Cover image for Archetype of the Apocalypse : a Jungian study of the book of Revelation
Archetype of the Apocalypse : a Jungian study of the book of Revelation
Edinger, Edward F.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Chicago, Ill. : Open Court, [1999]

Physical Description:
xx, 222 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Added Author:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
BS2825.3 .E38 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



The collective belief in Armageddon has become more powerful and widespread in the wake of recent terrorist attacks. Edward Edinger looks at the chaos predicted by the Book of Revelation and relates it to current trends including global violence, AIDS, and apocalyptic cults.

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

As a tool for textual criticism, Jungian analysis often reveals as much or more about Jungian analysis than about the text. Edinger's study of John's Apocalypse is no exception. Readers will learn a great deal about the Jungian concept of archetypes and their impact on individuation; they will learn less about the biblical book. Edinger was a founder of the C.G. Jung Institute of New York. This book grew out of a series of 10 lectures he delivered at the C.G. Jung Institute of Los Angeles, beginning in 1995. Though edited and revised for publication, they retain some of the fragmentary and episodic character of popular lectures. The book is divided into chapters that follow the sequence of John's narrative. Edinger brings the narrative into dialogue with dream images gleaned from his own experience as an analyst and from reports of other psychiatrists. Most interesting are Edinger's extensive commentary on Jung's Answer to Job and his brief discussion of two contemporary cases of "possession" by the "apocalypse archetype"ÄDavid Koresh and the leaders of Heaven's Gate. These illustrate the explosive power of what Edinger calls "the coming of the Self." For the alienated ego, the eruption of the Self from the unconscious is not only explosive but destructive. The alternative Edinger proposes, quoting Jung, is the "broadening out of man to the whole man," a far cry from the book of Revelation but an indication of the social dimension of Jungian individuation. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Edinger, who died in 1998, was a Jungian analyst, author, and lecturer. His book will probably appeal more to Jungians than to New Testament exegetes, since Jungian analysis is not high on the list of methodologies used by New Testament scholars, if it makes the list at all. In a chapter-by-chapter explanation of the symbols in Revelation/Apocalypse in Jungian terms, Edinger argues that a significant cultural upheavalÄread apocalypseÄis coming, based on growing violence, belief in alien abduction, the spread of cults, and so on. The two appendixes make the interesting point that the strange behaviors of Waco's David Koresh and Heaven's Gate's Marshall Applewhite are adequately explained only by the archetype of the Apocalypse. This book is not light reading. Recommended as an alternative explanation of contemporary culture.ÄJohn Moryl, Yeshiva Univ. Lib., New York (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Edinger (formerly with the Jung Institute, now deceased) gives a clear indication of the direction his interpretation of the Apocalypse will take, by first delineating four strands of contextual reference, then concluding, "Finally, the truly 'psychological' strand is probably the most important category of all for the understanding of his [John's] text." His interpretation at all points is based upon Jungian psychology, almost to the exclusion of historical considerations. A few examples: He interprets apocalypse as the coming of the self into conscious realization. The number seven represents psychological transformation. The imagery of stars falling from heaven represents the collective unconscious emptying into consciousness. Satan's being cast out of heaven represents the collective unconscious cleansing itself of a troublesome character. A golden bowl depicts the self in its containing aspect, with gold representing supreme value. This reviewer does not claim competency to judge this work as a psychological study, but judges its contribution to biblical studies to be minimal. One can scarcely avoid the question, Who trained those beleaguered Christians in the churches of Asia Minor in the first century in Jungian psychology so they could understand what John wrote to them? J. E. Lunceford; Georgetown College



