The Cross and the Crescent: The Edge of History

“Embodiment is the simultaneity of body and image.”

Cross & Crescent

Gary Brown
New York, New York, USA
New York Association for Analytical Psychology

Passenger planes crashing into the World Trade Towers gave us violent imagery repeatedly replayed and relentlessly interpreted: the awful collision of two worlds, each locked in misapprehension of the other. Remarkably this collision is foreshadowed in a prescient drawing from Jung’s Dream Seminar of 1928-30. Jung presented the drawing and remarked:

If the truth of the crescent could be united with the truth of the cross, it would produce … enlightenment, the combined truth of Islam and Christianity. If it were possible to extract the essential truth of each and blend them then out of [what Jung called] the resultant clash would come an enormous illumination which would amount to a new conviction. (p. 418)

Now that this clash has been so forced upon us in so negative and concrete a manner in New York on September 11th, 2001, it seems imperative that we look for the essentially religious values and psychological underpinnings implicit in the event and its aftermath so uncannily foreshadowed by the drawing presented by Jung. Here, on the edge of history, we must ask how and where do we find the barriers to the illumination Jung presaged in our lives, in the lives of our patients, and in our consulting rooms today?

Within Christianity, the archetypal dynamism of the Trinity fosters the spiritualization of mind as reason and reflection and leads the western psyche inexorably to rational discrimination, scientific thinking, and ultimately to individual independence of thought. The questioning Son conflicts with the just-so-ness of the Father. When this archetypal process is truncated and the “Holy Ghost” stage of the relativized ego is not achieved, psychologically the authority of the Father is dumped into our post-modern ego which then becomes the measure of all things.

Islam most simply put is the Shahada: La illaha il’ Allah, Mohammad ar Rassullalah: There is no god but Allah (The God) and Mohammed is his prophet. Nothing is required but submission (the meaning of Islam) to Allah, which is to say, the Self. This simple submission is the essence of Islam. The archetype of the One in Islam makes for a powerful psychic unity wherein the ego is radically relativized in relation to the Self.

And it is in this encounter, or non-encounter, with the Self that we come to our edge. Our westernized, secularized consciousness, having achieved the relativistic, post-modern ego described above, finds itself fundamentally unable to submit to the Self. Jung (1948) interprets such secularization as primarily a move to Holy Spirit: but a new Father-ness is not constellated which would consist of the “submitting to the spirit of one’s own independence. … [by] articulating one’s ego consciousness with a supraordinate totality …” (§276). The supraordinate totality to which Jung is referring is what of course he came to call the Self. So all the dream encounters, analyses of defenses, the apparent metabolism of personal shadow may simply serve the aggrandizement of the ego. A kind of “delinking” in the way that Kalsched uses the term (1996) can occur in which these experiences remain merely a jumble of collectibles. Such delinking is a primary though subtle resistance to the Self through which the egos of both patient and analyst strategize the refusal to submit, thus rejecting islam, or in other words, a real submission to one’s felt experience.

This refusal of submission, Islam, and the circumstances under which it might be resolved can be found in Christianity in the relationship between the Christ/Satan archetype to the feminine and in Islam in the attitude toward the feminine and its own understanding of Shaitan. The misconstellation of these archetypal pairings in the mainstream practices of the two religions erects a barrier to psycho-spiritual realization. Contrary to popular opinion in the West and the latter-day mistreatment of women in Islamic countries especially among Islam’s fundamentalist branches, traditional Islam (especially in its more esoteric manifestation among the Sufis) maintains a mystical relation to the feminine. This might act as a possible corrective influence on the Western post-modern ego wherein the interrogative of the psychological Son is retained while nurturing the movement toward the true Holy Spirit. (Although it is beyond my scope to critique the Islamic cultural ego, the more benevolent attitude of the Sufis toward the feminine and consequently toward women themselves is one reason Sufism is ruthlessly attacked by fundamentalist Islamists.)

