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Jacob Needleman – Modern Esoteric Spirituality

C. G. Jung in the Context of Christian Esotericism and Cultural History by Gerhard Wehr

Associating Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961), the founder of analytical or archetypal psychology, with Christian esotericism is not entirely without its problems.

Jung never saw himself as an “esoteric”; at any rate he did not want to be confused with those pseudo-esoterics who veil the mysteries of human beings and the world, nature, spirit, and psyche in a secretive way and declare themselves the ones who are “knowing” and “initiated.”

Jung saw himself primarily as a doctor who was concerned with the sickness of human beings and his time.

He saw himself as a psychotherapist concerned for cures that corresponded to the reality of particular suffering.

Psychopathological investigations led him to raise historical symbols and figures from the dust of their graves.

Above all he was concerned to incorporate into his researches, indeed to make the focus of his studies, those dimensions of the unconscious which point far beyond the individual with his or her personal problems.

This special attention to the transpersonal or collective unconscious directed his attention to basic themes and contents of the esotericism of all times, in both religious and cultural history.

Jung was not the first to be struck by the fact that, for example, there are products of the unconscious, like dreams, which have parallels with myths or with religious traditions and images of revelation.

Beyond question it was Jung’s achievement to demonstrate the inner correspondence between individual spiritual and psychological experiences and the spiritual traditions of the peoples and make fruitful use of them in connection with human healing or self-realization (individuation).

This is already to enter the sphere of esotericism.

Accordingly depth psychologists and psychotherapists cannot function without a careful knowledge of spiritual and cultural associations.

They are themselves drawn into the event, the content of which is the texts and traditions, the images and symbols.

Thus one may speak of Jung’s connection with esotericism-specifically with Christian esotericism-and cultural history in two ways:

(1) In his extensive life’s work Jung made a thorough survey of religious and cultural history.

He took motives and contents from the spiritual tradition both to compare and to interpret the products of the unconscious, not only the unconscious of his patients but his own and that of all those who were concerned for a deeper knowledge of themselves.

(2) The experience of depth psychology, the process of individuation that must be undergone, is itself an esoteric event which changes people to the depth of their being, extends their consciousness, and brings their personality to the maturity of the whole person.


The comparison with the processes of transformation and initiation in the mysteries of antiquity but also in the processes of transmutation

in mysticism and alchemy are obvious.


  1. G. Jung exploited this possibility to an abundant degree.


To become clear about this, one has to see how this happens only in one or other of his main works, for example, Psychology and Alchemy (1944), Aion (1951), Symbols of Transformation (1952), Answer to Job (1952) or the great work of his old age, Mysterium Coniunctioriis (1955).


Even if we keep in mind that Jung’s concerns to evaluate esoteric material are motivated by his work in psychology and psychotherapy, it nevertheless cannot be denied that Jung’s works to a large extent also open up  valuable perspectives to anyone who approaches these books with problems relating to theology and the history of religion and culture, or with an interest in their esoteric aspects.


So it is not surprising that there are dialogical and synoptic contributions from these specialist fields in particular; I am referring to works in which the attempt is made at a conversation between the disciplines ( e.g. the study of religion, theology, mythology, anthroposophy, etc.) or at a survey of the insights which are gained in both areas.


Encounter and Discussion with Christian Esotericism


  1. G. Jung came into contact with relevant literature at a fairly early stage. In his autobiographical comments Memories, Dreams, Reflections he recalls his student days, in which he was already preoccupied with the question of the reality of the soul.


Whereas philosophy had nothing to say about the objective nature of the soul, he arrived at his first conclusions from quite another side:


The observations of the spiritualists, weird and questionable as they seemed to me, were the first accounts I had seen of objective psychic phenomena.


Names like Zoellner and Crookes impressed themselves on me, and I read virtually the whole of the literature available to me at the time …. The world gained depth and background.


Could, for example, dreams have anything to do with ghosts?


Kant’s Dreams of a Spirit Seer came just at the right moment.


Nor was that to be all, since soon there were added the writings of the Munich philosopher and psychologist Carl du Prel (1839-1899).


With his book Ratsel des Menschen (The Human Riddle, 1892), he provided a brief introduction to occultism.


As a collaborator on the journal Sphinx, edited in Germany from 1886 by Wilhelm Hiibbe-Schleiden, C. du Prel had made contact with the theosophical movement in Germany, an offshoot of H.P. Blavatsky’s Theosophical Society.


However, Jung himself did not find this Anglo-Indian Theosophy congenial.


