Jung and the World
Jung and the World Podcast
The Diary of a Man Downunder

The Diary of a Man Downunder

the confessions of an ex-puer

Jung(and James Hillman) use the Latin terms, senex and puer for ‘old man’ and ‘youth’. They personify the poles of tradition , stasis, structure and authority on one side, and immediacy, wandering, invention and idealism on the other. The senex consolidates, grounds and disciplines, the puer flashes with insight and thrives on fantasy and creativity’.

Jung, the Sixties and the rise of the puer

Many years later after reading Jung I began to reflect on my encounter with the Sixties. Maybe, because it was such a ‘formative’ experience, or maybe because it got into my blood and has never quite gone away.

And if I look at the Sixties through Jung, it is the puer ‘winged’ eternal youth that I see most. The way I would put it, is that behind the Sixties Adventure and some of its adventurous free spirit, and its self-exploration and discovery is the figure of the puer eternal youth. The Sixties was like a rise of the puer, in a way. and it was the puer long haired Sixties youth who were carrying the new ‘spirit of the times’ and they were carrying the puer spirit.

Jung(and James Hillman) use the Latin terms, senex and puer for ‘old man’ and ‘youth’. They personify the poles of tradition , stasis, structure and authority on one side, and immediacy, wandering, invention and idealism on the other. The senex consolidates, grounds and disciplines, the puer flashes with insight and thrives on fantasy and creativity’.

A polar division between senex and puer is all about us outside in the historical field’ said Hillman. There was a polar division all about us in the Sixties between the óld man(who embodied the traditional spirit and it’s stasis, structure and authority), and the youth(with their wandering, idealism and creativity). There was a puer spirit rising up in the Sixties. The Sixties was like a clash between the óld man’ and the youth, and between their two different ways of seeing the world, and two different ways of apprehending the world.

It was there in ‘The Times they are a Changin’, when the eighteen year old Bob Dylan asked the old senators and congressmen not to stand in the hallways or block up the doorways(and stand in the way of change). According to the puer long haired Sixties youth, it was the ‘old man’ who was standing in the hallways of power, but it was the youth who had the wandering, idealism and creativity, and who were carrying the new spirit of the times.

And in the slang of The Sixties subculture ‘Square’ and ‘Straight’ were referring to negative aspects of the ‘old man’(the Sixties youth thought they had a nose for any of the telltale signs of the senex). A devotion to the past, a rigid conservatism, a heavy Saturnian style and taste, an authoritarianism(authority that couldn’t be challenged), a fixation on ‘law and order’. To the Sixties youth a new imagination was rising up whether the óld man’ liked it or not(and they weren’t that fond of the óld man’ or his style and taste).

But according to the óld man’ the Sixties ‘thing’ was all about ‘sex and drugs and rock and roll'. The óld man’ was making charges against the youth and mostly pointing towards their moral degeneracy. The Sixties thing was like a mindless rebellion of youth. Just to mention the long haired Sixties youth could send him into a rage. He had heard about ‘Sympathy with The Devil’ from the Rolling Stones and that was enough. He had heard about ‘The Summer of Love’, and the long haired youth needed to ‘cut their hair and get a real job’.

Turning everything into spirit and making everything new

The puer ‘wants to turn everything into spirit or make everything new’ said Hillman. And it wasn’t just Bob Dylan, we loved(who wanted to make everything new), but we also loved Jimi Hendrix who wanted to turn everything into spirit.

He was like the archetypal puer. ‘Scuze me while I kiss the sky’ he said. He was like Icarus who wanted to fly towards the sun, like Bellephron storming into heaven on a winged horse, like Euphorion flying upwards towards the sky. He was like Horus who wanted to fly higher than his Father’s world. And some of his songs were as spiritual as anything in a Church(and the ‘Electric Church’ was for the puer youth who also wanted to reach up and kiss the sky, or fly way over yonder into the wholly other world of the spirit).

And we also loved Bob Marley because ‘all he ever had were songs of freedom’(and it was a puer kind of freedom he was on about). And we also loved The Moody Blues because they said everything had to be seen ‘Through the eyes of a Child’(and because we thought that it was the child, or the youth, who was more open to see the Sixties as a beginning place or a birthplace for a new world). And it was puer when Crosby Stills Nash and Young said ‘We can change the world’(there is something puer about wanting to change the world).

Whenever people talk about changing the world, you can be sure there are some puer’s or puella’s around. It was puer when Timothy Leary said to ‘turn off’ and ‘tune out’, from the old imagination, and ‘turn on’ to the new imagination. And when the French students said imagination au poiver(the imagination takes power). It was the puer imagination they wanted to take power. And when Joni Mitchell said in ‘By the time we got to Woodstock’, that ‘Maybe it was just a music festival, for that time of year, or ‘maybe it was the time of man’. And maybe, it wasn’t just a music Festival, but it was the right time for change, and the puer Sixties youth had met together at Woodstock for a Spring Festival.

The Psychology of the Puer

I would like to point towards a conversation that has been happening in Jungian psychology for some time, about the puer personality and about the psychology of the puer eternal youth.  

Don’t get me wrong, I will always love the Sixties, and its puer spirit, but I was younger then and I am older now, and rock and roll did eat some of its children as Martin Shaw said, even I can now see some of the adolescence of the Sixties, and some of its recklessness(and over optimism and over idealism and its youthful inexperience). And the Sixties youth could have got too ‘high’ at times, and might have loved ‘peak’ experiences, even more than ordinary life, and some of them could have been dangerously unfettered from the earth, at times. And the puer spirit was a little crazy, at times

And I have also read Jung, Marie Louise Von Franz and Hillman, since then, and. And what does modern psychology have to say about the the psychology of the puer eternal youth? ‘When that which has wings can touch the earth’ said Jung. We all remember Icarus who tried to fly too close to the sun and had his wings burnt and plunged into the ocean. And quite a few of the Sixties youth seemed to meet a fate like that, and didn’t always specialize in living past 28(and some didn’t make it back to earth from the Special Sixties World).

