Figure to right: Achilles and Pallas Athena (Achilles Shouting from the Trenches), by Thomas Woolner, 1868.
When we are in an archetypal situation, we are effectively under the influence or compulsion of a god or daimôn. Most archetypal situations have two poles, the subject, in which the archetype has been activated, and the object, often another person, which has activated it. The subject has been seized by the archetype, and we may say they are “possessed” by the god or daimôn. That is, they are in a state of θεοφορία (bearing a god) or θεοληψσία (seized by a god), and so frenzied or inspired. The other pole, the person, group, object, and so forth, at which the archetypal relation is directed, is perceived as especially significant, or numinous, and the subject projects an archetypal role onto it. The most familiar example of possession and projection occurs between lover and beloved: the lover is possessed by Eros or Aphrodite; the beloved is perceived as a god or goddess incarnate. Furthermore, because archetypal Ideas are common to all people, the human recipient of a projection may accept it, and thus become possessed by the projected role. That is, an archetypal relation can result in mutual possession (von Franz 1980, 16–17, 27).
Possession is not necessarily bad; it can be a powerful source of archetypal power and inspiration (von Franz 1980, 29). Poets and philosophers invoke the Muses; lovers appeal to Aphrodite and Eros; theurgists may call on Helios. Furthermore, we will see that possession and projection are essential to theurgy.
Possession is dangerous when (as is often the case) a person is unaware that it has taken place, and so they are behaving under the compulsion of a god or daimôn and even their perceptions are colored by its energy. Furthermore, a possessed person may suppose that they are in conscious control of the divine powers, which is a serious misperception known as ego inflation or — shall we say? — hubris. Therefore, possession may be empowering as a temporary condition provided the subject remains aware that they are serving as an instrument of the gods, and not vice versa. (For more on “possession” and projection in Jungian psychology, see von Franz, 1980.)(continue to next page)