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Native American Traditions, Depth Psychology, and Postcolonial Theory

REVIEW ESSAY published in the Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature, and Culture; Mar. 2013

Vine Deloria, Jr., C. G. Jung and the Sioux Traditions: Dreams, Visions, Nature, and the Primitive. Eds. Philip J. Deloria and Jerome S. Bernstein (New Orleans: Spring, 2009), xvii + 226 pp., $25.95 (pbk), ISBN: 978-1-882670-61-1.

Bernstein, Jerome S. and Nancy Cater, eds. 2012. ‘Native American Cultures and the Western Psyche: A Bridge Between’, Spring Vol. 87, 268 pp., $25.95 (pbk), ISBN: 978-1-935528-39-5.

Depth psychologists have long speculated that a strong parallel exists between Native traditions and Jungian theory. Yet, this connection has been largely derogated as romantic essentialism at best and noble savage nonsense at worst. Such criticism has led to a diminishing and outright rejection of indigenous and Jungian theories in the eyes of many contemporary academics. Thanks to C. G. Jung and the Sioux Traditions: Dreams, Visions, Nature, and the Primitive, however, this linkage between Native belief systems and Jung’s concepts has been reexamined by Lakota scholar Vine Deloria, Jr. (b. 1933 d. 2005). Deloria’s book adds gravitas to the notions that Native healers were the original psychotherapists and that non-Indians have much to gain by studying the ways that American Indians relate to the universe. Moreover, to support this connection between depth psychology and Native American traditions, non-Native psychoanalyst Jerome S. Bernstein guest edited a special edition of the Jungian journal Spring entitled ‘Native American Cultures and the Western Psyche: A Bridge Between’, which features essays responding to Deloria’s book by Native Americans Joseph B. Stone, Jeff King, Jeanne A. Lacourt, Frank Morgan, Johnson Dennison, Eduardo Duran, and Catherine Swan Reimer. Their diverse responses demonstrate the difficulty in attempting to describe a collective Native American perspective.
     Although Jung and the Sioux was published posthumously, editors Philip J. Deloria, the author’s son, and Bernstein, who has spent over three decades working with Navajo people, strove to ensure that they remained true to the elder Deloria’s ideas. To that end, they each provided separate but complementary forewords. The younger Deloria noted in his how ‘deeply disturbed’ his father was by the apparent ubiquity of European colonialist legacies and how difficult it was for him to square ‘his appreciation for Jung’s cosmology with Jung’s culturally-inflected discourse’ (2009: iii). Indeed, Deloria, Jr. spent a considerable amount of time and thought on Jung’s Eurocentric concepts about ‘primitives’, ultimately choosing to use the terms ‘negative primitive’ and ‘positive primitive’ in an attempt to resolve the psychologist’s often contradictory positions. For his part, Bernstein conceded ‘Jung’s tendency to lump together all indigenous groups because he thought of them as more or less having the same “primitive” psyche’ (2009: xii). It seems that although Jung did eventually meet with Taos Pueblo Indians in New Mexico and discussed their concepts, he primarily analyzed American Indian lifeways based on understandings gained during his visits with African tribal members. The folly of Jung’s universalizing of indigenous traditions has been well documented here.
     Deloria saw Westerners through the eyes of one whose culture by most accounts was manipulated, exploited, and destroyed by Eurocentric colonialism, which enabled him to comprehend the meaning of displacement and alienation. It also allowed him to grasp the paradoxical quality of Western culture, which has succeeded on the ability of its collective consciousness to ‘achieve masterfully’, while at the same time it has generally failed to appreciate ‘nature as a source of spiritual and psychological life’ (2009: 2). Because of this, he believed that the Sioux and other Indian cultures contained certain understandings that could help both Natives and non-Natives reevaluate and restore this deficiency. For one, Deloria believed that, like nature, the Sioux worldview was ‘holistic’ (2009: 7). Unlike Westerners, ‘the Sioux did not separate their thoughts into categories and disciplines. Everything was practical, economic, political, and religious all at once. Indeed, they had a word to describe this totality, wounicage, which simply meant “our way of doing things”’ (2009: 7). Because of this unique way of perceiving, Deloria believed that Westerners could gain much by studying Native peoples. This book provides a valuable resource for those trying to get this idea across to a contemporary audience that is resistant to any criticism of a ‘left-brain-dominant, rationalist mainstream intellectual culture [and] that has little time for those aspects of the cultural psyche in need of vision, and ceremony, and dream’, according to Lakota scholar Thomas C. Gannon (2010). It is precisely this evaluation that has made Jung and Deloria an especially appropriate combination: for one reason or another, both of them hover as outsiders on the margins of mainstream academia.
     The broadest agreement with Deloria among the various respondents in ‘Native American Cultures and the Western Psyche: A Bridge Between’ regarded his discussion of Jungian dream theory and the importance of dreams and visions to many tribes in addition to the Sioux. In his review of Jung and the Sioux, Southern Piegan Joseph B. Stone confirmed Deloria’s insistence upon the power of dreams and their interpretation in saying, ‘I encourage everyone to dream and to think about and interpret those dreams in the hopes that guidance and vision will emerge from that process’ (2012: 33). Clinical psychologist Duran found that when he had tried in the past to use behavioral and cognitive therapies with his patients, many had ‘insisted on talking about their dreams’, which is precisely what Jungian therapy is all about (2012: 126). Even so, Duran saw ‘a critical difference in the way Native people approach dreams’ (2012: 127). From a Native perspective, dreams are ‘gifts from the spirit world [Wakan Tanka] and proper etiquette is required when relating to these energies’ (2012: 128). Likewise, Navajo cultural translator Frank Morgan found dreams to be ‘another source of diagnostic information’ that he used in much the same way as depth psychologists (2012: 158). For his part, Deloria devoted the last chapter of Jung and the Sioux to ‘Dreams and Prophecies’, in which he noted the ubiquity of dreams and their interpretations ‘across historical time and across a range of cultures’ (2009: 167). This is not to say that Deloria completely agreed with Jung’s take on dreams. Especially troublesome for him was Jung’s insistence on the universality of the archetypes and their elevated role in dream interpretation.

