Soliton (saintbryan) wrote,

Projection in "Notes on Kabbalah"

This is an excerpt from the book "Notes on Kabbalah" about the psychological phenomenon called Projection. The author, Colin Low I think is a bastion of good sense. This excerpt is from the section on Netzach, the sphere of Ve

We all tend to identify feelings and characteristics in other people which we
find in ourselves and when we get it right it is called "empathy"
or "intuition"; when we get it wrong it is called "projection",
because we are incorrectly projecting our feelings, needs,
motives, or desires onto another person and interpreting their
behaviour accordingly. Some level of projection is unavoidable,
and at best it can be balanced with a critical awareness that it
can occur, but projection is insidious, and the strength of
feeling associated with a projection can easily overwhelm any
intellectual awareness. Projection usually "feels right".

One of the most overwhelming forms of projection accompanies
sexual desire. Why do I find one person sexually attractive and
not another? Why do I find some characteristics in a person
sexually attractive but not others? In my own case I discovered
that when I put together all the characteristics I found most
attractive in a person a consistent picture emerged of an "ideal
person", and every person I had ever considered as a possible
sexual partner was instantly compared against this template. In
fact there was more than one template, more than one ideal, but
the number was limited and each template was very clearly
defined, and most importantly, each template was internal. My
sexual (and often many other feelings) about a person were based
on an internal and apparently arbitrary internal template. This
was crazy; I found my sexual feelings about a person would change
depending on how they dressed or behaved, on how well they
"matched the ideal". It became obvious that what I was in love
with did not exist outside of myself, and I was trying to find
this ideal in everyone else. Each one of these "templates" was a
living aspect of myself which I had chosen not to regard as "me",
and in compensation I spent much of my time trying to find people
to bring these parts to life, like a director auditioning actors
and actresses for a part in a new play. If a person previously
identified as ideal failed to live up to my notion of how they
should be ideally behaving then I would project a fault on them:
there was something wrong with *them*! Madness indeed.

The Swiss psychologist Carl Jung [1] recognised this
phenomenon and gave these idealised and projected components of
our psyche the title "archetype". Jung identified several
archetypes, and it is worth mentioning the major and most

The Anima is the ideal female archetype. She is part
genetic, part cultural, a figure molded by fashion and
advertising, an unconscious composite of woman in the abstract.
The Anima is common in men, where she can appear with riveting
power in dreams and fantasy, a projection brought to life by the
not inconsiderable power of the male sexual drive. She might be
meek and submissive, seductive and alluring, vampish and
dangerous, a cheap slut or an unattainable goddess - there is no
"standard anima", but there are many recognisable patterns which
can have a powerful hold on particular men. Male sexual fantasy
material is amazingly predictable, cliched, unimaginitive and
crude, and contains a limited number of steroetyped views of
women which are as close to a "lowest common denominator anima"
as one is likely to find.

The Animus is the ideal male archetype, and much of what is
true about the Anima is true of the Animus. There are
differences; the predominant quality in the Anima is her
appearance and behaviour, while the predominant quality in the
Animus is social power and competence. In the interests of sexual
equality it is worth mentioning that female romantic fantasy
material is amazingly predictable, cliched, unimaginitive and
crude, and contains a limited number of stereotype views of men
which are as close to a "lowest common denominator animus" as one
is likely to find.

The Shadow is the projection of "not-me" and contains
forbidden or repressed desires and impulses. In most men the
Anima is repressed and in most women the Animus is repressed, and
so both form a component of the Shadow. The major part of the
Shadow however is composed of forbidden impulses, and the Shadow
forms a personification of evil. Much of what is considered evil
is defined socially and the communal personification of evil as
an external force working against humankind (such as Satan) is

The Persona is the mask a person wears as a member of a
community when a large proportion of his or her behaviour is
defined by a role such as doctor, teacher, manager, accountant,
lawyer or whatever. Projection occurs in two ways: firstly,
someone may be expected to conform to a role in a particularly
rigid or stereotyped way, and so suffer a loss of individuality
and probably a degree of misplaced trust or prejudice. Secondly,
many people identify with a role to the extent that they carry
that role into all aspects of their private lives. This
"projection onto self" is a form of identification - see
the section on Tiphereth.

The archetype of Self at the level of Hod and Netzach is
usually projected as an ideal form of person; that is, someone
will believe that he or she is highly imperfect creature and it
is possible to attain an ideal state of being in which the same
person is kind, loving, wise, forgiving, compassionate, in
harmony with the Absolute, or whatever. This projection will
either fasten on a living or dead person, who then becomes a
hero, heroine, guru, or master with grossly inflated abilities,
or it fastens on a vision of "myself made perfect". The projected
vision of "myself made perfect" is common (almost universal)
among those seeking "spiritual development", "esoteric training",
and other forms of self-improvement, and in almost every case it
is based on an abstract ideal. The person will probably insist
that the ideal has existed in certain rare individuals (usually
long dead saints and gurus, or someone who lives a long way off
whom they haven't met), and that is the sort of person they want
to be. It should be comical, but it isn't. There is more to say
about this and it will keep till the section on Tiphereth.

