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Joseph Lewis Henderson 1903–2007: A Biography by Thomas Kirsch

Joe Henderson has been called the “Dean” of American analytical psychologists and is widely known, respected, and loved in the international community of Jungians. The story of his life is closely interwoven with the history of analytical psychology in gen­eral and more specifically with its history in the United States. His life, which began in a small Nevada town and included a long stay in Europe and a great many years in San Francisco, makes for a fascinating story. It is hard to imagine a more unlikely beginning for this scholarly writer and analyst than the pioneer American home from which he came.

In order to orient the reader, this biography of the recently deceased co-founder of the C. G. Jung Institute in San Francisco and internationally acclaimed Jungian analyst is being divided into seven major sections. The first section, “Origins and Early Years, 1903–1919,” will examine Henderson’s family origins and early years in Nevada. The second section, “Student Days, 1919–1928,” will examine his life at Lawrenceville Preparatory School and Princeton and the time immediately after graduation from college. The third section, “Analysis and Medical Training, 1929–1938,” will discuss Henderson’s analytical experience, marriage, and medical school experience culminating in 1938 with his graduation from medical school in London. The fourth section, “Transition and Return to America, 1938–1954,” will discuss his return to the United States and his beginnings as an analyst. The fifth, “Maturity (1954–1961),” will describe his years amplifying the ideas of Jung. The sixth, “Con-clusion of Work on Initiation, 1961–1967,” will describe his major writing projects on the subject of initiation. The seventh section, “Continuity, Growth, and Old Age, 1967–2007,” will describe the many different interests that occupied him during the last third of his life.

(Photograph: Thomas B. Kirsch, by permission)

Joseph L. Henderson in his San Francisco offce, 1996.

 Origins and Early Years 1903–1919

Joseph Lewis Henderson was born on August 31, 1903, in Elko, Nevada, a small ranch­ing town in northeastern Nevada. He was the middle child of three children; he had a sis­ter eight years older and a brother nine years younger. Both sides of his family possessed the pioneer spirit of the Old West. On his father’s side, his great-grandfather, Lewis Rice Bradley, had left Virginia in 1845 for Missouri, finally ending up in Stockton, California. He became a prominent politician in California but then moved on to Elko where he founded a bank, which was then taken over by Joe’s grandfather, Bradley’s son-in-law, Jefferson Henderson. John Henderson, Joe’s father, became president of the bank upon the death of Jefferson Henderson, and it was John’s expectation that Joe would follow in his footsteps. From very early on, however, Joe felt uncomfortable with the expectation that he should go into banking. The family member for whom he was named was his uncle, Joseph Jefferson Henderson, M.D., an ophthalmologist in San Francisco.

Joe’s mother, Maud Henley Henderson, was born in Red Bluff, California, where her father was a mining engineer. Left an orphan at an early age, she was reared by two maiden aunts. She became a schoolteacher and had her first job in Elko. She met John

(Photograph: Donald Williams, by permission)

/oseph Henderson at his 100th birthday party, 2003.

Henderson and six months later they were married. She was characterized by great warmth and feeling. As did most women of the day, she devoted herself entirely to her family.

One of the most influential experiences in Joe’s life happened when he was three months old. He developed an eye infection that threatened to make him totally blind. His uncle, the ophthalmologist after whom he was named, was able to save the sight in one eye, but the vision in the other was completely lost. As a result, Joe was left without depth perception. In a ranching community, this loss of depth perception hampered his development in normal boyhood activities. On the other hand, as C. G. Jung was later to point out to him, it enhanced his inner vision and his interest in dreams and symbols. As a result of this early illness, Joe was to remain closely tuned in to his inner life. Another powerful influence from his childhood was an aunt, Ethel Smith Hen­derson, who married Joe’s uncle, Charles Henderson. She was a woman of considerable intellectual ability, and she urged Joe to go to preparatory school at Lawrenceville, New Jersey. By this time, Joe’s father had realized that his son was not cut out to be a banker and released him to go back east to school. At almost the same time, Uncle Charles went to Washington when he was appointed as United States Senator from Nevada.

The year was 1919 and Joe was now sixteen years old. A whole new world was about to open up to him.

Student Days 1919–1928

At Lawrenceville, Joe came under the tutelage of Thornton Wilder, a young assistant housemaster who was teaching French. Joe found him an inspired teacher at all lev­els of culture. He awakened in Joe an interest in literature, the arts, and psychology. Wilder had just spent a year studying in Rome and had come back full of the latest in European culture. Joe was introduced to Proust, Joyce, Freud, and even Jung at that time. However, psychology was not yet ready to emerge as Joe’s central interest. Joe was greatly influenced by his reading of Henry Adams. Adams’s delicate sensibility and refined taste, amply reflected in The Education of Henry Adams, provided a model for his development.

In those days the long trip back to the West Coast was not readily undertaken, so Joe spent his school holidays in Washington, D.C., where he stayed with his aunt and uncle. This also provided Joe with a new and stimulating social life.

The friendship with Wilder continued at Princeton, where Joe was an undergrad­uate and Wilder was getting his master’s degree. Both received their degrees in French literature in 1927.

With the vague notion of becoming a writer himself, Joe returned to the West Coast after college to live with his parents, who had moved to Oakland, California. His father had suffered from paralysis of the legs, a complication of pernicious anemia, for which there was no treatment at the time. His father remained bedridden until his death in 1933.

