Critique of Individuation
“Seagulls at the beach”. Alexander Camaro (1951).
Individuation as the process of psychological maturation is associated with the way of the spirit, equal to the ‘narrow path’. Social and worldly adaptation as central aspects of individuation are overvalued. It is generally held that symbolic transformation of unconscious images fulfils a therapeutic function. This view is criticized as a way of upholding the stagnant ego. On the contrary, transformation must be authentic. The notion of ego abandonment in spiritual tradition should be taken seriously. Central to psychology is the integration of the unconscious. But equally important is the opposite process of ‘complementation’. Consciousness is not only synthetic; it has also a ‘sympathetic’ function. Consciousness can give life back to the unconscious and not only empty it of its goods. To this end, a creative form of contemplation is recommended, in the manner of painting or writing. The destruction of the stagnant state of personality, and the riddance of aspects of personality, are part and parcel of individuation. Today, adaptation and assimilation are overvalued whereas negation is undervalued. The Self in Jungian psychology is a towering ideal, a conglomerate of contradictory aspects of personality. At a point in time, the spiritual seeker must abandon the ideal of completeness and begin to negate his profane obsessions, which are nothing but meaningless games of life. At this juncture, the passionate game of creativity is ushered in.
Keywords: critique of Jungian psychology, integration, complementation, negation, destruction, spiritual path, art, individuation, apotheosis, alchemy, Gnosticism, Holy Grail, C. G. Jung, Emanuel Swedenborg, Poul Bjerre.
It seems that life has a “game-playing” foundation. The most pronounced characteristic of human nature is a fondness for the manifold games of life. Historian Johan Huizinga (1971) goes as far as naming our species ‘homo ludens’. Human activities, in the form of professions and careers, are qualitatively different. Some are, in the short
perspective, more beneficial to society, but not necessarily to the natural world. Yet, there’s no essential difference between
the careers of sports, scientific research, film stardom, politics, etc.,
because they share the same “game-playing” foundation. The
share market is a kind of game, and so is the whole competitive market
system. Whatever we do, we are merely partaking in a meaningless game,
spurred by unthinking forces of instinct. Like energetic hamsters we are running around on the game board of life. While
swimming with the tide, life’s forces shuffle us around. It’s an apt picture of professional and matrimonial life. In our careers and endeavours we are unthinkingly devoted to playing life’s game.
Although it captivates and engages us to a remarkable degree, the perpetual game-playing must be regarded an essentially purposeless activity. It gives birth to the idea that we should step out of the hamster wheel and stand apart from the onrush of life. Of course, this is nothing new. The achievement of worldly transcendence is central to the spiritual traditions of the world.
Arthur Schopenhauer argues that humanity is
driven by a dissatisfied Will, continually seeking satisfaction. Human
desire and all human action are futile, illogical, and directionless. To
Schopenhauer, the Will is a malignant power that arises from insentient nature and imprisons us in the hamster cage of life. His answer is
that we must escape the Will by standing apart from life. It is achieved
by way of methods of transcendence, such as asceticism and chastity. But
since Schopenhauer lacked a positive notion of individuation 
as a complement to the negative compulsion of the Will, it took the reverse expression in an hedonistic lifestyle among
his followers. Since life is essentially without purpose, we could just as well enjoy ourselves while remaining on this earth.
Carl Jung, being averse to asceticism and chastity, took Schopenhauer’s
insensate Will and turned it into the positive force of individuation.
From a standpoint of worldly abstinence, it is as if Jung endorses the “hamster wheel of life”. Yet, since his consciousness
is modelled on the ambivalent Self
, he is also capable of seeing life’s
failure as the inception of individuation in the way it promotes
self-knowledge. He expands life’s game by inventing the individuative
journey as the successive integration of archetypes 
by the method
of active imagination. 
Concepts of individuation and the
realization of the Self, 
as they go inwards and outwards at the same
time, are contradictory and unclear, and many can’t seem to make
heads or tails of them.
Thus, Jung has revamped the spiritual path as the journey of individuation. On the one hand, there is a focus on psychic integration; on the other, it remains essential to partake in earthly existence to the full, as the goal of integration is the acquirement of the complete humanity of the Self. The traditional notion of worldly transcendence is reinterpreted as a temporary period of introversion, involving a confrontation with the archetypal domain. However, in the following I shall argue that it risks becoming yet another game-playing activity.
The towering ideal of Self
is defined as a teleological goal. The telos
of the Self implies that the ego is pulled towards
the Self whose gravity is always increasing during individuation.
The Self is viewed as a paradoxical and multifarious wholeness, harbouring many conflicting
Arguably, since individuation as a concept elevates the multifarious wholeness of Self as an ideal for the ego, self-absorption could be the consequence.
Rather than depending on the telos of the Self, I suggest that individuation depends
on spiritual ambition, which is essentially different than secular fulfillment. Notions of worldly transcendence, deriving from time-honoured religious tradition, are as valid as ever before. For this reason, it is necessary to disentangle the non-secular path from the notion of individuation and introduce a notion of spiritual individuation.
The Self is a towering ideal, representing the integration of conscious and unconscious, mundane and
extramundane. Arguably, the notion of Self is overbearing, as it represents the ideal to
social existence and the unconscious psyche in yet more intense and
also broader relationships (cf. Jung, 1977, para. 758). In theory, demands are put on the individual that require an inordinate power of personality. However, we cannot possibly be well-adapted individuals in society,
having recourse to a full-fledged family and social life as well as a
thoroughgoing relation to the spirit —
not at the same time, at
ideal of Self is associated with “completeness” and he argues strongly for it,
repudiating the ideal of “perfection” (cf. Jung, 1979, pp. 68-70). It amounts to
“lifting up one’s cross”, carrying it along in life.
He says that “[only] the
‘complete’ person knows how unbearable man is to himself” (Jung, 1977b, pars. 1095f). The conclusion is that huge and contradictory demands are put on the individuant.
The majority of people are occupied with the problem of how to amuse themselves this
very day, or how to promote their own social or economical
status. Yet some people have another drive. Marie-Louise von Franz
(1915-1998) holds that the
spiritual drive is even stronger than the sexual. Such a devotional drive, corroborated by the tremendous prominence of esoteric and ascetic tradition, would seem to make the telos
of the Self redundant. Why some
people have more of it than others is another question. It’s evident that suffering plays a prominent role. Has anyone, who hasn’t been sick or deprived in some sense, ever succeeded on the godly path?
It’s evident that the earthly allure has a harmful influence on spiritual development, which explains the enormous focus on poverty and suffering in religious tradition. We have a tendency to become overly absorbed in secular matters, with the consequence that the faint and godly energies vanish from sight. The sense of mystery is easily lost.
Individuation is something quite different than self-fulfillment and
self-realization, which is the subject of many a book. Whereas earthbound
success is like being transported on the diverse currents of life,
especially as formulated by societal life, spiritual individuation depends on
another kind of drivenness. I think of individuation as a pious devotedness
that has its source in the unconscious, which means that it is
independent of religious doctrine.
Yet, Jung’s version of individuation is to play the game to the full,
both in its inner and outer sense. He inscribed the following verse
in Greek on a stone, and it’s also how he ends his autobiography:
Time is a child — playing like a child — playing a board game — the
kingdom of the child. This is Telesphoros, who roams through the dark
regions of this cosmos and glows like a star out of the depths. He
points the way to the gates of the sun and to the land of dreams.
Thus, the Self is portrayed as a gamester who points the direction to
daylight existence and the moonlit realm, simultaneously. Telesphoros means ‘fulfillment-bearer’.
The anima/animus, 
as archetypal personification of the unconscious, plays an important part in psychic life. Yet, it is also the fabricator of illusions —
the veil of Maya —
which might explain why Jung always looked upon the
anima with suspicion. He had in a sense fallen for her deception.
She creates the illusions which keep us bound to the games of life. For example, the game of
chess is subjected to an anima projection, which serves
to enslave the chess player to the game (to his own contentment). The
anima is projected on the psychological theoretical edifice, too, providing us
with an eminent hamster cage. We are being deluded; but this is how life
is. It is not really evil, but it’s a functional and probably necessary
The giant and the two skyscrapers
Individuation, understood as emancipative achievement, or worldly transcendence in religious language, is brutal and nothing must stand in its way. This seems to be the
message of the unconscious. The following dream of a middle-aged man is thematic.
A giant, several hundred meters high, is attacking
a skyscraper, but he lets the other skyscraper be. Debris was falling all
around me, and people fell to the ground and died. I took a long
roundabout route, outside the view of the giant. During the journey I
fell blind during a time, but finally managed to enter the safe
skyscraper. From the bottom floor window in the safe skyscraper I could see that
the giant wore washed-out blue jeans.
The “spiritual” skyscraper was
undergoing construction, and it was determined to overcome the doomed
skyscraper. The skyscraper being demolished represents earthbound and ambivalent
life whereas the other one represents inner life. Meaningless
mundane obsessions and preconceptions fall to the ground and die. The
giant presumably represents the towering force of individuation, which cannot be stopped.
The first skyscraper is like an illusory and grand
“hamster cage”, in which the ego scurries around on the many floors and
joyfully tries out the different hamster wheels. The gist of my argument
is that individuation, from the beginning, seems to continue
independently alongside the construction of an illusory anima life
in the form of a second skyscraper undergoing construction. The upshot is
that transcendental individuation is to be taken very seriously, because it has its roots in powerful insensate nature. It is so central that nothing else
counts. It is a giant that crushes to
smithereens the painstakingly constructed skyscraper of consciousness.
According to the view here proposed, individuation runs invisibly in the background, as it were, in
parallel with Schopenhauer’s formative Will. But when the adaptational
function of the latter has served its purpose it becomes only an
impediment, and the structure must be dismantled. Thus, the spiritual pilgrim
must stand apart from illusory life, in the way of Schopenhauer. The
difference is that the individuant now has recourse to the completed second skyscraper, which represents individuation proper. Personality needn’t be ambivalent anymore.
Thus, there seems to be two complementarian aspects of Self and two
parallel paths of individuation, one illusory and one true, the first of
which must be terminated. On the other hand, the problem with the Jungian edifice is that
it’s conglomerative, something which leads to deleterious consequences.
For Jung, there is only one
skyscraper and there is only one
Taking part in purposeless life while performing inner work
a conjugate, since it gives expression to completeness and the
conglomerative Self. However, there are really two skyscrapers, the
first of which must be razed to the ground because it has turned evil,
although it wasn’t from the beginning.
The complementarian Self
Joseph L. Henderson takes the view that individuation is predicated on the shamanic journey. He adds to the picture the “Ultimate God Image” as a complement to Jung’s view of Self, namely the “Primal God Image”, portrayed as an “ambivalent monster” (cf. Henderson, 2005, p. 226). The shamanic journey takes place as a circular movement between these two poles:
Here, the transcendental movement means to transcend the earthbound in its guise as the “Primal God Image”. However, it does not signify a polarization of secular and non-secular in the metaphysical sense. In the above dream, the giant is destroying the very same “ambivalent monster” as carrier of our conceptual objects of worship. It is a terrestrial God Image, a pagan image of idolatry. Striving after transcendence serves the purpose of emancipation; to free personality from the idolatrous aspects of consciousness.
When the conscious ego-structure has played out its role it goes the way of all flesh. Personality is relieved of everything that it believes in, which has kept personality and its creativity captive. What remains is the heavenly blue yet chthonic spirit, the indwelling spirit, which the alchemists called Mercurius. It is a pseudonym for the Holy Spirit, or the Christchild. It’s no longer a hypostatized object of worship, but a spirit of creativity rooted in insensate nature, which allows personality to relate to existence in a profound sense. When we think that we are being worldly-minded and relational, we in fact miss the essence of reality. Sometimes it seems we are only rushing by in a hurry. As extraverts use to say at a ripe age: “Oops! Was that Life that just sped past me?”
