The Practice of Psychotherapy (The Collected Works of C. G. Jung, Volume 16)


O Luna, folded in my sweet embrace
Be you as strong as I, as fair of face.
O Sol, brightest of all lights known to men
And yet you need me, as the cock the hen.

[Figure 5]

The sea has closed over the king and queen, and they have gone back to the chaotic beginnings, the massa confusa. Physis
has wrapped the “man of light” in a passionate embrace.

As the text says: “Then Beya [the maternal sea] rises up over Gabricus and encloses him in her womb, so that nothing more of him is to be seen. And she embraced Gabricus with so much love that
she utterly consumed him in her own nature and dissolved him into atoms.”

These verses from Merculinus are then quoted:

Candida mulier, si rubeo sit nupta marito, Mox complexantur, complexaque copulantur, Per se solvuntur, per se quoque conficiuntur, Ut duo qui fuerant, unum quasi corpore fiant.

(White-skinned lady, lovingly joined to her ruddy-limbed husband,
Wrapped in each other’s arms in the bliss of connubial union,
Merge and dissolve as they come to the goal of perfection:
They that were two are made one, as though of one body.)

In the fertile imagination of the alchemists the hieros gamos of Sol and Luna continues right down to the animal kingdom, as is shown by the following instructions: “Take a Coetanean dog and an Armenian bitch, mate them, and they will bear you a son in the likeness of a dog.”

The symbolism is about as crass as it could be. On the other hand the Rosarium says (p. 247): “In hora coniunctionis maxima apparent miracula” (In the hour of conjunction the greatest marvels appear).

For this is the moment when the filius philosoporum or lapis is begotten. A quotation from Alfidius adds (p. 248):

“Lux moderna ab eis gignitur” (The new light is begotten by them). Kallid says of the “son in the likeness of a dog” that he is “of a celestial hue” and that “this son will guard you … in this world and in the next.”

Likewise Senior: “She hath borne a son who served his parents in all things, save that he is more splendid and refulgent than they,”

i.e., he outshines sun and moon.

The real meaning of the coniunctio is that it brings to birth something that is one and united. It restores the vanished “man of light” who is identical with the Logos in Gnostic and Christian symbolism and who was there before the creation; we also meet him at the beginning of the Gospel of St. John.

Consequently we are dealing with a cosmic idea, and this amply explains the alchemists’ use of superlatives.

The psychology of this central symbol is not at all simple. On a superficial view it looks as if natural instinct had triumphed.

But if we examine it more closely we note that the coitus is taking place in the water, the mare tenebrositatis, i.e., the unconscious.

This idea is borne out by a variant of the picture (fig. 5a).

There again Sol and Luna are in the water, but both are winged.

They thus represent spiritthey are aerial beings, creatures of thought.

The texts indicate that Sol and Luna are two vapores or fumi which gradually develop as the fire increases in heat, and which then rise as on wings from the decoctio and digestio of the prima material.

That is why the paired opposites are sometimes represented as two birds fighting or as winged and wingless dragons.

The fact that two aerial creatures should mate on or beneath the water does not disturb the alchemist in the least, for he is so familiar with the changeable nature of his synonyms that for him water is not
only fire but all sorts of astonishing things besides.

If we interpret the water as steam we may be getting nearer the truth.

It refers to the boiling solution in which the two substances unite.

As to the frank eroticism of the pictures, I must remind the reader that they were drawn for medieval eyes and that consequently they have a symbolical rather than a pornographic meaning.

Medieval hermeneutics and meditation could contemplate even the most delicate passages in the Song of Solomon without taking offence and view them through a veil of spirituality.

Our pictures of the coniunctio are to be understood in this sense: union on the biological level is a symbol of the unio oppositorum at its highest.

This proves that the union of opposites in the royal art is just as real as coitus in the common acceptation of the word, so that the opus becomes an analogy of the natural process by means of which instinctive energy is transformed, at least in part, into symbolical activity.

The creation of such analogies frees instinct and the biological sphere as a whole from the pressure of unconscious contents.

Absence of symbolism, however, overloads the sphere of instinct.

The analogy contained in figure is a little too obvious for our modern taste, so that it almost fails of its object.

As every specialist knows, the psychological parallels encountered in medical practice often take the form of fantasy-images which, when drawn, differ hardly at all from our pictures.