Chapter One The Grand Final Catastrophe Archetype In this book, we will examine what can be called the "archetype of the Apocalypse" by way of a fairly close psychological study of the Book of Revelation. I will rely primarily upon the New Jerusalem Bible Version because it is a readily available accurate translation; and it provides in footnotes all references to the Hebrew Bible or the Old Testament. As the reader will discover, the New Testament Book of Revelation is loaded with direct quotations from the Old Testament. We will examine this text intensively, rather than review an extensive body of material; and I suggest that the reader consult the scriptures to be discussed prior to reading each chapter here, looking up references found in the biblical footnotes. In doing so, each person can make an important discovery: by becoming involved in a kind of spontaneous amplification process, discovering in consequence what a rich mosaic the Book of Revelation really is. One cannot grasp Revelation by a superficial reading. In many ways, it strikes the modern mind as bizarre and almost unintelligible. But if one applies oneself carefully to it--especially considering the quotations that are embedded in the text--the book begins to reveal itself.     I always pay attention to the titles of other books and, naturally, pay attention to my own. My title here is Archetype of the Apocalypse . Let us try to identify each term and ask ourselves first of all: What is an archetype? We may think we know, if we have studied Jungian psychology, yet it does not hurt to be reminded. First of all, an archetype is a pattern : a primordial psychic ordering of images that has a collective or generalized quality; it can be understood, therefore, to derive from the collective transpersonal objective psyche--rather than from the personal psyche. That is one aspect of an archetype. The other aspect to which we do not pay quite as much attention--but which does deserve emphasis--is that the archetype is a dynamic agency : It is a living organism, a psychic organism that inhabits the collective psyche. And the fact that an archetype is both a pattern and an agency means that any encounter with an archetype will have these two aspects.     As a pattern, we can encounter an archetypal reality and speak about it as an object--an object of our knowledge and understanding. But as a dynamic living agency it appears to us as subject, as an entity like ourselves with intentionality and some semblance of consciousness. Jung refers to this double aspect of archetypes at the beginning of his seminal work Answer to Job where he says: They are spontaneous phenomena which are not subject to our will, and we are therefore justified in ascribing to them a certain autonomy. They are to be regarded not only as objects but as subjects with laws of their own.... If that is considered, we are compelled to treat them as subjects; in other words, we have to admit that they possess spontaneity and purposiveness, or a kind of consciousness and free will. The reader should keep that in mind as we proceed to analyze the Apocalypse archetype in particular, because it is like all archetypes when they are evoked, constellated, or activated. This archetype of the Apocalypse takes on autonomy and tends to direct whatever is of a psychic nature in its vicinity to line up with its own lines of force. Apocalypse The other term in the title is "apocalypse." Apokalypsis is just the Greek word that was used for the Book of Revelation which is also more simply called the Apocalypse; in general the term means "revelation." But, specifically, it refers to the "uncovering of what has been hidden." The root is the verb kalypto , which means "to cover or to hide"; the prefix is the preposition, apo , which means "away or from." So, apokalypsis means "to take the covering away" from what had been secret or cow, red--revealing thereby what had previously been invisible. Yet according to general usage, the term "apocalypse" has taken on the larger meaning of the "coming of deity to assert sovereignty"--or the coming of a Messiah to judge, to reward or punish humanity. We have a whole body of literature in antiquity that can be called "apocalyptic" and which grew up around the idea of an Apocalypse. There are a number of Jewish and Christian apocalypses in the extracanonical literature, but certainly the canonical Apocalypse of John--that we are about to study here--is the most famous of that genre.     The main characteristic of apocalyptic literature is that it describes dreams, visions, or journeys to heaven whereby the seer is shown other-worldly secrets and programs of world history that culminate in the "End of the Age." Typically, an apocalypse contains images of a "Last Judgment" with the coming of a "Messiah" or a divine king, who will impose his punishments but then reconstitute things or bring about a "New Order." More particularly, this literature exhibits four chief features: 1) Revelation; 2) Judgment; 3) Destruction or Punishment (as the consequence of Judgment); and then 4) Renewal in a New World.     What I call the Apocalypse archetype underlies all this ancient literature. It is composed of a network of inter-related images--as are all archetypes--making up a complex symbol system. To hint at some of the images that cluster around the archetype, I offer the following chart of interconnections. Its contents are somewhat arbitrary since it is in the nature of an archetypal network that it can extend farther and farther--eventually to encompass the whole collective unconscious. And unless one imposes some sort of limit on the procedure, one will drown in the process. Perhaps this chart can serve, nonetheless, as a road map for our subject matter or as a general overview for the purpose of orientation. Most of the images referred to here I will discuss in some detail in the following chapters (see figure 1.1).     