Jung’s Understanding of the Meaning of the Shadow pages 205-229 from Jung and the Story of Our Time by Laurens van der Post
© 1975 by Laurens van der Post
Not the least of Jung’s services to his time was his demonstration of how the dreaming process in man, far from being archaic and redundant, was more relevant than ever.
This symbol moving between his dream and daylight self, however, was crucial at this moment.
For years Jung had observed a sort of circular movement of awareness, dreams, visions, and new inner material round an as yet undefined centre like planets and moons around a sun.
It was a strange rediscovery of what had once been called the “magic circle.”
Christian use of this symbolism of the circle was common in the compass around him.
But no one had ever seen the symbolism implied in the pattern.
Some of Jung’s women patients who could not describe it in words or paintings would evendance the magic circle for him. And, as I was able to tell him also, the Stone Age man of Africa to this day does as well.
Jung found this circular pattern such a compulsive, one is inclined to say transcendental, constant in himself and others that he started to paint it and to derive such comfort and meaning from it that for years he hardly drew anything else.
He called the process and the movement of spirit the mandala, taking the Sanskrit word for “circle,” because by this time he had seen drawings by his patients that were almost exact copies of drawings used in religious instruction in Tibet.
When I told him how I had discovered that “mandala” was used in African Arabic also for spectacles, signifying thereby an enlargement and two-way traffic of spirit, he was visibly moved.
He instantly told me how important a piece of evidence the discovery of the famous “sun- wheel” in Rhodesia had been to him, since it was perhaps the oldest visual representation of this pattern.
I was able to tell him of other possibly older abstracts of similar and related patterns in an immense expanse of stone which had once been the bed of a river in southern Africa.
This primitive confirmation as of the first primordial human witness to the truth of his own conclusions helped him greatly.
Indeed, his own confrontation with the unconscious had ended with some superb paintings of mandalas.
One called Window on Eternity, though painted long before his meeting with Wilhelm, is included in the “examples of European mandalas” accompanying The Secret of the Golden Flower, of which the dream magnolia was obviously an example.
It shows a flower, a diamond with light in the centre, the stars in their courses about it and surrounded by walls with eight gates, the whole conceived as a transparent window, constituting as complete a visualisation as imagination is capable of rendering of the whole of life and its meaning.
It was followed later, however, by another, the last of all the paintings in the Red Book, of the yellow castle.
He always thought of it, as did I and those with me seeing it for the first time, as oddly Chinese.
Hence the name yellow, not only because it is the colour associated with the Chinese but also because it is the colour of resolution of the gold of
being which both Chinese and European alchemists sought.
So without sacrifice of special meaning in terms of his own life and time, he returned to alchemy more zealously than ever before.
Yet this return, despite the Chinese precept, was as difficult a task as any he attempted before.
He bought all the modern books on the subject available and when these failed him went about the market-places to buy the work of long-forgotten alchemists in their original Latin, which he still read as easily as we do English.
He came to possess what I believe was the largest library of original alchemical books in Europe.
But they all seemed at first obscure and meaningless, until he decided to treat them as some intelligence officer in a great war engaged in breaking the cipher, wherein the most immediate messages of the enemy were encoded in fragments of intercepted messages.
He wrote down carefully all the patterns of phraseology recurring most often and then he got it.
Like the Chinese, the alchemists were his true authentic, however remote, forebears.
When the medieval church began to fail the questing spirit of Europe, as it did more and more from the first Christian millennium onwards, and such thread as it had with the living historical past appeared irrevocably cut, the alchemists had increasingly taken over the original quest.
Their persecutors, who accused them of being vulgar materialists in search of the wealth that was gold, could not have been more wrong. Much of what they had done was inevitably achieved in secrecy and expressed with great obscurity for reasons of security as well as the originality and intractability of the material which confronted them. But Jung, the
code broken, soon saw the gold they were after was no common gold; the philosophers’ stone they sought was no ordinary stone.
They were trying to achieve through the external world with their alchemistry what he sought through his psychology.
As always, the authentic process of arriving at new meaning began by seeing its reflection and symbolism mirrored in the world without.
They were seeking to create a new sort of man, a greater awareness of reality and increase of meaning.
It was obvious to Jung now that their work was full of living symbolism of the most transformative kind.
There was not one of any distinction among them from Hermes Trismegistus to Paracelsus who did not lay down as the first and most important laws of his science those of purity of heart, honesty of mind, love of God, and the patience of that love which endured and bore all things to the true end.
From as far back as that unremembered African hand which inscribed a rock in Africa with its version of what the Tibetans call the “wheel of life,” on through the story of Babylon, Egypt, Russia Palestine, Greece, Rome, and so on up to the present day, the continuity of the essential theme of life was empirically established as having remained unbroken and intact.
The detail of all this is in Jung’s Psychology and Alchemy and there is no need to follow it further here, except to add that though this book appears formidable to the eye of the reader and, with all its necessary and laborious footnotes, fit only for scholars, it is one of the most rewarding books of history I know, easily read and in the end leaving one humble, grateful, and infinitely reassured. Far from difficult, it is a great Homeric epic of the Western spirit and, although obviously not written in heroic couplets, a resounding poetic statement.
One starry utterance after another comes out of the alchemical dark at one such as:
I sleep and my soul awakens.
Imagination is the star in man.
Thus there is in man a firmament as in Heaven but not of one piece; there are two.
For the hand that divided light from darkness and the hand that made Heaven and earth has done likewise in the microcosm below, having taken from above and enclosed within man everything that Heaven contains.
As the great Heaven stands, so it is implanted at birth.
D. H. Lawrence in one of his most inspired moments wrote that in the dust where we have buried the silent races and their abominations we have buried so much of the delicate magic of life.
Through his reinterpretation of Chinese and European alchemy, Jung uncovers much of this “delicate magic of life” and shows that it is not dead but relevant and alive in the symbolism of our imagination and continues to be of great concern to our well-being in the present.
