by Kehunah Books
Yasha (Jacob S. Wagner)
Windows to the Soul
A Depth Psychological Analysis of the Eye Symbol in Creative Text
This paper will use a Jungian frame to creatively psychoanalyze the Hip Hop tag depicted above. More specifically, it will focus on the crowned eye at the top of the tag as a symbolic image. To do so, this paper will analyze the ways in which the eye symbol appears in various cultures through science, language, religion, mythology, film, literature and art. We will seek to answer the question, “what might an eye symbolize?” After listing some of the most prominent examples of how the eye symbol appears in different cultures and traditions, we will dive deep into the meaning of the eye as it appears in modern films, especially the Pale Man scene from Pan’s Labyrinth. Lastly, we will correlate our findings back to the mythic story of Hip Hop as a culture. As we scrutinize the image of the eye, we may find that the eye is also scrutinizing us, for as we’ve seen, all windows become reflective mirrors in the nighttime if illumined from within — and the windows to the soul are no exception.
Let us begin by situating the conversation within the context of Hip Hop. To do so, we will be drawing on Hip Hop philosophy as represented by KRS-One. Much like we will be grounding our psychological perspectives in the work of Carl Jung and his successors, we will subscribe to KRS-One’s teachings about Hip Hop as a lineage. For the purposes of this paper it is primarily just necessary to understand that a tag is a form of Hip Hop, because graffiti art is one of Hip Hop culture’s core elements. Therefore, by analyzing this tag psychologically, we are also analyzing the larger context to which the tag belongs and exploring the mythic dimensions of Hip Hop culture in general.
Furthermore, we need to understand the Jungian perspective on symbols in order to properly address the eye as a symbolic image. In Man and his Symbols, Jung explains that “what we call a symbol is a term, a name, or even a picture that may be familiar in daily life, yet that possesses specific connotations in addition to its conventional and obvious meaning” (Jung, 1964). He goes on to clarify that symbols relate to the realm of the collective unconscious, and therefore imply “something vague, unknown, or hidden from us” (Jung, 1964). In myths and traditions, symbols pop up at every turn. In dreams, however, we generate just as many symbols without even intending to.
Like dreams, the artforms of Hip Hop culture are well-equipped to generate symbols, because they are so full of spontaneity and radically emphasize overcoming one’s inhibitions. The graffiti artist writing on walls and trains while running from the police at night, the breakdancer who suddenly dives into the center of the circle and improvises dance moves under pressure, the freestyler who comes up with new rhymes on the spot whenever the microphone is passed to them during a cypher session — all of these practices induce an altered state of automatic flow, adrenaline, and dream-like innovation. That altered state of mind imitates exactly what Jung notices in dreams when he states that dreams “produce symbols unconsciously and spontaneously” (Jung, 1964).
Similarly, some students doodle in class in order to occupy their overactive mind and consciously focus on the lectures. As a result, the doodles (which may later become tags) are generated somewhat unconsciously and automatically, while the conscious attention is in the classroom. For this reason precisely, the tag we are studying qualifies as a highly symbolic text, especially when we analyze the many particular symbols it includes, such as the eye. Like any richly symbolic image, the eye in the tag “implies something more than its obvious and immediate meaning” (Jung, 1964). Thus, by exploring it, we may be “led to ideas beyond the grasp of reason” (Jung, 1964).
Part I – “Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder”
One common phrase about the eyes is that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. This particular idiom is deeply applicable to our study of Hip Hop and graffiti art. If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then our perceptual filters and socially conditioned judgements determine our mental impressions of reality. For example, obesity was considered attractive in various parts of the world during certain periods of history. Now excess skinniness and anorexia has tended to take the place of obesity as a norm for sexually attractive beauty in the United States. This shows us that physical beauty and even our basic instinctual sex drive are not objective and static realities. Instead, they are highly subjective and dependent on the so-called eye — the perceiving consciousness and its particular cultural training, context, or filter.
Our entire perceptual system can be hacked and hijacked, and not just by other humans, but even by seemingly lifeless smart phones (Musk, 2018) and by tiny parasites such as toxoplasma gondii (Flegr, 2013). Perhaps, beyond all our ideas and concepts about reality, a far more subjective, conditional, and interdependent truth exists — one that is totally pliable and mental. Taken to its ultimate end, this proposal would imply that psyche, rather than matter, is the natural basis of reality.
Because I was born quote-on-quote “colorblind” (which just means that I see colors differently than expected), I’m acutely aware that we all perceive slightly different versions of color, depending on our individual perception of the light spectrum as it affects tones and shades in many nuanced ways. Similarly, if a classically trained pianist from France heard an Aboriginal person from Australia play the didgeridoo, that so-called “music expert” may not even recognize that the didgeridoo is music. Furthermore, despite all their years of training on piano and violin and with all kinds of advanced European music theory studies, extensive knowledge of European musical notation, and so forth, that so-called expert may find themselves utterly unable to play the didgeridoo properly — let alone master the art of circular breathing in order to generate a continuous drone. In contrast, the Aboriginal didge-master might not perceive the classical pianist’s performance as good music.
Edgard Varèse, a modernist composer, suggested that music can be defined as “organized sound” (Goldman, 1961). From that perspective, even the organized sounds of nature — whispering leaves, crashing waves, chirping insects, singing birds, gribitting frogs, pattering rain, rolling thunder, perhaps even the cosmic movements of planetary and celestial bodies are all highly musical. Reflecting on the nature of sensory perception in this way may also lead us towards a deeper understanding of magical and spiritual perspectives on sound — such as the idea that the universe is generated by the vibration of a primordial “Aum” or the Hebrew teaching that the true, secret name of God cannot be spoken, because it is everything.
