The Dark Shadow Of The Quaternity

A critique of the Jungian unitarian Self

Quaternity (by Jung)

Abstract: In his 1925 seminar, Carl Jung accounts for a crucifixion fantasy where he takes the appearance of a pagan deity. The article argues that Jung misinterprets this and certain other motifs. Jung’s unitarian model of the human Self harbours a multitude of opposites, which are disconsonant, such as unmixable pagan and Christian elements. The resultant Self ideal is overblown and therefore unhealthy. These elements ought to be separated into two spiritual realms, an upper and a lower, and the model of the Self ought to mirror this bipartition. Jung’s own fantasies and dreams give evidence to this. Psychology’s relation to trinitarian concepts of theology is discussed.

Keywords: quaternity, Self, transcendental, trinitarian, spirit, active imagination, circular distillation, complementation, integration.


In 1913 Carl Jung experienced an extraordinary crucifixion fantasy or vision, when practicing his technique of active imagination, which is here partly described. It is related by Jung in his 1925 seminars (Shamdasani & McGuire, 2012). The setting is an ancient druidic place of worship.
Then a most disagreeable thing happened. Salome became very interested in me, and she assumed that I could cure her blindness. She began to worship me. I said, “Why do you worship me?” She replied, “You are Christ.” In spite of my objections she maintained this. I said, “This is madness,” and became filled with sceptical resistance. Then I saw the snake approach me. She came close and began to encircle me and press me in her coils. The coils reached up to my heart. I realized as I struggled, that I had assumed the attitude of the Crucifixion. In the agony and the struggle, I sweated so profusely that the water flowed down on all sides of me. Then Salome rose, and she could see. While the snake was pressing me, I felt that my face had taken on the face of an animal of prey, a lion or a tiger. (ibid. p.104)
It is significant that the anima [1] worships the Christ. That’s what she believes, anyway, because she is blind. Her name is Salome, which means ‘peace’. Jung never questions that she is the evil Salome, Herod Antipas’s stepdaughter, the treacherous seductress responsible for the death of John the Baptist. He simply takes it for granted. But this, I believe, is the Salome who is the mother of James and John, and who was an early follower of Jesus. Salome was among the women who stood and watched as Jesus was crucified (Mark 15:40-41). She was among the privileged women to first learn that Jesus was resurrected (Mark 16:1-8). However, Jung has forgotten completely about her, and instead identifies her with Herod Antipas’s stepdaughter (ibid. p.100). This is all the more curious as Herod’s Salome was not a follower of Christ, which Jung’s Salome says she is. Jung viewed his anima as a treacherous seductress, but in reality she is the Christian woman who was present during Jesus’s whole oeuvre.

Both Elijah and Salome, the disciple of Jesus, appear in Jesus’s presence in the bible (Elijah appears in the transfiguration on the mountain). The disciple Salome also appears in the Secret Gospel of Mark. (In early Christian tradition, there is also a Salome referred to as sister of Jesus.) So, contrary to what Jung says, it is not so surprising that they live together in Jung’s fantasy. Salome said that Jung can cure her blindness, that is, he can make her conscious. It means that he ought to realize the truth about her. Arguably, the anima here, in a furtive way, represents the feminine and submissive aspect of Self. [2] It is the aspect of Self that submits to God in humble worship. But this was exactly what Jung refused to do. He rejected Christian notions of faith and submissiveness. His notion of the encounter with the unconscious remained heroic in kind. Jung remained suspicious and slightly contemptuous of the anima, which is the side in him that is devotional and “weak”. It is feminine and weak in the sense of a Christian contemplative who allows himself to be weak before God, and who turns himself into the feminine chalice into which God can instill his spirit.