In Henderson’s diagram, I think that the downward movement means a return to the Primal God Image in its guise as the Earth Mother, which here takes the meaning of bodily death. The upward movement of detachment would signify ‘the assimilation of the alchemical Mercurius as the spirit of individuation’, leading to a creativity that is unpretentious and rooted in the insensate mind.
The Mercurius, as the heretic god of medieval alchemy, seems to represent the force of love as
present in the lives of people, whereas the Christ represents the hypostatization of love as
transcendental object of worship. The Mercurius is merely another name
for the Christchild. I hold that it symbolizes the primus motor
of individuation as
the force that invokes and sustains the path of individuation in the
lives of people, and which always attempts to break the gridlock.
Such a development necessitates that the world of the “ambivalent monster” is thoroughly abandoned. Nevertheless, the Primal God Image remains a necessary phase of individuation. We cannot start out without a platform of concepts and beliefs, serving the constructive purpose of strengthening our consciousness. Although psychology provides us with a good conceptual platform, later in life it may inhibit the powers of emancipation.
Thus, in the ongoing race of construction, the first skyscraper takes the lead, as a necessary factor of personality growth, but the second skyscraper is destined to overcome it. As the latter reaches a certain elevation, it is time for the giant to step in and demolish the earthly
skyscraper. It is earthly in the sense that it keeps us bound to the Primal God Image, that is, the Jungian earthbound ideal of Self and concomitant idolatrous concepts of consciousness. Instead of giving them metaphysical status, almost as objects of worship, we must instead realize that it’s “grey theory”. As such, it is of the good, until the time arrives to loosen the mooring.
The Primal Self Image is an ‘ambivalent monster’. Should the individuant remain stuck in its claws, he may not emancipate personality and truly participate in life. As a consequence, life rushes by without him taking root in existence. It is paradoxical in the sense that “grey theory” isn’t really invalid. It just isn’t useful anymore, but has become an enemy of individuation.
Thus, Henderson’s diagram seems to point at a radical transformation of personality, since it portrays our psychology as harbouring two competing selves, the primary of which must be abandoned. I discuss this notion in my article ‘The Complementarian Self’ (Winther, 2011, here
Although the second skyscraper has long undergone construction, supported by an ambivalent consciousness, it is now time to remove its competitor, because egoic consciousness impedes its completion, a circumstance that leads to stagnation.
The theme of coercion in terms of life’s obligations and necessities
versus the liberation of the life spirit was central to Poul Bjerre (1876–1964).
Bjerre’s notion of death and stagnation
, to be overcome by an effort of renewal, remains central in human psychology, although its misinterpretation in Freudian theory as the “death drive” has rendered it a resting-place on the churchyard of psychoanalysis.
He belonged to the first psychoanalysts; but in 1913 he chose to break away from
the Freudians. Regrettably, few of his books have been
translated to English. His philosophical book “Death and renewal” (his intellectual
legacy) is much different from his
pragmatic explications of clinical psychology, which revolve around the
same theme, namely how the coercive forces of life give rise to
mechanization and psychological death. The life-draining force of stagnation
must repeatedly be overcome by a psychic renewal. Should one get stuck,
it may give rise to obsessive-compulsive afflictions or neurosis.
Freud took Bjerre’s notion of the death-renewal cycle and reinterpreted
it in terms of the death drive
versus the eros
drive. Probably he
thought that he had thereby foiled Bjerre’s competing
school of psychosynthesis
, but he had also made nonsense of the notions
and made them indefensible in biological terms.
It seems to me that Bjerre’s views could inform modern psychology, especially since his
successful therapeutic approach is bolstered by modern developments in
therapy. In Bjerre the individuative demand is toned down. Instead, it is regarded an
autonomous function of the psyche, searching to acquire harmony and
wholeness, building on experiential contents and future
possibilities. It is our natural biology, which serves to further the
chances of good health and survival. Thus, the dream function attempts
to overcome stagnation and to further growth to new possibilities of
life. It always revolves around the dichotomy of stagnation and renewal. Yet people tend to get stuck in
the transitional phases, which could result in neurosis.
Thus, his view of psychological growth is different than the Jungian
view. The latter is teleological in that individuation strives to realize the
goal of an ideal Self, formally indistinguishable from the God image.
The Christ as a symbol of the Self is in itself a dichotomy,
incorporating the little suffering man and his opposite in the form of
the all-powerful Christ Pantocrator. Nevertheless, the Christ isn’t
complete enough, according to Jung. The Self is an ambitious goal of
personality, which implies both secular fulfillment and deiform
elevation. One might question why evolution should have endowed us with
such a individuative drive. Biologically, it is hard to explain. But
Jung has absorbed Gnostic and Neoplatonic religious ideals and reformulated them in earthbound terms.
In his book Drömmarnas naturliga system
(Natural system of dreams)
Bjerre, among other things, gives a few examples of the monogamous-polygamous conflict. He exemplifies with dreams of patients
where the monogamous and matrimonial solution is sought by the
dream function. This, of course, gives the lie to the Freudian instinctual
and polyamorous wishes. The question is why the unconscious mind should side
with monogamy. The answer is that it searches to achieve
harmony and to avoid inner conflict. After all, there is nothing as
disruptive and splitting as polyamorous adventures, when one’s feelings
become divided. The social consequences are damaging, especially in
Bjerre’s own time. Bjerre has termed this natural tendency
‘assimilation’. It searches to assimilate the different aspects of the
individual, including the forgotten events that carry exuberance of life, in order to create a harmonious whole, so that the individual may have
recourse to his/her full vigour and feeling for life. Thus, growth of
personality and individuation occurs as a corollary of the natural
tendency of stagnation (such as a stagnated marriage) and the natural
tendency to overcome stagnation, achieving a renewal of life. Arguably,
individuation can do without the teleological goal of attaining the Self
in all its humanity and divinity, on lines of the mystical ideal.
In terms of Bjerre, the forces of stagnation depend on a mechanization of
life typically brought about by a fixation on tenets of consciousness.
Arguably, the way in which Jungian psychology depends on a rather
overbearing metaphysical edifice, it might have psychological stagnation as
a consequence. If individuation is regarded as the
of the magnificent Self rather than depending on pragmatic
emancipation of life’s energies, in whatever form, then it represents a
hypostatization of spiritual emancipation, as in the world religions. If the tenet of
individuation is worshipped rather than lived, then psychology has acquired religious overtones.
Bjerre exemplifies with a young Christian man whose highest ideal was to
evangelize among “the Negroes”; but he was waiting for a calling from
God. He had been brought to a neurotic standstill, working with office
duties that were below his intellectual level (cf. Bjerre, 1933). Bjerre sent him on his way, despite the fact that he despised
the notion of Christian evangelization. He reasoned that this man might
in the future come to his senses, but only provided that the deadlock is
broken. One must “strive after an emancipative development”, no matter
what form it takes. It is a highly pragmatical attitude, similar to how
a sapling must for a time grow in the “wrong” direction in order to
reach the light. On account of his pragmatism, analysis didn’t continue
over many sessions, but was continued in correspondence. To get the
juices flowing is central. But how would a modern analyst have treated
this patient? Arguably, he would have been subjected, directly or
indirectly, to the many metaphysical tenets of psychology, in an
attempt to “win him over”. Let life have its way, instead.
Thus, individuation isn’t entirely predetermined according to psychological law. By
example, if painting geometrical abstract art is the way that the
dream function suggests, then it’s the right way, because it releases
libido, stimulating a movement out of stagnation. It doesn’t matter
that it gives the lie to the Jungian symbolic process. Although the unconscious psyche
has an innate structure, individuation cannot be pinned down.
Anything goes, as long as we make headway. The giant in the skyscraper dream held a
huge broken off portion of the building and shook the many conscious
preconceptions out of it, with the consequence that they fell to the ground and died.
Examples of such are preconceptions along lines of psychological
and the technique of making headway on the path of
Negation and destruction
To be undivided means to have recourse to our full resources. It promotes health, both psychological and bodily. The psyche strives autonomously to heal us in this sense. But it’s not that simple. After having attained a stage of stability and relative wholeness, we will soon find the forces of routinization and stagnation taking over. So it goes with everything; religions, marriages, social networks, and especially the individuated person.
According to Bjerre, this is the birthplace of neurosis, which gives rise to dividedness. The psyche wants to overcome stagnation, and it starts to break up the lifeless wholeness. Thus, the psyche works both ways: there is a dynamic interplay of the forces of death and renewal. Wholeness eventually leads to death, which must be overcome.
When people become stuck in the transitional phase, it has neurotic consequences.
People often dream of having a complete row of teeth; but then they start to drop out. This is a typical “negation dream”. It means that the wholeness achieved is negated and that which has become rooted in the flesh must be removed. New teeth will grow out instead. In the aforementioned dream, the first skyscraper is like a row of teeth that must drop out. It’s a wholeness become stagnant that must be destroyed. The reason why it takes this monumental archetypal expression is because stoical and long-suffering consciousness needs to be convinced, in a brutish way, that the present situation can’t be right. It is a very common problem, having to do with the centrality of ‘faith’ and ‘faithfulness’ in our culture.
For Jung, there is only an archetypal impetus toward wholeness. He turns a blind eye to the motif of destruction, which could be denoted the Hegelian fallacy. In fact, the destructive force is part and parcel of individuation. Any wholeness, regardless of its richness, is a cocoon that must sooner or later crack open and give birth to something new. Stagnation, and possibly neurosis, occurs when we remain stuck in the cocoon. It gathers mould instead of breaking up.
His notion of Self as unitarian means that it envelopes both ego and non-ego. The ambivalent ego is modelled after this criterion.
Thus, the Jungian notion of Self it violated when ambivalent wholeness is being negated. But this is the way of mystical tradition; the ideal of “self-abandonment to divine providence”. At some stage, self-abandonment becomes necessary, at least to a moderate degree, otherwise it leads to death and stagnation. The notion of ego abandonment, in Eastern philosophical terms, is misinterpreted by Jung. From a psychological point of view, transcendence mustn’t be understood as a metaphysical and religious concept. Rather, it means transcending the ego in its present constitution. In his critique of yoga and Eastern spiritual discipline, Jung interprets ego transcendence as the catastrophic abandonment of the conscious function. Against this critique, Leon Schlamm says:
During transpersonal states of consciousness the ego is not abandoned, nor completely transcended; rather, the spiritual practitioner realizes that the ego lacks concrete existence. It is not the ego that disappears; rather the belief in the ego’s solidity, the identification with the ego’s representations, is abandoned in the realization of egolessness during states of ordinary waking consciousness. (Schlamm, 2010)
Jung’s ardent defence of the egoic structure is misguided, because its consciousness is not the same as its structure. As he formulates it himself, the ego is merely the centre of consciousness. The ego cannot enhance its light endlessly, incorporating yet more realizations of the unconscious. There’s a limitation to the elevation of the first skyscraper, because stagnation ensues and there’s ‘negation’ piling up in the unconscious. (However, according to Bjerre, when religious tradition elevates ‘negation’ to doctrinal status, the devotees tend to get stuck in that phase instead.)
The theory of unconscious compensation
Dreams on the theme of negation are difficult to understand from the Jungian perspective of compensation. “What does this dream compensate?” Thus, it is taken for granted that there’s something wrong with the conscious standpoint; but it isn’t necessarily so. In fact, we must sometimes search to overcome a wholeness that is become complacent and listless. The only thing that counts is that life is flowing. People who are overly fond of alcohol and merry festivity tend to dream that they meet an alcoholic bum on the street. Understood in terms of compensation, i.e., as a way of contrasting consciousness, it would mean that the dreamers’s qualms about his alcohol consumption is exaggerated, as there are people worse off. Or if it’s understood in archetypal terms as the shadow, then it would signify his innate nature, which he can only keep on a tight rein but not get rid of.