Graffiti is often considered vandalism and not art. Similarly, Hip Hop music has been called offensive and “noisey”. Like all aspects of Hip Hop culture, graffiti art has been heavily persecuted, misused, and misunderstood. Many people have a visceral aversion to seeing graffiti. On the flip side, graffiti art has now spread from the ghetto to become a worldwide phenomenon. Today, graffiti art by one infamous mystery man named Banksy sells for millions and millions of dollars a piece. Therefore, including an eye in a Hip Hop tag places responsibility into the eye of the onlooker by reminding them that the art they’re looking at is also looking back at them — they may not like it, but it’s alive. It enables the artist to request some measure of decency and respect from the spectators, because the spectacle they’re looking at is also inspecting them, echoing and reminding them that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”.
Part II – Consciousness and Superconsciousness
Psychologically, the eyes really are the windows to the soul. When we perceive more of our surroundings, our pupils dilate. When we are worried our eyes and brow are tense. A fake smile is a smile with the mouth, but a real smile is a smile with the eyes. Eye contact is a matter of etiquette and respect — forbidden in some contexts, demanded in others. Avoiding eye contact can be a sign of hiding, insecurity, or deceit, among other possibilities depending on context. Sustaining eye contact can be a form of communication or even intense flirtation.
Since time immemorial eyes have been a mystical and esoteric symbol, central to cultures around the world. The royal eye with a crown represents God’s right to rule, due to “His” omnipotence, omnipresence, and omniscience. In front of the rays of the sun, the All-Seeing Eye represents the light of consciousness, and our potential to gradually illuminate our shadows by venturing consciously into the realms of the personal and collective unconscious. On top of an unfinished pyramid, like in the Great Seal, the Eye of Providence could represent our highest human potential, the neverending path of individuation, and the ongoing “Great Work” or alchemical Magnum Opus of self-perfectionment and psychological maturation.
Many Native American cultures from North, Center, and South venerate totem animals like the Eagle and Condor — who’s sharp sense of vision when hunting symbolizes our own visionary traits. This also relates to the “bird’s eye view” which transcends polar oppositions and recognizes the bigger all-encompassing image of peace. Other native cultures, such as those from the Indus valley speak of a “Third Eye” or “Sixth Chakra” in between the two eyes. This also symbolizes the paradox of open tension or tense openness, which contains and unites polar opposites — sitting in the middle above and between the symmetrical left and right sides of the face. This is also the “mind’s eye” that allows us to visualize, day dream, and imagine. In Egypt, the Eyes of Horus and Ra also connect to the Solar divinity and to our own inner vision and third eye, as well as the left and right, masculine and feminine, solar and lunar channels of the nervous system and subtle body. Many African masks show birds, protrusions, and geometric forms in the third eye region.
Prophets and Avatars like Christ and Krishna speak of the difference between normal human eyes, which can only see the outer forms of illusion, and the divine eyes that would replace them if we could perceive God’s nature directly in the world. Famous poets like Shakespear wax on about the difference between loving with the physical eyes and loving with the eyes of the heart. Both the prophets and the poets seem to point out that true beauty comes from the living soul of a thing and not from its sexy but superficial object-ness. The objectifying and hungry eye, which sees only the outer form to be had and consumed (and not the inner soul to be respected and engaged) is the Evil Eye of envy or Sauron’s eye in Lord of the Rings. In the Middle East, people wear magical eye pendants and talismans, such as the eye in the palm of the Hamsa (a hand-like symbol), as protection, to ward off the evil eye of satanic envy or surveillance. In Russian “to eye it” means to “jinx” or “curse” something in the sense that “overlooking” can bring bad luck. Regarding the soulful similarities between prophets, poets, and graffiti artists, Jung states that, despite their bad manners, “like every true prophet, the artist is the unwitting mouthpiece of the psychic secrets of his time and is often as unconscious as a sleep-walker” (Jung, 1971).
In an obvious way, eyes symbolize consciousness and perception, because they are sensory organs associated with awareness and “waking up” or “opening one’s eyes”. This applies in two distinct ways. Firstly, eyes represent awakening as the literal, physiological act of returning to normal waking consciousness in a physical body that can notice and interact with its surroundings. Secondly, eyes represent awakening as the metaphorical idea of “coming to one’s senses” and registering reality as it is. Sometimes this metaphor is also used in a broader sense to imply becoming more deeply aware of the world in a new and radical way, as opposed to a previous, culturally conditioned mode of perception. This last example is prevalent in both political and spiritual contexts, and it is even spun backwards into some forms of propaganda to add a sense of import, weight, or significance to an opinion or prejudice by telling the listener to “wake up”. Such a manipulative application of an archetypally charged and symbolic image is an example of what Hockley calls “the alchemy of advertising” (Hockley, 2007).
Likewise, blindness is used as a metaphor for unconsciousness, ignorance, and misperception. Although sight is just one of the five senses it is most often used to symbolize, not only all five senses as a whole, but even a “sixth sense” in terms of the “mind’s eye” and “inner vision” or intuition. This also explains why even a supernatural ability such as clairvoyance — which is literally called extrasensory perception or ESP (as in beyond the five senses) — still references eyesight (supposedly just one of the five senses) with the root words “clair” or “clear” and “voir” or “to see”. This symbolism also explains why so much divinatory and oracular activity relates to the act of “scrying” by gazing into objects like tea leaves, clouds, or crystals to visualize and imagine forms. Furthermore, it explains why manipulation of sight and vision appears in various magical, shamanic, and yogic training exercises such as Don Juan’s instructions to Carlos Castaneda that he should retrain his eyes to negate objects and instead focus his gaze on the so-called empty or negative space in between all objects. Focusing the eyes on negative space is like focusing the ears on the silence between sounds, rhythms, or notes — it reveals a hidden dimension to the music or tapestry of life.
