The Creative Phases in Jung’s Life
At the age of seventy Jung responded in a letter to the question of phases in the life of a man:
“It is exceedingly difficult to write anything definite or descriptive about the progression of psychological states. It always seemed to me as if the real milestones were certain symbolic events characterized by a strong emotional tone.”
A presentation of the creative phases in Jung’s life will therefore deal with such milestones, reporting those events which were marked by a strong emotional tone, then briefly indicating the resultant changes in his intellectual outlook or his attitude toward life.
The work of a creative person has a long history.
It does not step into the light of day suddenly, without motivation; inner, and sometimes also outer, events prepare its emergence long beforehand.
The stream of creativity digs its bed underground for long stretches of the way and then quite unpredictably breaks through to the surface.
Usually the underground course cannot be traced afterwards, or only by intuition, for the necessary information is lacking.
With Jung it is different.
In his memoirs he describes early childhood experiences, dreams, unusual games, frightening experiences; these can be understood as preparations for the later creative phases of his life.
They are the first indications of the genius that was struggling to incarnate itself in him, and they reveal the inner law that shaped his destiny.
Yet, until the decisive moment, it remains an unanswerable question whether the breakthrough will succeed or not, whether the man will withstand the onslaught of creative genius or break under it.
I want to cite one of Jung’s childhood dreams because it allows a glimpse of the hidden daimon of creativity and presages a destiny.
It occurs in the fourth or fifth year of his life, a phase which, like puberty, middle life, and the time before death, is marked by intense activity of the unconscious and an increased number of “big” dreams.
The boy discovers a hole in the ground with steps leading downward into the depths.
Hesitantly and afraid he goes down and comes to a green curtain which blocks his view.
He is curious and pushes it aside, and behind it finds a wonderful golden throne at the end of a long room.
On the throne sits a gigantic thing like a tree trunk, reaching nearly to the ceiling.
It consists of skin and living flesh and has a cone-shaped head but no face or hair.
On its skull is a single eye that gazes steadily upward. Around its head is a glow of light that illuminates the entire room.
The boy has the feeling that “this thing” is about to descend from the throne and crawl toward him. He is paralyzed with terror.
“At that moment I heard from outside and above me my mother’s voice. She called out, ‘Yes, just look at him. That is the man-eater!’ That intensified my terror still more, and I awoke sweating and scared to death.”
The underground setting of the dream points to an event that is still completely unconscious.
Power, majesty, and numinosity all reside in this phallic daimon, a tremendum the very sight of which paralyzes the child with terror.
But this dream image also has an entirely different, very positive aspect: the shape of the daimon, as also the light radiating from it and the upward-gazing eye, characterizes it as a living, creative, and perceiving spirit dwelling in the dark recesses of the psyche.
The dream image of the mother is equally ambivalent.
She herself remains invisible; only her voice is heard, inviting the boy to observe the creature more closely.
But she takes back the invitation, as though mockingly, by pointing out its murderous qualities, and actually tempts the boy to flee.
Her call seems to have the secret design of preventing her son’s fateful encounter with the daimon.
Were the boy to yield to this maternal temptation, a perilous venture would not be undertaken, a destiny go unfulfilled.
Thus the kind, understanding, and adored mother presents as deadly a danger as her hostile counterpart.
Moreover, we know from the laws of dream events that the phallic daimon shows itself so threatening and terrifying only because it is denied, and not the other way round.
Seen in the light of depth psychology, a man’s destiny is always shaped at the point where his fear lies.
Jung recalls in his memoirs that he experienced the phallic figure as a “subterranean God ‘not to be named’,” who appeared to him throughout his youth as the antagonist of the trusted, bright Lord Jesus.
It was ‘‘an unsought-after, frightful revelation,” an ‘‘initiation into the realm of darkness.”
Jung concludes his description of this dream: ‘‘My intellectual life had its unconscious beginnings at that time.”
In point of fact, the ambiguity of both dream figures and the tension between them express the fundamental motif of his work: man suspended between the opposites.
The boy experienced the opposites as Christ/Lucifer, light/darkness, which means also good/evil or conscious/unconscious.
A few years later the dream came true: Jung fell into a neurotic conflict between creativity and inertia.
We shall return to this point later.
One can say, however, from a survey of his development as a whole, that the ithyphallic light-giving daimon, this symbol of a spiritual impulse slumbering in the unconscious of the child, completely mastered him after he had overcome the neurotic crisis, that everything else had to retreat before its advance, and that Jung survived because he obeyed.
At the age of eighty-two he wrote:
I have had much trouble getting along with my ideas. There was a daimon in me, and in the end its presence proved decisive. It overpowered me. … I had to obey an inner law which was imposed on me and left me no freedom of choice. … A creative person has little power over his own life. He is not free. He is captive and driven by his daimon. … This lack of freedom has been a great sorrow to me.
From the ‘‘initiation into the realm of darkness” it would appear to have been decreed by fate that Jung’s creative impulse should tend toward the negative pole of the psychic opposites.
From the beginning the content of his research and writing is characterized by a preponderance of the dark aspects of the psyche.
But this does not mean world-negation or nihilism, for he always remembered the vision of light in the darkness which he saw for the first time in his childhood dream.
He wanted to illuminate the dark, unknown, rejected side of the psyche. In the imagery of a different culture, one could say that he was drawn to the core of light in Yin and the core of darkness in Yang.
For a child raised in the strictly Christian milieu of a parsonage, the terrifying dream figure was, quite literally, a phenomenon and wholly unique.
It had no outside model. The sensitive boy perceived it as a giant arising out of the depths of the psyche.
Jung was still haunted by this image in later years, so much so that it played a part in his discovery of the archetypes.
Looking back, he describes his childhood experiences, among them this dream, as primordial experiences, revelations of a spirit buried in the unconscious, or as invasions from the unconscious into his life.
Even as a boy he had been profoundly impressed by the strangeness of their contents.
Under the influence of their numinosity he reacted with what one might call a natural, religious instinct.
He kept them a closely guarded secret for many years, speaking about them to no one and creating his own taboos.
One may readily understand that a child who is haunted by such dream images – or to whom the grace of such an inner vision is granted – can enter into the reality of this world only with the greatest effort.
