Marie-Louise Von Franz: Drugs in the View of C.G. Jung
The flood of drugs that is rolling over our world today was not yet widespread at the time of Jung’s death.
Jung therefore was only familiar with the effects of mescaline (especially through Aldous Huxley’s description) and only knew that such pharmaceuticals were beginning to capture attention in psychotherapy.
He admitted in a letter of April 1954 that he was not sufficiently acquainted with the psychotherapeutic value of such drugs for neurotic and psychotic patients to be able to form a conclusive judgment.
He was profoundly disquieted, on the other hand, by our modern tendency to exploit such discoveries out of idle curiosity, without recognizing the growing moral responsibility that we incur:
This is really the mistake of our age.
We think it is enough to discover new things, but we don’t realise that knowing more demands a corresponding development of morality.
Radioactive clouds over Japan, Calcutta, and Saskatchewan point to a progressive poisoning of the universal atmosphere.
. . .
I am profoundly mistrustful of the “pure gifts of the Gods.”
You pay dearly for them. Quidquid id est timeo Danaos et dona ferentes.
Drugs (hashish, mescaline, LSD, opium, heroin), generally speaking, bring about a decay of apperception, that is, a decomposition of the conscious synthesis and perception of gestalts (in the sense of Gestalt psychology), and thus cause the appearance of the normal perceptual variants—innumerable nuances of form, meaning, and value—that normally remain subliminal.
This means above all an enriching of consciousness.
We come into contact with “the sphere where the paint is made that colours the world, where the light is created that makes shine the splendour of the dawn, the lines and shapes of all form, the sound that fills the universe, the thought that illuminates the darkness of the
This is an experience of the collective unconscious. If this experience were to be a God-given gift without a hidden counter-poison, then it would mean a tremendous enrichment, an expansion of consciousness by which we are naturally fascinated.
But it is just this expansion and enrichment of consciousness that make integration and moral processing of what we see and hear in this state impossible.
Therefore Jung says:
If you are too unconscious it is a great relief to know a bit of the collective unconscious.
But it soon becomes dangerous to know more, because one does not learn at the same time how to balance it through a conscious
equivalent. . . .
There are some poor impoverished creatures perhaps, for whom mescaline would be a heaven-sent gift without a counter-poison.”
The world of the collective unconscious, which Jung, without drugs, was the first to discover in its essence as the primordial creative ground in every human being, is something alive that does not allow itself to be subjugated without an equal reaction.
For this reason I have been occupied for a long time with the question of how the unconscious itself reacts to the taking of drugs.
What do the dreams of addicts have to tell us about this problem?
A young man, for example, who was a heroin smuggler and also frequently took LSD had the following dream:
I am in Tahiti on the sun-bathed beach. I have built myself a little straw hut under the palms and live by fishing in the sea.
It is magically beautiful.
Suddenly a tremendous storm tide comes and washes everything away.
I am sucked under water and find myself suddenly in the depths of the sea, standing in front of a big writing desk at which the “Lord of the Sea” is sitting.
He is a giant man-o’-war jellyfish who looks at me angrily, and it dawns on me that he is the one that sent the storm tide.
“Yes,” says the man-o’-war, “I am angry at you and am going to completely destroy you.”
Then I wake up with a shock.
The magical, primitive land of innocence amid the paradisiacal beauty of nature with its happy life, devoid of responsibilities—that is what the drug user really is seeking.
He is alone there, without social or emotional human obligations.
Earlier on, it was military deserters in our culture who actually did flee to such countries in reality. However, the “Lord of the Sea” is infuriated about this.
The big, round man-o’-war is what Jung described as a mandala, a symbol of the Self, that is, of the ultimate regulatory transpersonal inner-psychic center.
And this divine soul guide is angry at the dreamer and wants to destroy him.
Thus the unconscious reacts negatively to the irresponsible penetration into its sphere. And in fact, soon after this the dreamer went to pieces and was lost.
In another case, a slightly different picture emerged.
A young man, who came from a ghastly family situation, was regularly taking LSD.
He was perhaps one of those “impoverished creatures” mentioned by Jung for whom the drug contained no counter-poison.
In any case, he always had a “good trip” with apparently no unfortunate consequences.
But since this nevertheless did not solve his problem, he decided to undertake analysis, which guided him gradually and responsibly to the world of the beyond.
At that point, he decided to take LSD again.
He not only had a “bad trip” with psychosis-like anxiety states, but he was left from this trip with a nervous twitching of the head that lasted for months and frightened him a great deal.
Evidently drug trips had now somehow become illegitimate, now that he knew of a better path to the unconscious.
And the unconscious itself beneficently frightened him off.
He never took LSD again, but he developed inwardly in a very rewarding fashion and turned himself toward life.
In a further case, a slightly different picture emerged.
The person in question here was a young woman who was highly gifted artistically but had been greatly restricted psychically by an inculcated conventional outlook.
Once, out of curiosity, she took LSD.
After this, she dreamed that she had had a lovely trip but now she had to adopt a different approach.
She saw her analyst standing in front of her with a playful-looking fool’s cap on.
The unconscious was obviously saying to her that she needed more creative “tomfoolery” and should acquire this through analysis (that is the reason why in her dream it was the analyst wearing the fool’s cap), not only through drugs.
The drug had indeed opened up to her the realm of unconventional experience, but now this had to be consciously and morally followed up.
A doctor who had taken LSD experimentally and who afterward was reflecting intensively on his experience, because he had been amazed by the strange personality change during the intoxication, had the following dream:
I’m standing on a beautiful, broad plain. Above me in the sky I see strange, fantastic cloud formations.