Such a thought was alien to Jung’s nature. His ideal remained the mana personality, whose destiny it is to do battle with the unconscious, with great cunning and sorcery. According to himself, Jung felt an affinity with the mythic figure of Merlin. But on the British isles, Merlin receded, and the virtuous and reclusive ideal of the Christian monk took over. Arguably, Jung should have realized Merlin’s recession is a significant symbol, and allowed room for the complementary aspect of Self. Instead, his Self ideal remained one-sidedly masculine and, much like Merlin, geared toward power and cunning. This expansive attitude is worthwhile and necessary in the process of maturation, but only up to a certain point, when it is time to give up the powers of the self-deifying ego and its luminous consciousness. The well-known dream in which Jung is required to kill the pagan sun-hero Siegfried (cf. Jung, 1989, ch.6), wasn’t only relevant to the actual period in his life. In the 1925 seminars he says that “[the] killing of the hero, then, means that one is made into a hero and something hero-like must happen” (Shamdasani & McGuire, 2012, p.96). I question this interpretation. The killing (and the eating) of the deity means to integrate his virtue, thus reducing the heroic power to human dimensions, in order that it may be put to good use in the worldly realm. Thus, it means something qualitatively different than becoming a hero oneself. Rather, it would signify leaving behind an heroic obsessiveness and ideal, whereby the heroic energy is converted to something good in the world.

In the crucifixion fantasy it seems that the pagan and Christian elements are coalesced. It follows Jung’s quaternarian ideal: to the trinity must be added a fourth and pagan element. Jung turns into a pagan deity, encoiled by a serpent, while being worshipped almost as Christ crucified. It seems like a wish-fulfillment in the Freudian sense. Jung says that it signifies deification, that is, he is himself transformed into the quaternarian god (ibid. p.106). In these lectures he is very brilliant, as usual. Yet he is mistaken in his attempt to comprehend his own unconscious, which is a rather typical phenomenon. I argue that this is not deification but its very opposite. He is furtively being subjected to exorcism. The Christian woman exorcises the devil in him, which takes the appearance of a beastly pagan deity connected with the Mithras cult — the foremost pagan competitor of Christianity during the first centuries. As in a Hollywood film, the daemon is forced to come to the surface there to be faced and confronted. The possessed person temporarily takes on daemonic features, before being liberated. During the procedure Jung is sweating profusely, which is a purgation symbol. It would signify how the evil spirit is driven out. After the exorcism, Salome has gained eyesight. It would signify that Jung’s soul is no longer blind; no more unconsciously Christian, but instead consciously Christian. This came as a result of driving out the pagan deity.

The whole setup seems almost like a trap. Jung enters a volcano to find a secret pagan shrine, as in a wish-fulfillment. Against expectation, there are biblical and Christian personalities already present, as if waiting in ambush. Salome surrounds herself with an aura of evil and a feigned instinctuality, to live up to Jung’s ideal of the integration of the dark principle of the godhead. She pretends to elevate him to godly stature, but she is really after something else. To Jung, the black snake would represent the divine principle of darkness. Yet the snake does not serve as a divine attribute. In fact, the spiralling snake is reminiscent of a heating coil. The heat which makes Jung sweat profusely derives from the snake.

It is as if the unconscious must make pretence, and go along with conscious ideas, in order to lure consciousness along. This is unsurprising, as active imagination is performed in a waking state. But the whole scene means something quite different than Jung believes. The outcome is the opposite of what he expects, and Salome is not the one he thinks. At the same time, the fantasy points at the dangers of the unitarian and ambivalent Self model, namely the tendency of self-deification. The repression of the transcendental Self has this consequence. When the divine realm of transcendence is not given its due, the result is self-deification. Obviously, if the ego won’t bow down to the transcendental spirit, but personality’s sole ambition is to realize the Self as this-worldliness, it has harmful repercussions in terms of identification. It could be argued that Jung’s Self image is daemonic, and that it gives rise to an unhealthy form of identification. Elijah and Salome, as representatives of the trinitarian spirit, are being repressed. This is emphasized in the vision, since they appear as miniscule doll-like beings. They live in a tiny little house in an underworldly place, inside a crater, as if held captive in a place where they don’t belong. The conclusion is that the vision compensates Jung’s lopsided view of the Self as an immanent ideal.

Jung experienced that he was at the bottom of the world. To this, Elijah smiled and said “Why, it is just the same, above or below”. It is a reference to a famous saying in the Emerald Tablet (Tabula Smaragdina): “that which is Above corresponds to that which is Below”. [3] It is wholly consonant with Elijah’s transcendent nature that he should express this truth. It compensates the earthly bias by adding to it an upper transcendental realm, which is equally important. It calls for a bipolar view of Self, rather than a unitarian.

