Sunday, April 18, 2004

Analytical Meaning of Sacrifice

If, as Jung tells us, we worship as divine the life energies that flow through us, (1991, 83) then the release or the harnessing of new energies will be experienced as an incarnational event. For the individual who has been gripped by his/her own inner, autonomous energies, the one whose ego has entered into a cooperative relationship with those energies, incarnation becomes a matter of life and death. The relationship is also a great paradox because the refusal of the energies is a refusal of life while the embrace of the new energy can be felt as the death of some vital part of one’s identity. In other words, incarnation requires sacrifice, and sacrifice entails suffering. Sacrifice (making sacred), Incarnation (giving flesh to) and consciousness (a knowing with) are closely related terms. All three imply the presence of an Other. In this way of understanding the psychological nature of the human person, ego consciousness is the repository for incarnating energies.

Early in his life Jung wrote, “the whole art of life shrinks to the one problem of how the libido may be freed in the most harmless way possible” (318). Later in discussing his “Joining with the Primitive to Kill Siegfried” dream, Jung describes the process by which he was able to free the libido he had invested in his heroic attitude (1965, 180-81). At the time of the dream, December of 1913, he felt great loss and sorrow as he realized that part of his own personality was dying. Some years after the dream, Jung notes that in sacrificing his heroic ideal (symbolized by the murder of Siegfried), he gave up his superior function, thereby allowing the released libido to work toward a new adaptation to life (1989, 48-49).

In his old age, Jung wrote, “My raison d’etre consists in coming to terms with that indefinable Being we call God” (Jaffe, 1979, 207). Jung was cautious about using the word “God,” but I don’t believe he ever strayed far from equating God or the God-image with life force or libido.

In the journey toward a wider consciousness, many levels of sacrifice are necessary. Ultimately a fairly conscious ego can learn to participate in the sacrifice of itself when it is able to give up closely held attitudes, let go of relationships that no longer fit the life situation, or, paradoxically enough, sacrifice life situations that no longer fit an essential relationship. The ego begins to understand that the Self as the organizing principle of the psyche is unfolding itself in a slow and often painful process in one’s life that tends to some end or goals obscure to ego understanding. The Self serves mystery and it serves the divine. “But everything divine is an end-in-itself, perhaps the only legitimate end-in-itself we know” (Jung, 1969, 250). The Self makes the ego its object. The ego in turn learns to offer up in service to the Self, i.e., to sacrifice to the Self, “the fruit of attention, patience, industry, devotion, and laborious toil” (253). The Self demands the maximum sacrifice from the ego, and the conscious ego seeks to make that sacrifice.

Sacrifice is more than a way of expressing our relationship with the divine; it is also an avenue by which the divine enters into the human realm and the human person partakes of the divine. “We must overcome death by finding God in it. And by the same token, we shall find the divine established in our innermost hearts, in the last stronghold which might have seemed able to escape his reach (Teilhard, 82).

Probably at a very deep level of our being we recognize the necessity of sacrifice. We know that every living thing feeds off other living things. We know that the sun must set for the sun to rise. We bring new human life into the world only through labor pain. Though we anxiously work to avoid suffering, to make ourselves secure, we cannot hide from the fact that we are by nature suffering animals. The foundational myth of our culture tells us that our separation from God, our fateful decision to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, set us up for toil and suffering and death. Knowledge, or consciousness, a knowing with, is bought only with suffering and sacrifice and death, both on real and symbolic levels.

Religious Significance of Sacrifice

Abraham’s willingness to kill his only son at the behest of God is a religious working of the theme of sacrifice. Abraham has kept faith with his God, had faithfully executed his commands, and had been rewarded richly in his old age with the birth of his son Isaac and the promise that God would maintain his covenant with Isaac and his descendants. Then an enormous sacrifice was demanded of Abraham—his beloved son and with him the promise of the future—and Abraham was compliant to this highly irrational demand (New American Bible, 1986, Genesis 22: 1-18).

The increase of consciousness, i.e., the deeper understanding of God brought about by the indwelling of the divine in Abraham, and the fuller participation of God in human nature, afforded by Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice, signaled a change in the relationship between God and humankind. Perhaps in the Abraham-Isaac enactment there was too little presence of God in human nature for Abraham to find God in Isaac’s death. Did Abraham, with of course God’s help, intuit this fact, and was that the reason the sacrifice was halted?