Joe began writing book reviews and serving as a drama critic for two San Francisco journals, The Argonaut and The San Franciscan. At the same time, he became a regu­lar participant at the Salon of Mrs. Elizabeth Ellis. She brought together professors from the English and Philosophy departments at the University of California. Here Joe was introduced to the work of Jung by Dr. Elizabeth Whitney and her husband, Dr. James Whitney. There were several others in this Salon who had been in Zürich for a period of analysis with Jung, including Andrew and Helen Gibb and Henrietta Goodrich Durham. As a young man, unsure about his future vocation, he was urged by these people to go into analysis with Dr. Elizabeth Whitney, the first analyst of any persuasion to practice in the San Francisco area. He began his analysis in the spring of 1928.

Coincidentally or synchronistically, Dr. H. G. (Peter) Baynes and his wife Cary had come to California for the year and were dividing their time between Berkeley and Carmel, one hundred miles to the south. Dr. Baynes, a familiar name in Jungian circles, was Jung’s first assistant, and Cary was an early translator of many of Jung’s works into

English. Peter Baynes was a warm, extraverted, and generous man who felt strongly that Joe should go to Zürich and work with Jung directly. Joe protested that he did not have the financial means to live in Zürich. He was barely supporting himself with his writing, and he did not like being financially dependent on his family. Baynes showed Joe a reproduction of Jung’s painting, Mandala of a Modern Man,1 and also gave him The Seven Sermons to the Dead2 to read. Joe later said, “That absolutely bowled me over; I decided right then and there that, if I possibly could, I would have to go and meet the man who had written this” (Hill 1968, 15).

As fate would have it, in the fall of 1928, he was sent back to New York to survey the coming drama season. On a visit to Lawrenceville, which is very close to New York, he was unexpectedly offered a job as assistant housemaster for the coming academic year. Here was the opportunity for him to save the necessary money to go to Zürich in the summer of 1929. Little did he realize then how this journey would change his life.

Analysis and Medical Training 1929–1938

On his trip to Zürich, he first visited Berlin, spending several weeks with a cousin and seeing firsthand the chaotic conditions in post World War I Germany. Arriving in Zürich in the fall of 1929, just prior to the beginning of the American Depression, he installed himself in Küsnacht at the Hotel Sonne, where many of Jung’s other American analysands were to stay. He began to see Jung three times a week in analysis and attended Jung’s English-speaking seminar on dreams. The seminar focused on the dreams of a middle-aged businessman, and Jung divided the seminar into two groups, one doing research on the symbolism of the cross and the other on the symbolism of the crescent. Joe was in the group headed by Esther Harding, researching crescent moon symbol­ism. This research was the forerunner of Harding’s book Woman’s Mysteries (1971). His own dreams soon revealed a movement toward becoming an analyst himself, for which he felt he would need to become a physician or psychologist. The central theme in his work with Jung was that of initiation, a subject which was to involve him for many years to come. In a filmed interview with this author, he talked about a particu­lar dream he had at the time:

I dreamt that Jung was a Protestant clergyman, standing at the pulpit giving a sermon, and we were all in the pews, and when he finished his sermon all the others got up and began to chant, “Mandala, Mandala,” the way they might in Christian times have said, “Hosanna,” and this represented a worshipful attitude to Jung that was laughable, as you can imagine, and so seemed to me to say, “Well, that’s what you really think of this seminar of Jung— he’s nothing but a—like a Protestant clergyman, and they are all just sheep following the master.” So I thought, I hate to tell Jung this dream, but I did, and he said, “Well, of course you should feel that way. You should have that dream. You’re a young man, only 26 or so, and most of these people are in the second half of life, and to you they must look rather ancient and as though they are in a different kind of experience from the one that you are in; and if you feel the way the dream says, you should certainly feel free not to come to the seminar or to make it anything you like.” And then I realized that I was absolutely

fascinated with this seminar, that it was an experience I wouldn’t have missed for anything in the world. I was not at all inhibited by it. To see Jung personally in that situation was absolutely wonderful. It was like sitting at the foot of a great teacher. Something like a kind of Socratic experience and the idea that I should have a dream that he was nothing but a Protestant clergyman struck me as too funny. And then, of course, I saw that the whole thing was a projection—my projection. I was simply projecting my own Protestant background, making Jung a father figure, making the other people into a group which they were not. None of these people had any group feeling whatsoever. They all mistrusted each other. They sat in their little chairs, looking hardly from side to side, and then they immediately got up and left at the end without saying goodbye to anyone. It was a group of very isolated people. And so I saw my projection. (1977)

Joe saw himself and the others in the dream seminar in a state of transition. He would use the term liminal to describe this state. He also noted among those in the seminar differing attitudes toward their expectations of Jung’s psychology. Later, he would differentiate these expectations into four cultural attitudes. Again, from the filmed interview, he states:

Many of them had cultural attitudes that were very different from each other’s, and they tended to project into analysis what they expected to find rather than what was actually there. What they expected to find was [determined by] whatever cultural patterns they favored. (1977)

So, in his first year in Zürich, Joe saw the germination of two principal subjects of his lifelong research, initiation and culture.

