In this paper certain religious mystical experiences, theophany and kenosis, are compared with some schizophrenic phenomena and with certain aspects of normal creative thinking. The early development of the ego in certain individuals is characterized by a continuing struggle between the 'self-system' ego and the 'mother system', or the 'mother inspired' demands of the superego. The sudden capitulation of the self-system to the mother-system gives rise to the psychic experience
- 283 -
of a theophany or kenosis, which is described as 'a blinding flash of inspiration which seems to light the way toward resolution of [the beholder's] inner conflicts'. The individual 'readjusts his whole psychic focus and surrenders his self-strivings, his own internal rhythms', and becomes 'the responsive messenger, satellite, or proselyte—the vicar of the very authority (the mother) which he originally attempted to offset, defeat, and destroy'. The prerequisites for spontaneous theophany are sustained effort with subsequent exhaustion and relaxation of concentration. 'These are also the ingredients of creative inspiration and the inspirational experiences of psychotics.'
The author discusses examples of theophanic and kenotic phenomena from religious history and from clinical psychiatric reports, and compares them to the normal creative intellectual process. The theophanic experience, 'the return to the superego', is the same as the 'elation concept' of Bertram D. Lewin, according to Moloney.
The frequent occurrence in theophanic experiences of light or flashes of light and of sound is explained by the explosive violent vacating of energy from the self-system into the authoritarian system of mother and superego. The mother or her breast can represent the sun as purveyor of warmth, food, and comfort. The theophanic experience is a regression to the precognitive oral relationship of infant to mother's breast; the precognitive diffuse mother becomes blended with the psychic superego which had developed at a time of greater cognition. 'The identity of the superego … has been built up and fully established, and we may view it as an intrusion and extension of the precognitive diffuse mother resident at the baby's skin.'
Since the regression in theophany is to precognitive starting point, the sudden loss of energy by the real self allows the latter to be devoured and dominated by the internalized superego-mother-breast.
- 284 -
Gray, M. (1956). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association. II, 1954. Psychoanal. Q., 25:283-284