However, from a Jungian perspective, associating the eye with consciousness itself is limited in that it does not include the unconscious. Therefore, the eye may be more of a symbol for the psyche itself, as an all-encompassing totality or wholeness, which includes and embraces within its domain both the conscious and the unconscious. It’s important to note that an eye can be open, seemingly gazing outward, or it can be closed, gazing inwards, while still being an eye. In this way, eyes also symbolize the dreamworld — which is why our most vivid and “insightful” dreams are scientifically known to happen during the phase of sleep known as Rapid Eye Movement (or “REM Sleep”). Some Eastern protector deities such as Acala (also called “Budong Mingwang” and “Fudo Myoo”) are depicted with one eye open and one eye closed — which could symbolize the union of both the conscious and unconscious realms of mind within the inclusive whole of psyche itself. In Alcala’s case, the open eye is on the right side of the body, which also holds a sword, and the closed or squinted eye is on the left side, which also holds a lasso, noose, lariat, or circle of beads.
Furthermore, as we see in the archetypal image of the Buddha with his subtle smile at the moment of enlightenment, symbolic eyes can also be suspended somewhere half-way between open and closed. Such a paradoxical third option is somehow simultaneously either/or as well as both/and as well as neither. Bridging the inner and the outer domains and terrains, the Buddha is in the world but not of it. On one hand, the somewhat half-open eyes of the Buddha show that he is awake. He is fully present and mindful and aware of this world, filled with a sense of compassion and loving-kindness towards all its inhabitants and the poignant wish to liberate all beings from suffering through his active service. On the other hand, the somewhat half-closed eyes of the Buddha show that he is unconditional — already gone beyond conditions and existing somewhere else. Although he is in the world, he is neither “Karmically” bound by it nor attached to it. Therefore he is completely inwardly relaxed, already resting in peace, able to leave “Samsara” and dissolve into “Nirvana” at will. This may also symbolize the ability to discern between moments when we need to focus the eyes on an object in order to apprehend its true nature and moments when it’s more appropriate to avert the eyes completely — like knowing when to keep silent and when to dare to communicate.
One way to understand the symbolism of the eye as consciousness — and yet a superconsciousness that is more than conventional consciousness — is by correlating it to the practice of witnessing or observing one’s own mind. In other words, the eye of the observing mind is not the same as the incessant activity of the everyday normal waking mind in dialogue with itself… and yet, the observer is aware of that mind from behind, beyond, and within it — watching the activity openly as it comes and goes. This is the difference between the big Mind that goes beyond personal thought and the little “me” mind that’s immersed in thinking — the difference between the capital Self and the conditioned ego.
Part III – Pan’s Labyrinth: the Eye in Film and Cinema
It is highly appropriate to discuss film and cinema when we discuss the eyes, because the two are intrinsically related — and each one even serves as metaphor for the other. On one hand, the eyes are symbolically an aperture through which the light of consciousness shines through to directly perceive the simple reality of our immediate surroundings. On the other hand, the eyes are also symbolically the impressions that get mixed up with our perceptions, attaching conceptual judgements like “yummy” and “gross” to the sensory input like “appearance” or “smell”. Thus the eyes are also the film of prejudice (or “veil of illusion”) that filters that light of consciousness into a dramatic script or storyline which mentally overwrites itself onto the projection screen of our reality or the world.
There are two eerily similar fairytales that heavily feature the eye symbol. In both Coraline and Pan’s Labyrinth the eyes relate to the superficial illusion of temporal sensory pleasures and immediate gratification — as well as the ability to use discipline and discernment to see through and past that illusion and instead choose a more meaningful and lasting fulfillment. In both cases, the illusion traps us when we surrender to our desires and attachments so deeply that we become their slaves. In the case of Coraline, unlimited cake and attention is a feast provided by the “Other Mother”, a lurking psychic predator who wants to steal Coraline’s eyes and replace them with buttons as payment for providing such fake luxury.
Liberation in both stories is attained when the protagonist willingly agrees to go through a series of tests and trials in order to obtain a few magical items that enable them to escape the illusion and get back in touch with their original innocence and family or the true reality. Along the way, they also learn lessons, mature, and transform — activating their hidden gifts. In both stories, at the moment of their final escape from danger, they must pass through a quickly closing portal at the end of a tunnel as a monster chases them, approaching from behind. These tunnel scenes are almost identical in the two films, and, in the case of Coraline, the tunnel-portal is eerily similar to the tunnel through which Jake Sully travels during his transitions between waking and dreaming in the movie Avatar. It’s worth noting that, in Avatar, this same tunnel is called “the Eye of Eywa”, and Jake’s last time passing through it is during his mortal initiation and rebirth into a permanent Avatar body.
At one point in Pan’s Labyrinth, the protagonist, a young girl named Ofelia, is sent on a magical mission by a Faun from the underworld. During this particular mission, Ofelia must enter into the underworld to find and extract a magical sacred dagger. Just like Coraline’s “Other Mother” provides a fake feast to Coraline — a “Pale Man” who kills and eats fairies and children sits and guards the dagger with a tempting feast of abundant foods and fruits in his musky lair where the magic dagger is kept. Just like Coraline’s Other Mother at first seems harmless and friendly, the Pale Man appears to be lifeless and asleep. His eyeballs are sitting on a platter in front of him.
