Thursday, October 31, 2013

In Honor of Halloween...Day of the Dead...Dia de los Muertos

Ghosts and spirits have haunted the Western psyche since its beginning. Jung's writings demonstrate that Greek, Roman, Medieval, and Renaissance literature and theology are rich in examples of the ambivalent roles spirits of the dead have played in human experience. The same theme emerges throughout human history: the living struggle to make peace with the dead. In the words of Robert Romanyshyn, Ph.D. (2002), "the dead who haunt our dreams in search of release are like the ghosts who haunt our symptoms in search of their stories."

What is the significance of this realm between the living and the dead and why are the dead so intent upon getting our attention?

David Miller (2004) spoke to this in his book Hells and Holy Ghosts. According to Miller the "Holy Ghost" was systematically mistranslated in the King James Version of the Bible in order to reduce the number of references to ghosts. In the process, translators began to eclipse the realm between the living and the dead in theology and everyday religious experience; the in-between place had previously been inhabited by ghosts, dreams, and the Imaginal (Imaginal as defined by Henry Corbin who posits that there is a realm that exists beyond our ordinary three dimensional experience that is as real as this realm).

The reduction in the use of the Holy Ghost in the Bible, coupled with the emergence of Puritanism in England, Miller argues, led to a theological doctrine of other-wordliness that contained only god and the devil. The intermediate beings, ghosts, ancestral spirits, and the divine, were banished.

Organized Protestant religion exorcised these intermediate beings. No sooner had the ghost of the Holy Ghost been driven from organized Protestant religion, than it began to haunt the secular world in a remarkable proliferation of ghost stories. These intermediary beings refused to be banished and returned to the secular world. While the realm of intermediate beings was downgraded or displaced from Western  theology, it continued to flourish on the margins in folklore, alchemy, and literature, eventually finding its way in the twentieth century into the realm of depth psychology. Those who return speak to the importance of the role of death in depth psychology.

The dead return to awaken us and in this return they invite us to regard everything in life that we have passed by. The dead who return call us home. It is only in death that we are reminded that we have fallen into time from another world, a journey into birth which death reverses into a homecoming. The return of the dead causes us to stop, linger, and take a second look.

Jung believed that the soul of the dead attempts to attain in death the awareness it fails to achieve in life. From this perspective, the dead can be seen as people deeply interested in the final psychological results of a human life. In other words the dead who return may be the figures who seek the living in order to attain knowledge.

As the dead became more distinct to Jung, he began to give voice to the dead and referred to what he heard from them as "the voices of the Unanswered, Unresolved, and Unredeemed" (1969/1989). In this way, he suggests we have a responsibility to the dead. The questions and answers demands that our destiny requires for us to answer do not come only from the outside, but also, from these encounters with the dead.


  1. It's late... can't sleep...lots of pain I turn to this essay in search of distraction and... what a sweet gift these many months after Halloween! My son died three and a half years his enlarged heart tough love ...tested my ability to lose it and climb back to help he and I learn to cope in healthy less hurtful ways...less yelling ...more talking and listening. He grew into an amazing young man! 300+ people came to his funeral..he was twenty five years old when he died in his sleep. There was testimony after tearful testimony from the people he had counseled from his football teammates to the people he worked with to his bosses. Well.. your line summarizing Jung' s view of ghosts..." the dead who return may be the figures who seek the living in order to attain knowledge" ... I found so much comfort in. I don't believe in ghosts or an afterlife in general although so wish I could...but this view of afterlife I do find comfort in ...the what if? Side of me relishes this perspective of continual growth and discovery. Thank you for th I s sweet distraction from pain and grief. Also a sweet reminder that I can still process and think a little!

  2. MsCoopness-For some reason I didn't get notified (via email) of your comment so I apologize for my delay in replying.

    Your son sounds like he was amazing. That he had over 300 people at his funeral is one thing but also that so many people who knew him spoke about ways he helped them. Both are a testament to his character.

    My heart breaks for you in your loss of him and your grieving. 25 is so young. I don't think there is a more profound grief than a mother losing her child.

    I'm glad you were able to find a spot of comfort in something here.

    Based on my personal experience, those of hospice workers, my reading, research, and countless personal stories I truly believe there is something beyond this world.

    Because we are limited to sense experiences it's hard to imagine but I know it exists.

    Know your son is with you....has he come to you in your dreams?