In approximately the same period as this dream there was an unconscious attempt at suicide: the boy suddenly fell down on a bridge (crossing the Rhine at Laufen near his parents’ house), slid under the railing, and was caught just in time by the maid who hauled him back to safety.
Jung speaks of his “fatal resistance to life in this world.”
But in the background was a fatal resistance to the dark daimon under whose sign his life in this world was meant to run its course, an unconscious shrinking back before the demands of his own creativity.
This regressive tendency went hand in hand with an equally unconscious longing for security in the mother, whose ambiguous words had given that dream its peculiarly uncanny character.
When Jung was twelve years old, the “fatal resistance to life in this world” obtruded once more and led to a neurosis.
He suffered from more or less genuine fainting spells and stayed out of school for a half year or more.
“I frittered away my time with loafing, collecting, reading, and playing. But I did not feel any happier for it; I had the obscure feeling that I was fleeing from my self.”
Significantly enough, it was the voice of his father that finally called Jung to reality when he overheard his father telling a friend with great concern of his son’s condition.
In a flash the boy realized the danger of his dreamy, idle life; from then on he fought with great resolution against his laziness and fainting spells.
In a short time he overcame both.
One might speak here of a first victory over the mother, though he himself called it a “defeat.”
“A few weeks later I returned to school, and never suffered another attack. The whole bag of tricks was over and done with! That was when I learned what a neurosis is.”
The result of his ordeal was “a studied punctiliousness and unusual diligence. Those days saw the beginnings of my conscientiousness, practised not for the sake of appearances, so that I would amount to something, but for my own sake.”
This was Jung’s tribute to the father’s world, and right into old age it remained the sine qua non of his research and attitude toward life.
At the age of seventy-six he wrote in a letter in English:
“For the time being I am undergoing the curse of letter-writing. Only through submission to detestable duties can one gain a certain feeling of liberation which induces a creative mood. In the long run one cannot steal creation.”
After the “defeat” of the neurosis, Jung’s life ran on for quite a while without any special difficulties.
The longing for security and the dangerous inertia were vanquished, the gate to the underworld had closed, and therewith the preparatory phase of his creativity came to an end.
The following years are filled with work, friendship, and the joy of living as schoolboy, student, and young psychiatrist.
In 1903, at the age of twenty-eight, he married Emma Rauschenbach, and in 1906 moved into his own house in Küsnacht near Zurich.
The dissertation, “On the Psychology and Pathology of So-Called Occult Phenomena” (1902), dedicated to his fiancée and written at the suggestion of Eugen Bleuler, his chief, formed the prelude to the first creative period.
Based upon carefully observed experimental séances with his mediumistically gifted cousin, it is an exposition and psychological interpretation of her trance utterances.
Jung’s interest and scientific curiosity were drawn even in those early days to observable facts, and facts remained the basis of his research to the end of his life.
He laid great stress on being understood as an empiricist.
In the later creative phases, however, he gave up experimentation, and descriptive studies of case material took second place and finally were dropped altogether.
Instead of clinical histories of individuals and their fates, we find documents from the history of the human mind: myths, fairy tales, poetry, and religious, mystical, and heretical sayings, as well as a mass of alchemical material.
The personal was superseded by the impersonal, and dreams in turn came to be considered more for their archetypal content than for their personal meaning. (In his psychotherapeutic and analytical practice, the emphasis was of course distributed differently, so that the personal element was given due weight.)
In this first creative phase Jung’s interest was turned more to the dark aspects of the psyche: the realm of the occult, the unconscious background and its feeling-toned complexes, which he discovered by means of the association experiments, and above all, the chaotic world of the insane.
In “The Psychology of Dementia Praecox” (1907) and “The Content of the Psychoses” (1908), he struggled to understand the statements and symptoms of the mentally ill, which had until then been dismissed as nonsense, and to find an orderly structure in psychic chaos.
Against every psychiatric opinion of the day, he succeeded in reaching his goal by dint of infinite patience, perseverance, and empathy.
In several cases he even managed to cure psychotic patients with the help of psychotherapy, to reintegrate them into the world of work and human relationship, something that up to that time was unthinkable.
The discovery of archaic contents in the unconscious, which by invading a too weak or too narrow consciousness can work destruction and lead to a psychosis, as also the irrefutable proof of feeling-toned complexes, heralded Jung’s later theory of archetypes.
We can draw a straight line from his doctoral dissertation on occult phenomena, over various stations of his work, to the exposition of the principle of synchronicity half a century later.
The first creative period was in every respect a foundation for the development of his later work and bore the seeds of fruitful developments to come.
The encounter with Freud marked the high point and conclusion of this first period.
Their acquaintance began in 1906 with an exchange of letters.
Freud returned thanks for Jung’s Studies in Word Association, which he had received from Jung as a gift but had already bought and read beforehand.
Freud sent Jung his Sammlung kleiner Schriften zur Neurosenlehre.
Their first meeting took place one year later, in 1907.
Jung met in Freud an older, more experienced man who was traveling the same road as he was, for Freud too was intent on opening up the hidden recesses of the psyche.
For the first time Jung had encountered a congenial personality, and he was overjoyed to feel understood and supported in his scientific investigations.
It need hardly be said that the discussion quickly turned to psychoanalysis.
Nineteen years his senior, Freud inevitably became for Jung a father-figure to whose scientific authority he sought for a long time to submit himself as a pupil and apprentice.
Early in 1909 he wrote to Freud:
“The high degree of assurance and composure that distinguish you is not yet mine generally speaking. … Countless things that are commonplaces for you are still brand new experiences for me, which I have to relive afterwards until they tear me to pieces.” On his side Freud acknowledged Jung’s great gifts and was stirred by the human warmth of his personality. In Jung he believed he had found his long-sought spiritual son and successor. In this archetypal father-son situation lay the fruitfulness of their relationship – and also, as will be shown, the seed of its demise. So far as creative work goes, the period of collaboration with Freud was not especially productive for Jung.
A great deal of energy was taken up with mundane affairs – congresses, the founding and editing of the Jahrbuch für psychoanalytische und sychotherapeutische
Forschungen, and most of all with Jung’s militant defense, in his lectures and writings, of Freud’s psychoanalysis, then under heavy attack from all sides.
It was a period of learning and assimilation on the one hand and of growing extraversion on the other.
