The demons, psychologically speaking, are very real, in that they alter our experience of ourselves. Jung says,
“As a rule there is a marked unconsciousness of any complexes, and this naturally guarantees them all the more freedom of action. In such cases their powers of assimilation become especially pronounced, since unconsciousness helps the complex to assimilate even the ego, the result being a momentary and unconscious alteration of personality known as identification with the complex. In the Middle Ages it went by another name; it was called possession.”
We, as “modern” people, to the extent we are acting out our unconscious, are as much “plagued” by possession as people in the Middle Ages.
“…in all cases identification with the unconscious [complex] brings a weakening of consciousness, and herein lies the danger. You do not ‘make’ an identification, you do not ‘identify yourself,’ but you experience your identity with the archetype in an unconscious way and so are possessed by it.”
Anything we are unconsciously identical with we are possessed by, and hence, compelled to act out in our life without understanding why. Though we have dismissed the idea of demons on the altar of our rationality, to quote Jung,
“…man himself has taken over their role without knowing it and does the devilish work of destruction with far more effective tools than the spirits did. In the olden days men were brutal, now they are dehumanized and possessed to a degree that even the blackest Middle Ages did not know.”
More than ever, current-day humanity is certainly acting as if it’s a species possessed. Eminent theologian and 9/11 Truth Activist David Ray Griffin writes,
“It does seem that we are possessed by some demonic power that is leading us, trancelike, into self-destruction.”
“…an unknown ‘something’ has taken possession of a smaller or greater portion of the psyche and asserts its hateful and harmful existence undeterred by all our insight, reason, and energy, thereby proclaiming the power of the unconscious over the conscious mind, the sovereign power of possession.”
When we are possessed we are not free, we are not masters in our own house. When we are possessed by the unconscious, we become dissociated from ourselves such that, as Jung writes, there is
“a tearing loose of part of one’s nature; it is the disappearance and emancipation of a complex, which thereupon becomes a tyrannical usurper of consciousness, oppressing the whole man. It throws him off course and drives him to actions whose blind one-sidedness inevitably leads to self-destruction.”
“Autonomous complexes” are parts of the psyche which have split-off due to shock, trauma, or breach of our boundaries, and have developed a seemingly autonomous life and apparently independent will of their own. Though we are unconsciously identified with them, autonomous complexes are subjectively experienced as other than ourselves. Apart from their inherent obscurity and strangeness, our unconscious identification with autonomous complexes is the essential reason why it is so hard to get a handle on them.
Autonomous complexes act upon us, they feel like our most intimate self, eventually need to be owned, but paradoxically, don’t belong to us. The seeming autonomy of the archetypes and complexes is what gives rise to the idea of supernatural beings. Endowed with a numinous energy, autonomous complexes are what our ancestors used to call “demons.” Autonomous complexes are a psychological name for the demons in the archetypal process of addiction that animate us to compulsively act out our addictive behavior. A demon or autonomous complex, to quote Jung,
“behaves like an animated foreign body in the sphere of consciousness. The complex can usually be suppressed, with an effort of will, but not argued out of existence, and at the first suitable opportunity it reappears in all its original strength.”
Due to their lack of association with the conscious ego, autonomous complexes are typically not open to being influenced, educated, nor corrected by “reality.” An intruder from the unconscious and a disturber of the peace, an autonomous complex, Jung points out,
“behaves exactly like a goblin that is always eluding our grasp.”
If left un-reflected upon, these demons or autonomous complexes wreak havoc for everyone within their sphere of influence. Jung writes,
“…any autonomous complex not subject to the conscious will exerts a possessive effect on consciousness proportional to its strength and limits the latter’s freedom.”
As it takes over and becomes in charge of a person, a complex incorporates a seemingly autonomous regime within the greater body politic of the psyche. [According to Jung,] the complex forms something like a shadow government of the ego. [The] complex dictates to the ego. When we are taken over by and in internal conflict with and because of an autonomous complex, it is as if we, as natural rulers of our own psychic landscape, have been deposed, and are living in an occupied country. We are allowed our seeming freedom as long as it doesn’t threaten the sovereignty and dominance of the ruling power. Jung comments,
“…a man does not notice it when he is governed by a demon; he puts all his skill and cunning at the service of his unconscious master, thereby heightening its power a thousandfold.”
Being nonlocal, this inner, psychological situation can manifest both within our psyche and out in the world at the same time.
Demons or autonomous complexes have a possessive and obsessive effect on consciousness. Interestingly, the word “obsession” originally meant to be under the influence of an evil “possession.” Obsession refers to certain ideas that have taken possession of the person. We can become possessed by unshakable ideas of the way things should be or who we think we are, oppressing and tyrannizing both ourselves and others who hold a different viewpoint in the process. Jung writes,
“The idea is like an autonomous being that wants a body so much that it even incarnates in the body; one begins to play, to perform the idea, and then people say one is completely mad. The idea has taken possession of one till it is as if one were out of one’s mind.”
Millions [have been] killed over a fixed idea. Commandeering and colonizing our psyche, a split-off, autonomous complex is, potentially, like a “vampiric virus,” in that it is fundamentally “dead” matter; it is only in a living being that it acquires a quasi-life. Just like a vampire re-vitalizes itself by sucking our life-force, when we unconsciously identify with an activated autonomous complex, we are literally animating and en-livening the undead. Complicit in our own victimization, we then unwittingly give away our freedom, power, and life-force in the process.
Like cancer cells ravaging the body, dis-associated, autonomous complexes are like “splinter psyches” that can become overly swollen with psychic energy, and then will propagate and metastasize themselves within the psyche, consuming, devouring, and cannibalizing the healthy aspects of the psyche. Drawing and attracting all of the wholesome parts of the psyche into itself, an autonomous complex can potentially warp and destroy the psyche of the person (or nation) so afflicted, nonlocally infecting and spreading by psychic contagion its malaise to the surrounding field in the process.
An autonomous complex can’t stand to be seen, however, in much the same way that a vampire detests the light. A demon or autonomous complex will shape-shift and do everything in its power to resist being illumined, for once it is seen, its autonomy and omnipotence are taken away. Anchored, connected and related to consciousness, the demon or autonomous complex can then no longer vaporize back into the unconscious, which is to say it is no longer able to possess us from behind and beneath our conscious awareness so as to compel us to unwittingly act it out and do its bidding (please see my article “Shedding Light on Evil”).