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Carl Jung: “My aim is to unearth the psychic facts to which religious statements refer.”


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Letters of C. G. Jung: Volume 2, 1951-1961

To Vera von Lier-Schmidt Emsthausen

Dear Frau Ernsthausen, 25 April 1952

I have read your detailed letter with attention.

I am not a philosopher but a doctor and empiricist.

I practise psychology in the first place as a science, in the second place as an instrument of psychotherapy.

Since neurosis is an attitudinal problem, and the attitude depends on, or is grounded in, certain “dominants,” i.e., the ultimate and highest ideas and principles, the problem of attitude can fairly be characterized as a religious one.

This is supported by the fact that religious motifs appear in dreams and fantasies for the obvious purpose of regulating the attitude and restoring the disturbed equilibrium.

These experiences compelled me to come to grips with religious questions, or rather to examine the psychology of religious statements more closely.

My aim is to unearth the psychic facts to which religious statements refer.

I have found that, as a rule, when “archetypal” contents spontaneously appear in dreams, etc., numinous and healing effects emanate from them.

They are primordial psychic experiences which very often give patients access again to blocked religious truths.

I have also had this experience myself.

I am far from thinking of “self-redemption” since I am wholly dependent on whether such an experience will come my way or not.

I am in the position of Saul, who does not know what will happen to him on the road to Damascus.

If nothing happens, a Paul will never be made of him.

He must then go on persecuting the Christians until the revelation finally smites him.

Thus it happens with my patients and thus it happened with me.

Just as I can hold back or actually stop the influxus divinus (wherever it may come from) with preconceived opinions, so also by suitable behaviour I can draw closer to it and, when it happens, accept it.

I can win nothing by force, but can only try to do everything for and nothing against it.

The psyche for me is something objective that sends up effects into my consciousness.

The unconscious (the objective psyche) doesn’t belong to me; rightly or wrongly I belong to it.

By making it conscious I separate myself from it, and by so objectivating it I can integrate it consciously.

Thus my personality is made complete and is prepared for the decisive experience, but no more than that.

What can, but need not, happen then is the spontaneous action from the unconscious, an action which is symbolized by the alchemists, Paracelsus, Boehme and the modern unconscious as lightning.

(Cf. Gestaltungen des Unbewussten, pp. 102ff.)

I hope the foregoing has answered your question.

I must apologize for the tardiness of my answer.

First I had to recover from flu.

Yours sincerely,

C.G. Jung, ~Carl Jung, Letters Vol. II, Pages 56-57.