By the summer of 1930, Joe had formulated a clear plan to go to London and study medicine. He did his premedical studies at the University of London and then entered Saint Bartholomew’s Hospital. He liked Saint Bart’s, particularly because it still seemed to connect the spiritual and the physical aspects of healing under the same roof. In London, he was introduced by Cary Baynes to Jo and Jane Wheelwright, as Jo also became a medical student at Saint Bart’s—thus began a long association that con­tinued until the Wheelwrights retired to their ranch near Santa Barbara in 1989. More will be said about that relationship later on.

Medical school was not easy for Joe’s introverted intuitive nature. He had particular problems with surgery, but he graduated in 1938. His analysis with Jung had to be inter­mittent because he could only get to Zürich during the semester breaks. While in Lon­don, he would see Erma Rosenbaum, a German analyst who had come to London to escape the Nazis. The last period of analysis with Jung was in 1938 following his grad­uation from Saint Bart’s.

One of the main symbols that emerged during Joe’s analysis was that of the Ameri­can Indian. In 1931, while on holiday from his premedical studies, his “second mother,” Aunt Ethel Smith Henderson, had invited him and a few others to the Southwest to witness the corn dances of the Zuni and Sia and the snake dances of the Hopis. This trip to Indian country corresponded to what was happening in his inner life. In a filmed interview, he recounts the following:

The American Indian became a symbol for me that I was surprised to find in Zürich. I had never paid much attention to Indians in my early life. But in Zürich I had dreams of Indians, and the Indian came to symbolize to me my American identity as distinct from my European identity. Living in Europe, I was in danger of becoming too European for my own good, and the Indian kept coming into my dreams to remind me that I was American basically and that the American psyche is really different, and that difference was always carried by the Indian. (1977)

Joe comments further on his experience in Europe:

I was so comfortable there, I could easily have stayed. I understand why people— Americans—like to live in Europe. Life in many ways is much easier, much more human, one feels much more connection somehow with one’s fellow man. The longer you live in Europe, the more you feel a part of the group, of a circle to which you belong. There are still a good many wide open spaces in America where people fail to communicate, to relate to each other. The violence in America is everywhere and is present in Europe only in certain pockets where you can avoid it. So it is a great temptation for the American to think that perhaps life would be much nicer there. But I had the feeling that I would never be a European. Whatever I said would always be divided in two by the fact that I was American. And therefore I would lose a certain identity by not coming back and living in my own country. Also perhaps the Indian would be offended. (1977)

It was during Joe’s medical school years that Jung came to London in 1935 and gave his famous Tavistock Lectures to a large group of basically critical, psychoanalytically oriented therapists. Joe was able to obtain special permission so that he could attend these crowded lectures. Here, he was able to see Jung’s discomfort in a critical setting, in contrast to the dream seminar in Zürich where everyone adored him. But his respect for Jung increased.

The other important event during his time in England was his meeting Helena Darwin Cornford, who became his wife for almost sixty years. After he had been in London for over two years, he began to feel a sense of isolation from stimulating social contact. Cary Baynes gave him a letter of introduction to the Cornfords in Cambridge. Helena’s father, Francis Cornford, was a famous Cambridge philosophy professor who had made definitive translations of Plato’s Republic and Timaeus and was a scholar of Greek philosophy and its origins (1912/1961). Helena’s mother, Frances, was a poet of distinction. One brother, John, was a poet who died very young in the Spanish Civil War and has been memorialized in several books. Joe became very close to the whole Corn­ford family. Joe and Helena were married in a small local church on September 18, 1934, when Joe was thirty-one and Helena was twenty-one. The Hendersons continued to live in London for the duration of Joe’s medical studies. Their only daughter, Elizabeth, was born in May 1936.

The year 1938 was an important one for the Hendersons. Joe had graduated from medical school, the clouds of World War II were on the horizon, and a decision about where to live had to be made. Joe was extremely comfortable in Europe but realized that the American Indian inside was calling him back to America. So, as 1938 was coming to a close, the Henderson family returned to New York, where the stron­gest Jungian community in the United States existed. This brought to a close nine extremely important years in Europe, which were to be a foundation for all his later work as an analyst.

Transition from Europe to the United States 1938–1954

At the time of Joe’s arrival in New York in 1938, Drs. Harding, Bertine, and Mann, along with Frances Wickes, had established a Jungian community. As in Zürich, an Analytical Psychology Club made up of analysands had recently been founded. Joe opened an office on the east side of Manhattan and began to see patients. At that time, the New York Jungian community was not connected to the larger psychotherapeutic community, and Joe had some difficulty in finding suitable patients. Jungian analysis was still not well known in those days. Freudians and Jungians hardly spoke to each other. The domination of Harding and Bertine also made it somewhat difficult for a young man trying to find his own way. In addition, Joe and Helena felt that New York was not the best place to raise a child. The atmosphere did not suit Joe’s needs, but he was unable to come to a clear realization about where he should finally settle. He was afraid of going back to California because he feared the regressive pull of his fam­ily on him and his new family. His dreams were of repeated train trips back and forth across the United States, usually ending somewhere in the Midwest, such as Chicago, or in Princeton. Gradually he came to realize that the issue was not a geographical one but an inner symbolic one. He was able to see that Princeton meant “prince” town, and “mid-west” meant the centering place of the Self and was not to be taken literally. Gradually, he realized that he belonged in California and returned in 1941.