In terms of Bjerre, such dreams are really ‘objectifications’, which serve to put the alcoholic and festive aspect of personality on the outside, as non-ego. It is not ‘me’ but another person. It has an immediate benevolent effect, because the dreamer begins to loosen his attachment to this particular aspect of personality. Should he dream that the alcoholic bum goes to Japan, then it’s termed ‘distancing’. Should he die, then it’s negation proper, i.e. like losing a tooth (cf. Bjerre, 1933, pp. 178ff).
The fact that therapists have to struggle with the notion of compensation as only tool is unsatisfactory. The Jungian theory of dream interpretation is rather simplistic. What’s worse, the therapist might apply the method of ‘amplification’ and associate the drunken bum with mythological themes, such as Bacchus the wine god, or whatever. It leads away from the concrete dream material in the same manner as Freudian free associations. The method is worthwhile provided that the archetypal theme can be connected to personal material. Yet, dreams seldom focus on the archetypal aspect. They generally refer to personal life and not to the life of our species.
Dreams often serve to strengthen the conscious standpoint. It gives the lie to the notion of compensation as the master key of dreams. It has to do with the fact that consciousness is conflicted. Although personality has already made up its mind in a sense, for various reasons it remains stuck. For instance, it could be due to insecurity or inertia. It could be the question of a bad personal relation that needs to be terminated. In such cases dreams can tell the person what he or she already knows, in the so called outline dreams (‘gestaltning’). The way in which dreams outline the situation and certifies that the conscious view is right, is a valuable function. It makes the ego strengthen its resolve, enabling it to see things more clearly. Consciousness is often only ‘almost’ certain, but the fog will soon be lifting as rational understanding is supported by feeling. Personality is freed of the remaining illusions.
The ego needs support from the unconscious, and not only opposition and correction in the form of compensations. Often the dream function supports the wholeness achieved by an endowment of feeling, perhaps with a religious overtone. The conclusion is that the dream function is generally synthetic and not generally compensative, since it strives to alleviate the conflicts of personality and to enliven consciousness. When lust for life peters out, and the present situation is insupportable, the Self will attempt to break up the stagnant wholeness in order to invoke a new development, which has long been in the making as a parallel building project.
The stagnant ego castle
The theory around individuation and the dream function is rather abstruse and the theoretical blueprint is inadequate. The Self isn’t working single-mindedly towards wholeness. Wholeness must be destroyed, if it is become like an oxygen-depleted pool, void of life. Should the ego lead life in a beautiful castle yet with boredom approaching, then it’s time to leave the castle for a hut in the wood, among the wild animals, if this is what it takes to keep libido flowing. This is the way of Prince Siddhartha Gautama and many other an ego-transcending ascetical sage.
Jung, however, takes offense at the idea. I suppose, his own ego castle remained animate and alive not the least thanks to his many followers and the circus that surrounded him. One cannot expect the great sage to abandon his own edifice. He only continued building on it, never questioning any part of it. Some of his premises are wrong, however. That’s probably why his dreams emphasized the transcendental element. When he is levitating in space above India (in whose philosophy he rejects the element of self-abandonment) he meets a meditating Hindu sitting silently in lotus posture. He was about to enter his temple when he was called back to life (Jung, 1989, pp. 289-94). In the dream about kneeling before the highest presence (ibid. pp. 217-20), he enters a circular room with two
persons of eminence, the worldly-minded Akbar and the heavenly-minded general Uriah (who had been murdered by — guess who?), to whom he bows down in deference. Arguably, Jung’s ego is comparable to the ambivalent King David, who conspired to kill general Uriah (2 Samuel 11:15).
The spirit is, prima facie
, the greatest
passion of humanity, arguably stronger than sexuality.
From a traditional point of
view, individuation is the purpose of life, and it is not merely
“a prescribed path”. In the early 1980s, M-L von Franz
withdrew from teaching
at the Zurich Institute on the grounds that not enough attention was
being paid to individuation as an unconscious process (cf. Kirsch, 2000, p. 26).
Should individuation come to a halt, then personality is spiritually dead.
It seems that we can detect that people are dead in the way they are
lacking in “love” as a
foundational passion for existence. Lacking a sense of
mystery, they have no longing for the mercurial spirit that is flowing
like a silvery stream behind the veil of existence. Neville Symington (1993) says that, with such people, the “life-giver” in the unconscious is become extinguished. It is an overly simplistic notion, but it seems
to accord with Poul Bjerre’s idea of “Death and Renewal” as the central
theme of individuation. They are stuck and cannot invoke
renewal, and thus they are virtually dead. He exemplifies with people who remain virtually dead
throughout life, and seem to have invoked it as a solution.
Individuation as a parallel spiritual path
There is indeed a process of individuation, although not necessarily as Jung
envisaged it. I think of the notion as a process taking place in the
background, as in the building project of the ‘second skyscraper’. It is
a spiritual project running autonomously or semi-autonomously,
to which consciousness adds its support by way of interim measures of
assistance. To accomplish this, it is necessary to dampen the conscious light. The ambivalent
ego is capable of this. It is also how the
alchemists described the process of circular distillation
however, understands the alchemical process in the usual terms of conscious-unconscious
integration, which is questionable.
If the construction of the first skyscraper depends on ‘integration’ so
the second skyscraper must depend on another process. Obviously, the
latter, during which time it is constructed, is not being
assimilated as a psychic content. It must refer to some other
process. As a suitable modern psychological term, I have suggested
‘complementation’. It is
the semi-autonomous process, mentioned above, during which time
something is brewing and taking shape in the unconscious. I hypothesize
that it underlies true individuation as opposed to chimerical and
ambivalent anima life. It coincides in some measure with
esoteric teachings of olden times. Still, we must have recourse to
psychological understanding, to which religious notions are inadequate.
For the psychological process to function harmoniously when
primary wholeness (Henderson’s ‘Primary God Image’) is abandoned, there must already be an alternative wholeness that
may serve as ideal at the point when the stagnant state is broken,
otherwise a change cannot go smoothly. However, psychology’s focus on integration means that the negation
of assimilated content is out of
the question. Jung never discarded anything. Instead, any inconsistent notion is
complemented with its opposite, having the effect that both
opposites are absorbed by consciousness. Although he had a beef with
Christianity, he never abandoned the Christian standpoint. He only
complemented it with its opposite in the form of pagan Neoplatonism — problem solved!
The notion that individuation can mean destruction, in the sense of
breaking out of an old shell, conflicts with the view of the psyche
as a teleological system that is seeking integration. Since the telos
the Self is wholeness, it cannot possibly work toward the destruction of
wholeness. Nevertheless, his youthful vision of God destroying the Basel
Cathedral had a profound effect on him (Jung, 1989, pp. 36-39). To understand
the Basel Cathedral as the burden imposed on us by our Christian
heritage isn’t exactly wrong; but it really
signifies the destructive capacity of the Self to obliterate the
“stagnant wholeness”. Thus, it serves as a symbol of the ‘first skyscraper’.
The vision really points to the future into which he projects a
renewal of the Self, wholly in line with the ideal of ego
This is a youthful dream of the man with the previous discussed skyscraper dream.
overlooking town from a ridge and observed the nearby ongoing
construction of two skyscrapers, which both had begun at ground level
below the ridge, perhaps a hundred meters below. But suddenly the leading
construction collapsed. I looked down and saw many dead people. My
friend, standing beside me, hadn’t seen anything of this. It would mean
that I had experienced a vision of the future. It is relevant that both
constructions begin far below the conscious level.
According to this model, individuation continues more or less
autonomously in parallel with ordinary life, ready to take full charge
of life when time is ripe. It is the notion of a
spiritual path that moves ahead, independently of societal success, while the individual is leading an earthly
existence. It would
mean that the process is self-sufficient, since it is unconnected with the
integrative work. The latter only fulfills a function up to a degree,
sufficient for adaptation to life and the assimilation of one’s own
psychological shortcomings. But at a point in time, the continued
assimilation of content and the expansion into secular and social life will
bring no benefits. It will only bring about stagnation, which to Bjerre is the root cause of neurosis. Thus, we
must question psychology’s overarching ideal of an unending progression of
psychic integration. At some point, we must abandon
integration and wholly focus on complementation, which requires a toning
down of consciousness.
Death and rebirth
Jung discusses rebirth symbolism in his paper ‘Concerning Rebirth’ (Jung, 1980b). He adopts the view that ‘natural transformation’ (individuation) accords with a psychological view of rebirth whereas other forms, such as ‘magical procedures’ are historical and sometimes imitative variants. He claims that “all ideas of rebirth” are founded on the natural transformation of personality (cf. p. 130). Thus, he manages to shoehorn all rebirth symbolism into the integrative paradigm. Jung interprets the death experience as the withdrawal from social life by resort to the introverted standpoint, and exemplifies with an old man taking his abode in a cave as a refuge from the noise of the villages, where he is to be incubated and renewed. Inside the cave an encounter with the archetypal universe occurs, which will lead to the assimilation of archetypal content.
Thus, death and rebirth are invariably regarded as transformation symbols. Transformation does not denote a particular moment of transfiguration — it’s a process that serves to approximate the Self by means of integration. But it’s a goal that can never be fully attained, although the transformation process strives to approximate ego and Self to one another. The Self, which functions as an “invisible guru” or “personal guide”, may be “just as one-sided in one way as the ego is in another. And yet the confrontation of the two may give rise to truth and meaning” (p. 131). It is this newly acquired truth and meaning that constitutes rebirth. He interprets alchemical texts to the effect that it is “not a personal transformation, but the transformation of what is mortal in me into what is immortal” (p. 134).
The rebirth experience leads to a relative change of personality; but it’s not the question of transfiguration. In fact, “[the] repristination of the original state is tantamount to attaining once more the freshness of youth” (p. 136). So it is predominantly an invigorating
experience. Thus, it seems that Jung’s notion of rebirth is not, after all, that much different from the religious rituals of rebirth, which served to revitalize the initiand through the invocation of archetypal truths.
The Self symbolically undergoes a complete transfiguration, as in the metamorphosis of the fish into the Khidr (an incarnation of Allah in human form). Yet, the ego must refrain from identifying with the process. Allegedly, it is an archetypal symbol of transformation that is not applicable in real life. Were personality to undergo a corresponding transfiguration it is tantamount to an “identification of ego-consciousness with the self [that] produces an inflation which threatens consciousness with dissolution” (p. 145).
Paradoxically, then, the Self is not viewed as an ideal and a role model for the ego, but as an Other, a “personal guide” with whom one relates in an attempt to restore harmony. In this interpretation, the Self is, after all, not a self-ideal, but is more like a personality who is to be confronted in order to achieve a more balanced standpoint on part of the ego. This is paradoxical, because the Self in Jungian psychology represents also the ideal of completeness and wholeness.
The paradox shows that something isn’t right. If the Self portrays itself as undergoing a thorough transfiguration, it ought to symbolize the future prospects of personality, although it is indeed possible to downgrade it to a therapeutic ritual enactment. Nonetheless, the deity really urges us to follow his calling and not only to ritualize his message. Jesus said, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days” (John 2:19). He is to undergo a complete destruction whereupon he will arise from the dead. He also said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Matt. 16:24). Thus, the disciple is expected to undergo a complete transfiguration, too. Jesus was transfigured and not merely “therapeutically invigorated”.
Normally, the tone of voice is sufficient to identify a person, but Jesus’s disciples didn’t recognize him although they kept company on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24). The meaning of this symbol is evident: he had undergone a complete transfiguration. It was not the question of creating a clone.
Symbolization and amplification
The conclusion is that death and rebirth takes a purely symbolic and archetypal meaning, having essentially the same therapeutic aim as religious ritual. The main difference is that the process is now better understood by recourse to modern psychological terms. However, this may damage the healing effect, since consciousness has a way of devitalizing the symbol. The archetype cannot tolerate the stark light of consciousness, but tends to dwindle to a mundane dimension.