Until this moment of Jung’s return, it would not be unfair generalisation to say that in so far as the existence of an unconscious in man was accepted at all, it was in a negative way.
This in a sense was not surprising. Both Jung and Freud had come to it initially in their search for the causes of neurosis and derangement in the human personality.
Both had traced the source of neurosis and derangement to an unconscious area in the mind of man.
There was a moment even when this unconscious appeared as a comparatively shallow area, existing not so much in its own right as created out of a conscious and wilful suppression of instincts and experience too painful for the comfort of man.
In so far as it was thought of as existing on its own, it seemed to be in active opposition and a state of cloak-and-dagger warfare with what was conscious in man. Both Jung and Freud themselves established significant patterns of conflict between conscious and unconscious in men, but Jung’s view of it was a vastly different affair.
Its negative aspect dwindled into insignificance beside his revelation of its positive objective nature and its own vital involvement in the enlargement of consciousness in man.
The conflict between conscious and unconscious forces which filled mental asylums, crowded the consulting rooms of Freud, Jung, and their collaborators, and emptied the churches of the day, were nothing compared to the problem of enrichment and increase in
the conscious life of man Jung found concealed in it.
This was no dark, disordered world, basically antipathetic and committed to war on consciousness.
Where it was dark, it had its own form of starlight and moonlight for the probing spirit to steer by, and laws of order and determination as precise as those that kept the stars in their courses in the universe without.
The negations came only when man’s conscious self ignored his dependence on this world of the collective unconscious which had so mysteriously brought it forth and tried to establish some kind of independent tyranny over what ultimately only sought to nourish and increase their partnership.
The trouble started only when the part of the human personality which was conscious behaved as if it were the whole of the man.
There was nothing this unconscious world abhorred more than one-sidedness. When one extreme of spirit attempted a monopoly for
itself another extreme sooner or later rose titanic in the unconscious to overthrow it.
That is why the history of man was so much a swing from one opposite of spirit into another as Heraclitus had observed millenniums before.
This new and revolutionary view of an unconscious was set out by Jung with an immense wealth of empirical detail, drawn not only from his work in the mental asylums and in his practice but from history, art, literature, and the mythologies and religions of the world.
The labour and scale of imagination and concentration he put into this work, for anyone who has taken the trouble to glance at it, make complete nonsense of the charge, which I myself had once so naively accepted, that he was another loose and vague kind of mystic.
He established through a way no scientist can deny that this collective unconscious within man was objective, that the visions and dreams and imagery in which it communicated with man’s conscious self were utterly objective facts, however subjectively they are experienced.
He showed clearly how conscious man ignored such facts at his peril, and moreover taught himself and men how to read the language of dreams as if they were the forgotten language of the gods themselves.
He revealed how in this collective unconscious of the individual man were infinite resources of energy, organised in definite recognisable patterns.
Each of these patterns had at its disposal its own form of energy and somewhere located, as it were, in the centre, between the unconscious and conscious, there was a master pattern to which all other patterns subscribed and all their other energies could be joined in one transcendental orbit.
He called these patterns, first of all, “primordial images,” a phrase borrowed from Burckhardt as indicated before, but later changed to “archetypes,” an idea rediscovered from Saint Augustine, and before him from Hermes Trismegistus, who exclaims in the Poimandres, “You have seen in your mind the archetypal image!”
In this one detail again one sees the
selfless, unegotistical Jung, determined not to set himself apart and above history but
wherever possible to contain all he did in the context of his own culture. He showed an
awareness that became a fixed article of work and faith, of the importance of never throwing
away his own cultural inheritance but of accepting it, however imperfect, as the basic
material of his work, and the only aboriginal stock on which his own contemporary spirit
His capacity for deriving new meanings from all civilisations was unbounded. He
drew on the experience of such different extremes as the Chinese and Red Indian, Hindu
India, and primitive Africa, not as substitution but enrichment of his own cultural
inheritance. He scorned the growing numbers in Europe who exchanged their own culture for
another as an evasion of the difficult task of truly being themselves and once described such
a dubious “trafffic” to me as obscene.
Meanwhile, he found that these archetypes, a word that is so much in use these days
that it is in danger of losing its value, were so highly organised and vivid in the unconscious,
impinging so sharply on conscious imagination, that they could be personified or at the very
least given abstract expression, as in that final drawing in his own Red Book of a castle that
An example of how vivid and complex this world of archetypes was, could be found
in its instinctive and intuitive representation in Greek mythology. This system of spirit is the
most highly differentiated, accurate, and detailed model of the forces of the collective
unconscious the world has perhaps ever known. It is precisely because of this exceptional
instinctive awareness of the collective unconscious, demonstrated in their myths and legends
and all that flowed from them, that the Greeks were able to make so formidable a
contribution to the evolution of the human spirit.
Jung himself in his Red Book, in the mural paintings he did so magnetically on the
walls of his tower at Bollingen, and in his carvings on stone, gave visual expression to his
own personifications and abstractions of some of these greatest archetypal images and
powers. He himself indeed had been familiar with one in personified form when still a boy.
