Yesterday, I promised a discussion of projection in regard to archetypes.
Projection, although a psychological concept, also has a connection to alchemy. Dr. Ronald Schenk in an article entitled, Psyche and Cinema: Go ask Alice (or Neo); I think they’ll know, Artigos, August 2005, states that “projection, which means literally ‘thrown forward,’ was originally a technical term in medieval alchemy describing the process in which one metal showers another with its effusions.”
The classical definition of projection involves “the process by which one’s own traits, emotions, dispositions, etc., are ascribed to another.” Dictionary of Psychology, Arthur S. Reber, Penguin 1995. Implicit in this definition, I would assume, is that the projection is unconscious.
In my research of Hermes no one can satisfactorily explain how a cairn becomes a god. I believe that participation mystique, a form of projection, provides a clue.
Jung defines participation mystique as “a mystical connection, or identity, between subject and object.”
In our example from yesterday, the travelers project their traits and emotions onto the herm and from these initial projections Hermes is born. The travelers are unaware that they are projecting; instead, they see a god in the pile of rocks. Once it is clear that they see the god, the next step is to imagine what they see in that god. In other words, what is Hermes to them?
Let’s try to put ourselves in the minds of those ancient Greeks traveling down antique roads. We are traveling, let’s say, to Athens and we come to a pile of rocks on the side of the road. We know from others that there is a ritual of adding a stone to that pile as we pass. We also believe that nature contains soul and spirit and as this pile of rocks continues to grow through the continual accretion of more stones, it seems to have spirit. We feel something when we look at the cairn. If we connect with that spirit, our unconscious projection instills the cairn with certain qualities and it comes alive. This aliveness is then transformed first into a spirit and then a god.
I believe that the ancient Greeks saw a spirit in those rocks and established an I-Thou relationship. The rocks were no longer an It, an object. Instead there is immediacy in the encounter, a present moment interaction with the rocks.
Sometimes when I am looking at a full moon, I have a numinous feeling, as if the moon were more than what we are told that it is. I see the moon and imagine it or feel it as a power. If I were to dwell on that feeling and imagine the moon at the moment as containing a spirit, I might move from the I-It, to the I-Thou. This does not mean that the moon is a spirit; it simply means that I am attaching some meaning to the numinous feeling that I am having or that I am projecting a portion of my unconscious feeling onto the moon. If I want to expand my conscious understanding of the moon, I might address myths and fairy tales that involve the moon. Suddenly, as I delve into the collective myths and superstitions surrounding the moon in an attempt to understand the power of the moon, I create weight and depth. However, if I approach the moon as a science project in attempt only to amass data, I create only emptiness.