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Carl Jung Lexicon NYAAP

Subtle body:

The somatic unconscious, a transcendental concept involving the relationship between mind and body.

The part of the unconscious which is designated as the subtle body becomes more and more identical with the functioning of the body, and therefore it grows darker and darker and ends in the utter darkness of matter. . . . Somewhere our unconscious becomes material, because the body is the living unit, and our conscious and our unconscious are embedded in it: they contact the body. Somewhere there is a place where the two ends meet and become interlocked. And that is the [subtle body] where one cannot say whether it is matter, or what one calls “psyche.”[“Nietzsche’s Zarathustra,” vol. 1, p. 441.]

[Carl Jung on Imagination, Subtle Body, Opus]

Ruland says, “Imagination is the star in man. The celestial or super-celestial body.”

This astounding definition throws a quite special light on the fantasy processes connected with the “opus.”

We have to conceive of these processes not as the immaterial phantoms we readily take fantasy-pictures to be, but as something corporeal, a “subtle body” (fig. 139), semi-spiritual in nature.

In an age when there was as yet no empirical psychology such a concretization was bound to be made, because everything unconscious, once it was activated, was projected into matter that is to say, it approached people from outside.

It was a hybrid phenomenon, As it were, half spiritual, half-physical, a concretization such as we frequently encounter in the psychology of primitives.

The “imagination”, or the act of imagining, was thus a physical activity that could be fitted into the cycle of material changes, that brought these about and was brought about by them in turn.

In this way the alchemist related himself not only to the unconscious but directly to the very substance which he hoped to transform through the power of imagination.

The singular expression “astrum” (star) is a Paracelsan term, which in this context means something like “quintessence.”

Imagination is therefore a concentrated extract of the life forces, both physical and psychic.

So the demand that the artifex must have a sound physical constitution is quite intelligible, since he works with and through his own quintessence and is himself the indispensable condition of his own experiment.

But, just because of this intermingling of the physical and the psychic, it always remains an obscure point whether the ultimate transformations in the alchemical process are to be sought more in the material or in the spiritual realm.

Actually, however, the question is wrongly put: there was no “either-or” for that age, but there did exist an intermediate realm between mind and matter, i.e., a psychic realm of subtle bodies whose characteristic it is to manifest themselves as well as a material form.

This is the only view that makes sense of alchemical ways of thought, which must otherwise appear nonsensical.

Obviously, the existence of this intermediate realm comes to a sudden stop the moment we try to investigate matter in and for itself, apart from all projection; and it remains non-existent so long as we believe we know anything conclusive about matter of the psyche.

But the moment when physics touches on the “untrodden, untreadible regions,” and when psychology has at the same time to admit that there are other forms of psychic life besides the acquisitions of personal consciousness-in other words, when psychology too touches on an impenetrable darkness-then the intermediate realm of subtle bodies comes to life again, and the physical and the psychic are once more blended in an indissoluble unity. We have come very near to this turning-point today. ~Carl Jung, Psychology and Alchemy, Paragraph 394.

The concept of “imagination” is perhaps the most important key to understanding the opus. ~Carl Jung, Psychology and Alchemy, Paragraph 395.

Pastor Fritz Pfafflin [On communication with Pastor Pfafflin’s recently deceased brother]

Dear Pastor Pfafflin,

First of all I would like to express my heartfelt sympathy over the heavy loss that has befallen you.

Since you wish to know what I think about such experiences, I would like to point out before anything else that there was a direct connection between the event in Africa and your consciousness. This is an undeniable fact and in my opinion there is only one explanations, namely that spatial distance is, in the psychic sense, relative. In other words, physical space is not under all circumstances a definite datum but under certain conditions is also a psychic function. One might call it psychically contractile. We must suppose that the distance between your brother’s experience and your own was reduced to a minimum.

From similar experiences we must conclude that this nullification of space proceeds with great speed, so that perceptions of this kind occur almost simultaneously with the accident. We can therefore speak of a psychic nullification of time as well. We could also suppose that the victim of the accident sent out a kind of radio message. But this is contradicted by the fact that occasionally details are “transmitted” which occurred only after the death—for instance, the decapitation of the body of one killed being stabbed with a knife. In that event there can be no question of a transmission by a dying man. It is more probable that it is a perception by someone alive and seeing.