The ‘Primitive’ Problem

However much he found to admire in Jung’s work, Deloria was disturbed by Jung’s often Eurocentric concepts and language, particularly his shifting use of ‘primitive’. For Deloria, this contradictoriness was encapsulated within a single cited sentence: ‘“The Red Indian has great qualities despite the fact that he is a primitive”’, which Deloria said formed ‘a consistent thread in Jung’s thought’ (2009: 22). On the one hand, Jung was saying that by emulating Indian values, Americans would develop ‘great qualities’. But at the same time, Jung was voicing the need to remember that the ‘Red Indian’ belonged to an inferior culture. Such a contradiction challenged many in addition to Deloria; for how does one explain the existence of ‘great qualities’ in people who have ‘not moved up the cultural evolutionary incline?’ (2012: 22). It was a question Jung never answered.
     In his attempt to resolve the above quandary, Deloria postulated the existence of a ‘negative primitive’ and a ‘positive primitive’ and blamed Jung’s uncritical acceptance of French anthropologist Lucien Lévy-Bruhl’s arguments in How Natives Think (1910) for the paradox that arose from the two concepts. Accordingly, Deloria associated the ‘negative primitive’ with the ‘detrimental, derogatory, or condescending views that Jung expressed about primitives’ (2009: 34). Engaging Lévy-Bruhl, Jung asserted that the ‘primitive’ was developmentally and psychologically deficient in three major areas: 1) ‘the use and availability of functions of perception, thinking, feeling, sensation and intuition’; 2) ‘the relative degree of, or ratio between, consciousness and unconsciousness’; and 3) ‘the development and exercise of will’ (Deloria 2009: 38). Such perceived inadequacies led many who considered themselves ‘modern’ and ‘civilized’ to regard ‘primitives’ not only as lesser people, but as ‘subhuman organisms for which one can have only abhorrence and pity’ (2009: 38). Jung’s negative portrayals of indigenous peoples were possible, Deloria said, because they predominated in Jung’s contemporary culture, and ‘surely contributed to the often-horrific treatment of humans designated “primitive”’ (2009: 38). Such treatment was mutually supported by the common Western stereotype of ‘primitive’ inferiority.
     Although some Jung apologists have responded to the criticism of his use of ‘primitive’ to describe native peoples by insisting that he really meant ‘primordial’, Deloria astutely commented, ‘If Jung meant primordial, he should have always said primordial. He did not, and as a result, many of his readers have themselves applied the ideas associated with the primitive unconscious to the lives and behaviors of living tribal peoples, an application that can often lead to unpleasant results’ (2009: 60). It has been found, for example, that negative stereotyping contributes adversely to Native self-esteem, just as positive stereotyping or romanticizing does.
     Moreover, Jung’s inability ‘to articulate a systematic conception of the primitive pose[d] the same problems for describing a “positive” primitive as it did for assessing the “negative” consequences of the concept’, according to Deloria (2009: 47). Utilizing Lévy-Bruhl’s notion of participation mystique, which Jung thought allowed ‘primitives’ to experience the sense of community needed for survival in hostile settings, Jung postulated that ‘primitive man’ was unable to distinguish between subject and object. Deloria countered, however, that ‘far from being hampered by participation mystique, the “primitive” [was] able to achieve individuality by remaining a part of the group and simply being him or herself’ (2009: 48). In this way, rather than being defective because of an incapability to separate from the collective, primordial awareness of the world may be substantially better than that of civilized humans. By perceiving oneself as both a part of and distinct from the environment, one is arguably more cognizant of the need to care for it and treat it ethically, even if only for selfish reasons. Indeed, such a decentering of ego experienced by many indigenous groups—what Bernstein called the ‘borderland’ (2003)—has been proposed as a therapeutic means of ameliorating the biases that often occur from solely subjective or objective perspectives. Problems arise, however, when ‘positive primitive’ attributes like environmental interconnectedness are romanticized and exploited, particularly by non-Natives, as occurred beginning in the 1970s and extending through today with phenomena like the New Age Movement.
     The bonding between nature and community that Lévy-Bruhl and Jung called participation mystique is a concept that aligns with the Sioux Wakan Tanka—‘a word that defies easy definition but reflects the “great mysterious”’, which, according to Deloria, ‘is in everything, so that there was no doubt that humans shared certain elements with all other creatures’ (2009: 14). Deloria insisted that to understand the strong kinship Jungian psychology has with Sioux tradition, one must recognize in the ‘great mysterious’ a ‘fundamental reality’ in the Sioux world (2009: 184). Wakan Tanka is characterized as a strange kind of personal energy found in stars, humans, stones, and quantum energy fields. It is ‘mysterious, and so potent and varied that it is useless to explore all the possible ways to define it’ (2009: 184). Traditional Sioux live in a world ‘sustained by this power, [which] is ultimately spiritual and not physical. Here we have the opportunity to unite psychology and religion with the energy fields of quantum physics’ (2009: 184). In this way Wakan Tanka reflects both Jung’s concept of the collective unconscious and the neoplatonic notion of the all-encompassing anima mundi, or world soul, which it more closely resembles than the monotheistic concept of a transcendent God.

