The Archetypes of the Trinity

I’ve been reading Erich Neumann’s The Origins and History of Consciousness (Amazon affiliate link), and I got to thinking about the notion of the Hero in light of some of Neumann’s writings.

One of the things that I find interesting about Neumann that I either missed or overlooked in Jung and other writers is the notion of hunger.

Yin-yang symbol; one black dot within a larger body of white and a white dot within a larger body of black. Both the dots and the bodies are identical to each other.
Yin-yang symbol common among Eastern religions, symbolizing the relationship between order and chaos.

The traditional understanding of the Hero’s Journey as posited by Campbell is that the Hero mediates between life and death.

But this is a binary system; it permits for good and evil, and the Hero is good and the world (or the element of it which is danger and chaos) is evil.

The problem with this symbolism is that the nature of life as changing is recognized, but the truth of reality and being is overlooked.

What Neumann points out that I haven’t seen other writers talk about is that the interchange between life and death is facilitated by hunger, and it occurred to me:

Archetypally understood life and death are not states we experience within our lives. We experience hunger.

We have various states of hunger, and one of the ways that we can react to hunger is sacrifice. We have a near-infinite ability to consume, though doing so in excess is harmful both to us and to others. Sacrifice is choosing not to consume so that we avoid over-consumption.

Or, in short, sacrifice is a way of saying “This is enough.”

If we believe Jung, which I generally do, our consciousness is a product of the world we live in and reflects greater objective reality. This is really Jung’s revolutionary idea. Jung expresses a statement that our consciousness is a product, which is the prevalent ideal of postmodernism but which by itself is dangerous. He also recognizes the traditional belief, that of the objective reality, that has shaped Western thought from primordial times.

When we take both these points together, the symbols of life and death do not answer the question. For instance, Buddhism teaches that the path to nirvana is to avoid hunger, but this is often wreathed in symbols of death; the highest goal is the end of a cycle of endless and miserable life in a broken world, which is not necessarily something which would be unworthy of human effort. However, as the only goal of being, the mere cessation of suffering is a lowly goal. The Hero and their contribution to the world are overlooked in the abstract.

Let’s look at the concept of the Christian Trinity. The Trinity is God; God the Father, Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This is a confusing way of expressing things, since it is one entity expressed as three distinct entities, but there is an archetypal reason for the existence of the Trinity.

Let’s start with Jung’s assertion that undifferentiated God is equivalent to life; life understood as Logos and divine and perfect. Note that this is distinct from Jung’s views on Christianity; when I speak of God here I speak of an abstract figure. Jung’s interpretation of the Trinity and the God the Father within it is heretical, because he views it as a symbol of the individual’s mind, rather than a divine entity (there are other reasons that this is true, but I don’t want to get bogged down in them).

This undifferentiated God is the Trinity in complex, but it is difficult to understand why Christianity would have elements of Christ and the Holy Spirit on the same level as God the Father, when other Abrahamic religions distinguish between Christ and God (if they accept Christ as having any connection to the divine).

Within the Trinity, God the Father is associated with paradise and the perfect future, the Word/Logos, and divine will that leads away from damnation. I think it is fair to say that an archetypal understanding of God paints him as life itself, and other Abrahamic religions that do not include Christ, including gnosticism, recognize this element of God.

Christ’s own statements about His nature are confusing in this light: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” (John 14:6, NASB)

How can one entity bring another into itself? Wouldn’t the union logically be with Christ, and not with God, if the two are the same entity?

This is where Neumann’s concept of hunger comes into play.

If we forego the dualist conception of life and death as opposites, and instead consider them as polar ends of a broader scale of hunger, with all things existing between them, we see differently.

The Hero always exists to triumph over death, but they do this through sacrifice. Sacrifice is the only way we can create more life than there would otherwise be. This is because of the world’s entropic nature. It is not an accident that it is eating the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, of engaging with hunger, is the sin that begins all the suffering in the world, because it is hunger that symbolizes the world as is, and neither life or death can exist within that spectrum.

The Hero moves everything toward life, but everything falls toward death of its own accord.

Christ is the ultimate Hero. He goes into the realm of the dead by an act of sacrifice that includes not only physical death but also humiliation and torment and mockery and a black mark on his secular legacy. People will, until the end of days, ask why Christ did not use His power to save Himself, and they will use this to justify denying Him.

However, this ultimate sacrifice defeats death. It is no longer something to be feared, because life has entered into it. In classical Christianity, there is this idea that Christ descends into Sheol and ascends with the spirits of the righteous dead, bringing them to Paradise where they live with the Father.

The concept of the Hero is common, and an archetypal understanding of Christ and God the Father is simple. Jung was hung up in particular about the idea of three figures, though. They do not fit the life-death dichotomy, because two questions cannot have three answers.

Considering life, death, and hunger instead of the dualism, we see a place for the Holy Spirit within the Trinity, and this actually answers some important questions about the Christian life.

The Holy Spirit is the replacement for hunger. Christ has conquered death, but hunger remains, a corrupting influence that makes us unfit for true life.

The Holy Spirit replaces the hunger that resides within every person. The Hero only denies hunger, and for this reason no story of the Hero ever will be complete, because the Hero still has to face death. Even victory over death is victory over death for the Hero alone, because succumbing to hunger (in the form of original sin, if not deliberate sin during one’s lifetime) makes one unworthy of archetypal true life.

The Holy Spirit exists to give us a guide toward the life we ought to live; it is God’s answer to our hunger. I think that Pascal best describes this in his Pensees:

“What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.”

Blaise Pascal, Pensées VII

This is one of the reasons why the understanding of the Trinity as God in an undifferentiated state is important; God has replaced death and God has replaced hunger for those who follow him.

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