The reader may remember the typical case I mentioned earlier (par. 3776:.) where the act of conception was represented symbolically and, exactly nine months later, the unconscious, as though influenced by a suggestion a echeance, produced the symbolism of a birth, or o a new-born child, without the patient’s being conscious of the preceding psychological conception or having consciously reckoned the period o her “pregnancy.”

As a rule the whole process passes off in a series of dreams and is discovered only retrospectively, when the dream material comes to be analysed.

Many alchemists compute the duration of the opus to be that of a pregnancy, and they liken the entire procedure to such a period of gestation.

The main emphasis falls on the unio mystica, as is shown quite clearly by the retention of the uniting symbol in the earlier pictures.

It is perhaps not without deeper significance that this symbol has disappeared in the pictures of the coniunctio.

For at this juncture the meaning of the symbol is fulfilled: the partners have themselves become symbolic.

At first each represented two elements; then each of them united into one (integration of the shadow!); and finally the two together with the third become a whole “ut duo qui fuerant, unum quasi corpore fiant.”

Thus the axiom of Maria is fulfilled.

In this union the Holy Ghost disappears as well, but to make up for that, Sol and Luna themselves become spirit.

The real meaning, therefore, is Goethe’s “higher copulation” a union in unconscious identity, which could be compared with the primitive, initial state of chaos, the massa confusa, or rather with the state of participation mystique where heterogeneous factors merge in an unconscious relationship.

The coniunctio differs from this not as a mechanism but because it is by nature never an initial state: it is always the product of a process or the goal of endeavour.

This is equally the case in psychology, though here the coniunctio comes about unintentionally and is opposed to the bitter end by all biologically minded and conscientious doctors.

That is why they speak of “severing the transference”

The detachment of the patient’s projections from the doctor is desirable for both parties and, if successful, may be counted as a positive result.

This is a practical possibility when, owing to the patient’s immaturity, or his fate, or because of some misunderstanding arising out of the projection, or because reason and plain common sense demand it, the continued transformation of projected unconscious contents comes to a hopeless standstill, and at the same time an opportunity presents itself from outside for the projection to be switched to another “object.”

This solution has about the same merit as persuading a person not to go into a monastery or not to set out on a dangerous expedition or not to make a marriage which everybody agrees would be stupid.

We cannot rate reason highly enough, but there are times when we must ask ourselves: do we really know enough about the destinies of individuals to enable us to give good advice under all circumstances?

Certainly we must act according to our best convictions, but are we so sure that our convictions are for the best as regards the other person?

Very often we do not know what is best for ourselves, and in later years we may come to thank God from the bottom of our hearts that his kindly hand preserved us from the “reasonableness” of our
former plans. It is easy for the critic to say after the event, “Ah, but that wasn’t the right sort of reason!”

Who can know with unassailable certainty when he has the right sort?

Moreover, is it not essential to the true art of living, sometimes, in defiance of all reason and fitness, to include the unreasonable and the unfitting within the ambience of the possible?

Therefore it should not surprise us to find that there are not a few cases where, despite every effort, no possibility presents itself of severing the transference, although the patient is from the rational point of view equipped with the necessary understanding and neither he nor the doctor can be accused of any technical negligence or oversight.

Both of them may be so deeply impressed by the vast irrationality of the unconscious as to come to the conclusion that the best thing is to cut the Gordian knot with a drastic decision.

But the surgical partition of these Siamese twins is a perilous operation.

There may be successes, though in my experience they are few and far between.

I am all for a conservative solution of the problem.

If the situation really is such that no other possibilities of any kind can be considered, and the unconscious obviously insists on the retention of the tie, then the treatment must be continued hopefully.

It may be that the severance will only occur at a later stage, but it may also be a case of psychological ‘pregnancy.”

whose natural outcome must be awaited with patience, or again it may be one of those fatalities which, rightly or wrongly, we take on our own shoulders or else try to avoid.

The doctor knows that always, wherever he turns, man is dogged by his fate.

Even the simplest illness may develop surprising complications; or, equally unexpectedly, a condition that seemed very serious may take a turn for the better.

Sometimes the doctor’s art helps, sometimes it is useless.

