Jung's Archetypal Self
In his work entitled “Mysterium Coniunctionis”, Carl Jung wrote about an axiom derived from an alchemical phrase of the Middle Ages that states “In sterquiliniis invenitur”, which translates to “In filth it will be found.” The essence of the claim is, that which you most need will be found where you least want to look.
Our collective ability as a species to observe, comprehend and respond to patterns suggests the possibility that we operate through the existence of some universal frequency that resonates within us all. This is reflected at the visual level by the empirical evidence that supports art therapy: patients drew fragmented, chaotic, and random images while going through periods of personal strife or hardship, but then drew more structured, symmetrical, and harmonious images after showing improvements through treatment. It is further reflected at the audial level through music theory: specifically in how both humans and animals perceive major chords versus minor chords, crescendos versus decrescendos, ballads versus Rock and Roll. These act as symbolic representations of a balance that every organism in the known universe adheres to as a “Golden Rule” of sorts. Some would call that the ultimate truth. Jungians call it God.
Jung thought of Christ as the archetype of the Self, which is to say he is the totality of our beings across time. The story of Christ is the ultimate tragedy, where the worst possible thing happens to the best possible person. However, the structure of the story technically classifies it as a comedy because it has a happy ending—the resurrection of Christ.
The story may be applied psychologically by recognizing how the Self, as Jung describes it, is capable of sustaining itself across a period of successive deaths and rebirths. People resonate with the idea because everybody can relate to death in some regard, no matter how abstract—everyone has experienced some form of loss, whether it be the death of a loved one, heartbreak, a terrible upset in one’s career, etc. These things tend to cause one’s plans in life to fall apart in some capacity. The piece of oneself that has known the world to be a certain way must then die in order to make room for the piece that understands the world that is no longer so. In cases that cause life’s greatest plight (one’s own ultimate tragedies), this can cause one to plunge into a chaotic underworld where one fights that change—the “belly of the beast”, so to speak. Sometimes this can last for a while. Sometimes it can last forever. Some individuals fully die there because they cannot handle the pressure of their own demons. But others will learn something incredible about the world down there as a consequence of what they’ve endured. They will put themselves back together and re-emerge to share that knowledge, having formulated new plans, new goals, and new purpose in their lives. They “resurrect” as a more complete version of the person that they were when they went in. This death and rebirth cycle happens every time we learn something new, which gives new meaning to the old platitude, Truth hurts.
These are the inevitable transformations one must experience over the course of their life. The Self is the construct that manages these transformations. This is why one must search through filth to find what they most need. Everyone resonates with the pain that comes when one really learns something. Real truths are inflicted, and the best truths leave ugly scars.
Jung, C. (1977). Mysterium Coniunctionis: An inquiry into the separation and synthesis of psychic opposites in alchemy. Princeton University Press.