The concept of death and renewal is subjected to ‘symbolization’ in Jung. It never occurs to him that it could mean the actual dethronement, partly or wholly, of the extant personality, including its beliefs and fixations. He rejects the notion of transfiguration proper, since the ego shall not be cast off as an old shell, but must continue the work of integration. Symbolization and mythologization may have the effect that a factual and realistic interpretation is foiled.
is a way of interpreting mythological images in terms of other mythological images. Amplification, correctly used, allows us to better understand the language of dreams. Our unconscious employs ideation and emotion in a mythological way, and thus we may be informed by historical mythology. If the diverse themes of a dream are archetypal, that is, if they conform with characteristic mythological motifs, then amplification is worthwhile. But the archetypes are merely the stage actors of dreams, whereas the overall meaning of the dream typically boils down to personal difficulties and how to make progress in life. The archetypal themes are employed by the dream function to conduct a stage play that will, in the end, boil down to small-scale personal realizations.
This is also true about the impersonal form of archetypal realization. When the gods land in reality they become mundane beings, as exemplified by the pine tree, the narcissus flower, and the poor carpenter’s son. In fact, the dream function will often make use of everyday language and compose a play with words, which is not at all archetypal but more in the way of rebuses. We must first and foremost search to associate the dream content with personal life and old memories rather than with mythological motifs, which risk leading us astray.
M-L von Franz
criticizes the unrestrained use of amplification, in the manner of Julius Schwabe and sometimes also Mircea Eliade. “If you start with the world tree, you can easily prove that every mythological motif leads to the world tree in the end” (von Franz, 1996, pp. 9-15). Thus, it is essential that interpretation is rooted in personal emotion and feeling, otherwise understanding will fly off on a tangent. Symbols mustn’t be treated impersonally, as if they were an end in themselves.
This makes me think that also the symbol of ‘death and renewal’ must mean something personal. It’s not merely a symbolic spectacle arranged by the Self wherein only the Self shall undergo transfiguration, in order to promote secondary therapeutic effects in the ego. In fact, a numinous archetype will become manifest in small-scale form in personal life and invoke a radical change of personality. The intellectual person may “transmutate” into an artistic and feeling-oriented individual, in close proximity to insentient nature — the realm of the spirit. Although personality undergoes transfiguration it does not mean that it is being dissolved in unconsciousness. In fact, there is already an auxiliary ego, a higher personality, in the making. It is like changing ships on the high sea, or moving from one skyscraper to the next.
Yet, Jung downplays the theme of death and resurrection as mere therapeutic self-analysis. For him, it is necessary that the egoic structure remains intact. He says that
[psychologically] this means that the transformation has to be described or
felt as happening to the ‘other’ […] This can hardly be accidental, for the great psychic danger which is always connected with individuation, or the development of the self, lies in the identification of ego-consciousness with the self. (CW 9:1, p. 145)
However, a notion of Self undergoing development isn’t easy to reconcile with the notion of the Self as telos.
Jungian theory has no notion of a collateral and autonomous individuation process, pertaining to an auxiliary Self image (Henderson’s Ultimate God Image) — there is only a singular individuation process that depends on a continual assimilation of personality. Thus, destruction and negation can’t be regarded natural aspects of individuation. I conjecture that this is wrong. Interestingly, Sabina Spielrein, a patient and collaborator of Jung’s, wrote an article named ‘Destruction as the Cause of Coming Into Being’ where she argues that “no change can take place without the destruction of the former condition” (JAP 39 (2), 1994). However, she reasons in obsolete Freudian terms of a destructive drive and a drive for coming into being.
The resurrection body
(1980), M-L von Franz
investigates the central theme of alchemy, namely the fabrication of the ‘resurrection body’ (glorified body) by means of the alchemical procedure of circular distillation
. She connects it with the resurrection of the Osiris in Egyptian religion. Osiris is imprisoned in the coffin, similar to how the Mercurius is imprisoned in the alchemical Vas Hermeticum. The alchemists believed that they were able to accelerate the processes of nature with the aim of creating a new vehicle for the soul — the glorified resurrection body of Christian theology. According to Christian belief, it is the bodily form that we shall assume at the end of the world. It also denotes the body of Christ after his resurrection.
The alchemists believed that they needn’t wait for the end of the world, but that they could cultivate the resurrection “body” by alchemical means, which will grant the artifex eternal longevity. In this faith, they effectively aimed to reproduce the procedures of the ancient Egyptian priests, whose duty it was to provide the Pharaoh with a resurrection body, that is, to transmutate him into Osiris — the immortal one. Whereas it is unlikely that European alchemists had much knowledge about Egyptian religious chemistry, European alchemy has its roots in Egyptian alchemy and the traditions of Hermes Trismegistus — a holy teacher identified with the Egyptian god Thoth, who knew the magic of resurrection.
The physical mummy is equated with the Osiris, and it must be preserved as the carrier of the soul. A person who had gone through the rituals of resurrection “would be able, as the papyri texts say, to appear in any shape any day. That meant the dead could leave the coffin chamber; they could leave the tomb of the pyramid and walk about in the daylight and could change shape. They could appear as a crocodile and lie about in the sun by the Nile, or they could fly about as an ibis” (von Franz, 1980, p. 236).
According to this belief, the old body shall be cast off as an old shell and the soul shall continue to live in a new body. Since the egoic framework in psychology cannot be discarded but only complemented with yet more psychic content, it’s not worthwhile to interpret this symbol in traditional psychological terms. Of course, von Franz realizes this, and that’s why she gravitates toward a religious interpretation, on lines of the ancient Egyptians, i.e. that it signifies the “incorruptible essence in man which would survive death”. The Self contains the “divine nucleus in man which is immortal”. She says that “[it] is an experience of something immortal lasting beyond physical death. You know that in parapsychological reports this is also sometimes mentioned as a typical quality of the soul of a dying person” (ibid.).
Von Franz’s parapsychological interpretation is, of course, accompanied by a traditional symbolical understanding; but it is evident that theory is ill-equipped to interpret the central alchemical mystery, since there is no way that it allows for the destruction of the old form of earthly personality. In fact, the symbol of the resurrection body means that our personality is to be totally renovated. Self No. 1 is abandoned for Self No. 2, capable of living in unison with earthly reality. No. 2, has acquired earthly transcendence and is truly experiencing life‘s presence. He may take to flight with the ibises, or lie about with the crocodiles, because the Kingdom is present in every direction. Personality No. 2 will slowly take shape under the auspices of personality No. 1, who has decided to contribute to its growth in the unconscious vessel. The resurrection body has many names: filius philosophorum, filius regis, infans solaris, Adam Kadmon, among others. Jung says about him:
And yet that light or ‘filius philosophorum’ was openly named the greatest and most victorious of all lights, and set alongside Christ as the Saviour and Preserver of the world! Whereas in Christ God himself became man, the filius philosophorum was extracted from matter by human art, and by means of the opus, made into a new light-bringer. In the former case the miracle of man’s salvation is accomplished by God; in the latter, the salvation or transfiguration of the universe is brought about by the mind of man — “Deo concedente,” as the authors never fail to add. Man takes the place of the Creator. (Jung, 1983, p. 127)
Note that he takes the view that it concerns the “transfiguration of the universe” whereas it is really about the apotheosis of the artifex. He then goes on to explain that it forebodes the rise of science, which would change the world and let man take the place of God. But this has nothing to do with it. He makes again the reductionistic interpretation that so many have done before him. He understands it as changes going on in the collective unconscious, which will impact the collective ways of mankind. Thus, the transformations of the Self are relevant to the ego only in a limited sense, and the latter should refrain from identifying with them. His understanding again focuses on integration, now ready to produce the scientific mindset. This runs counter to the view of the alchemists who saw it as a way of personal salvation. Gerhard Dorn, Jung’s favourite philosopher, worked to achieve the ‘unio corporalis’, which represents the unification of the ‘unio mentalis’ with the previously mortified body. The work of self-redemption runs like a red thread throughout the history of alchemy, even from its beginnings in the 1st millennium B.C. The “body” shall undergo transmutation; but it is not about the salvation of the world. (The Christ has taken care of that.) It really means that the artifex searches to acquire the glorified body in advance and in this manner to redeem himself.
Jesus isn’t lying when he presents the mystery of resurrection as something that is open for everyone, and not only relevant for the Pharaoh of Egypt. Nor does it refer to a life in the hereafter, because people can possess life “here and now” as well as in eternity, for they have “passed from death to life” (John). “You won’t be able to say, ‘Here it is!’ or ‘It’s over there!’ For the kingdom of God is already among you” (Luke 17). When Jesus rises from the dead, he is transformed and may take up his place at the right hand of the Father. It means that he is back in the paradisal Eden, together with God. “When you come to know yourselves, then you will become known, and you will realize that it is you who are the sons of the living father” (Thomas 3). Thus, we can all attain the heavenly kingdom, provided that we are capable of abandoning our personality No. 1, which has served its purpose insofar as it has provided us with a worldly-minded and realistic attitude. Although it has been of help in the adaptation to harsh reality, it also constitutes a prison for the soul.
In Jung’s terms, this is an archetypal symbol that cannot take effect in the ego, but must only be applied ritually, however in the modern way of active imagination. Instead of partaking in institutionalized ritual, the mind can forge imitative fantasies of its own, an activity which is believed to have a similar therapeutic effect as religious ritual. M-L von Franz
tries to remedy Jung’s symbolistic reductionism by recourse to parapsychology whereas James Hillman regresses to the neurotic solution of extraverted romanticism. It is time to realize how conservative Jung is about the life of the soul and how he notoriously applies symbolistic reductionism and the paradigm of integration to reduce mystical transcendence to therapeutic exercise. People always think about Jung as the liberator of the soul, although he is something of an archconservative stick-in-the-mud. He is equally conservative about the “terrifying” reality of the archetypes as Freud about sexuality.
When the spiritual mystery finally lands in reality, it does not mean that one has acquired the ability to walk through walls, like the Osiris. It would mean that worldly-minded and ambivalent personality has been cast off, allowing room for the divinely inspired person whose heart is open to the Kingdom of God, which has always been nigh. The personality No. 1 is only provisional. I dreamt about this very theme recently.
At a sunny day I was making an excursion into a beautiful area for open-air activities. However, I immediately chose to climb a big mountain from where I had a good view. But I couldn’t find a way down, so I had to go back. It was then that I found out that it was fake. It was made of some plastic material that had been masked with a cloth which made it look very natural. I knocked on it and it sounded plastic and hollow. I slid down the mountain at good speed, sitting on my back. It impressed an old gentleman passer-by. From below, it was impossible to see that it was a fake mountain. I ventured out in the natural surroundings and was slightly surprised to see that many people were living here in big apartment buildings. There were small industries, too. It looked like a very harmonious area, close to nature. I wended my way into the attractive surroundings.
This is an apt example of how the dream function supports the already accepted standpoint rather than compensating it. The fake mountain is provisional personality No. 1, which is abandoned with great ease. The “heavenly kingdom” which I venture into is a very normal and civilized world, and not a fairytale paradise with supernatural creatures. It is an ‘outline dream’, which strengthens the resolve to abandon the plastic mountain. Although the mountain was a nice and cleanly place with a good overview, life there has been unconnected with reality in the profound sense. There is no need for the intervention of a giant that crushes the first skyscraper, because I’ve already made up my mind. That’s why the process is portrayed as so much easier. The manner in which I slide down the mountain (when the old man commended my bravado) portrays the process as “child’s play”, which is a well-known saying in alchemy: the ‘ludus puerorum’. The rest is easy. Just let nature take over, and don’t hold fast to anything. Jung finds no explanation for this idea. He thinks it is euphemistic (cf. Jung, 1980, p. 199).
