C.G. Jung Letters, Vol. 1: 1906-1950
To Kurt Plachte 10 January 1929
l can agree with your statements in all details and merely regret I am not in a position to give you practical examples of my views.
Everything in me has arisen from direct experience of the mentally I or “seekers after truth.”
For me a symbol is the sensuously perceptible expression of an inner experience.
A religious experience strives for expression and can be expressed only “symbolically” because it transcends understanding.
It must be expressed on way or another, for therein is revealed its immanent vital force.
It wants to step over, as it were, into visible life, to take concrete shape. (The spirit shows its effective power only in the reshaping of matter.)
An idol is a petrified symbol used stereotypically for “magical” effects.
It can have this fascinating effect so long as it touches those layers unconscious from which the symbol arose (somewhere else i.e. with other people).
Its effect is just the opposite of the symbol is an expression of the enrichment of consciousness through experience.
The idol betokens a regression to the unconscious, i.e .. an impoverishment of consciousness.
The Master speaks a ”power word” born of the richness of his vision, the disciple merely conjures with it.
For the Master the communion means: I give you myself, my flesh, my blood.
For the disciple this means: I eat the god, his flesh and blood.
The ritual anthropophagy of primitive man (the cave dweller) echoes fascinatingly deep down in us: we can do it again, mysteriously sanctified, and yet we are not primitive brutes but are sanctified by the god’s flesh.
In a few cases I have found a quite unquestionable blood lust in connection with the Communion!
Here we have religious license for what is primitive and no longer permissible.
The magical word is one that lets “a primordial word resound behind it”‘; magical action releases primordial action.
I am indeed convinced that creative imagination is the only primordial phenomenon accessible to us, the real Ground of the psyche, the only immediate reality.
Therefore I speak of esse in anima, the only form of being we can experience directly.
We can distinguish no form of being that is not psychic in the first place.
All other realities are derived from and indirectly revealed by it, actually with the artificial aid named science.
We should think of the collective unconscious neither as order nor as disorder.
Experience corroborates both.
With a disordered consciousness order can come out of the unconscious, just as conversely unconscious chaos can break into the too narrow cosmos of consciousness.
At the founding of the great religions there was to begin with a collective disorientation which everywhere constellated in the unconscious an overwhelming principle of order (the collective longing for redemption ).
Through his inner vision the prophet discerns from the needs of his time the helpful image in the collective unconscious and expresses it in the symbol: because it speaks out of the collective unconscious it speaks for everyone-le vrai mot de la situation!
Hence it has a fascinating effect on everyone, it is “true’ ‘temporarily valid because it is meant only for a particular situation.
If the situation changes, a new “truth” is needed, therefore truth always relative to a particular situation.
So long as the symbol is the true and redeeming answer to the corresponding situation, it is true, valid, indeed “absolute.”
But if the situation changes and the is simply perpetuated, it is nothing but an idol, having an impoverishing and stultifying effect, because it merely makes us unconscious
and provides no explanation and enlightenment.
Justin Martyr for instance, spoke of Christianity as ”our philosophy.”
The symbol is doctrine, the idol delusion.
I regard Hegel’s “perceptual” thinking as a thinking analogous with *archetypes.
”Perceptual” or “apperceptive” thinking has greater meaning and value because it unites at least two functions.
The highest form of the intellectual process would be symbolic experience and its symbolic expression.
You are right-the symbol belongs to a different sphere from the sphere of instinct.
The latter sphere is the mother, the former the Son (or God).
For my private use I call the sphere of paradoxical existence, i.e., the instinctive unconscious, the Pleroma ,a term borrowed from Gnosticism.
The reflection and formation of the Pleroma in the individual consciousness produces an image of it (of like nature in a certain sense ), and that is the symbol.
In it all paradoxes are abolished.
In the Pleroma, Above and Below lie together in a strange way and produce nothing; but when it is disturbed by the mistakes needs of the individual a waterfall arises between Above and Below, a dynamic something that is the symbol.
Like the Pleroma, the symbols is greater than man.
It overpowers him, shapes him, as if he had. opened a sluice that pours a mighty stream over him sweeps him away.
Our difficulty is that we understand the psyche as what we make regulate ourselves and we can’t get it into our head that we are the helpless victims of psychic forces.
Take the professor who suffers from a ”compulsion neurosis.”
Compulsion neurosis is a magic word used by the modern medicine man, which means (apotropaically) nothing but neurosis (imaginary illness).
Yet real compulsion is one of the most hellish, devilish tortures, far worse than any organic disease.
It would be better if the professor thought were possessed by the devil! That would be considerably nearer to the truth.
The term “symbol” in Freud’s psychoanalysis has nothing to with the symbol.
He should have said “symptom” or “metaphor” instead.
The symbol never arises in the unconscious (the Pleroma) but as you rightly say, “in self-formation.”
It comes from the unconscious raw material and is formed and expressed consciously. (Cf. my definition of the symbol in Psychological Types.)
The symbol needs man for its development.
But it grows beyond him, therefore it is called “God,” since it expresses a psychic situation or factor stronger than the ego. (I call it the self)
This factor is pre-existent in the collective unconscious, yet powerless until I experience it consciously then it takes the lead. (“Yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.”)
It supplants the ego in essential respects.
Hence the deliverance from the feeling of ineptitude, etc. (“Thy Will be done.”) ~Carl Jung, Letters Vol. 1, Pages 59-63.