In our time and in our very audience here with its own post- modern ego in attendance, the shadow of the belief in fragmented specialization will appear. Each of us knows best what is meant by Christianity and even Islam, experts be damned. And yet paradoxically we simultaneously believe only an expert or specialist can know. For every assertion one can make, each of us will come upon with a dozen differences. Because with the death of God, we can all say with Samuel Johnson, “Man (that is, each of us) is the measure of all things.” I, however, join with that other Samuel, Coleridge, and request your “willing suspension of disbelief,” not only as regards the discussion of religious symbolism but also as regards the definition and relation of masculine and feminine as it appears in the two religions.

In his extensive essay of 1948, “A Psychological Approach To The Trinity,” Jung posits the problem of the trinity and the quaternity. He writes, “… the Trinity lays claim … to represent a personification of psychic processes in three roles”(§289). The three roles can be understood as the stages of development mentioned earlier: the given-ness of the Father, the questioning of the Son (which institutes a primary conflict), and the third stage of the Holy Spirit, which itself is supposed to resolve the conflict in a new and more evolved unity. Because of the dangers that such an elaboration of the Holy Spirit posed to both church and society, its resolving unity was both derailed and curtailed; that derailment, Jung believed, had become the “problem of our times”: a problem I am characterizing here as in keeping with the qualities of the post-modern ego.

To rightly move to the Holy Spirit stage of development, as Jung noted, the questioning of authority in the son stage must give way to a relinquishment of what he called “exclusive independence.” This exclusive independence can be understood as the negative aspect of the post-modern ego as I have described it. Jung’s erstwhile colleague Alphonse Maeder, for example, comments (as paraphrased in Shamsdasani, 2003) on this shadowy form of independence and its relation to the development of the various psychotherapeutic schools, “The absolutism and ultimately the totalitarian pretension of each school was a compensation for inner uncertainty … a substitute for the lost relation to God “ (p. 150).

But this relinquishment to the God-image (the Self) would by necessity originate in the individual (ego). Echoing Nietzche, Sartre (as quoted in Hauke) said following the horrors of World War II, “There’s a god-shaped hole in the heart of humanity where the divine used to be.” (p. 4) It is for a variety of reasons which we will reflect on that we in the West have become stuck in the unreflective relativity of the post-modern ego. It is as if we’ve achieved the relativity of good and evil collectively, perhaps through encountering a collective shadow in the wars and terrors of the last century and the start of this one, but that realization also manifests as a sort of shallow, resigned whatever. A pseudo “beyond good and evil” has befallen us.

More than that, as Nietzche had diagnosed the ailment of western culture a hundred years earlier, “God” has died to consciousness in the West; there remains no viable god image. The very outcome of the contemplation of the symbol of the Trinity, in the analysis of Jung was responsible for the ascent of a scientific rationalism. Science was so successful but had left for many people the very notion of God as being no more than a quaintly comforting but questionable relic of childhood.

Jung attempted to resuscitate the ancient Christian dogma of the Trinity by a psychohistorical exploration of what he realized had become, for most westerners, even nominal Christians, an inexplicable dead letter though it had on occasion moved their ancestors to war. Further in his exploration, he asserts that the three of the Trinity contains a psychic movement begging for a fourth: a quaternity. As Jung puts it, “The unspeakable conflict posited by duality resolves itself in a fourth principle, which restores the unity of the first in its full development. … The rhythm is built up in three steps but the resultant symbol is a quaternity.” (Jung, 1948, §258) Casting about for this fourth, two possibilities appear: One is the dark son, Satan; the other is the feminine. After all, it would have seemed more natural if the Father-Mother-Son were the trinity as in classical-pagan times. Jung rightly notes that the dogma of the Christian Trinity is derivative of most ancient male initiation motifs. The feminine element of the god-image was destined to be suppressed in mainstream Christianity for nearly two thousand years in favor of the light and dark brothers, Christ and Satan. Together with the Father they form an unholy Trinity in which the defiled feminine reappears as Satan. (Dawson, unpublished comment.)