On Jung’s view, this is the plastic ego mountain on which one must settle permanently and resort to therapeutic measures to make life bearable. But the abandonment of the plastic mountain is the objective of the alchemical opus and the goal of Jesus’s rebirth mystery. It’s no wonder that the filius philosophorum is so long in the making, because the artifex must, in a manner of saying, learn to play the celestial violin. Jung’s understanding of the alchemical and Christian mystery leaves something to wish for. It is reductionistic, in a sense.
In his otherwise erudite and rewarding works he manages to shoehorn his notion of individuation, as consecutive phases of integration, into the concepts of spiritual tradition, such as yoga. As a consequence it comes to be regarded as a therapeutic measure for the stagnant ego, rather than a means of transformation proper. A misinterpretation of mystical tradition, such as alchemy, is not to be taken lightly because it devaluates the precious symbols and it leads the seeker astray.
Hegelian collective individuation
I highlighted the way in which Jung interprets the filius philosophorum as the harbinger of science. He is thinking especially about Jungian psychology. He saw alchemy as proto-psychology, i.e., he projected the tenets of his psychology on alchemy. Thus, the filius philosophorum represents not only material science but psychological science, especially. This newborn spirit is bound to redeem the world, by imbuing it in a new light, thus replacing the light of the Christ. This thinking is known as the Hegelian unfoldment of the World Spirit, which aspires to yet higher and higher levels of consciousness.
Jung believed that the World Spirit is brewing in the unconscious, and that alchemy represents this very brewing process. Of course, the truth in the matter is that science ran apace when the straightjacket of theology was finally removed. Every historian of science knows this. Science has been there all the time, at least since the time of Aristotle. By example, scholars of medieval times believed that Adam’s atoms had propagated and are now continuing in our bodies. This served to explain the theological dogma of the propagation of original sin. We are of the same substance as Adam’s body — so they believed. Thus, the food we eat does not contribute to the building of our bodies. We are in fact only extracting the energy from the food. But when scholars no longer needed to heed to theological dogma, they began to think freely.
The final blow to the Catholic church came with the theologically inexplicable Lisbon earthquake in 1755, after which the floodgate of science and rationality was released. Science and rationality had only been held back, because it had been there all the time. Thus, science did not jump out of the collective unconscious as if the scientific mindset hadn’t existed before. It is true that the expansion of consciousness depends on the unfolding of the unconscious, and that ideas are always brewing in the vessel. But the notion that alchemy and its symbols represents proto-science, serving to prepare us for the scientific and psychological mindset, doesn’t hold water. It is a Hegelian and unscientific fantasy; the belief that we are guided by an unconscious Will that continually unfolds in reality.
As a matter of fact, alchemy already incorporated chemical science, and alchemists were already making important discoveries. They had recourse to all the chemicals and equipment, still in use. But it was only at the point when mystical theology was stripped from it that chemistry began to unfold. Chemistry was already present, but clad in mystical language. Thus, alchemy represents the path of transcendence. Alchemical fantasy was a form of creativity, an art of imagination, that served to gather the celestial sparks in creation. Jung sees the Opus as constituting a heap of naive projections on matter, a project doomed to failure, since they could never manage to integrate their findings as psychological insight (perhaps with the exception of Dorneus, according to Jung).
In fact, the alchemical Opus did not serve the end of integration — it was a form of complementation
. Many an artist and musician is devoted to the same process. A modern painter adds chemical compounds, dissolved in linseed oil, to a canvas. The canvas serves the same purpose as the vessel in medieval alchemy. By example, have a look at this painting where Picasso has filled the “canvas egg” with the typically ignoble items in earth colours, characteristic of ‘prima materia’. In alchemy, the vessel is notoriously associated with the egg. It shall give birth to the ‘infans solaris’, the golden child.
“Still Life With Chair Caning”. Pablo Picasso.
The alchemists knew very well what science was; yet they insisted that they were devoted to an holy art form. They did indeed manage to gather the ‘scintillulae’ (Lat. little sparks) from matter. It is a remarkable success story that has prevailed throughout the Christian era and long before. Not many spiritual disciplines have been so fruitful, pervasive, and resilient. It depends on the fact that it did not only revolve around prescribed collective values, ideas and techniques.
Jung did not only project his psychology on the alchemical art. He saw it in Gnosticism, too, despite the fact that it could not be understood in Jungian terms. He also projected psychological tenets on the book of Job. Eventually, he projected them on the universe as a whole, which is said to harbour the archetypes-as-such in a wholly transcendent realm, namely the unus mundus.
In Answer to Job
(1969), Jung portrays the divine drama with Jahve as client. Jahve undergoes psychoanalysis with Job as analyst, and a lot of transference and countertransference takes place.
I believe it is a grave misinterpretation. The biblical Wisdom books (including Wisdom of Solomon) give expression to a longing after the Sophia (Wisdom) — Sapientia Dei. According to Jung, this shows that Jahve longed to become conscious, because wisdom relates to consciousness. But Sophia really denotes the fallen heavenly being responsible for the orderliness of the world, whose ‘scintillae’ (divine sparks) the Gnostics and the alchemists endeavoured to gather for the subsequent transportation back to the celestial sphere. Thus, contrary to Jung’s belief, the salvation of Sophia signifies the opposite movement than the descending movement of incarnation.
The scintillae of matter are the heavenly atoms that, when gathered, constitute and replenish the resurrection body. Eventually, the filius philosophorum shall rise from the receptacle. Thus, the alchemist redeems himself, but he also redeems God, who is longing after spiritual replenishment due to his great sacrifice. He is longing after Sophia. So the movement goes in the opposite direction than that of assimilation, which is why Jung could never arrive at a proper understanding of Gnosticism and alchemy. To him, the scintillae in matter represent archetypes that must be integrated. But it doesn’t make sense to interpret the divine restoration of the scintillae as conscious integration, for human consciousness cannot be equated with the heavenly abode where cosmos had its beginnings. In my article ‘Complementation in Psychology’ (here
) I point out in what ways ‘Answer to Job’ is defective.
The filius philosophorum represents the resurrection body. It shall serve as the new vehicle for personality, after Self No. 1 has been cast off. The Opus does not serve the Hegelian purpose of integrating God with terrestrial existence in yet more revelations of consciousness. In fact, it wins back to God that which has been lost to him due to his continual unfolding in the world. After having acquired the resurrection body, which is the heavenly person, the stark light of consciousness is dampened, and the disciple’s eyes are opened to heavenly things that were imperceptible before. The stark conscious light has hitherto blinded him to the faint spiritual energies. He will be able to discern the soul-sparks that permeate reality, and may continue to gather the heavenly food, a feat that could only be achieved with difficulty before.
Arguably, it is not a sudden conversion of personality, but more of a slow descent to a true life, as opposed to the alienated existence upon the plastic mountain. By way of the artful gathering of the scintillae, the Christchild grows heavier all the time, as in the legend of Christopherus (cf. Wiki, Saint Christopher, here
). Thus, the conversion to a new person should probably be seen as a continual process, where the transfiguration to a new body serves as symbol for the moment when the decision is taken to abandon the earthbound ways, no longer to endorse the ways of the integrative paradigm and the diverse forms of personal advancement. It would correspond to the very moment when the Christopherus of legend places the Christchild on his shoulder and steps into the water. This is child’s play, “[for] my yoke is easy and my burden is light”, says the Christ (Matt. 11:30).
The spiritual pilgrim may loosen the grip and slide down the plastic mountain, because he/she has learnt how to gather the celestial sparks by recourse to the art. After that moment, to slide down is a ‘ludus puerorum’. Thus, the abandonment of personality No. 1 is not a metaphysical event, but would represent the moment when the pilgrim makes up his mind. At this precious moment the transfiguration process catches up speed, and it cannot be stopped. It is like sliding down a mountain with the aid of the natural force of gravity.
This is the correct interpretation of alchemy, which runs counter to Jung’s Hegelian reading, building on the paradigm of integration. The tribulation of Job, as well as the sacrificial work of the Gnostics and alchemists, really belong to the parallel paradigm of complementation.
Conscious expansion as evil
On a moonlit night we may see many things that we couldn’t see before, when we had recourse only to our analytical consciousness that separates all things. In the moonlight, things tend to meld together to reveal their sublime nature. Where we only saw distinct things before, they now meld with the surrounding to reveal the presence of an ethereal reality.
It is the cooperation of the sun and the rain clouds that makes life possible. The unconscious is like a cloud that provides us with life-giving moisture, without which sentient life couldn‘t exist. The moist principle serves to dampen the conscious light to the furtherance of the sacred. It is divinely procreative while sustaining a standpoint of quiescence. But the unconscious is not a horn of plenty capable of providing for us perpetually. The principle of integration has yielded an unbalanced view of the psyche.
Nor can we expect that God (or the World Spirit) will incessantly provide us with the boons of a continuous incarnation. The Gnostics saw the incarnation of Sophia as a monumental divestiture of celestial life, and it was incumbent upon mankind to settle the accounts. We must pay back what we owe the celestial Father by working for the salvation of Sophia, which is the spirit imprisoned in the world.
Christian theology, as opposed to Gnostic theology, focuses on the boons of incarnation, an overly one-sided standpoint which is continued in psychology’s focus on integration. But the spirit has already given up its autonomy to an enormous degree and we cannot expect conscious expansion to continue interminably. Divine autonomy must be restored. The Hegelian project of Jung’s has run up against a brick wall on account of one-sidedness. That’s why his theory of the transcendent function doesn’t work. It is supposed to serve as a pipeline for the transportation of goods of the unconscious, but it cannot contribute more as it will ruin the balance. The moon sap, which in myth rains down on earth during the moon’s waning phases, is dwindling. Life cannot continue without it. What remains is a sun-scorched earth, where the ego abides upon the plastic mountain, entertaining its dried out archetypal concepts.
There is in theory only a flux from the archetypal to the temporal sphere, but there is no notion of a flux in the opposite direction. Thus, Jungian psychology is very much a child of its times. What does it help to remain aware of the repression of the feminine in our culture when there is no means of remedying the problem, other than to proselytize and make more people aware of the fact? As a consequence, even more people will have been recruited to an inadequate standpoint. It is a way of pretence, an aloofness from reality, which only serves a personal therapeutic end, since it enables the person to sustain his faith and steadfastly remain in the foxhole. Yet it represents stagnation, an artificial life made permanent with the aid of a clever ploy of consciousness.
Active imagination may serve as an artifice by which new tokens of worship are created, in lieu of the Christian. It is the fast-food variant of pagan worship, in a sense. But in that case it serves only a therapeutic purpose and leads nowhere. It is high time for Jungians to learn something from the Christian mystics, who Jung rejected off-hand. The nigredo
of the alchemists, and the ‘dark night of the soul’ of the mystics, does not signify the encounter with archetypal content, nor with the ambitious goal of extorting even more treasures from the unconscious.
In fact, the nigredo represents the abandonment of the “Happy Neurotic Island” and the opening of our senses to the faint fragrance of the sacred, ever radiating from the Sophia of the Gnostics, or the Mercurius of the alchemists. The faint stars in the darkness will continue to multiply, leading to the albedo
— the morning of a new life. It is a great moment when the grand building collapses, leaving only a naked island in its stead. Soon the rock will be covered with sparse and thin grasses. The return of life has begun, which is a precious moment. As Bjerre predicted, stagnation always ensues. There is only one way out of it, namely “death and renewal”.
The manner in which the divine promotes new temporal life and how it offers itself up for us, is a mystery that is portrayed in the religions of the world, especially pagan religion. The gods sacrifice themselves for the benefit of humanity, as in the Passion of Christ. The deities are culture heroes, which means that the hero archetype is involved. It is also the central theme of fairytales. Narcissus sacrifices himself, too. The god-man remains the pre-eminent symbol of the complementarity in our nature.