During his university studies he was much more interested in the writings of Carl Eschenmayer, the Frankfurt doctor Johann Carl Passavant, the Swabian doctor Justinus Kerner, who made a name for himself through his account of “Prevost’s Seer,” and the books of Joseph Gorres, who was interested in the history of myths and mysteries.


These references point to a group of people who with Schelling, Franz von Baader, Gotthilf Heinrich Schubert and others devoted themselves

to romantic natural philosophy and psychology.


Moreover, Jung did not omit to point out in his biographical account that at that time he had also read “seven volumes of Swedenborg.”


And it is no surprise that Goethe’s Faust began to fascinate the rising doctor and psychologist.


All this opened up the way to his later activity, at least on the speculative side.


The young C. G. Jung regarded the principle of experience as even more important than speculation.


He experimented with a medium.


These early studies found expression in his medical doctoral dissertation “On the Psychology and Pathology of Supposed Occult Phenomena.”


Of course, for Jung these were only preliminary and provisional stages of his real career as a doctor and researcher into depth psychology.


But he had a sense of the esoteric from his early childhood days.


On reading the first chapter of Memories, Dreams, Reflections one gets the impression of a searcher attempting to understand his inner experience with the help of spiritual texts from the past, especially since there is no one around him who could help him as a kind of spiritual director.


He must, so to speak, give birth to this guru, this spiritual director, from himself, a necessity and a process that were to continue into the crisis period of Jung’s mid-life.


The world of dreams and imagination kept breaking into the external events of his life and calling.


In his autobiography he says of himself:


“These form the prima materia of my scientific work. They were the fiery magma out of which the stone that had to be worked was crystallized.”


For Jung the “stone” is a symbol of a particular kind, namely, the “lapis philosophorum, the Philosophers’ Stone,” for which the esoteric alchemists had striven.


Jung’s mid-life crisis was characterized by an event that was to be a turning point for him and the beginning of his self-discovery: his separation from Sigmund Freud (1912/1913).


For Jung it was not just a matter of rejecting the exaggerated sexual theory of his teacher or making it presentable.


From then on, two factors and elements of Christian esotericism above all became important for him: the central theme of the new birth or

rebirth as a birth “from above” (in terms of John 3) instead of the Freudian incest theory, and the Damascus event.


In both cases human beings experience a far-reaching change.


For whereas the Christian with an exoteric orientation is concerned to receive the sacrament and blessing from a consecrated priest who is in the apostolic succession, a Christian esoteric like the apostle Paul lives by the immediacy of the divine spirit; he lives by the fact that Christ is in him (Galatians 2:20). Like Paul (Galatians 1), he or she is relatively independent of church tradition.


However, in order to interpret and integrate his own experiences breaking in on him from the unconscious in dreams and imagination, after his break with Freud, Jung looked around for historical prefigurations in which inner experience is in some way “prefigured.”


He is concerned to decipher the “primal” or archetypal images and symbols that rise up in him as landmarks on the inner way toward the maturing of the soul (individuation).


For years Jung was deeply concerned with the documents of early Christian Gnosticism.


These were primarily the texts (for the most part preserved only in fragments) of those esoteric Christians who in some cases from about the middle of the first century and in others from the middle of the second century saw Gnosis (spiritual knowledge) as a way which helped the sparks of the soul imprisoned in the earthly body to become conscious of themselves and thus paved the way for redemption and a return to the realm of light.


In the 1920s Jung had to recognize that the gulf in consciousness which separates a second-century Gnostic from a twentieth-century man or

woman in search of self-knowledge is too great.


In these texts, what is dominant above all is speculation about original spiritual experience.


It is significant for the history of spirituality that quite unexpectedly, a way out opened up for Jung from the side of East Asian spirituality.


Through the Sinologist Richard Wilhelm, in 1928 Jung made the acquaintance of a Taoist text which should be regarded as an alchemistic tractate, The Secret of the Golden Flower.


This text made it possible for the psychologist to pick up the lost thread again.


But instead of following the Sinologist and from then on borrowing from the world of Asiatic spirituality, Jung turned to medieval alchemy, that is, to a specifically Western form of Christian esotericism.