True introvert that he was, Jung was enjoying the positive side of extraversion – travel and success – now for once in full measure.
In September 1909 he wrote to his wife from Clark University, where he had been invited with Freud and where he delivered lectures on the association experiment:
“We are the men of the day over here. It is very good to be able to enjoy this side a bit. I feel that my libido is enjoying it in full measure.”
Countless reasons have been advanced to explain the break between Jung and Freud.
In the view of analytical psychology they are principally: Freud’s one-sided emphasis on the sexual factor, his rejection of religion, his reductive causalistic thinking, his unwillingness to accept Jung’s new and divergent ideas, as well as various human and personal weaknesses.
All these reasons are valid. Nevertheless, they seem to me to pale before one primary fact: Freud, like Jung, was caught by the creative daimon, and each had to follow his own law.
Even though both men were intent on illuminating the dark background of the psyche, their visions were so different that agreement was impossible in the long run and their separation inevitable.
Moreover, Freud had already found his own way, while Jung, who was thirty-two years old when they first met, still stood on the threshold of his most creative period.
To be sure, he had won an international reputation as a medical pioneer through his work on dementia praecox and the association experiment even before his collaboration with Freud, but in order to learn from the older and more experienced man he submitted to his authority longer than inner necessity demanded.
Freud on his side made the mistake of plying Jung with his paternal demands and moreover named him his successor or, as he himself said, the ‘‘crown prince.” Jung resisted this from the beginning.
In the last analysis, neither of them bore in mind that the creative person must serve his own daimon and may not bind himself to anyone or anything outside his own life’s task.
The resentment that continued to smolder on both sides right up to their deaths probably had its roots in their failure to observe this psychological law.
Jung’s most important work from this encounter with Freud is his Symbols of Transformation.
It develops ideas that diverged from Freud’s views and forms the conclusion of this period.
The preparations for it reach back to 1909 when Jung took up once more, after years of neglect, his studies of mythology and the history of religion.
He was deeply impressed but felt incapable of organizing the mass of material until by chance there fell into his hands the fantasy series of an unknown young American woman, a pre-psychotic, whose fantasies stemmed directly from the unconscious.
The main content of the series had to do with the hero and his confrontation with the mother.
Attempting to interpret the images, Jung discovered to his amazement identical or analogous motifs to those he had found in classical mythology.
This astonishing fact could not be explained by Freud’s view of the unconscious as the receptacle of repressed contents.
Much more, it confirmed Jung’s long-guarded suspicion that behind the repressed contents lay a still deeper layer of the unconscious whose content consisted of innate, structural forms that endured beyond space and time.
Later (in 1917) he described this layer as the collective unconscious and the layer of repressed and forgotten contents as the personal unconscious.
The real divergence between Jung’s standpoint and Freud’s first came to light in the theme of mother-son incest.
Jung dealt with it in the last chapter of Symbols of Transformation, entitled “The Sacrifice.”
In his memoirs he tells of his apprehension that Freud would never be able to accept his interpretation of incest; he had the intuition that this chapter would also mean the sacrifice of his friendship with Freud.
Freud understood the incest motif in dreams, fantasies, myths, and in the neurotic son’s mother complex literally and personally, i.e., in the sexual sense.
Jung did not exclude this possibility, but far more important for him was the symbolic meaning of incest.
The mother is not only the material source of mankind’s existence but also the psychic source; insofar as consciousness has developed gradually out of the unconscious and continues to do so over and over again, the unconscious is, figuratively speaking, the psycho-spiritual mother.
When union or “incest” with the mother occurs in dreams or myths, it signifies a sinking of consciousness into the unconscious, a primordial danger to mankind.
For youths this psychic incest expresses persistence in the security of the mother, in a state of twilight bliss and effortless ease.
It is the danger which was boded forth in Jung’s childhood dream and in due course laid him low with his childhood neurosis.
Psychic incest can be overcome only at the price of a sacrifice.
It is the sacrifice of the regressive libido, which tugs backwards toward the mother-child situation; the wish for perpetual security in the mother must be given up.
The fatal inertia must surrender fully to the world’s demands and retreat before the challenges and perils of life in the world, for “the sacrifice of the libido that strives back to the past necessarily results in the creation of the world.”
In the first half of life the libido flows naturally outwards into the world.
A person’s life is arrested or destroyed if he does not follow the gradient but succumbs to the regressive longing for the mother.
After middle life, however, the symbolic meaning of psychic incest changes.
When old age and death begin to cast their shadows, other psychological necessities are constellated which differ from those of the expansive phase of youth.
Now the libido presses naturally inwards to the unconscious, this time not as a flight from life into effortless security but out of longing for an eternal reality behind everyday, time-bound reality, in other words, out of desire for spiritual transformation in rebirth.
Jesus’ answer to Nicodemus’s question expresses this aspect of incest: “ ‘How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?’
Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God’” (John 3:4-5, RSV).
The way into one’s own depths, the Faustian descent to the Mothers, means for the mature person no less hazardous an undertaking and demands no less a sacrifice of security than does the severance from the mother and the advance into the world during youth.
Everything depends on the aging person’s not letting himself be overpowered by the regressive longing, on the depths not engulfing him, and on himself undertaking the descent consciously and freely.
“And let those who go down the sunset way do so with open eyes, for it is a sacrifice which daunts even the gods.”
Jung knew the danger of psychic mother-incest from his childhood experiences.
Still in the future, however, was the voluntary descent into the mother, and it became one of the most meaningful experiences for his creative development.
Of this we shall have more to say later.
For the present it was a matter of proceeding intellectually on his own toward a new interpretation of the incest problem.
Jung’s symbolic interpretation of incest and Freud’s personalistic-sexual one were irreconcilable.
Although this difference resulted partly from intellectual disagreements, it was ultimately grounded in the psychological nature of the two men. Jung had an intense, lifelong relation to the mother, that is, to the collective unconscious, its irrational imagery and symbolism.
He himself spoke of his permeability to the psychic background.
Occasionally he referred to his mother complex in a negative way, calling it a fascination with the “Eternal Feminine,” but this turned out to be the prerequisite for his creative work.
Freud’s nature and creative destiny were quite different.
In his Interpretation of Dreams, he reports a nightmare from his seventh or eighth year in which his beloved mother, dead, is carried into a room by two or three pesons with birds’ beaks.