The time in New York had been an interesting one. Joe had been able to renew old friendships and had begun his work as an analyst. He published his first paper in 1939 on “Initiation Rites.” The subject of initiation was to occupy Joe for the next twenty-five years as a major area of research. He had been opened to the subject by his own experience as an analysand with Jung.

When he arrived in California, he was reunited with Elizabeth Whitney and Jo and Jane Wheelwright. Joe joined the Analytical Psychology Club in San Francisco, founded in 1940 by Elizabeth Whitney, Jo and Jane Wheelwright, and Lucile Elliot. He then joined Jo Wheelwright in downtown San Francisco at the major medical establish­ment for doctors. Shortly thereafter, Joe’s practice was interrupted because he did not have an American medical internship. In an effort to stem the flow of refugee doctors from Europe, a law had been passed that a doctor must have worked for a year in an American hospital. As a result, in 1943, Joe had to work for one year at the large San Francisco General Hospital. He began as an intern, but when it was discovered that he was an analyst, the hospital made him the admitting officer for the acute psychiatry service. He obtained invaluable experience in general psychiatry, an area in which he had had relatively little experience previously.

As it was war time, Joe also worked at the Veterans Rehabilitation Clinic of Mt. Zion Hospital. Psychiatric casualties from the South Pacific were sent here for evaluation. An interesting aspect of the clinic was that the staff included both Jung­ians and Freudians. Jo Wheelwright and Erik Erikson were also on the staff, which met together weekly. This early contact formed the basis for a mutual respect between the two groups within the San Francisco psychiatric community. This was most unusual as in most instances, there is hostility between the Jungians and Freudians.

Another outcome of the war situation was that Joe was asked to give the psychi­atric lectures at Stanford for the medical students and residents. At the time, Stanford Medical School was located in San Francisco, and Joe gave a weekly seminar on dreams. This was to continue until 1958, at which time the Medical School moved to Palo Alto and Joe was no longer actively involved. Many future analysts first heard about Jungian analysis through those seminars at Stanford Medical School.

In 1943, a decision was reached to form a Medical Society of Analytical Psy­chology consisting of Henderson, Wheelwright, Whitney, Elliot, and Horace Gray. Wheelwright and Henderson took the leading roles in the formation of this group. They had first met in Zürich in 1932 and had seemed to follow each other to Lon­don and then to San Francisco. Two more opposite types of people could not be imag­ined. Wheelwright was the lone extravert in Jungian circles for so many years, and Joe Henderson was the more typically Jungian introverted intuitive. In spite of their vast differences, they maintained a friendship for over fifty-five years. Their difference has allowed both the introverted and extraverted attitudes to live side by side in the San Francisco professional society, and it has helped so far to keep potential splits con­tained. Both Wheelwright and Henderson held teaching positions at the major psychi­atric teaching hospitals in San Francisco, and both had a commitment to being an active part of the larger psychotherapeutic community. Thus, the beginning of the San Francisco Jungian group had a markedly different origin than most other Jungian groups in the world. In 1950, the medical part united with its counterpart group for doctoral psy­chologists to become the Society of Jungian Analysts of Northern California.

After World War II, Joe Henderson took an office in Wheelwright’s building at 2206 Steiner Street in San Francisco, where both were to have their analytic practices for the next thirty years, and in which were held the first training seminars of the Soci­ety, beginning in 1946.

Contact with Jung had been sparse because of the war, and it was not until 1948 that Joe was able to see Jung again. By this time, Jung was no longer seeing patients because of his heart attack in 1944, so the relationship was now more social in nature. At the time, Joe did a bit of analytical work with Toni Wolff for the first time. On a subsequent vacation in 1952, both Joe and Helena had another two-week period of seeing Toni Wolff every day in Devonshire. Miss Wolff had gone to Devonshire for treatment of her arthritis, and the Hendersons stayed at the same hotel and saw her every morning.

Joe has described the period between 1938 and 1954 as one of transition. There were the geographical moves from England to New York and from New York to San Francisco. There were the various moves within San Francisco. There were the transi­tions in his career from student to doctor to analyst. By 1954, he had become secure in his identity as an analyst, and within his family, he had made the transition from son to mature adult.

Maturity 1954–1961

The year 1954 was pivotal in his life. Medard Boss of the Existential School of Analysis had asked Joe to present a major paper on transference at an International Conference on Psychotherapy in Zürich. This paper, “Resolution of the Transference in the Light of C. G. Jung’s Psychology,” was the first major statement by a Jungian other than Jung on the nature of transference. In the filmed interview with this author, Henderson de­scribes it in the following manner:

That Congress was the first time that any of us had talked publicly about Jung’s use of the word “Transference.” Up to that time, transference had been understood purely in the Freudian sense, the old psychoanalytical sense. A transference is something to live through and break, get rid of, move off of, get back to life again without it. Having done its work

it is like a shell that should be cast aside as though it had no further meaning. It seemed to me and to others at that time that Jung’s psychology had a rather different viewpoint, and Jung himself acknowledged that the transference in itself has a certain archetypal content that you cannot merely dismiss and feel should be discarded once the initial projections are withdrawn. However, he did consider that it should be ultimately resolved so that

it is no longer fixed upon the person of the therapist but it should move on, and it was his understanding that it was the archetypal content of the transference that made this possible. That gives rise to two rather different ideas about the transference. One is that you just live with it, that you don’t resolve it, that it just goes on and on and some people

believe that that’s what a Jungian transference really is. The thing that I did say was that the transference is resolved by the establishment of what I call a symbolic friendship, meaning that when the transference is resolved there is a feeling of friendship rather than a mutual projection, between the therapist and his analysand or patient. But it is not the same as an ordinary friendship. And it can never be the same, quite, as an ordinary friendship, because it started in the analytical situation which was artificial. So it always has something of