Although Ofelia quickly finds the dagger and is about to leave, she’s too proud and relaxed about her initial success and can’t help but try one of the grapes from the Pale Man’s feast before leaving his lair. Like Eve in the Garden of Eden, she bites down despite the Faun’s warning, ignoring her fairy helpers’ protests, and forgetting about the ticking clock. This awakens the beast. Once he inserts the eyeballs into the palms of his hands he places his hands in front of his face to complete his five senses. His two thumbs meet triangularly at the point of his “third eye” and his other fingers dance like long, dirty tentacles, as if representing the other four senses that the eyes also symbolize — with the meeting point of the two thumbs implying a sixth sense. He proceeds to devour two of the helpless fairies in front of Ofelia and then chases her down the hall to a very narrow escape.
According to Jungian scholar Jonathan Young, Joseph Campbell’s “study of myth was the exploration of the possibilities of consciousness” and the “psychological function was the principal focus” (Young, 2004). With that approach in mind, we can see that the Pale Man is a threshold guardian who acts as a deep psychic defense mechanism against the conscious mind coming into contact with the unconscious psyche’s darkest instincts and desires. However, buried underneath and locked within those forbidden, suppressed and condemned desires and impulses is a sacred treasure, the other fruit from the Tree of Life that grows near the forbidden Tree of Knowledge. The hero must be highly strategic to get past the threshold of violent insanity and rescue the great boon quickly enough to bring it back to the normal world. In the case of Hip Hop, this boon or magic dagger is one’s own creativity — the frighteningly overwhelming truth of our gifts and powers, our dormant potentials and latent capacities — which grow as seeds in the shade right alongside our lust, greed, and anger — the roots of unconscious evil and abuse.
As Slater confirms, “film is a thoroughly psychological medium” and to understand the contents of the film in a deeper, psychological way, we must move “from the simple to the nuanced and subtle” (Slater, 2005). In a personal dream, this scene from Pan’s Labyrinth would imply the “awakening” of some dormant forces within the psyche after long suppression. The grape is the forbidden fruit. Because she can no longer repress her urge to eat it, it’s dark (or, in this case, “pale”) guardian awakens. In this context, the eyes also represent responsibility and respect. Because she has suppressed her natural urge to eat the fruit this urge eventually overrides her conscious mind and controls her behavior. If instead she had noticed, observed, and acknowledged that urge — respecting its power and drive — perhaps then she could have found a way to integrate and channel or transmute its energy from within in a creative, symbolic, or ceremonial way rather than acting out unconsciously. If only she had disciplined herself to find balance with nature and feed the soul — if she had paid her psychic dues and made offerings to the inner gods by following the strict fasting protocol during her short, supernatural assignment without giving into the temptations of normal daily life — the wrathful expression of the gods may not have stirred and awakened from their slumber within her in order to come and get what’s theirs by force.
Ofelia’s escape from the Pale Man generates a dream-like emotional tension and sympathy in the viewer. At the moment when she escapes, she must confront her responsibility for eating the grapes and for disregarding both the instructions of her guide and the reminders from her helpers. She must deal with running out of time and facing a closed door as the monster closes in. However, in the moment of panic she manages to find enough courage and flexibility of mind to adapt to her new circumstances. Like the imaginative child that she is, she realizes she still has some magical tools and resources with which to save herself. Drawing in chalk on the ceiling she creates a second portal and escapes. This resolution connects us as viewers to our own internal sense of courage, intelligence, resilience, problem solving, critical thinking and creativity.
On another level of “bird’s eye view” we can also consider the Pale Man as a teacher. Although he is grotesque and detestable, internally, in terms of expanding Ofelia’s consciousness of her inner world, he serves a crucial role. In the same way that a master might joke that they will eat you if they catch you falling asleep at an important lecture or initiation, the Pale Man teaches Ofelia to master herself. He is a symbol of danger, insanity, and mortal peril — real risks associated with individuation and inner work on the path of initiation. By scaring her into wakefulness and understanding he shows her her own resilience so that she can stay calm and have faith and confidence in herself whenever she’s in a pinch in the future. He also shows her the meaning of responsibility. In the same way that she eats the grapes selfishly, he eats the fairies. Thus he acts as a mirror of her own decision to ignore her helpers and her spiritual instructions and instead serve herself. He is the very personification and reflection of her psychic selfishness, caused by suffering and a sense of lack — a need to steal and consume others to survive. Just like she couldn’t hear the grapes screaming as she crushed them with her teeth (in the form of the screaming fairies telling her to stop eating) — he too cannot hear the fairies or the children screaming and resisting when he eats them.
Part III – Conclusion and Correlation Back to Hip Hop
Here we must revisit the subject of Hip Hop to illustrate how one may gain a bit more control over one’s own inner nature by actively engaging, respecting, and expressing it — rather than trying to condemn and ignore it in vain — which ultimately always amounts to a feeble attempt destined to fail. One great example of shadow integration can be found in Hip Hop culture’s invention of the “rap battle”. Rap battles emerged at a time when the oppressive circumstances of inner city life were leading to constant danger and violence on the streets. Rather than condemning the ego and the persona, rap battles allowed emcees to practice mastering and refining their egos and personas in a more humorous, creative, and peaceful way, with less criminality.