The bird-people remind him of an Egyptian tomb relief. The boy awakens crying and screaming.
As was the case with Jung’s childhood dream, this solemn, frightening image presages a destiny.
The pall bearers are related to the bird-headed Horus, and because of the solar quality of this God they must be governed by the realm of daylight, by logos and reason.
They are the ones who carry the mother to the grave.
Clearly, then, the spiritual destiny, the creative work of a man who as a child comes upon such a powerful dream image of his mother’s death, cannot be determined by the matriarchal feminine but will stand under the sign of the opposite spiritual pole, the masculine paternal logos.
The lucid scientific spirit which permeates Freud’s thinking and writing and the logic of his scientific deductions receive their support from this reservoir of his being.
Jung placed enormous importance on Freud’s understanding of his thought, and in his letters he took great pains to make himself understood.
But Freud’s replies bespeak an almost tragic inability to follow him.
These letters, exchanged between 1911 and 1912, already constitute the last act of the drama; finally neither Freud’s expressions of mistrust nor Jung’s incivilities made any further difference.
They were merely external occasions for signaling the breakup of the friendship.
After his separation from Freud, nearly all of Jung’s former friends and acquaintances fell away from him.
In addition to the pain of losing his connection with Freud, Jung suffered a sense of isolation.
He never overcame completely his resentment against Freud – this remained on both sides.
Nevertheless, he was conscious of Freud’s intellectual greatness, and he never forgot what his own creative work owed to Freud.
At the age of eighty-two Jung wrote in a letter:
Despite the blatant misjudgment I have suffered at Freud’s hands, I cannot fail to recognize, even in the teeth of my resentment, his significance as a critic of culture and pioneer in the field of psychology.
A true assessment of Freud’s achievement would take us into areas of the mind that concern not only Jews but Europeans in general, areas that I have sought to illuminate in my works.
Without Freud’s ‘psychoanalysis’ I wouldn’t have had a clue.
When Jung broke with Freud he was thirty-seven years old.
Referring to his book Symbols of Transformation, he later admitted in a letter, almost apologetically, that he had found his own thoughts only at the end of his fourth decade.
He liked to attribute this to the planet Saturn, which stood in the first house of his horoscope and, according to the ancient astrological rule, exerts a powerful, restricting influence.
One might have expected a phase of intense intellectual activity following his liberation from Freud’s paternal authority.
This was not the case. A profound uncertainty about his own creative path overcame Jung.
He states in his memoirs: “
After the parting of ways with Freud, a period of uncertainty began for me. It would be no exaggeration to call it a state of disorientation. I felt totally suspended in mid-air, for I had not yet found my own footing.”
His creative powers, it seemed, had deserted him.
It appears at first glance absurd to trace this standstill to the revolutionary, pioneering thoughts on the hero and his confrontation with the mother, which were the primary themes of Symbols of Transformation.
But those thoughts were only theoretical and, as every psychologist knows, the day is not carried by theory.
Recalling his own experience, Jung wrote to Erich Neumann:
“In the case of bad books, it is enough that they get written. Good books, however, want to realize themselves and begin to pose questions which one would rather leave others to answer” (28 February 1952).
In his memoirs he says:
“I had wanted to go on with the scientific analysis of myths which I had begun in Symbols of Transformation. That was still my goal – but I must not think of that! I was being compelled to go through the process of the unconscious. I had to let myself be carried along by the current, without a notion of where it would lead me.”
Disoriented and perplexed by this blockage of the creative process, Jung felt his libido pulling back more and more from the world and turning within.
A series of dreams strengthened the introversive tendency, and all attempts at overcoming the disturbance by rational means and of fighting against the regressive trend came to nothing.
In this perilous situation he decided to yield to the urge and listen to what was trying to get at him from within.
Thus began his voluntary descent into the Realm of the Mothers.
The first thing to come up was a childhood memory: he saw himself playing passionately with building blocks.
Accompanying this image was the feeling, actually a conviction, that the boy possessed the creative life which had slipped away from him.
He drew the conclusion:
… I had no choice but to return to it and take up once more that child’s life with his childish games. This moment was a turning point in my fate, but I gave in only after endless resistance and with a sense of resignation. For it was a painfully humiliating experience to realize that there was nothing to be done except play childish games.
So as not to falsify the picture one must add that, although Jung certainly did spend some time playing with building blocks, during this long regressive period, stretching out over nearly six years (until 1918), he lived a normal middle-class life as psychiatrist and psychotherapist with a large international practice, and his family never had to suffer on account of his preoccupation.
During the First World War he acted as a health commissioner, and in 1918 he became commandant of the interned British prisoners of war at Château d’Oex, for which he received a citation from the British.
Jung paid his tribute to the world in full measure.
Seen from the outside, his descent into the depths and confrontation with the unconscious lay on the periphery of his life; but seen from within they stood at the very center.
It is characteristic that while commandant at Château d’Oex he reached decisive insights which initiated a new creative phase.
Of that I shall have more to say later.
The building game was only a prelude, a rite d’entré.
It released a stream of fantasies and had also a calming effect on the emotions bound up with these inner images.
Jung carefully wrote down all his fantasies and thoughts during this period, and in the course of years there grew up a voluminous manuscript of approximately six hundred typewritten pages.
An account of the genesis of this manuscript – the “Red Book” – is given in the memoirs, together with a summary of the initial series of fantasies.
Because of its private nature, however, its publication is proscribed.
Jung placed a copy of the manuscript at my disposal with permission to quote from it as occasion arose.
I am using this permission here for the first time.
For the purpose of understanding Jung’s creative phases the first two chapters are the most revealing, for they furnish an insight into the initial conflict which set off the regression of libido.
They contain also a sharp critique of the preceding creative period.
The manuscript begins by counterposing a “spirit of the times” and a spirit who “rules over the depths of everything in the present.”
Filled with human pride and blinded by the presumptuous spirit of the times,
I long sought to hold that other spirit away from me. But I did not pause to consider that the spirit of the depths from time immemorial and for all time to come possessed a greater power than the spirit of the times, who changes with the generations and withers with the flowers of summer. … The spirit of the depths took my understanding and all my knowledge and placed them at the service of the inexplicable and the paradoxical, or rather what must appear so to the people of these times. He robbed me of power to speak and write of anything that was not in his service, namely in the service of fusing together sense and nonsense. … By my fortieth year I had achieved everything I had wished for as a child. I had gained fame, power, wealth, knowledge, and the best human fortune. Then my desire for increasing these good things ceased, the desire retreated. … I felt the spirit of the depths, but I did not understand him.