Obstacles Thwarting the Western-Native Bridge

Deloria is not alone in the above assessment; other Native Americans have made similar comparisons between Western psychology and their respective traditions, as demonstrated in ‘Native American Cultures and the Western Psyche: A Bridge Between’ (2012). Like Deloria, all seven essayists commented on the permanent wounds inflicted upon their peoples by the dominating Western colonizers and how their respective traditions are attempting to come to terms with the resultant cross-generational trauma by utilizing to varying degrees a blend of Indian healing with Western therapy. On the other hand, their responses to other topics raised by Deloria highlighted discrepancies among their viewpoints that defy essentializing.
     Part of the difficulty in describing a collective Native American perspective is that there exist ‘several hundred distinct tribal communities in North America’, according to Duran, who said this means that ‘there is no single essential Native perspective’ (2012: 126). Indeed, the Spring essayists identified with Blackfeet, Muscogee Creek, Menominee, Navajo, and Inupiat communities, showing a geographic diversity at the very least. Moreover, many described the varying degrees of ‘westernization’ they have assumed as a result of colonialist practices like forced removal to boarding schools and missionization. In his essay, ‘Experiences in Navajo Healing’, Morgan concluded with the assertion that as a result of compulsory Western acculturation, he felt balanced only when he lives ‘80 per cent of [his] being in the Navajo mindset and 20 per cent in the Western mindset’ (2012: 163). Here Morgan indicated a fluidity of Native identity, particularly in the postcolonial era.
     The effects of missionization may be seen, for example, in the narrative of Inupiat Eskimo Catherine Swan Reimer, a voluntary Christian convert. Reimer’s essay thus approached the Western-Native polemic from the perspective of a Native Christian. For many of the Inupiat of Alaska, according to Reimer, conversion to Christianity became imperative in order to counter the alleged malevolence of the traditional shamans, who were demonized by an influx of missionaries during the 19th and 20th centuries. Reimer insisted, however, that conversion did not mean abdication of ‘the old ways’ (2012: 179). Rather,

Christianity could be embraced because the Inupiat were already practicing Christian principles such as humility, love of neighbor, kindness, hospitality, generosity, sharing, respect, and belief in a Creator. Adding Jesus to their prayer life gave the Inupiat the ‘Power’ to leave the heavy burdens that the shamans had put on them and to defy their power (2012: 179).

