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Carl Jung on the Christian Cisterns, Fish and Snakes


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The Red Book (Philemon)

Lecture XIII 8th February, 1935

There is a question concerning the subsequent fate of our homo-sexual dreamer.

This interest is very understandable but I must point out that my intention in giving you these dreams was not their personal interest, but the treatment of dreams themselves.

I should have to give you a long medical treatise to explain the entire treatment of this case, dream analysis is only one part of the technique.

It was my object to make this part clear to you and not to speak of the whole of psychological therapy.

I said last time that marriage did not end the young man’s difficulties.

I said this in order to show you I am not under the illusion that people who have undergone treatment with me glide through life forever afterwards on golden wheels!

The big problems of life present themselves after marriage and not before it.

This dreamer fell in love, married and had children, a l l this took place quite normally.

The subsequent difficulties were not connected with his early homo-sexuality, that difficulty was entirely overcome, but with the inherited coldness which the dreams touched up on in the incident of the sister hanging snowballs on the Christmas tree.

This coldness was very unpleasant to his wife, just as some men are stupid and tedious and their stupidity palls on their wives.

I aim at making people reasonable not perfect by analysis; if the latter possibility existed I should give up analysis at once, for when we aim at perfection we necessarily attach to ourselves a museum of the imperfections of human nature and our neighbors are unable to stand the smell!

The best I can do for anyone is to make him live up to what he is.

It is of course possible to differentiate highly individual qualities, a tenor, for instance, can have a perfect voice, but if you expect a perfect life to match it, you will be disappointed.

I always warn people not to identify with their profession or their important achievements, if they do so they are living in their own biographies.

Much of the day is spent in doing the most b anal things and the man who is identified with his achievement baths, eats and smokes significantly!

This attitude is a dangerous one and leads straight to a neurosis.

Another question is concerned with the concept of the Collective Unconscious.

(The question was read; it criticized the concept of the Collective Unconscious, and spoke of it as a dangerous idea through which all manner of things could be conjured up.)

Concepts such as the Collective Unconscious are hypotheses, such hypotheses are a helpful means to knowledge, they are the best we know of up to the present.

The formation of the world is not changed because we form a new hypothesis ab out a relatively unknown part of it.

I do not even think that the idea of the Collective Unconscious is a new one, it is rather a new term for a very old idea and from the way in which it has arisen you get an idea of how new conceptions arise.

No philosopher can say that he has found out exactly what the world is, but only that his experiences have led him to such and such conclusions.

My esteemed critics forget that it is actual experience which has taught me and that these are no speculative ideas.

If they are not of the same mind, they must find something better – this is my attitude towards such criticisms.

It is an actual empirical fact that the unconscious is no mirror of our ordinary world but has creative phantasies and living structures of its own.

If we study natural science we find that everything has a beginning, and that this beginning proceeds from yet another beginning.

We can only take facts as they come.

It is a proved fact, for instance, that primitives experience a feeling of religious exaltation when the sun rises; if a patient says to me that the sunrise has the same effect on him, I believe him, for only he can judge how he feels, but if he says that it has the same effect on everyone in the world, it is simply not true.

The Collective Unconscious is further objected to as a dangerous idea out of which all manner of things can be conjured up.

Things are only dangerous if you use them dangerously; the same could be said of the contents of the apothecary’s shelf and of prescriptions in case the doctor should make a mistake in writing them out.

At this rate it would be safer to have no windows or stairs in case someone should fall.

It is a curious accusation that I conjure things in and out of the unconscious, I am not aware that I ever produced any rabbits!

We will now return to the dream that I read to you at the end of the last lecture.

I have said of dreams in general that they must always be examined with their context.

I am now going to contradict myself and say that this is not always the case.

Personal dreams come from the personal layer of the unconscious and these can only be understood with the aid of personal associations: we need to know who Mrs. So and So is.

We could say that there are two forms of speech, personal speech and universal speech; we use quite different language when we write to a member of our family and when we write a lecture.

In the same way there are personal and collective dreams, and collective dreams do not need associations.

When we hear one of Grimm’s fairy tales we do not need to know what grandmother first told it.

It is quite interesting to know who dreamt such a dream as our present one, but it is not necessary.

Patients as a matter of fact can hardly ever give me any context to such a dream and if they do , it consists of associations which we could all supply from general knowledge, fairy tales or mythology, belonging to the universal spirit.

This dream, with some very trifling exceptions , deals entirely with universal themes.

The first theme is Toledo Cathedral.