Joe Henderson in Carmel California at the annual meeting of the San Francisco and Los Angeles analysts, 1960’s.

 that quality of its origin but that gives it its symbolic meaning. I felt that the best way to describe that was to say that it feels as if in that personal transference there was something symbolic that carries through, and it makes that relationship especially meaningful and somewhat different from others. (1977)

During the fifties, the Hendersons went to Europe every two years. On these trips, Joe would have a formal appointment with Jung, and then afterward they would have a meal together. These meetings were usually dominated by whatever subject Jung was interested in. It was during these visits that Jung encouraged Henderson to continue his own research on initiation and the archetype of culture. In 1960, Jung invited Joe to contribute a paper to Man and His Symbols, and Joe recalled that this invitation really stimulated his own writing, beyond the miscellaneous papers he had published in the forties and fifties. He wrote a long paper, “Ancient Myths and Modern Man” (1961), where he described the dreams of modern clients and amplified the dreams with anthropological and mythological examples of initiation. In the work he illustrated his theoretical description with clinical vignettes. He described two basic patterns of initiation. One, the pattern of descent into the earth as exemplified by the myth of Inanna. The second pattern was the magic light upward as demonstrated in shamanism. As Joe was the only American and the only non-Swiss author in the book, he received many requests for var­ious Jungian-oriented endeavors based upon his being an author in this book.

Joe traveled to Zürich in 1960 for a planning session for Man and His Symbols, but Jung was too weak to attend. When Jung died in 1961, this brought an end to a phase in Joe’s life. No longer was the master alive, and now Joe was more on his own as a cre­ative thinker and analyst.

Conclusion of Work on Initiation 1961–1967

The next period to be described was a relatively short one. It was a time in which Henderson finished his book on initiation, which had been germinating for thirty years. It also was a time when new directions in his work began to emerge. His first task was an invitation by Alan Watts to write a book with Maud Oakes called The Wisdom of the Serpent (1963). The book was to be the first of a series on mythology, which, unfortunately, was never completed. In this volume, Henderson described the serpent as a symbol of the archetype of death and rebirth. For her part, Maud Oakes detailed many myths of the serpent taken from around the world. The book was dedi­cated to the memory of Jung.

In 1962, Henderson was elected vice-president of the International Association for Analytical Psychology (IAAP), the newly formed professional organization of Jungian analysts. He held that post until 1965, when he was proposed as nominee for the presi­dency. He gave the matter serious thought but then realized that it would take him too far afield from his research and writing. In the end, he declined the nomination.

In the same year, he gave his first paper on another important area of his research, culture. It was presented at the Second International Congress for Analytical Psychol­ogy and was titled “The Archetype of Culture.” The paper was considered extremely controversial because it outlined a cultural unconscious layer between the personal and collective unconscious. As this area of research was to continue for many years, I shall describe the development of Henderson’s ideas in the next phase.

Also in 1962, Joe edited the four-hour film in which Professor Richard Evans had interviewed Jung. This interview had been done in 1957, but Jung was a bit disap­pointed with the results. The film interview covers a wide range of topics, and in it Jung is extremely engaging.

It was in 1967 that Thresholds of Initiation was published and his work on the sub­ject was completed. In this book, Henderson demonstrated the validity of the archetype of initiation. In the foreword, he followed Jung’s development of archetypal theory. Henderson emphasized that archetypes are both a primordial image as well as a pattern of behavior. The theory of archetypes became a working hypothesis, and the arche­type of initiation needed to be seen in that light. With this background, Henderson described various modal points when initiatory symbolism emerges from the patient’s unconscious. In the analysis of these situations, Henderson brought in a range of schol­arship to amplify his hypothesis. Dozens of clinical examples from thirty years of prac­tice were used to demonstrate initiation at various times in an individual’s life.

Behind the case examples, there was an underlying developmental theory as well as a Jungian model of neurosis. Henderson described those cutoff from psychological development as “pre-uninitiated,” and he developed his idea of the archetypal basis for the fixation in terms of the puer aeternus and puella aeterna. Those identifications with the Self presumed that eternal wholeness had already been attained in youth, and that further step-wise growth into maturity was unnecessary. This inflation was a normal pat­tern in adolescence, helpful in giving a young person a sense of the possibilities of exis­tence and of self-worth, but when the individual had a fear of taking the next step into genuine actualization of the sensed potential, there might be an unhealthy tendency to cling to what was only the archetypal possibility of wholeness and live in fantasy. The puer- and puella-identified individuals resisted the enormous effort in reality that was required to rescue the capacity to be oneself from the barriers set up by the positive or negative expectations from mother, father, peers, and one’s own innate inertia. This resistance expressed itself as a false, law-unto-itself individuality that did not represent a real working through of the problem of negotiating with society and instinct to estab­lish a path of one’s own into life. If this behavior became fixed into a pattern that more or less dominated the personality, then Henderson saw serious arrested development, sometimes with strong antisocial trends, sometimes with schizoid characteristics.