Above the second chapter Jung wrote: “The Rediscovery of the Soul.” There we find the following:
I have returned, I am once again there –I am with you – after long years of long wandering I have come again to you. Should I tell you everything I have seen, experienced, drunk into myself? Or don’t you want to hear of all the noise of life and the world? But one thing you must know, one thing I have learnt, that one must live this life. This life is the way, the longest sought after, the way to the incomprehensible, which we call divine. There is no other way. All other ways are false paths. I found the right way, it led me to you, to my soul. I return, tempered and purified. Then I was still utterly engrossed in the spirit of the times and thought differently of the human soul. I thought and spoke much about the soul; I knew many learned words about the soul; I judged it and made a scientific object of it.I did not consider that the soul cannot be the object of my judgment and knowledge. Much more are my judgment and knowledge the object of my soul. Therefore the spirit of the depths pressed me to speak to my soul, to call upon it as a living and independent being whose re-discovery means good fortune for me. I had to become aware that I had lost my soul, or rather that I had lost myself from my soul, for many years. The spirit of the depths sees the soul as an independent, living being, and therewith contradicts the spirit of the times for whom the soul is something dependent on the person, which lets itself be ordered and judged, that is, a thing whose range we can grasp. Before the spirit of the depths this thought is presumption and arrogance. Therefore the joy of my re-discovery was a humble one. … Without the soul there is no way out of this time. The “spirit of the depths” opens up the long series of images which emerge from the unconscious. Thus the daimon returns a generation later and in changed form, the daimon who once appeared in a childhood dream as a compensatory god to the conscious world and forecast a destiny. His first appearance frightened the child, and the mother voiced a warning; now Jung says, “I long sought to hold that other spirit away from me.”
But because the preceding period had been lived and lived fully, he had now in middle life reached the point where the enantiodromia could begin and the libido which had been turned to the world turned back within.
The realization, formulated here for the first time, that the soul cannot be the object of judgment and knowledge, but that judgment and knowledge are the object of the soul, contains one of the most essential thoughts of Jung’s later work.
The epistemological insight that all knowledge rests on human experience and is conditioned by the human being, that “the ‘giver’ of all ‘given’ things dwells within us.” became a refrain, returning again and again in nearly all the later writings.
This repeated emphasis was necessary because it involves a perception that does not easily penetrate naive feeling.
Natural feeling clings tenaciously, often incorrigibly, to the objectivity of what is perceived, thought, revealed.
Thus Jung stirred up vigorous opposition when he asserted that the knowledge of God “proceeds from the nature of the soul,” i.e., is knowledge of a God-image in the human soul, though this asserts nothing about the existence and being of God himself.
The psychically conditioned nature of all knowing, experiencing, and perceiving, even of all revelation, essentially characterized Jung’s image of man and his place in the inner and outer cosmos.
Following the two introductory chapters from which I have quoted, we find descriptions of the actual fantasies.
Having yielded to the pull of the unconscious and let himself fall into the depths, Jung experienced a superabundance of inner figures. It amounted to an individual revelation that went on for several years.
He himself spoke of a primordial experience.
But he did not let matters rest there, for this subjective experience later became the most powerful challenge for his creative scientific work.
All my works, all my creative activity, has come [sic] from those initial fantasies and dreams. … Everything that I accomplished in later life was already contained in them, although at first only in the form of emotions and images.
It all began then; the later details are only supplements and clarifications of the material that burst forth from the unconscious, and at first swamped me. It was the prima materia for a lifetime’s work.
Jung integrated this primordial experience, which could also be described as a mystical experience or gnosis, into the thinking of his time through his scientific work.
In this intellectual task the spirit of the depths bound itself to the spirit of the times, and in the union of the seemingly irreconcilable opposites of inner and outer worlds, unconscious and conscious, lay his healing.
It was a victory over the danger of sinking into the unconscious; seen in the light of his fundamental problem, it was the victory over the mother.
Jung came forth from his night-sea-journey a transformed man.
He had overcome the mother, and his own spirit now bore the marks of the maternal feminine, a receptive and fruitful womb which could recast the unknown and strange into familiar forms.
Integration of the maternal also altered his “soul-image,” the anima.
A younger anima figure emerged in place of a mother-anima. At that time he met Toni Wolff, who became his helper in the intellectual penetration of the world of psychic images and remained his helper until her death in 1953. Alchemically, she was his “soror mystica.”
Psychotherapy was to benefit from Jung’s “experiment” with the unconscious, for from it he developed the method of “active imagination” as a form of psychological meditation and as an aid in bringing to consciousness unconscious contents.
Later he compared the world of images which had emerged into the light, this treasure-house of feelings and emotions, to the world opened up by psychedelic drugs.
But while the products of active imagination must be consciously worked for and are for that reason in accord with the individual’s spiritual development, the magic world of drug experience comes as an unearned gift, with the result that the unconscious grows more and more remorseless in its demands and the task of assimilating its contents more difficult than ever.
Right at the beginning of the regressive phase, Jung saw himself faced with the choice between pursuing his promising academic career at the university or continuing his experiment at “having it out” with the unconscious.
Although the choice was not easy for him, he sacrificed his professional career.
But he built on what he himself formulated as “more important sub specie aetemitas.”
This decision was like a vow, and he kept it to the death.
He says in the memoirs:
“It was then that I ceased to belong to myself alone, ceased to have the right to do so. From then on, my life belonged to the generality.”
In the visions and fantasies a message had come to him as though from a superior power, which was meant not only for himself but also for his fellow men.
The carrying out of his life’s task required his whole energy and complete submission to the transpersonal.
After about four years the regression gradually subsided.
It was in 1916 that Jung felt the first impulse to give it form.
As a result he produced the “Septem Sermones ad Mortuos,” a kind of poem in Gnostic style, which differs from the other fantasies by its concentrated language and content.
It summarizes the most essential ideas in his fantasies and is therefore both a review of the phase of introversion now drawing to an end and a preview of work to come.