A rich politician may be ignorant and unaware of the struggles in the hood and thus worsen crime by trying to persecute young graffiti writers by condemning, prosecuting, and sending them to jail. Such authoritarianism only worsens the underbelly of crime, like prohibition which drives the business underground to thrive on a violent black market or overly imposing parents that unwittingly make liars out of their teenage kids by surveilling and manipulating to compensate for lack of proper guidance, leadership, structure, and true role modeling. An emcee on the other hand, is immersed in the struggles of the neighborhood and therefore experientially understands — through direct, firsthand experience — that certain compensatory impulses cannot be suppressed. Emcees were able to figure out that those compensatory impulses did not have to play out into actual physical aggression, gang violence, and black-on-black crime. They realized that, instead of physical aggression, the selfsame impulse to compete, insult, and flaunt could be converted (and then even amplified) into a positive team sport by using the creative process via rap battles. For this reason, emcees would gather on street corners and in the parks to compete with each other’s egos — but through spoken word poetry and freestyle rhymes. Similarly, graffiti artists and crews compete in the night through codes and symbols — writing tags and battling for visual territory and anonymous fame. Breakdancing is an even more obvious example of self-healing, transformative, psychotherapeutic catharsis — literally using all the breath, sweat, and muscle that would otherwise go into a fist fight to instead hyperactively dance at each other — still competing but within a collaborative tribal circle of embodied somatic exercise and practice. It’s difficult to comprehend the evolutionary intelligence and magic that started Hip Hop by taking the most hardcore gangster energies and turning them into a revolutionary party for liberation and equality and an educational poetry club.
Von Franz is an expert on the subject of shadow work and how it relates to both mythology and Jungian Psychology. In her writings, she points to the same shadow dynamic that we see reflected between Hip Hop and Pan’s Labyrinth when she complains about some of her clients as “people who have a creative side and do not live it out” (Von Franz, 1995). Beyond being disagreeable therapy clients, she notices that they “make a mountain out of a molehill, fuss about unnecessary things,” and generally become easily impassioned (Von Franz, 1995). She explains this quality in the same way that I explain gang violence as an overactive Pale Man response to systemic oppression and Hip Hop as the missing sacred dagger. “There is a kind of floating charge of energy in them which is not attached to its right object and therefore tends to apply exaggerated dynamism to the wrong situation,” Von Franz continues. She even illustrates the potential impact of art (such as Hip Hop) as an ingenious antidote to psychological problems (such as systemic oppression and the gang violence that ensues) when she says that “the moment these people devote themselves to what is really important, the whole overcharge flows in the right direction,” and ceases to heat things up unnecessarily (Von Franz, 1995).
Some Hip Hop artists fell for the temptation of the grapes. As they unearthed the brilliant jewels and flaming daggers of Hip Hop from the musky den of the shadowy unconscious, they discovered another, superficial feast, waiting to distract them there with worldly pleasures. As Hip Hop flourished, major corporate record labels offered the promise of sensory gratification and golden riches in exchange for the artists’ signing over the soul of their art. The labels then divided those original, collaborative, revolutionary Hip Hop groups into cults of individual personality and forced the artists to follow strict protocols and to promote negative images of black culture, selling more records but further perpetuating the oppression.
Some artists use creativity and problem solving — like Ofelia, who climbs onto a chair and uses chalk to draw a second portal or escape route in the nick of time — in order to overcome the mainstream deception and reclaim their culture. Some artists embrace the energies of darkness readily — like in the case of Eminem, an actual “Pale Man” who literally calls himself “Slim Shady” and raps about demon worship, beastiality, cannibalism, and abuse — but with a sense of cleverness, humor, and catharsis. In any case, it’s clear that Hip Hop does more than transform the psyche of the Hip Hopper. By turning the inner eye into “writing on the wall” Hip Hop also cathartically illuminates our collective shadows, so that the less comfortable, suppressed, oppressed, and repressed aspects of both our own selves and the culture that we co-create can become known and clearly visible to the world.
Goldman, R. (1961). The musical quarterly, 47(1), 133-134. Retrieved September 1, 2020, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/740554
Jung, C. G., & Franz, M.-L. . (1964). Man and his symbols. New York: Dell Pub. Co.
Jung, C.G. (1971). The spirit in man, art and literature. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Von Franz, M-L. (1995). Shadow and evil in fairytales. Boston, MA: Shambhala.
Hockley, L. (2007). Frames of mind: A post Jungian look at film, television and technology. Bristol, UK: Intellect Books.
Young, J. (2004). Joseph Campbell, a scholar’s life. In Dictionary of modern American philosophy. Retrieved from http://www.folkstory.com/campbell/scholars_life.html
Slater, G. (2005). Archetypal perspective and American film. In N.Cater (Ed.), Spring 73: Cinema & psyche (pp. 1-19). New Orleans, LA: Spring Journal Publications.
Musk, E. (2018). Joe rogan experience #1169. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ycPr5-27vSI
Flegr J. (2013). How and why Toxoplasma makes us crazy. Trends in parasitology, 29(4), 156–163. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pt.2013.01.007
Jacob Solomon Wagner (“Yasha”)
September 2nd, 2020
Where Wealth and Wisdom Work as One
Reflections on King Solomon as a Mythic Figure
This paper will use an overall Jungian perspective to depth psychologically explore the life and legacy of King Solomon as a mythological figure. Despite also being a historical character, we can say that Solomon is legitimately a mythic figure for several reasons, which we will cover. The simplest and most important reason is that his story demonstrates “humans in relation with more-than-human forces and images” (Hillman, 1979). According to Archetypal psychologist, James Hillman, this relation is the common thread between ancient myth and modern depth psychology.
Considering Hillman’s own Jewish roots and the influence of Kabbalah in the work of Carl Jung, it is only appropriate that we study a Jewish mythic figure like Solomon to understand the alchemical art and science of working with myths and stories. Psychologically speaking, folklore and fairytales are mirrors into the collective unconscious and into our own souls. However, inner psychic technologies such as astrology, divination, and myth have been used as a method to “face the gods” — as Hillman himself calls it — since long before Jung’s birth. In fact, the idea of “facing God” in the West originates with Abrahamic and pre-Abrahamic lore. This origin is especially tangible in the biblical story of Jacob wrestling with an angel — after which Jacob’s name is changed to “Israel” (which means one who contends, wrestles with, or “faces God” in Hebrew), and the land where Jacob wrestles the angel is renamed “Penuel” (which means “Face of God” or “face-to-face with God”).