He had visualised and with great benefit to himself had had a dialogue almost as far back as
he could remember, as we have seen, with one of the greatest of all archetypes, that of the
wise old man, the inner master or guru, the sensei of Japan, which life has formed of all its
experience and intimations of where and how it wants to take itself further, implanting it in
the imagination of every human being, so that did he but know it he was not born utterly
naked, ignorant and unarmed in the jungle of the world but had great guidance and
As he looked back from this high, assured new vantage point of himself, on a life
lengthening so fast behind him but closing in on him so swiftly from ahead, I find nothing
more moving than this vision of Jung as a young boy, when a father he had loved had failed
him, putting a trusting hand instead in that of this wise old figure who came to him
unsolicited in the stillness of his own imagination and let it lead him on safely to his meeting
with the destiny to which he was committed at birth. We have seen how in all his moments
of greatest abandonment, when he had no male company of any kind, this archetype stayed
firmly with him. Embattled as he was, Jung was moved to go on painting and repainting his
portrait at Bollingen in a manner which is so decisive and electric that no imagination can
look at the painting and doubt his validity. One could hardly sleep in one’s bed there at night,
so alive and urgent was his presence in the murals around the room. And perhaps strangest
and most significant of all, the relevant coincidence, in high Chinese fashion, had come to
confirm the authenticity of the vision the first time he tried to paint it. The vision came to
him in kingfisher-blue wings. Jung painted it with an electric-blue immediacy that to this day
is quite startling. Some hours afterwards, walking in his garden by the lake, he found a dead
kingfisher lying there. The bird in any case was rare and he had never seen one there before
nor was he to see one again. Since the bird always and everywhere from Stone Age man to
Stravinsky has been the image of the inspiration, the unthinkable thought which enters our
selves like a bird unsolicited out of the blue, it was for Jung, as a Zen priest once put it to
me, one of the signs of confirmation from nature that sustain the spirit in its search for
enlightenment and emancipation from the floating world of appearances.
Unfortunately, the archetypal patterns of Jung’s evolution are far too many to be
enumerated specifically even in so simplified a manner, and there may be more even than
either the assembly the Greeks recorded in their mythology and legends or those Jung
discovered. But two deserve special mention because of their unique importance to our own
time. These are, of course, the great twosome: the feminine in man and the masculine in
woman. Jung called the latter “animus” and the first, as mentioned in his encounter with
Salome, “anima,” thereby using again a term borrowed from the forgotten language of
Christian religion when it was still alive and fresh with its message of love in the
power-drunk world of the Romans.
It was precisely because of this denial of the archetypal aspect and its supreme value
of love that the history of the world, as Jung saw it, was such a cataclysmic waste-land. It
was this denial that made modern man increasingly sick in mind and spirit and caused him
not to know where to turn, so great was the loss of sense of direction which resulted from
this rejection. It was the equivalent of what my African countrymen, as Jung instantly
appreciated when he lived among them, to this day call the “loss of soul,” which they fear
and abhor as the greatest disaster that can befall any human being. And this loss of soul,
Jung’s encounter with the collective unconscious joined to what he had experienced as a
psychiatrist convinced him, was the main cause of man’s private and collective derangement.
The soul of man, after all, as one of the earliest fathers of religion had said, was
naturally religious and now was proved to be so scientifically. Clearly it gave man a hunger
greater than any physical hunger. And if this hunger were not nourished, men and their
societies either withered away or perished in some disaster unconsciously brought down on
themselves. Wherever Jung looked he saw a world sickening more and more because of a
loss of soul, and because of a loss of soul deprived of meaning. Meaninglessness was the
greatest disease of his day, as it is of our own. We all, without exception, to a greater or
lesser degree, knowingly or unknowingly, are Pirandello characters in search of our author.
From that moment on, Jung’s concern became more and more a religious concern,
however scientific and empiric the instruments chosen for the service. The unconscious was
no longer a source of conflict and derangement but a world in which health and sanity and
salvation had to be sought. Important as it had been to discover and explore the unconscious
in the interests of the abnormal, it was now recognised as an affair of life and death for
so-called normal man.
Derangement and neurosis were regarded more as a measure of man’s estrangement
from his full unconscious self, an affliction sent to redirect him and set him on his true
course, so that in every neurosis there were the seeds of something positive, of new growth
and new meaning. The moment Jung could direct his patients to see a meaning in their own
suffering, the suffering, even if it did not go, became endurable. More and more he found in
the suffering of the individual a mirror of what was culpably inadequate in the full terms of
the collective unconscious in the life of a whole time. No recovery of a sense of meaning
seemed possible without a recovery of personal religious experience.
Jung was back with that concern he had always felt from the moment of the first great
dream experienced at the age of three. But never before had he realised so clearly how the
future of mankind depended on a rediscovery of his capacity for religious experience
accessible in a twentieth-century idiom and not in the archaic, dogmatic, doctrinal,
conceptualised way in which it had been imposed on him for centuries. It is remarkable how
always those who in the end could gain most from his work misunderstood and attacked
what he was trying to do, like the churches and institutions of science. He knew, he protested
over and over again, that only religion could replace religion.
He had not abandoned his own Christian inheritance because he acknowledged the
validity of the religious experience of other races and cultures. He was concerned only in
making religion real again for modern man. Exhortation, dogmatic utterance, and
conventional religious ritual and symbolism, he recognised, still worked for a dwindling
number. He acknowledged that there had been a moment when the creed and dogma of the
Christian church had achieved as complete and accurate a definition as possible of the
aspirations of the Western spirit. That was why not only the spiritual aspirations of men but
all he possessed of art, science, music, and grace had been put to its service as well. But that
moment had long passed.
Jung’s task was to make religion once more credible to unbelieving men and women
for whom belief and exhortation were useless if not insulting. He had to do it in an empirical
and scientific way in the first instance, and then, through the objective eventfulness of their
dreams, fantasy, and imagination, bring them to an area of the spirit where the mystery, the
awful mystery, he stressed, of the Divine was more likely than not to happen again.
The mystery of what happened there was not mystification. It was the mystery in a
sense of regrowth. As Dr. C. A. Meier, his colleague, speaking for Jung, put it in his book on
ancient Greek healing, it was like the bringing together, as it were, of two ends of broken
bone. There was no doubt that as a rule the bones would join and grow as one again, but how
they did it was a mystery they shared between themselves and the mystery of creation around
them. No one, no scientist could yet show or say what this growth was. It was a great
mystery, yet it was real and it worked.