The book is available only online, and is really, really well worth a read for anyone even vaguely interested in this thing called "Kabbalah."
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If we have this projection problem, which the author admits is "Insidious," if we can't see past our own noses when it comes to making judgements about other people most, if not all of-the-time, would it not stand to reason in this regard that we are imperfect creatures? Or is the very implication of this only an illusion, and there isnt anything wrong with us, even though we "incorrectly project." Where then does this tendency to project come from, if not from us? Is it our shadow? (Yes, dump everything in the shadow.) But ofcourse, our shadow is us. Nothing bad in there, ony things we dont like about ourselves. So what then? Could it be that this "insidious" thing comes from somewhere else? I find the use of this word telling:

in·sid·i·ous   [in-sid-ee-uhs] Show IPA
intended to entrap or beguile: an insidious plan.
stealthily treacherous or deceitful: an insidious enemy.
operating or proceeding in an inconspicuous or seemingly harmless way but actually with grave effect: an insidious disease.

An enemy? Who? Dont say Satan, hes just our own collective shadow. But still, maybe we can find the solution to our projection problem here. The problem isnt us, its everybody else! Perfect.
It sounds like you're saying that people are imperfect because they are capable of making mistakes. That is a value judgement, not something that 'stands to reason.' It stands to reason that our perception is limited, and so the products of our reasoning and our values are also limited. It stands to reason that reason and emotions are poor instruments for determining (i.e. observing) what is universal. Like the author pointed out, both the belief that one is an imperfect creature, and the belief that one can be made (or already is) perfect are abstractions at the level of Netzach and Hod. That doesn't mean that they are bad, or need to be trashed, it just means that they are the impermanent (conditional, transitory) products of the emotions and thoughts. They are just so. I think it's worth pointing out that the action of identifying with the limited and transitory phenomena that we can observe (such as our thoughtforms and value attributions) is considered by the Buddhists, among others, to be the root of sorrow- that it is the cause of the experience of imperfection and limitation. Are we imperfect or not? Is someone wrong if they have no belief on the issue?

I think you might be running a little too far with that insidious word. I say that because it looks like you're fishing for evidence to support your view. I've been studying my own projections pretty hardcore for the past 4 weeks, writing down the big ones when I'm able to notice them, and then considering what their internal correspondences are, and what that tells me. What I've found about my projections is that they are tricky, sticky, pervasive, beguiling, confusing, attractive and... extremely helpful? Yeah, sometimes. Besides the fact that when I notice them, they tell me a lot about how my mind is shaping my experience of the world, it SEEMS as though the phenomenon we call projection is actually a very important sense-organ. This is my hypothesis, and it requires a lot more testing before I can be sure it's somewhat accurate: What we call projection is the action of the part of our mind that identifies patterns and uses emotional placemarkers to attach memory and information to those patterns. I've noticed that what I've usually thought of as just "empathy" is in fact projection. In fact, I've noticed that any time (as far as I can tell) I am reading another person's mood or motivations, I am in a way projecting, that is, unconsiously reaching into the filing cabinet of my own moods and emotions and trying to find a pattern that corresponds. I read an article on Projection by a Dr. Burgh Joy, who says, "This phenomenon ["projection"] is actually an example of the operation of the principle of correspondence. When a pattern of forces is active in the Unconscious of an individual, and outer reality contains an event, person, or action that even remotely resembles that pattern, the individual will "project" the unconscious pattern onto outer reality." People are only capable of understanding what they have experience with, and in just the same way, we are only capable of empathizing with other people insofar as the behaviors of another person correspond with what we feel (or have an experience with feeling) inside. Notice that another way of saying that you "empathize" with someone is you "identify" with them.
But the really tricky part comes in trying to determine whether your projection is an accurate correspondence or not. Mostly, when big noticeable projections occur, it's fairly obvious that they're inaccurate. Their inaccuracy can be seen if what you're "reading" into a person or situation just *happens* to be exactly like such-and-such dream or recurring thought or recurring irritation or recurring fear or recurring fantasy or whatever. The more of an emotional bang the event/person seems to carry, the more likely it is that you're seeing more of your own unconscious content than external content. But that's definitely not a rule. For example, I went to a bar last week and saw a band play. I looked around at the audience and read lots of insecurity (lots of unsure, stiff dancing, etc). I knew I was projecting my own insecurity onto them, but it was probably also a fairly accurate reading. Same thing happened when I made a mess-up at work after goofing off, and read irritation in a co-worker. I knew I was seeing my own strong self-directed anger, but it was probably also a fairly accurate reading. Nevertheless, separating highly emotionally charged delusion from "meh"-reality is where the "insidiousness" of projection comes in. Knowing your own conditioned patterns and habits pretty well helps a lot. The insidiousness comes from the fact that it is so much easier to be ignorant of something than to have knowledge of it. And that's the law of inertia, plain and simple. If you want to equate Satan with heaviness, intertia, limitation, ignorance, etc. go for it. I think many hermetic kabbalists would agree with that correspondence.