Evolution, Jung, and Theurgy:
IV. Some Implications for Neoplatonism

P. Who are the Gods?

As is well known, the personified archetypal Ideas are represented in the pantheons of the polytheistic religions, but these pantheons, as we know them from art, literature, and anthropology, also incorporate much that is culturally relative.  Is there any way we can know the gods common to all humans, independent of these accidents?  The Jungian psychologist Anthony Stevens (1982; 1993) has some important insights.

[timeline of human evolution]

[Figure: a nineteenth-century view of Paleolithic people]

Figure to right: A nineteenth-century view of our Paleolithic ancestors.

Stevens observes that humans have spent over 99.5% of the 200-thousand-year history of H. sapiens as hunter-gatherers; this is our environment of evolutionary adaptedness (see also Wilson 1978, 84).  Thus, we should expect our instincts, and therefore the archetypes corresponding to them, to be the perceptual-behavioral structures that have conferred selective advantage on our Paleolithic hunter-gatherer ancestors (Stevens 1993, 64).  Further, in the comparatively short time (less than ten thousand years) since our ancestors began to abandon this modus vivendi, there has not been much opportunity for major evolutionary change (four archetypal “ages”).  As E. O. Wilson (1978, 34) says,

Although genetic evolution of some kind continued during this latter, historical sprint, it cannot have fashioned more than a tiny fraction of the traits of human nature.  Otherwise surviving hunter-gatherer people would differ genetically to a significant degree from people in advanced industrial nations, but this is demonstrably not the case.

Finally, as Stevens (1982, 48) remarks,

An archetypal system, once it has evolved as a characteristic of a given species, breeds true as long as the species exists, and does not disappear with disuse.

Therefore, our archetypal Ideas (gods) are largely the same as those of our Paleolithic hunter-gatherer ancestors.  (Thus, the mythological illud tempus may be translated “one-hundred thousand years ago”!)

[Figure: Dorobo hunter-gatherers]Figure to left: Contemporary hunter-gatherers: a Dorobo tribe in Tanzania.  (The people of Tanzania seem to have the genotypes most similar to our common ancestors.)

One way of discovering these gods is by psychological and mythological studies, such as Jung and his followers have conducted, as well as by the related theurgical techniques that I’ll discuss shortly (Section V).  Another way of learning about them is through anthropological studies of contemporary hunting-gathering communities, so that we may understand the sort of behavioral patterns that facilitate their survival.  According to some anthropologists, these communities typically have 40 to 50 members, comprising six to ten adult men, ten to twenty child-bearing women, and perhaps twenty infants and children.  These are kinship groups structured around families, which need not be monogamous.  The members of such groups have common beliefs and practices, and periodically encounter other similar groups, for purposes of marriage and warfare — love and strife, as we might say — as well as for other reasons.  Perhaps we can see such a group in the background of the Olympian clan — before they became so exalted!  The Golden Age of Kronos also comes to mind.  (See Fox 1989; Stevens 1982, 67; Wilson 1978, 82-6.)

[Paleolithic art from Ubirr Rock, Arnhem Land, Australia]            [Paleolithic rock art from Arnhem Land, Autralia, 7000-9000 B.P.] 

Figures above: Paleolithic rock art from Arnhem Land, Australia.  Such figures may represent the gods of our ancestors, which are still with us as archetypal Ideas in our collective unconscious.  Although such speculations should not be pressed too far, the figure on the left (from Ubirr Rock) may symbolize such archetypal polarities as Rhea and Kronos, or the Indefinte Dyad and the Monad.  Could the figure on the right (from 7000 – 9000 years ago) be the Paternal Nous?  Please don’t embarrass me by taking these suggestions too seriously!

These circumstances present humans with an ethical challenge (Stevens 1982, 240).  Most of us are not hunter-gatherers and few would advocate a general return to that lifestyle.  Nevertheless, their archetypal Ideas are also ours, a fundamental fact of our human nature.  Since “Psychopathology results from the frustration of archetypal goals” (Stevens 1993, 86), we are ill-advised to ignore our ancestral archetypes (Stevens 1982, 122).  “The archetypes will not allow us to deny them for long” (Stevens 1982, 240).  So the challenge for φιλοσοφία — philosophy as a way of life — is to conduct our modern lives in harmony with the gods of Paleolithic hunter-gatherers (Stevens 1993, 67–70).  How can this be accomplished?  “To gain access to the archetypal world, to begin to know the unknowable, is at least a beginning” (Stevens 1993, 119–20).   To this end, theurgy may be helpful.

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