Alchemical Studies

An image which frequently appears among the archetypal configurations of the unconscious is that of the tree or the wonder-working plant.

When these fantasy products are drawn or painted, they very often fall into symmetrical patterns that take the form of a mandala.

If a mandala may be described as a symbol of the self seen in cross section, then the tree would represent a profile view of it: the self depicted as a process of growth.

I shall not discuss here the conditions under which these pictures are produced, for I have already said all that is necessary in my essays ”A Study in the Process of Individuation” and “Concerning Mandala Symbolism.”

The examples I now propose to give all come from a series of pictures in which my patients tried to express their inner experiences.

In spite of the diversity of the tree symbol, a number of basic features may be established. In the first part of my essay I shall comment on the pictures that have been reproduced and then, in the second part, give an account of the philosophical tree in alchemy and its historical background.

My case material has not been influenced in any way, for none of the patients had any previous knowledge of alchemy or of shamanism.

The pictures were spontaneous products of creative fantasy, and their only conscious purpose was to express what happens when unconscious contents are taken over into consciousness in such a way that it is not overwhelmed by them and the unconscious not
subjected to any distortion.

Most of the pictures were done by patients who were under treatment, but some by persons who were not, or were no longer, under any therapeutic influence.

I must emphasize that I carefully avoided saying anything in advance that might have had a suggestive effect.

Nineteen of the thirty-two pictures were done at a time when I myself knew nothing of alchemy, and the rest before my book Psychology and Alchemy was published. ~Carl Jung, CW 13, Para 304-305