The role of the dreaming process was crucial. Writing to a friend later, Jung was to say
something to the effect, and I quote from memory, “You tell me you have had many dreams
lately but have been too busy with your writing to pay attention to them. You have got it the
wrong way round. Your writing can wait but your dreams cannot because they come
unsolicited from within and point urgently to the way you must go.”
He also wrote:
The dream is a little hidden door in the innermost and most secret recesses
of the soul, opening into that cosmic night which was psyche long before there
was any ego consciousness, and which will remain psyche no matter how far our
ego consciousness extends…. All consciousness separates; but in dreams we put
on the likeness of that more universal, truer, more eternal man dwelling in the
darkness of primordial night. There he is still the whole, and the whole is in him,
indistinguishable from nature and bare of all egohood. It is from these all-uniting
depths that the dream arises, be it never so childish, grotesque, and immoral.
Of the psyche, the soul which invokes the means of all the love of the feminine in man
and which is at one with the source of the dream and as such must be defined with it, he
wrote even more evocatively:
If the human soul is anything, it must be of unimaginable complexity and
diversity, so that it cannot possibly be approached through a mere psychology of
instinct. I can only gaze with wonder and awe at the depths and heights of our
psychic nature. Its non-spatial universe conceals an untold abundance of images
which have accumulated over millions of years of living development and
become fixed in the organism. My consciousness is like an eye that penetrates to
the most distant spaces, yet it is the psychic non-ego that fills them with
non-spatial images. And these images are not pale shadows, but tremendously
powerful psychic factors. . . . Beside this picture I would like to place the
spectacle of the starry heavens at night, for the only equivalent of the universe
within is the universe without; and just as I reach this world through the medium
of the body, so I reach that world through the medium of the psyche.
Yet even in dogma, pre-eminently a theological field, he did what he could to preserve
its symbolic validity. His correspondence with numbers of clergymen, priests, and
philosophers testifies to his efforts despite scepticism and prejudice. He wrote profound
essays on the meaning of the Trinity, the Mass, and other basic aspects and articles of
Christian faith, making them contemporary and accessible to ordinary educated men and
women in a way their rational preconditioning could not deny. Most important of all, he
established that no matter what the race or creed or colour or culture, the need for a living
religious experience was equal and vital, and that in this collective unconscious the same
patterns never varied but were all of one and the same measure.
There, already, all men and all races and colours are kin and enjoy one and the same
parentage. It is the great religious ocean into which all the religious streams of the world
flow. For the first time in the history of man, religious imperialisms are outmoded — in fact,
irreligious; religious colonisation is at an end; even sectarianism or the equivalents of caste
and class systems in religion are out of date and man can unite in the service of a common
religious search derived from the same experience in one uniquely contemporary idiom. We
are only at the beginning of the consequences for man of this aspect of the discovery of the
collective unconscious. The societies of man and his political systems alone can ultimately
never be the same because of it.
Ignorance in English law is no excuse for breaches of the law. In the collective
unconscious, ignorance, unawareness, is not only inexcusable but the greatest offence with
the most dire consequences. That is why in Greek myth, legend, and art the villain is always
the ignorance that serves as an image of unawareness; it is always the “not knowing,” the
non-recognition of man’s own inner eventfulness, which is the real crime. Always it is man’s
unawareness that evokes the vengeance of fate, and man’s lack of knowledge of himself and
his motives that calls up disaster. How much greater, therefore, the culpability of a
consciousness like our own that knows and will not face up to the responsibility of what it
knows! For no one since Freud, and above all since Jung, can any longer plead ignorance of
where our failure starts.
Theologians always firmly held that all men were equal in dignity before God. This
pattern in the collective unconscious is precisely of so great a potentiality for the human
spirit, because all men are equal in dignity before it, in the sense that they are all raised and
equipped there with equal impartiality.
Jung put all this forward not as argument but as experience. Experience is before and
beyond argument. One of the gravest indictments of the intellectualism of his and our age is
a strange determination to deny human beings the validity and dignity of their own
experience and to subject it to some external, preconceptualised devaluation. Jung held on to
this experience of all these patterns in the collective unconscious as vital points of departure
so that when asked in public if he believed in God he said, “I do not believe . . .” and then
I who heard him at the time remember the sense of darkness that came in at the
windows at the pause, and how it dissolved swiftly into light when he added, after what
seemed an age, “I know.”
He knew because he had experienced what was once called the living God. He had
experienced as no other man in our time has done, through confrontation with the collective
unconscious, what it means to apprehend God as the ultimate and greatest of meaning of
which life is capable and in whose direction all our searching is turned. God revealed
himself, as it were, immediately through this master pattern in the collective unconscious in
a manner that no man could have endured had he not possessed an intermediary, an
intercessor, between himself and this fearful reality. The intercessor of course, is the only
partially apprehended, and as yet inadequately explored, pattern of the feminine.
“I cannot define for you what God is,” Jung wrote to me just before he died. “I can
only say that my work has proved empirically that the pattern of God exists in every man,
and that this pattern has at its disposal the greatest of all his energies for transformation and
transfiguration of his natural being. Not only the meaning of his life but his renewal and his
institutions depend on his conscious relationship with this pattern in his collective
So in the final analysis Jung’s life was of a profoundly religious person, religiously
lived to a truly religious end, however scientific the manner. His last years were spent almost
entirely in exploring this relationship between individual man and the pattern of God in the
human spirit. He was convinced that our spent selves and worn-out societies could not renew
themselves without renewing their concept of God and so their whole relationship with it.
He had in this journey into his own unconscious self discovered another archetypal
pattern of the utmost significance in this regard. He called it the “shadow” — a pattern that
had at its disposal all the energies of what man had consciously despised, rejected, or
ignored in himself. One sees immediately how aptly the term was chosen, because it is an
image of what happens when the human being stands between himself and his own light.
