Dive into an exploration of archetypal psychology and what it can teach us about where the gods may have gone.
As I prepared for my Spirituality & Health Podcast interview with Dr. Joanna LaPrade, whose book, Forged in Darkness: The Many Paths of Personal Transformation, explores long-dead Greek gods and goddesses as psychological archetypes still active in the human psyche, I kept turning two questions over in my mind: How do gods die? and What happens to them when they do?
The answer to the first question is simple: Given that gods dwell in the minds of their believers, gods die when their believers die. That’s why warring religions don’t pit gods against one another but set about slaughtering their respective believers instead. Case in point, Deuteronomy 7:1-2:
"When the Lord your God brings you into the land that you are about to enter and occupy, drive away the nations you find there—the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations more numerous and mightier than you— and when the Lord your God gives them over to you and you defeat them, you must obliterate them."
The rationale for this genocide is to keep the Israelites from worshiping foreign gods (Deuteronomy 7:4). Given this, the Bible should say:
"When the Lord your God brings you into the land that you are about to enter and occupy, He will first defeat the Gods of the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, that these seven nations more numerous and mightier than you will join you and worship Him."
It doesn’t say this because tribal gods reside in the tribal imagination, and the only way to kill a god is to kill the brain that imagines that god. Which brings me to my second question: What happens to Gods when they die? The answer, it seems, is that they morph from theological beings to psychological archetypes.
I am intrigued by archetypal psychology: the notion that our personal egos are influenced by a shared psyche that communicates with us through imagination and fantasy using the language of archetypes. What troubles me, however, is the tendency of the psyche to speak primarily through Greek myths.
I asked Dr. LaPrade about the Greek focus of archetypal psychology. Part of her answer had to do with the fact that one could interpret Greek gods psychologically rather than theologically without being called a heretic by followers of Zeus or Athena, or getting canceled by the pro-Mount Olympus community, something that might well happen if you reduced El, Christ, Krishna, Kali, or Allah to mythic figures within the human psyche. This makes sense, but I’m still not satisfied.
The more I wonder why western Christians find their subconscious drenched in pre-Christian Greek gods and goddesses, the more I suspect that as Christianity forcibly converted the pagan Greeks to its god, the ancient Greeks quietly converted the Christian subconscious to their gods.
Can it be that the defeated gods and goddesses of the Greeks are secretly running the lives of their Christian conquerors?
Listen to the podcast episode that inspired this essay here.