Reimer’s language above intrigues in part because she distanced herself from the Inupiat by referring to them with the pronouns ‘them’ and ‘their’ rather than ‘us’ and ‘our’. Additionally, her expressed opinion counters virtually all accounts by non-Christians—Indians and non-Indians alike—that portray how devastating colonialism in general and missionization in particular were for Native cultures. Indeed, Reimer’s fellow essayist Morgan spoke of how he observed his elders taking great care to protect their sacred practices from meddling by ‘the dominant culture and Christian missionaries’ (2012: 157). Nevertheless, Reimer’s perspective points to the possibility of a Christian-Native continuum, at least among Native peoples.
     A difference in viewpoints may be found as well in the essayists’ discussions of Jung’s theory of synchronicity—the unexplained coincidence of seemingly random occurrences. In his review of Jung and the Sioux that follows Bernstein’s Introduction (2012), Stone found much concurrence with Deloria, who saw in synchronicity ‘the phenomenon of interconnection and interrelatedness caused by the ancient spirits who protect, guide, and inspire us’ (2012: 22). Conversely, Reimer found Jung’s idea of synchronicity to be inconsistent with the Native worldview because it is ‘totally opposed to that of causality’ (2012: 184). Although this discrepancy could be interpreted as a lack of consensus among Native Americans regarding Jungian concepts, it should be noted that Reimer’s comments indicate a possible misunderstanding of synchronicity that was not corrected by the editors, who chose to withhold editing the book’s essays so that the reader could take ‘the material presented in the form that it is presented’ (2012: 11). Reimer’s disagreement regarding synchronicity could also reflect a Christian bias on her part as described above. For her, synchronicity involves divine causality, an attribute that is avoided in Jungian theory but apparently posed no problem for Stone above.
     Stone additionally agreed with Deloria that what Jungians think of as the ‘collective unconscious’ is simply ‘nature’—both inner and outer—leading Stone to conclude that these concepts are neither ‘primitive’ nor ‘modern’; they ‘just are’ (2012: 26). Like Deloria, he noted a correspondence between Jung’s idea of the collective unconscious and the Sioux notion of Wakan Tanka, the mysterious ‘spiritual energy that conceptually and objectively unifies everything’ (2012: 28). This correspondence was also observed by Muscogee Creek Jeff King, who confirmed that North American Indian worldviews, however ‘varied in structure and function from tribe to tribe, are similar in the basic assumption that humans are not superior over, but rather co-participants with the natural world’ (2012: 38).
     Similarly, Navajo Johnson Dennison learned while traveling with a medicine man for a year that humans are so much part of nature that a human-nature imbalance can cause illness, which may be corrected by medicine men/women who ‘re-connect the human spirit with the spirits of nature’ (2012: 169). For Menominee Jeanne A. Lacourt, such interaction with the environment is deeply rooted and compels her to return regularly to her home on the reservation, which sustains her ‘spiritually and psychologically’ because she is able to relink to her ‘past, to a people, and to a land with which [she] maintain[s] an intimate relationship’ (2012: 62). The parallelism among the above Native commenters regarding their respective senses of place attachment indicates that this cosmic interconnectivity is not merely a stereotype that essentializes indigenous beliefs but an element of what may be understood as a collective ethos among many Native North American traditions. It also further distinguishes them from non-Native Americans, whom Jung often characterized as comparatively rootless and disconnected from nature (e.g. 1964: 85).
