Think Jung

Make Life a Mythic Journey

How to Find Your Spiritual Symbol

The type of spirituality to which we are drawn is not a matter of chance, since we are born with a particular spiritual constitution that radically affects our spiritual orientation.

—-Lionel Corbett, Psyche and the Sacred (p. 75)


In my most recent blog, I discussed having a numinous or sacred, spiritual experience in the Duomo, located in the ancient part of Syracuse, Sicily. Given my prior experiences in the Muir Woods (see “A Modern Path to Spirituality”) and other places of extraordinary, awe-inducing natural beauty, I found myself wondering, Why did I, a no longer observant person of Jewish background, find the Duomo to be a numinosum or object of divinity? Of course, as a Jungian, I knew the answer was in my unconscious, and that the most likely way to find the answer would be through a dream. It was then that I remembered the following dream I had four years earlier:



In Search of the Numinosum

Exterior of the Propylaea and the ParthenonI’m walking in Chicago with my friend and neighbor, Ed O’Neal. We’re going to see a famous statue located outside of a building. We walk a long way through many corridors of the building, but miss the exit to the statue. Instead, we’re outside, and can see the gold and blue of the early sunset on some distant buildings that look like white marble Greek temples with fountains. A passing woman remarks about the beauty and how we can tell the earlier population density of the area. Ed and I walk back going through a long, empty parking lot near the building. I notice Ed stepping onto the walkway near the lot, but then lose sight of him in the evening crowd.

I walk on and then call out, “Ed! Ed! Where are you?” I hear Ed’s distant voice saying he’s two blocks away on Ryan Street. I’ve just left Spirit Way and am on East Street. I have to turn back [to Spirit Way]. When I do, I am awestruck. I see in the deepening twilight shadows of purple a large statue of a woman covered in a shawl. It’s the one we’d missed. It’s looming over a large open plaza where I can see people below moving about and water from an in-ground fountain bubbling up in a large rectangular pattern. I finally catch up with Ed who informs me that he’s gone to “the little boys’ room” in the building. We seem to be near the Chicago River and Ed knows the way back.



So, what does this clearly numinous dream have to do with the impact of the Syracuse Duomo on me? The most obvious clue is the “white marble Greek temple.” The Duomo is unusual in that it incorporates a Greek temple. And, it’s not just an ordinary temple, but one dedicated to the goddess Athena, a major feminine divinity. femalestatueMoreover, it is a “passing woman” who calls the numinous aspect of it to my attention. Then, of course, I am “awestruck” when I have to turn back to return to “Spirit Way” by a clearly numinous feminine statue of “a woman covered in a shawl.” It is also significant that Ed, my male guide, is not there at this critical moment since he had to go to “’little boys’ room’” and is in a masculine location, “Ryan Street.”

Clearly, the feminine is very import to me as a way to encounter the spiritual, the numinosum, but, why? In his book, Psyche and the Sacred, Lionel Corbett provides an answer. He claims (on p. 97), based on Jung’s writings, “A man who is so emotionally bound to the goddess is not likely to worship a male sky god [like Jehovah]. He needs a mythology other than that of the Judeo-Christian tradition, one that will resonate with the structure of his personality.” Since I had a very negative father-complex stemming from my childhood with a hostile, frightening, and also absent father (described in “Facing the Father-Complex” in my book, Think Jung! How I Found Meaning in My Life), it was natural for me to turn away from the equally frightening sky god of my Jewish youth. The result is an attraction for the feminine Greek goddess married literally in the Duomo to the compassionate male Christian god.

Finally, there is the question about the location. Why is it set in Chicago? I have a number of very positive connections to that city. First, it was a place of career restoration or resurrection, if you will, after my disastrous first job at Duke University (see “St. Don and the Beard” in my book). chirn_phototour27There I was nurtured and healed and found a new career path more consistent with my personality. Second, at the time of the dream my oldest son was attending medical school at the University of Chicago. Medicine, of course, is the archetypal healing profession stemming from the ancient Greeks of Hippocrates and Galen. And then also the dream ends near the Chicago River. Rivers are often seen as feminine, a part of Mother Nature, and a source of life-giving nourishment. Also, the feminine statue hovered over a fountain in a four-sided (a symbol of the Jungian quaternity of perfection or wholeness as in the spiritual Self) pool.

In retrospect, the dream foretold just how I’d react to the Syracuse Duomo. However, at the time of the dream I was not that sophisticated in my analytic skills to be able to amplify its symbols in a meaningful way. Numinous dreams have a lot to tell us, as do our numinous experiences. They shed the light of consciousness on who we really are—both unique individuals and, as truly spiritual beings, that we are simultaneously “a part of a totality” (Corbett, p. 105) of equal cosmic stewards of one another and our planet.

Paul Marshall Wortman


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