In a society in which technology dominates and concepts of magic are left to the Harry Potter fans, is it possible that African Divination and Western Psychotherapy could have anything in common?
Clinical psychologist and Emory Candler Professor of Psychology Marshall Duke and Associate Curator of Ancient African Art at the Carlos Museum Jessica Stephenson shed some insight on this inquiry in a lecture last Tuesday at the Carlos Museum. The lecture, aptly entitled “Dreaming, Divination, and Psychoanalysis,” was divided into two sections. The first, delivered by Stephenson, delved into the process of ancient African Divination and dream interpretation techniques.
In the second, Duke spoke of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung’s approaches to psychotherapy and the possible links between modern psychotherapy and ancient African Divination. The lectures were followed by a question and answer session, which swiftly turned into an opportunity for the intellectuals and professionals dominating the audience to share their own knowledge about various subjects directly or marginally related to the topics presented in the lecture.
Stephenson began by defining divination as “a technique of inquiry to gain knowledge of past, present, and future events by tapping into supernatural realms.”
Stephenson went on to explain that there are numerous types of divination and a specific instrument for each.
“Aesthetic appeal is a key aspect of [the instrument’s] efficacy,” Stephenson said.
Different types of diviners utilized Oracular instruments in various practices, but all served the purpose as a medium between the client and the spirit world, Stephenson explained.
Duke, in his portion of the lecture, first touched on the relationship between Sigmund Freud and his protégé, Carl Jung.
“They spoke without stop for 12 or 13 hours when they met,” said Duke.
The duo broke ties over Jung’s idea of the collective unconscious. Duke explained that when Jung was a boy, he believed his mother’s spirit left her body at night and wandered the house. Taking precautions against this spirit, Jung carved a wooden figure and placed it with other collectibles in a box beneath his bed. In 1928, Jung traveled to Kenya and was surprised to find people who were engaged in a shockingly similar practice.
“How did I know about this without learning it,” Duke asked, charismatically impersonating his idea of Jung’s discovery. From this experience, Duke expanded, Jung came to believe that there were certain things that all people knew without learning them: hence the collective unconscious.
Duke proceeded to discuss his ideas about specific versus common factors in linking African divination and modern psychotherapy. The presence of a sanctioned healer was the first of Duke’s examples of similarities.
“People must believe in the healer’s abilities,” Duke said.
In a contemporary setting, the reputation of a doctor or medical professional is usually sufficient. The diviner can be viewed in the same way in the ancient African tradition.
Duke proceeded to talk about the idea of diagnostic rituals and trappings as a means to access the inaccessible. Freud held the idea that the unconscious could be accessed through dream interpretation, what became known as Freudian slips and free association. Differentiating between Freud’s idea of dream interpretation, Stephenson noted that the African tradition believed that dreams were initiated from the outside.
To identify with this idea, Stephenson relayed an anecdote from her personal life, in which she dreamt about a few high school friends she had not seen in 20 years. The following morning one of them requested her friendship on Facebook.
Another similarity between modern psychotherapy and ancient African divination can be seen through the client’s engagement in rituals prescribed by the healer. A modern-day therapist might prescribe pills, additional consultation, relaxation or even gravity therapy. Diviners, too, would prescribe a remedy after the affliction of the client was discerned, as Stephenson explained in her talk.
“Many [prescriptions] served protective purposes,” Stephenson said. “For example, once a diagnosis has been made by a Lobi diviner, the client [would] follow prohibitions, perform sacrifices and possibly erect a shrine to house large-scale figurative sculptures.”
Though neither speaker directly addressed a possible cause for these similarities, Duke’s mention of Carl Jung’s collective unconscious seems to serve as an intriguing indicator.
— Contact Arianna Skibell.