In the domain of psychology especially, where we still know so little, we often stumble upon the unforeseen, the inexplicable something of which we can make neither head nor tail.

Things cannot be forced, and wherever force seems to succeed it is generally regretted afterwards.

Better always to be mindful of the limitations of one’s knowledge and ability.

Above all one needs forbearance and patience, for often time can do more than art.

Not everything can and must be cured.

Sometimes dark moral problems or inexplicable twists of fate lie hidden under the cloak of a neurosis.

One patient suffered for years from depressions and an unaccountable phobia about Paris.

She managed to rid herself of the depressions, but the phobia proved inaccessible.

However, she felt so well that she was prepared to risk ignoring her phobia.

She succeeded in getting to Paris, and the next day she lost her life in a car smash.

Another patient had a peculiar and abiding horror of flights of steps.

One day he got caught up in some street-rioting and shots were fired.

He found himself in front of a public building with a broad flight of steps leading up to it. In spite of his phobia he dashed up them to seek shelter inside the building, and fell on the steps, mortally
wounded by a stray bullet.

These examples show that psychic symptoms need to be judged with the greatest caution.

This is also true of the various forms of transference and its contents.

They sometimes set the doctor almost insoluble problems or cause him all manner of worries which may go to the limits of the endurable and even beyond.

Particularly if he has a marked ethical personality and takes his psychological work seriously, this may lead to moral conflicts and divided loyalties whose real or supposed incompatibility has been the occasion of more than one disaster.

On the basis of long experience I would therefore like to warn against too much therapeutic enthusiasm.

Psychological work is full of snags, but it is just here that incompetents swarm.

The medical faculties are largely to blame for this, because for years they refused to admit the psyche among the aetiological factors of pathology, even though they had neither use for it.

Ignorance is certainly never a recommendation, but often the best knowledge is not enough either.

Therefore I say to the psychotherapist: let no day pass without humbly remembering that everything has still to be learned.

The reader should not imagine that the psychologist is in any position to explain what “higher copulation” is, or the coniunctio, or “psychic pregnancy,” let alone the “soul’s child.”

Nor should one feel annoyed if the newcomer to this delicate subject, or one’s own cynical self, gets disgusted with the seas he thinks them-phoney ideas and brushes them aside with a pitying
smile and an offensive display of tact.

The unprejudiced scientific inquirer who seeks the truth and nothing but the truth must guard against rash judgments and interpretations, for here he is confronted with psychological facts which the intellect cannot falsify and conjure out of existence.

There are among one’s patients intelligent and discerning persons who are just as capable as the doctor of giving the most disparaging interpretations, but who cannot avail themselves of such a weapon in
the face of these insistent facts.

Words like “nonsense” only succeed in banishing little things not the things that thrust themselves tyrannically upon you in the stillness and loneliness of the night.

The images welling up from the unconscious do precisely that.

What we choose to call this fact does not affect the issue in any way.

If it is an illness, then this morbus sacer must be treated according to its nature.

The doctor can solace himself with the reflection that he, like the rest of his colleagues, does not only have patients who are curable, but chronic patients too, where curing becomes nursing.

At all events the empirical material gives us no sufficient grounds for always talking about “illness”; on the contrary, one comes to realize that it is a moral problem and often one wishes for a
priest who, instead of confessing and proselytizing, would just listen, obey, and put this singular matter before God so that He could decide.

Patientia et mora are absolutely necessary in this kind of work. One must be able to wait on events.

Of work there is Plenty the careful analysis of dreams and other unconscious contents.

Where the doctor fails, the patient will fail too, which is why the doctor should possess a real knowledge of these things and not just opinions, the offscourings of our modern philosophy for everyman.

In order to augment this much needed knowledge, I have carried my researches back to those earlier times when naive introspection and projection were still at work, mirroring a psychic hinterland that is virtually blocked for us today.

In this way I have learned much for my own practice, especially as regards understanding the formidable fascination of the contents in question.

These may not always strike the patient as particularly fascinating, so he suffers instead from a proportionately strong compulsive tie in whose intensity he can rediscover the force of those subliminal images.

He will, however, try to interpret the tie rationalistically, in the spirit of the age, and consequently does not perceive and will not admit the irrational foundations of his transference, namely the archetypal images. ~Carl Jung, CW 16, Pages 247-255