Jung’s lecture (in French) “The Structure of the Unconscious” also marks 1916 as an important year.
In it he tried for the first time to present, however sketchily, his experiences in scientific form; twelve years later he reworked the lecture into his seminal essay “The Relations between the Ego and the Unconscious.”
This most remarkable and critical phase of regression came to a definite end in 1918.
It was the concept of individuation, already sketched out in “Septem Sermones,” that gave him relief, peace of mind, and the will to return to the world of scientific research; for the individuation process brings about the conjunction of opposites for which Jung had struggled during the preceding years.
Individuation means the progressive integration of the timeless background; we might even say of the unconscious self in the time- and space-bound individual.
The unique personality becomes one of the myriad facets, unique in itself, of the primordial, unknown and unknowable reality and crystallizes its own being in this way.
Forming the conclusion of the fantasies is the insight that this process of individuation is not linear; it circumambulates its goal – wholeness – in an endless approximation.
The symbol of this way is the circle, or mandala, which at the same time represents the goal, wholeness itself.
Jung came to this realization during his period of military service at Château d’Oex. In the memoirs he notes:
“It became increasingly plain to me that the mandala is the center. It is the exponent of all paths. It is the path to the center, to individuation.”
It was only after a decade of intensive research and testing that Jung published these ideas; he did so in a book, written jointly with Richard Wilhelm, on the Chinese alchemical Taoist text The Secret of the Golden Flower.
This long hesitation is characteristic and indicates his cautious, painstaking method of working.
As much as he loved to give free rein to his thoughts and intuitions – in conversation for example (he called this “mythologizing”) – his hypotheses had to be thoroughly supported by facts before he presented them to the world.
The Secret of the Golden Flower was the first alchemical text to come to Jung’s attention.
As he worked on his “European Commentary,” the experience he had already had in his mythological studies was repeated and deepened: he came upon the description of forms and images which had confronted him in his own fantasies.
What impressed him most was the primary role of the mandala in Chinese alchemy, not only in the form of the golden flower itself but also as the image of circling round the center, or in the “circulation of the light.”
This circulation indicates that the process of self-becoming has begun; now Tao takes the lead.
Similarly Jung had experienced circumambulation as a symbol of individuation, in which the self takes the lead.
The discovery of this analogy pointed the way ahead. Looking back, Jung writes in his memoirs:
“That was the first event that broke through my isolation. I became aware of an affinity; I could establish ties with something and someone.”
Now he knew where he had to set to work scientifically in order to find the historical antecedents of his personal experiences: it was alchemy.
The oppressive feeling of having been stuck all these years in an inaccessible spiritual world, cut off from the thinking of other people, gradually ebbed away and finally disappeared.
At the same time he had the good fortune of having found in Richard Wilhelm a friend who understood him through his knowledge of Eastern wisdom.
Jung never completely recovered from Wilhelm’s premature death in 1930.
For his part, Wilhelm was impressed by the similarity between Jung’s experiences and ideas and the sayings of the Chinese text.
In an article entitled “My Encounter with C. G. Jung in China” (Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 29 January 1929), Wilhelm says:
There are no accidental similarities between Jung and the wisdom of the Far East, but a profound congruity of outlook on life from within. … Thus I have encountered Jung in China. … Chinese wisdom and Dr. Jung have both descended independently of one another into the depths of man’s collective psyche and have there come upon realities which look so alike because they are equally anchored in the truth. This would prove that the truth can be reached from any standpoint if only one digs deep enough for it, and the congruity between the Swiss scientist and the old Chinese sages only goes to show that both are right because both have found the truth.
I shall now return to the year 1918, when Jung’s active imagination came upon the mandala motif and he felt both the need and strength for scientific formulation.
The first major work to appear was Psychological Types, in 1921.
The preparations for this book go back many years, probably to the time of his break with Freud.
In essence, the book is really an indirect continuation of his argument with Freud.
The variety of human modes of thought and outlook is viewed from the typological standpoint, and Freud’s ideas are given their rightful place.
The description of the attitude and function types makes up a main part of the book.
The outer or visible aspect of any one type is compensated by its own opposite, which operates from the unconscious.
Here Jung broaches one of the principal themes of his scientific work: the polaristic nature of the psyche.
Psychological Types began a new creative period, which Jung described as the phase of “supplements and interpretations” of his fantasies.
This was the final phase, stretching out over forty years to the day of his death.
Working almost without interruption, he produced a powerful and wide-ranging body of work.
This last phase did not, however, flow forth in an unbroken line: two caesuras, both connected with serious illness, became occasions for deepening and subtilizing his thought, though not for introducing any fundamental changes.
The first caesura occurred in 1944 when Jung suffered a heart attack and nearly died.
In his memoirs he describes the glorious world of visionary images that opened up before him.
It was another submersion in the maternal world of the collective unconscious, from which he emerged enriched after his recovery.
The visions reached their high point in the mystic marriage, the conjunction of the Cabbalistic pair Malchuth and Tifereth, the marriage of the Lamb, the hierogamy of Hera and Zeus.
These visions filled Jung with indescribable bliss: “One cannot imagine the beauty and intensity of feeling during the visions. They were the most powerful things I have ever experienced.”
Once again these visionary images proved to be a prelude to future insights and ideas.
From that time on a new aspect of the problem of opposites occupied a central place in Jung’s work: he was no longer concerned with the opposition of conscious and unconscious contents, of the inner and outer worlds, of the spiritual and chthonic, so much as with a deeper penetration into the nature of the unconscious as such.
In other words, he was concerned with a single sphere underlying both inner and outer reality, in which the opposites are not separated from each other and individually perceptible but still constitute a paradoxical unity.
The marriage vision, the mysterium coniunctionis, was the symbolic prefiguration of this transcendental unity.
Jung had already hinted at a transconscious, paradoxical background of the world in his alchemical studies, especially on the figure of Mercurius, whose nature unites the opposites (1942).
Of Mercurius the alchemists said not only that he is divine and the arcane substance but also that he is duplex or utriusque capax (“capable of both”) – i.e., is spiritual and physical.
In 1946 Jung took the decisive step: at his Eranos lecture he formulated his hypothesis of the psychoid quality of the archetype.