     Deloria additionally saw Jung’s concept of individuation as a process of growth that was comparable in some ways to the American Indian vision quest. For both the Sioux and Jung, Deloria said, ‘“the voice” stands as that mysterious call we hear that urges us toward greater spiritual depth’ (2009: 154). Hearing a voice was considered a critical event that initiated the process of communicating with the spirits, or vision questing. Deloria similarly interpreted Jung’s ‘call to have a vocation’ as acknowledging the responsibility to ‘reach full psychological and emotional maturity’ (2009: 154). Here Deloria likened the tribal initiation ‘call’ to Jung’s individuation ‘call’, both of which, if followed, would lead to greater self-awareness. The difference, Deloria believed, is that for the Sioux, the call is to ceremony and community—most frequently the vision quest—whereas the Jungian call is to the individual psyche. This divergence between Indian vision questing and individuation perhaps formed Deloria’s greatest disagreement with Jungian psychology, which he read as the Western privileging of individualism, versus the Lakota/Sioux emphasis on the collective. Like Deloria, Duran saw some aspects of the development of the Indian psyche, or what he called ‘earth awareness’, as harmonious with individuation theory (2012: 138). At the same time, Duran concurred with Deloria in seeing elemental differences between the Western and Native worlds regarding their ritual and ceremonial practice, which for Indians promote communitas as opposed to individualism.
     Another place of divergence from Jung for Deloria was the differing religious perspectives of the two cultures. In contrast with Lakota respect for all life, Deloria saw Western civilization’s ‘tenaciously held belief that only humans matter in the scheme of things [as its] most extravagant pretense’ (2009: 99). For the orthodox followers of the Abrahamic traditions, humans are created last after all other creatures and are awarded the privilege of naming, thereby acquiring ascendancy over all other beings. The claim to naming endowed Westerners with a certain power in relation to the rest of creation, Deloria believed, providing evidence for the charge of anthropocentrism made against Christian traditions and noted by many critics (e. g., White 1967).
      Additionally, Deloria observed that Western literature and myth unfortunately contain no stories about ancestors living in a state of wildness: in Genesis, man and woman are carefully isolated in a garden where they have little interaction with other forms of life. As a result, humans are created to live an ‘institutional’ life and are awarded control over their environment. Thus commences Western history. It may be argued that, as a trained Episcopalian theologist, Deloria applied a theological hermeneutics to the Bible that may have prevented his making other, less literal interpretations of it. Even so, his assessment that Westerners, by virtue of their dominant religion, lack a narrative or creation myth that adequately explains the cosmos has been pointed out by many others. This lack of a guiding story has enabled Westerners to envision animals and other beings not ‘as helpers but as slaves or competitors’, even though they share a common fate with humans (2009: 99). Consequently, a fundamental separation is established between humanity and other creatures from the very beginning. For Deloria, the Fall represented Christian alienation from the earth, a point that has been noted by others as well. Deloria claimed that this estrangement made it easier for non-Indians to mistreat their environment, including the nonhuman inhabitants.
     Deloria additionally blamed the Western, Eurocentric worldview for the denigration of animism, which allowed theologians—who have often misinterpreted American Indian attitudes toward animals as worship—to contribute to the assumption that humans are superior to animals. Deloria countered this attitude in saying, ‘Recognition of the parity of other creatures in terms of psychological and spiritual capability was the hallmark of the Sioux understanding of other living things’ (2009: 189). For the Sioux, this relationship with animals meant the assumption of humbleness when encountering an aspect of nature that they did not recognize. In personifying animals this way, Native people speak to them and believe that they speak back. The animals are thus seen as persons, arguably leading to their being treated more humanely. In contrast, Jung’s assessment of animals reflected ‘the science of his day, when animals were believed to have no mind, few feelings, and were guided primarily by a mysterious undefined force known as instinct’ (2009: 188). Today’s ethologists conversely understand that other creatures experience an emotional life not unlike humans.