What is being represented in the daemonic image is essentially the Jungian view of the ambivalent godhead, and its derivative, namely the ambivalent Self. If the Self is an ambivalent spirit, it means that it is evil. Should a person do good deeds one day but backslide and do evil deeds the next day, it doesn’t render him morally neutral. According to a modern moral standard, it means that he is evil. There is no way around the fact that ambivalence, in human psychology, means that the person has a dark character. A hobbyhorse of Jung’s was the conjugation of the fourth and earthly spiritual principle with the “ternarius” (the Trinity), in order to give form to the quaternity. Even so, it renders a godhead that is ambivalent, infected with the evil principle. (This would explain why the alchemist Dorneus warned that quartarius is the hidden binarius.) This was also the quandary of Job, who was the first to wrestle with the problem of moral ambivalence in the godhead. So it seems as if the ambivalent Self image is inappropriate for a modern consciousness. Comparatively, King David had moulded himself on the Old Testamental ideal. Although he was a successful man, he was also a power-driven murderer. The notion of ambivalence characterizes his personality finely. Today we know that ambivalence is characteristic of the unconscious, whereas modern consciousness is moulded by the trinitarian spirit. Hence, the Self as a ‘complexio oppositorum’ of conscious and unconscious results in ambivalence, which is morally objectionable.

The unitarian Self, which is a ‘complexio oppositorum’, is hardly defensible. I have proposed a better image, called the “complementarian Self”, which builds on Joseph Henderson’s concept (cf. Winther, 2011, here). Jung’s version of the Self I denote quartarius (from ‘quaternity’). I do not repudiate this Self model, but argue that it is merely half the truth. In fact, the trinity and the quaternity are better defined as complementary opposites, making use of Niels Bohr’s definition of complementarity. Interpreted in theological terms, it means that the godhead can be envisaged as complementarian: the trinity and the quaternity are mutually exclusive, yet both definitions are needed to define the godhead in its entirety.

The anima presents herself as a Christian, so we have to take her word for it. She compensates the conscious standpoint. If his anima was a Christian, Jung’s conscious standpoint is averse to Christianity. Elijah personifies transcendence; hence Jung’s conscious standpoint is averse to the transcendental conception. The Self ideal is shadowy and daemonic because the truth of the anima isn’t realized. She is blind, that is, she is unconscious. Jung thinks she is the treacherous Salome, but she is really the lesser known Salome, that is, the virtuous one. If the truthful anima isn’t realized, it will result in a lopsided Self image, since the anima is part and parcel of the Self. There is virtuous femininity missing in the Self.

Jung says in the text that she is “that side of the inferior function which is surrounded by an aura of evil.” He often denigrates the anima. He thinks she fulfils a destructive function, which is a very curious way of looking upon the unconscious. It is difficult to understand why evolution should have endowed us with a function that wants to harm us. It is as if Jung sometimes looks upon the unconscious as a spiritual Gnostic universe, where some spirits, corresponding to the evil Archons, aim to destroy our plans of redemption. I won’t buy into the idea that the anima, perhaps the most important archetype of all, is an evil Archon. Jung keeps returning to the phenomenon of anima possession, and says that men must avoid being possessed by their anima, which means a condition where the male cannot control his emotions, but remains in an affective state. He says:
If there were only such an evil figure as Salome, the conscious would have to build up a fence to keep this back, an exaggerated, fanatical, moral attitude. But I had not this exaggerated moral attitude, so I suppose that Salome was compensated by Elijah. When Elijah told me he was with Salome, I thought it was almost blasphemous for him to say this. I had the feeling of diving into an atmosphere that was cruel and full of blood.
  This atmosphere was around Salome, and to hear Elijah declare that he was always in that company shocked me profoundly. Elijah and Salome are together because they are pairs of opposites. Elijah is an important figure in man’s unconscious, not in woman’s. He is the man with prestige, the man with a low threshold of consciousness or with remarkable intuition. In higher society he would be the wise man; compare Lao-tse. He has the ability to get into touch with archetypes in others […] This plays an important role in man’s psychology, as I have said, but unfortunately a less important part than that played by the anima. (Shamdasani & McGuire, 2012, p.101)
In the seminar, Jung grapples with the problem that the anima doesn’t seem to compensate his conscious standpoint. This is because he can’t see through her disguise as the treacherous Salome. He comes up with the dubious idea that she compensates the spiritual man in the guise of Elijah. Purportedly, the unconscious compensates itself, rather than the conscious standpoint — a highly implausible notion. In fact, both she and Elijah are compensating the conscious standpoint. They seem to personify the feminine and masculine aspects of the transcendent spirit. In this context, he also accounts for the battle of two snakes:
Then I realized I had a conflict in myself about going down, but I could not make out what it was, I only felt that two dark principles were fighting each other, two serpents. There was a mountain ridge, a knife edge, on one side a sunny desert country, on the other side darkness. I saw a white snake on the light side and a dark snake on the dark side. They met in battle on the narrow ridge. A dreadful conflict ensued. Finally the head of the black snake turned white, and it retired, defeated. I felt, “Now we can go on”. (ibid. p.104)
Jung then enters the Druidic sacred place, where Salome appears. Jung interprets the snakes in a reductive way. He says they represent a conflict in him; whether to go down into the kingdom of darkness or whether to move into the daylight. The tendency to go up was stronger. Jung understands this conflict as resolved, as the image passed and since he took the decision to go on. He seems to think that active imagination has an immediate effect on personality. When it is played out, a resolution will also take place. This cannot be right. I think the two snakes represent the trinitarian/Christian (white) spirit in battle with the Druidic pagan spirit (which could be denoted the binarian or quaternarian spirit). Jung was strongly drawn towards the latter, to the detriment of the former. That’s why the unconscious produces a compensating image where the trinitarian spirit defeats the pagan spirit by making it conscious (its head turns white). Merlin, the son of Satan, is converted to the light side, so to speak, which is also what takes place in the Arthurian myth.

