A Jungian Analysis of the Saga of Pan and the Devil
- ISBN: 9781793606549
- Published By: Lexington Books/Fortress Academic
- Published: July 2020
Sharon L. Coggan’s Sacred Disobedience: A Jungian Analysis of the Saga of Pan and the Devil examines Christianity’s aversion to the material world, nature, the body, and sexuality through a Jungian lens and proposes that the religion cannot become healthy, or in Jungian terms “whole,” without reincorporating its shadow, the Devil. The author proposes that, in addition to providing psychological balance to Christians, this incorporation of the repressed shadow will have additional positive environmental effects resulting from an embrace of the world and appreciation of nature—rather than the attempt to flee it for a heavenly afterlife.
Regarding “the Devil” in this work, the author actually means the ancient Greek god Pan, the most well-known of the so-called “Horned Gods” of the Mediterranean. The book spends a lot of time examining the background of this pastoral Arcadian deity and explains how his iconography came to contribute to the later Christian model of Satan. The content on Pan is informative and thorough, and so this work serves as a useful guide to understanding Pan. The book also explains the transformation of ancient paganism from polytheism into the abstract dualism of Platonism and situates the rise of Christianity within this philosophical context. It examines the adoption of asceticism within Christianity and the attribution of carnal and earthly phenomena to “the Devil.” These historical chapters are also very informative and thorough.
While the historical examinations of the figure of Pan and the history of Christianity are quite detailed, the author appears to refer to pop culture rather than academic history when discussing goddesses and witches. Her statement that “Goddesses often exhibit characteristic phases or aspects recognized in the grouping the ‘Triple Goddess’” (24) is completely incorrect. The idea of a “Triple Goddess” was invented in the 1940s by the British poet Robert Graves in his book The White Goddess (Faber & Faber 1948). More disturbing is the reliance on Egyptologist Margaret Murray’s work The Witch Cult in Western Europe (Oxford University Press 1921) for information about witches and the supposed god they worshipped, “the Horned God.” Murray’s work was discredited by witchcraft historians as soon as it was published but was (and still is) extremely influential in the general population. No serious academic historian of witchcraft takes her theories seriously. The claim that people accused as witches during the European Witch Trials were really members of an underground pagan cult that worshipped “the Horned God,” which Coggan repeats, is classic Margaret Murray. The use of Murray is extremely disturbing and would be humorous, possibly even interpreted as a joke, if it was not so obviously used here as a serious source. The author is clearly—and disturbingly—unaware of Witch Trial history and the many critiques and debunking of Margaret Murray’s theories. The use of Murray is cause for the reader to have severe doubts about the author’s understanding of the so-called “Horned God” post-antiquity.
The book is structured according to Jungian alchemical symbolism, which consists of four stages within the phenomenon of “enantiodromia” (the emergence of the unconscious opposite over time). These four stages are termed the shadow, unio mystica, coincidentia oppositorum, and coniunctio oppositorum. Beginning with the shadow, the author explains how the hairy goat-type deity is the shadow of Christianity; in the unio mystica phase the ancient Greek deity Pan is examined. This is followed by the coincidentia oppositorum phase, in this case covering the emergence of Christianity amongst the increasingly dualistic worldviews of Late Antiquity and the opposition of the physical world to a transcendental “real” world. The fourth phase, the coniunctio oppositorum, or conjunction of opposites, concerns the requirements for restoration of balance by reincorporation of rejected elements. It is this final phase, involving the re-sacralising of Pan, which the author proposes will help Christians to have a positive view of their own corporeality as well as of the value and beauty of the earth.
The book foregrounds Christianity and tries to improve it, making it more realistic, psychologically healthy, and environmentally conscious. While this is an admirable endeavor, it is highly unlikely that the various denominations of Christianity will want to do this by making peace with, and incorporating, the traditional supernatural enemy of the faith. The (re)incorporation of the Christian shadow, being Pan or “the Devil,” along with other gods and goddesses as recommended by the author (253), will essentially paganise Christianity. So why not go all out and embrace contemporary paganism? It seems that this desire to include Pan within Christianity is a recognition of the flexibility and diversity evident within polytheism that tries to avoid actively embracing paganism; however, an overtly polytheistic Christianity would not be Christianity anymore.
In Jungian theory, deities are seen as archetypes rather than as independently existing supernatural beings. According to this book, the archetype of the “Horned God” has been made to carry all the negatively charged aspects of existence that Christians wanted to avoid, thus becoming the “shadow” of Western civilisation. The Jungian alchemical model applied to the reincorporation of Christianity’s shadow does seem to be a good one for personal therapeutic purposes which may also have positive benefits for wider nature. However, if we know that gods are only archetypes rather than real beings, why delude ourselves by continuing to believe in them other than as rather artistic but outdated approaches to the interface between humans, the world, and the universe? Is that not absolving ourselves of personal responsibility and projecting it onto these gods, which we already agree are only psychological phenomena? Would it not be healthier to dispense with the idea of supernatural beings altogether?
Ultimately the aim of this book is a noble one: the healing of a psychological rift within Christianity that has had negative consequences not only for humans, but for the earth itself. But while Jungian theory is interesting to think with, it is not necessarily suited to being applied to religion because it is essentially atheistic: if gods are simply human psychological projections, then all are irrelevant. Thus, while humans would be well served by “incorporating” the natural world, as represented by Pan/the Devil, this could just as easily be done completely outside the parameters of religion.
Caroline Tully is an archaeologist at the University of Melbourne, Australia.Caroline TullyDate Of Review:June 27, 2022