetic way of knowing about “the maps of the world in its becoming” in the last sentences of The Road:

"Once there were brook trout in the streams in the mountains. You could see them standing in the amber current where the white edges of their fins wimpled softly in the flow. They smelled of moss in your hand. Polished and muscular and torsional. On their backs were vermiculate  patterns that were maps of the world in its becoming. Maps and mazes. Of a thing which could not be put back. Not be made right again. In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man and they hummed of mystery.”  Cormac McCarthy, The Road


2. A Journey Through Symbols: Your Guide to Exploring the Imagination

For the past decade, ARAS has been running a summer intensive art program for teenagers in New York City. The goal of the program has been to initiate young people into the love and exploration of symbolic imagery. We have called this program: Pioneer Teens. If you are unfamiliar with Pioneer Teens, here is a video that explains how it works. After a few years of running the program, we realized that we wanted make it available to a broader audience than the quite small groups of 8-10 teenagers we could accommodate each year. We began to envision a curriculum guide based on the experiences of the Pioneer Teen Program that could be used by teachers, students, and individuals who wanted to learn how to explore symbols and run similar programs. Our idea for a guide book eventually took shape in A Journey Through Symbols: Your Guide to Exploring the Imagination.  We are thrilled to announce that the book, both in a version for groups and a version for individuals, is now available to view and download for free on Archipelago. (Of course you can also make a voluntary donation to ARAS in exchange for the book if you would like). We are hoping that it will be used by students, teachers, artists and any individual learning how to explore symbols. As part of our wish to further develop a virtual community of ARAS users, the book will be accompanied by webpages on Archipelago which will welcome comments and suggestions in the forum and a curated gallery for the display of images and commentary from ARAS users that grows out of the exploration of symbols.