The trinitarian and the quaternarian

Christian theologists refer to their own theology as “trinitarian”, which signifies a theology centered around otherworldliness, i.e., the transcendental God. Therefore, a trinitarian mindset would prepare the individual for a life disengaged from the world. Jung took exception to the trinitarian view of the divine and created his own “theology” according to which the fourth and earthly element must ascend from unconsciousness and add to the trinity. This is the quaternity, and hence his theology could be denoted quaternarian. These notions are used, for instance, by David Lindorff in “Pauli and Jung” where he compares Kepler and Fludd, arguing that their respective attitudes represent the trinitarian versus the quaternarian (cf. Lindorff, 2004, p.89). However, Jung’s own favourite thinker, Gerhard Dorn (c. 1530-1584, here) warned against quartarius (the quaternarian god) whom he identified as the cloaked binarius (i.e., the devil). Jung, however, interprets this as a weakness in Dorn, claiming that he remained stuck in a trinitarian and Christian conception. These number symbols are often used in alchemy. Mark Haeffner cites Thomas Vaughan (1621-1666):
Thomas Vaughan in Anima magica abscondita:
The first principle is One in One from One. It is a pure, white Virgin, and next to that which is most pure and simple. This is the first created Unity. By this all things were made, not actively, but Mediately, and without this, Nothing can be made either Artificial or Natural. This is the Uxor Dei et Stellarum [Wife of God and the stars]. By mediation of this, there is a descent from One into Four, and an ascent from Three by Four to the invisible, supernatural Monas. The diameter line in the circle creates the Ternarius. The second principle is the Binarius which fell from its first Unity by adhesion to Matter, which rendered it impure. This third [principle] is properly no principle, but a product of Art. It is a various Nature, compounded in one sense, and Decompounded in another, consisting of Inferiour and Superiour powers. This is Magicians fire, this is Mercurius Philosophorum, Celeberrimus ille Microcosmus, et Adam. This is the Labyrinth and Wild of Magick where a world of students have lost themselves.
This is a cabalist view of the world, as being a process of emanation from divine unity. The third principle, the Ternarius, is the key to reuniting impure natute with the purity of divine unity. Thomas Vaughan again:
This Ternarius, being reduced per Quaternarium ascends to the Magicall Decad, which is Monas Ultissima, in which state quaecumque vult potes; for it is united then per Aspectum to the first, eternall spirituall unity. (Haeffner, 2004, pp.253-54)
In Jung’s scheme, if the binarius is conjoined with the ternarius, we arrive at the quartarius. Arguably, the binarius represents an attitude characterized by an unconscious form of worldliness, along lines of pagan religion. The pagan world was materialistic in the sense that worldly goods and gifts were viewed as boons of the gods. If a person had riches and beauty, for instance, it was a clear sign that he/she was both favoured and patronized by the gods. In the beginning of our era, pagan spirituality had run its course. Its degradation into materialism created a rebound in an extremely spiritual type of religion, namely Christianity. Worldly goods and chattels, or individual talent, weren’t proofs that a person was favoured by God. All are equal in the eyes of God. In fact, “the last will be first, and the first will be last” (Matt. 20:16). The divine spirit did not remain in earthly things anymore, but had become transcendentalized.

