Carl Jung’s collective unconscious and the Native Americans
I have been thinking for the past few days about what I could possibly write about. Nothing came to mind, nothing was inspiring me. Then I remembered a book I read a few years ago, Dancing Between two worlds: Jung and the Native American soul. I remembered its message and how it combined my background in psychodyamic psychology and native spirituality and culture. That book is one of those that changes your life. At least, it changed mine (more to come in a future post about another book that changed my life). But first let’s look at Carl Jung and the notion of the collective unconscious.
Carl Jung (1875-1961) was a Swiss psychiatrist who also found a love for analytic psychology and
therapy. The beginning of the 20th century in Europe was dominated by the analytic movement, which was first led by Freud (well there were others before him such as Breuer and Charcot but Freud was the most well known one). Carl Jung’s ideas and writing were not always easy to grasp and led to differences in opinion with Freud for example. However, Jung did contribute to the field of personality traits, where his concepts are still used today in personality inventories. One of his main contributions and I think one of the most relevant ones in regard to the Native American culture, was his notion of the collective unconscious. I do not want to bore you with a lengthy explanation of it, because I could go on for a while here…..
But what is the collective unconscious?
We still have to cover some basics so you can understand how it pertains to the native culture and the concept of intergenerational trauma. According to Jung (a brilliant man for sure), there is a collective unconscious shared by members of a species. A collective mind, of experiences we have all shared. Whereas Freud discussed the notion of a personal/individual unconscious (my thoughts or emotions or experiences that I am not fully aware of), Jung argued for the notion that as a species, we share common unconscious experiences or emotions. This collective unconscious is inherited from previous generations (we come into the world already sharing this unconscious) and it contains symbols or concepts (Jung called them archetypes) that we all share. Symbols such as the Great Mother, The Old wise man. In other words, we carry within ourselves experiences from past generations, we come into this world carrying the life of our ancestors.
The Native American collective unconscious
I don’t know about you but I feel like Jung was certainly right. I mean, I have mentioned before that what we do affects the next seven generations. In other words, I am carrying the history and experiences of the past seven generations. Some will say that it is not fair, that it means I am carrying baggage. But you have to remember that it goes both ways. I am also carrying the beauty, strength and knowledge of the past seven generations. Sometimes it is also about remembering or investigating where we come from, so we know better who we are today.
The history of the Native Americans is sadly filled with trauma and what I would qualify as genocides. Massacres such as Wounded Knee, need to be remembered as they affect the soul of all. Such massacres also affect the land they took place upon. The memory of what happened lives within the Earth. The bodies, the blood lives within the soil. If you think about how Native American culture emphasizes the connection to the Earth, a wound to the Earth is a wound to the people. It is a wound to the earth-connected side we all have, thus a wound to the soul. The feelings and the hurt of those who passed away on the battlefields do not die with them. They remain in each of us. The Land holds our stories, the land will evoke our personal and collective stories, it will remind us of them. As the land is also living. Violence to the people or the land led to the suffering of the following generations, as it is stored in our collective unconscious or psyche.
So in a sense, the notion of collective unconscious is related to the notion of intergenerational trauma. Where trauma is passed down from one generation to another. But knowledge, ways of survival are also passed down from one generation to the other. As I stated, it is not all negative, there is some positive in storing our ancestors’ story and experiences within ourselves. Jung and the Native American soul talks about how each of our soul is touched by what happened to our ancestors. Sometimes, getting in touch with their experiences is a way to remember who we are. A friend of mine said to me recently “I don’t know where I belong in this world. I don’t belong within our culture today, I don’t belong in the white culture, I don’t know where my place is”. It seems to me like that would be an old feeling, a collective feeling, an unconscious ancestral feeling. Maybe getting in touch with what our body remembers, what the land remembers is the way to go here, to know where we belong.
Grandmother, and great Mother Earth upon you the people will walk. May they follow the scared path with light, not with the darkness of ignorance. May they always remember their relatives in the four quarters and may they know that they are related to all that moves upon the universe. – Black Elk.