Solomon has become infused with archetypal juices flowing from the collective unconscious of humanity. For example, he has taken on various traits commonly associated with other timeless mythic figures such as Merlin, Gandalf, and Dumbledore — the wise, bearded old man as a wizard, elder, shaman, magician, or spiritual guide. More than your average bearded sage from any given fairytale, Solomon is used as a core symbolic deity of wisdom in the West, similarly to how the Tibetan Bodhisattva Manjusri represents the quality of wisdom as a deity in Eastern traditions. However, despite being called the single most pronounced epitome of a wise person throughout both biblical history and magic lore, King Solomon is more than just a wizard or advisor. Although he is like Merlin, he is also a legendary king himself, and therefore also very much like King Arthur rather than just Merlin. Furthermore, he is as famous for being a poet, a muse, and a lover (in the fullest archetypal sense of the term “lover”) as he is for being both a wizard and a king. In this way, Solomon doesn’t fit neatly into archetypal boxes — and yet the boxes fit quite neatly into him.
As we are starting to see, Solomon is highly multifaceted and multidimensional, because he cannot be restricted to any single archetype, and yet he is archetypal. He acts as a unique alchemical amalgam of several other archetypal energies. However, this complex multidimensionality does not make him seem more human and less mythic, because each archetypal ingredient in his inner cookbook is still charged with completely superhuman potency. For example, when he is a magician, he is not just any magician — he is the magician’s magician, a master exorcist that other magicians revere and call upon. When he’s a king, he’s not just any king — he is the king of kings, lauded as the wisest and wealthiest of them all. When he is a lover, he’s not just any lover — he is the very personification of lovership in its fully universal and archetypal form, with “seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines” all madly in love. As a poet, he’s not just some prolific writer — he is genuinely the author of several of humanity’s greatest literary works of all time, such as the Song of Songs and the Book of Ecclesiastes. Furthermore, in many mythic frameworks, both a wizardly counselor-advisor like Merlin and a prestigious leader-king like Arthur would still be somewhat distinct from a prophetic teacher or divine avatar like Jesus — but Solomon is highly reminiscent of all three put together. Perhaps due to the biblical and inter-religious context of his personal myth, he takes on prophetic qualities and is quite literally considered a prophet by several major religious movements and spiritual traditions. For instance, the Jewish Talmud, the Muslim Quran, the Eastern Orthodox Church, and the Baha’i Faith all name King Solomon as a prophet. Supposedly, Solomon was actually raised by another prophet named Nathan, because his father David was too busy governing the realm.
Solomon is the wealthiest of kings, the most prophetic of poets, the most sorcerous of wise men, and the most romantic of lovers. As we explore these many faces of Solomon, his other name, Jedidiah — which means “friend of God” — starts to make sense. Like a “hero with a thousand faces” or a God with many masks and names, Solomon is an actor with many roles on the inner mythic stage of the psyche. In a way, Solomon is not just an archetypal figure, but a highly mythic and archetypal neighborhood within the psyche, where several interrelated characters or psychic forces live and interact as an entire region of potentiality. In this way, Solomon evidentially supports Hillman’s vision of the psyche as “polytheistic” in the sense that each person’s inner world is teeming with a pantheon of living forces, all demanding their own attention.
Just as Clarissa Pinkola Estes mentions in her famous work, Women Who Run with the Wolves, “in a single human being there are many other beings, all with their own values, motives, and devices” (Estes 1992). Solomon is a mythic figure with several archetypal beings living inside of him, and we need to find a way to come to terms with that and stay flexible about it. Estes confirms the need for flexibility as she continues that “some psychological technologies suggest we arrest these beings, count them, name them, force them into harness until they shuffle along like vanquished slaves” (Estes, 1992). Estes, however, argues against such meticulous naming and categorization. When we try to fit archetypes and mythic figures into neatly distinguished boxes, we deaden the mercurial and mysterious wild nature of the soul.
Just like Jungian analyst Patricia Berry writes regarding the Greek goddess Persephone’s mother, Demeter, Solomon’s father, the legendary King David, is also a great example of “a mythic figure evidencing neurotic behavior” (Berry, 2001). Before Solomon’s birth, his father David had an adulterous relationship with a married woman named Bathsheba. Furthermore, Bathsheba was the wife of David’s general Uriah. When Bathsheba got pregnant with David’s son, David actually sent Uriah to die in a war. As a repercussion, that first son of theirs died. Once God had taken their first son away, David was cleansed of his misdeeds and so God gave them a second son — Solomon — to make up for the tribulations. Not only did David commit adultery with his own general’s spouse, but we could say that he committed indirect murder once, if not twice, as a part of the adultery. These so-called “sins” are ultimately just pathological behaviors of mythic proportions. Since archetypes “appear just as easily pathologically (abnormally) as they do normally,” it’s no surprise that we find pathological, neurotic, and abnormal behavior from the very conception of a life as mythic and archetypally charged as Solomon’s (Berry, 2001).
Solomon also had his own shadow side, which some suggest led to his eventual decline and even a sort of downfall. Many argue that, because he practiced magic, for example by controlling djinn and demons with his magic sigils, secret names, amulets, etc., and because he had relationships with foreign women of different races and regions and built them pagan temples for offerings to deities and for elemental Earth worship, that he angered YHWH, the only God of the Jews. Others say that one of his djinn escaped and impersonated him during his last years. In either case, we know that, paradoxically, despite all his splendor and success, his rule ultimately led to the splitting of the Kingdom into Northern and Southern realms after his death. Solomon’s adoration or exaltation in society simultaneously coupled with his culture’s religious judgement or harsh condemnation of his illicit interspiritual and interracial activities creates a seemingly self-contradictory paradox that may help us feel into the universal tension of opposites and stay open to holistically include both perspectives within a deeper scope of understanding.