I agree with Dorn’s misgivings about quartarius (i.e., the quaternity). Jung’s quaternarian standpoint could be understood as the individual’s return to the pagan and worldly mindset. However, this time around the spiritual pilgrim is endowed with an enlightened mind, that is, an advanced psychological consciousness. If the binarius represents unconscious pagan spirituality, the quartarius is its conscious counterpart. Jung, of course, made immense contributions to the advancement of consciousness. According to Jung, only a strong and differentiated consciousness is capable of withstanding the inner tensions of the quaternarian Self. Anyway, it would explain why the quartarius is not equatable with the amalgamation of the ternarius and binarius, and perhaps it also explains why Jung’s Red Book project was left unfinished. If the quartarius is the enlightened binarius, then Jung’s view of the formation of the quaternity was misguided. The enlightened binarius is the serpent, in Jung’s fantasy, who was defeated and whose head turned white.

The daemonic transformation is portrayed as a coerced and excruciating experience. If the Self is a conglomerate of incompatible elements, the opposites can only remain united by forceful coercion. There is something amiss with this image of Self, also because the anima is being unduly subverted by Jung. The biblical figures don’t belong in this pagan setting. The trinitarian elements must be separated, and Salome must be moved into a Christian setting. Thus, we may arrive at a complementary and bipartite Self image, and harmony is restored. What’s missing in Jung’s conception of the Self is its otherworldliness. I have called the missing aspect “the Self of transcendence”, as opposed to the this-worldly aspect. I think that Elijah symbolizes the transcendental aspect. Elijah defeated the Phoenician fertility god Baal, a deity which is a suitable symbol of the this-worldly Self of completeness. This has a bearing on Jung’s vision of the white snake defeating the black snake. Elijah was the first man to gain entrance into the heavenly realm, as he was taken up in a whirlwind (2 Kings 2:11). Thus, he is connected with transcendence. Elijah and Salome are held captive in a tiny house, in the pagan underworld, where they don’t belong. So the figure of Elijah here fulfils a compensatory function.


The word ‘complementation’, as such, refers to an act or process of forming a complement, i.e. something that completes (makes whole), makes up a whole, or brings to perfection. The notion already exists in genetics and other disciplines, but is also applicable in psychological theory. I theorize that the quaternarian model of Self is connected with integration, whereas the trinitarian Self is connected with complementation. It is a process that complements the integration of unconscious contents. The notion is discussed in several places in my articles. It lends credence to the trinitarian notion of restraining our tendency of worldly entanglement, including all forms of worldly passions. Christian mystics, following the creed of via negativa, also view the images of the soul as worldly chimeras. Accordingly, one shouldn’t pay too much attention to the apparitions of the soul. This standpoint is complementary to the Jungian impassioned ideal of introversion, which involves the immersion in the unconscious during which time the unconscious images should be confronted and integrated. Although they are mutually exclusive, both standpoints are equally valid.

The psychoanalytic paradigm builds on “integration”, that is, the making conscious of the unconscious. On account of its “worldly” emphasis, Jungian psychology is centered around integration. In mythological language, the boons of the gods must be realized in worldly reality for the welfare of humanity. Although Carl Jung and M-L von Franz are wise enough to see the backsides of a consciousness that grows to overpowering dimensions, certain other psychologists, such as Edward F. Edinger, endorse the practice of integration as the royal road to salvation. However, in theology (both pagan and Christian), there is also the opposite trend, namely that of giving sacrifice for the replenishment of the divine world. For instance, the Vedic sacrifice serves the purpose of keeping the gods powerful and nourished. Salvation is thus reversed; the devotee must give sustenance to the gods. In order to regain their vitality, Indra and Shiva must come down to earth to expiate their sin. In village Buddhism, the worshipper is involved in salvation of the deity by transferring merit (cf. Doniger O’Flaherty, 1980, p.141ff). Such naive albeit charming notions don’t exist in Christian theology. Here the sacrificial act for the sustenance of God comes to expression as a life of reclusiveness and worldly rejection. The cloistered contemplative sacrifices his/her worldly passion wholly to God.