Whether this shadow should be properly regarded as archetypal in itself, or whether it is
another shadow of archetypes themselves, is almost academic. The dark, rejected forces
massing in the shadow of the unconscious, as it were, knife in hand, demanding revenge for
all that man and his cultures have consciously sacrificed of them in the specialised conscious
tasks he has set himself, are real and active enough to keep us too busy for academics and
scholasticisms. They show how all our history is a progression on two levels: a conscious
and unconscious, a manifest and latent level. Here is another overwhelming example of how
he helped my own tentative groping in this direction and how he helped to banish the sense
of isolation spoken of in the beginning.
The manifest level provides all the plausible rational justifications and excuses for the
wars, revolutions, and disasters inflicted on men in their collective and private lives, but in
reality it is on this other latent level where, unrecognised, the real instigators and
conspirators against too narrow and rigid a conscious rule above are to be found. There,
proud, angry, and undefeated, they move men and women on the manifest level about as
puppets in predetermined patterns of their own revengeful seeking, or like a magnet
conditioning a field of iron filings on a table above.
That is why all men tend to become what they oppose, why the New Testament
exhorted us not to resist evil because what follows logically is that ultimately the dark,
dishonoured self triumphs and emerges on the scorched level of the manifest to form another
tyranny as narrow, producing another swing of the opposites of which Heraclitus spoke. The
answer, as Jung saw it, was to abolish tyranny, to enthrone, as it were, two opposites side by
side in the service of the master pattern, not opposing or resisting evil but transforming and
redeeming it. These two opposites in the negations of our time could be turned into tragic
enemies. But truly seen psychologically and again defined best perhaps in the nonemotive
terms of physics, they were like the negative and positive inductions of energy observed in
the dynamics of electricity; the two parallel and opposite streams without which the flash of
lightning, for me always the symbol of awareness made imperative, was impossible.
Containing those two opposites, putting the light of the superior functions at the
service of the dark, bearing all the tensions induced thereby, the individual could grow into a
resolution of the two into a greater realisation of himself. One says greater because the self
realised thereby is more than the sum of the opposites, because in the process of their
resolution the capacity of the individual to join in the universal and continuing act of
creation wherein his own life participates enables him to add something which was not there
So this role of the shadow in the life of the individual, the life of civilisation, and the
reality of religion, not surprisingly, was one of Jung’s closest concerns. He demonstrated in a
way that cannot be denied how this mechanism of the shadow was at the back of the
phenomenon of the persecution of the Jews in history, how Christians for centuries blamed
their own rejection of the real meaning of Christ on the Jews who had crucified him,
ignoring how they were recrucifying him daily in their own lives. It is an elemental part of
the mythological dominants of history, as I called them to myself in the beginning, and gave
me a clearer, deeper, and more precise understanding of their working. The mechanism of
the shadow, for instance, was the explanation of Hitler and his own persecution of the Jews,
and also of all racial, colour, and personal prejudice. Before I knew Jung I had written the
essay mentioned in the beginning on how some such explanation could apply even to colour
prejudice in my native South Africa.
Jung revealed in great detail how the individual imposed his quarrel with his own
shadow onto his neighbour, in the process outlining scientifically why men inevitably saw
the mote in the eye of their neighbour. It was not just out of ignorance of the beam in their
own but unconsciously to avoid recognising it as reflection of their own. He defined for the
first time in a contemporary idiom a primordial mechanism in the spirit of man which he
called “projection,” a mechanism which compels us to blame on our neighbour what we
unconsciously dislike most in ourselves.
All at once it was clear that man could only be well and sane when the quarrel between
him and his shadow, between the primitive and the civilised, between the Jacob and the Esau
in himself, was dissolved and the two reconciled and together enter the presence of the
master pattern as Jung’s imagination had already done. Only there and then did he become
something Jung called whole. Wholeness was the ultimate of man’s conscious and
unconscious seeking; indeed, consciousness was so important because it was the chosen
instrument of the unconscious seeking the abolition of partialities in a harmony of
differences that is wholeness. This wholeness was only possible through a life lived
religiously. To heal, or make whole, once more was demonstrated to be a Pentecostal task of
the utmost holiness.
The messages to the churches and temples of the day was clear; they were emptying
fast because they had defaulted on their mission of enabling men to become new and whole,
and would empty altogether and crumble unless they returned to healing in a contemporary
way leading to an achievement or wholeness in a twentieth-century context. And none of this
healing was possible except by facing honestly and with the utmost courage the problem of
the shadow cast not only by man in himself but by God on life.
This last at least should not be too difficult to grasp because its impact on the human
imagination has been so great and is of such long standing that it is amply personified in
religions, mythologies, art, and literature of the world. One is speaking of something that
goes by many names. Generically it is the evil spirit, the devil, but more particularly in the
European tradition it is known as Mephistopheles, Lucifer, or the proud Apollyon of
Pilgrim’s Progress, who preferred ruling in Hell to serving in Heaven, and so on.
It was typical of Jung that he did not make any attempt to establish the shadow as a
great universal, projected outwards from the collective unconscious, before he had sorted it
all out scientifically within his own nature and in the individual problems of his own
patients. He had faced up to the problem of his own shadow on this long Odyssey of his, so
squarely indeed that one of the most significant paintings in the Red Book is a portrait of his
shadow personified. There, in what looks like a room in some basement covered with black
and white tiles, the colours of the two opposites, Jung portrays it as some cloak-and-dagger
figure cowering against the far corner of the walls. The position seems deliberately chosen to
indicate that he had this aspect of himself “cornered” at last, appropriately below the surface
level of himself.
I myself have often been taken to task for not speaking more about Jung’s shadow. But
I cannot speak of what I did not experience. I knew him only in the closing years of his life
when he was much more resolved and the shadow less evident than when young. Of course,
great as he was, he must also have had a great shadow. No one could be real and not throw a
shadow. I had learned this as a boy from my own black friends in Africa who, if they wanted
to pay a sincere compliment said, “But you do throw a shadow.” One would look at his own
shadow, Quixotically lean and long at sunset, and say of it, “You see that man there? When I
die he goes up into the sky to join the sun, but I go down into the earth where he now lies.”
