Meyer (2003), in a discussion of Jungian symbolism in the movie, Spider-Man, notes that both masks and voices are essential to the movement of heroic characters through the plotline. Meyer is not, however, a psychologist, nor even an anthropologist; rather, she is a write about communications. Still, her work on Spider-Man tied several of the movie's themes to Jungian thought.
Halifax's work goes farther in bringing Jungian thought into the mainstream of psychological study. His work with shamans and shamanic ritual, important subjects to Jungians, posited aspects of schizophrenia in the initiatory journey of the shaman. Halifax cited Julian Silverman's conclusions in which schizophrenia was characterized as a disorder in which the "individual withdraws form society and the outer world and becomes preoccupied by internal processes with a resulting disintegration of the personality. The symptoms, broadly described, include autism and unreal ideation, disturbed perception and thinking, emotional liability and volatility, and bizarre behavior" (Halifax, 1990, pp. 53-58).
Likewise, "The initiatic crisis of the shaman in many ways resembles what is called schizophrenia. It also has features that are comparable to the journey of mythic heroes, to death-rebirth experiences in rites of passage, to the posthumous journey of the soul, to clinical death experiences and LSD experiences," according to Halifax (1990, pp. 53-58). Halifax claims that studying shamanism from a psychological viewpoint has helped in understanding the nature of what Halifax is careful to call "so-called mental disorders in Western culture" (Halifax, 1990, pp. 53-58).
In addition, and relevant for this investigation of the experience of hearing voices for both patient and therapist, "There are usually auditory and tactile hallucinations and distortions of the body image; individuals often suffer from an experience of dismemberment or dying, hearing voices, ritualistic behavior, fusion of higher and lower referential processes, and the individual can cognitively reorganize, including the reintegration of the personality and the assimilation of unconscious content into the sphere of consciousness" (Halifax, 1990, pp. 53-58.) It is interesting to note that Halifax mentions the idea of cognitive reorganization; it is possible, then, that cognitive therapies can work for schizophrenics hearing voices, despite the fact that this seems to hint at a greater role for phenomenology as well. It is equally interesting to note that Halifax contends that shamans are 'wounded healers,' or those who can help others because they have experienced various disease and/or abnormal states themselves and have transcended them. Although Halifax does not make a direct connection, it seems that this points, also, to a role for phenomenology. Jungian psychiatrist John Weir Perry, too, has outlined the roles found by Halifax, describing the schizophrenic process as a "Renewal of the Self," in which case, auditory hallucinations might be seen -- at least in a phenomenological perspective, as no more than 'self-talk' or a version of the "Dr. Phil" treatment by, for and about schizophrenics inhabiting their own phenomenological universe.
In another wave at cognitive therapy, Halifax also proposes that both schizophrenics in Western society and novice shamans can use their altered perception to good advantage "in the process of cognitive reorganization. That shamanism (with its voices) and schizophrenia (with its auditory hallucinations, to use more medically oriented terminology) simply reflect each other was also a belief held by the famous mythologist, Joseph Campbell, who once commented that "the schizophrenic is drowning in the same water in which the mystic is swimming with delight" (Halifax, 1990, pp. 53-58).
Pettid also investigated shamanic cultures and their alliance with hearing voices; his viewpoint was that such cultures were normal, if secondary, to the main culture (2003, p. 113+). In this viewpoint, too, auditory hallucinations can be seen as normal, although 'alternative'.
Others, too, have made the connection in their own rubrics. Anthropologist Anthony Wallace referred to "mazeway synthesis" in which the world is restructured by an individual in response to an overwhelming crisis and anxiety. Gregory Bateson felt that an acute psychotic event, such as hearing voices, could be a means to solving a pathological situation so that the individual could return to normal life with new insight. Anthropologist Victor Turner called such episodes a means for "transforming the obligatory into the desirable" (quoted by Halifax, 1990, pp. 53-58.)