If the puer youth who longs to fly towards the sun, can just get foot on the ground, and touch the earth. If the puer who wants to kiss the sky can also descend and reach down and kiss the earth. If the puer can just put down some roots in the earth, then the puer would really begin to take birth. And in Marie Louise Von Franz the puer’s are like some of those spiritual types and sensitive types and they might be mama’’s boys(or Daddy’s girls in the case of the puella). Later Robert Bly carried this into his thinking about the New Age.

And I would also point towards the work of James Hillman on the puer. It is interesting that he first began writing about it in 1967 when the puer Sixties spirit might have been at its peak. And for Hillman, if the puer who loves the ‘heights’ or the ‘peaks’ of the spirit, can just ‘deepen’ a little. If the puer youth can just grow down, or descend into the ‘depths’ of the ‘psyche’, it would give more substance and more ‘depth’ to the puer personality. If the puer youth could just turn more towards the soul and its ‘depth’(and reach some accommodation between the high-driving spirit on the one hand, and the soul that loves ‘depth’). 

And I would also take up Hillman’s idea of the need to find some rapprochement between the senex and the puer. ‘The soul is not young or old, or it is both’ he said. It is a combination of both we might need. A kind of ‘senex et puer’ within ourselves(the youth might need some of the old man and the old man might need some of the youth). The aim is not to be too dominated by the senex(old man) or too dominated by the puer(youth) but to have room for both.  We might need some of the consolidation and grounding of the ‘old man’ within ourselves, along with some of the adventurous spirit of the youth.

What have I learnt from the Sixties

I have had many years to think about the Sixties now, and I will always love the Sixties, growing up in a small and conservative country town, the Sixties felt like a breath of fresh air to me, and I can still remember its sense of adventure and self exploration and self-discovery.

And the puer long haired Sixties youth must have contributed something to our society, because even the Establishment are falling over themselves backwards, these days, to honor them. Giving Bob Dylan a Nobel Prize for literature, and the aptly titled Órder of Freedom’, and we now have Sir Paul McCartney and Sir Mick Jagger and Sir Ray Davies from The Kinks, and Leonard Cohen is sadly missed and Joni Mitchell a living treasure, and everyone loves Keith Richards now, and generally, the Sixties is mostly seen as a ‘blossoming’ within our culture that did bring something new into the world.

But having said that, it has been a relief to have lost some of the innocence of youth, along with its naivety, and its youthful inexperience, as well as its over idealism and its over optimism. And along with some of it adolescence and its recklessness. ‘To be true to one’s puer nature’ says Hillman ‘is to be true to some of its gambols, gestures and sun struck aspirations’. And I might have to be true to some of my own sun struck aspirations. And to maybe, sometimes being swept away by what was blowin in the wind, in the Sixties.

And it is possible I could have listened to too much Crosby Stills, Nash and Young. And in some ways, I might now consider myself a recovering Puer. And these days I might say, if the puer can just get at least one foot on the ground, and touch the earth, and just descend and ‘grow down’ and ‘deepen’ into the soul. If the spirit that loves the heights, can also learn how to love the soul that loves ‘depth’. If the puer youth can just become a little more embodied, and grounded in a spirituality(which is not at odds with the ordinary life).

And there is another thing I would say about the puer Sixties youth, they might have quite rightly recognized the Saturnian ‘old man’ or the Devouring Father of our culture. But they didn’t always recognize any of the positive side of the óld man’(like Daedalus who counselled Icarus to take a middle way). They didn’t always recognize the ‘wise old man’ or mentor. And I heard Robert Bly say once, that the puer needs to meet some older men that they respect. And maybe the Sixties youth just hadn’t met any older men they could respect, yet.

And this long reflection on the Sixties leads me to think more about the positive side of the senex(or the ‘'old man’), and the wise old man and the mentor and also the élder’ within our society. Who passes down some of the first stories or myths to the youth, and do some of the work of the soul and the spirit in our culture. And it is not all about the youth. And in another way, I would say, whilst I will always love Bob Dylan, and Jimi Hendrix and Keith Richards, I might now also like Heraclitus and Plato, these days.

But also having said that me we might also need to keep some of the imagination of the youth(and I think what sometimes happens is that people see the errancy, or waywardness of youth,  and then want to leave everything of the child or the youth behind. And then they start to project all folly and immaturity onto the youth and maybe even berate the youth. But there will always be a youth within ourselves. . And I like Hillman's idea of giving room to both the ‘old man’ and the youth within ourselves. And people can become ‘possessed’ by the senex if they are not in good relationship with the youth.

And I like Hillman’s idea of a kind of senex et puer within ourselves(not too dominated by the senex or too dominated by the puer). It is an important psychological topic on the senex and the puer. And I can appreciate how Hillman re-visioned some of the thinking about the puer in traditional Jungian circles. And how he saw the puer as an archetype of the spirit, and saw legitimacy in some of the puer ambition. 'Without this archetypal component affecting our lives there would be no spiritual drive, no new sparks, no going beyond the given, no grandeur and sense of personal destiny' he said. And he saw senex and puer as two primary modes of apprehending lived experience.

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Jung and the World
Jung and the World Podcast
cultivating the soul and the sacred in a world turned upside down