Let me repeat. What we are about to discuss is a primordial psychic pattern of the collective unconscious that is at the same time a dynamic agency with intentionality. When it constellates, it generates itself and manifests itself in the individual psyche and the collective psyche of the group it happens to touch. Put differently, archetypes live themselves out in whatever psychic stuff they can appropriate; they are like devouring mouths--finding little egos they can consume, and then living out of those egos. The Apocalypse archetype certainly constellated very powerfully at the beginning of the Christian aeon, and that is why so much apocalyptic literature was generated at that time. Now, again--on the threshold of a new aeon--this same archetype is constellating very powerfully. I will be giving examples of the different ways this is happening today in both the individual and the collective.     Rather than keep the reader in suspense, I will answer the basic question of our study at the outset and then allow the remainder of this work to be an enlargement upon it. The question that really concerns me here is this: What does the "Apocalypse" mean psychologically? My essential answer is: the "Apocalypse" means the momentous event of the coming of the Self into conscious realization. Of course, it manifests itself and is experienced in quite different ways if occurring in the individual psyche or in the collective life of a group; but in either case, it is a momentous event--literally world-shattering. This is what the content of the Apocalypse archetype presents: the shattering of the world as it has been, followed by its reconstitution.     In terms of collective phenomena, we have evidence all around us in our daily analytic practice and in contemporary world history that this earth-shaking archetypal event is taking place right here and now. It has already started. It is manifesting itself in international relations; in the breakdown of the social structures of Western civilization; in political, ethnic, and religious groupings; as well as within the psyches of individuals. One can perceive the Apocalypse archetype active in all these arenas--once one is familiar with its contents and has the eyes to see. One can see further evidence in books, movies, and television programs. The possible encounter with extraterrestrial intelligence is an image that is more and more gripping the modern mind; and in many cases in science fiction these encounters are followed by apocalyptic consequences--an aspect of the archetype.     One can see the archetype of the Apocalypse in the proliferation of apocalyptic cults or sects. And when we consider the phenomenon of religious groups that are quite explicitly identified with this archetype, and not just marginally so, I see a whole spectrum. At one extreme there are the apocalyptic cults of a semi-suicidal nature that are often no more than large family groupings centered around a charismatic character who is quasi-criminal or quasi-psychotic (or both)--such figures as Charles Manson, Jim Jones, or David Koresh. These cults are extreme versions of group possession, concrete group possession by the Apocalypse archetype. A little less extreme but still far out along the spectrum are the bomb-shelter, stockpiling, survivalist cults who are holing up in remote regions--heavily armed and waiting for Armageddon.     Farther along the spectrum are the apocalyptic sects of a larger scale. Let me note that the only difference between a cult, a sect, and a denomination is numerical. A small group is considered to be a cult; a religious group of five hundred thousand to a million members is a sect; and if there are ten million members, that is a denomination--basically, there is no other difference. Of course, the larger the grouping, the more religious issues get ironed out or, shall we say, the fire gets damped down. Now, there are several of these larger apocalyptic sects, but probably the most well-known are the Jehovah's Witnesses and the Seventh Day Adventists. They each have between seven hundred fifty thousand and a million members in the United States alone, with world-wide connections as well. And they are becoming almost conventional just by virtue of their statistics.     Still farther along the spectrum of apocalyptic groups are the relatively more moderate and even conventional fundamentalist churches who are convinced that the time of the "End" is upon us. Fifty years ago, when I first began to observe this phenomenon, mainstream Christian Fundamentalism did not have such a prominent apocalyptic tone. But today there are millions of Americans who are expecting to be "raptured" up to heaven at any moment. There are millions of Americans who have these convictions.     Finally, at the other end of the spectrum of possession by the Apocalypse archetype are the apparently secular rationalistic environmentalists. I do not mean merely people who are concerned about the environment, I mean those whose behavior and way of life indicate that they are functioning out of a religious dimension of their libido. It is always the passionate intensity that reveals possession by an archetype. So, one does not even have to be consciously "religious" to be possessed by the sacred power of archetypal reality.     