Postscript to the Indigenous Spirituality Webinar

At the end of the dialogue between Jerome Bernstein and Jeanne Lacourt in the 2016 Asheville Jung Center webinar, they posted the following quotation from Vine Deloria:

The fruits of Jung's intellectual ambitions are clear: of the various Western psychologies, Jungian thinking has perhaps the greatest potential to contribute to a unification of knowledge and a deeper understanding of the world. (p. 65, Deloria, C.G. Jung and the Sioux Traditions)

As the concluding statement of his work, Deloria goes further to summarize the prospects for a dialogue that would continue the exploration between Jungian psychology and traditional Sioux beliefs and worldview:

The best course for the future, in my opinion, would be to explore the philosophical context that Jung proposed, in order to make his discoveries of the psyche even more comprehensible. If, within that context, we can see that the experiences of the Sioux fit reasonably well--and I believe that we have come some distance down this road--then I would feel that we have established a framework within which continued communication can take place. In short, though Jung was a man of his time when it came to developmentalist science, social relations, and colonial histories, new perspectives from contemporary science and psychology allow us to see a number of ways in which his psychology greatly resembles the Sioux traditions. It is worth pursuing this overlap and resemblance, for with almost every topic we have discussed, the Sioux had a broader vision that opens up with new questions of both science and psychology. A recounting of Sioux traditions also offers us additional practical physical data to support further inquiry into the philosophical framework offered by Jung. At the same time, we can see from Jung's insightful comments on a number of subjects, and from his frank admissions about others, that he had glimpsed a different vision of the world than the other thinkers of his time. This vision allows us to look anew at Sioux conceptions as well. In the exchange between Carl Jung and the Sioux traditions, then, we can find new sources of insight, vigorous comparisons, and synthetic opportunities, all of which should be considered vital to a continuing exploration of our world. (pp. 199-200, Deloria, C.G. Jung and the Sioux Traditions)

Vine Deloria read Jung deeply, thoroughly and critically, spending years of intensive study of the entirety of Jung's Collected Works and Seminars (as well as the writings of a number of other Jungian scholars). By subjecting Jung's thought to acute and unrelenting scrutiny and criticism while nevertheless identifying and preserving elements of it that he considered to be potentially of immense value, he paid Jung great respect and brought forth his ideas into what may become one of the most consequential areas for psychology and natural science in this young but fraught 21st Century.

Deloria was a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, a US Marine, a graduate of Iowa State University, the Lutheran School of Theology, and the University of Colorado School of Law. He taught at various U.S. universities before accepting a professorship at the University of Arizona and, later, at the University of Colorado. He was first and foremost an advocate and activist for American Indian causes. In 1969 he published Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto, followed in 1972 by God is Red: A Native View of Religion, works that, among many others, established him as one of North America's most articulate and compelling spokesmen for Indigenous American issues.

C.G. Jung and the Sioux Traditions is Deloria's final work, one accepted for publication only months before he died in 2005. Jerome Bernstein took on the work of editing the manuscript, along with Deloria's son, Philip J. Deloria (presently Leverett Saltonstall Professor of History at Harvard University). Together, Deloria's C.G. Jung and the Sioux Traditions and Bernstein's Living in the Borderland stand as complementary statements of both the challenges and opportunities facing Jungian psychology if, and as, it moves forward to explore the terrain shared by Jung and the Sioux.

On several occasions in Sioux Traditions, Deloria charitably refers to Jung as "a man of his time," but he shows little patience for many of Jung's references to 'primitive man' found throughout his Collected Works. Although Jung would temper his usage of the term 'primitive', claiming, "...that I use the term 'primitive' in the sense of 'primordial' and that I do not imply any kind of value judgment," (CW 8, p. 104), in numerous instances the term appears in Jung's considerations of the evolution of the psyche, and there it often takes on a conceptual role posed in a cultural evolutionary perspective that was characteristic of Jung's time. Deloria takes up in detail the discussion of the notion of the primitive, with two chapters of his work focused on The Negative Primitive and then, The Positive Primitive. At the same time, Deloria brings into consideration and criticism Jung's reliance on Levy-Bruhl's concept of participation mystique--the idea that there is a strong unconscious psychic bond between primitive peoples and various objects in nature--which often appears in Jung's remarks on the primitive mind.

In the chapters of Sioux Traditions that follow, Deloria discusses and compares Jungian and Sioux universes, animals as both symbolic manifestations and existent realities, the roles of the individual and of kinship relations, and the appearance of 'voice' and of visions, along with other psychic expressions in dreams or prophecies found in Jungian and Sioux contexts.

Where Deloria seems to find the most common ground between Jungian thought and the traditional world of the Sioux is with the recognition of what Jung came to call synchronistic phenomena. Synchronicities are a commonplace of Sioux reality, and the fact that synchronistic events are acknowledged and valued in Jungian psychology--and nowhere else in contemporary psychological thought--accounts for a large measure of Deloria's anticipation of a fruitful engagement between Jungian conceptualizations and Sioux traditions.

Perhaps the greatest surprise emerging from Deloria's mediated dialogue between Jung and the Sioux is his intuition that contemporary quantum physics may have something to say about the nature of a world where synchronistic phenomena are understandable as an actual possiblity. The Sioux, along with other North American peoples, speak of Wakan Tanka or the Great Mystery (or Mysteriousness) in much the same way that Jung speaks of a unus mundus (or one world), as a psychophysical unity that provides a realm for conceptualizing the meaningful acausal connections that comprise a synchronistic event. Quantum physics has its own Great Mystery, namely the occurrence of nonlocal connections that make no sense and are a seeming impossibility in the classical worldview of Newtonian physics--a worldview which still dominates much of Western culture--yet nonlocal connections (i.e. entangled quantum systems) are both theoretically predicted and experimentally observed. The hope arises that the Great Mysteries of Sioux reality, of Jungian synchronicity, and of quantum entanglement phenomena are somehow, in some way as yet not known, all ultimately related aspects of unitary being and becoming that we Homo sapiens can somehow experience and find ways to symbolically represent.

If you wish to explore the dialogue on synchronicity and other related topics of Jungian psychology and quantum physics further, a good starting point is the following presentation: (or the second presentation: hosted by the Jungian Psychoanalytic Association of NYC and the Helix Center.

Finally, if you would like to watch the Indigenous Spirituality webinar again, you may download it from the Asheville Jung Center through the following link:

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