60 / 100
Carl Jung’s Lecture on Active Imagination

999 active

Winter Semester 1938-1939; Lecture I; 28th October, 1938

Those of you who were present at my lectures in the last Semester will remember that I spoke to you of dreams, of their construction and of how one could reach their meaning.

In this Semester I intend to follow up this subject by speaking of the process of “active imagination.”

The last dream we spoke of was the dream about a concert where a glowing ball appeared from the Christmas Tree at the end of the dream.

This was, as we saw, no ordinary ball but a symbol which goes far back into the spiritual history of man.

Such a symbol was once a content of the collective unconscious, it lay with other phenomena at the foundation of consciousness, and in tracing its history we saw how such contents become conscious.

Speaking from an anthropomorphic point of view, it almost seems as if these contents had a will to become conscious, but this is only a hypothesis and should not be taken literally.

I was, however, impressed early with the fact that unknown contents exist on the threshold of consciousness.

I observed this phenomenon in patients as well as in the mentally deranged. It is the unknown contents which appear in dreams.

The question then arose, was it possible to reach this place and to influence it, to induce it to give its contents more clearly?

This turned out to be possible, for I discovered that if one concentrates enough attention on the contents of the unconscious, they begin to move and various
peculiar phenomena take place.

This was the technique of the old Egyptians, they believed in crystal gazing.

There was nothing in the crystal itself, they actually perceived the unconscious background which was animated by their attentive gaze .

Many old magicians in all p arts of the world make use of this technique, and employ all kinds of shining objects, water, jewels and even buttons, for the purpose.

The Egyptian priests gave their clients beautiful blue crystals in which to perceive these background processes; the purpose was divination, and also the healing of the ills of the soul and even of the body.

The old Egyptians knew that the unconscious background was absolutely necessary for these purposes .

The experience is age old, though naturally it was understood quite differently.

We find a similar idea with the Aesculapius .

They had rooms set apart for incubation sleep, their patients slept in these in order to have a dream which gave the diagnosis of, or even the remedy for, their illness .

The Indians, and the medicine men of primitive tribes, still resort to similar processes, the idea is to put the patient into harmony with his psychic background.

Loss of a soul, which is a very common condition with primitives, is also cured by resuming connection with the unconscious, the soul must be caught again at all costs and this is achieved by animating the psychic background.

Children are full of active imagination but we think of it as a childish activity .

This is an error, for we find it everywhere among primitives and in all ancient cultures all over the world.

We, in the West, in these days turn all our thoughts outwards, all our stimulus comes from outside, but this is not characteristic of all people.

The attitude of the East, for instance, is totally different.

When a Westerner turns to active phantasying, he must keep the first fragment which he sees clearly in his mind.

This in itself is not difficult to him, for he is able to concentrate on a detail and retain it for a long time .

Differentiation is characteristic of the West but not at all of the East.

It is impossible to obtain precise information from an Easterner.

If you ask him about a detail, instead of giving you one blade of grass he will give you the whole plant or even the whole field.

Even this is difficult for him and to concentrate on minute detail is impossible .

But this exclusive, detailed attention is not the concentration which is needed for active phantasying.

That requires a more flexible concentration, a concentration which allows things to move, which plays with them, so to speak.

When an image presents itself, we should not give it a cramp ed attention but should watch it with no prejudice or expectation, then we shall find that other things will
come and settle themselves round it and the whole scene will develop .

We think we make these things ourselves but they really happen.

As Herbart says there are ” freisteigende Vors tellungen “: that is, ideas or images which rise freely of themselves .

It is quite impossible to invent these things but it is very possible to repress them by a cramp ed attitude.

This technique is particularly useful in cases where it is very important to enter the unconscious.

There are only dreams in such cases and they are apt to be rather unsatisfactory dreams; they are fragments or they break off at the most important point.

It is, however, possible to t ell a patient to go on with such a dream.

Neither you nor he can have any idea how it will proceed, it goes on happening, he spins it on.

When I ask a patient for the context (associations) of a dream, J ask for the web in which it is embedded.

This enables me to get a picture of what the whole thing means, and if I ask him to continue his dream, the material which he produces harmonizes with the meaning of the dream.

We think a simple thing like water is the same for everyone but we are very much mistaken; one can only marvel at what people say about such things, and at the material which i s produced by someone who is sincerely trying to spin on a dream.

It is, of course, possible to cheat. You can make up a dream from a dictionary.

This has been done to me before now but I can detect it, to the chagrin of the inventors!

This process of active imagination is the making conscious of the material which lies on the threshold of consciousness.

Consciousness is an effort and you have to sleep in order to recuperate from the task.

This is very evident with primitives, if you talk to them for long or ask them questions they get exceedingly exhausted, and need to lie down and go to sleep .

A primitive never thinks, he just sits about in the sun; that is, his thoughts do not reach consciousness.

A primitive is insulted if you ask him what he is thinking about, for he is convinced that only lunatics use their heads.

I will give you a diagram as an illustration:

1 . The contents which are always in consciousness .
2. The contents on the line, that is, on the threshold of consciousness .
3 . The contents which belong to the personal unconscious. These things are either unknown or forgotten but they b belong to the individual.
4 . The most interesting and deepest contents , which belong to the collective unconscious.

All these layers, even the top one, are influenced and modified when a content rises from the collective unconscious .

If there is no cramp in the conscious, and the psychic process develops continuously, naturally and without interference from the conscious, the individual’s whole life would be based on the collective unconscious .

This does not belong to the individual, it is rather a collection of categories, an instinctive foundation, belonging to all mankind.