According to Mesoamerican theology the gods gave rise to everything we see in the conscious world. Creation came into existence thanks to the sacrifice of the gods. They offered up their life-blood for us — their severed limbs turned into trees, mountains, maize, fruits, etc. Of course, such a transference of life-force cannot continue unilaterally. It threatens to exhaust the divine world, with the consequence that the universe can no longer run its course. That’s why the sacrificial priest must make offerings of his own blood, or the blood of the sacrificial victim, burn it on the altar or otherwise send it to the gods. In full analogy with this, there is no way that the unconscious can be viewed as a cornucopia, capable of an endless provision of goods for the purpose of conscious realization. There must be a payback, a return on the investment, in order to keep the unconscious world alive.

Thus, the notion of “integration” must be complemented with a notion that refers to the replenishment of the unconscious. This is not the same as anti-integration, because what has taken root in consciousness must remain in place. Conscious functions can’t be uprooted, short of personality going through serious affliction. So it is not the question of a regression to a former unconscious condition. The gods can heal themselves. They can restore their vitality, regrow new limbs to replace those that were severed. To this end they must drink ambrosia, like the Greek gods, or they must have recourse to the golden apples, as in Norse mythology. The central idea in alchemy, namely the notion of circular distillation, refers to this very process of autonomous growth in the unconscious. The process takes place in a sealed vessel, known as the pelican. The alchemists say that one must take care not to add too much heat to the vessel. Some argue that the rays of the moon are enough, which signifies a faint light of consciousness.

In the mean time, the alchemist must give himself to prayer and meditation, practicing a reverential lifestyle. The conscious world that was created by the gods is only lit up by the moon, whereas the strong light of consciousness, the sun, has receded. It means that the functions and content of consciousness remain the same. A regress has not occurred. Consciousness has dampened its light and the process of conscious expansion has come to a halt. This favours the unconscious process of restoration, and the tree — the arbor philosophica — may again come to fruition. This is why the spirit of ternarius plays such a big role in alchemy. It is the key to unlocking the mystery, because the sacrifice is quintessential. The enlightened binarius is shut in as the serpens mercurialis in the retort. Confinement was also the fate of Merlin in Celtic myth, according to which he was enclosed in a rock. Thus, in alchemical language, the ternarius is reduced per Quaternarium in order to ascend to spiritual unity.

Jungian psychology has, to my knowledge, provided no proper interpretation of the process of circular distillation. The notions of integration and regression are inadequate to our understanding of the symbol. It is better understood as trinitarian process, which is complementation. During the process the unconscious archetype continues to grow as in a glasshouse, supported by a mild conscious light. The unconscious tree may come to life again and bear new fruit. It is the complementary opposite of integration, corresponding to theology’s sacrificial act for the sustenance of the gods. It could be likened to tending an aquarium full of beautiful species of fish, which is how my own dreams have repeatedly represented the mystery of circular distillation. All they need is a little light and a minute amount of fish fodder every day. It will allow the most colourful beings to grow strong and healthy.

Thus, a severe crisis of consciousness is not required. To uphold a proper relation with the unconscious spirit, there is no need to undergo the crisis of immersion in the unconscious, which includes a temporary collapse of the conscious world. In fact, during this period the world is lit up by a fainter luminary. It is another kind of consciousness, more constricted and less nebulous. Following Vaughan, individuation will continue in the manner of a tranquil and serene spiritual path. Primarily, a quaternarian consciousness is established, during which time it is provisioned by the riches of the unconscious. Having proceeded via the quaternity, consciousness is then reduced to the stage of unio mentalis. Complementation is a semi-autonomous process under supervision of a trinitarian consciousness. The term refers to what transpires in the unconscious, whereas the conscious attitude could best be described as ‘detached’. A mere reference to conscious notions of spiritual discipline won’t suffice. Essential to a psychological understanding is that the unconscious is included as reference point. The alchemists say that circular distillation will generate the spirit Mercurius from the ashes inside the vessel.