The important thing to me is not what Jung’s shadow was but that he never ceased to
work on it and never was unaware of it. Coming to terms with the shadow, the problem of
reconciling the opposites in a whole greater than their parts, was an ultimate of his seeking.
And for him it was also the most urgent practical necessity of our time if we were not to
destroy ourselves. Working at it, he found himself in conflict not only with himself but with
the churches. He never wavered in his acceptance of Christ as the West’s greatest symbol of
the self but could not accept that the coming of Christ or blind imitation of his being had
abolished the reality of the shadow, whether in man or God.
As far as the shadow of the All-Highest was concerned, it had bothered Jung all his
conscious life. The significance of it for both God and man, as opposed to the sequence of
man, the devil, and only then God as its progression is presented in Faust, was expressed in
its earliest and most dramatic form in the Book of Job. For years Jung had talked about it to
his friends. It was talk of his in this regard that inspired H. G. Wells to write what Job meant
to him in his The Undying Fire , just as Wells’s Christina Alberta’s Father was an
elaboration of something Jung told him one night in his home in Regents Park in London.
The latter was a case history of a schizophrenic patient and Wells gave some
acknowledgement to Jung, unlike people all over the world in art, science, and philosophy
who were increasingly inclined to borrow or steal from Jung what suited them but without
acknowledgement, out of fear of the intellectualist disparagement that would tumble down
on their heads if they did so. Froude, an unjustly neglected Victorian historian and essayist,
had also been obsessed with the problem of Job. He answered his doubts ultimately by
interpreting Job’s meaning as an inspired allegory designed to show that worldly wealth and
success were no proof of God’s blessing on a life lived according to His commandments, as
the Victorians were indeed overinclined to assume, but that those whom God loved most
could be made to suffer most. That satisfied him for, of course, he has a vital point there but
only a point. He leaves the “why” out of it.
Jung in all honesty could not do so and finally wrote one of his most subjective of all
books — and one all the better and greater for it — as a dialogue with God on the drama of
Job. Only a simple version of the main conclusion is possible here: Job proved that man
found his greatest meaning in God’s need of man’s conscious awareness and freedom of
choice between good and evil in order to deal with a cosmic shadow. Though God himself
might be compelled to let the shadow, Satan, also have his say in reality, and so be
compelled, as it were, for the moment to lend Satan a certain tactical support in the long-term
strategy of the campaign for meaning in the universe, God counted on man not to submit to
his Satanic shadow. And in order to let him win both battle and campaign, God delegates his
most valuable of all powers, the power of his love, to do battle with man and Job against
Satan and himself. Job in a sense is a prefiguration of Christ and, implicit in this divine
alliance with love, there is an intimation of the future greater role of the feminine, the anima
in its most evolved form from Eve to Helen and Helen into Mary and so finally into that
personified in Sophia, as the wisdom of love. Most important of all, there is a significant and
disturbing hint, which one must not overstress and yet cannot ignore, that man made whole
through endurance in love of the shadow, is made so much more honourable and meaningful
in his estate that he could ultimately surpass his Creator — a hint that makes the imperative
of man’s ethical obligations to what he knows and discovered increasingly of new power
over nature more urgent and awesome than ever before in history.
It is not surprising, therefore, that nothing made Jung more impatient and at times
angrier than the conventional and stubborn religious insistence that evil was only the absence
of good, a fault in man alone, and a result of indulgence in the seven deadly sins. His
language, which could be just as earthy as it was poetic, when he was roused in this profound
regard was worthy of an inspired peasant and words like “shitbags” and “pisspots” would roll
from his lips in sentences of crushing correction.
“Who the devil do they think put the serpent in the Garden of Eden?” he once
exclaimed in talking about the fearful archetype of the shadow to me, and then suddenly
laughed out loud at himself. “Did you notice how my unconscious intruded to point a finger
at where the answer could be? Certainly not Adam. Maybe the devil, but certainly not man.”
Perhaps he put his objections best of all in the most carefully considered, measured,
and considerate fashion in a letter to Father Victor White, because he was fond of the man.
Victor White had come to him for psychological understanding of his own religious beliefs.
As so many others before him, he ultimately went away in the main with what suited his own
preconceived beliefs and the latest modern ammunition for promoting them while rejecting
the rest of Jung, on which the very illumination he took away depended. Jung, who longed
for a serious, intelligent theologian qualified in depth to work with, had turned to him with
unusual warmth, not surprising in one at the same time so lonely and so concerned for
restoring modern people’s capacity for religious experience.
Victor White was to turn on Jung later with, it seems to me, unnecessary violence and
reprehensible disregard of what he owed him both as teacher and friend. At the time this
particular letter was written he had already had a stab at Jung’s broad back which Jung
magnanimously overlooked, as he did other attacks and certain studied indignities inflicted
on him by Victor White. Jung’s Answer to Job at a first reading, if Victor White’s immediate
letter of appreciation can be taken at its face value, had both excited and uplifted him. But
very soon he had second thoughts, began to decry the book in public, and became
increasingly critical of Jung, not hesitating to call him naive and ill informed on matters of
theology, terms that were as undeserved as they were inaccurate. For if anyone were in a
position to know the extent of Jung’s theological knowledge, research and interest in
religion, and his grasp of its history and implications for life past and present, it was Victor
White. Yet despite this, Jung, up to the end, respected what had brought him and White
together and understood Victor White’s situation, committed as he was to a priority of
prescribed faith, as much as the latter failed to understand his ultimate meaning.
Considerate as Jung was, however, his meaning and the quality of the temper of truth
at work in the writing of the letter itself is clear as a sword of steel.