Although individually tinted, it is to be found in every individual, and therefore we find the motifs of the collective unconscious all over the world, in folk-lore, myths,
religions, etc.

When a fragment of phantasy appears it is exceedingly difficult to concentrate the attention upon it.

It is very important to be able to do this but it can only be achieved by considerable practice .

At first people either get lost in their associations or they repress the whole thing.

We have not been educated to look inwards, though most people are able to give their attention to outside things.

The German word for contemplation is “Betrachtung,” triichtig” means to be pregnant; you fertilize the background by concentrating your attention upon it and make it pregnant.

The Latin word “contemplatio” comes from “templum” [temple), a quadrangular open space.

This space was originally established by the priest or augur for the purpose of observation.

A protected space from which you can observe the inner contents and fertilize them with your attention.

And the word “meditatio” is related to “messen”, to measure, judge or weigh.

We do not find any detailed description of such a technique in antiquity, it would not be in keeping with the classical spirit.

But in the Middle Ages peculiar conceptions appear.

The alchemists, who were no foolish gold seekers but natural philosophers, sometimes describe their meditation as a dialogue with an invisible person; they held a conversation with God, their guardian spirit or themselves .

This conception shows that the Middle Ages had an attitude towards inner, as well as towards outer, events.

Inner things meant something to these people, and they knew that these things could answer them with words.

If I concentrate on this thing and observe it, it will answer me when I question it.

The idea of the alchemists in the Middle Ages was that it was possible to transform chemical matter by “real imagination ” .

This was brought about by intense concentration which impregnated the material with the round image of the soul which is in man.

Thee materia thus received the round form, the perfect thing, and thus impressed it must turn to gold.

The gold is a figure of speech, for the alchemists mean the philosopher’s gold, not ordinary gold.

This is difficult to understand but the alchemists often say that only the hopelessly stupid think that their gold is ordinary gold.

The whole process, however, took place in the materia, they saw their soul, not in themselves, but in chemical matter.

It must be remembered that the chemical construction of the body and of matter was unknown in those days.

This was an empty hole into which the alchemists naturally poured their unconscious.

We do the same whenever we meet someone whom we do not understand, we at once shamelessly project our unconscious into him.

We can only establish a contact with something which is totally unknown to us by projection, but in this way our own secrets get into other people, just as the secrets of the alchemists were in the actual materia.

The alchemistic development of active imagination broke off after the Middle Ages but such interruptions do not occur in the East.

Eastern culture allows such things to develop .

The concept of tapas, heat or heating, shows the brooding and hatching influence of the observer. It is creative fervor or creative heat.

Tapas is mentioned among the things which carry the earth.

It is said in an old Vedic hymn that truth, greatness, rta, strength, consecration, tap as, Brahman and sacrifice carry the earth.

A hymn of the Rigveda says :

“What was hidden in the shell,
Was born through the power of fiery torments.
From this first arose love,
As the germ of knowledge,
The wise found the roots of existence in non- existence,
By investigating the h e art’s impulses.”

Goethe says the same thing :

“You follow a false trail ;
Do not think that we are not serious;
Is not the kernel of nature
In the hearts of men?”

These describe the existence of the world as the action of the psyche – the result of Tapas.

The world is consciousness for the Indian, and Tapas is the exercise which creates the world.

It is not the world which produces concentration but concentration which produces the world. The images which occupy my mind are really Maya.

Ma means building material. We can understand the passages just quoted in this sense.

The unknown original creator of all things is, according to the Rigveda, Prajapati, the “Lord of Creation”:

Prajapati desired: “I will procreate myself, I will be manifold’ .

He performed Tapas; after he had performed Tapas he created these worlds.”

Tapas is to be translated, according to Deussen, as: “He heated himself with his own heat”, in the sense of “he brooded, he hatched. ”

The technique of Yoga is based on the practice of such concentration and the resemblance between eastern Yoga and active imagination in the West should not
be overlooked.

But it should also be remembered that Yoga is an ancient system, a prescribed technique, and that the western parallels are exceedingly poor in comparison.

Active imagination, as we practice it today, is no system, we could call it childishly simple.

The object of meditation is prescribed in the East but here we take a fragment of a dream or something of that kind and meditate upon it.

Every educated person in the East has a Guru who sets his challis (disciples) definite objects of meditation.

There are no such people as Gurus in the West, no one who is endowed with power to teach us such things.

The classical Indian b o ok on Yoga is the Patanjali Yoga-Sutra.

It dates from about the second century B.C. and is a peculiarly profound book, full of profound ideas and v very difficult to translate.

The goal of the practice of Yoga is the furtherance of Samadhi, withdrawal or ecstasy.

Hauer translates this as “Einfaltun,” introversion (as opposed to ” Entfaltung “,extraversion) sinking back into the depths.

Yoga aims at weakening the klesas. There are instinctive elements, urges, impulses to action in the unconscious which should be overcome.

This is what the term Yoga comes from, it is a yoking of uncontrollable powers in the human psyche.

We, in the West, do not yoke these powers, we repress them, push them aside or move away from them .

We have some idea of what we are doing when we crush or repress them, but it is worse e when we move them, or ourselves, aside in order not to see them.

Such things only reappear as neurotic symptoms. We do this unconsciously to avoid unpleasantness. (What I do not know does not annoy me.)

This point of view can also be observed in politics!

The Patanjali Yoga-Sutra, however, says that avidya, ignorance, not-knowing, is the basis of all the other klesas. ~Carl Jung, ETH Lecture I, Pages1-15.