Psychology and Alchemy (Collected Works of C.G. Jung Vol.12)

[Carl Jung on “Imagination.”]

The idea of the “centre,” which the unconscious has been repeatedly thrusting upon the conscious mind of the dreamer, is beginning to gain foothold there and to exercise a peculiar fascination.

The next drawing is again of the blue flower (cf. fig. 85), but this time subdivided into eight; then follow pictures of four mountains round a lake in a crater, also of a red ring lying on the ground with a withered tree standing in it, round which a green snake (cf. fig. 13) creeps up with a leftward movement.

The layman may be rather puzzled by the serious attention devoted to this problem.

But a little knowledge of yoga and of the medieval philosophy of the lapis would help him to understand.

As we have already said, the squaring of the circle was one of the methods for producing the lapis; another was the use of imaginatio, as the following text unmistakably proves:

And take care that thy door be well and firmly closed, so that he who is within cannot escape, and—God willing—thou wilt reach the goal. Nature performeth her operations gradually; and indeed I would have thee do the same: let thy imagination be guided wholly by nature. And observe according to nature, through whom the substances regenerate themselves in the bowels of the earth. And imagine this with true and not with fantastic imagination.

The vas bene clausum (well-sealed vessel) is a precautionary measure very frequently mentioned in alchemy, and is the equivalent of the magic circle. In both cases the idea is to protect what is within from the intrusion and admixture of what is without, as well as to prevent it from escaping.

The imaginatio is to be understood here as the real and literal power to create images (Einbildungskraft = imagination)—the classical use of the word in contrast to phantasia, which means a mere “conceit” in the sense of insubstantial thought.

In the Satyricon this connotation is more pointed still: phantasia means something ridiculous.

Imaginatio is the active evocation of (inner) images secundum naturam, an authentic feat of thought or ideation, which does not spin aimless and groundless fantasies “into the blue”—does not, that is to say, just play with its objects, but tries to grasp the inner facts and portray them in images true to their nature.

This activity is an opus, a work.

And we cannot call the manner in which the dreamer handles the objects of his inner experience anything but true work, considering how conscientiously, accurately, and carefully he records and elaborates the content now pushing its way into consciousness.

The resemblance to the opus is obvious enough to anyone familiar with alchemy.

Moreover the analogy is borne out by the dreams themselves, as dream will show. ~Carl Jung, Psychology and Alchemy, Pages 166-168.