This privatio boni business [the Catholic doctrine that evil is a privation of
good] is odious to me on account of its dangerous consequences: it causes a
negative inflation [overvaluation] of man, who can’t help imagining himself, if
not as a source of the [Evil], at least as a great destroyer, capable of devastating
God’s beautiful creation. This doctrine produces Luciferian vanity and it is also
greatly responsible for the fatal underrating of the human soul being the original
abode of Evil. It gives a monstrous importance to the soul and not a word about
on whose account the presence of the Serpent in Paradise belongs!
The question of Good and Evil, so far as I am concerned with it, has
nothing to do with metaphysics; it is only a concern of psychology.
As long as Evil is a μn ov [non-being], nobody will take his own shadow
seriously . Hitler and Stalin will go on representing a mere “accidental lack of
perfection.” The future of mankind very much depends upon the recognition of
the shadow . Evil is — psychologically speaking — terribly real . It is a fatal
mistake to diminish its power and reality even merely metaphysically. I am sorry,
this goes to the very roots of Christianity. Evil verily does not decrease by being
hushed up as a non-reality or as mere negligence of man. It was there before him,
when he could not possibly have a hand in it. God is the mystery of all mysteries,
a real Tremendum.
And there the final enigmatic, paradoxical truth was out. God was a reality man had to
fear as much as to love; Old and New Testaments of the spirit did not abolish but
complemented one another. Yet before one follows this final storm-bound perception further,
it is important to stress my belief that this evaluation of the shadow in Jung’s psychology is
followed at its simplest and most immediate best in his letters, not only to Victor White but
also to others, and to add that it is not surprising but indeed significant how Victor White
was to go on from there to reject the reassertion of the feminine in Catholic doctrine. For the
feminine soul in man is the go-between and guide to reconciliation of man and his shadow.
That is why Jung attached such an enormous symbolical importance to the Vatican’s
proclamation of the new doctrine of the bodily assumption of the Virgin Mary into Heaven.
For him at last in the highest dimension of reality and its greatest symbol, the masculine and
some of the feminine were at one; the conscious will of the masculine in creation was
increasingly being joined to serve the love of the feminine and a creation, no longer static
but procreatively on the move again. It was for him a welcome sign that the Christian myth
which mattered so much to him was still alive and breathing, that its content was not one of
mere “historicity” but of an historical conception of a profound need in man still capable of
growing in meaning.
White was among the foremost of Catholic intellectualists who pronounced the
doctrine as a religious scandal, reading it literally, of course, and not symbolically as Jung
did. The objection is all the more glaring when one considers that even symbolically only
part of the feminine had ascended to heaven. The woman so exalted was the image of the
feminine in man, the mother of the son of man, Dante’s virgin mother, daughter of her son.
Woman and her masculine self were still left stranded on the earth.
It was only after coming to terms with the role of the shadow in himself that Jung took
upon himself the dangerous task of approaching its universal aspect. It was typical of him
that he did this first as a living experience, exposing his imagination and all of his conscious
self before all that was terrible, ruthless, and awful in the human spirit’s experience of God.
Out of these two sets of experience he emerged with an enriched awareness of the
paradoxical nature of all reality, even that of the ultimate.
In this paradoxical pattern the image of God was both terrible and lovable. There the
fear of God always was the beginning of all wisdom, and the love of God the only protection
of the spirit that ventured in his presence. Fear and love were mysteriously joined to enable
both man and God to achieve greater meaning. From that moment on, Jung saw the
relationship between man and God in a way it has never been perceived, however mystically
and intuitively it may have been pre-experienced.
He saw man and God, as it were, in partnership, the traffic between them no longer
one-sided but two-way. Man was no longer at an almost intolerable receiving end but also at
a giving end; he too now could contribute to the conscious reality of God as God contributed
to his power to do so. Jung found man and his unconscious self, man in all four aspects of
himself, the man and his feminine self, the woman and her masculine self, joined with God
in a task of transcendental meaning.
Man was the chosen instrument for enabling life to answer the problem for which it
had been invented. Life was a process of living an answer to a problem implicit in its
creation. The suffering of man was meaningful because it reflected the suffering of its
Creator. In this role, man might look as exposed as Job was to what appeared at times an
almost capricious exercise of divine power. But even in his most miserable state, man was
not alone, because Jung had clearly demonstrated that where man and God were encountered
face to face, a vital, indescribable element of the greatest transforming energies at the
disposal of this master pattern was delegated to intercede for man.
This was the long-rejected and despised feminine and its highest value of love. The
history of man’s experience of God had been a miserable, one-sided affair, a catastrophic,
disaster-pitted dimension of history, precisely because this love of God and its averted
feminine face allotted to man for his protection had been spurned.
No one in the history of man has worked harder to bring more light to the darkness
that still surrounds our little day. No one has worked harder to push back, as it were, the
frontiers of the mystery which encloses us. Yet no one at the same time has shown
paradoxically so great a respect and reverence for the mystery. Indeed, Jung could not have
worked to reduce the mystery of life half as well had he not done so utterly in a spirit of
reverence and love. As a result one finds that at the end of his days, when he is ready to close
his own account of what he had laboured to do in life, he leaves the last word not with these
great new concepts of his but with a mystery which he confesses he is incapable of
articulating, the mystery of love. And that love in the last analysis is a feminine mystery.
One of the few occasions I saw him moved nearly to tears is relevant to this mystery
of the love before which he bowed his head and held his tongue. I repeated to him a dream
told me by a remarkable woman when I went to say goodbye to her during an air raid in
London in in 1940; I was not to see her alive again. She said she had a friend once, an old
lady, whose closing years were full of pain and sickness. Just before she died at a great age
she told my friend of a dream that must be one of the dreams speaking to us from a condition
closer to death than any on record. Like all dreams of greatest meaning from the collective
unconscious, it was almost epigrammatic in expression. In her dream, all her pain and
sickness were gathered together in a bed of roses and she knew that roses would always
grow. And the rose was chosen by her unconscious because it is the image of the eternal of
love, the Eros in life as only a woman can know it, and leads a man to discover as Dante did
in the symbolism of the rose wherein he and Beatrice ascended to Heaven, and T. S. Eliot
discovered when at last fire and rose in man for him were one.
