Jordan Peterson, Dreams and Visions

Acts 2:16-17
“But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: ‘And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, That I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, Your young men shall see visions, Your old men shall dream dreams.”

All throughout the Bible God seems to reveal His will through dreams or visions, examples include: Genesis 37:5-10; 1 Kings 3:5-15; Daniel 2 & 7; Matthew 1:20; 2:13,19; and Acts 10:9-16; 16:9. In Acts 2:16-17 God promises that in the New Covenant age “Your young men shall see visions, Your old men shall dream dreams.” All of this talk of dreams and visions has given me much to think about.

In Second Temple Judaism there was a tradition referred to by scholars as Merkabah mysticism whereby a person would meditate, or contemplate using their active imagination the visions of heaven as revealed in prophetic books such as Ezekiel 1. The practitioner would imagine the Throne of God and the heavenly creatures etc. A number of scholars in recent years have proposed that Paul might have been doing this on his way to Damascus. Perhaps he was imagining the Throne of God and then when he looked up at the person on the Throne to his shock he saw Jesus (his Damascus road experience).

A similar concept appears in Ignatian spirituality, founded by Ignatius of Loyola. Ignatian spirituality again places great emphasis on meditation and contemplation. I read a recent article in Premier’s Christianity Magazine on Ignatian spirituality. The website taketime.org.uk was mentioned. One of the testimonies on that website says:

“… Ignatian meditation is a way of using our imagination to keep our focus on God so that it is easier to speak and to listen in prayer. She asked if we could try it and I did a short meditation with her. At the end of the prayer I asked if it had been helpful, to which she replied “I met Jesus and asked him into my life!” Over the coming weeks and months it became clear that she was experiencing the Holy Spirit at work in her life, changing her behaviour and bringing her hope and peace.” [i]

This form of active imagination is common in may religious and even non-religious traditions. The Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Jung saw the active imagination as a bridge between the conscious “ego” and the unconscious. He sought to create daydreams, visions, and fantasies however you want to describe them and then let go and let them run away with themselves. He believed that this would allow his unconscious mind to communicate with his conscious self. Jung believed that the individual unconscious contains material that was once conscious but has since been forgotten or suppressed. He also proposed that there was collective unconscious that was inherited by all humans containing archetypes with universal meanings.

Jung recorded his own imaginative experiences between 1913 and 1916 in a series of journals that became his illuminated and illustrated Red Book. A recurring figure in Jung’s fantasies was Philemon who functioned like a spirit guide to him.

The connection between Ignatian spirituality as seen in TakeTime and Jung is evident in another testimony on the website. An atheist said:

“I listened to TakeTime and it was brilliant. Even though I am atheist I listened and when you were asking me to talk to Jesus I did in my own way, I spoke to myself about my problems and when I was listening for Jesus’ reply I was so relaxed that my mind could make sense of my problems and I felt that my subconscious could speak clearly and rationalise some of the problems I had. I thoroughly enjoyed it, thank you.” [ii]

The atheist accepts Jung’s premise that the figure in her imagination speaking to her is her unconscious self. The lady in the first testimony however believes that she met powerfully with Jesus and became a Christian “I met Jesus and asked him into my life!”.

One of Carl Jung’s most famous present day disciples is the Canadian clinical psychologist and a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, Jordan Peterson. Peterson has a very large a dedicated following among conservative Christians because of his conservative views and his promotion of Judeo-Christian values. Peterson has also lectured his way through the book of Genesis as part of his series dedicated to the Psychological Significance of the Biblical Stories.

Christians love him because he constantly talks about Jesus, God and Christian values yet he is not a Christian (in the sense that he actually believes it). For Jordan Peterson Jesus Christ is an archetype, perhaps the best one that gives meaning to all others but an archetype none the less.

I love listening to Jordan Peterson. I like a lot of what he says. I agree with a lot of what he says. However, I do think that conservative Christians should not swallow everything he says hook, line, and sinker.

For Carl Jung, the primary function of myth is to shed light on the workings of the unconscious. Mythology in this view is not a series of explanations for past natural events, but rather the tapestry of human experience expressed in a symbols and storytelling.

Jordan Peterson is loved by Christians because he is talking about the Psychological Significance of the Biblical Stories but he could just as easily be talking about the Psychological Significance of the stories of the Old Gods.

It should not come as a surprise to any of us that Nordic paganism is now Iceland’s fastest growing religion. The ‘association of the faith of the Æsir’ – Ásatrúarfélagið has grown from 570 members in 2002, to 3,900 members, making it the largest non-Christian religion in the country. The Allsherjargoði (High Priest) Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson told the Guardian “I don’t believe anyone believes in a one-eyed man who is riding about on a horse with eight feet…we see the stories as poetic metaphors and a manifestation of the forces of nature and human psychology,” [iii]

In Iceland a new Temple will be completed in the end of 2018. This Temple follows in the wake of Valheim Hof in Denmark, dedicated to Odin and the Old Gods and was completed in 2016. In Newark England an Odinist Temple was consecrated in 2014. All over the West the Old Gods are rising. Fyrnsida, Anglo-Saxon Heathenry is again on the rise in the UK. The Moscow Times also recently reported that the Russian Orthodox Church was concerned about the rise of Rodnovery (traditional Slavic paganism) in the Russian Armed Forces.

The followers of Heathenry as Allsherjargoði Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson said do not really believe in “a one-eyed man who is riding about on a horse with eight feet…we see the stories as poetic metaphors and a manifestation of the forces of nature and human psychology,” Modern Heathenry is therefore somewhat indebted to Carl Jung. The Old Gods are for them in part the archetypes of the collective unconscious.

Would conservative Christians like Jordan Peterson as much if he was lecturing through the Psychological Significance of the Prose and Poetic Edda of Norse Mythology? I think perhaps not.

We could think about the binding of Fenrir for example. Loki fathered Fenrir the wolf associated with destruction. As a young pup he was brought into the enclosure of the gods but he was growing too fast and was becoming too powerful. The gods knew that if he was left free to do as he pleased he would destroy them all. We could say that Fenrir is the wildness in each of us, the wolfish passions that if left alone can grow to consume us. He is the chaos in the garden of the gods. Fenrir must be bound and brought into line otherwise, the world would be devoured. Tyr his handler knew Fenrir had to be bound but it cost him his hand. Tyr protected the gods at the expense of his own body. The protection of the tribe and the individual often comes at a cost. The cost might be your own arm but it must be paid if chaos is to be chained and order re-established.

My concern with Jordan Peterson (as much as I admire him and enjoy listening to him) is that he sees the Biblical Stories only as archetypal stories that convey deep meaning. My problem with that is that you can look at the Psychological Significance of any myths and you can read meanings into any narrative.

Christians actually believe that invisible intelligences (God and angelic beings both good and bad) can and do speak to us through our dreams and visions. We believe that the images and stories are not just from our individual or collective unconscious minds. Perhaps Carl Jung’s spirit guide Philemon was more than just his unconscious mind, what if he was a malevolent invisible intelligence? We don’t know.