In addition to these collective manifestations of the Apocalypse archetype, we have individual manifestations which therapists are in a position to see all the time. When the imagery of the Apocalypse archetype comes up in analysis, it can be immediately recognized as part of the phenomenology of the individuation process: representing in an individual the emergence of the Self into conscious realization. And those four aspects that I mentioned earlier with regard to apocalyptic literature apply also to an individual manifestation: Revelation, Judgment, Destruction or Punishment, and a New World. Here, 1) "Revelation" has the psychological correlate of a shattering new insight accompanied by the flow of transpersonal images into consciousness. 2) "Judgment" is experienced in the form of an abrupt profound awareness of the shadow, which at times can be so overpowering that it can threaten complete demoralization. When someone is confronted with his dark and dubious nature that he has known only abstractly and intellectually, but then suddenly it comes into focus as living concrete reality--that is a big shock. 3) The theme of "Destruction or Punishment" is manifested as the individual's anxiety in the midst of this transformation ordeal. 4) Finally, the coming of a "New World" corresponds to the emergence of mandala and quaternity images within the psyche--as there begins to appear the possibility of a conscious relation to the Self and its wholeness. Introduction to the Book of Revelation The Apocalypse or Revelation to John, the final book of the Jewish-Christian Bible, is really an amalgamation of Jewish and Christian apocalyptic imagery and only semi-Christian; it is as though the basic imagery of this literary apocalypse--which derives from other Jewish apocalyptic material--has had "plastered" onto it the image of Christ. It makes repeated references, for instance, to the Old Testament prophecies of the "Great Day of Yahweh." But as the culmination of the Hebrew-Christian canon, it lays out the final scenario of the Christian aeon and describes symbolically the concluding events of the Judeo-Christian myth--a myth that has been the womb and the metaphysical container of Western civilization. So it is no small thing we are examining here.     An immense amount of scholarly work by biblical scholars has gone into the study of this text. Practically all of these scholars, however, have been contained in the myth itself: so they have been trying to understand their own mythological container. As a depth psychologist, I find it very interesting to observe how individuals come to intellectual terms with mythological texts in which they are still contained. There is, quite frankly, a lot of twisting and squirming; for the problem is a bit like that of fish trying to understand the properties of water--the medium by which they are surrounded. Yet it is not really possible to understand or to perceive the subject as an object until one is outside of it; one has to get outside of the container before that becomes possible.     In general, scholars have divided themselves into four main camps, holding four main views about how to understand Revelation. I will not discuss the matter in detail; but, most likely, what we have here is evidence of temperamental variations--typological variations among the scholars themselves. 1) One group holds what has been called a "preterist" interpretation--from the Latin word praeter , meaning "beyond or past." And, according to that view, the Book of Revelation is a picture of current events in the Roman Empire that were taking place or had just taken place in the recent past. Therefore, the contents are not prophetic at all; they put into symbolic form that which has already taken place, praeter . 2) The second viewpoint is called "historical." It interprets Revelation as a symbolic representation of the entire course of Church history leading up to the final consummation. 3) The third group is called the "futurist" interpretation. According to this view, the text of Revelation refers to events around the Return of Christ, coming sometime in the future. (4) Finally, we have the "idealistic" or symbolic viewpoint. This scholarly viewpoint considers the Book of Revelation to refer symbolically to the "conflict of good and evil" in any age, at any time, and is not specifically or literally historical. One could call this the Platonic view of Revelation.     Looking at the text psychologically, I would set up a somewhat different set of interpretative categories. We might see the text as a manifestation of the Apocalypse archetype--which can express itself in the Book of Revelation in different contexts that overlap and interpenetrate one another. To be more specific, I detect different strands of contextual reference running throughout the tapestry of this book. 1) One of the strands is a description of "past" concrete events in the sacred history of Israel--with the outstanding example being the Babylonian Exile in 586 B.C.E. That was a collective experience of an "Apocalypse" for Israel if ever there was one. And many of the Old Testament quotations embedded in Revelation refer to that incredible event that miraculously did not destroy the nation--it is indeed a miracle that Israel survived. 