Hence the psychic nullification of space and time offers a much better explanation. Accordingly the capacity to nullify space and time mush somehow inhere in the psyche, or, to put it another way, the psyche does not exist wholly in time and space. It is very probable that only what we call consciousness is contained in space and time, and that the rest of the psyche, the unconscious, exists in a state of relative spacelessness and timelessness. For the psyche this means a relative externality and a relative non-separation from other psyches, or a oneness with them. It is characteristic that your brother was amazed when you asked him whether he had sent you a message. Obviously he had not sent a message because the relative non-existence of space and time made it unnecessary. (I have expressed similar thoughts in my essay “The Soul and Death” in “On Life After Death.”

Now with regard to the exceedingly interesting conversation you had post mortem with your brother, it has all the characteristic features of these experiences. For one thing, there is the peculiar preoccupation of the dead with the psychic states of other (dead) persons. For another, the existence of (psychic) shrines or places of healing. I have long though that religious institutions, churches, monasteries, temples, etc. as well as rites and psycho therapeutic attempts at healing were modeled on (transcendental) post mortal psychic states—a real Ecclesia Spirtualis as the prototype of the Una Sancta upon earth.

In the East these ideas would be by no means unheard-of; Buddhist philosophy, for instance, has coined the concept of Sambhoga-Kaya for this psychic existence, namely the world of subtle forms which are to Nirmana-Kaya as the breath-body (subtle body) is to the material body. The breath-world is thought of as an intermediate state between Nirmana-Kaya and Dharma-Kaya. In Dharma-Kaya, which symbolizes the highest state, the separation of forms is dissolved into absolute unity and formlessness. These formulations are extremely valuable from the psychological point of view as they provide a fitting terminology for such experiences.

Naturally we can form not conception of a relatively timeless and space-less existence, but, psychologically and empirically, it results in manifestations of the continual presence of the dead and their influence on our dream life. I therefore follow up such experiences with the greatest attention, because they show many things we dream about in a very peculiar light, where “psychological” structures appears as existential conditions. This continual presence is also only relative, since after a few weeks or months the connection becomes indirect or breaks off altogether, although spontaneous re-encounters also appear to be possible later. But after this period the feeling of the presence of the dead is in fact broken off.

The connection is not without its dangers because it entangles the consciousness of the living too much in that transcendental state, resulting in unconsciousness and dissociation phenomena. This is reflected in your dream-vision of the path leading down to a lake (the unconscious). There is an ant-heap, i.e., the sympathetic nervous system (=deepest unconsciousness and danger of dissolution of psychic elements in the form of milling ants) is becoming activated. This state takes place in you, consequently the connection is in danger of being broken, hence your brother’s admonition: “Always build on the heights!” i.e. on the heights of consciousness. “For us the depth is doom,” i.e. unconsciousness is doom. Then we get into the “clouds” where one sees nothing more.

The remarkable, statement that “Someone was interested in the motor cutting out” could indicate that among the crew there was someone who, through and exteriorization effect, actually caused the motor to cut out and did so because of an unrealized suicide complex. (I have seen quite a number of such effects in my time.)

With regard to contact with your brother, I would add that this is likely to be possible only as long as the feeling of the presence of the dead continues. But it should not be experimented with because of the danger of a disintegration of consciousness. To be on the safe side, one must be content with spontaneous experiences. Experimenting with this contact regularly leads either to the so-called communications becoming more and more stupid or to a dangerous dissociation of consciousness.

All the signs indicate that your conversation with your brother is a genuine experience which cannot be “psychologized.” The only “psychological” disturbance in it is the lake and the ant-heap. That was evidently the moment when, perhaps from both sides, the exceedingly difficult contact between the two forms of existence could no longer be maintained. There are experiences which show that the dead entangle themselves, so to speak, in the physiology (sympathetic nervous system) of the living. This would probably result in states of possession.

Again wish especial thanks for your extremely interesting letter,

Yours sincerely, C.G. Jung [Letter written 10January1939]


  1. Pastor Pfafflin had lost his brother in an accident in Africa. At the time of the accident he spontaneously experienced a conversation with this brother. The content of the conversation has not been preserved.
  2. The universal Essence manifests itself in three divine bodies (Tri-Kaya): Dharma-Kaya, the body of the law; Sambhoga-Kaya, the body of bliss, or reflected wisdom; Nirmana-Kaya, the body of incarnation, or incarnate wisdom. Cf. Evans-Wentz, The Tibetan Book of the Great Liberation, pp. 3-4, 178, n.i.




  1. Image from Rosarium Philosophorum
  2. Rising of Osiris
  3. Image: Hermes conjuring the winged soul out of an urn.-Attic funeral lekythos (Figure 139 in Psychology and Alchemy)