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Carl Jung: I am an irritating person.

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C.G. Jung Letters, Vol. 1: 1906-1950

To Valentine Brooke

Dear Sir, 6 November 1959

As you have learned from Mr. Richardson’s account.

I am an irritating person.

I am dealing with doubts and views which puzzle the modern mind consciously as well as unconsciously.

I am treading on corns right and left.

As a consequence I have to spend a great amount of my time in handing out apologies and explanations for saying things which allude to facts and ideas unknown to the reader.

Moreover the reader is handicapped by his positivistic premise that the truth is simple and can be expressed by one short sentence.

Yet “nothing is quite true and even this is not quite true,” as Multatuli says.

A psychologist concerned with the treatment of mental disturbances is constantly reminded of the fallacies in our verbal formulations.

In spite of all the difficulties besetting my way, I will try to explain my standpoint.

Whatever I perceive from without or within is a representation or image, a psychic entity caused, as I rightly or wrongly assume, by a
corresponding “real” object.

But I have to admit that my subjective image is only grosso modo identical with the object.

Any portrait painter will agree with this statement and the physicist will add that what we call “colours” are really wave-lengths.

The difference between image and real object shows that the psyche, apperceiving an object, alters it by adding or excluding certain details.

The image therefore is not entirely caused by the object; it is also influenced by certain pre-existent psychic conditions which we can
correct only partially. (We cannot remove colour perception, f.i.)

Moreover we know from experience that all acts of apperception are influenced by preexistent patterns of perceiving objects (f.i., the premise of causality), particularly obvious in pathological cases (being exaggerations or distortions of so-called “normal” behaviour).

They are presuppositions pertaining to the whole of humanity.

The history of the human mind offers no end of examples (f.i., folklore, fairy tales, religious symbolism, etc.).

To explain the spontaneous origin of such parallelisms, the theory of migration is insufficient.

I call them archetypes, i.e., instinctual forms of mental functioning.

They are not inherited ideas, but mentally expressed instincts,
forms and not contents.

They influence our image-formation.

As experience shows, archetypes are equipped with a specific energy without which they could not have causal effects.

Thus when we try to form an image of the fact one calls “God” we depend largely upon innate, pre-existent ways of perceiving, all the more so as it is a perception from within, unaided by the observation of physical facts which might lend their visible forms to our God-image (though there are plenty cases of the sort).

“God” therefore is in the first place a mental image equipped with instinctual “numinosity,” i.e., an emotional value bestowing the characteristic
autonomy of the affect on the image.

This is my chief statement.

Now. people unaccustomed to proper thinking assume that it is a
final statement.

No scientific statement is final: it is a likely formulation of observation and analysis.

It goes as far as a scientific statement can go.

But it does not and cannot say what “God” is; it only can define what He is in our mind.

The mind is neither the world in itself nor does it reproduce its accurate image.

The fact that we have an image of the world does not mean that there is only an image and no world.

But this is exactly the argument of those who assume that when I speak of the God-image I mean that God does not exist, as He is only an image.

Our images are, as a rule, of something, and even delusions are “images” of something, as modern psychology has amply shown.

If f.i. I imagine an animal which does not exist in reality as we know it, I form the picture of a mythological entity, following the age-old activity of our ancestors in imagining fairy beasts and “doctor animals.”

I am functioning within the frame of an archetype.

I am in this case strongly influenced by it. (The archetype has efficacy.)

But although we can be fairly certain that no such animal exists in physical reality, there is nevertheless a real cause which has suggested the
creation of the dragon.

The dragon-image is its expression.

The God-image is the expression of an underlying experience of something which I cannot attain to by intellectual means, i.e., by
scientific cognition, unless I commit an unwarrantable transgression.

When I say that I don’t need to believe in God because I “know,” I mean I know of the existence of God-images in general and in particular.

We know it is matter of a universal experience and, in so far as I am no exception, I know that I have such experience also, which I call God.

It is the experience of my will over against another and very often stronger will, crossing my path often with seemingly disastrous results, putting strange ideas into my head and maneuvering my fate sometimes into most undesirable corners or giving it unexpected favourable twists, outside my knowledge and my intention.

The strange force against or for my conscious tendencies is well known to me.

So I say: “I know Him.”

But why should you call this something “God”?

I would ask: “Why not?”

It has always been called “God.”

An excellent and very suitable name indeed.

Who could say in earnest that his fate and life have been the result of his conscious planning alone?

Have we a complete picture of the world?

Millions of conditions are in reality beyond our control.

On innumerable occasions our lives could have taken an entirely different turn.

Individuals who believe they are masters of their fate are as a rule the slaves of destiny.

A Hitler or Mussolini could believe they were such masterminds.

Respice finem!

I know what I want, but I am doubtful and hesitant whether the Something is of the same opinion or not.

Hoping I have succeeded in elucidating the puzzle,

Sincerely yours,

C.G. Jung


In an interview with Jung conducted by John Freeman in the series “Face to Face.”

In the course of the interview Freeman asked: “Do you believe in God?” to which Jung answered after a long pause: “I don’t need to believe, I know.”

These words gave rise to considerable argument, and B. sent Jung a rather derogatory review of the broadcast by Maurice Richardson in the London Observer, 25 Oct. 1959, as well as some of the correspondence published in the same paper about Jung’s words.

B. asked for their exact meaning.

The interview with Freeman is published in C. G. Jung Speaking. ~Carl Jung, Letters Vol. II, Pages 520-523

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