The god-man of pagan religion poses a quandary to the
theologians. According to some theologians (e.g. Bultmann, Barth,
Kaufman) the “Christ event” is always ‘in potentia’, while it also
manifests continually. In the beginning of the Christian era, it
“spilled over” from myth into reality. The pagan myths confirm that the
Christian myth is deeply rooted in human psychology, and that people had
for centuries longed for the Christian revelation at the time of its
advent. To the Celts and the Teutons, the story of the suffering king
whose death brings blessing upon humanity, who hangs upon a tree
penetrated by a spear, was nothing new. The druids used to lop a tree
into T-shape form, as a symbol of the sacrificial king. The Graeco-Roman
versions of Jesus, however, weren’t real enough. They had this fairytale
character typical of Graeco-Roman religion. Greek culture had a penchant
for the abstract, as typified by the Greek philosophers, including
Plato. Jewish culture, however, was more oriented towards concrete
realization, not to philosophize but to make things manifest.
Quite possibly, the Australian aborigine story of the god-man is quite
ancient. Who knows, it could be many thousand years old. The myth
of “The Southern Cross” is about the first humans, two men and a woman,
who ate only plants. One day during a famine, the woman and one of the men
broke the rule of the sky king and killed a kangaroo rat. The other man
would not eat but walked angrily away towards the sunset. He continued
to walk until he fell down dead under a white gum tree. The death spirit
Yowi appeared and put him in the hollow centre of the tree. A terrific
burst of thunder was heard and the gum tree lifted from the earth
towards the southern sky where it planted itself where the Southern
Cross is now seen. The constellation looks like a Christian cross. It is
the smallest yet one of the most distinctive of all the modern
constellations. In the southern hemisphere, the Southern Cross is
frequently used for navigation (cf. Langloh Parker, pp. 9f).
Thus, to the aborigines, the cross is the symbol of the original man who
is faithful to God, whereas the other two correspond to Adam and Eve who
fell through sin. The god-man’s sacrifice follows upon the arrival of
sin in the world. He is buried in the tree, whereas the Christ was
fastened on the tree. Both symbols express the unity of the god-man with
Among Indians of Central America there existed a god-man called the
‘bird-serpent’ (Quetzalcoatl, Kukulkan, Kukumatz) who, according to the
Toltecs, preached flower-offerings instead of human offerings.
Remarkably, in Toltec myth he appears as a white man with a beard. When
the conquistadors arrived in the Aztec kingdom there were crosses
erected to his honour. The vertical and horizontal axes of the cross
would signify the heavenly and the earthly natures that are united in
him. The fact that he is a bird as well as a serpent also points to his
Like Jesus he was chaste. In the manner of Jesus, he surrounded himself
with the outcasts of society; humpbacks and harlots. According to the
Aztecs, he was intoxicated by a witch, and as a consequence he lost his
chastity. Having been stained by sin, his sacrifice must follow suit.
According to one version he ascended to heaven by immolation in fire. In another version he sailed away over the sea. Before this, he
made a vow to come back, defeat the forces of evil, and establish his
Interestingly, according to a heresy of medieval times, Jesus lost his
chastity to Mary Magdalene, an idea which is featured in the film The
Da Vinci Code
(Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou). Although the plot is very
far-fetched, it is a heretical notion that seems to carry a great deal
of archetypal power. It is connected with the myth of Jesus of Arcadia,
who medieval heretics said was the real Jesus, whereas the Jewish Christ was
In Greek mythology the name Jesus appears in the forms Iasos, Iasios, Iasion, etc. Iasos and Iason are typical ancient Greek names. These are different variants of the same name, like John and Johnny. In Greek mythology appears a certain King Iasos of Arcadia. King Iasos (Iasios, Iasion), son of Lykurgos of Tegea, is remembered as the father of Atalanta, the Amazonian heroine and huntress (cf. Rose, 1964, p. 213). It appears that this figure is sometimes confused with Iasion, son of Zeus and the virgin
Electra, daughter of king Atlas. 
Iasion, the god-man, was
elected by Zeus to convey the heavenly truth to humanity, as the director of the mysteries of Samothrake.
As a consequence of losing his chastity, he was killed by Zeus himself. But Zeus took pity on his son and lifted him up to the
Iasion (Iasios) was an agricultural hero, the
springtime consort of the goddess Demeter. He was seduced by Demeter and lay with her in a
thrice-ploughed field, after having departed from the wedding
celebrations of Kadmos and Harmonia. When Zeus learned of the affair,
he was angered and struck Iasion down with a thunderbolt. He was afterwards placed
among the stars in the constellation Gemini. As Iasion represented the mysteries of Demeter, he was perhaps equated with Attis, the dying and resurrecting consort of the Phrygian goddess Kybele.
The myth gave rise to the medieval heresy of Jesus of Arcadia, or the
Aryan Christ. The well-known dictum, ‘Et in Arcadia Ego’, in Poussin’s
paintings, is believed to have something to do with this. The Knights
Templar seem to have entertained such beliefs, too. Later, the Teutonic
Knights continued the tradition. In modern times the racial ideologist
Lanz von Liebenfels revived the idea of the Aryan Christ.
(Richard Noll fastens this label on C. G. Jung.)
It is possible to argue that the success of the Christian message in
pagan culture was due to a long-standing preparatory stage during which
they adhered to beliefs proximate to the Christian belief. I think of
the god-man as an archetype that slowly matured and was ripe
for general consciousness at the beginning of the Christian era.
Remarkably, we can learn about Jesus Christ by studying myths from the
other side of the world. These are more primitive Jesus-versions than
the Jesus of Nazareth; but by comparing the respective myths we can see
what they boil down to.
The god-man tends to rise in every culture possessed by elitism and
utopianism. The misfits and humpbacks, who are cast out of the perfect
Aryan state, gather outside the city walls around the god-man
Quetzalcoatl, who tells them that they will inherit the Kingdom. Nevertheless,
it is necessary to acknowledge the beautiful ‘diamond body’ of Utopia and
the notion of ‘racial purity’. Otherwise we cannot understand that ‘upper
class condescension’ which catches hold of people, time and again. As long as we keep repressing
the archetype we will not benefit from the moral victory when
Christ or Quetzalcoatl appears on the scene, gathers the cripples around
himself and grants them the Kingdom, because this is how the good is
extracted out of the evil, or the gold is obtained from the dragon.
Surprisingly, the god-man appears also in Islam. Although Islamic
theology expressly rules out the notion of a god-man, Islamic tradition
has come up with the Khidr (‘The Green Man’). As the messenger of divine
mercy, he bears a similarity to the Christ. The Khidr’s message
functions as an antidote to Islamic uncharitable elitism and notions of
world dominion. He represents the living spirit of wisdom and the guide
of souls, who speaks to the heart of the individual. Although he is not
quite as merciful in the Quran (sura 18), he functions as a psychopomp,
guiding Moses to sacred knowledge.
The term ‘Happy Neurotic Island’ was coined by Jung (vid. Jung, 1984). However, I submit that it denotes any state of stagnation. Thus, it makes no difference which “school” we belong to; whether it’s the Jungian, the Nietzschean, or the existentialist school of philosophy — it will lead to the same result of stagnation. When the notions are incorporated and we have learnt to play the game, there is no further progress. In the esoteric traditions of Buddhism, Christianity, and Hinduism, however, there is a way out, namely the path of self-abandonment.
It is a notion that Jung strongly objects to. Instead, we are expected to prop up the ego by breathing life into beliefs that psychology has administered as medicine. Thus, an ego ideology takes shape that serves to sustain the stagnated ego — a belief system that becomes institutionalized and exoteric and soon takes cultic expression. Although ego transcendence remains the central message of higher religion, in the exoteric practice it has become ritualized. Thus it fulfills the opposite function of transcendence, namely that of ego sustenance. So religion provides people with a Happy Neurotic Island. Yet, religion also has an underlying message that inspires the pilgrim toward the path of transcendence. But psychology has no notion of self-transcendence, that is, it doesn’t provide for the genuine non-secular longing of the soul. In this sense, trinitarian religion is superior to psychology as philosophy of life. Jungian psychology may become a trap.
I exemplify with a recent dream of mine, which comments on the professional Jungian community, whose forum I visited for the second time. It is worthwhile to retell because dream imagery complements our abstract intellectual understanding.
This was my second visit to a kind of luxury old people’s home, open for visitors,
which included an enclosed adventure park. The senior citizens, who were
all more or less demented, had walked this path so often that they had
dug a 6 inches trench into the lawn. In one section of the path one
could risk the short climb up to a cliff with a beautiful view of the
landscape. It was surprisingly high up, and from there I could see the
glittering sea at a distance. However, the ground was unstable and I
risked falling down. An old decrepit man walking passed me said that I
must walk where he was going instead. However, I chose to climb down to
a lower path that was stable, from where I could not see the landscape.
Before this peak, however, was a cafeteria, where a bald and
fairly short man in his thirties worked as a cashier. I noted that they
vended miniature whisky bottles at 70 kr (7 pounds), which made me feel
guilty, because I had at an earlier visit taken one of these without
paying, thinking that they were gratis.
This ‘outline dream’ depicts psychology
as an adventure park for slightly demented pensioners, a Happy Neurotic
Island, as it were. The word
whisky derives from Gaelic ‘uisce beatha’ meaning “water of life”. I
had always thought that the archetypal water of life
were gratis as deriving from the unconscious; but it costs money, that
is, it is costly in terms of precious life that goes to waste as we
walk the path and purchase these bottled up products. The process of assimilation is, in a sense, like stealing from the gods. This explains the feeling of guilt. It represents the exchange of messages on intellectual and archetypal themes. The cashier, as the forum moderator, in a way represents the
spirit of Jung. The heavily worn path I connect with a
different type of path that Bjerre laid out in the park at his house at
Vårstavi. He always laid out a new path after a while, and let the old
path grow over, and then he enthusiastically showed his visitors his new
layout. Of course, it was predicated on his idea of renewal.
Evidently, the adventure park provides the pilgrim with a refreshing
experience in the form of a drink of whisky and a beautiful overview of
the landscape and the sea, if one dares to climb that high. It represents the intellectual realizations. But it will take
you no higher than this (it was just a steep rock). Yet, it is emphasized that I must tone down the intellect, step down to a lower level, and abandon the splendid intellectual overview. Moreover, it is
depicted as a repetitious experience that goes in a circle and really
takes you nowhere. Individuation does not seem to imply progress. It
fulfills a mere therapeutic purpose and functions as ego maintenance.
Although, judging from the dream, it is not without its dangers. After this dream, I finally made up my mind to leave the charade.
“Emptiness” is central to Buddhism. All the phenomena as well as the concepts that we are attached to are really “empty”, which signifies an “emptiness of essence”. It doesn’t mean that the phenomena are non-existent; it only means that they are empty of life-giving nourishment, as it were. They are like flowers that lack nectar for the honey bee. It doesn’t mean that all of Jungian theory is false, only that the dried out concepts lack relevance for the emancipated personality. Theory is certainly full of meaning and value for the student and for the patient in therapy; but when he/she has passed that phase, its only function is to prop up the ego. It’s then time to realize that the concepts have been emptied of nectar, and it’s futile to hold to one’s egoic structure. Jung’s system, as well as any other philosophy of life, has then become a system for the maintenance of the stagnated ego.
This has harmful consequences if there is in personality an urge towards self-transcendence. The person will remain on Happy Neurotic Island persuading himself that the present condition is fine. But, with at least some people, there will arrive compensatory messages in the form of dreams. Accordingly, they will dream about “death and renewal” and self-abandonment, just as Jung himself did, but cleverly misinterpreted. Intelligent people have this weakness. After all, they don’t need to really listen to the collected wisdom of mankind, because intellectual proficiency allows them to build their own edifice, and skillfully cram historical tradition into it, by way of clever misinterpretation. Jung, in fact, had no need to take religious teaching seriously, since he could get it from the inner guide, in the guise of Philemon, etc. Consequently, during his visit to India, he evaded the planned rendezvous with the great guru.
