Symbols of the body: matter evolves in the liver
Dr. Diego Frigoli*
If in every myth it is necessary to trace a more ancient rite, and if from the rite we go back to emblematic actions, expression of the archetypal activity, we are invited to think that inside every activity of collective thought there is a layer, a "sediment" of primary materiality, born in the germinative darkness of the archetypal source.
In other words, this means that at the root of our thought there is a "material", an "organic" substrate, sunk in the humus of life, which acts as a complementary and indispensable aspect to the more subtle activities of the psyche.
The Jungian analytical psychology defines this aspect, able to unite instinctual and psychological life, matter and spirit in a unitary and indispensable process, as the action of the Creator Archetype, and to make this comparison more explicit it qualifies it with the following example.
Imagine that we want to study the Creator Archetype of what we call Light: in every moment of the luminous life, we will have a particular spectrum of frequencies and wavelengths. The waves of infrared rays will be arranged to the left of the observer, in the center we will find the visible band of light rays, while to the right of the observer we will find the ultraviolet rays. All these radiations are always present, but our eye, accustomed to discriminating only the light radiations related to the visible band, is not be able to recognize the infrared and ultraviolet radiations, although they are present.
If we now relate to a different symbolic level and consider the light spectrum as an analogous "spectrum" of human emotions, on the left of the observer, we will be led to describe the instinctual life, similar to infrared rays that, as known, heat what they radiate; on the right we will describe the ultraviolet rays with greater penetration than the previous ones, and by analogy, here we will find the more spiritualized emotions capable of "permeating" the individual’s psychic life.
Between these two extremes, in place of what we have defined as the band of the "visible", we will place the ordinary emotions of our psychic life.
If this comparison is sufficiently explanatory, the archetype will represent that unitary trait capable of capturing the totality of manifestations, overcoming the apparent divisions of emotions separated from each other.
In practice, if we examine the archetype of love, the totalizing vision will no longer be only that which explores the physical and psychological variants of human love (the central band of the visible) but beyond these boundaries the archetypal vision will be able to bind in a unitary discourse the instinctual variants of the animal and the vegetable (infrared aspect) with the most subtle and transcendent mystical and spiritual "vibrations" inspired in the psyche by the attitude of love (ultraviolet aspect).
The spiritual aspect of liver energy
For these reasons, understanding the complete vision of what we define as archetype is an arduous task; in fact, to be capable of so much, it is necessary to recover in oneself such a wide and general totality that allows to the exploring consciousness to "see" as a "whole" what to the ordinary consciousness appears fragmented in a thousand streams of experiences.
More than the archetypal aspect, which is the heritage of absolute knowledge pertaining to the great laws of life, man is able to find in himself the symbolic vision, that aspect of inner experience that lies beyond the fragmenting appearances of the ego, which as a psychic trait tending to totality, evokes more closely the essence of the archetype.
Related to what has been said, we will now attempt a study of a fundamental organ of our body, the liver, in order to highlight the symbolic aspects of it, the expression of the most secret activity of a Creator archetype that gives shape to this organ.
Let us first explore the subtle aspect of the "hepatic" energies. the most spiritual trait. For this purpose, we will use the well-known myth of Prometheus, whose liver is devoured by an eagle. Prometheus is a very ancient character, anterior to Zeus and the Olympic gods, and his name literally means "the one who thinks first" and is therefore pre-visionary.
The Prometheus Myth
Prometheus would have created the man and Athena would have given to the new creature the vital breath. Not content, Prometheus would have taught the human race the art of civilized living. From these premises, we can already see that Prometheus represents an ancient capacity of the human being: to be able to escape the indiscriminate force of the primitive impulses of the primordial horde, capable only of living with instinct in all its manifestations of discharge, without elaborating the purpose.
Following the affirmation of Promethean capacity, human consciousness began to distinguish good from evil, useful from useless, true from false, and thus was born the possibility of common living and civil assemblies.
But according to the myth, Prometheus dared to deceive Zeus to favor men and as a punishment Zeus denied men the knowledge of fire; Prometheus however was able to steal fire from Olympus and gave it to men.
Increasingly angry Zeus ordered Hephaestus to chain Prometheus in the Caucasus and commanded an eagle, incited against him, to devour the immortal liver during the day, but at night the liver was destined to grow to the extent that it had been devoured.
Despite the great torment, Prometheus was able to tolerate it with an indomitable spirit, knowing that in the future a son of Zeus and a mortal would free him. And so it happened, thanks to the demigod Hercules, but after thirteen generations.