Jung turned away when I told him of the dream and was silent a long while for him
before he said, as if from far away, “Ach, ja! There is no end to dreams and their meaning.”
And then, I think because it meant so much, he teased himself and me, saying with a smile,
“The dream is like a woman. It will have the last word as it had the first.”
The essence of Jung’s message, then, is that as far as the future is foreseeable the
highest task of man once more is the old religious task of the redemption of Evil that he
called the shadow. As shadow, Evil was not absolute and final, but redeemable and through
its challenge to be redeemed an instrument of enlargement of human awareness. In this
transfiguration, the last word is with love. In the collection of essays Modern Man in Search
of a Soul there is a sign of what his feelings, as opposed to his thinking, were about it. At the
end of “Psychotherapists or the Clergy,” he writes, “Who are forgiven their many sins?
Those who have loved much. But as to those who love little, their few sins are held against
Jung was possessed by a capacity for love so great that it included also a love of all
that life until now rejected, reviled, and persecuted. In all this he was more than a
psychological or scientific phenomenon; he was to my mind one of the greatest religious
phenomena the world has ever experienced. Until this central fact of his work and character
is grasped and admitted, the full meaning and implication of Jung for the future of life is
missed. But once this fact is grasped and admitted, the life of the individual who had
experienced it can never be the same again, as I am certain the life of our time can never be
the same again because of Jung.
However dark, disordered, and desperate this moment in which we live, the individual
who finds himself in this way will, I believe, change the course of life in the direction of a
greater wholeness of being, lived in greater awareness of the mystery of love. And since this
love is so pre-eminently in the keeping of the feminine in life, and presides like an archangel
over the spirit and passion of truth in Jung, this is perhaps the right moment to stress how it
was confirmed by the numbers of truly remarkable women who rallied round Jung.
I remember as a young man going into northern Zululand because of a report that a
great new prophet had arisen among the Zulus and I longed to meet him. When I found him
at last, I was amazed that there was hardly a single man in his following but vast numbers of
women. My guide, a remarkable Zulu himself and a highly educated person in the tribal as
well as in the European sense, was not at all surprised.
“You can tell the greatest of new prophets among us from the numbers of women who
flock to him long before the men have the courage to do so,” he told me. And in time I saw
the uncommon good sense of what he had said. More intuitive than men, women to this day,
as in the early days of Christianity in Rome, are quicker to spot a revelation of new truth.
The man who is the keeper of the rational conscious self in man — the Logos principle as
Jung called it, or the Word as Saint John had it — needs a clear progression towards
conviction by way of ideas and logic before he can see it. The woman in her role as
chatelaine of love, the Eros principle, needs no such guidance and gets there first as if on
wings of the heart. This to me is one explanation of why the numbers of women around and
working with and for Jung were so great. But an even more potent factor than this was the
fact that Jung was working ceaselessly to bring back into equal partnership with the man all
that was feminine in life. So it was naturally right that the modern woman rather than the
modern man should be the first to recognise what he was essentially doing.
Regrettably late as I came to know Jung, it was still soon enough for me to meet some
of the most remarkable of this impressive circle of women colleagues and friends. His own
wife Emma was still alive and taking an active part in the work of the Institute founded for
the study of his psychology after the Second World War. I went regularly to her lectures on
the myth and legend of the Holy Grail. She was an immensely sensitive, shy, solicitous,
circumspect, and introverted spirit, and must have found public exposition of a task of such
intimate concern extremely difficult if not painful. Yet she was dauntless as she was
enduring and delivered her meaning with great precision, erudition, and understanding. At
the same time, she was working as a lay analyst herself. I knew four of her pupils, all men,
and even in the short time I was at Zürich I was amazed at the change in them. I gathered
from them that she had a very “re-creative” way with men who had lost their own way with
I was to know her only as an elegant and generous hostess who kept herself very much
in the background when her husband had male company. She knew better than anyone how
he had lacked real masculine companionship in his life.
Yet I remember an occasion also at Ascona where over the period of a fortnight my wife and I persuaded her and her husband to talk to us for the purposes of making a sound recording of their own spoken account of their work and lives.
We were doing this, among other reasons, so that the BBC could broadcast a summary of it on Jung’s eightieth birthday, which was to fall later in the year.
It was necessary to prerecord the summary because I was about to vanish for nearly nine months on an expedition into the Kalahari Desert.
The BBC technician responsible for equipping me unfortunately did not know, or if he knew forgot to tell me, who would have to work the still rather crude recording machine of the day or that severe cold affected the quality of the sound considerably if not eliminating it altogether.
Perhaps I should also have been put on my guard by the fact that when he heard why I wanted the machine he became strangely aggressive, obviously thought I was setting out on something reprehensible, and said so plainly, declaring that he had no time for such mystical nonsense since he himself was a student of the science of history and both a Marxist and an atheist.
Oddly, from the start, Jung himself was convinced that the machine would not work.
“I warn you,” he said with an ironic laugh, “things of this sort hate me.
You might think they are inanimate but in my regard I tell you they are highly animate and even active and hostile. Don’t say you’ve not been warned!”
Most of the time the cold was bitter and cruel and owing to it and my ignorance and inexperience, some seventy hours of Jung alone, speaking spontaneously about himself to my wife, were in large measure spoiled or lost in the recording.
What we salvaged for the eightieth-birthday broadcast from London was a sad fragment of what had passed between us all. As far as Emma Jung was concerned, the recording was a total disaster and nothing of value retained.
Yet the experience for me personally and the memory of an essentially feminine imagination put to a truly feminine use stay impressive, transparent and warm in my mind as the light in the window of a great house seen by a traveller at the end of a long day in the dark of winter.