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The Symbolism of the Pool in Initiation.


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Modern Psychology: C. G. Jung’s Lectures at the ETH Zürich, 1933-1941

Lecture X 5th July, 1935

You will remember that we ended the last lecture with the motif of a throne room.

The patient had just drawn the curtain aside in her phantasy.

Perhaps you expect something very exciting to be revealed but in that case I am afraid you will be disappointed.

The patient is actually following the curves of the snake.

Phantasy pictures are the way of the snake and she has to follow that way in every turn that it takes and that way is a spiral and very seldom leads anywhere direct.

She continues:

“I found myself in another dark, winding passage which I felt must lead right into the centre of the mountain. After a long, weary way I entered another big, dimly-lit cavern containing a pool . There was a kind of cupola over it, supported by four pillars.”

We have met with the symbol of the pool before in previous material and I have already brought you many analogies to it.

The pool represents the piscina, the fish pond.

The piscina was the name for the pre-Christian baptismal place.

Baptism was not always such a harmless sprinkling as it is now, earlier it entailed total immersion, a figurative death was represented, which really meant drowning.

A sect called the Mandaeans still exist in the neighborhood of Basra, Gnostic followers of John the Baptist; everything they eat must be drowned, for they hold that to be the only pure form of death.

John the Baptist was one of those who had been cleans ed through drowning and he always immersed his initiates.

We find this symbol on every step of consciousness.

At later stages such things are psychological, they are looked upon as symbols, but earlier they are quite concrete, things are.

No one thinks of asking what they mean so there is no question of symbolism.

John baptized Christ, which shows that Christ went through his initiation as John the Baptist did.

The people of this sect practiced dream interpretation and had a real psycho-therapy.

If the King’s advisers did not dare to tell the sovereign what his dreams meant, or if they could not find the right interpretation, they s ent for one of these Mandaeans who were, apparently, exceedingly independent and did not mind what they said to anybody.

Some of their interpretations were astonishingly good, I would not be able to improve upon them.

This note in the rhythm of life has a much older origin and can be found in many other places and times.

Psychotherapy is of primordial origin; it was a generally accepted fact that all illnesses could be approached from the psychic side.

The soul and the body are indeed one, so, at any rate theoretically, any illness can be approached from either side; for even if an illness has not a psychic cause it still has a psychic side.

In Germany even now they treat the sick by dragging them through a hole, through two trees, for instance, which have grown together, or through a hole in the wall.

In Cornwall there is a Neolithic clinic; a menhir stands at either end and between them a stone with a hole in it.

The sick were pulled through this hole and this is still secretly done to sick children.

I crept through it myself.

These things really do work just as well as our own chemist’s shop .

What affects the body has its influence on the soul, and vice versa. In a very difficult case of illness psycho-therapy is always called in.

There are many rebirth techniques.

Initiates, for instance, were drowned in a vessel and, when brought out, swaddled like newborn babies and given new names or new garments to emphasize that they had be come different people.

Sometimes an adoption ceremony was used to symbolize rebirth, the initiates were reborn as children of different parents .

And there is the ordeal of passing through the fire door; rebirth can take place through fire or water, or through both.

Fire and water are inherent opposites and it is just this which causes rebirth.

When opposites come together new energy is born and this is the purpose of the whole procedure.

These things were originally just primitive manifestations, and in earlier times things were simply lived. It is very remarkable how the human being acts without thinking; it thinks and we do.

The early form is simple experience, then man slowly begins to wonder why he does it; then thinking people rationalize and find that what they do has a philosophical meaning.

We have the same idea in the case we are studying.

These things had as yet no meaning for this lady; you have seen how little she was re ally in them.

It takes a long and loving connection with such things to establish a relationship with them.

You have to know a great deal to see what these things contain .

If I had asked her what it was all about she would not have known in the least.

Had she known it was the piscina she would have reacted quite differently, with far more affect.

These facts always present themselves in a quite b anal way so that we do not guess what they mean or where they are rooted and what important symbols they are.

We think we are better than our forefathers but all these ancient things are not so very dead.

I would not even like to s ay that the burning of heretics is over for ever.

I am too canny to speak of present day events, but I can give you an antique example of what I mean: in the year 700 A. D. the burning of witches was forbidden, 700 years later, in 1400, it was being done blithely, and in the year that my grandfather was born a witch was burnt in a Christian country by a people of Germanic origin.

Our forefathers were just as nice as we are, as benevolent, and as well meaning, but directly under the surface, not far below our feet, is the volcano, and the whole of our culture and reason can quickly be destroyed if that volcano erupts.

We only need to think of the orgy of blood which ushered in the goddess of reason in Notre-Dame.

The living symbol of baptism keeps coming up in a banal form.

The baroque building of St. Peter’s in Rome is built out of this symbol: four pillars over an alter or a font.

The Catholic mass arose in a great measure from the ancient Egyptian mysteries and it is only by a study of earlier forms that we can understand how Gothic architecture was evolved.

In Luxor there is literally a kilometer of pillars, which grew out of the immense emotion which these symbols arouse .

The barque of the sun, which carried souls over the water of death, was the centre of this religion.

Safe crossing of the water of death is also a symbol of rebirth.

It is just a romantic sound to us, but it is the most important of all the processes of the psyche.

Our life energy wears out after a time; it goes b ad, and we feel empty and out of sorts.

Then it is necessary to do something to get our energy back.

On the most primitive levels in Australia every man who is initiated has a churinga which is an oval piece of wood or stone.

It is an individual symbol, a symbolic mechanism or medicine.

The initiate keeps it hidden in a hollow tree, or in a hole in the ground, and when his life energy becomes less he goes and fetches it out and rubs it.

By this process the good energy, with which the churinga was stored, enters the initiant and the bad energy flows out of him back into the churinga .

Then he buries it again and goes home filled with new energy.

In the earth the churinga gradually renews itself again and the process can be repeated.

If you do not believe this go to the Tomb of St. Anthony in Padua and there you will see people rubbing solemnly with exactly the same intention as the primitive with his churinga.

The German word ” Behandlung ” comes from this and the French “passe” contains the same idea, which occurs all over the world.

We can assume therefore, that the patient is approaching a holy place where there is a cupola over the fish pond, in which she will be as a fish and where she can obtain God’s grace .

The little fishers of early Christianity and of Orpheus the Fisher have this same symbolism.

We have the solar plexus in the pool with four pillars.

Sun symbolism again but here it is dark and damp, in contrast to the hot burning sun, so we can assume that the counter movement has set in. ~Carl Jung, Modern Psychology, Pages 235-237.

Image: An ancient Egyptian Font.