Image: Puer Aeternus – Solstice

What is the Great Dream: Talk at the C.G. Jung Club, London 2019

In the dream associated with the painting Puer aeternus, a wonderful, divine boy entered the artist’s garden and visited him.

”His horse was a small but extremely powerful wild creature, a bundle of energy.

It reminded me of a wild boar.” The boy got off his animal and led it carefully through flowerbeds thick with blooms. (Windows on Eternity, p. 85 ff.)

The dream came to him on the night of the winter solstice, which was why Birkhäuser always called the painting the ‘solstice picture’, and later Puer aeternus.

It does indeed represent a spiritual solstice, on a personal and possibly larger scale as well.

On the personal level the arrival of the divine boy signifies an encounter with the Self; it is an apprehension of meaning.

The puer brings the artist a new sense of orientation; he relates to his origins, healing the split he has been suffering.

He is also élan vital. Life is an adventure once again, full of imagination, Eros and new possibilities.

Birkhäuser did not paint the boy coming into his own garden, however, but rather riding through the sky.

This implies that he is not associated with the personal psyche but that he comes from cosmic distances, from the boundless universe, i.e., from the collective unconscious.

The puer rides through the space of the psyche like a new star in the heavens.

He is a new star, a new constellation in the psyche, and everything indicates that he is ‘a young god’.

He has four arms, three of which are pointing forward and the fourth behind.

Out of one hand grows a magical eight-pointed flower (or he is holding it).

Four in number, too, are the dominant motifs in the painting: the boy and his steed, the reddish-orange ‘night sun’ and the pale blue flower of the moon.

Clearly the boy embodies quaternity, the universal expression of spiritual totality, and characteristic of most images of the divinity.

Shiva, for instance, is often portrayed with four arms.

Four is the number expressing the maternal-feminine and the material, or inclusiveness with the spiritual, whereas three is the masculine number and represents the dominance of the spiritual aspect.

So spirit and nature are consciously and unconsciously in harmony with one another in the four.

The boy is a new spirit which has emerged from the world of the mother, the night, and embodies the feminine principle too.

All the details in the picture point towards a mysterious unity of opposites.

The orange star, for instance, a light born out of night, must be the sun of the day to come, an age that is still unknown to us.

And the flower that accompanies the sun stands for the moon, or the soul-bride in the sacred marriage of opposites, silver married to the red, masculine light which is also gold. It embodies Eros, and represents the sense of the evanescent, mutable world.

It is also the image of the individual human soul as the vessel of transformation for the ‘sun’, the light of consciousness.

Thus the sun and moon-like flower resemble a marriage within the human soul accompanying the emergence of the divine child.

The graceful youth himself harmonizes perfectly with his steed.

It is immediately obvious, of course, that this might be the same creature as the dark beast with the golden eye imprisoned in the mountain (see Beast in the Mountain).

Now it has achieved true liberation and has turned into the bearer of the young god.

In the mountain it was still a dragon and explosive dynamite; now, though, it has found a positive role.

Putting it the other way round, one could also say that the youthful, god-like boy embodies a new consciousness capable of controlling the world of instincts and drives or generally speaking the powerful effects caused by the autonomous psyche.

Indeed he forms a unity with them.

It is striking that the creature that had been black when imprisoned in the mountain has now become bright and light, while its rider has black skin.

Its fiery breath and red eye still recall the volcanic nature of the beast in the mountain.

On 6 June 1960 Birkhäuser had the opportunity of discussing this painting and the one of the Beast in the Mountain with C.G. Jung.

These are Jung’s actual nearly poetic words on the subject of the painting Puer:

“The dark beast has been liberated and now it’s riding through the distant heavens in the form of white boar-like horse.

This is the white horse Pegasus, carrying Aquarius, or the puer aeternus, albus et ater.

The god reveals himself to everyone.

That is what people can’t understand.

I can’t tell you here all the things associated with this picture of the puer.

It’s connected with the continuing process of God becoming Man.” (Windows on Eternity, p. 87)

The last sentence hints to a stream of deep religious meaning behind the whole process PB experienced and tried to reproduce in his paintings: ongoing incarnation, becoming conscious of god, man being the vessel for god.

It might be the deeper meaning of individuation for many individuals today.

But it is indeed hard to understand.

And it is also difficult to welcome because this birth, even if understood as a step further in the ongoing incarnation of god in the individual, is accompanied by explosive dangers and a clash of opposites. ~ Eva Wertenschlag- Birkhäuser, What is the Great Dream?, Page 16-17