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Symbolic Life

Esther Harding, the author of this book, is a physician and specialist in the treatment of psychogenic illness.


She is a former pupil of mine who has endeavoured not only to understand the modern psyche but also, as the present book shows, to explore its

historical background.


Preoccupation with historical subjects may at first glance seem to be merely a physician’s personal hobby, but to the psychotherapist it is a necessary part of his mental equipment.


The psychology of primitives, folklore, mythology, and the science of comparative religion open our eyes to the wide horizons of the human psyche and give us that indispensable aid we so urgently need for an understanding of unconscious processes.


Only when we see in what shape and what guise dream symbols, which seem to us unique, appear on the historical and ethnic scene, can we really understand what they are pointing at.


Also, once equipped with this extensive comparative material, we can comprehend more nearly that factor which is so decisive for psychic life, the archetype.


Of course this term is not meant to denote an inherited idea, but rather an inherited mode of psychic functioning, corresponding to the inborn way in which the chick emerges from the egg, the bird builds its nest, a certain kind of wasp stings the motor ganglion of the caterpillar, and eels find their way to the Bermudas.


In other words, it is a “pattern of behaviour.”


This aspect of the archetype, the purely biological one, is the proper concern of scientific psychology.


But the picture changes at once when looked at from the inside, from within the realm of the subjective psyche.


Here the archetype appears as a numinous factor, as an experience of fundamental significance. Whenever it clothes itself in suitable symbols (which

is not always the case ) , it seizes hold of the individual in a startling way, creating a condition amounting almost to possession, the consequences

of which may be incalculable.


It is for this reason that the archetype is so important in the psychology of religion.


All religious and metaphysical concepts rest upon archetypal foundations, and, to the extent that we are able to explore them, we can cast at least a superficial glance behind the scenes of world history, and lift a little the veil of mystery which hides the meaning of metaphysical ideas.


Metaphysics is, as it were, a physics or physiology of the archetypes, and its dogmas formulate the insights that have been gained into the nature of these dominants—the unconscious leitmotifs that characterize the psychic happenings of a given epoch.


The archetype is “metaphysical” because it transcends consciousness.


Dr. Harding’s book is an attempt to describe some of the archetypal foundations of feminine psychology.


In order to understand the author’s intention, the reader must overcome the prejudice that psychology consists merely of what Mr. Smith and Mrs. Jones happen to know about it.


The psyche consists not only of the contents of consciousness, which derive from sensory impressions, but also of ideas apparently based on perceptions which have been modified in a peculiar way by preexistent and unconscious formative factors, i.e., by the archetypes.


The psyche can therefore be said to consist of consciousness plus the unconscious.


This leads us to conclude that   part of the psyche is explicable in terms of recent causes, but that another part reaches back into the deepest layers of our racial history.


Now the one certain fact about the nature of neurosis is that it is due to a disturbance of the primary instincts, or at least affects the instincts to a considerable degree.


The evolution of human anatomy and of human instincts extends over geological periods of time.


Our historical knowledge throws light upon only a few stretches of the way, whose total length would have to be reckoned in millions of miles.


However, even that little bit is a help when, as psychotherapists, we are called upon to remedy a disturbance in the sphere of instinct.


Here it is the therapeutic myths offered by religion that teach us the most.


The religions might indeed be considered as psychotherapeutic systems which assist our understanding of instinctual disturbances, for these are not a recent phenomenon but have existed from time immemorial.


Although certain types of disease, notably infectious ones like typhus antiquorum, may disappear and others take their place, it is still not very probable that tuberculosis, shall we say, was an entirely different disease five or ten thousand years ago.


The same is true of psychic processes.


Therefore, in the descriptions of abnormal psychic states left us by antiquity, we are able to recognize certain features that are familiar to us; and when it comes to the fantasies of neurotic and psychotic patients, it is just here, in ancient literature, that we find the most illuminating parallels.


From the empirical evidence, it has now been known for some time that any one-sidedness of the conscious mind, or a disturbance of the psychic equilibrium, elicits a compensation from the unconscious.


The compensation is brought about by the constellation and accentuation of complementary material which assumes archetypal forms when the fonction du reel, or correct relation to the surrounding world, is disturbed.


When, for instance, a woman develops too masculine an attitude—something that may very easily happen owing to the social emancipation of women today—the unconscious compensates this one-sidedness by a symptomatic accentuation of certain feminine traits.


This process of compensation takes place within the personal sphere so long as the vital interests of the personality have not been harmed.


But if more profound disturbances should occur, as when a women alienates herself from her husband through her insistence on always being in the right, then archetypal figures appear on the scene.


Difficulties of this kind are very common, and once they have grown to pathological proportions they can be remedied only by psychotherapeutic methods.


For this reason, it has long been the endeavour of analytical psychologists to acquire as wide a knowledge as possible of the network of archetypal images produced by the unconscious, with a view to understanding the nature of the archetypal compensation in each individual case.


Dr. Harding’s systematic survey of the archetypal material of feminine compensation comes as a most welcome contribution to these endeavours, and we must be grateful to her for having devoted herself to this task with such self-sacrificing effort in addition to her professional work.


Her investigation is valuable and important not only for the specialist but for the educated layman who is interested in a psychology founded on experience of life and a knowledge of human nature.


Our times, characterized as they are by an almost total disorientation in regard to the ends of human existence, stand in need, above all else, of a vast amount of psychological knowledge. ~Carl Jung, CW 18, Pages 518-520