Shamanic traditions and psychotherapy
It is clear that auditory hallucinations are often studied as part of a mystical complex, and not as unwanted mental/emotional aberrations per se. In a combination religious/historical/anthropological study, Ardery suggested that auditory hallucinations not only date to the start of what we now recognize as civilization, but in fact probably had something to do with humans becoming civilized to begin with. If Ardery is right, then hearing voices may not be the proper province of psychologists and psychiatrists.
Ardery contends that the best hypothesis to explain verbal hallucinations is that they were "a side effect of language comprehension which evolved by natural selection as a method of behavioral control.... " (Ardery, 2004, p. 83+).
Ardery's viewpoint is that of semantics, so it is not surprising that he creates a sort of vignette of an early society to explain the usefulness of auditory hallucinations:
[I]n fashioning a tool, the hallucinated verbal command of 'sharper' enables nonconscious early man to keep at his task alone. Or an hallucinated term meaning 'finer' for an individual grinding seeds on a stone quern into flour. It was indeed at this point in human history that I believe articulate speech, under the selective pressure of enduring tasks, began to become unilateral in the brain, to leave the other side free for these hallucinated voices that could maintain such behavior ....(Ardery, 2004, p. 83+).
He also maintains it was the invention of names that allowed auditory hallucinations to be recognized. At this point, Ardery appears to have joined the phenomenologists and others who actually see little to correct in the case of hearing voices. Ardery notes:
But once a specific hallucination is recognized with a name, as a voice originating from a particular person, a significantly different thing is occurring. The hallucination is now a social interaction with a much greater role in individual behavior...." (Ardery, 2004, p. 83+). It almost seems as if Ardery is using the 'tree falling in the forest' analogy. Does it make a noise? Likewise, are auditory hallucinations anything even worth dealing with? He seems to go beyond phenomenology on this score, suggesting that the only reason that we have any phenomena -- hearing voices or otherwise -- is because we have named them, bringing them to that side of the brain that must be conscious to see/feel/hear, etc.
Ardery also proposes that auditory hallucinations are essential to keep humans evolving, or even 'on task.' He compares them to simply individuals speaking to themselves from the subconscious about what needs to be done (Ardery, 2004, p. 83+).
Ardery suggests some highly unusual origins for auditory hallucinations, certainly. However, he also constructs plausible reasons that in the far reaches of pre-recorded history, the "stress threshold" for hallucinations was much lower than in either normal people or schizophrenics today. He also makes the point that a voice, any voice, is difficult for humans to ignore. He asks:
Why should such voices have such authority... Sound is a very special modality. We cannot handle it. We cannot push it away. We cannot turn our backs to it.... Sound is the least controllable of the sense modalities.... Consider what it is to listen and understand someone speaking to us. In a certain sense we have to become the other person; or, rather, we let him become part of us for a brief second. We suspend our own identities, after which we come back to ourselves and accept or reject what he has said. However, that brief second of dawdling identity is the nature of understanding language; and if that language is a command, the identification of understanding becomes the obedience. To hear is actually a kind of obedience (Ardery, 2004, p. 83+).
Religious viewpoint of hearing voices, vis-a-vis therapeutic issues
As is obvious, there are thinkers from many disciplines who have studied hearing voices. Not surprisingly, especially in view of the proposition that some of its own saints heard voices, the Episcopal Church has something to say concerning auditory hallucinations, or at least, concerning the traditions in which hearing voices seems to have found some acceptance irrespective of their position as indicators of mental illness. In explaining the basic beliefs of that church, Temple noted, "many Episcopalians find the psychology of C.G. Jung to be especially attractive. The Episcopal Church embraces among its members any number of skillful lay analysts whose attraction to Jung expresses the same interest others confine to spiritual direction (2002, p. 303+). In addition, church leaders in that denomination today have studied other traditions in which 'hearing voices' is much more acceptable than in Western society. Many Episcopal Church…