In Memories, Dreams, Reflections he has this to say:


My encounter with alchemy was decisive for me, as it provided me with the historical basis which I had hitherto lacked …. As far as I could see, the tradition that might have connected Gnosis with the present seemed to have been severed, and for a long time it proved impossible to find any bridge that led from Gnosticism-or neo-Platonism-to the contemporary world. But when I began to understand alchemy, I realized that it represented the historical link with Gnosticism, and that a continuity therefore existed between past and present. Grounded in the natural philosophy of the Middle Ages, alchemy formed the bridge on the one hand into the past, to Gnosticism, and on the other into the future, to the modern psychology of the unconscious ….When I pored over these old texts everything fell into place: the fantasyimages,

the empirical material I had gathered in my practice, and the conclusions I had drawn from it. I now began to understand what these psychic

contents meant when seen in historical perspective. My understanding of their typical character, which had already begun with my investigation of myths, was deepened. The primordial images and the nature of the archetype took a central place in my researches, and it became clear to me that without history there can be no psychology, and certainly no psychology of the unconscious.


Yet again, it must be stressed that Jung looked at these trends of an esoteric Christianity not as, say, a historian of culture or of the spirit but

as someone who for years had been confronted with the products of his unconscious, which were endangering his psychic balance.


So threatening was this imagination in detail that Jung called it the prima materia for a life’s work.


There is no question that over and above his specific aims in psychotherapy, he has made available to the cultural historian material that is as

strange as it is valuable-for example, in his studies of the alchemical circle of forms and canon of symbols.


Thus Jung proves to be not just someone who is familiar with Christian esotericism because such content appears abundantly in his books and is interpreted by him as a physician of souls in his work of psychotherapy.


For what is important here is not what is consciously presented to individuals, but only what so extends the consciousness that human existence with all its light and dark sides can be affirmed and shaped, and the meaningfulness of life can be experienced.


Experience of self and experience of God correspond on this level.


The focus of the doctor, like that of the spiritual director, is on experience, and this is a central category of the esoteric.


Now it should be accepted that Jung’s analytical psychology does not raise any kind of religious claims, not even claims that might be interpreted as the rivalry of one esoteric movement or another.


Indeed, simply to preserve its scientific character, it must be concerned to keep clear of any influence stemming from a religion or worldview.


Above all, the sphere of freedom for human individuality must be respected in the psychotherapeutical process.


So there can be no question of suggestion or indoctrination.


Alongside this, another fact of experience needs to be taken into account in the narrower definition of what is religious.


On the one hand, it is the case that sometimes the earliest legacy of the human soul can emerge in archetypal images: this is not to be confused with the remnants of personal recollection of the personal unconscious (for example, in dreams).


One might think, for example, of a pagan pre-Christian symbolism, or of theriomorphic motives (motives in animal form).


On the other hand, the Christ phenomenon of the psyche of Western individuals has sometimes made a far deeper mark than is assumed.


Thus pagan motives and Christian mentality are set side by side in the unconscious of Western men and women.


A contemporary who in his or her everyday religious awareness seems to be particularly religious may have dreams that can have a truly

pagan and barbaric stamp.


On the other hand, declared atheists can be very much more “Christian” in their unconscious than they themselves suspect.


There is another aspect that should be taken into account in this connection.


The fashionable trend as a result of which Eastern and Near Eastern spirituality has been revered in the West as a kind of substitute religion or as a substitute for a church proclamation that has become ineffective can easily mislead us about the deeper situation.


For preoccupation with Asiatic philosophies and methods of training in spirituality (Zen, Yoga, etc.) and religions, however intensive, cannot alter the fact that the Christian image of God has left clear traces in the unconscious of Western men and women.


Conversely, the Asian who is turning toward Western life-style and civilization should not succumb to the illusion that in this way basic attitudes of religion and worldview are done away with and that it is possible to become assimilated to Western men and women.


As a rule this adaptation comes about only on the level of rational everyday awareness and not in the depths of the soul.


An external religious “conversion” all too often proves to be a delusion.


Jung himself gives an example of what I have just said in his autobiographical reflections.


It proves how deeply he felt that he was rooted in specifically esoteric Christian spirituality.


During his journey to India in the 1930s Jung had abundant opportunity to study the makeup of the soul and spirit of Indian men and women and to experience the impressive testimony of Asian spirituality at first hand.


In Memories, Dreams, Reflections he reports on the “overwhelming variety of impressions of India” but also on how he was visited by a surprising dream in which he had to swim alone and unaided across a channel to get the “Grail.”


Thus his own unconscious had again called him back into the sphere of Christian esotericism.


