[Carl Jung on “Fish,” “Pisces,” “Ichthys” in The Red Book and Memories Dreams and Reflections.]
- Another synchronistic experience described by Jung, involved his analysis of the fish symbol. He believed symbols in legend and literature were universal indicators of an underlying psychic structure common to all. He’d been studying the significance of the fish for some time, when the following chain of events occurred on April 1, 1949.
Finishing an inscription containing a figure that was half-man, half-fish, Jung went out to lunch, and was served fish. Someone at the meal, with a slip of the tongue, mentioned the custom of making an “April fish” of someone.
Later that afternoon, a former patient he hadn’t seen in months showed him some pictures of fish.
That evening, someone showed him a piece of embroidery filled with fish. The next morning, a patient he hadn’t seen in ten years, described a dream she had the night before about a large fish.
A few months later, after writing about this series of events to use in another paper, he walked to the bank of a lake. He’d been to the same spot several times already that morning, and no one else was present. Now, however, there was a sizable fish laying on the sea wall with no explanation for how it got there.
- At the beginning of 1916, Jung experienced a striking series of para-psychological events in his house. In 1923, he narrated this event to Cary de Angulo (later Baynes). She recorded it as follows:
One night your boy began to rave in his sleep and throw himself about saying he couldn’t wake up. Finally your wife had to call you to get him quiet & this you could only do by cold cloths on him-finally he settled down and went on sleeping.
Next morning he woke up remembering nothing, but seemed utterly exhausted, so you told him not to go to school, he didn’t ask why but seemed to take it for granted. But quite unexpectedly he asked for paper and colored pencils and set to work to make the following picture-a man was angling for fishes with hook and line in the middle of the picture.
On the left was the Devil saying something to the man, and your son wrote down what he said.
It was that he had come for the fisherman because he was catching his fishes, but on the right was an angel who said, “No you can’t take this man, he is taking only bad fishes and none of the good ones.” Then after your son had made that picture he was quite content.
The same night, two of your daughters thought that they had seen spooks in their rooms.
The next day you wrote out the “Sermons to the Dead,” and you knew after that nothing more would disturb your family, and nothing did. Of course I knew you were the fisherman in your son’s picture, and you told me so, but the boy didn’t know it. In Memories, Jung recounted what followed:
Around five o’clock in the afternoon on Sunday the front doorbell began ringing frantically. Everyone immediately looked to see who was there, but there was no one in sight.
I was sitting near the doorbell, and not heard it but saw it moving. We all simply stared at one another. The atmosphere was thick, believe me! Then I knew something had to happen.
The whole house was as if there was a crowd present, crammed full of spirits.
They were packed deep right up to the door and the air was so thick it was scarcely possible to breathe. As for myself, I was all aquiver with the question: “For God’s sake, what in the world is this?”
Then they cried out in chorus, “We have come back from Jerusalem where we found not what we sought.” That is the beginning of the Septem Sermones.
Then it began to flow out of me, and in the course of three evenings the thing was written. As soon as I took up the pen, the whole ghastly assemblage evaporated. The room quieted and the atmosphere cleared. The haunting was over. ~The Red Book, Introduction, Page 205.
- When night fell, Diahmon approached me in an earth-colored robe, holding a silver fish: “Look, my son,” he said, “I was fishing and caught this fish; I bring it to you, so that you may be comforted.” And as I looked at him astonished and questioningly, I saw that a shade stood in darkness at the door, bearing a robe of grandeur. ~Carl Jung; The Red Book; Page 356.
My eldest daughter saw a white figure passing through the room. My second daughter, independently of her elder sister, related that twice in the night her blanket had been snatched away; and that same night my nine-year-old son had an anxiety dream. In the morning he asked his mother for crayons, and he, who ordinarily never drew, now made a picture of his dream.
He called it “The Picture of the Fisherman.” Through the middle of the picture ran a river, and a fisherman with a rod was standing on the shore. He had caught a fish.
On the fisherman’s head was a chimney from which flames were leaping and smoke rising. From the other side of the river the devil came flying through the air. He was cursing because his fish had been stolen.
But above the fisherman hovered an angel who said, “You cannot do anything to him; he only catches the bad fish!” My son drew this picture on a Saturday. ~Carl Jung, Memories Dreams and Reflections.
- The most important images in the dream were the “reception room for spirits” and the fish laboratory. The former expresses in somewhat farcial fashion the coniunctio; the latter indicates my preoccupation with Christ, who himself is the fish (ichthys).
Both were subjects that were to keep me on the go for more than a decade. It is remarkable that the study of fish was attributed to my father.
In the dream he was a caretaker of Christian souls, for, according to the ancient view, these are fish caught in Peter’s net. It is equally remarkable that in the same dream my mother was a guardian of departed spirits.
Thus both my parents appeared burdened with the problem of the “cure of souls,” which in fact was really my task. Something had remained unfinished and was still with my parents; that is to say, it was still latent in the unconscious and hence reserved for the future.