As a lover, Solomon exemplifies a far more-than-human mythic lover-impulse that exists within most humans. It is particularly interesting to look at his lover quality from a depth psychological perspective, while using the Song of Songs as a primary text. In the Song of Songs there is a passionate exchange of love poetry flowing back and forth between Solomon and his female lovers. From a depth psychological angle, all the seemingly separate characters in a given story can be seen as various aspects of oneself as an individual — just like characters within a dream. If we use that radically psychological and Jungian approach to analyze the Song of Songs, we get a fascinating result. Namely, the entire text becomes an ode to the alchemy of masculine and feminine energies within one’s own psyche. Such an anima/animus interpretation on the Song of Songs is worth further investigation, because, beyond being “sexy” and interesting, it may also be deeply transformative. In one Jungian study of Greek myth, Christine Downing says that the goddess Athene demands her to balance “the so-called feminine and the so-called masculine aspects of [her]self” (Downing, 1984). Read in a Jungian way, the Song of Songs may make that same demand and thus bring us towards the heart, where these two polarities merge and intersect.
As a king, Solomon connects us with our sense of intelligence, strategy, cleverness, decision making, discernment, and royal power — as well as with the overall quality of abundance-consciousness and immeasurable wealth. Solomon was so wealthy, in fact, that Christopher Colombus was actually searching for Solomon’s legendary buried treasure when he came to the Americas. Solomon’s sense of strategy is illustrated in his mythic and legendary love for the game of chess. Some even claim that he invented chess. This claim only makes traditional mythic sense and not academic sense, because, historically, chess was most likely first discovered in India.
Although Solomon probably did not invent the game, he did love to play chess with his top general. His general could never beat him in a single game. One day the general was so exhausted from losing to Solomon every chess game that he cheated and stole a piece from the board when Solomon wasn’t looking. Later, Solomon’s clear memory told him that the general must have cheated. Solomon felt worried and distressed about his general’s playful yet telling deceit, but he chose to wait without acting hastily or making any accusations. One day soon thereafter, thieves snuck into Solomon’s treasure room with the help of a guard. At that moment, Solomon locked the thieves and the corrupt guard in the treasure room and gathered his team of palace generals, guards, and advisors to tell them that someone in their midst could not be trusted… but he phrased his statement in an open ended manner in order to test and observe the reactions in the room. At that moment, his guilty and scared top general stepped forward to admit to cheating during the chess game. In such a nuanced manner, Solomon confirmed his suspicions and forgave the general — who had absolved himself by apologizing for his mistake and telling the truth. So, instead of getting angry, Solomon laughed and said, “I know, but I’m talking about actual thieves that are locked in my treasure room at this very moment, because I caught them stealing this morning.” Here we see the genius of Solomon’s ability to manage people, teach lessons, and navigate situations.
In the bible, God gives Solomon a choice between worldly fortune and deep wisdom. Solomon chooses to sacrifice his desire for fame, fortune, wealth and riches and instead chooses to prioritize the higher value of wisdom. As a result he receives both all the wisdom and all the wealth and power. If he had gone the other way and chosen wealth, he may have lost both due to his lack of wisdom and kept neither. This is a meaningful psychological lesson in sacrifice. If we can release our attachment to lower expressions of the same libidinal energy in favor of its higher expressions, we may be able to enjoy both the worldly and the transcendent. If, however, we choose to sacrifice the transcendent for the worldly, not only do we lose the soul, but also our gold becomes a worthless trap that brings no lasting joy.
Solomon’s wisdom not only aids him in creating a splendorous life of wealth, it also assists him in helping and guiding others. For example, two women once came to Solomon arguing over a baby. Both of them lived in the one house, and both had given birth to a baby boy, but one of the babies had been smothered in an accident. Each of the women claimed that the living boy was their own. Solomon declared that he would cut the baby in half with a sword so that the two women could share the baby. One of the women — suffering from the loss of her real son — spitefully agreed to Solomon’s insane ruling, arguing that, if she could not keep the baby herself she’d rather neither of them get the baby alive. In contrast, the other woman started begging Solomon to give the baby away to the first woman so that it could stay alive one way or another. At this moment, Solomon saw clearly that the woman crying and offering to surrender the baby was the real mother. She had a strong enough protective maternal instinct to surrender possession of the child. Therefore, he assigned the baby to the mother who was willing to sacrifice her desire for the sake of the baby’s life, instead of awarding the baby to the woman who was willing to sacrifice the baby’s life for the sake of her own desire (Berlin, 2004). This judgment is considered a famous example of Solomon’s profound wisdom and is reminiscent of when God tested Solomon about his desire for wealth or wisdom, after which he got both.
As a prophet, Solomon appears throughout various cultures, religions, movements, and even secret societies. Beyond the standard Abrahamic lineages of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, Solomon also appears quite prominently in other traditions all around the world, such as Freemasonry, Rastafarianism, other Afro-centric traditions, and even some religions based in Native American spiritual practices. For example, _____________________________________ traditionally used by many indigenous tribes in the Amazon rainforest of South America. Now there are modern churches associated with ____________, some of which, like Uniao de Vegetal (or UDV), actually revere King Solomon (Goulart, 2008). In their fascinating syncretic mythology, the UDV’s initiatory religion credits King Solomon directly with the original discovery ______________ (Goulart, 2008). Supposedly, he passed the knowledge of how it can be prepared to the first ever _______________, who was named Caiano and served as one of Solomon’s vassals abroad (Goulart, 2008). The founder of the UDV church claimed to be the reincarnation of Caiano (Goulart, 2008). According to the UDV myth, the two _____________________________ were growing from the tombs of two servants of an ancient Inkan king and Solomon explained to Caiano that the plants actually contained the souls of those two servants (Goulart, 2008).