2) A second strand refers to "present" concrete events; and by present I mean first century C.E. This view corresponds to the "preterist" position which refers chiefly to the destruction of Israel and its temple in the year 70 C.E. by Rome and anticipates the Roman Empire's destruction by divine wrath. 3) A third strand would be a description of "future" concrete events--"End of the Age" events occurring, actually, in our own time. We, of course, are in a position to witness our own contemporary events and can see how a good bit of this imagery fits. Retrospectively, anyway, we can see that strand in the text. 4) Yet another level would be what I would call--to use a religious term--the "eschatological" strand; but to use a slightly more psychological term, we could also call it the "pleromatic" strand. By this I mean that the Book of Revelation refers also to events entirely outside of time that are taking place in the eternal or pleromatic realm of the psyche. In other words, they take place in the collective unconscious and do not necessarily even register at the level of ego consciousness. In fact, to the extent that it is pure archetype and does not descend or rise into incarnation, archetypal reality behaves in that fashion, as an eternal drama that is going on all the time. 5) Finally, the truly "psychological" strand is probably the most important category of all for our understanding of this text: namely, a symbolic expression of the coming of the Self into conscious realization in an individual psyche.     The Book of Revelation is undoubtedly based on a personal visionary experience. But, as I have indicated, it is just as obvious that the text--as we have it--has been influenced by other apocalyptic literature, frequently with direct quotations from that literature. The parallels with Ezekiel's vision are very striking; there are direct quotations from the Book of Daniel. In addition, the scholar R.H. Charles has pointed out at least twenty parallels (if not actual quotations) from the noncanonical Book of Enoch. It is evident that Revelation is a product of assimilation of one kind or another.     There are at least two possible ways to understand how this product may have come about; indeed, there may have been a mixture of the two. One possibility is that the original experience of one individual was taken up by others who edited and amplified it out of their knowledge of other literature. The other possibility is that the Book of Revelation may have been written--in the main, anyway--somewhat in the fashion that the alchemical treatise Aurora Consurgens was written. That is a work attributed by some to the medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas--published recently, with psychological commentary, by Marie-Louise von Franz. It is a treatise that integrates biblical imagery, especially the Song of Songs, with the alchemical process; yet it is evident from the way the text presents itself that there was no cool calm editor at work piecing things together. Instead, the Aurora Consurgens was composed out of the heat of a living experience, out of the mind of someone for whom the biblical imagery and quotations were such living presences that they became the apt expression of the experience he was having. This could quite possibly be the case with John. We have no way of knowing for certain, but we can feel confident that John's composition is an assimilation product. In addition to assimilating Jewish apocalyptic to the Christian world view, it even incorporates--as we shall see--a piece of classical Greek mythology.     I emphasize this matter of assimilation because it is an important one for psychology. Jung has said in Mysterium Coniunctionis: "Any renewal not deeply rooted in the best spiritual tradition is ephemeral." Therefore, Jungian psychologists know or ought to know that the analytic process must be related to the archetypal historical dimension behind the personal experiences of an analysand--if the analysis is to achieve its full depth and effectiveness. The net result of that kind of psychological work is also an assimilation product.     While the author of the Book of Revelation calls himself "John," his identity is not certain. J.M. Ford, in her Anchor Bible commentary, suggests that he is John the Baptist--not a very popular view but one that shows how far some biblicists can go. Traditionally, "John" is the Evangelist--a disciple of Jesus to whom is attributed the Gospel of John and at least the first and second Letters of John. Now, for our purposes, the "tradition" is a psychic fact. It posits the consensus omnium , so to speak; it is a statement of the collective psyche and, therefore, has to be taken as a psychic fact at least on one level. Here is what Jung has to say on the subject of the authorship of Revelation: One could hardly imagine a more suitable personality, for the John of the Apocalypse than the author of the Epistles of John. It was he who declared that God is light and that "in him is no darkness at all." ... The Father has bestowed his great love upon us.... He who is begotten by God commits no sin.... John then preaches the message of love. God himself is love; perfect love casteth out fear.... He talks as if he knew not only a sinless state but also a perfect love, unlike Paul, who was not lacking in the necessary self-reflection.... Under