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Carl Jung on Primitive Consciousness


999 consciousness

Letters Volume II

To Marie Ramondt

Dear Frau Ramondt, 10 March 1950

While thanking you for kindly sending me your offprint I must apologize for the delay in answering your letter.

I had to get the paper read by somebody else first since my knowledge of Dutch is not sufficiently fluent.

If I understand you correctly, you hold the view that primitive material cannot be interpreted because it is not just a statement of the psyche but also a statement-and an important one-of the surrounding world.

This is very true up to a point.

For the primitive the unconscious coalesces with the external world, as can plainly be seen from the numerous projections of the primitive consciousness.

Here one can hardly speak of an ego-world relationship, since the ego as we understand it barely exists.

The primitive consciousness is an immersion in a stream of events in which the outer and inner world are not differentiated, or very indistinctly so.

Perhaps I have not understood you correctly, but it seems to me that such material can be interpreted with due regard to its conditions.

Not, of course, in such a way that the significance of the Christian cross could be applied to a medicine-man’s vision of a cross.

That would be putting the cart before the horse.

The primitive simply brings us nearer to the archetypal foundations of the later significance of the cross, and in our interpretations we must naturally take account of the primitive’s mentality-that with him the outer world has as much to say as the inner world, since with the primitive the unconscious is just as much outside as inside.

The unconscious, as we know it today, came into existence in its present form only through the differentiation of consciousness.

With the primitive the inside is infinitely more an outside, and vice versa, than with us. It must be admitted, however, that for our differentiated mentality the reconstruction of that primitive semi-consciousness is no simple matter.

When you interpret primitive fairytales, for instance, whose contents are nevertheless clearly formed, this difficulty becomes very apparent because you sense that objects have aspects for the primitive which we would never dream of.

To interpret primitive visions one must be intensely aware of this interweaving of the external object with the psychic state.

Indeed, among relatively primitive Europeans, too, there are dreams which on account of this contamination are extraordinarily difficult to interpret.

But this is not to say that those motifs which at later stages of cultural development lead to well-formed ideas cannot also be found in their most primitive form, but lacking a certain accent of value and hence a corresponding clarity.

Yours sincerely,

C.G. Jung ~Carl Jung, Letters Vol. 1, Pages 548-549.