By psychoid he meant the archetype’s psychic and physical nature or, as he later put it, its “neutral” nature. In this concept he expressed the conjunction of the world’s great opposites.
The conception of the psychoid archetype and psychoid unconscious proved to be a fruitful working hypothesis, as in parapsychology for example.
Years earlier, in 1930, Jung had demonstrated that extrasensory perceptions such as intuitions, hunches, prophetic dreams, etc. usually occur in connection with the constellation of an archetype or an archetypal situation, for example, death, illness, birth, marriage.
This empirical finding now had theoretical support.
From the psychological point of view, these parapsychological phenomena indicate a split in the psychoid unity of the constellated archetype.
The physical component actualizes itself in the concrete event, and the psychic component in the image of this same event in a dream, intuition, or vision.
Thus the same archetype appears in two essentially different manifestations and enters consciousness in this quasi-double form.
Usually the inner (psychic) and outer (physical) events are separated in space and time; they come together only in the subjective experience of the individual.
A dream shows here and now a faraway happening, and an intuition which occurs today perceives what will happen weeks or months from now.
In this telescoping of space and time, something of the original psychoid unity of the transcendent background becomes visible or subject to experience, thus explaining the feeling of mystery, wonder, or numinosity which usually accompanies these strange phenomena.
Jung’s most important reflections on a unitary background, psychoid or neutral in nature, are to be found in his last major work, Mysterium Coniunctionis, especially in the final chapter, “The Conjunction,” which for a long time he feared writing because of its formidable content.
Having been stimulated by Karl Kerényi’s book on the Aegean Festival in Faust Part II, he began working on Mysterium Coniunctionis in his sixty-sixth year; he finished the two volumes sixteen years later.
With the hypothesis of a transcendental unitary world Jung had reached the limits of his understanding.
His formulations on this subject are very cautious:
“We do not know whether what we on the empirical plane regard as physical may not, in the Unknown beyond our experience, be identical with what on this side of the border we distinguish from the physical as psychic.”
In that transcendent reality the physical and psychic seem to be identical.
This thought remains, however, a postulate, since man is not in a position to make definite statements of any kind about the nature of being in its totality.
Jung found support, though, in a comparison between depth psychology and microphysics, a subject of numerous friendly conversations with the physicist Wolfgang Pauli.
Microphysics is groping its way into the unknown mystery of matter, depth psychology into the unknown mystery of the psyche, and the two sciences have developed concepts which are remarkably analogous.
This analogy has to do with the well established relativity of time and space in those deeper psychophysical layers, and above all with the concept of complementarity.
This latter concept follows from the relation between conscious and unconscious, as also from the epistemological insight that the object of investigation is only the experience or knowledge of this object but not the object itself.
Pauli wrote in a letter to Jung:
Asa matter of fact the physicist would expect a psychological correspondence at this point, because the epistemological situation with regard to the concepts ‘conscious’ and ‘unconscious’ seems to offer a pretty close analogy to the ‘complementarity’ situation in physics. Every ‘observation of the unconscious’, i.e., every conscious realization of unconscious contents, has an uncontrollable reactive effect on these same contents. … It is undeniable that the development of ‘microphysics’ has brought the way in which nature is described in this science very much closer to that of the new psychology: but whereas the former, on account of the basic ‘complementarity’ situation, is faced with the impossibility of eliminating the effects of the observer by determinable correctives, and has therefore to abandon in principle any objective understanding of physical phenomena, the latter can supplement the purely subjective psychology of consciousness by postulating the existence of an unconscious that possesses a large measure of objective reality.
Through the analogies stressed by Pauli, the hypothesis that the subject of both sciences was one and the same gained in probability.
In other words, the multiplicity of the world seems to rest on a foundation of unity.
These theoretical reflections went hand in hand with investigations of a more practical psychological nature.
Here the theme was the manifestation of the transcendental monocosmos in the relation between man and woman: Jung took up this question in “The Psychology of the Transference” in connection with the interpretation of an alchemical text.
It appeared in 1946.
Looked at psychologically, the unifying archetype of the self, operating from the transconscious sphere, wants to realize itself in the eros-smitten man and woman.
This is brought about by an increasing differentiation and deepening of the relationship for which the alchemists coined the phrase “stages of conjunction.”
Every authentic and complete relationship is permeated by the feeling of eternity, for in the background the timeless monocosmos which has split apart is reunited in the two lovers.
Jung wrote in a letter (in English):
“The living mystery of life is always hidden between Two, and it is the true mystery which cannot be betrayed by words or depleted by arguments” (12 August 1960).
The confrontation with the paradoxical monocosmos finally led Jung to a decisive step in his psychology of religion.
Fundamentally, his entire work is to be understood as a psycho-religious statement, a progressive interpretation of the numinous by which man is consciously or unconsciously filled, surrounded, and led.
“My lifework is essentially an attempt to understand what others apparently can believe” (letter, 21 May 1948).
The problem of opposites had played a role in his religious writings from the beginning.
I can only touch on it here.
On the one hand, it had to do with his reflections on Jesus and the Devil, on the other with Jesus and the alchemical lapis.
In this connection he tended to elevate into the sphere of the Divine the feminine, dark, chthonic aspect which he found in the unconscious of modern man.
This numen contradicted the trinitarian God-image but, by adding a fourth dominant, turned it into a divine quaternity, a symbol of wholeness.
This religious aspect of the problem of opposites grew out of his interpretation of historical documents and above all out of the religious experiences of modern men, who do not always think in terms of dogmatic formulations.
Jung first dealt with these facts and ideas in Psychology and Religion; it appeared in 1937, several years before the caesuras of the last creative period.
Only much later did another aspect of the problem of opposites come to the fore.
It was no longer the antagonistic, complementary, and more or less independent dominants but rather an original polarity in the God-image as such, particularly the God-image of the Old and New Testaments.
From a psychological point of view, a God-image is nearer the unutterable, mysterious ground of the psyche and the world the more clearly we can perceive its intrinsic paradoxicality, i.e., the more strongly its immanent contrariety stands out.
At bottom one then finds the chthonic and spiritual in one and the same God-image: light beside darkness, creative power beside destructive will, goodness and love beside anger and injustice.
For a long while Jung shrank from giving definite formulation to such contrariety in the Judaeo-Christian God-image.