He himself comments on the experience in his dream:


This fact had impressed me all the more when I realized the concordance between this poetic myth and what alchemy had to say about the unum vas (the one vessel), the una medicina (the one medicine), and the unus lapis (the one philosopher’s stone). Myths which day has forgotten continue to be told by night …. The dream wiped away all the intense impressions of India and swept me back to the too-long-neglected concerns of the Occident, which had formerly been expressed in the quest for the Holy Grail as well as in the search for the philosopher’s stone.


And now there follows in Jung’s account the sentence that contains the definition of his spiritual position in respect of his relationship to Christian spirituality.


He continues:


I was taken out of the world of India, and reminded that India was not my task, but only a part of the way-admittedly a significant one-which should carry me closer to my goal. It was as though the dream were asking me, “What are you doing in India? Rather seek for yourself and your fellows the healing vessel, the salvator mundi (saviour of the world), which you urgently need. For your state is perilous; you are all in imminent danger of destroying all that centuries have built up.”


Without doubt the dream and its interpretation express in an unmistakable way how Jung’s work itself belongs in the living tradition of Christian esotericism.


Here it is not a matter of the work of an early Christian Gnostic or one who retells or fashions stories of the Grail, but a contemporary



Aniela Jaffe, Jung’s longtime colleague and biographer, commented on the special significance of alchemy:


Alchemy could hardly have formed such a broad basis for Jung’s researches into the unconscious and its forms and played so decisive a role as the historical test of his knowledge had there not been a genuine affinity between him and the adepts of the old Hermetic world …. However, in contrast to the alchemists, for Jung the fascination was not the material but the soul. For the scientist it was the object of strict empirical research; as a doctor he allowed it to offer help from deep understanding; as a human being he was a master and servant of its changes.


This judgment by Aniela Jaffe is adequately backed up by Jung’s own testimony.


Thus he once commented in amazement that the experiences of the old masters of alchemy had been basically his own.


If they experimented in the alchemists’ kitchen, by going through the stages on the way to the Philosopher’s Stone and the great Arcanum (the great mystery of the adepts), in Jung a similar psychic process took place, rich in inner trials and upheavals:


“The process through which I had passed at that time corresponded to the process of alchemical transformation.”


What he means is particular phases of individuation which include the confrontation with one’s own darkness (shadow) and the confrontation

with the image of the soul of the opposite sex: the animus in the case of the woman and the anima in the case of the man.


So Jung takes his place in the circle of those who experience the process of a change of personality as an esoteric development in oneself, in order to be able to offer leadership and guidance on this inner way to others.


Anyone who compares similar remarks about the process in Jacob Boehme will be surprised at the parallelism between what is depicted in the two instances.


What distinguishes Jung and Boehme from one another is their different position in the history of consciousness-quite apart from their

personal destiny and role in life.


Boehme’s Weg zu Christo, which in a work of the same name he denotes by the Latin title Christosophia and elucidated in more detail in his Theosophical Letters, may have been timely in the first quarter of the seventeenth century.


It is still impressive today.


That is also true of the Rosicrucian manifestos of the Swabian Johann Valentin Andreae  Fama Fraternitatis; Confessio Fraternitatis; Chymische Hochzeit Christiani Rosenkreutz), which formed the basis of Rosicrucianism and which Jung mentioned a number of times.


The Jungian way to individuation, which leads to the formation and knowledge of the human self, is contemporary to the degree that in the postconfessional age it guides both Christians and non-Christians, religious and nonreligious, to the reality of the soul and the spirit, without ruling out external-for example, church-forms of piety.


And it is precisely here that one of the great significances of modern Christian esotericism lies, as it was practiced by Jung as a doctor of the soul and as a depth analyst.


Now and again Jung made very skeptical remarks about “Christianity” – it would be wrong to overlook the quotation marks which he himself uses!


However, these remarks relate primarily to the Christianity of the church, which he came to know thoroughly in all its dark side as the son of a Protestant Reformed pastor.


Jung did not simply outgrow at an early stage this exoteric form, which all too often calls for faith and fails to note the value of personal religious experience.


He continually looked hopefully toward a possibility of the growth of the Christian myth.


Here Jung went so far as to compare the psychology of the unconscious with an “incarnation or realization of the Logos” (that is, the pneumatic Christ).


In a letter


of August 24, 1953, to the former Greek Orthodox priest Gerhard P. Zacharias, in which this is hinted at, Jung actually wrote:


As Origen understands Holy Scripture as the body of the Logos, so the psychology of the unconscious is also to be interpreted as a manifestation of reception. Here, however, the Christ image which was formerly known has not made an appearance through human mediation, but the transcendental (“total”) Christ has made itself a new, more specific body. The kingdom of Christ or the realm of the Logos is “not of this world,” but a meaning which transcends the world.


