~ Jeffrey J. Kripal, “Mutant Marvels” in The Serpent’s Gift: Gnostic Reflections on the Study of Religion
I’ve been holding off on these depth psychological reflections on Marvel Studio’s latest comic book adaptation of the X-men saga, Logan, due to some ambivalence around “spoiling” the ending. I figure at this point most everyone (who cares) knows: Wolverine dies. I enjoyed the film, but it was the final, closing scene that really struck me – deeply: as the community of remaining mutants (all children or adolescents) turn to leave Wolverine’s burial site after paying their respects, the young girl and co-lead, Laura, turns back to say a final goodbye – powerfully and symbolically taking the makeshift cross at the head of his grave and turning it sideways to form the shape of an “X.”
What was it about this moment that struck me so deeply? There was certainly the emotional impact; the respect and honoring of Wolverine’s legacy; what he fought and struggled for. But there was also something deeper - something uniquely depth psychological - in the rendering and “transformation” of that most powerful and charged of Western “god images” – the Cross.
I read Laura’s symbolic shift from cross to “X” through a dual depth psychological and mystical-gnostic lens inspired from my reading of Jungian analyst Edward Edinger, and contemporary historian of religion (and mutant-mystic in his own right), Jeff Kripal, respectively. From Edinger, I draw upon his theory of the breakdown of collective god images and their transformation; from Kripal, I borrow just about everything else.
The breakdown and transformation of the god-image
Edinger’s schema (below, and found in Ego and Archetype, pp. 66-67) presents a historical shift that has been occurring in the West since Reformation and Enlightenment cultures began to challenge the dominant god-image(s) of Latin Christianity. His first model (Figure 6) is entitled, “Stable state of a community of Religious believers,” and offers a psychological “mapping” of a functioning religious symbol, or “god image” (in this case, the Christian Cross). One can see here that there is a “flow” of libido, or psychic energy, emerging from the Self, Jung’s center of psychological life and coherence, through the individual “believers” and faithfully projected outward onto a “functioning” representation or symbol of the Self – in this case, the Cross.
In the second image (Figure 7), “Breakdown of a Religious Projection,” the model begins to collapse. “Secular” deities, such as Capitalism or Communism, take the place of a functioning “god image” but do not “work” in the same psychological sense as they do not carry an authentically numinous or meaningful projected image of the Self. They are “man-made idols” representing the needs of the Ego, rather than the archetypal potential of the Self. The lined arrows (representing libido, or psychic energy) begin to break down and turn back towards the individual, culminating in a psycho-spiritual collapse.
Some would argue that this is the contemporary “postmodern” state that many of us find ourselves in at present. With no longer one single (“monotheistic”) image to hold the symbolic projection of the Self, we are turned back onto ourselves with only one’s neuroses, inflation, and/or alienation to tend with. Edinger’s model, however (and the purpose of his book), outlines another possibility: what Jung termed “Individuation” – the process of the individual undertaking her own heroic journey to come to terms with one’s self and seek answers apart from those traditionally given by institutions and that might no longer serve the needs of the individual (or the collective).
In the Jungian model, the individuated Ego comes into a new, healthy, and revitalized relationship with the Self, through the “hard work” and fruits of the Individuation journey.
While there are certainly criticisms of this model (namely, that it perpetuates a very American individualism), the Jungian schema that Edinger articulates can serve as a model or road map for working through personal fragmentation or "dark night of the soul" spiritual crisis, and towards a more personalized and individuated wholeness.
Mutants and mystics
For decades, Jeff Kripal has been writing and reflecting on “X-traordinary” states, whether in his earliest researches into the Hindu saint and mystic Sri Ramakrishna, to his more recent work on comic book super heroes, the psychical, and the Supernatural. What I draw from most here is Kripal's conviction, following the Esalen Institute’s co-founder Michael Murphy, and the human potential movement as a whole, that there are spiritual “superpowers” that are “hidden” or latent within each one of us, and that, according to Kripal, it is the comic book medium and superhero archetype in general, that best symbolically represents such spiritual superpowers in contemporary popular culture. Examples of such "embodied mystics" abound across religious cultures and spiritual disciplines, as well as in athletic and sports cultures (Murphy has outlined the varieties of these “superhuman” abilities in his massive book The Future of the Body), but it is particularly within the comic book genre that, to Kripal, these transhuman powers are most "hidden" - and most manifest - today. In other words, to quote Kripal, “We are indeed mutants” – and mystics - and our icons of popular culture symbolically represent these latent capacities.
Logan and the transformation of a god image
Whether one takes these points literally, or symbolically, is up to the beholder (mostly based, I find, on one’s own personal experience as the starting point). This takes me back to my initial reflections on the closing scene of Logan and why it so dramatically seared something into my soul – or served as a catalyst for my own mystical-mutant mental mutations. In my reading, making the symbolic leap from the cross to the “X” represents a Jungian paradigm of Individuation, in which the individual Ego affirms the inherent worth and value of the Self, taking full ownership of the burden of its Incarnation without projecting this value or obligation outwards onto an institution, political party, church, religion or creed. To me, this affirms Kripal’s (and Murphy’s) insistence on the unlimited – and largely untapped – “human potential” that is inherent in each one of our very mystical and gnostic souls. In shifting from the Cross to the “X,” we affirm the transpersonal, “X-traordinary,” and numinous dimensions hidden within the often ordinary and mundane, and take full responsibility for our personal (spiritual) (super)power (for with great power, comes great responsibility…).
In the Jungian schema of Edinger, and mystical-gnostic epistemology of Kripal, the “solution” for the personal alienation and mass neurosis of our time is not another church or political leader, but a radical affirmation of the human – and its limitless (even if hidden) “X-traordinary” potential to actualize and Incarnate the Divine.