The dreamer had been to Toledo some months previously but this is unimportant, he would know it from photographs and general knowledge any way and it is the universal knowledge of what this cathedral means that is significant.

It is one of the most impressive of XIIIth century buildings, one of the most beautiful of Christian churches, a model of Gothic architecture and Toledo itself is a very ancient and impressive town.

It was an Iberian city before the Roman occupations and in the VIIIth century it was the capital of the Visigoths.

It was the capital of Spain from the XIth to the XVIth century, when Philip II moved the capital to Madrid.

The second theme is the cistern.

There is no actual cistern under Toledo Cathedral, so we come here to a fact that cannot be found in concrete fact, as the Cathedral itself can, but is purely mythological and affects us in a mythological way.

The dagger and the whole description are very mythological, the dream is a s ort of mythological poem which speaks to us even though we do not know what the dreamer felt.

When we read a poem which impresses us, we may be reasonably sure that it impressed the p o et himself first.

There are cases, it is true, where the poet maintains he was not impressed; Edgar Allen Poe, for example, claims to have put his poems together in the most cold-blooded way, but I distrust this statement and think it is very much more likely that he was trying to hide an impression which was altogether too overwhelming for his taste.

This dream expresses itself mythologically so we must try to understand it in this sense and see what the universal spirit means to convey.

We must proceed with the analysis of this dream as we did with the personal dreams, but instead of asking the dreamer for his associations, we must ask the universal spirit .

We. cannot personify this so we must ask ourselves what we know about cisterns which contain serpents under churches.

This is a very difficult task and one we can break our heads over, but I have been breaking my head over these things for a long time, so there is no reason why you should not do so too.

We find the cistern in a holy place, a sanctuary, a sanctified enclosure, a hieron, a Temenos.

Early Christian basilicas often had piscinas, fish ponds into which Christians were dipped; the idea was fishing believers out of the pond.

Early Christians wore a ring with two fishes on it and the net used in this fishing for believers figures on the Pope’s ring.

In this dream the cistern is not in the cathedral, but under it, in a secret hidden place.

This indicates that something in antiquity, under the Christian layer, is intended; we must dig through the layers before Christ in order to discover it, and it must if possible be connected with a snake.

We do come on such figures in antiquity.

There is a Neolithic Temple in Malta, built in an irregular shape into the rock, a precipitous place leads to such a hole with water in it, breaking through into a dark corridor.

The terra-cotta figure of a sleeping woman has been found in a niche: she is sleeping the incubation sleep, that is, sleeping for a definite purpose.

In Aesculapian Temples the sick were laid in the Temenos in order to have a healing dream, in which the gods handed them the right means for their cure.

In these antique temples the cistern was covered by a stone and sometimes a snake was set to watch over the Temple treasure.

The snake is the attribute of Aesculapius, the doctor, and was identified with him.

The Epidaurus snake was brought to Rome during the plague because the Romans in their great need insisted on the presence of the God himself.

In these facts we find some connection between the cistern and the snake.

We come now to the curious point of the connection between the cistern and the river Tagus; with this the cult takes on the character of the cave with water in it.

This belongs to such religions as the teachings of Zoroaster and the Mithraic Cult.

We find caves connected with springs or cisterns in the existing remains of the latter religion.

There is such a remnant in Saalburg near Frankfort and in Provence at Bourg St. Andeol.

The temple has disappeared at Bourg, but the wall of the rock remains in which the Mithraic Tauroktonos, a bas-relief of a real toreador can be seen, it is evidently the site of antique bull fights.

Mithras deified the toreador, who is always represented as killing the bull from above.

Present d ay toreadors are the living remains of this old cult.

There is a Mithraic temple in Rome, ten metres below the ground, but it is impossible to excavate on account of water, the temple was literally drowned in its own spring.

The underground cave also plays an important role in the cult of Attis.

Here we come on the theme of the Katabasis, the descent into the dark hole, into Hell.

The Goddess Kybele descended herself in order that her son should be born again.

The motif of rebirth in the cave is very important, it is similar to the baptismal font from which the child is reborn.

In antique cults the reborn wore white clothes and were fed on milk like Sucklings, for several days.

In antique medicine the sick were often dragged through holes in a rock or wall and given new names.

In India patients are still put in at the mouth of a leather cow and drawn right through the animal.

All these are renewal symbols, birth is symbolically represented, so the theme of magical rebirth appears in our dream.

The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem is built over an old Attic temple.

It is very important that Christ should be said to have been born in such a place and a great many Christian Churches were built on the sites of old Attic sanctuaries. ~Carl Jung, Modern Psychology, Pages 183-186.