It is evident from this myth how Prometheus represents, for the ancient mentality, the faculty of human consciousness to subtract from the uroboric world of instincts the knowledge of “fire”, the transforming element par excellence, able to offer to the world the possibility to evolve.
Why does the eagle need to devour the liver?
The agony to which he is condemned by Zeus, symbol of the cosmogonic self, is to witness the devouring of his liver by an eagle during the day and see its reconstruction during the night.
The liver represents the necessary courage that must become "food" to feed the eagle, that is the ability to see things with a farsighted and conscious eye, so that the conscious psyche can dominate instinctual life.
In fact, in order for social life to organize itself in such a way as to allow man’s evolution, it is necessary to sublimate (devour) the courage (liver) to overcome instinct in favor of the forward-looking aspect of consciousness (eagle), that allows one to perceive the flow of existence in a detached manner.
Let us now consider the "infrared" side of the symbolic experience that studies the archetypal function concretized in the liver organ. In living beings, it can be considered a real laboratory capable of ensuring life. Its main functions are grouped in the following categories: storage of nutrients and conversion of proteins and fats into sugar (glycogen); a continuous regulation in the blood of hormonal substances indispensable to life; neutralization of exogenous poisons introduced from outside, and of endogenous poisons produced by the human organism; production of bile; and finally its own cell renewal which occurs approximately every six months.
In addition, Kupfler cells (belonging to the highly perfected Histiocyte Reticulum System), spread throughout the liver, continuously produce antibodies and phagocytize bacteria, viruses and foreign bodies by extracting them from the blood.
From a biochemical point of view, if we think of food as a "raw product" coming from the outside world and destined to enter the blood, vital "matter" par excellence, we can consider the liver as a real "primitive brain", able to process external data (proteins and fats) into a unitary aspect (glycogen), to process hormones, that is inner representations, so that they are used by the body, to detoxify poisons, or to "remove" life-threatening stresses, to produce bile, that is the substance capable of digesting fats, just as in the psyche the defense mechanisms process impulses.
Hepatic transformative capabilities
In other words, the liver, as a biological organ, recalls a similar complex function in the psyche: the transformation of primordial impulses into images capable of being assimilated by consciousness, until its complete amplification.
Therefore, in the light of the "ultraviolet" and "infrared" aspects briefly exposed, the function of the Archetype, embodied in the hepatic organ as physical form and in the similar subtle aspects as psychological function, becomes more and more outlined.
Following the physiological functions and the Promethean myth, the liver refers to a real and symbolic organ, capable of transforming the brutal and raw matter of food to assimilate and instincts to integrate into "subtle" and "more evolved" matter, called on the one hand blood and on the other hand psychic libido.
Moreover, the liver collects all the venous blood from the abdomen and converts it into blood richer in nutrients, destined to enter the great circulation where it is assimilated by the cells. At the level of psychic life, the symbolic liver is represented by the organizational capacity of the mind through which the most instinctual aspects of libido are processed into aspects useful for the amplification of consciousness. Think for example of a generalized sexual instinct that must be transformed into a directed sexual instinct.
The close relationship between liver and spring
Thus, the archetypal function of the liver is to transform the coarse primordial energy into a more subtle and refined aspect.
On a macrocosmic level, it corresponds to the capacity of the earth to germinate its latent energies and materialize them in a rich flowering of trees and flowers as it happens in spring; in Chinese medicine, in fact, the liver, as an organ, was associated to spring and to the color green.
If from the symbolic plane of analogies between the hepatic organ and psychic life we go to the analogical plane of the Spirit, the hepatic archetype can be traced when more properly individual interests are transformed into collective interests that amplify the specific consciousness of each individual. We could think that solidarity, charity, care for others, as amplified aspects of our personal identity in favor of a new dimension of egoic consciousness, draw the possibility of transformation of the most selfish aspects of the human soul in more evolved dimensions of spiritual life just from the archetypal activity of liver function, whose activation determines the growth of the collective consciousness of the individual.
*Dr. Diego Frigoli - Founder and promoter of the ecobiopsychological thought. Psychiatrist, Psychotherapist and Director of the ANEB Institute – School of Specialization in Psychotherapy. Innovator in the study of the imaginary focusing on the symbol in relation to its dynamics between the individual and the collective knowledge.
Translated by Dr.ssa Giorgia Croci – Student at the Istituto ANEB, Graduated in Science of Education and Clinical Psychology. Shiatsu therapist and expert in techniques for psychophysical well-being.