Primitive Unconscious

Primitive man impresses us so strongly with his subjectivity that we should really have guessed long ago that myths refer to something psychic.  His knowledge of nature is essentially the language and outer dress of an unconscious psychic process.  But the very fact that this process is unconscious gives us the reason why man has thought of everything except the psyche in his attempts to explain myths.  He simply didn’t know that the psyche contains all the images that have ever given rise to myths, and that our unconscious is an active and suffering subject with an inner drama which primitive man rediscovers, by means of analogy, in the processes of nature both great and small.

The ancestral spirits play an important part in primitive rites of renewal.  The aborigines of central Australia even identify themselves with their mythical ancestors of the alcheringa period, a sort of Homeric age.  Similarly the Pueblo Indians of Taos, in preparation for their ritual dances, identify with the sun, whose sons they are.  This atavistic identification with human and animal ancestors can be interpreted psychologically as an integration of the unconscious, a veritable bath of renewal in the life-source where one is once again a fish, unconscious as in sleep, intoxication, and death.

The symbolism of the rites of renewal, if taken seriously, points far beyond the merely archaic and infantile to man's innate psychic disposition, which is the result and deposit of all ancestral life right down to the animal level - hence the ancestor and animal symbolism.  The rites are attempts to abolish the separation between the conscious mind and the unconscious, the real source of life, and to bring about a reunion of the individual with the native soil of his inherited, instinctive make-up.  

When you observe primitives, for instance, you will see that on the slightest provocation or with no provocation whatever they doze off, they disappear. They sit for hours on end, and when you ask them, ‘What are you doing? What are you thinking?’ they are offended, because they say, ‘Only a man that is crazy thinks – he has thoughts in his head. We do not think’. If they think at all, it is rather in the belly or in the heart. Certain Negro tribes assure you that thoughts are in the belly because they only realize those thoughts which actually disturb the liver, intestines, or stomach. In other words, they are conscious only of emotional thoughts. Emotions and affects are always accompanied by obvious physiological innervations. AP 9

We have control of our will power, but the primitive has not.  Complicated exercises are needed if he is to pull himself together for any activity that is conscous and intentional and not just emotional and instinctive.  Our consciousness is safer and more dependable in this respect; but occasionally something similar can happen to civilized man, only he does not describe it as “loss of soul” but as an “abaissement du niveau mental,” Janet’s apt term for this phenomenon.  A&CU

If the primitive mind thinks a thing, it is.  A dream, for instance, is to them as real as this chair.  They must be very careful not to think certain things, as the thought easily might become reality.  We are still like that – we say a mouthful, and at the same time we touch wood.  TPoKY10

Apparently for a human being to face the unknown – not to know in advance what is coming and yet be able to keep steady in the dark – is the most difficult thing.  Man’s most ancient fear and cause of panic seems always to have been the unknown.  The first time a primitive sees an airplane or a car, he runs away, for everything unknown is inevitably terrible.  TPoPA 151

Statistics were compiled during the last war to discover whether primitive or more highly educated people stand imprisonment best, and it was found that the more primitive the person the greater the rate of suicide from despair.  The Red Cross compiled the statistics, and I got the information from my sister who was working with the Society.  Apparently among the most primitive people there were mass suicides; they just ran amok.  … It is also well known that primitive Africans cannot be imprisoned for more than three days.  Bushmen, for instance, cannot be imprisoned, for no matter how well they are treated they just fade away.  They lose hope and die for psychological reasons.   TPoPA 170

For example, to a primitive tribe its own tradition appears to it as consciousness.  In an African tribe, if a novice – having been tortured and having had his teeth knocked out, or whatever – is taught how the world was created, how evil comes about, that illness means a certain thing, that men must marry women of a certain clan for certain reasons, that to him is consciousness.  The Africans say that a man is an animal until he has gone through an initiation whereby he assimilates the tribal tradition.  The uninitiated they call animals, which shows that they would maintain that the acquisition of such knowledge is the step from animal unconsciousness to human consciousness.  To us, however, who have a different tradition, the mythological teachings that the young primitive absorbs seem purely unconscious.  We even interpret such teachings as we do dreams; that this is possible shows that what signifies collective consciousness to a primitive tribe is in reality full of unconscious symbolism.  TPoPA 221

You know that in primitive countries it is impossible to hurry people.  If you travel in Egypt it is no good ordering the cars for 9 a.m. and expecting to be beyond the Nile at 10, or in the King’s tombs.  Everyone who travels in the Orient knows that one has to put up with being two or three hours late and not arrive on time as Europeans do.  But once you have made the adaptation, life is much nicer because you have all kinds of experiences: one’s car breaks down and causes lots of fun, and instead of arriving at the King’s tombs you get into the desert and have a lot of swearing, and so forth, but that’s life too! 

The continuity of consciousness is, in point of fact, the condition sine qua non of human mental and cultural development.  The reason the redemption depends on the “question” concerning a knowledge of the ancestors is thus easily explained.  It must be remembered that at that time consciousness was very much less developed than it is today.  TGL 296

It is assuredly no accident that primitive peoples, even in adult life, make the most fantastic assertions about well-known sexual processes, as for instance that coitus has nothing to do with pregnancy.  From this it has been concluded that these people do not even know there is such a connection.  But more accurate investigation has shown that they know very well that with animals copulation is followed by pregnancy.  Only for human beings is it denied-not not known, but flatly denied – that this is so, for the simple reason that they prefer a mythological explanation which has freed itself from the trammels of concretism.  TDoP 34