He was aware that through the critique of the image of a just and good God he would be injuring an ancient and deeply rooted tradition.
But he also knew that in every age there were records of pious men who had not shrunk back before the vision of the dark side of the God-image; indeed, such features were even mentioned in the Old and New Testaments.
In the midst of this conflict, Jung, now seventy-six years old, once more fell seriously ill – this is the second caesura in his final creative phase. In a fever he wrote down his Answer to Job, as if from inner dictation.
“If there is anything like the spirit seizing one by the scruff of the neck, it was the way this book came into being.” he wrote in a letter (17 July 1951).
Answer to Job is the psychological exegesis of a Biblical text, but also a confession, and this accounts for its passion.
The confessional nature of the book is affirmed in a letter Jung wrote in February 1954 to an English clergyman who had discussed Answer to Job:
The attribute ‘coarse’ is mild in comparison to what you feel when God dislocates your hip or when he slays the first-born. I bet Jacob’s punches he handed to the angel were not just caresses or polite gestures. They were of the good hard kind; as you rightly say, ‘with the gloves off’. – That is one side of my experience with what is called ‘God’. ‘Coarse’ is too weak a word for it. ‘Crude’, ‘violent’, ‘cruel’, ‘bloody’, ‘hellish’, ‘demonic’ would be better.
That I was not downright blasphemous I owe to my domestication and polite cowardice. And at every step I felt hindered by a beatific vision of which I’d better say nothing.
One may regret Jung’s reticence, but anything else was unthinkable considering his faithfulness to his work, which was written under the spell of the “spirit of the depths.”
One recalls the phallic daimon who, long ago, had claimed his rights in that childhood dream.
The preponderance of darkness remained the decisive factor in Jung’s work to the end of his life; it also determined his attitude to that unspeakable transcendental power named God. “One can love God, and must fear him.”
But the more deeply Jung penetrated into the enigmatic world of the unconscious and the more strongly he sensed the numinosity of the dark powers, the more clearly he acknowledged the value of reflective consciousness as a gift of perception and understanding granted to mankind.
This in no way contradicts an opus dedicated to the “spirit of the depths”; only by virtue of an equally powerful, incorruptible, and courageous consciousness could it take shape at all.
Consciousness is the supreme virtue, for it directs awareness to the existence of the inner and outer worlds, the light and dark worlds, and in this way clothes them with reality.
Jung spoke in his later years of the “miracle of reflecting consciousness” and of the “cosmic meaning of consciousness.”
Formulated in religious language: “Man is the mirror which God holds up before him, or the sense organ with which he apprehends his being” (letter, 28 March 1953).
At first Jung saw the source of creativity in the unconscious and its autonomous powers.
In old age, he lay prime stress on the creative resonance of a consciousness that stands firm against the onslaught of the unconscious and does not falter when something incomprehensible happens.
In apprehending, it creates reality, even if it halts before the inexplicable and leaves the mysteries of life unquestioned.
Consciousness has, however, another aspect: apprehending the world and ourselves and knowing of the polaristic nature of the psyche compel us to adopt a more reflective and modest attitude toward life, and especially a more tolerant attitude toward our fellow men.
Consciousness becomes an ethical challenge arising from within; great responsibility is laid upon the individual, but it also endows him with real human worth.
Today more than ever it is obvious that life itself is dependent upon the responsible consciousness of every individual.
The unconsciousness of human beings and their submergence in a more or less irresponsible mass disturbed Jung deeply and cast a shadow over his last years.
With apprehension he saw the dangers which arise when the truth of the depths is not recognized, its darkness neither endured nor enlightened.
Above all he foresaw catastrophes threatening the existence of the human species. Too few listened to him or understood the issues.
Despite all worldly honors, Jung felt himself the voice of one crying in the wilderness.
Sadness and apprehension are echoed in the prophetic words of the seer:
It is not presumption that drives me, but my conscience as a psychiatrist that bids me fulfill my duty and prepare those few who will hear me for coming events which are in accord with the end of an era. … I am, to be quite frank, concerned for all those who are caught unprepared by the events in question and disconcerted by their incomprehensible nature.
What Jung had to offer against the pressing dangers was not a recommendation for the governance of groups or nations but always greater consciousness, painfully achieved and difficult to endure, on the part of the individual, or of many individuals.
“The whole future, the whole history of the world, ultimately springs as a gigantic summation from these hidden sources in individuals. In our own most private and subjective lives we are not only the passive witnesses of our age, and its sufferers, but also its makers. We make our epoch.”
Thus, also, “a change in the attitude of the individual can bring about a renewal in the spirit of the nations.”
Creativity is maintained as a counterweight if every advance in the knowledge and mastery of the outer world is compensated by an ever more passionate regard for the spirit of the depths, or of the unconscious.
In the face of the unprecedented possibilities of space travel, biological manipulation, and the total annihilation of life on our planet, consciousness and conscience must be deepened proportionately to prevent man’s god-almightiness from striking out in destruction and bringing down catastrophe on the heads of us all.
In view of the mass-mindedness of contemporary humanity, Jung was sceptical of the chances of any such psychological development and was oppressed by his knowledge of the autonomous explosions that may at any moment be sparked off in the depths and wipe out the human race. “The world today,” he said in 1957, “hangs by a thin thread, and that is the psyche of man.”
Even in old age Jung was never the wise man standing above life, which he loved and knew how to enjoy.
His wisdom was of a different kind: it was the wisdom of a man who had looked deep into the human heart, including his own, but suffered under the enormous paradoxicality of existence.
His attitude toward his own death, also, was not one of detached acceptance.
He complained very humanly about the brutality of old age, which drained him of his powers one by one.
But he had discovered that the psyche reaches out into a sphere of timelessness, and so he came to the conviction that it does not end even in death.
Although he relegated his thoughts on this subject to the area of “mythologizing,” they granted him inner peace.
Concerning his work, he had the feeling at the end of his life that he had done and said everything in his power.
Four months before his death, in his eighty-sixth year, he wrote in a letter:
“I can only remark that every single book was written with all the responsibility I could muster, that I was honest, and have presented facts which in themselves are not out of date. I would not wish any of my publications undone and I stand by everything I have said.” ~Aniela Jaffe, From the Life and Work of C.G. Jung, Pages 74-92