The archetypal forces that are active deep within our unconscious call for expression, somehow, whether we ask for it or not, and whether we want it or not. We don’t know in what form their call will come, nor to what purpose, but they will find a way into our conscious outer life. Our ego is instrumental in reducing the raw power of these archetypal forces.
Vocatus atque non vocatus, deus aderit
This is the Latin proverb that Carl Jung had inscribed on the doorway of his house in Küsnacht, and that was later written on his tomb. He discovered it among the collection of ancient Greek and Latin sayings compiled in the Renaissance by Dutch humanist Desiderius Erasmus.
The proverb was originally written in Greek by Thucydides in his recounting of the Peloponnesian War, when the Spartans consulted the oracle of Delphi before going to war. Several Latin, and even more English, translations have been made from the original Greek prose.
The English translations most commonly cited for the first part are : Called or not called, Bidden or not bidden and Summoned or not summoned. Deus is translated by the god or God, and aderit by approaches, is present, will be there, and in Jung’s 1960 letter : will be on the spot. Here’s an excerpt of the letter (C.G. Jung. Letters of C.G. Jung : Volume 2, 1951-1961) :
« It says : yes, the god will be on the spot, but in what form and to what purpose ? I have put the inscription there to remind my patients and myself : Timor dei initium sapientiae [The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom]. Here another not less important road begins, not the approach to « Christianity » but to God himself and this seems to be the ultimate question. »
The gods according to Jungian thinkers
It is important to keep in mind that when Jungians talk about God (or the gods), they don’t mean it literally, as many religious people do. Jungian thinkers may be part of any religion or spiritual practice or none. They may also be atheist or agnostic.
Jungians consider myths and fairy tales as collective dreams, meaning that they are expressions of a psychic reality in the unconscious of that particular culture at the time the story spread. Some elements are universal, and their images or other representations show up in every culture.
These are called archetypal images. As we analyse and interpret our personal dreams to learn more about what’s happening in our personal unconscious, so Jungian thinkers analyse stories and symbols from all over the world to study the collective unconscious.
They also compare the stories to explain differences between ideas and belief systems in different cultures and at different periods in history.
Religious symbols and stories (as well as those in modern literature and film) fall into the same category, and thus God, or the gods, are seen as representations of archetypal forces at work within a people’s cultural and collective unconscious.
The god will be on the spot, but in what form and to what purpose ?
This means that archetypal forces from our unconscious will make themselves known, somehow, whether we ask for it or not, and whether we want it or not. We don’t know what form the call will take, and we don’t know what the purpose of the call is, but it will come. The god will be there, calling us to action, calling us to make a change and transform our lives, somehow.
Sometimes we don’t recognize what happens as a call. Sometimes it can present itself as a tragedy or a loss, and it is only after many years that we can see the actual purpose of the call.
A popular example is of somebody falling seriously ill, and subsequently cleaning up their act and turning their life around, often becoming a better person and helping many people in the process, or at least finding their life’s calling.
God moves in mysterious ways
This saying is derived from the first line of a Christian poem and hymn and is commonly used to encourage a person to trust God’s plan in the face of trouble or unexplained events. The Western monotheistic Christian tradition presumes one omni-benevolent, omniscient and omnipotent God who loves us and wants only the best for us (in the end, at least ; some suffering may be expected before getting there).
In contrast, Jungian psychology considers multiple archetypal forces that are dual in nature, meaning that they have both positive and negative aspects. Moreover, each one of them acts independently of the rest of the unconscious and cares only about its own agenda.
Not only do they not care about the other archetypal forces, but they also do not care about what we consciously want and strive for, nor about the practicalities and responsibilities of the life we have already built.
The Jungian archetypal gods do move in mysterious ways, but they are selfish, and they have limited knowledge as well as power, like the gods in Greek and Norse mythologies. They certainly don’t care about what’s best for us, not even in the end.
They are like instincts, battling among themselves to get what they need at any cost, pulling us in different directions. If we let them roam freely, they could destroy us.
This brings us back to another Latin quote in Jung’s letter : Timor dei initium sapientiae, which translates as : The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. Only by fearing and paying attention to the archetypal forces in our unconscious will we gain wisdom.
It is our ego that needs to pay attention to these archetypal forces : our centre of consciousness. It is the part of us that is consciously aware of what’s happening, the part that has an overview and can act as an observer.
The more we get to know the archetypal forces at play within ourselves, the more we can integrate them into our consciousness, a process Jung called individuation.
It is only then that we can exert any influence over them and reduce their raw unconscious power that can wreak so much havoc in our lives.
When we are called, we must find a way to listen, somehow. Ignoring our deepest archetypal needs, just like our instincts, will have disastrous effects.
They will only call louder, until they are finally heard, one way or another.
We do get some help from the Self : the central archetype or archetype of wholeness. « The Self is the ordering and unifying center of the total psyche (conscious and unconscious) just as the ego is the center of the conscious personality » (Edward Edinger, Ego and Archetype, p. 3).
The called and the not-called-for God will enter
During an interview Jungian analyst Robert Bosnak evoked a different translation of the Latin proverb Vocatus atque non vocatus, deus aderit. During a summit on « The Call and purpose » he audaciously put forward the down-to-earth and scientific idea that we, as humans, are subjected to random events, and that sometimes we cannot ascribe any value to them.
According to Bosnak, both the called and the not-called-for God will enter. The called God corresponds to what we usually regard as a call or vocation. It is a positive force in our life.
In contrast, the uncalled God corresponds to something that destroys our life, like cancer, depression, or, on a bigger scale, the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Bosnak, trying to find meaning in an event that is random is a flight reaction.
In his words : « Some of life is suffering. Don’t turn away from it, but don’t immediately give it meaning either. Just say : ouch, it hurts ! » He says that the purpose of life is to be resilient and adaptive. A lot of life defies a sense of meaning, but we can choose to do something within our calling.
In Bosnak’s case, he decided to lead a free weekly online seminar called the Spooky dreams café, in which people are invited to share what is coming up collectively in powerful pandemic dreams. His specialty and main vocation lie in dreamwork.
Meaning versus adaptiveness
The lack of meaning in a tragic (or any other) event does not preclude us from doing something meaningful with it, even something within our calling.
It is important, however, not to take our resilience and adaptiveness as a sign that the original event had meaning or purpose.
Peggy Vermeesch, PhD
Dr Peggy Vermeesch is a Jungian-oriented therapist based in France, an English language teacher at the University of Western Brittany, and former researcher in geophysics at the Universities of Texas (US) and Southampton (UK). She writes articles in French and English and acts as bilingual liaison between Jungian Psychology Space (JPS) and its Francophone mother site Espace Francophone Jungien (EFJ)
For more information, see her webpage.