Another replay of our theme in the Judeo-Christian tradition has God sacrificing his only son. Here God more fully partakes of the event; he no longer watches from a distance removed. It is God’s son, in whom he is well pleased, who is sacrificed. The indwelling of the divine in the human plus the sacrifice the divine carried out on itself seems to have been sufficient to make God more conscious of the human condition and to make humankind more conscious of God. In this sacrifice the incarnation of the divine allowed a human being to share in immortality. Hence, the resurrection represents the incarnation itself, and the appearance of the risen Christ to ordinary people represents the possibility of its realization in human consciousness.

Sacrifice in Fairy Tale

In “the Girl Without Hands” (Grimm, 1977, 113-18) the miller has been forced to chop off his daughter’s hands after he made a deal with the devil that would bring his family worldly riches. The daughter suffers her loss passively. Eventually she is faced with a choice—stay with the father and accept his loving care (the same father who chopped off her hands!) or give up this questionable security and venture into the world on her own. She leaves the confines of the family and courageously strikes out on her own. This is the moment she begins a conscious sacrifice.

A fruitful way to explore this tale is to consider the daughter as the developing feminine ego and her relationship with the other characters and the situations in the story as the unfolding and growth of the ego within the encompassing psyche. When looked at in this way, sacrifice becomes a major theme.

We follow our heroine through a series of adventures in which she submits to the insecurities of the unknown. Eventually she is able to grow new hands. Like Odysseus and Telemachus, our male heroes discussed below, she reaches a new and higher level of relationship with transpersonal powers that is reflected in her everyday existence. She is empowered by forces she meets in her own psyche when she has the courage to engage them.

The tale could be the story of a modern woman caught up in patriarchal values. Her introjected parents (the miller who made the bad deal and the mother who realizes it but is powerless to change it) would have her stay infantile and in their care, crippled but safe. Our modern woman may be faced with the choice of staying safely in the confines of a traditional marriage, in the role of “mother” long after her children need her, or in a good job in a corporation. If she stays or if she goes, the cost is high. The price for staying is the sacrifice of manifesting herself in that world (her hands). The price for going is the sacrifice of her life as it is, perhaps uncomfortable but known, perhaps unfulfilling but safe. Either choice she makes involves sacrifice. If she can forego safety and win through to new hands, she may become a mature and nurturing woman to herself and to others, someone who power to effect change, to put a stop to deals with the devil.

Sacrifice in Myth

In the Odyssey Odysseus and Telemachus, father and son, undergo a number of sacrificial experiences, Odysseus on his journey home and Telemachus in the search for his father. In some ways their experiences are similar and parallel. Odysseus in trial after trial is stripped of everything—his family, his ships, his crew, until finally, having given up his heroic identity, he reaches home, his beloved Ithaca. The reader understands that the hands of the gods are at work in every experience the father and son have. Odysseus and Telemachus, however, simply experience suffering, hardship, sacrifice, as well as ease without conscious understanding that they are at the mercy of and in service to warring divinities.

There comes a moment though when Odysseus stands his ground with Circe, a goddess who lives on the island of Aeaea. He relates cooperatively with her so that, with her help, he begins to learn to actively participate in sacrifice. Circe cautions Odysseus and counsels him about the dangers of the Sirens. He listens carefully, abandons any heroic attempt to deal with them, and strategizes with his crew about avoiding them. He uses beeswax to seal the ears of his comrades, and he commands them to lash him fast to the mast so that they can sail beyond the spellbinding song of the Sirens. No heroic engagement here; a wise avoidance with the help of a deity.

What does Odysseus sacrifice in this courageous act? The Sirens promise to make him and his comrades wise, to tell them about “the pains that Achaeans and Trojans once endured on the spreading plain of Troy when the gods willed it so—all that comes to pass on the fertile earth, we know it all!” (Homer, 1996, 277). Circe has told Odysseus the dangers of listening, of the danger of their being drawn into the realm of the Sirens. There will be no sailing home, no greeting from wife and children. Instead Odysseus and his comrades will be drawn into a kind of death for the Sirens have “round them heaps of corpses, rotting away, rags of skin shriveling on their bones . . .” (273) Odysseus has to forego the temptation of succumbing to intellectual understanding devoid of life.

Sacrifice in Clinical Material

Diane, a woman in her middle forties who had spent her career working up the corporate ladder, came into analysis suffering from meaninglessness and depression. She had divorced some years earlier and more recently had quit her job when the corporation where she worked offered a generous separation package to a number of middle managers. Although she had agonized over leaving the job, she felt the need for time off, having worked except for brief vacations since she was a teen. She quickly established a new lifestyle, considerable reduced from before, and entered analysis.