The goddesses, and in particular Isis, who in classical antiquity had imaged the material world, the Great Mother, “matter,” were thrown down with the rise of Christianity. They remained in the sanitized vestige of Mary, who was called the Mother of God but who was no longer Mother Goddess. Their replacement was Satan, the titular Prince of this World. Like the goddess, he was an arch-tempter, mired in worldliness, and like her, he could bestow riches and power. By the Middle Ages he was hugely phallic, the carrier of animal sensuality and pleasure: like women, who, concurrent with his rise, were hunted as witches. No matter what Church doctrine had said about monism, Christianity in practice became a religion of radical dualism: Our Father in Heaven, and his envoy, Christ, versus Satan and the World. Interestingly, the hypertrophy of Satan was concurrent with the rise of the popular cults of the Mary’s and the Black Madonnas. And it followed the importation of chivalry from the Islamic Holy Land by Eleanor of Aquitaine.

The Church of course feared the descent of the Holy Spirit into everyman, making them all “Sons of God,” an infectious formula guaranteed to undermine all authority. So Holy Spirit was reserved for the Pope only, as Father. For the rest, under the influence of Aristotle, St. Thomas Aquinas and the medieval Schoolmen declared reason to be the only proper realm of the Holy Spirit in humanity. Interestingly, this declaration set the stage for the ultimate rebellion of the Sons against the Father in the Reformation and the Enlightenment. And with the Enlightenment comes the ascent of science as the new religion.

In this way The Holy Spirit in the West was short-circuited into sheer rationality and the God image that would have symbolized the Father was lost. In Jung’s vision, the Son submits his independent authority and gives birth to the Holy Spirit. The consequence of this loss of the True Holy Spirit is that we are inflated and that the “fourth” that the Holy Trinity seeks is constellated in our post-modern egos. That fourth is Luciferian, Satanic; it is the devil. We, with our Luciferian egos, are the measure of all things. Rather than God we have become our own judges and final evaluators.

Satan, a.k.a. Lucifer, underwent several changes from his first appearance in the Old Testament. Briefly he moves from being an angel in God’s party, a sort of tester, to a tempter, and finally by the New Testament he is the outright adversary of Jesus: the single embodiment of absolute evil by the Middle Ages as noted above.

Lucifer, we recall, was the first angel of the Lord, and was only willing to bow to God himself. When ordered by the Creator to bow to Adam, the first man, he refuses, and declares Man to be inferior to himself. We might say that out of his love for an idealized image, Lucifer refuses to submit to the embodied spirit that the breath of God has infused into common clay.

Like us, indeed as us, he has “fallen from heaven,” gone to hell, or into the nigredo of depressions of varying degrees, which are tantalizingly interspersed with visions of heaven. As prince of heaven, before his fall, as so vividly depicted by Milton, Satan nonetheless recalls the Empyrean Realms. Heaven once was his and he was alone with the Father; he feels that he alone knows and values the Father and so he won’t bow down.

He, as we, have fallen into the sado-masochism of the narcissistic position, a kind of everyday narcissism., lost on each side of judgmentalism. Satan’s identity with the Lost Father leaves him and us a danger to ourselves and to others. Either we suffer under the lash of the harshly critical inner Dark Lord or we expel the toxins and scapegoat the other(s) and punish them as though we are the “Lord” ourselves. (A. Dawson, personal communication, June 6, 2004)

In our own psychological processes, both as analysts and analysands we come across the same satanic effects, the search for the dramatic, breakthrough experiences which we hope might reunite us with the numinous but which is hopelessly locked into primary process. Did something important happen in the analytic hour we anxiously wonder. How are we doing, how are they doing we quiz ourselves.

Or worse. In our daily lives the same harsh judge condemns us as we go about daily lives which seem so lackluster, lacking the numinous.

What I have been calling the Luciferian ego is at once porous and statically closed. (M. Kuras, personal communication, February, 2003) Such an ego often contains archetypic experiences of great energy and splendor: islands in a sea of depression. Like Lucifer, we recall and project in memories and visions, dreams and dramas the experience of the divine presence. Yet these recollections have so little summary effect. Each and every one of us is now the Father: we know how it is, and all our experience to the contrary we take to be mere blips on the screen, ephemeral, doing nothing to change the way we know it is, the way things are, the way we are. We know better.

