Symbolic Life

It can no longer be doubted today that meaningful connections are discoverable in dreams and other spontaneous manifestations of the unconscious.

This raises the question of the origin of unconscious contents.

Are they genuine creations of the unconscious psyche, or thoughts that were originally conscious but subsequently became unconscious for one reason or another?

The individual dream-thoughts, or at least their elements, are always of conscious origin, otherwise they could not be represented or recognized.

Also, a whole sequence of images connected together in a meaningful way, or an entire scene, frequently derives from the conscious memory.

But when we consider the meaning of the dream as a whole, the question of derivation becomes much more difficult to answer.

So far as can be established empirically, the function of dreams is to compensate the conscious situation, as though there were a natural drive to restore the balance.

The more one-sided the conscious situation is, the more the compensation takes on a complementary character.

Obvious examples of this can be found in people who naively deceive themselves or who hold to some fanatical belief.

As we know, the most lurid scenes of temptation are depicted in the dreams of ascetics.

In such cases it would be very difficult to prove that the meaning of the dream derives from a conscious thought that subsequently became unconscious, for obviously no such reflection or self-criticism ever took place and for that very reason had to be performed by the dream.

The hypothesis becomes completely untenable when the dreams produce meaningful connections which are absolutely unknown to the dreamer or which cannot be known to him.

The clearest phenomena of this kind, convincing even to the layman, are telepathic dreams which give information concerning events at a distance or in the future, beyond the range of sense-perception.

These phenomena offer striking proof that there are meaningful connections in the unconscious which are not derived from conscious reflection.

The same is true of dream motifs found otherwise only in myths and fairytales, and exhibiting characteristic forms of which the dreamer has no conscious knowledge.

Here we are not dealing in any sense with ideas, but with instinctual factors, the fundamental forms that underlie all imaginative representation; in short, with a pattern of mental behaviour which is ingrained in human nature.

This accounts for the universal occurrence of these archetypes of the imagination.

Their a priori presence is due to the fact that they, like the instincts, are inherited, and therefore constantly produce mythological motifs in every individual as soon as his imagination is given free play, or whenever the unconscious gains the upper hand.

Modern psychological experience has shown that not only the meaning of the dream, but also certain dream-contents, must derive entirely from the unconscious, for the simple reason that they could not have been known to consciousness and therefore cannot be derived from it.

However slight the effect of a particular dream may be, the unconscious compensation is of great importance for a man’s conscious life and for what one calls his “fate.”

The archetypes naturally play a considerable role here, and it is no accident that these determining factors have always been personified in the form of gods and demons.

Since the relation of the unconscious to consciousness is not a mechanical one and not purely complementary, but performs a meaningful and compensatory function, the question arises as to who might be the “author” of the effects produced.

In our ordinary experience, phenomena of this kind occur only in the realm of the thinking and willing ego-consciousness.

There are, however, very similar “intelligent” acts of compensation in nature, especially in the instinctual activities of animals.

For us, at least, they do not have the character of conscious decisions, but appear to be just like human activities that are exclusively controlled by the unconscious.

The great difference between them is that the instinctual behaviour of animals is predictable and repetitive, whereas the compensatory acts of the unconscious are individual and creative.

The “author” in both cases seems to be the pattern of behaviour, the archetype.

Although in human being the archetype represents a collective and almost universal mode of action and reaction, its activity cannot as a rule be predicted; one never knows when an archetype will react, and which archetype it will be.

But once it is constellated, it produces “numinous” effects of a determining character.

Thus Freud not only stumbled on the Oedipus complex but also discovered the dual-mother motif of the hero myth in Leonardo da Vinci.

But he made the mistake of deriving this motif from the fact that Leonardo had two mothers in reality, namely, his real mother and a stepmother.

Actually, the dual-mother motif occurs not only in myths but also in the dreams and fantasies of individuals who neither have two mothers nor know anything about the archetypal motifs in mythology.

So there is no need of two mothers in reality to evoke the dual-mother motif.

On the contrary, the motif shows the tendency of the unconscious to reproduce the dual-mother situation, or the story of double descent or child-substitution, usually for the purpose of compensating the subject’s feelings of inferiority.

As the archetypes are instinctive, inborn forms of psychic behaviour, they exert a powerful influence on the psychic processes.

Unless the conscious mind intervenes critically and with an effort of will, things go on happening as they have always happened, whether to the advantage or disadvantage of the individual.

The advantages seem to preponderate, for otherwise the development of consciousness could hardly have come about.

The advantage of “free” will is indeed so obvious that civilized man is easily persuaded to leave his whole life to the guidance of consciousness, and to fight against the unconscious as something hostile, or else dismiss it as a negligible factor.

Because of this, he is in danger of losing all contact with the world of instinct—a danger that is still further increased by his living an urban existence in what seems to be a purely manmade environment.

This loss of instinct is largely responsible for the pathological condition of our contemporary culture.

The great psychotherapeutic systems embodied in religion still struggle to keep the way open to the archetypal world of the psyche, but religion is increasingly losing its grip with the result that much of Europe today has become dechristianized or actually anti-Christian.

Seen in this light, the efforts of modern psychology to investigate the unconscious seem like salutary reactions of the European psyche, as if it were seeking  to re-establish the connection with its lost roots.

It is not simply a matter of rescuing the natural instincts (this seems to have been Freud’s particular preoccupation), but of making contact again

with the archetypal functions that set bounds to the instincts and give them form and meaning. For this purpose a knowledge of the archetypes is indispensable.

The question of the existence of an archetypal God-image is naturally of prime importance as a factor determining human behaviour.

From the history of symbols as well as from the case histories of patients it can be demonstrated empirically that such a God-image actually exists, an image of wholeness which I have called the symbol of the self.

It occurs most frequently in the form of mandala symbols.

The author of this book has made it her task to investigate the psychological aspect of the God-image on the one hand and the theological aspect of the self on the other—a task which in my view is as necessary as it is timely.

At a time when our most valuable spiritual possessions are being squandered, we would do well to consider very carefully the meaning and purpose of the things we so heedlessly seek to cast overboard.

And before raising the cry that modern psychology destroys religious ideas by “psychologizing” them, we should reflect that it is just this psychology which is trying to renew the connection with the realities of the psyche, lest consciousness should flutter about rootlessly and helplessly in the void, a prey to every imaginable intellectualism.

Atrophy of instinct is equivalent to pathological suggestibility, the devastating effects of which may be witnessed in the recurrent psychic epidemics of totalitarian madness.

I can only hope this book finds a wide circle of serious readers. ~Carl Jung, CW 18, Pages 656-659