The Postcolonial Paradox

In further condemning non-Indian exploitation of Indians, Deloria criticized the ‘unfortunate tendency of Western scholars to reinforce pre-existing worldviews’ (2009: 183). He was appalled that many non-Native scholars had ‘incorporated evidence and anecdotes from the experiences of primitive peoples into their own frameworks, and then cited such evidence as additional proof of the universality of their own beliefs’ (2009: 183). However, is not such essentializing precisely what he himself has done here? For, although Deloria critiqued Jung’s essentialized, Eurocentric interpretation of the archetypes, it does not require a stretch of the imagination to see Jung and Deloria as ‘major bastions of modernist essentialism’, which is why neither seems to be held in much regard by postcolonial theorists (Gannon 2010). Deloria’s essentialism is particularly evidenced in his ‘implicit and explicit adoption of the oppositional binary of Western and Native worldviews’, which is omnipresent throughout his oeuvre, according to Gannon (2010). The irony is that this approach exemplifies the same dualism that Deloria criticized as axiomatic to Western philosophy and theology.
     Deloria’s quandary illustrates an essential problem with postcolonial theory: the difficulty if not impossibility of discussing cultural traditions without resorting to some sort of essentializing. In fact, ‘The critique of essentialism in cultural analysis is the critique of nothing’, according to self-proclaimed anti-anti-essentialist Maximilian Forte, who professed to be unconvinced that essentialism—‘the notion, in anthropology, that a culture or ethnicity consists of fixed traits, is unchanging, without variation, and endures perhaps above or below history’—is analytically flawed (2007). Essentialism is, in fact, inevitable: ‘it is the firmament’ (2007). In other words, like it or not, essentialism—to one degree or another—exists; thus it may as well be put to good use, which Forte attempted by positing an essentialist comprehension of indigenous identity that focused on ‘surviving cultural traits [—] those practices and customs, objects and ideas, that have survived colonialism with little or no change’ (2007, italics original). In his view, indigenous culture under the essentialist lens remains unfixed and constantly evolving.
     In Native American Religious Identity: Forgotten Gods, Cherokee scholar Jace Weaver took on the essentialism problem by arguing for ‘a strategic essentialism’—a term borrowed from Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (1993)—that operates on two levels: 1) to ascertain and expand the political interests of native communities, and 2) to recognize the communal dimension integral to indigenous selfhood, as contrasting with the disconnective individualism of ‘Western cultures’ (1998c: x-xi). Like ‘Native American Cultures and the Western Psyche’, Weaver’s book is a collection of essays by indigenous authors representing a variety of perspectives, including some who identify with Christian traditions primarily, some who identify with both Christian and Native traditions, and some who identify only with Native traditions and believe that Christianized Native traditions further the racist hegemony of Western culture. Despite such diverse perspectives, however, strategic essentialism provides a unifying means for understanding the variety of voices represented in Weaver’s book and, I suggest, in ‘Native American Cultures and the Western Psyche’ as well.
     As a central concept in postcolonial theory, which denotes ‘a general process of decolonization’ (Hall 1996: 246), strategic essentialism refers to a method that allows otherwise discrete ethnic or minority groups to present themselves in solidarity for political benefits. By banding together temporarily for a common cause, they ‘essentialize’ themselves, allowing them to accentuate their group identity in order to realize their objectives. Although essentializing terms such as ‘indigenous’ or ‘Native American’ may result in problematic and unstable alliances that mask important differences and distinctions, these self-identifications are seen by some postcolonialists as supporting crucial political goals. For this reason, terms like these are considered imperative for establishing otherwise ‘invisible’ groups. After all, there is power in numbers, as the American Indian Movement that began in the early ’70s clearly demonstrated (Deloria and Lytle 1984). Moreover, what might be condemned as romantic stereotyping of the ecologically noble savage when produced by a nonnative becomes power-building when performed by a cultural collective. Nonetheless, strategic essentialism has been criticized by anti-essentialists as merely a theoretical justification for subversive political activism based on essentialism.
On the other hand, anti-essentialism has been critiqued for ‘essentializing essentialism’ by creating a milieu in which all types of essentialism are treated as equally odious (Schor 1994). For this reason, Naomi Schor argued to ‘de-essentialize essentialism’ (1994: 43). For, there seems to be ‘no essence to essentialism’—historically, philosophically, psychologically, and politically, ‘we can speak only of essentialisms’, as Diana Fuss insisted (1989: xii). If Forte, Schor, and Fuss are correct, then might ‘essentialism’ merely be a fancy word for what humans have been doing for eons: comparing-contrasting? Has this not always been a primary means of understanding environmental variances or, for that matter, any differences? Essentialism is, after all, ‘the firmament’, as Forte noted above.
By abjuring all essentialisms, anti-essentialists arguably throw the ‘baby’—essentialism —out with the ‘bathwater’—the patriarchal, colonialist, Eurocentric mentality that pervaded modernism. An unintended consequence of this reactionary stance is, ironically, a reinforcement of the very dualism that anti-essentialism purports to eschew. If, however, essentialism can be thought of as existing on a continuum, then strategic essentialism exists somewhere between the poles of ‘all’ and ‘none’, allowing for a multiplicity of essentialisms and, in a sense, ‘de-essentializes’ it. Otherwise, the only type of scholarly discourse possible regarding indigenous traditions is the case study.
     Moreover, the acknowledgment of cultural biases or perspectives—a practice advocated by some postmodern scholars such as Margery Wolf (1999) and Michael E. Zimmerman (1994) —would seem to de-essentialize them. In revealing their ethnic and religious affiliations, the essayists in ‘Native American Cultures and Western Psyche’ conceded their particular viewpoints, creating a continuum among their cohorts between the binary opposition of Western-Native. Whereas Morgan above might spend 80 per cent of his time within a Navajo framework, for others of different traditions it may be more or perhaps less time spent within their Native cultural contexts. To the extent that they identify collectively as ‘Native Americans’, however, they may be understood to be engaging in strategic essentialism, which is arguably required—indeed, essential—if they are ever to gain parity with the dominant culture.