The irresponsible, power-driven, pleasure-loving attitude toward life that can move into antisocial behavior was described by Henderson in terms of the trickster archetype, a sort of shadow archetype to the puer aeternus. In order for the individ­ual to be released from the grip of the trickster archetype, the archetype of initiation is needed. Henderson postulated that this archetype acted to convert the trickster cycle into a hero cycle. He further postulated that the trickster cycle was under the aegis of the mother archetype and that the hero archetype would be under the influence of the father. Thus, the early developmental step, in both sexes, was from mother to father, with initiation as the means of passing from one stage to another.

Both trickster and hero cycles were, in turn, superseded by the appearance of the stage of the true initiate, which put an end to the self-perpetuating tendency of the first two cycles. The initiate was the one who had submitted fully to the initiation archetype with its rites of vision, trials of strength, and ordeals, and was willing to be remade into an adult man or woman who could take a responsible place in society in an ecological way, as part of a wider whole that she or he did not need to try to avoid or dominate.

According to Henderson, it was through initiation symbolism and experience— which he postulated as a true archetype of initiation—that the life of the individual was transformed into a psychosocial modality. Acceptance of initiation was the begin­ning of real individuation and the end of false individuality; it meant the search for individual identity within the context of a respectful attitude toward both the collec­tive unconscious and the consciousness of one’s social group. Yet he also explored fail­ures of initiation that might stem from limitations in the culture itself.

Many striking clinical examples were used to demonstrate the effectiveness of this theory in elucidating common neurotic problems and the dream material that an analyst would see every day in a clinical practice. Neurosis in young people became failed or blocked initiation that the unconscious, through dreams and symptoms, was urgently seeking to remedy.

This book seemed as if it were the culmination of a life’s work, but also, it was a symbolic threshold to the next phase in Joe’s life.

Continuity, Growth, and Old Age 1967–2007

Joe’s energy seemed to increase as he entered old age. Beginning in 1966, he began to see patients only three weeks out of each month, and this left him with more time to pursue his research and writing interests. One of the major projects of the past forty years was his continued study of the role of culture in Jung’s theories and practice. This culminated in the publication of the book Cultural Attitudes in Psychological Perspective (1984). In the filmed interview with this author (1977), Henderson states:

Well, I became less interested in initiation and more interested in problems of general culture, so in recent years all my work has been to try to define what we mean by culture and to try to clear the way for us to understand psychologically how culture arises and what it means and what forms it takes so as not to confuse it with individual psychology, and there’s a tendency among Jungians as well as other psychologists to confuse culture patterns with psychological patterns. Psychological patterns are not the same as cultural patterns. [In Zürich] among these people who were there for analysis, many of them had cultural alignments that were very different from each other, and they tended to project into analysis what they expected to find rather than what was actually there, and what they expected to find was whatever cultural pattern they favored. In other words, if they were favoring a religious attitude, they tended to find religion in it, if they favored social betterment or political attitudes, they hoped to find that. If it was aesthetic, they expected to find it as if it were like works of art. If they were philosophical, they tried to make psychology into a philosophy. They are still doing that, by the way. Quite a number of very intelligent and interested students of philosophy are intrigued by psychology and feel that it should be given a place in the philosophical scheme of things. And this is valuable up to a point, but it can also falsify something of the psychology that Jung created.

In Cultural Attitudes in Psychological Perspective, Henderson developed his ideas fur­ther about the four cultural attitudes—religious, social, aesthetic, and philosophic— with the contemporary emergence of a fifth cultural attitude, the psychological atti­tude. He also discussed culture patterns in relation to archetypes, carefully distinguish­ing the two. Again, from the film interview:

Yes, they tend to confuse the term archetype with culture pattern so there’s another area in which I try to distinguish between. We simply don’t know what an archetype looks like as such. We only know how it looks when it gets into some cultural form, but we move these cultural forms around and talk about them as if they were archetypes. And this is somewhat confusing unless we clearly differentiate between the cultural forms that have real archetypal content and those that are merely stereotypes. (1977)

When asked to differentiate between stereotype and archetype, Henderson gave the following response:

If you look through Blake’s paintings, you find that some of them give you the impression of the kind of art that we find our patients doing. We speak of them as unconscious drawings. That is, they seem to be so spontaneous that they don’t look like anything that we’ve ever seen before. They are even not too well drawn in some cases. They are rather unstructured in a way. Yet there are others that are very well structured and seem to convey the picture of something that we already know about. The former is archetypal and the latter is stereotypical. (1977)

A second major project had been Henderson’s long-standing interest in art. Through the years, Henderson had written many papers on art and its relationship to the unconscious. Of particular interest to Henderson had been his continued support of the Archive for Research in Archetypal Symbolism (ARAS). This was a project initially begun by Jung at Eranos and then taken over by the Jung Foundation in New York. The project en­tailed the cataloguing and organizing of thousands of pictures of various symbols from all over the world. The New York Foundation was expanding the collection, but in 1967, it decided that the costs were too great, and it was about to bring the program to an end. Henderson realized that this archive was a unique treasure and volunteered his time and effort to have it continued in San Francisco. Eventually, a joint effort between San Francisco and New York made it possible for the archive to continue to expand and have the whole collection copied. A grant was given to ARAS to make it a national archive, which then included Los Angeles as well. The ups and downs of its history are less im­portant to us at this moment than to say that Henderson had indirectly helped to guide it to its present existence and growth. It is the only place where one can look up a particu­lar symbol and find a psychological amplification that corresponds to the image. Three books on archetypal symbolism have been published using the images of the ARAS col­lection. For the past ten years, national ARAS has been working on publishing a diction­ary of symbols. In addition, the ARAS collection has been completely digitized and so can be accessed anywhere in the world with a paid subscription.