And even at the age of fifty-eight Jung wrote to a reader in London:


I am aware of my unconventional way of thinking and· understand that it gives the impression that I am not a Christian. But I regard myself as a Christian, since my thinking is wholly rooted in Christian conceptions. In precise terms, I regard myself as a Christian, but I am at the same time convinced that present-day Christianity does not represent the ultimate truth; that is demonstrated by the chaotic situation of our time. The present situation seems to me to be intolerable; therefore I think that a fundamental further development of Christianity is absolutely necessary.


Confrontation with Eastern Spirituality


When I said that even during his stay in India Jung felt himself to be intrinsically bound up with Christianity, I did not mean that he had closed himself to Eastern spirituality.


Rather, his name is a symbol of great openness to any form of psychical or spiritual experience.


For example, one significant indication of his attitude to the spirituality of the East is the address which he gave on May 10, 1930, in Munich on the occasion of the memorial service for Richard Wilhelm.


In it he said that for any understanding of Asian spirituality and culture it was necessary to overcome existing prejudices and at the same time be open to alien spiritualities; that is, there was a need for an “understanding dedication, beyond all Christian resentment, beyond all European arrogance.”


He knows from experience that “all average figures lose themselves either by blindly uprooting of themselves or in an equally uncomprehending search for blame.”




The spirit of Europe is not helped merely by new sensations or a titillation of the nerves. What it has taken China thousands of years to build cannot be acquired by theft. If we want to possess it we must earn the right to it by working on ourselves. Of what use to us is the wisdom of the Upanishads, or the insight of Chinese Yoga, if we desert our own foundations as though they were errors outlived and settle with thievish intent on foreign shores like homeless pirates?


Jung is no less clear in his remarks when in this connection he points to the need to expand the European concept of Wissenschaft, academic science

or discipline, and then continues:


We need a truly three-dimensional life if we are to experience the wisdom of China as living. Therefore we probably first need European wisdom about

ourselves. Our way begins with European reality and not with Yoga exercises which are meant to deceive us about our reality.


Jung suspected as early as 1930 that the spirit of the East was already at the gates, and he saw two possibilities which lay in the imminent encounter

between East and West.


It could have a hidden healing power within it, but also “a dangerous infection.” Accordingly the diagnostician and doctor left it to the capacity of his “patients” (that is, Western men and women) for decision and their human maturity to make what they could of this possibility.


Five years later, in February 1936, Jung published the article “Yoga and the West,” in the English-language paper Prabuddha Bharata, which appeared

in Calcutta.


If at an earlier stage studies with Richard Wilhelm and the Indologist Heinrich Zimmer had stimulated him to investigate the nature of the East Asian tradition, this short article shows his estimation as a Western psychologist of the spiritual and physical system of training in India.


Here he sees first of all the development which has led Western men and women into the conflict between faith and knowledge, between religious

revelation and knowledge obtained by thought.


Jung speaks of a “lack of direction bordering on psychic anarchy …. Through his historical development, the European has become so far removed from his roots that in the end his mind was split into faith and knowledge, in the same way that psychological exaggeration breaks up into its inherent opposites.”


In saying this Jung is not denying that in this way it is possible to arrive at aspects of the historical consciousness, which are examined more closely by

Jung’s famous pupil Erich Neumann.


Jung’s result, which significantly he published in an Indian journal, at the relevant point reads thus:


The split in the Western spirit therefore makes it impossible at the outset for the intentions of Yoga to be realized in any adequate way …. The Indian not

only knows his nature, but he knows also how much he himself is nature. The European, on the other hand, has a science of nature and knows astonishingly little of his own nature, the nature within him.


There is thus a clear demand for a picture of human nature which spans the whole of reality. Moreover, the psychologist looks for the various

“dispositions of the soul” which are quite different in Eastern men and women from those in Western men and women.


Therefore his advice is to study Yoga carefully, but also to examine the question of practicing it.


His thoughts come to a climax in the dictum, “In the course of the centuries the West will produce its own Yoga, and it will be on the basis laid down

by Christianity.”


Whether this will prove to be a practical method or exercises comparable to Indian Yoga is another matter.


However, it is important that Jung explicitly points to a discipline founded in Christian esotericism which is appropriate to the psychological presuppositions of Western men and women.


He himself did not develop such practices of initiation, apart from the so-called active imagination.