The Emergence of a New, Ecological Psychology

Deloria’s solution to the Western-Native binary advocated a ‘new psychology’—a fresh, syncretic worldview—that cohered with the best of depth psychology and Lakota traditionalism and that might remediate an off kilter techno-industrial world. In particular, Deloria found problematic the Jungian theory that numinous experiences are merely ‘psychic projections of the unconscious’ (2009: 61). Rather than visions emanating from within, Deloria viewed encounters with the divine as external and spontaneously produced materials that often foretold the future and caused changes in plant and animal behavior. In fact, ‘an American Indian critique would suggest instead that it is the outside world that changes’ (2009: 61, italics added). Deloria complained that Jung’s pejorative notion of projection, inherited from Lévy-Bruhl, ‘never adequately explained why a human being, living in a wholly subjective world, would or could objectify the world and eliminate his [or her] intimate subjective apprehension of it’ (2009: 190). Deloria therefore called for a ‘new psychology’ that took the possibility of a simultaneous subjective-objective perspective into consideration, rather than forcing it into ‘frames of symbolic analysis inherited from the last century, which have already demonstrated their inability to capture fully the human experience of animals and the world’ (2009: 190).
     In his essay noted above, King iterated Deloria’s call for a ‘new psychology’ as well, advising that Western science and psychology must reassess their inherent worldviews for the elements within them that harm Natives and non-Natives alike (2012: 56). Above all, non-Natives need to examine their notion of superiority over other epistemologies, King believed. Such reflection could ‘open new avenues of communication that can occur on mutual ground, with mutual respect’ (2012: 56). In so doing, an ‘environment for shared knowledge’ could be created that would serve to extend acceptance of ‘the Wakan of the healing process’ (2012: 56). King speaks to the need for improved communication between Native and non-Native Americans, through which all may benefit.
     As a Native shamanic counselor with a Western doctorate in psychology, Leslie Gray, of Oneida, Powhatan, and Seminole heritage, has found just such a way to bridge the Western-Native gap: ecopsychology (1995). Ecopsychological theory offers a meeting ground by espousing a bonding with nature via apprehension of the anima mundi—something akin to Jung’s concept of a collective unconscious, as noted above. It also may be discovered in what Bernstein dubbed ‘the Borderland personality’, which denotes a new ‘consciousness’ that is ‘co-emergent with the Western psyche’s reconnection with its deep roots in nature, from which it was cleaved’ (2009: fn p. 189; 2003).
Indeed, just such a ‘new psychology’ is precisely what post-Jungian ecopsychologist James Hillman attempted in his life’s work. Hillman (2002, 2004, 2006), along with fellow environmental philosophers Theodore S. Roszak (1995, 1992), and Paul Shepard (1982, 1995), have outlined their ideas for a new psychology that enables a rejoining of humans with nature through ecopsychological practice.      Ecopsychology posits psyche as embedded within a greater intelligence once known as the anima mundi, which Hillman imagined as ‘neither above the world encircling it as a divine and remote emanation of spirit … nor within the material world as its unifying pan-psychic life principle’ (2006: 33). In other words, the anima mundi has nothing to do with the monotheistic concept of a transcendent God. Hillman rather saw the anima mundi as ‘that particular soul-spark, that seminal image, which offers itself through each thing in its visible form’ (33). When understood this way, anima mundi ‘indicates the animated possibilities presented by each event as it is, its sensuous presentation as a face bespeaking its interior image—in short, its availability to imagination’ (33). A concept whose definition is open, fluid, and extends beyond the romantic vision of ensoulment, anima mundi is, in other words, everywhere and everything.
     Roszak claimed that the anima mundi represented one of the most ancient experiences of humankind: the spontaneous sense of dread and wonder primordial humans ‘once felt in the presence of the Earth’s majestic power’ (1992: 137). It may thus be likened to a sense of the numinous or sublime and the Sioux notion of Wakan Tanka, as noted above. However, rather than a ‘projection’ of inner sensation onto outer nature, as Jung would have it, experience of the numinous signifies recognition of the inherent ‘soul-spark’ in all things. Whereas the goal of psychotherapy in the past has been primarily to recover the repressed contents of the unconscious, ecopsychology strives, according to Roszak, to reawaken that soul-spark—the innate sense of environmental reciprocity that exists within what he dubbed the ‘ecological unconscious’ (1992). This means that in addition to healing interpersonal alienation—as psychoanalysis attempts—ecopsychology endeavors to repair the more original estrangement between individuals and nature. Such rapprochement will be achieved by restoring in Western adults the intrinsic animism once experienced by all children and, arguably, all primordial humans. Shepard (1982) believed that balance and connectedness are experienced both individually and collectively when ontogeny—the development of the individual—aligns with phylogeny—the development of the group. For this reason, he postulated that Native environmental ethics derived from an ontogeny of the individual that inculcated an ethical way of life—something that often seems lacking in Western culture. In this view, individual maturity involves sensing one’s moral responsibility toward the planet as vividly as that to other people, and in so doing, weaving that conscientiousness into the fabric of social relations and political decisions. Accordingly, an examination is warranted of the traditional healing techniques that serve to restore moral responsibility and identity in primary peoples.
In laying out his proposal for an ecological psychology that might ‘heal the split’, as Jung called it, between Westerners and the environment, Hillman unabashedly criticized his own field of psychology, which by virtue of its relegation to the sciences, suffered the imposition of a reductive rationalism. Because of its anti-nonrational inheritance from science, psychology was viewed by Hillman as contributory to our ecocrisis: in its subjection to scientific rationalism, psychology became anthropocentric. By defining consciousness as a solely human attribute, for instance, modern psychology consigned anything non-human to unconsciousness. In addition, psychology continued to imagine the self ‘like a pineal gland, a self-enclosed atomistic unit, neither inherently or necessarily communal’ (2006: 211). The planet thus became an ‘essentially nihilistic place into which individuals were tossed, estranged and anomic’ (2006: 211). Of course, here Hillman engaged in the same dualism that he also critiqued. However, might utilizing paradox to explain the concept of paradox perhaps have been a strategic essentializing in order to illustrate imagistically the syzygy he understood as personal transformation? Accordingly, he theorized that embodied oppositions functioned to enable the re-valuation of ‘the antithetical mode of thinking [—] a Siamese-twin mode of insight’ (2005: 103). This means that

One is always never-only-one, always inseparably bound in a syzygy, insighting from a member of a pair. Within these tandems we become able to reflect insight itself, to regard our own regard. Each insight supposes a perspective from which it is seen: whatever appears to me as inferior and weak is viewed from the twin of superiority and strength (2005: 103).

In the above Hillman used paradox as a rhetorical trope to explain the paradoxical dynamics of archetypal images. Thus, Hillman’s rhetoric works to express metaphorically the concept of paradox: oxymoronic reversals such as ‘always never’ and repetition of ‘twin’ serve to demonstrate figuratively the transformative duality of these motifs. In so doing, he provides us with examples that instruct us in how to see things from opposing perspectives at once, a skill that seems innate in oral cultures but must be learned in contemporary Western society. For that reason, Hillman promulgated an ecological psychology that bridges the nonrational as well as rational, placing both on a continuum rather than all-or-nothing binary.