Another area of interest to Henderson had been the area of popular culture. Per­haps this was a continuation of his interest in drama, which was first expressed when he was a drama critic for two San Francisco magazines after college. For over twenty years, he contributed a number of reviews on movies to Psychological Perspectives. I think that this was his way of keeping in touch with modern popular culture. His movie reviews included Bergman’s Cries and Whispers, The Magic Flute, Easy Rider, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Chariots of Fire, as well as many others. He also wrote an article on “Psychology and the Roots of Design” for the landscape architect Lawrence Halprin, and a survey of the career of West Coast American visionary artist Morris Graves. Many of these shorter reviews and other papers along with a seminar on “Shadow and Self ” were published as a book entitled Shadow and Self published by Chiron in 1990.

Along with his broad intellectual and cultural interests, Henderson found the time to be quite active in the Society of Jungian Analysts of Northern California and the C. G. Jung Institute of San Francisco. He was a founding member of the Society when it was formed. As the Society grew, his participation paralleled its growth. He was President of the Society and Institute in 1967–1968 and again in 1972–1973. He was the librarian for many years before it became a committee. He was on the Cer­tifying Board from 1967 to 1971. He served gladly on many other committees, too numerous to mention. He attended quarterly Board of Governors meetings until well past age 100. What was so remarkable about him was that he did not seem to be at all power driven. In meetings, he presented his ideas and opinions in a quiet, thoughtful way, but he did not force his point of view on the rest of the group. The younger mem­bers were free to find their own way in the Institute without feeling that the “wise old man” was going to tell them what to do. This has been a significant factor in why the San Francisco group functions as well as it does. How this will evolve in the future, only time will tell.

Henderson continued to practice analysis, supervise, and write papers on various subjects related to analytical psychology until he was 102 years old. He gave the first invited lecture of the four United Kingdom groups in 1991, followed the next day by a workshop that was later published in the Journal of Analytical Psychology as “C.G. Jung’s Psychology: Additions and Extensions” (1991, 429–442). He continued to work on alchemical topics, specifically the Splendor Solis, a manuscript that he had first come upon in 1938 in London while studying for his final medical exam. He was specifically interested in how the images of the Splendor Solis reflected the analytic process. His semi­nars on the topic stimulated the interest of Dyane Sherwood. At the time of Henderson’s 100th birthday, the two of them published a book that amplified the images. Transfor­mation of the Psyche: The Symbolic Alchemy of the Splendor Solis (2003).

Joe continued his involvement as a board member of national ARAS and wrote a history of how the ARAS collection had evolved in the United States over forty years. In latter years, he had not been able to attend the meetings, but national ARAS made him an honorary member for life. In connection with national ARAS he made a series of interviews for McKenzie Oaks Films in Eugene, Oregon, (1997), where he discussed amplification of imagery, initiation rites, and his own personal history in relationship to Jung and analytical psychology.

Henderson continued to drive and to see patients in his second-floor office in San Francisco until age 98. Difficulty in walking and problems with balance required him to close the San Francisco office, but he continued to see people in his home office until his retirement.

A large birthday celebration was held to celebrate his 100th birthday in September 2003. A large outpouring of people from all over the country came to honor him on that day. The next year a conference on initiation was held in San Francisco, where ana­lysts influenced by Henderson presented their own research on the archetype of initia­tion. These presentations have now been published in 2007 as Initiation: The Reality of an Archetype edited by Tom Kirsch, Virginia Beane Rutter, and Tom Singer.

As part of the 100th birthday celebration, funds were raised to reprint his clas­sic book on initiation, long out of print, Thresholds of Initiation. The new edition with some minor editorial changes was published in 2005 by Chiron. After his 100th birth­day celebration, a follow-up interview to the one made for Matter of Heart in 1977 was done by this author and Suzanne Wagner. Over three hours of interviews on two sep­arate occasions were made.

Joseph Henderson with his granddaughter, Julia Eisenman, at his 100th birth­day, 2003.

 (Photograph: Donald Williams, by permission)

Joe and Helena Henderson, London.

On a personal level, Joe’s wife of sixty years, Helena, died in 1994 from compli­cations of diabetes, and Elizabeth, their daughter, died in 2001. Dr. Henderson’s own health gradually deteriorated over the years. He had greater difficulty in walking and moving around, and for the last three years he was confined to a wheelchair with occa­sional assisted walking. His memory, which for the first 100 years had been remark­able in its accuracy, began to fade, and his psyche moved between the unconscious and conscious in daily life. This shift in his psyche required that he retire from practice. He continued to see old patients, friends, and family, as these physical and psychological changes gradually took their toll. He had full-time help so that he could continue to stay in his home, which he and Helena had built in 1954, until the very end. The qual­ity of his life continued to lessen, but even three weeks before his death, he went to the 200th anniversary celebration of the founding of his preparatory school, Lawrenceville, in San Francisco, where he received a standing ovation and was taken home by limou­sine. He died on November 17th, 2007, after a brief bout of pneumonia.