I was being reminded that I had not yet dealt with the major concern of “philosophical” alchemy, the coniunctio, and thus had not answered the question which the Christian soul put to me.
Also the major work on the Grail legend, which my wife had made her life’s task, was not completed.
I recall how often the quest for the Grail and the fisher king came to my mind while I was working on the ichthys symbol in Aion. Had it not been for my unwillingness to intrude upon my wife’s field,
I would unquestionably have had to include the Grail legend in my studies of alchemy. My memory of my father is of a sufferer stricken with an Amfortas wound, a “fisher king” whose wound would not heal that Christian suffering for which the alchemists sought the panacea.
I as a “dumb” Parsifal was the witness of this sickness during the years of my boyhood, and, like Parsifal, speech failed me.
I had only inklings. In actuality my father had never interested himself in theriomorphic Christ-symbolism.
On the other hand he had literally lived right up to his death the suffering prefigured and promised by Christ, without ever becoming aware that this was a consequence of the imitatio Christi.
He regarded his suffering as a personal affliction for which you might ask a doctor’s advice; he did not see it as the suffering of the Christian in general. The words of Galatians 2:20:
“I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me,” never penetrated his mind in their full significance, for any thinking about religious matters sent shudders of horror through him. He wanted to rest content with faith, but faith broke faith with him.
Such is frequently the reward of the sacrificium intellectus. “Not all men can receive this precept, but only those to whom it is given…. There are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to receive this, let him receive it.” (Matthew 19:11f.)
Blind acceptance never leads to a solution; at best it leads only to a standstill and is paid for heavily in the next generation. ~Carl Jung; Memories Dreams and Reflections.
- The theriomorphic attributes of the gods show that the gods extend not only into superhuman regions but also into the subhuman realm. The animals are their shadows, as it were, which nature herself associates with the divine image.
The “pisciculi Christianorum” show that those who imitate Christ are themselves fish that is, unconscious souls who require the cura animarum.
The fish laboratory is a synonym for the ecclesiastical “cure of souls” And just as the wounder wounds himself, so the healer heals himself. Significantly, in the dream the decisive activity is carried out by the dead upon the dead, in the world beyond consciousness, that is, in the unconscious. ~Carl Jung, Memories Dreams and Reflections.
- The Bible my father held was bound in shiny fishskin. ~Carl Jung, Memories Dreams and Reflections.
I must make a few explanatory remarks concerning this dream. The initial scene describes how the unconscious task which I had left to my “father,” that is, to the unconscious, was working out. He was obviously engrossed in the Bible–Genesis?–and eager to communicate his insights.
The fishskin marks the Bible as an unconscious content, for fishes are mute and unconscious. My poor father does not succeed in communicating either, for the audience is in part incapable of understanding, in part maliciously stupid. ~Carl Jung, Memories Dreams and Reflections.
- After this excursion into the world of dreams, I must once more come back to my writings. In Aion I embarked upon a cycle of problems that needed to be dealt with separately. I had attempted to explain how the appearance of Christ coincided with the beginning of a new Aeon, the age of the Fishes.
A synchronicity exists between the life of Christ and the objective astronomical event, the entrance of the spring equinox into the sign of Pisces. Christ is therefore the “Fish” (just as Hammurabi before him was the “Ram”), and comes forth as the ruler of the new aeon. ~Carl Jung, Memories Dreams and Reflections
- These words came to me one after the other while I worked on the stone. On the third face, the one facing the lake, I let the stone itself speak, as it were, in a Latin inscription. These sayings are more or less quotations from alchemy. This is the translation:
“I am an orphan, alone; nevertheless I am found everywhere. I am one, but opposed to myself. I am youth and old man at one and the same time. I have known neither father nor mother, because I have had to be fetched out of the deep like a fish, or fell like a white stone from heaven. In woods and mountains I roam, but I am hidden in the innermost soul of man. I am mortal for everyone, yet I am not touched by the cycle of aeons.” ~Carl Jung, Memories Dreams and Reflections.
- I do not imagine that in my reflections on the meaning of man and his myth I have uttered a final truth, but I think that this is what can be said at the end of our aeon of the Fishes, and perhaps must be said in view of the coming aeon of Aquarius (the Water Bearer), who has a human figure and is next to the sign of the Fishes.
This is a coniunctio oppositorum composed of two fishes in reverse. The Water Bearer seems to represent the self.
With a sovereign gesture he pours the contents of his jug into the mouth of Piscis austrinus which symbolizes a son, a still unconscious content. Out of this unconscious content will emerge, after the passage of another aeon of more than two thousand years, a future whose features are indicated by the symbol of Capricorn: an aigokeros, the monstrosity of the Goat-Fish, symbolizing the mountains and the depths of the sea, a polarity made up of two undifferentiated animal elements which have grown together.
This strange being could easily be the primordial image of a Creator-god confronting “man,” the Anthropos. ~Carl Jung, Memories Dreams and Reflections.