However, this serves explicit psychological ends and should therefore be carried out under the direction of a doctor.


Jung did not feel that he was called to renew culture or to found a modern discipline of initiation.


An investigation of the spiritual methods of training practiced in the West would have been desirable from a psychologist with a broad vision

of his own.


Evidently Jung was never asked for such an investigation and interpretation.


We do, however, have psychological commentaries written by him on texts from Eastern religions.


He wrote on the psychology of Eastern meditation and also produced a series of lengthy prefaces, for example, to books by D. T. Suzuki and Heinrich Zimmer or to the I Ching.


By contrast-leaving aside later medieval alchemy-he mentioned the religious doctrines of the West all in the same breath, in a sweeping way which was sometimes even confusing for those who were not professionals.


Thus, for example, Jung speaks of the “mass imports of exotic systems of religion”; he mentions the religion of Abdul Bahai, the representatives of

the Sufi sects, the Ramakrishna mission, Western Buddhism, the American Christian Science and the Anglo-Indian Theosophy of H.P. Blavatsky and

Annie Besant alongside the anthroposophy of Rudolf Steiner, which takes up the central European spiritual heritage.


This sweeping summary must cause perplexity, especially as Jung dismisses or ignores both directions as being pseudo-esoteric.


It is obvious that the great analyst and physician must have raised critical questions here.


At all events, in this respect he left the high level of his analyses and interpretations of the reality of soul and spirit.


Or should we regard this refusal as an indication that his task, the task of a physician of the soul, is a different one?


Further Aspects in the History of Ideas


Although Jung’s work raises critical questions, it cannot be denied that analytical psychology as a whole is, above all, a contribution to a universal

picture of reality that embraces human beings and the world, psyche and matter.


This is where its topicality and its future lie.


Both the encounter with Eastern and Far Eastern spirituality and access to the context of alchemy directed Jung the psychologist to the one complex reality.


Jung applied to it the alchemistic term unus mundus (the one world).


What he means is the reality that can at one time be described as material being and at another as a dynamic of the psyche.


This unus mundus was to play a role above all in Jung’s later works, when he had a fruitful exchange with the physicist and Nobel prize winner Wolfgang Pauli.


The studies produced in this connection show that the depth psychologist discloses possibilities of knowledge that point far beyond the original task of the physician and therapist.



Jung’s collaboration proved to be fruitful because a parallelism of thought models arose in psychology and physics.


Jung became convinced that the same unconscious that harbors the archetypical primal images of great religious relevance must also be connected with inorganic matter.


He thought that in the last resort psyche and matter are to be seen as the two poles of one and the same reality, the alchemistic unus mundus.


Jung demonstrated that the archetypes of the collective unconscious display a “psychoid” aspect (that is, not just a spiritual but also partially a material aspect), which produces the phenomenon of so-called synchronicity.


This is a meaningful ordering of spiritual and material facts.


In this connection Wolfgang Pauli pointed out that the theory of the evolution of life also called for consideration of the concept of synchronicity as Jung developed it.


Accordingly there would be purposeful and thus “meaningful chance mutations” in the course of evolution.


Even if such matters must initially be restricted to the discussion of specialists, they do open up perspectives on a new understanding of what is presented in the late-Pauline letters (e.g., Ephesians and Colossians) as an image of the cosmic Christ.


Another central theme of Jung’s analytical psychology which at the same time belongs at the center of Christian esotericism is the great theme of transformation.


It is certainly no coincidence that it was in connection with this theme that Jung parted company with Sigmund Freud and from then on went his own way as a psychotherapist and researcher.


One of the places where he stated his program was in the early work “Transformations and Symbols of the Libido.”


The later revised version is called “Symbols of Transformation.”


It is basically the same theme that in the ancient mysteries, in the spiritual schools in East and West, denotes the method and aim of human maturing.


In the language of the New Testament it is metanoia, the transformation of human beings at the depth of their beings.


All this subject matter is, of course, well known to academic theology.


But the real problem is that it is not enough merely to deal with the

testimonies of the religious or spiritual tradition by means of the known methods of philology and historical and textual criticism.


That would be to seek to grasp the mystery of Christianity purely in external terms, that is, exoterically.


However, esoteric spirituality that is worthy of the name is primarily concerned with the development of personal inwardness, with one’s own experience and with transformation.


A theology without experience is hardly in a position to mediate that spiritual knowledge and spiritual direction which nowadays is sought more than ever.