Toward a Reconciliation

Despite the problems he saw in Jung’s theories, Deloria believed that Jung ultimately understood one of the many paradoxes of life: that for all its virtues, civilization ‘also came with its curses, and that the remedy at hand was an intimate relationship with the natural world—in other words, living in some measure the psychological life of the primitive’ (2009: 62). This thought was reiterated by Deloria’s son, Philip, who viewed the non-Native fascination with indigenous traditions as ‘a longing for the utopian experience of being in-between, of living a paradoxical moment’ (1998: 185). In the same way, adoption/adaption of a native ethos is not about playing Indian or deifying ‘savages’; it is rather about revisioning the native ethos as an ecoethical narrative of place that allows non-Natives an indigenous perspective that is experienced as healing. This perspective on non-Native appropriation of Native traditions demonstrates that although ‘Indian play has been an invasion of the realities of native people, it has been an intercultural meeting ground upon which Indians and non-Indians have created new identities, not only for white Americans, but for Indians themselves’ (P. Deloria 1998: 188). Deloria refers here to the potential benefits for both groups when they can meet on common ground and strategically essentialize their goals.
     Accordingly, Jung’s notion of a ‘healing primitive nature’ could be understood as a racist example of the ‘negative primitive’, but it also has informed part of a wider twentieth-century appreciation of indigenous traditions—the ‘positive primitive’—that endures today in spite of being disparaged by many scholars (Deloria 2009: 62-63). From this standpoint, Jung’s sketching of a ‘positive primitive’ has enabled the comprehension that the final goal of individuation and therapy is to attain the kind of psychological state that primordial humans seemed to enjoy naturally. Recognizing the ‘positive primitive’ thus allows Western civilization to distance itself from the ‘callous, restrictive perspectives’ it views as natural and to recognize ‘a more unmediated natural life’ (Deloria 2009: 63). The ‘positive primitive’ therefore posits a challenging critique of the way the psyche has been repressed during the Western ego’s inexorable journey toward the techno-industrial state and its concomitant separation from nature.
     Nevertheless, this journey of human consciousness is not strictly linear. According to Bernstein, the Western ego is being catapulted into a ‘reconnection with nature by an evolutionary process in the name of species preservation—if not the preservation of all of life as we know it’ (2003: 81). Moreover, this ‘reconnection’ is not a regression, as some critics would have it. ‘Rather, it is a reconnection to nature as a dimension of existence, as a life form, as a reality principle, different from that to which we have accustomed ourselves, integrating with it’ (2003: 81, italics original). Yes, this call for rejoining with nature or a ‘return to eco-wisdom’ has perhaps ‘become a mantra of recent neo-Jungians’, as Gannon (2010) said, but no critic has convincingly demonstrated why this longing to return is pathological other than it represents naïve wishful thinking (e.g. Lertzman 2010). To the contrary, as I have argued elsewhere, in today’s absence of an effective ecoethical narrative, a strategically essentialized, neo-romantic environmentalism may be precisely what is needed to avert ecological disaster (2013).
     In fact, as cultural geographer James D. Proctor (1998) demonstrated, strategic essentialism lies at the heart of environmentalism, which is basically political activism by a coalition of groups with concerns as diverse as indigenous rights, open access, biodiversity, air and water pollution, surfing, animal husbandry and rights, agricultural efficiency, bioengineering, and rock climbing. Seen this way, ‘the environment’ materializes as a strategic essentialism, or what Hillman (2006) would have called a collective projection of common interests, even though these interests might be expressed differently and for very different reasons.
     As with virtually all of the Native writers discussed above, the inherent diversity of the individuals within a group is ultimately rendered subservient to its strategic collective goals. In contributing their individual essays to the anthology, the authors are able to reach and, hopefully, affect a much larger group than they might on their own. For Native peoples, this means adopting a postcolonial hermeneutic that embraces the communal character of Native Americana (Weaver 1998a: 21). According to Weaver, what is needed is a ‘we-hermeneutic’—as opposed to the Western ‘I-hermeneutic’—that recognizes community as not just a ‘tool’ or ‘framework’ but as the ‘ultimate goal’ (1998a: 22). Although a we-hermeneutic seeks to be as inclusive of all native peoples as possible, it may be also understood as encompassing not only humanity in toto but as embracing ‘the entire created order, plants, animals [—] Mother Earth herself’ (1998a: 22). This includes, of course, nonnative as well as native people. In this way, the community activism that coheres with we-hermeneutics may be seen as a potential bridge between Natives and non-Natives in the same way that ecopsychology bonds ecology and psychology.
     In the end, Deloria’s final work affirms the ecopsychological belief that environmental reciprocity positively influences humans in a spiritual manner. In fact, the movement to reconnect with nature is healing, as he and the above respondents to his book believed, as it reflects the recursiveness of the cosmos: its ongoing motion to return, to retrieve, and to renew what already enjoys a certain familiar place in ancestral memory. In a word, such movement is indigenizing insofar as it facilitates a sense of belongingness and attachment to place. What Deloria has accomplished is to show that there are important affinities between depth psychology and what can be understood as some of the main threads in Native American spiritualities. In this respect, his book provides a great starting point for teasing out the extent of those affinities, as well as the differences, that probably remain. Ultimately, and at the risk of further essentializing, if there still remains doubt that depth psychology and Native spiritualities are but different terms for analogous phenomena, these books might well allay those concerns.


I am grateful to Bron Taylor and Joe Wilson for their incisive comments on revising this paper and to Luke Johnston for his encouragement.


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