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Symbols of Transformation

The sun, rising triumphant, tears himself from the enveloping womb of the sea, and leaving behind him the noonday zenith and all its glorious works, sinks down again into the maternal depths, into all-enfolding and all-regenerating night. (Cf. figs. 3, 24.)

This image is undoubtedly a primordial one, and there was profound justification for its becoming a symbolical expression of human fate: in the morning of life the son tears himself loose from the mother, from the domestic hearth, to rise through battle to his destined heights.

Always he imagines his worst enemy in front of him, yet he carries the enemy within himself—a deadly longing for the abyss, a longing to
drown in his own source, to be sucked down to the realm of the Mothers.

His life is a constant struggle against extinction, a violent yet fleeting deliverance from ever-lurking night.

This death is no external enemy, it is his own inner longing for the stillness and profound peace of all-knowing non-existence, for all-seeing sleep in the ocean of coming-to-be and passing away.

Even in his highest strivings for harmony and balance, for the profundities of philosophy and the raptures of the artist, he seeks death, immobility, satiety, rest.

If, like Peirithous, he tarries too long in this abode of rest and peace, he is overcome by apathy, and the poison of the serpent paralyses him for all time.

If he is to live, he must fight and sacrifice his longing for the past in order to rise to his own heights.

And having reached the noonday heights, he must sacrifice his love for his own achievement, for he may not loiter.

The sun, too, sacrifices its greatest strength in order to hasten onward to the fruits of autumn, which are the seeds of rebirth.

The natural course of life demands that the young person should sacrifice his childhood and his childish dependence on the physical parents, lest he remain caught body and soul in the bonds of unconscious incest.

This regressive tendency has been consistently opposed from the most primitive times by the great psychotherapeutic systems which we know as the religions.

They seek to create an autonomous consciousness by weaning mankind away from the sleep of childhood.

The sun breaks from the mists of the horizon and climbs to undimmed brightness at the meridian.

Once this goal is reached, it sinks down again towards night.

This process can be allegorized as a gradual seeping away of the water of life: one has to bend ever deeper to reach the source.

When we are feeling on top of the world we find this exceedingly disagreeable; we resist the sunset tendency, especially when we
suspect that there is something in ourselves which would like to follow this movement, for behind it we sense nothing good, only an obscure, hateful threat.

So, as soon as we feel ourselves slipping, we begin to combat this tendency and erect barriers against the dark, rising flood of the unconscious and its enticements to regression, which all too easily takes on the deceptive guise of sacrosanct ideals, principles, beliefs, etc.

If we wish to stay on the heights we have reached, we must struggle all the time to consolidate our consciousness and its attitude.

But we soon discover that this praiseworthy and apparently unavoidable battle with the years leads to stagnation and desiccation of soul.

Our convictions become platitudes ground out on a barrel-organ, our ideals become starchy habits, enthusiasm stiffens into automatic gestures.

The source of the water of life seeps away. We ourselves may not notice it, but everybody else does, and that is even more painful.

If we should risk a little  introspection, coupled perhaps with an energetic attempt to be honest for once with ourselves, we may get a dim idea of all the wants, longings, and fears that have accumulated down there—a repulsive and sinister sight.

The mind shies away, but life wants to flow down into the depths.

Fate itself seems to preserve us from this, because each of us has a tendency to become an immovable pillar of the past.

Nevertheless, the daemon throws us down, makes us traitors to our ideals and cherished convictions—traitors to the selves we thought we were.

That is an unmitigated catastrophe, because it is an unwilling sacrifice. Things go very differently when the sacrifice is a voluntary one.

Then it is no longer an overthrow, a “transvaluation of values,” the destruction of all that we held sacred, but transformation and conservation.

Everything young grows old, all beauty fades, all heat cools, all brightness dims, and every truth becomes stale and trite.

For all these things have taken on shape, and all shapes are worn thin by the working of time; they age, sicken, crumble to dust—unless they change.

But change they can, for the invisible spark that generated them is potent enough for infinite generation.

No one should deny the danger of the descent, but it can be risked.

No one need risk it, but it is certain that some one will. And let those who go down the sunset way do so with open eyes, for it is a sacrifice which daunts even the gods.

Yet every descent is followed by an ascent; the vanishing shapes are shaped anew, and a truth is valid in the end only if it suffers change and bears new witness in new images, in new tongues, like a new wine that is put into new bottles. ~Carl Jung, CW 5, Para 553