What we have come to call the feminine may be the antidote to this inflation. In the Dream Seminar, Jung and those attending, seem quite sure what the masculine and feminine are. From our perspective sixty some years later, having been through the gender wars, we are no longer so sure. For our purposes here I’m suggesting we cut through the dilemma of what constitutes masculine and feminine (symbolized by the cross and the crescent respectively in the Seminar) with a phenomenological definition of the feminine as “the felt-sense of lived life.” The implication here is the feminine as process, that the felt-sense of lived life, if experienced, brings a sense of process, both in the experience of the body as body and as embodiment in the world. This in turn forms a ground for another kind of knowing which allows the true Holy Spirit to be born. I will return to this after further expanding on the Luciferian ego.

So what does this Luciferian/Satanic ego consciousness look like in practice? Interestingly the Islamic tradition that calls the devil Shaitan gives us a glimpse. The perspective of the crescent views the feminine and the satanic differently from the perspective of the Christian cross. We can recall images from the overthrow of the Shah in Iran in favor of a religious regime of student “Revolutionary Guards” who demonstrated carrying placards denouncing the Shah’s patron, the U.S. as the “Great Shaitan.” Naturally we Westerners translated this to the Christian Satan, the personification of absolute evil and promptly returned the favor.

For the Iranians, and indeed for the whole Islamic world, Shaitan means something quite different. According to Armstrong (1996), “In Islam, Satan is a much more manageable character than he became in Christianity.” (p. 148) In the West, however, Satan has become a figure of ungovernable evil. “Arabs use the word “Shaitan” to allude to a purely human tempter or a natural temptation.” (p. 148) More than this, in the Koran Shaitan comes across as not only a doubter or a tester as in the Old Testament Bible, but also as the one who just doesn’t get it, who is shallow.

So to the Iranian students, the Western cultural artifacts, a mixture of Rodeo Drive and a fast food court, which the Shah had imported to North Tehran seemed shallow beside the depth of a traditional culture which they could still see all around them. In their Islamic tradition the Western preoccupations were “shaitanic” in that they detracted and distracted from depth of meaning.

How do we find ourselves in this shaitanic situation? Primarily in our culture we see it in the form of enthralling, exciting, special events. This may be the grand vacation, the next blockbuster movie, the next peak experience. Modern advertising even refers to such heightened experiences as the search for the extreme or the intense. Extraordinary events then stand out from the ordinary experience as islands, isolated one from the other. In this way experience is de-linked, never forming whole continents of meaning. The “ordinary magic” of life between these island peaks is washed out, leaving it grey and lifeless, its felt-sense worthless. The sense of unfolding process is gone.

Another form of the shaitanic is consumerism. This aspect of our lives has been critiqued for a long time and there is no need to go further into that here. The great sociologist Max Weber traced the evolution of the original religious impulse of Christianity in the West into the rise of the work ethic. It is arguable that this impulse has lapsed still further into a kind of un-concentrated polytheism. In traditional Islamic thought, the era of polytheism was called Jahiliya, the time of ignorance, and it was thought that in the worship of the Trinity Christians had veered away from monotheism too closely toward polytheism.

Today in our culture and in our lives we can find evidence of this devolution of the original Christian impulse in consumerism as false animism: objects, one after the other, are imbued with spirit and animated, even becoming numinous. We collect this mana when we buy something while under the influence of this impulse and feel a numinous excitement, until it fades to be replaced by yet another object of desire. (It was not for nothing that Freud’s relative, Edward Bernays, is considered the father of modern advertising.) This is not to say there is something inherently wrong with the production and purchase of objects; I am simply recognizing the shaitanic, de-linking effect of consumerism as it detracts from meaningful wholes. Of course this is the opposite of the “animated” world of the mystical vision of interiority, the world of Iranian mysticism explicated by Henri Corbin (in Cheetham, 2003) from his work on Iranian Shia.

Then too, the sheer volume of “stuff,” be it objects, experiences or information serve to de-link by dilution. When everything is special and important and there is such a volume of it there is no real specialness. The quality of the special experienced as a dimension of depth is harder to find.

In our own psychological processes, both as analysts and analysands, we come across the same shaitanic effects, the search for dramatic, breakthrough experiences in analysis, the wish for and collection of the numinous. What I’m calling the Luciferian ego structure is at once porous and at the same time fixed. In this it partakes of the story of Lucifer as told by Milton: he is both powerful and in himself luminous and at the same time so lost and in darkness.