Similarly, in Rastafarian beliefs, Solomon is an original founding father of the lineage. Rastas cite the story of the Kebra Nagast to support the claim that King Solomon had a child with the Queen of Sheba. The African Queen of Sheba had come to Israel from Ethiopia with offerings and incense in order to test Solomon’s wisdom with her riddles. Their child’s name was Menelik (which means “Son of the Wise One”), and Menelik later became the ruler of the Solomonic Dynasty of Ethiopia. Instead of ___________________________________________________________________________. Eerily, just like the UDV founder claims that Solomon discovered the ensouled ____________________________________________________________________________.
Depth psychological perspectives are easily applicable to both the Rastafarian and the Uniao de Vegetal traditions where Solomon is a key mythic figure. Firstly, both examples involve mythic storytelling and folklore being used as a psychic technology for the induction of initiates into a traditional lineage in order to inform those initiates of the lineage’s roots and origins. Secondly, both the Uniao de Vegetal and the Rastafarian stories are founded in an animistic perspective of the world and teach the listener about soul. Namely, by implying that the psyche of some living beings is embedded in the magic plants that grow from their tombs, these stories imply that the soul is real and that all phenomena may be ensouled, including plants. Furthermore, ______________________________________________________________.
Another alternative tradition, Freemasonry, also exalts King Solomon enthusiastically. One important Solomonic theme in Masonry is the theme of temple building and the massianic theme of “rebuilding” Solomon’s original temple. The Masonic legend of Hiram Abiff is an allegory presented to candidates for third degree initiation. It speaks of Solomon’s appointed lead architect for the temple build being Hiram Abiff, a Master Mason who is murdered by lower degree masons and temple workers when he refuses to divulge the secret knowledge of certain words and gestures (Goulart, 2008). After the murder, he is buried in a shallow grave under an acacia bush (Goulart, 2008). Strangely enough, just like in Uniao de Vegetal and Rastafarianism, a myth is used to impart knowledge and training to the students. In addition, the myth is once again related to some type of authority. Hiram the lead architect is an authority, just like Menelik the special son or Caian the foreign vassal. Hiram is appointed to work under Solomon’s guidance and rule. Lastly, and perhaps most strangely, this third example once again includes the image of a plant growing out of the grave of a mythic character. Depth psychologically speaking, it’s very clear that the Hiram Abiff story is meant to reflect back to the candidate their own qualities and the trials they may face on their own path, such as temptation and testing. It shows them their immature impulse to learn secrets prematurely, as well as the level of self sacrifice and devotion required and expected in order to be able to enter the higher degrees.
Solomon’s Temple is a famous symbolic image. Solomon built the temple itself during his reign, with the Holy of Holies inside containing the Ark of the Covenant, where the High Priest would pronounce the secret true name of the one God of all beings in Hebrew, once a year during holidays. There are countless layers of meaning associated with the Solomonic initiations and rites-of-passage that connect to the mysteries of Masonic temple building and the study of related alchemical imagery. For example, there is the image of the two pillars (which also correlate to the pillars in Kabbalah and Tarot), the sun, moon, and stars above the pillars (which also reference astrology and higher realms or the “above”), the checkered floor “below” the pillars (which may symbolize this realm of duality), and the pyramidal staircase in between the pillars (which could correlate to the gradual degrees of initiation, training, illumination, transmutation, or ascension).
From a depth psychological and neoplatonic perspective, the idea of building Solomon’s Temple is a great symbol for the correlation between microcosm and macrocosm as well as between inner, psychic worlds and outer, physical landscapes. The daily work of building the actual temple (which might just mean gardening and taking care of a family home) is the bridge between self-work or inner work and changing the world. In other words, through our daily service and the gradual improvement of our surroundings, we are also transforming ourselves and maturing or individuating our psyches. At the same time, we are developing a better world and improving society as a whole. In this way, building Solomon’s Temple means changing the world by expanding consciousness and expanding consciousness by changing the world — all through one’s engaged community service and relationship to immediate surroundings. Such work can also be dedicated in the name of Solomon, because “Solomon” means “peace”. Developing inner peace or wholeness is the mission of inner work and moving towards a new paradigm of world peace is the purpose of global work — so these two spheres meet in their dedication to peace.
Hillman, J. (1979). Psyche. In The dream and the underworld (pp. 23-50). New York, NY: Harper.
Berry, P. (2001). The rape of Demeter/Persephone and neurosis. In The long journey home (pp. 197-205). Boston, MA: Shambhala.
Estes, C. (1992). Stalking the intruder. In Women who run with the wolves (pp. 39-73). New York, NY: Ballantine Books.
Goulart, S. L. (2008). Religious matrices of the União do Vegetal. In Fieldwork in religion, 2(3). London, UK: Equinox Publishing Ltd.
Berlin, A. (Editor), Brettler, M. Z. (Editor), Fishbane, M. (Consulting Editor). (2004). 1 Kings 3:16–28. In The Jewish study bible: Jewish publication society Tanakh translation. New York: Oxford University Press.
. Downing, C. (1984). Dear grey eyes. In The goddess (pp. 99-130). New York, NY: Crossroad.
2014 Mural in Peru
Yamasee ’bout dat Nahualli
Alpha & Ol’mecKa