An incomplete sacrifice

In the previous year, in 1912, Jung had three dreams that have direct bearing on this subject matter. Most conspicuous is the ambush of the sun-hero Siegfried. Jung understood it, not incorrectly, but in a reductive way. He interprets it as the sacrifice of his superior function, the sacrificio intellectualis. To improve the unconscious relation it is necessary to surrender the fortress of our authoritarian consciousness. In the seminar he adds an important fact: after the shooting, he could not bring himself to fulfil the deed (cf. Shamdasani & McGuire, 2012, p.62). Together with his brown-skinned accomplice he aimed to stab a knife through Siegfried’s heart. Instead Jung chose to flee from the gruesome scene. This gives us a hint that Jung’s sacrifice was to remain incomplete.

The understanding of Siegfried as heroic consciousness is overly simplistic. He is the worldly deity of light that conquers the dark unconsciousness of the world, personified by the dragon Fafnir (the guardian of a golden hoard, including the reputable Nibelungen ring). Interpreted in alchemical and cabalist terms, Siegfried is quartarius, that is, the spirit of the world that has become enlightened, endowed by nature with a powerful sword of consciousness. Therefore he is an apt personification of the quaternity. Siegfried’s personality is also characterized by bold and worldly extraversion. In fact, he is almost caricatural. In the myth, Siegfried is stabbed in the back by Hagen. Yet the motif of finally finishing him off, by stabbing the quaternarian hero in the heart, was left in the hands of Jung’s unconscious shadow, because he could not bring himself to do the gruesome act.

Thus, in his coming life, Jung would endeavour to elevate the quaternity. He would not allow it to sink into oblivion after it had reached its peak. In this time of life, Jung’s quaternarian consciousness was still on the rise. That’s why it’s understandable that he never followed through with the assassination. However, dreams of this import are often relevant for decades to come. Jung was mistaken in thinking that the Siegfried dream was only relevant to this particular point in time, when his intellectual consciousness needed to be demoted. The full sacrifice of the quaternity means to adopt the spiritual standpoint of ternarius. It means to put to halt the process of unconscious integration and conscious expansion. Yet Jung would continue to search out the collective unconscious, when he should have allowed another luminary to lit up his world. Of course, this brought the advantage that we today can benefit from his many intellectual achievements, but it also means that the theoretical undercurrent risks leading us astray in our personal lives.

Jung also accounts for a dream where he meets an Austrian man in a guardian uniform. Because the word censorship came to mind, he associates this man with with Freud, according to the original notes (ibid. pp.40-41). Jung’s companion tells him that he has been dead for 30-40 years, yet still wanders around as a spirit. He can’t die because he can’t decompose properly. Then he enters a medieval town and meets a tall crusader clad in yellowish armour with a Maltese cross on his back. He has been dead since the 12th century and daily wanders the town because he is not yet properly dead.

In my interpretation, it pictures future developments in Jung’s life. Quartarius couldn’t die properly, but would continue to wander the streets as an apparition. He would remain among the living, since he was never stabbed through the heart during the assault. The Hospitaller knight in golden armour is the medieval version of quartarius, with a likeness to Siegfried, whereas the Austrian man, who bears a resemblance to Freud, is the modern version. He is a worldly spirit endowed with a powerful weapon of consciousness, namely psychoanalysis. Especially the Jungian version of psychoanalysis has the capacity to dispel the powers of darkness. These ghosts continue to fulfil their roles as guardians against the unconscious spirit of binarius.

Jung also accounts for a dream in which he is seated in a palace before a remarkably beautiful green emerald table, reminiscent of The Emerald Tablet (ibid. p.42). A small white bird flew in through the window and alighted on the table. It turned into a girl with golden hair. Soon she put her arm around his neck very tenderly. Then she turned into a white bird again and said: “I am allowed to transform into human form only in the first hours of the night, while the male dove is busy with the twelve dead.” Then it flew away. When he was thinking about the dream, the words of the Emerald Tablet came to mind.