So we are often left with an analytic process that contains many luminous dreams and numinous experiences, and visions. But they don’t cohere, and they remain as I call them, a jumble of collectibles, forming not even a group. (A. Ulanov, personal communication, May 8, 2004) Each experience remains discrete and separate, relativized by this post-modern, Luciferian ego. The very declaration of the desire for change on the part of patients caught in this false numinosum also manifests the Shaitanic in its strong implication that the patient should be having a different experience. If the trap is taken on literally by the analyst and the analysand, it quickly leads away from the depth experience of bare awareness (the power of perception) and bolts forward to the perennial “But what should I do?”

This is the dilemma in which we often find ourselves: how do we escape from the very selves we have become, the very selves that pose the question which can lead to our own salvation and yet which at the same time are a barrier to the enlightenment Jung declares possible in the coming together of the Cross and the Cresscent.

The underground, mystical traditions of each religion have worked, each on the shadow of the other for centuries. In the blending of the shadows of each of these traditions, the mainstream religions of the Cross and the Crescent are fulfilled. Mainstream Christianity emphasizes the incarnation of God; Islam, the submission to God. Yet most of the Christian mystics find fulfillment in submission. And many of the Islamic mystics find theirs in the incarnation. It is upon the Islamic approach to incarnation, less understood in the West than the submission particular to Christian mysticism, that I will place my final focus here.

In spite of our common perception of the misogyny of Islamic culture today, at heart and in its history it extols the feminine. The god image of Allah, necessarily a word-image in an imageless religion, includes the feminine even though Allah is referred to as He. In Arabic, this is simply a grammatical necessity and the Christian sense of God the father is not there and is explicitly rejected. More than this rejection, there are in fact two names or epithets which are most used to refer to Allah. They appear as an invocation at the beginning of all but one of the 114 suras or verses of the Koran: Bismillah al rahman, al rahim which is usually translated: In the Name of Allah, Most Merciful and Compassionate. The root of rahim and rahman is rhm, and is related to a pagan feminine deity of South Arabia. Feminine connotations of nurturing and protection attach to this root, and rahim attributes to Allah the sense of the womb of creation. (Ruthven, 2000)

Of further importance to us is the sense that this womb contains both the “unseen” (al-ghaib) and the “visible” (al shahada). The latter is the natural world, also seen as the “veil” (hijab) of Allah. Other than through the revelation of the Koran, the way Allah may be directly known is through the visible, natural world which is considered a miracle in itself (ayas). Certainly the closest aspect of the natural world with which we are familiar is our own body. In the West we refer to the world as matter. The closest experience we have of this “matter” is our own body. And only in regard to embodiment does our life experience matter. Embodiment is the body in the image and the image in the body.

The miracle of the natural world, this felt-sense of lived life, when understood as the feminine/matter combined with submission (Islam) to embodiment puts the Dark Son, Jung’s “devilish body” in his place. He is dethroned and disentangled from the feminine. Here, then, is one sense of the crescent, the moon which shines by reflected light: the embodiment of the spirit in matter.


  • [Epigram from R. Bosnak in personal communication, June 12, 2004]
  • Armstrong, K., 1993. A History of God: The 4000 Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
  • Armstrong, K., 2001. Battle For God: A History of Fundamentalism. New York: Ballantine Books.
  • Cheetham, T., 2003. The World Turned Inside Out – Henry Corbin and Islamic Mysticism. Woodstock, Ct.: Spring Journal Books.
  • Hauke, C., 2000. Jung and the Postmodern – The Interpretation of Realities. London and Philadelphia: Routledge.
  • Jung, C.G., 1929-30. Dream Analysis – Notes of the Seminar Given In 1928-1930. Ed., William McGuire. Princeton, New Jersey, Princeton University Press.
  • Jung, C.G., 1948. “A Psychological Approach To The Trinity”, The Collected Works of C.G, Jung. Translated by R. Hull. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1977, vol. 11.
  • Shamsdasani, S., 2003. Jung and the Making of Modern Psychology: the Dream of a Science. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Ruthven, M., 2000. Islam in the World. 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.