The decision to quit work had certainly felt like a huge sacrifice, but Diane was buffered from it by the notion that she would eventually return to the corporate world. Like the Handless Maiden, she had had to give up a lot of herself to fit into her former life situation. Slowly she began to explore areas of her personhood that she had truncated in the interests of rather one-sided relationships, economic independence, career advancement, and success in a male-dominated environment.

About one year into her analysis she had the following dream: I am in a church. On the altar Mark is nailed to a huge cross. The service is about his sacrifice. It is horrible, and I am amazed to see that he is looking about with great interest at what is going on in spite of his suffering.

Diane felt the pain of this dream so strongly that after she told it, she sat weeping through the remainder of the session. When I tried probing into her feelings, she screamed at me to be silent. She was unable to engage other than to stay in the room.

From our previous work I knew Mark was a man Diane greatly admired and respected, someone upon whom she projected heroic qualities of intellect, power, and ability. This part of Diane, perhaps her identity with her first function, thinking, was being sacrificed. She could only witness passively in the dream. She certainly suffered great pain in her waking reality as she began to realize she could not return to her former way of life, but she had little consciousness of what was happening to her.

Some two years later, Diane entered into a relationship that held great promise. Over time, however, she realized that she was back in a situation that cost her too much of her essential self. Painfully and slowly she reached the decision to withdraw from the relationship. This sacrifice was made on a conscious level, although she entered into the process with considerable hesitation. After some months of intense loneliness and pain, she had this dream: I am on a journey with an unknown man. We arrive at a junction that requires much effort to cross. On the other side there are many trees that have been turned into timber. The man says to me, “Now we must go to church.” I am surprised and ask, “Why?” He says, “Because we share the Paschal Mystery.”

The dream seemed to contain precisely the confirmation Diane needed about her decision, and it gave her great comfort. She associated the Paschal Mystery with the death and resurrection mysteries of the Catholic faith, the willing sacrifice of the son and his later transformation. The dream caused her to revisit her earlier crucifixion dream and to glean considerable understanding about it and what it had effected in her life at the time.

I noted to myself the motif of the trees-to-timber, something Edinger writes about, “The general symbolism of falling trees in dreams indicates that some major quantity of libido is in the process of transit from one level of awareness to another. . . . Whenever you encounter a dream like that, be on the lookout for what is going on in the life of the patient. Very often it is the conclusion of some type of unconscious relationship” (1994, 76-77). Jung also tells us that a sacrifice often occurs at an important point of crossing (1991, 347) which is a motif in this dream.

Eventually Diane entered into a new relationship, one that can encompass the whole of her personality and one in which she and her husband meet on equal ground. Her attitude today allows her to enter consciously and meaningfully into sacrifice—although not without pain—and to see sacrifice as a necessary cooperative enterprise. Often she feels her life as a slow, sometimes painful, sometimes joyful, working out of issues with which she cooperates but which is tending towards aims of which she is but dimly aware. Not a religious person in the traditional sense of the word, she has said she occasionally feels a “sort of joyful hope like a really spiritual person might feel” in her day-to-day lived experience. She has a job that she enjoys. Although it lacks the “glitz and the fast pace” of her former work, it allows her to earn a living and to employ her skills in a fuller expression of who she is.

Edinger, Edward F. (1994). A Seminar on C.G. Jung’s Symbols of Transformation. Los
Angeles, CA: The C.G. Jung Bookstore.

Grimm Brothers. (1977). Grimms’ Tales for Young and Old (Ralph Manheim, trans.).
New York: Anchor Press.

Homer. (1996). The Odyssey. (Robert Fagles, trans.). New York: Viking.

Jaffe, Aniela. (1979). C.G. Jung: Word and Image. Princeton, N.J: Princeton
University Press.

Jung, C.G. (1961). Memories, Dreams, Reflections. New York: Vintage Books.

Jung, C.G. (1969). Psychology and Religion: West and East. Collected Works. (Vol.
11). Bollingen Series XX
. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press.

Jung, C.G. (1989). Analytical Psychology: Notes on the Seminar Given in 1925.
Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press.

Jung, C.G. (1991). Psychology of the Unconscious (Beatrice Hinkle, trans.). Princeton,
N.J: Princeton University Press.

New American Bible. (1968). New York: Catholic Book Publishing Co.

Teilhard de Chardin. (19