these circumstances a counterposition is bound to grow up in the unconscious, which can then irrupt into consciousness in the form of a revelation.... [which] compensates the one-sidedness of an individual consciousness. Jung is taking the position that the author of the Johannine Epistles is the same as the author of the Apocalypse--if not also of the Gospel--and is stating that the violence of the later visions compensates John's earlier one-sided conscious emphasis on light and goodness. That means John's personal psychology was one factor in the experience. But Jung goes on to say: Let us be psychologically correct, however: it is not the conscious mind of John that thinks up these fantasies, they come to him in a violent "revelation." ... he is a passionately religious person with an otherwise well-ordered psyche. But he must have an intensive relationship to God which lays him open to an invasion far transcending anything personal. The really religious person, in whom the capacity for an unusual extension of consciousness is inborn, must be prepared for such dangers. The purpose of the apocalyptic visions is not to tell John, as an ordinary human being, how much shadow he hides beneath his luminous nature, but to open the seer's eye to the immensity of God, for he who loves God will know God. We can say that just because John loved God and did his best to love his fellows also, this "gnosis," this knowledge of God, struck him. In psychological terms, we could say that John's visions opened up his eyes to the immensity of the collective unconscious. An understanding of his personal psychology, therefore, is totally inadequate for explaining the content nature of this imagery. Taken as a whole, the Book of Revelation is a symbolic representation of an encounter with the activated collective unconscious, out of which comes a manifestation of the Self--symbolized in the final chapter of the text by the "New Jerusalem." Since the Self is manifesting itself again in an emphatic way today, it is not surprising that modern dreams often have imagery that is strikingly parallel to that found in the Apocalypse of John.     Now, the word "apocalypse" has come to mean more than the "revelation of things secret." It has come to mean catastrophe. Indeed, a "grand final catastrophe" is now a deeply-ingrained part of the usage of that word. And I think that is the correct and appropriate way of seeing it in all collective manifestations of the archetype; because collective manifestations of the archetype are by definition unconscious manifestations of the archetype acted out concretely. When this archetype is experienced by the individual, however, it is not always by any means experienced in the form of catastrophe. To be sure, the coming of the Self is always an upheaval; but this feature is often overshadowed by its positive consequence--the coming of an enlargement of the personality and the emerging relation to the transpersonal level of the psyche. Considering an individual's experience of the archetype, the "Apocalypse" bodes catastrophe only for the stubbornly rationalistic, secular ego that refuses to grant the existence of a greater psychic authority than itself. Since it cannot bend, it has to break. Thus, "end-of the-world dreams" (invasion from outer space, nuclear bombs) do not necessarily presage psychic catastrophe for the dreamer but may, if properly understood, refer to the coming into visibility of manifestations of the Self--the nucleus of the psyche--and present the opportunity for an enlargement of personality.     Jung is saying something similar in Mysterium Coniunctionis, referring to the image of an earthquake in an alchemical text: "This image tells us that the widening of consciousness is at first upheaval and darkness, then a broadening out of man to the whole man." He speaks in the same regard in his essay Concerning Rebirth where we find a quite important statement which I discuss in Ego and Archetype . Jung writes: When the summit of life is reached, when the bud unfolds and from the lesser the greater emerges, then, as Nietzsche says, "One becomes Two," and the greater figure, which one always was but which remained invisible, appears to the lesser personality with the force of a revelation. He who is truly and hopelessly little will always drag the revelation of the greater down to the level of his littleness, and will never understand that the day of judgment for his littleness has dawned. But the man who is inwardly great will know that the long expected friend of his soul, the immortal one, has now really come, "to lead captivity captive"; that is, to seize hold of him by whom this immortal had always been confined and held prisoner, and to make his life flow into that greater life--a moment of deadliest peril! The point is that if we understand the image of the "Apocalypse" --when we see it in its manifestation, both inner and outer--we do not have to be overcome by it or possessed by it. It is awesome, to be sure, but it is humanized by being understood. In my opinion, as our world sinks more and more into possession by this archetype, nothing is more important than the existence of a certain number of individuals who understand what is going on. Copyright © 1999 Dianne Cordic. All rights reserved.