For Jung, the son of a Reformed pastor, this insight had grown out of his own experience and sufferings.


There are also some illuminating remarks about this in his autobiography Memories, Dreams, Reflections:


I was equally sure that none of the theologians I knew had ever seen “the light that shineth in the darkness” with his own eyes, for if they had they would

not have been able to teach a “theological religion,” which seemed quite inadequate to me, since there was nothing to do with it but believe it without

hope. This was what my Father had tried valiantly to do and had run aground …. I recognized that this celebrated faith of his had played this

deadly trick on him, and not only on him but on most of the cultivated and serious people I knew. The arch sin of faith, it seemed to me, was that it

forestalled experience.



Let us leave aside the question of how Jung understood the Christian concept of faith; his particular merit as a depth psychologist lies in the fact that he showed the theology of his time a way to understand Christianity not only as a theological doctrine or as an ethical norm but as a unique possibility of personally undergoing a process of change and taking an inner way.


Therefore the number of those who entered into conversations and correspondence with Carl Gustav Jung from both Protestant and Catholic theology was great.


To one such Protestant theologian, Walter Uhsadel, he wrote:


It seems to me that the most important task of anyone who trains souls in the present is to show people a way of getting to the primal experience which

for example Paul encountered most clearly on the Damascus Road.


In my experience this way opens up only in the process of the development of the individual soul.


Thus, the esoteric Christian-which is what C. G. Jung undoubtedly was-becomes the inaugurator of a “depth theology,” that is, a theology that takes part in that extension of consciousness which is not just limited to the rational basis of theological-exegetical work and proclamation and is not exhausted in charitable or social and political activities but is open to the dimension of spiritual depth, to esoteric Christianity.


Only with a changed consciousness is it also possible to change external relations, interpersonal relations.


Change begins within.


It begins with the people who are to be changed.


At this point it can be asked what reception Jung’s approach found.


Instead of referring to the Jungian school in the narrower sense of the term, which includes Marie Louise von Franz, Aniela Jaffe, James Hillman,

Ulrich Mann, Esther Harding, Erich Neumann, Jolande Jacobi, and others, I would like to take as a representative figure the person and work of

Karlfried Graf Diirckheim.


On the one hand, Diirckheim recognized the therapeutic relevance of Jungian analytical psychology and made it an ingredient of his own praxis; on the other hand, the theme of initiation comes so much to the fore that the basis of Christian esotericism comes into play, though he does not always put particular emphasis on this.


Karlfried Graf Diirckheim, who was born in Munich in 1896, was originally a philosopher and psychologist.


In 1932 he became professor of  psychology in Kiel, and from 1937 to 1945 he worked in Japan, where he encountered Zen Buddhism.


After 1951 he developed and practiced the “initiation therapy,” which he inaugurated with Maria Hippius in Todtmoos-Rilttein the Black Forest.


This was based on a metaphysical anthropology in which basic experiences from a spiritual encounter with the mysticism of Meister Eckhardt, of Zen, and of the analytical psychology of C. G. Jung come together.


Along with a system of practical work which involves the body, initiation therapy represents a way to self-realization.


The practitioner focuses on the experience of being, that is, an experience which initiation therapy has in common with mysticism.


The aim is transformation.


At the same time, the experiential knowledge of the East applies, for the way is the goal. Graf Diirckheim observes:


It is also necessary for those ultimately responsible for spiritual life, its knowledge and its realization, to learn to distinguish in theory and in practice

(i.e. also in themselves) between the two levels on which human life inevitably is played out: the natural, limited by space and time, given to human beings to know, master and shape, and that beyond time and space, which transcends all human ability, but which is given to human beings for experience, obedience and self-realization in a life which testifies to transcendent life in our existence in space and time.


Along with Jung, Diirckheim is guided by a concern to avoid psychologizing religion.


It cannot be the task of either to seek to grasp religious experience only by means of psychological contemplation and analysis.


Being open to the spiritual and transcendent calls for an extension of vision and consciousness which is not normally present but is achieved or prepared for only by practicing.


However, the mystery of transformation in both cases transcends human capabilities.


In religious terms, esoteric presence comes about in the sphere of grace.


This grace is not striven for, nor is it fought for or earned, but rather is given.


The human being can only clean the mirror; he or she can only open hands in preparation to receive.


Anything else would be makeshift.


But this points to the transpersonal horizon before which authentic esotericism becomes event.


At the same time it marks the limits inherent in a therapeutic praxis, a spiritual method or a system of knowledge.


