To A. Gerstner-Hirzel
Dear Herr Gerstner-Hirzel, September 1957
Unfortunately it is impossible for me to answer your questions in a few words; the problem is too complicated.
First of all I must emphasize that patterns of this kind always seem to occur where meditation and other such exercises are
Psychologically, these can be summed up under the concept “concentration of attention” (in plain English, “devotion”).
Concentration is necessary whenever there is the possibility or threat of psychic chaos, i.e., when there is no central control by a strong ego or dominant idea.
This situation is frequently met with in primitive or barbarous societies, and also on a higher level when the hitherto existing order is about to decay and a new order has to be firmly centred.
The new dominant idea is then depicted in the form of a symbol, and the chaotic currents and cross-currents are tamed, we might say, by rhythmical ornamentation.
There are beautiful examples of this in the Arabian art which went hand in hand with the psychic reorientation of a primitive society under the influence of Islam.
In Buddhist art, as in the Celtic illuminated manuscripts and sculptures, the complicated designs and intricate rhythms of the border pattern serve to coax the frightening, pullulating chaos of a disorganized psyche into harmonious forms.
The same purpose is served by the often very complicated mandalas of neurotics and psychotics, or of normal persons who have collided headlong with the fatal disorientation of our time.
You will find examples in the book I brought out with Richard Wilhelm, The Secret of the Golden Flower, and in my Gestaltungen des Unbewussten.
I would also draw your attention to H . Zimmer’s Kunstform und Yoga im indischen Kultbild (Berlin, 1926).
I have observed especially the skein motif among modern people,and it always signifies an intense effort to concentrate or else to suppress and transform violent emotions.
In all such cases I found it was an effective method of self-therapy.
The same may also be true of the mentality of the Irish monks.
Equally, the complicated ornamentation of ritual mandalas in Buddhism could be regarded as a sort of psychic “tranquillizer,” though this way of looking at it is admittedly one-sided.
On the other hand it should be noted that the harmonization of the swirling lines is arranged round an ideal centre, or represents it directly in the symbolic form, for instance, of a richly ornamental
In primitive societies even objects of daily use are often thought of as animated and numinous in themselves; they are receptacles for the projection of emotional processes and, as such, are elaborately ornamented.
They represent household gods, i .e., autonomous psychic dominants.
We may think of the Irish monk as a man who still has one foot in the animistic world of nature-demons with its intense passions, and the other in the new Christian order symbolized by the Cross, which condenses the primordial chaos into the unity of the personality.
In the hope that these few hints may have answered your questions,
C.G. Jung ~Carl Jung, Letters Vol. II, Pages 387-388.