The Christian transfiguration into the resurrection body, the alchemical creation of the filius philosophorum, and the conversion to buddhahood and bodhisattvahood in Buddhism, all represent the stage of self-transcendence: enlightenment (bodhi
) — being (sattva
). There is in psychology no theory around this central aspect of human psychology. It won’t suffice to say that the Buddha represents the Self. It’s evident that there is a gaping hole in theory, because self-transcendence is ruled out. The realizations and insights that take place when we learn psychology, and learn to analyze our dreams with its tools, represent a flux from the realm of potentiality to the temporal, and a concomitant decrease of potential libido and autonomy.
But there is no notion of a flux in the other direction, nor how to relate to the phenomenon of “emptiness”. Evidently, the individuant has made an achievement, but now he is unable to understand messages of dreams, which prompt for a movement in the other direction, because psychology provides no means of understanding the message. There is only a method of symbolization in terms of archetypes that relativizes the message and robs it of its personal and very specific significance. So this is why the traditional notion of individuation doesn’t hold water. Individuation cannot be equated with realization of the Self, defined as a confrontation with the archetypal domain in combination with social adaptation. With some people, i.e., the ones dissatisfied with earthly life, no matter how rich it is, it must lead to a stagnant condition.
According to my argument, Jung’s individuation doesn’t denote “progress”.
Rather, it revolves around ego maintenance. Jung says that
individuation typically takes its beginning in the late thirties, after
adaptation has been achieved and the latter half of life begins. It seems that individuation, in this form, serves merely to maintain what has
been achieved. The break with Freud occurred at the psychoanalytic
congress in 1913. (At the same occasion Bjerre and Maeder stood up and
took exception to aspects of psychoanalysis, something which is seldom
mentioned.) Jung was then around 38 years old, and from then on his life
changed direction. His 41st year marks the inception of his crisis. He
says that his later intellectual achievements derive wholly from his
psychological experiences during this period. Of course, these
experiences were strongly predicated on his earlier studies
of mythology. From then on, he was devoted to maintenance work during the
latter half of his life. Evidently, individuation does not imply endless progress. From a point in time, it
fulfills a mere therapeutic purpose as ego preservation. Petteri Pietikäinen (2007) takes the view that Jungian individuation is therapeutic:
Like Jung said, the archetypal ‘inner man’ has to be nourished with
healing myths if he is not to become dangerous or disturbed. Jung
himself created a healing myth when he offered modern ‘disenchanted’
individuals a personal myth or a psychoutopian story of individuation
which through the universal and archaic nature of archetypes connects
them backwards with the ancient mythical world and forwards to the
modern individualistic search for authenticity. Jungian individuation
signifies something unattainable, something that, while glimmering on
the psychic horizon, we can never really reach. It is a basic
characteristic of utopianism that it empowers us to look for
reality-transcending elements in the world while it eludes all attempts
to actually establish utopia in the world. Individuation also entails
the notion that it is much better to believe in untrue but positive
fictions than to have a totally illusion-free conception of reality and
of one’s life. The reason for this is that if you believe in something
that may not be true but that may have beneficial consequences to your
life, it may save you from mental suffering, such as depression […]
If we expect to be able to lead a good life and enjoy life even while we
grow older and weaker, this hopeful expectation may become
self-validating. And insofar as Jung succeeded in promoting his message
that individuation is a real process, this message must have had a
positive effect on people, regardless of the truth value of his
Jung’s individuation is a mythical story about the (archetypal) origins
of things, but it is simultaneously a utopian story about attaining
wholeness. He maintained that intrinsic to human nature is the tendency
to mythologize, because myths protect us from symbolic impoverishment,
which can lead to neuroses or even worse tragedies, as the current
‘cultural crisis’ in the West shows.
Occasionally Jung made frank statements about the mythic character of
his psychological work, implying that his own psychology was a healing
myth. In one of his seminars he once called individuation ‘our
mythology’, and his friend E. A. Bennett relates that when the ageing
Jung was asked about his own personal myth, he would answer without
hesitation: ‘Well, the Collective Unconscious, of course’. And in his
memoirs he wrote:
To the intellect, all my mythologising is futile speculation. To the
emotions, however, it is a healing and valid activity; it gives
existence a glamour [Glanz] which we would not like to do without. Nor
is there any good reason why we should.
(Pietikäinen, 2007, pp. 126-27)
It is that last part of Jung’s sentence that I take objection to. “Nor
is there any good reason why we should [do without mythologizing]”. In
fact, when one has ascended to the peak in the psychological amusement park, then nothing remains to be
seen. From then on it fulfills a mere therapeutic function for
maintaining the achievements of the ego. But one ought to cast off those
achievements and attempt to transcend the ego, by leaving the
therapeutic amusement park, or sliding down the plastic mountain. It
does not mean that the psychological edifice is altogether faulty, it only
means that it is “empty”.
Psychology must be supplemented with a theory around self-abandonment (ego-abandonment), because it must needs stand on two
legs. There is no reason why this couldn’t work, because
higher religions stand on two legs, too. Christian mysticism, in terms
of St John of the Cross, et al., argues for a personal union with God,
the ‘unio mystica’, in defiance of the dogmas of Catholicism.
People have no problems with the idea that there is an exoteric and an
esoteric path, where the latter is relevant for the élite. This is so in
Buddhism and Hinduism, too.
After all, self-abandonment is psychology, too, and it mustn’t be
neglected. The manner in which we settle upon the ego mountain seems to
represent a phase of adaptation and stabilization of personality. But the
egoic bias of theory imparts the belief that we also need
recourse to the egoic edifice long after it has been established, although
it seems that we can do without it. The “enlightenment-being” needn’t
worry about fending away dragons with the sharp sword of
It seems that the unconscious, generally speaking, poses no danger after
this stage. There’s no need for the therapeutic archetypal exercise
of finding one’s own myth. This is because self-abandonment leads to the demise of the
dictatorial and ravenous ego to the furtherance of the spiritual method. This is complementation, which, in terms of alchemy, takes
place in the mild light of the moon. It would mean that the unconscious
now upholds and sustains the reformed Self (the “resurrection body”), as
a shift has occurred and consciousness is now in service of the
unconscious. It is necessary to invent a new psychological term for
“bodhisattvahood”; otherwise we have to make do with religious terms,
which isn’t ideal.
There is no need for self-maintenance on part of the ego.
Personality in this state has been “purified” of mundanity; a common
notion in mysticism that signifies the dismantling of the egoic structure,
including all of its attachments and beliefs. Apophatic mystical
tradition around the world; all of them emphasize the necessity of
achieving “emptiness” and purity of mind. The alchemists, too, focused on
the theme of self-abnegation, although such trinitarian notions
never attracted the interest of Jung.
It demonstrates that the psyche has a function which is not
accounted for in theory, as Jung finds it inexplicable that the
ego can be transcended. According to him, personality must stand its own
ground, always be prepared to confront the archetypal psyche and take up fight
with the dragon. But a more or less pure consciousness can be maintained
without the dissociative consequence of unconscious submersion. This
mysterious psychological state would correspond to a stage called
the “embrace of God”, in Christian mystical discipline.
The hubris of consciousness
The Book of Job illustrates in the prelude an ideal situation,
in terms of the paradigm of integration. The heavenly realm had
incarnated on earth and become manifest as
Job’s and his family’s paradisal existence. It was in a sense the
Kingdom of God on earth, centered upon material welfare and obedience to
the law of the book. The consequence of this was that God as the living
had been confined to the shadows. He was remembered only in the
book, which Job read intently. Job evidently thinks that he is
righteous. It is a similar situation today, as consciousness has made an
immense progress and acquired great powers that earlier belonged to the
divine. Likewise, people remain equally politically correct in the manner they
unthinkingly subscribe to the “good” principles.
For instance, the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article
25, says that every human being on earth has the right to food,
clothing, housing and medical care, etc. The politicians and the average
person have blind faith in such megalomaniacal notions. It portrays life on
earth as paradisal, and the national state as a horn of plenty, that
must provide for all the people on earth without recompense. If the same
declaration had applied to rabbits, they would soon cover the whole of earth, and it would develop into a catastrophe. The
consequences of “righteousness” and political correctness are even worse
when human reproduction and material well-being are elevated as the
highest good. People of such ilk think they are “righteous”; but the consequences of their ideology
are horribly evil and destructive, both with regards to
heavenly and earthly life.
Job was taught a lesson. We can see at the end of the book that Jahve
had recovered. He has again risen to the stature of a world-shattering,
omnipotent and autonomous force, and Job and his earthly paradise had
been reduced to ashes in the process. These two processes go together.
Job’s sacrifice leads to the elevation and the recovery of
divine autonomy. He was no longer a mere shadow remembered in the good
book as principles of righteousness. Job’s hubristic consciousness had
been downtrodden. He had been crucified with Christ and experienced
resurrection, in a sense. Thus, he is a prototype of the Christ, who also rose to
excellence, and had to suffer the consequences.
In Jung’s understanding, Job’s book points at the necessity of God to
incarnate even more in reality. In fact, it’s the reverse. The book
speaks about divine recuperation. God must restore his autonomy as he cannot be
crammed into slight temporal reality. The Godhead also recuperates
greatly in the book. Since humanity is so blind, and cannot learn to
make offerings to the Divine, in the manner of complementation, a
catastrophe is the only thing that can remedy the situation.
Job does indeed repent in dust and ashes, and he attests to having been
taught a lesson. We cannot take Jung’s idea seriously, that he is being
dishonest with the Creator. It is a ludicrous idea. The moral of the
story is difficult to understand for modern people, because they believe they are “good”, similar to
Job. They have all the correct views and are helping the poor. They pay their taxes and
avoid cheating on their spouse. But they have depleted the divine, in
both its light and dark aspect. The notion that God is being wicked and
unfair is unprofound. God, in the mythic narrative, is a personification of divine nature, towering above human morals.
The term complementation denotes the psychological
process behind the spiritual path of mystic tradition, from
the viewpoint of the archetypal psyche.
It differs from the traditional trinitarian practice in that phenomenal reality is seen as the container of spirit,
in the sense of Gnostic and alchemical teaching. Comparatively, St John of the Cross
rejects the phenomenal world altogether, and focuses entirely on the
empty mind. It leads to adverse consequences. Fr. Thomas Keating says that,
despite having made an enormous effort, contemplatives seldom
attain the ‘night of spirit’ that Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross
have described (cf. Keating, 1994, ch. 1).
The “infused contemplation” of
Christian mystics remains a controversial technique. To perceive the spirit in temporal existence is not difficult,
however — it is a ludus puerorum. When expansive and
voracious ego consciousness is toned down, it allows any simple shape to appear as a carrier of spirit, as in
Mark Rothko’s paintings, where a coloured rectangle is shown against the backdrop
of another hue. Rothko and the
alchemists were experts in this field, but anybody should be
able to learn.
The notion of complementation would be the psychological equivalent of
‘circular distillation’ in alchemy. It is a semi-autonomous
process, like the fermentation of a brew, to which
one may contribute by adding a “mild heat” and by abandoning the ego’s
strivings and obsessions. Consciousness devotes itself to finding the
sacred sparks present in existence and adding them to the receptacle.
It is alchemy, really. Just like the alchemists and the Gnostics say,
one can sense the fragrance of the spirit everywhere inside creation. It
seems at the outset a very modest contribution, but the unconscious
loves this heavenly food. One could write something truly intimate and sincere, yet unassuming, which gives expression to the indwelling spirit of matter. One may paint an abstract shape on a canvas whose function it is to harvest the faint soul-sparks of matter.
It differs from active imagination, however. It may come to expression as a form of
poetry or painting; but it requires that one gives less regard to the quality of
the result. What counts is the finding of the scintillae, in the
present moment. Intellectual and symbolic values lack relevance.