Such a discipline can never grasp the total extent of that which can be experienced not even Jungian psychology.


Rather, it represents one possibility among many.


It may therefore be counted among those possibilities which are to be regarded as an extension of psychoanalysis or even humanistic psychology.


The term “transpersonal psychology,” though less than satisfactory, is an attempt to identify this perspective.


Now while Graf Durckheim was able to integrate the Jungian legacy into his work of initiation therapy and make fruitful use of it in the framework

of his activities, the capacity of analytical psychology for further synopses (ways of seeing thing~ together) and syntheses (putting things together) was

in no way exhausted.


Its capacity for dialogue nowhere emerges more clearly than in connection with the so-called Eranos Conferences, which, thanks to the initiative of Olga Frobe-Kapteyn (who died in 1962), have taken place every year since 1933 in Ascona-Moscia on Lake Maggiore in Switzerland.


The biologist Adolf Portmann described this spiritual activity, which took place every year at the Casa Eranos until 1988, as “accepting the mystery of the spirit with reverence, saying what can be said and knowing that the unutterable is present: this is the spirit of the work of Eranos.”


Here is a place for exchanging ideas, in which natural scientists and figures from the humanities, students of religion, researchers into myths and psychologists carry on dialogue.


Jung was part of the organizing body from 1933 on, when he spoke about the foundations of the process of individuation, that is, about something at the heart of his psychology.


So far no synoptic approach has been developed which brings together the different ways to knowledge, namely, that of a synopsis of analytical

psychology and the anthropo1)dphy ofRu1olf Steiner. I have explained elsewhere why this is burdened with many problems on :both sides.


But the great inner affinity between analytical psychology, arid anthroposophy could also be demonstrated and reasons given for’ it.


One of those reasons for this affinity is that Carl Gustav Jung and Rudolf Steiner not only developed a total picture of human beings and reality but also showed that human beings can follow the way to becoming completely themselves.


At first sight the two methods of the psychologist and the spiritual teacher seem to be mutually exclusive, and the differences should not be taken too lightly.


However, these differences represent only one aspect, especially as the two men went separate ways in their lives and each could not or did

not want to know too much about the other.


Often (though not always) when Steiner uses the metaphor of “height” to communicate “the knowledge of higher worlds,”


Jung prefers the metaphor of “depth,” as this is already expressed in the term “depth psychology.”


But in the realm of the soul and spirit there is no spatial above or below.


The deciding factor is what the particular metaphor used seeks to convey.


Therefore the differing use of the words “high” or “deep” need not express any contradiction.


In both cases the sphere of the soul and spirit is entered,  the sphere that extends far beyond the rational consciousness of the everyday self.


The decision whether and to what degree it is possible and practicable to take Jung’s and Steiner’s epistemologies together cannot, however,

be taken solely on the grounds of theoretical discussion but must also be taken in the sphere of concrete experience.


That can best be confirmed by those who on the one hand adopt the approach of anthroposophy and are therefore trained in anthroposophical modes of knowledge and meditation, and those on the other hand who also come to be intensively preoccupied with their unconscious as Jung understands it.


Both ways are viable; one and the same person can use both perspectives.


Of course I am not talking here about an undisciplined moving to and fro between them.


However, it is a fact of experience that those who have arrived at insights in one field of knowledge and bring with them the necessary degree of lack of prejudice are also in a position to be open to another method of knowledge.


It is only a narrow-minded, hair-splitting approach to concepts, devoid of any personal experience, which cannot see the possibility of spiritual bridge building.


There is an ecumene of the spirit!


It allows a bridge to be built from one side to the other.


It makes a synopsis possible.


Such an overall view is highly significant not least in connection with Christian esotericism, since both Jung and Steiner did not arrive, say, at a new understanding of Christ on the basis of speculation or mental games.


Rather, both had an experience of Christ, each in an individual way, which marked a turning point in their lives and which can be of symbolic significance to men and women today who are alienated from the traditional church, for whom “God is dead” (Nietzsche).


This esoteric relationship to Christ independent of external tradition is undeniable in Jung in Steiner the “Christ impulse” may be termed the spiritual center and main feature of all anthroposophical activities.


Neither Jung nor Steiner can be measured by the principles and norms of academic theology.


In many respects that is a hopeful sign, not least in connection

with the synopsis· between analytical psychology and anthroposophy which has still to be worked out. The spirit blows where it wills. ~Gerhard Wehr, Modern Esoteric Spirituality, Pages 381-398

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