I believe the white bird is the “upper spirit”, which has a counterpart in the “lower spirit”, in terms of the Tabula Smaragdina. It is small and unassuming compared with the quaternarian spirit, because it wants us to make sacrifice and tone down worldly engagement. The girl bird corresponds to Salome whereas the male bird (although mentioned, it is here absent), corresponds to Elijah. Jung thinks that Salome compensates the pronounced spiritual nature of Elijah, and that they are two starkly conflicting natures. In fact, they symbolize the feminine and masculine counterparts of the heavenly spirit, whereas Siegfried and Brünnhilde symbolize the masculine and feminine counterparts of the telluric spirit. Since Jung’s theoretical discourse on the anima and the wise old man are both contingent upon his interpretation of these figures in dreams and myth, it is perhaps time for a theoretical revision.

I conclude that Jung’s unconscious compensates a consciousness that has been steeped in the quaternarian conception. According to Jung’s own dream theory of compensation, the unconscious does not endorse the conscious standpoint; rather, it would try to balance it out. In this context it is interesting to look at a dream of Marie-Louise von Franz, pre-eminent among Jung’s pupils. Late in life she dreamt that she had written an eight volume work on Arabic alchemy. She had the eight volumes in front of her and she was quite happy about them (Isler, 2004, here).

According to Jung, the quaternity is the symbol of wholeness and completeness, par excellence, and von Franz endorsed this view. Eight is 2 x 4. Thus, the dream seems to say that there are two wholenesses in the context of Arabic alchemy, from where derives The Emerald Tablet and the saying, “That which is above is like to that which is below, and that which is below is like to that which is above.” Thus, there are two wholenesses, an upper and a lower. Von Franz, who has written extensively on number symbolism (in her book “Number and Time”, and elsewhere) says that each number is a wholeness in itself, that is, 2 represents 2-unity, 3 represents 3-unity, etc. Thus, the ternarius is a wholeness, too. The gist of the spiritual message from the unconscious equates to this spiritual truth. Ternarius is above and quartarius is below, as complementary opposites. After having reached its zenith, the quartarius must recede and allow room for the ternarius.


© Mats Winther, March 2013.


1. Anima. The inner feminine side of a man; an archetypal personification of the soul. See Jung Lexicon, here.

2. Self. The archetype of wholeness and the regulating center of the psyche; a transpersonal power that transcends the ego. See Jung Lexicon, here.

3. The Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus:

Truly, without Deceit, certainly and absolutely,

That which is Below corresponds to that which is Above, and that which is Above corresponds to that which is Below, in the accomplishment of the Miracle of One Thing. And just as all things have come from One, through the Mediation of One, so all things follow from this One Thing in the same way.

Its Father is the Sun. Its Mother is the Moon. The Wind has carried it in his Belly. Its Nourishment is the Earth. It is the Father of every completed Thing in the whole World. Its Strength is intact if it is turned towards the Earth. Separate the Earth by Fire: the fine from the gross, gently, and with great skill.

It rises from Earth to Heaven, and then it descends again to the Earth, and receives Power from Above and from Below. Thus you will have the Glory of the whole World. All Obscurity will be clear to you. This is the strong Power of all Power because it overcomes everything fine and penetrates everything solid.

In this way was the World created. From this there will be amazing Applications, because this is the Pattern. Therefore am I called Thrice Greatest Hermes, having the three parts of the Wisdom of the whole World.

Herein have I completely explained the Operation of the Sun.


Doniger O’Flaherty, W. (1980). The Origins of Evil in Hindu Mythology. Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press.

Franz, M-L von. (1974). Number and Time. London: Rider & Company.

‘Gerhard Dorn’. Wikipedia article. (here)

Haeffner, M. (2004). Dictionary of Alchemy: From Maria Prophetessa to Isaac Newton. Aeon Books.

Isler, G. (2004). ‘Eulogy for Marie-Louise von Franz.’ Journey into Wholeness newsletter. Fall/Winter 2004, Volume 12, No.3. (here)

Jung, C.G. (1989). Memories, Dreams, Reflections. Vintage.

Lindorff, D. (2004). Pauli and Jung – The Meeting of Two Great Minds. Quest Books.

Shamdasani, S. & McGuire, W. (eds.). (2012). Introduction to Jungian Psychology: Notes of the Seminar in Analytical Psychology Given in 1925. Princeton. Philemon Series.

Winther, M. (2011). ‘The Complementarian Self’. (here)

(The image is a detail from a water colour by C.G. Jung.)

See also:

The unitarian view of Self is further criticized in the following article, and elsewhere:

Winther, M. (2012). ‘Critique of Synchronicity’. (here)