Before my feet lies a round, very deep well shaft. I look down and see similar fantastic cloud structures in the water.
Then I realize that it is my duty, and therefore a matter of life and death, to get a bucket and draw these cloud structures, which are real things, out of the well. I wake up looking for a bucket.
Up till now, humanity has always projected its inner psychic contents onto the sky as “signs from heaven.”
But now the dreamer catches sight of similar things in the depths of his own psyche.
The contents turn out to be no mere reflections, as one might think, but they have their own reality.
One has to draw them out of the well and work with them creatively, otherwise they are obviously dangerous in some way.
One could hardly convey what is at stake here better than this dream does. Jung writes in the same letter cited above:
I only know there is no point in wishing to know more of the collective unconscious than one gets through dreams and intuition.
The more you know of it, the greater and heavier becomes your moral burden, because unconscious contents are transformed into your individual tasks and duties as soon as they begin to become conscious.
Do you want to increase
loneliness and misunderstanding?
Do you want to find more and more
complications and increasing responsibilities?
You get enough of it.
once could say that I have done everything I know I had to do, then perhaps
I should realise a legitimate need to take mescaline.
But if I should take it
now, I would not be sure at all that I had not taken it out of idle curiosity. . .
This is not the point at all, to know of or about the unconscious, nor does
the story end here; on the contrary it is how and where you begin the real
Thus in this case the doctor in question now had to learn consciously to
disengage himself from familial convention and to develop the contents of the
psychic depths creatively through hard work. The “trip” had shown him a goal,
but the dream insisted on going through a creative process to reach it.
And finally, here is the dream of a young user of hard drugs:
I am in a rowboat alone on the sea. The sun is shining brightly, and the
surface of the sea is completely covered with magnificent flowers exuding a
wonderful overpowering scent.
I dip my arm in the water, and when I pull it
out again, to the point it had been stuck into the water, it has disappeared! It
has been eaten away by the water and is no more than a stump!
As I look at
it in terror, my boat capsizes and I awaken with a cry of fear.
The dreamer had gone out onto the sea—into the collective unconscious.
magnificent flowers symbolize the beauty and sweetness of the drug
experiences. “Morphine gives me such sweet dreams,” he would often say.
—and this is what the dream showed him—behind that lurks deadly
decomposition, an annihilation of the personality and of life!
One could not say any more clearly than the unconscious has here what the
use of morphine means.
The dream is after all not the reaction of a moralistic
person but rather a message from the transpersonal ground of the psyche.
That the drug experience is a substitute for a Dionysian experience of the
Divine is generally accepted today.
The Christian image of God has lost its
effectiveness for many people, and in this way the objective psychic intensity or
energy that was formerly invested in it has become free. “God” is no longer to be
Through our scientific intellect, we have divested the external
world of its soul. Jung, however, stressed that this has certain psychological
The materialistic error was probably unavoidable at first. Since the throne
of God could not be discovered among the galactic systems, the inference
was that God had never existed.
The second unavoidable error is
psychologism: if God is anything, he must be an illusion derived from
certain motives—from the will to power, for instance, or from repressed
Through this, the person for whom “God is dead” will usually immediately fall
victim to an inflation, that is, end up in an overblown dissociated state in which
he feels himself to be the “new God,” as the example of Nietzsche shows us.
else he will be overrun by some urge or craving, one that will now exhibit the
same intensity as the image of God had done previously.
Here it must be mentioned that intoxicating substances are not the only
dangerous addiction of our times.
Another dangerous form of addiction is
ideological possession, which can make the individual just as “drunk,” puffed
up, and dissociated as a drug, and in addition misleads him into wanting to
impose his ideas on society through force. The energy that previously was
invested in the idea of God is poured into the ideological, political, or
sociological doctrine, which is then fanatically believed in.
It is usually the
extravert who has recourse to this form of intoxication, whereas the introvert
prefers to pursue inner images with the help of drugs.
The danger in both cases
lies in the lack of spiritual freedom of the individual who is overrun by
overwhelming unconscious fantasies.
The strongest and therefore the decisive factor in any individual psyche
compels the same belief or fear, submission or devotion which a God would
demand from man.
Anything despotic and inescapable is in this sense
“God,” and it becomes absolute unless, by an ethical decision freely chosen,
one succeeds in building up against this natural phenomenon a position that
is equally strong and invincible.
This counterposition would correspond to a free choice through a moral
decision in favor of a spiritual God who is experienceable within one’s own
“Man is free to decide whether “God” shall be a “spirit” or a natural
phenomenon like the craving of a morphine addict, and hence whether ‘God’
shall act as a beneficent or a destructive force.
This God would be that
ultimately unknown something that Jung calls the Self. Serving it does not
amount to egocentricity, but, on the contrary, is a self-limitation through which
inflation and dissociation can be avoided.
Serving the Self is a long, hard labor
on oneself, but one which is rewarding, for the inner richness of the psyche that
reveals itself through this is the only possession in this uncertain world that
cannot be taken away from us.
Mankind often proceeded to new realizations by passing through errors. It
seems to me very understandable, and more than pardonable, if many people in
the younger generation are unable to bear the intellectual vacuity and
soullessness of our technical nonculture and therefore have recourse to drugs.
But then for every individual the hour of destiny strikes in which he must decide
whether he wants to sink forever into this meaninglessness, or pass through it as
through a gate and go on to the great work of objective self-knowledge. ~Marie-Louise Von Franz, Psychotherapy, Page 215-220