It is difficult to sum up the long, complicated, and full life of Joseph Lewis Henderson. He lived through the turmoil of the twentieth century, remembering where he was at the time of the sinking of the Titanic all the way to the present war in Iraq, which ini­tially he followed closely. He was the singularly most contained and centered individ­ual whom I have ever met in my life. His centeredness had a healing effect on a great number of individuals, and his equanimity and psychological-mindedness influenced many generations of Jungian analysts in San Francisco and beyond. People came to see him from all over. For the past several years, he had been the only person of those who had analysis with Jung during his most active analytical time (1919 to 1939) who was still alive and could talk about it in a clear and objective manner. Besides his enor­mous professional accomplishments and the wealth and breadth of his experience, he was a wonderful raconteur, absolutely charming in a social situation, had a good sense of humor, and loved to laugh and enjoyed social interactions, especially as he aged. He was a truly unique individual who was a living example of what Jung meant by individ­uation, and I do not believe that we will see the likes of him again. As one colleague put it, “It’s truly the end of an era and it was a great era.”


  1. Frontispiece of G. Jung, The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, CW 9, Part 1. New York: Pantheon Books, 1959.
  2. This was not published until Appendix 5 as part of Memories, Dreams, Reflections. Recorded and edited by Aniela New York: Pantheon Books, 1961, 1962, 1963.


Cornford, F. 1912/1961. From Religion to Philosophy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Harding, M. E. 1971/2001. Women’s Mysteries: Ancient and Modern. Boston, MA: Shambala. Henderson, J. L. 1939. “Initiation Rites.” Bulletin of the Analytical Psychology Club. New York.

———. 1954. “Resolution of the Transference in the Light of C. G. Jung’s Psychology.” Acta Psychotherapeutica 2:3–4, 267–283.

———. 1961/1964. “Ancient Myths and Modern Man.” In Man and His Symbols, ed C. G. Jung, 104–157. Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc.

———. 1977. Interview of Joseph L. Henderson by Thomas Kirsch. Executive Producer, Suzanne Wagner. Los Angeles, CA: C. G. Jung Institute of Los Angeles.

———. 1984. Cultural Attitudes in Psychological Perspective. Toronto: Inner City Books.

———. 1990. Shadow and Self: Selected Papers in Analytical Psychology. Wilmette, IL: Chiron Publications.

———. 1991. “C.G. Jung’s Psychology: Additions and Extensions.” Journal of Analytical Psy­chology 36: 4, 429–442.

———. 1997. Filmed interviews sponsored by ARAS. Eugene, Oregon: Mckenzie Oaks Films.

———. 2005. Thresholds of Initiation. Wilmette, IL: Chiron. (Originally published Middle-town, CN: Wesleyan University Press, 1967).

———. and M. Oakes. 1963. The Wisdom of the Serpent: The Myths of Death, Rebirth, and Resurrection. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

———. and D. N. Sherwood. 2003. Transformation of the Psyche: The Symbolic Alchemy of the Splendor Solis. Hove and New York: Brunner-Routledge.

Hill, G. 1968. “J. L. H.: His Life and Work.” In The Shaman Pom Elko. San Francisco: C. G. Jung Institute of San Francisco.

Kirsch, T. B., V. B. Rutter, and T. Singer, eds. 2007. Initiation: The Living Reality of an Arche­type. Hove and New York: Routledge.

Thomas B. Kirsch knew Joseph L. Henderson, M. D., for forty-five years until Dr. Henderson’s death on November 17, 2007. Kirsch is a graduate of Yale Medical School, completed his psychiatric residency at Stanford Medical Center, and received his analytic training at the C. Jung Institute of San Francisco, where he served as president from 1976–1978. He has been a member of the American Academy of Psychoanalysis since 1976. From 1977 until 1989, he served as a vice-president of the International Association for Analytical Psychology (IAAP) and from 1989–1995 as president. Author of many articles on dreams, on the history of analytical psychology, and on the analytic relationship, he has also been the editor of Jungian sections in encyclopedias and psychoanalytic dictionaries. He authored a book on the history of analytical psychology, The Jungians (Routledge, 2000). In addition to his private practice, he is on the faculty and Board of Governors of the C. G. Jung Institute of San Francisco. Correspondence: 945 Middlefield Rd, Palo Alto, CA. 94301, USA.

On his is a biographical sketch of Joseph Lewis Henderson who was born on August 31, 1903, and who died on November 17, 2007, at age 104. Henderson was born in Elko, Nevada, went east to prep school and Princeton where he graduated with a B.A. in 1927. He traveled to Zürich in 1929 where he spent a year in analysis with Jung and attended the Dream Seminar. He received his medical degree in London from Saint Bartholomew’s and then returned to New York in 1938 to begin his practice as a Jungian analyst. In 1940 he settled in San Francisco where he lived for the rest of his life. He practiced as a Jungian analyst from 1938 until 2005. He was a founding member of the professional Jungian society in San Francisco and president of its society two times. He wrote a chapter in Man and His Symbols, edited by Jung, as well as books on initiation, cultural attitudes, alchemy, and numerous clinical papers, books, and movie reviews. His wife, Helena Darwin Cornford, and daughter, Elizabeth, predeceased him. He was the last of the first generation of Jungian analysts who had their primary analysis with Jung.























/oseph Henderson at his 100th birthday party, 2003.





(Photograph: Donald Williams, by permission)