New Directions Home : Sherry Salman

African Oracles and Analytic Attitudes by Sherry Salman (USA)
Friday 17 August 2007


New Directions Home: African Oracles and Analytic Attitudes

by Sherry Salman

The prophetic and oracular dimension of unconscious process was integral to Jung’s on-going vision of therapeutic action. Working constructs such as teleology, synchronicity, and the Self, supported the ultimate concern with analysis as a meaning-making procedure. Subsequent theory moved away from a reified oracular model, toward more interpersonal and process-oriented constructs, methods, and language. At this juncture, we understand analysis within a model of unfolding field interactions between essentials, events, process, and imagination.

This paper touches on the cultural, archetypal, and imaginal aspects of our work, emphasizing that our sensibility as analysts derives primarily from the oracular, not the scientific or religious traditions. It also draws forth the clinical implications of the oracular tradition as it pertains to the transference field, the dynamics of interpretation and amplification, and the relationship of clinical process to culture and context. While moving into new theoretical and clinical directions, it may be prudent to remember that going forward means going backward as well. As Jungians we explore both childhood fantasies, and psychoanalytic fantasies of childhood, not to recover memories or inner children, but rather to commune with the source, with origins and originators, creators, spirits, and ‘ancestors’, or as referenced in Africa, with the “village of truth”. We listen to clinical narratives with an imaginal ear tuned to the essentials and potentials prevailing at the time of origin, in the present moment, and in the possible futures.

There has always been a diversity of different creative solutions across cultures to questions of psychological process and development. The African continent which so intrigued Jung, is extremely rich in oracular tradition, with ‘intuitive’ oracles, ‘possession’ oracles, ‘and ‘wisdom’ oracles, akin to those of Greece, China, Tibet, and the Americas. Sculptural mana figures, kinetic devices like the Mouse Oracle, collections of signs creating a microcosm of the universe which may be decoded [slides], all attest to the dynamic nature of the oracular exchange. The intimate interplay between image, concept, affect, the realities of the moment,  and the imagination of the future, combined with an image of ‘truth’ as constructed and enigmatic, provide for the understanding of symbols and their enactments as symptoms, as both multi-dimensional and contained within the ever-increasing unity of the present moment.  In contrast to Judeo-Christian and Islamic traditions which often emphasize definitive and collective solutions to psychological process, aspects of the oracular tradition are quintessentially psychological: a pluralistic vision of the world and human character,  implying a multiplicity of possibilities, choices, doubts, and solutions, with an eye to the unique circumstances of the moment and the individual.

Sherry SalmanBiographical Details : Sherry Salman

Sherry Salman, Ph.D. holds a doctorate in neuropsychology, and is a Jungian analyst practicing in New York City, and Rhinebeck, New York.  She is a consulting editor for the Journal of Analytical Psychology, and a Founding member and first President of the Jungian Psychoanalytic Association, where she serves on the faculty. Her recent publications include “Blood Payments” in Terror, Violence, and the Impulse to Destroy: Perspectives from Analytical Psychology (2003), “True Imagination” in Spring: a Journal of Archetype and Culture (2006), and “The Creative Psyche” in The Cambridge Companion to Jung, 2nd ed., (1997, 2008).