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Carl Gustav Jung, 1875-1961 : A Memorial Meeting, New York, December 1, 1961


We have come together today to honor the memory of a very great man, one whose work has opened a new phase in the possible development of the human spirit.

His real importance is only slowly being recognized at its true worth, for his days were spent largely in the quiet of his own study on the shore of the Lake of Zurich, with books and material from the unconscious of persons living and dead as his companions.

Other speakers this evening have already given a brief picture of his powerful but kindly personality.

He could be the friend of all sincere men, because he could understand and accept them.

When someone once asked him, “When you have such an opportunity to see the seamy side of human nature, how is it that you still like folks?” his answer was, “Because I have no illusions about them!”

He knew the human animal, but also the human spirit, and accepted both.

But of course it is by his work that Jung would want to be remembered.

Although not in the least a prestige seeker, he realized fully the importance of his discoveries.

And they are so monumental in depth and magnitude that, even at a memorial meeting, it is well-nigh impossible to say anything about them.

It is like trying to give a thumbnail picture of a whole new dimension.

Nevertheless, while admitting the temerity of the attempt, I would like at least to indicate what seems to me to be Jung’s greatest gift to humanity.

It has two parts: first, the scientific discovery and description of the collective unconscious; and second, the psychological approach to religion which this discovery has made possible.

Early in his career, while trying to interpret the dreams and fantasies of a borderline psychotic woman, he recognized that there was something far more significant in the unconscious than had ever been dreamed of before.

He felt that he must explore this vast, and perhaps dangerous, unknown, which he called the “collective unconscious” because its content was drawn not from the personal life but from a common human source in dreams, inspirations, and the products of the insane.

He once told me that his colleagues had warned him, “Lookout, Jung, that way lies lunacy!”

But like a true explorer, he felt that this background of all psychological experience held such importance for him that he must take any risk involved.

But not yet for his patients. He would not lead them into unknown country until he had been there and charted it himself.

Anyone who has experienced the fearsome aspect of the collective unconscious personally, even with the guidance of a trusted analyst, will know something of the courage that was required to be the first to invoke its eerie terrors voluntarily.

Jung immediately realized that the images from the unconscious were symbols, a sort of picture language.

And just as pictures, rather than concepts, express the experience of primitive man in his magical world, so the language of the symbol expresses our experience in the unknown and timeless inner world.

As Jung has said, “The chief thing about the unconscious is that it is unconscious!”

But it reveals itself in these “archetypal images,” as he called them.

In this material from the unconscious he found an indefinite number of such images.

Many of them appear repeatedly in myth motifs and religious beliefs and are met with all over the world and in all ages.

They are manifested also in universal symbols, such as the cross, the square, the circle, and many others.

The reality of psychological images such as these is of a very different kind from that of a clod of earth or a star.

But they are no less truly effective because their truth is symbolic.

By comparing the context of these images as though deciphering a code, Jung discovered that the normal psyche has a goal, which is wholeness, to which its basic energy is devoted.

This he called individuation.

This is the way an acorn grows, as though it has but one object to which every bit of its energy is directed, and that is the oak.

Not just any oak, but this particular one whose potentiality lies hidden in this one acorn.

No two trees are exactly alike, though their differences are much less than those between two human psyches.

But the very nature of both oak and psyche is to fulfill an individual pre-existent pattern.

However, in the case of the psyche a new factor enters in. This is consciousness.

When the conscious ego, with its power of choice, seeks to understand and co-operate with the law of its deeper nature as expressed in the natural language of the symbol, then the individual pattern, the self, becomes the ultimate authority, the ultimate meaning of this unique life.

And is this not one definition of its God: to be the ultimate authority, the ultimate meaning of its life?

This meaning has always been expressed in terms of the relation of the individual to the fundamental religious archetypes, God, death and rebirth, and all the stages of the life and death of the hero, including the story, ritual, and dogma of the Christian and other living religions.

And just as the physical organism is sick unto death if it is not based on the instincts, so is the psyche, the inner life, the soul, equally sick if it is alienated from the archetypal forms of its spiritual being.

And this dissociation occurs when the rational intellect, with the prestige of material science behind it, sterilizes the beautiful and moving old forms of living religious experience and leaves behind only the rootless, ego-dominated intellect.

Now this is the condition we see around us on every hand.

For many people find little to put up against the flourishing “isms” of the day, which act like man-made gods promising so much but devouring everything.

And towering over a darkened world is the ever-increasing threat of a world-wide atomic war.

But as Jung says, it is not the bomb that is the danger but the psychology of the men who control it.

For “when the individual does not become conscious of his inner contradictions, the world must perforce act out the conflict and be torn into opposite halves.”

It is a historical truth that the great man rises out of the need of his time. Today there is no question about the need.

And here is the great man, whose work was in just the field where the need is most pressing.

Jung never addressed himself to the crowd but only to the individual.

For he knew that the influence of a great and devoted individual may produce effects far beyond any the power of the crowd can bring about.

He knew that wars cannot be ended by those who are themselves dominated by the power motive.

And he knew that peace can come to an angry world only when the leaders of men give up hate and strife and serve some central value with a truly religious attitude.

But many people of these days have lost all religion along with their religious “beliefs.” They echo the words of Jung, “Either I know or I don’t know. If I know, I don’t need to believe, and if I don’t know, why should I believe?”

But they can get no further than the question.

To them he would point within, to the great collective unconscious, which is not only the repository of the past but the womb of the future.

There his own direct experience was so convincing that belief was indeed not necessary.

These depths of the human psyche he found were the source of all religious experience.

Religion, he saw, was a natural product of the psyche.

It was expressed in symbolic form because spiritual realities are ineffable, beyond comprehension by the rational intellect, and therefore can have no better expression.

And he was able to show others the way to similar experiences.

Before Jung, the science of psychology had not progressed far enough to have words, or even concepts, to express this religious aspect of the collective unconscious, and therefore its contents could get into consciousness only in projected form, as objects of belief or dogma.

The images appearing in the religious mysteries had to be taken literally or, at best, have only the superficial reality of a parable.

But Jung showed the sacred stories, beliefs, and dogmas, when psychologically interpreted, to be symbolic expressions of the deepest truth.

He recognized that the psychological impact of those august figures, which have been worshiped as God incarnate, does not depend upon the affirmation or denial of their historicity or their concrete reality.

That is a theological question, outside the province of the psychologist.

Jung leaves such questions, whose ultimate answer lies in the unknown, to the experience and choice of the individual.

But for those modern men and women who demand evidence so that they may “know,” Jung has provided the most important thing in life, a way to an actual contact with a living archetypal source of meaning in the nonpersonal psyche itself.

This way is through a symbolic interpretation of spontaneous psychological products, whether they occur as personal dreams and fantasies or as collective ideas, myths, and beliefs.

Thus he has given us back as symbols what science took away as dogma.

Once more life can have a religious meaning without protest from the intellect, for the old spiritual realities have gained a new language consonant with our ability to understand.

Thus it was that, at the end of a long life, the greater part of which was spent studying the abounding manifestations of the spirit, Jung could say, “I do not need to believe, I know.” ~Eleanor Bertine, A Memorial Meeting, New York Dec. 1, 1961, Page 33-38