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Psychology and Alchemy

Letters Volume I

[Carl Jung on the “Self” and “Mandala.”]

Surveying these facts as a whole, we come, at least in my opinion, to the inescapable conclusion that there is some psychic element present which expresses itself through the quaternity.

No daring speculation or extravagant fancy is needed for this.

If I have called the centre the “self,” I did so after mature consideration and a careful appraisal of the empirical and historical data.

A materialistic interpretation could easily maintain that the “centre” is “nothing but” the point at which the psyche ceases to be knowable because it there coalesces with the body.

And a spiritualistic interpretation might retort that this “self” is nothing but “spirit,” which animates both soul and body and irrupts into time and space at that creative point.

I purposely refrain from all such physical and metaphysical speculations and content myself with establishing the empirical facts, and this seems to me infinitely more important for the advance of human knowledge than running after fashionable intellectual crazes or jumped-up “religious” creeds.

To the best of my experience we are dealing here with very important “nuclear processes” in the objective psyche—”images of the goal,” as it were, which the psychic process, being goal directed, apparently sets up of its own “accord, without any external stimulus.

Externally, of course, there is always a certain condition of psychic need, a sort of hunger, but it seeks for familiar and favourite dishes and never imagines as its goal some
outlandish food unknown to consciousness.

The goal which beckons to this psychic need, the image which promises to heal, to make whole, is at first strange beyond all measure to the conscious mind, so that it can find entry only with the very greatest difficulty.

Of course it is quite different for people who live in a time and environment when such images of the goal have dogmatic validity.

These images are then eo ipso held up to consciousness, and the unconscious is thus shown its own secret reflection, in which it recognizes itself and so joins forces with the conscious mind.

As to the question of the origin of the mandala motif, from a superficial point of view it looks as if it had gradually come into being in the course of the dream-series.

The fact is, however, that it only appeared more and more distinctly and in increasingly differentiated form; in reality it was always present and even occurred in the first dream—as the nymphs say later:

“We were always there, only you did not notice us.”

It is therefore more probable that we are dealing with an a priori “type,” an archetype which is inherent in the collective unconscious and thus beyond individual birth and death.

The archetype is, so to speak, an “eternal” presence, and the only question is whether it is perceived by the conscious mind or not.

I think we are forming a more probable hypothesis, and one that better explains the observed facts, if we assume that the increase in the clarity and frequency of the mandala motif is due to a more accurate perception of an already existing “type,” rather than that it is generated in the course of the dream-series.

The latter assumption is contradicted by the fact, for instance, that such fundamental ideas as the hat which epitomizes the personality, the encircling serpent, and the perpetuum mobile appear right at the beginning (first series: dream i, par. 52, and vision 5, par. 62; second series: dream 9, par. 134).

If the motif of the mandala is an archetype it ought to be a collective phenomenon, i.e., theoretically it should appear in everyone. In practice, however, it is to be met with in distinct form in relatively few cases, though this does not prevent it from functioning as a concealed pole round which everything ultimately revolves. In the last analysis every life is the realization of a whole, that is, of a self, for which reason this realization can also be called “individuation.”

All life is bound to individual carriers who realize it, and it is simply inconceivable without them. But every carrier is charged with an individual destiny and destination, and the realization of these alone makes sense of life.

True, the “sense” is often something that could just as well be called “nonsense,” for there is a certain incommensurability between the mystery of existence and human understanding.

“Sense” and “nonsense” are merely man-made labels which serve to give us a reasonably valid sense of direction.

As the historical parallels show, the symbolism of the mandala is not just a unique curiosity; we can well say that it is a regular occurrence.

Were it not so there would be no comparative material, and it is precisely the possibility of comparing the mental products of all times from every quarter of the globe that shows us most clearly what immense importance the consensus gentium has always attached to the processes of the objective psyche.

This is reason enough not to make light of them, and my medical experience has only confirmed this estimate.

There are people, of course, who think it unscientific to take anything seriously; they do not want their intellectual playground disturbed by graver considerations.

But the doctor who fails to take account of man’s feelings for values commits a serious blunder, and if he tries to correct the mysterious and well-nigh inscrutable workings of nature with his so-called scientific attitude, he is merely putting his shallow sophistry in place of nature’s healing processes.

Let us take the wisdom of the old alchemists to heart: “Naturalissimum et perfectissimum opus est generare tale quale ipsum est.” [Footnote 156]

156 “The most natural and perfect work is to generate its like.” ~Carl Jung, Psychology and Alchemy, Pages 220-223.