Lawrence W. Jaffe. Celebrating Soul: Preparing for the New Religion

Lawrence Jaffe's Celebrating Soul presents a spiritual or religious meditation on Jungian psychology. Toronto: Inner City Books, Publication date: Sep., 1999, 128 pages, paper, ISBN 0-919123-85-6, illustrations, $16

Reviewed by Harry Polkinhorn


Lawrence Jaffe's Celebrating Soul presents a spiritual or religious meditation on Jungian psychology. Like Edward Edinger, whom he cites throughout, Jaffe feels that Jung's central contribution lies in the area of religious renovation. Rather than recapitulate Edinger, however, it is Jaffe's explicit task to "put into personal and feeling terms the essence of this myth," (p. 8) that is, what Aniela Jaffé has called "the myth of meaning" in Jung (cf. her book The Myth of Meaning in the Work of C. G. Jung. Zürich: Daimon Verlag, 1986). This L. Jaffe does admirably, approaching his complex subject in a straightforward style with frequent references to his own personal involvement with these ideas, making the book valuable not only for readers new to Jungian psychology who may have been put off by some of Jung's arcane references and demanding style of expression, but also for advanced practitioners, for in terms of the inner world of the psyche we are all on the same footing.

Jaffe's main line of discussion has to do with the evolution of religious belief and practice in the Western world. He sums up this development as follows: "We are in the first stages of a collective movement of the spirit, similar to the first four hundred years A.D. when Christianity displaced paganism in Europe. The current change in consciousness we call the Psychological Dispensation." (p. 16)

Under the Hebrew Dispensation, according to Jaffe (and Edinger), "God chose a group of people, the Israelites. In the second age, the Christian Dispensation, God chose a single individual, his firstborn, Jesus Christ. In the age we are now entering, the Psychological Dispensation, God is incarnating in each of us individually. . . . Depth psychology names this process individuation." (p. 17). Jung took great pains to differentiate his psychology from religion, especially after the publication of Answer to Job (1952), which brought down the wrath of some theologians on him, who claimed he was being sacrilegious, and at the same time the self-righteous fury of others, who asserted he was out to found a new religion.

However, Jung was not out to found another religion (prophets, revealed truth, priesthood to interpret it, sacraments, and the like). Rather, his intent was to address the inner experience of individuals who had lost their faith, just as he himself had. As he says in "Psychology and Religion" (1937), "To gain an understanding of religious matters, probably all this is left us today is the psychological approach. That is why I take these thought-forms that have become historically fixed, try to melt them down again and pour them into moulds of immediate experience." (Collected Works, 11, p. 89) Late in his life Jung returns to the subject, again trying to make clear that for him what matters is the psyche, one's inner life. He says, "I do not imagine that in my reflections on the meaning of man and his myth I have uttered a final truth, but I think that this is what can be said at the end of our aeon of the Fishes, and perhaps must be said in view of the coming aeon of Aquarius . . ." (Memories, Dreams, Reflections. New York: Random House, 1961, p. 339). Jaffe agrees with these ideas, maintaining the separation between psychology and religion as this latter term is commonly understood. In order to see the Psychological Dispensation as a "new religion," then, one must take care to differentiate "new" from "another."

Despite the quarrels caused by Answer to Job, which preoccupied Jung in his later years and can be traced in his published letters, Jaffe unapologetically and non-defensively broaches the subject much in the spirit of Jung's original writings, repeating Jung's distinction between God as such, about whom we can know nothing with certainty, and the God-image as it appears in the psyche, the proper subject of analytical depth psychology. It is upon this distinction that much of what follows rests. If, despite Jung's caveats, one persists in eliding this distinction between God and the God-image, nothing but confusion can result.

In his chapter entitled "The Jungian Myth" Jaffe develops his recapitulation of Jung's argument about the nature of consciousness as bound to the unconscious, the interrelation of these dimensions, and the way the interrelation changes over the course of an individual's lifetime. Thus, by virtue of the attention of consciousness to the unconscious, the latter begins to change: "This process is called transformation of the God-image, of which the essential ingredient is consciousness," (p. 25) and "Consciousness combines head (logos) and heart (eros)." (p. 25) Of central importance here is the combination of "knowing and relatedness," (p. 28) and it is Jaffe's emphasis upon the latter that I find so valuable. Relatedness refers to our feeling nature and is a kind of binding medium by means of which the transformations Jaffe mentions can proceed. Its foundations are ideally laid in infancy and early childhood. Out of a deep and trusting relatedness comes the possibility of an ego prepared to define itself vis-à-vis this background while remaining in dynamic relationship to it. As Jaffe says, ". . . the ego cannot be unless someone perceives it". (p. 29) By the same token, "changes in the collective psyche can be brought about by changes in the consciousness of individuals," (p. 30) bringing in the suggestion of a political level in Jungian psychology.

In his chapter entitled "Jungian Spirituality" Jaffe makes a series of specific correlations between the theories he has been discussing and the realities of individual psychological development, faced as it is with the challenges posed by the inevitable "failings of the parents," (p. 34) complexes, guilt, and the wounded child. "The assimilation of one's affects, and attention to our inner wounded child, become a modern means of worship of and service to God or—the same thing—pathways toward individuation." (p. 39) Thus, in Jaffe's idiom the depth-psychological terminology used to describe the inner world can be roughly substituted with a religious language.

In Part Two (Practice), Jaffe explores a series of texts, showing how the above-mentioned myth has appeared at different periods in the history of the West. Some of these texts include the Gnostic "Hymn of the Pearl," various passages from the New Testament, Jung's letters, and the Torah. Jaffe's discussions are presented in the form of meditations rather than as rigorous, closed arguments, thereby stimulating the work of the soul as it unfolds through mimesis and analogy. All the while he continues to flesh out his understanding of the Psychological Dispensation. "The Jungian myth, with consciousness as its central value, psychotherapy as its central ritual, and the child archetype as its initial symbol, is posited as the new world religion, so new it has only just quickened in its mother's womb." (p. 95)

Psychotherapy attends to this process through dissolving the myths imposed in childhood p. (97) so that a kind of rebirth into a higher consciousness might come about. As the wounds of childhood are healed, love of something greater than the ego becomes necessary. This, as Jaffe points out, "is one reason why the love relationship is so problematic in our day; the highest value, God, is projected upon our lover." (p. 102) Hence the significance of relatedness mentioned above. As Jaffe escorts the reader through his various meditations on soul, prayer, and suffering, such as his reflections on love, illustrating his comments with references to his own personal background, the religious dimension of Jung's contributions is enlivened and brought home in an immediate and personally moving way.

© Harry Polkinhorn 2002