After all, intellectual improvement has the opposite consequence, namely integration. I
don’t think there is a singular correct method, however. The major
self-committing enterprise is, of course, in various ways to tone down
the ego, and to be good in the real sense, namely to be good in the eyes
of God, but not necessarily in human eyes.
Psychology advocates self-advancement and ambitious goals for personality.
Yet, the ambitious, self-serving and self-improving
attitude poses a hindrance. Before the egoic attitude has been cast off, it’s not easy
to collect the scintillae. Instead of focusing on diverse accomplishments to
improve ourselves, we must abandon ourselves to God, in the language
of the mystic and the cloistered contemplative. “Abandonment to
divine providence” means to give up the ego in a sense. Yet it appears
strange to our everyday consciousness to surrender our ambitions and focus
instead on the restoration of godly autonomy.
Self-abandonment cannot easily be combined with an active life.
The pressing demands of everyday life poses a hindrance, since it requires that
we remain consciously adept. Thus, it’s clear that the process of complementation necessitates more of a
It is clear that one may practice the ability to observe with the
inner spiritual eye from an early period in life. Thus, the young person should consider abandoning
the goal of a successful career. In my own case, judging from my dreams of the period, the unconscious
was overwhelmingly in favour of self-abandonment rather than career, which I was unthinkingly
dragged into. The unconscious is adamant that the spirit may be pursued already during the
first half of life. One may lead a simple life instead of setting up ambitious goals. This flies in the face of psychological theory, according to
which societal adaptation and intellectual improvement must take place during
this phase. Carl Jung has often been criticized for conflating the sacred with the
psychological. Thus, Wouter J. Hanegraaff says:
From the perspective of a psychologist,
this meant that the world of the psyche and the world of “outer”
reality were just different reflections of the unus mundus; thus, Jung describes
the “inner planes” in terms which are a perfect illustration of the “psychologization
of religion and sacralization of psychology” […] The only difference,
I would add, is that Jung was not an occultist […] It is by building his psychology on a concept of science derived
from Romantic Naturphilosophie (and opposed to modern “causality”) that
Jung may have succeeded in finding a way to “up-date” traditional esotericism
without disrupting its inner consistency. From the perspective of the historical
study of esotericism, this makes him a unique figure. (Hanegraaff, 1996, pp. 504-5)
This perception of Jung carries weight, since he
has reinterpreted the message of self-abandonment in spiritual disciplines such as Yoga. It is made to conform
with his notion of individuation, focusing on therapeutic ego
maintenance, in the manner of symbolization. As such, it certainly
represents a form of psychologization. However, it really depends on a
misinterpretation of spiritual discipline. It can be remedied by making
a proper psychological interpretation of the spiritual path. This is not
psychologization, because it leads to the acknowledgement of a transcendental impetus in human psychology, i.e., a drive
of self-transcendence. It would put an end to the psychological abuse of
The spiritual path, it would seem, is practicable already in youthful years. At this time, one may abandon egoic ambition, including the
confrontation with the archetypal domain, which only aims at robbing
the unconscious of even more treasures. On the surface, it gives
the lie to very central Jungian doctrines. Yet
psychology may stand on two legs, in the way of religion. The
traditional way of individuation corresponds to the commoners’ worship of deities in Hinduism and Buddhism. Although Buddhist theology
rejects the notion of deities proper, the Buddhists worship them anyway.
The Buddhist élite knows that these are mere blandishments, albeit a necessary aspect of life.
In psychology, the anima stands for the blandishments of the
unconscious, the impetus behind profane obsessions. Thus, integrating the
anima means to live the myth deliberately and consciously, instead of
becoming a hapless victim to her blandishments. This
makes sense for ordinary people; but for the spiritual élite anima
integration lacks relevance. Also the consciously adopted ‘personal myth’
represents mere “emptiness”. Instead, they are devoted to the path of ego
abandonment, which means that profane allurement isn’t a problem. The spiritual pilgrim follows a stream that flows in another
direction. It is the small, purling, quicksilvery rivulet that never
catches the eye of ordinary people.
In historical tradition, the path of transcendence and the ways of
the world have been viewed as two different paths in life. Yet, Jung sees
individuation as one
. The profane and the spiritual paths are a
conjugate — they are regarded as interdependent. Essentially
they are one and the same, because assimilation goes hand in
hand with the worldly relation. Thus, we should be capable of being
equally worldly-minded and spiritual-minded, and presumably equally successful in both
spheres, simultaneously (cf. Jung, 1977b, para. 1099).
It cannot possibly work. I think we must see them as
two distinct paths, and that’s why I view the Self as ‘complementarian’,
that is, twofold in a complementary sense. Yet, there is only one Self at a time, functioning as
an ideal for personality. The ‘trinitarian’ (heavenly) Self will
succeed the ‘quaternarian’ Self (the worldly Self of completeness). In Henderson’s diagram, The Ultimate (Celestial) God
Image replaces The Primal God Image in the shamanic journey. The
trinitarian ‘Self of transcendence’ is associated with the process of
self-abandonment and complementation. The filius philosophorum would
represent the Self of transcendence.
Is the technique of complementation
relevant to the therapeutic situation? Generally, psychotherapy
revolves around the resolution of personal problems, which is why the
method of assimilation remains central. Theory,
however, does not stop at the personal unconscious. When the problems are
resolved, the method of integration is supposed to continue vis-à-vis
the collective unconscious. This, then, becomes the transcendental path for
Jung, termed the transcendental function
. The spiritual path proper is rejected and supplanted with a prolonged
psychoanalysis, revolving around continued assimilation of archetypes. Allegedly, this is individuation proper. However,
I have argued that it is really maintenance work in a symbolic form, corresponding to the exoteric traditions of religion.
Jung was never interested in dealing with people’s personal problems:
[A] long-standing patient arrived for his appointment to find
that Jung had gone sailing on Lake Zurich. In a towering rage the
patient hired a boat, set off in pursuit and, once he caught up with
him, used a loud-hailer to upbraid him… Jung then zigzaged away, with
the patient in hot pursuit. When they again came within hailing
distance, Jung cried out, ‘Go away — you bore me!’ (Pietikäinen, p. 125).
However, for patients of the type that Jung preferred, namely those that
came to him with a feeling of alienation from life, but whose personal
problems were already resolved, I am convinced that the technique of
complementation would in many cases have been preferable before the
traditional techniques of individuation. Subliminally is heard a
call from the trinitarian Self to abandon the ego. This is the
alchemical King drowning in the sea, who is calling for help.
There are in fact two
paths you can go by, instead of only one, following psychology.
We must have recourse to a psychological terminology for the trinitarian path.
That’s why I have suggested ‘complementation’ for the transcendental
psychological process, as denoting a process complementary to the
process of ‘integration’. The spiritual path is misinterpreted in Jung
as continued integration, although this lacks
relevance to the principle of transcendence. It really revolves around
complementation, which is the path of self-offering rather than
self-advancement. It is climbing down the mountain, not up to its top.
I once dreamt that I wore a headlamp on my forehead. However, it had
been masked with black paint in the same manner as the car headlights during
the London blitz. There was only a narrow slot where the light
came through. This symbolizes the toning down of consciousness. It is
nothing new. Spiritual masters have been harping on it for millennia.
It has damaging consequences for personality the way in which Jung
misleads people by reinterpreting the trinitarian path. He misunderstands
alchemy, too, as a project of psychological assimilation. He was
certainly correct that self-analysis is wholesome, and that we must sometimes
make a real effort to understand ourselves and the directionality
of the Self. We must understand
, and we must devote ourselves to
grey “integral calculus”. Yet, the seeker may also arrive at an understanding that he must
now abandon the faculty that helped him understand. However, the way in which
the psychoanalytic project is extended into an interminable work of
archetypal assimilation serves only to detract us from the spiritual path
Although individuation in the traditional sense serves as a new mythology
for the average man, the notion could also have damaging consequences for
those who have an inner longing for secular abandonment.
The alchemists gathered the early morning dew for their operation. The
dew drop symbolizes the soul-spark, which is normally passed over by
consciousness. But if it is “touched” it opens up, like a flower
unfolding its petals, exuding a sublime fragrance. In a dream I went through the wood in the dark of night. My trouser leg touched a lonely little flower; a
Chickweed Wintergreen (“forest star”).
On being touched, the forest star immediately unfolded its petals,
something that made a strong impression on me. This formally
insignificant thing felt very meaningful to me. Maybe it is the question of becoming attuned to the faint
energies of the forest stars. If people have their consciousness attuned
to the archetypal and grand dimensions, they will walk passed the forest
stars, which will remain untouched by consciousness.
The problem of 3 and 4
Jung has revoked the trinitarian path proper and replaced it
with the anima life of temporality. James Kirsch once asked him whether
John’s “dark night of the soul” was a process of individuation, and he
replied, “John of the Cross’ ‘Dark Night of the Soul’ has nothing to do
with this. Rather, integration is a conscious confrontation, a
(Jung & Adler, 1976, p. 159).
He was certainly right to say that individuation as the integrative path
has nothing to do with the spiritual path, and he also rejects the
latter. Although he argues that individuation is conjointly worldly
and otherworldly, it is not really so. Allegedly, to consciously live the myth, i.e., to accomplish the mythic life, corresponds to a sacred ideal. The
profane citizen leads the anima/animus life unwittingly and
collectively. However, to Jung, the sacred ideal is to
integrate the archetypes in order to harness their power. In this way
the individual no longer follows the myth of the collective, but may lead a
personal mythic existence. Instead of being unwittingly paganist, the individuant
changes his outlook to conscious
paganism — a modern yet deviant variant of Neoplatonism.
Although Jung is seen as a spiritual master, he has really ousted the
traditional pious path and put psychology in its place, as the continued
assimilation of archetypes. It means that he rejects the
trinitarian ways including the trinity. Allegedly, the number
three is a defective wholeness whereas the quaternity is the wholeness
proper. Yet, Dorn said that the ‘quartarius’ is the devilish ‘binarius’ in
disguise (cf. Jung, 1969, para. 104). If the number two represents unconscious paganism, then the
number four would represent conscious paganism.
The problem of 3 and 4 is notorious in dreams. According to Jung, it
signifies the problem people have in leaving the defective wholeness and
attaining the wholeness of the quaternity. But if I dream that the
elevator gets stuck between the third and fourth level, it really means
that I should have gone off at level three and not continued to
the fourth, namely the level of the binarius in disguise. The
dream function, being averse to the chimerical
anima life, stops the elevator. Thus, conscious and unconscious remain in conflict
about this. The number 3 represents a path in its own right, and the
trinitarian Self is at least as estimable as the quaternarian Self.
Physicist Wolfgang Pauli (1900-1958) was obsessed with the problem of 3 and 4. He wrote to
M-L von Franz:
“Every correct solution (i.e., that corresponds to
nature) must contain the 4 as well as the 3” (Lindorff, 2004, p. 185). So he didn’t like Jung’s rejection of the number three. He also dreamt the following:
I am in Sweden, where I come across an important letter. [It] says in
the letter that with me there is something essentially different from
C. G. Jung. The difference is that with me the number 206 has changed to
306, but not with Jung. I keep seeing 206 turn into 306. The letter is
signed: ‘Aucker’. (Meier, 2001, p. 137)
If the ‘0’ is seen as a wholeness symbol and the ‘6’ as the unconscious domain,
then the first digit represents the standpoint of the ego. Thus, the
three digits denote the wholeness of conscious and unconscious as the
Self. Jung’s standpoint is binarian in disguise, whereas Pauli was in
the process of abandoning this view for the sake of the
trinitarian path. Evidently, his dream urged him to abandon Jung’s
“semi-pagan” standpoint, associated with the devilish number two. It is
expressed in the dream as a progression from 2 to 3.
Gerhard Dorn was probably correct in his evaluation of the quaternity. As the quadricornutus
it has qualities of the number 2. (Yet Jung says that the
reason for Dorn’s suspicious attitude is that he remained stuck in his
trinitarian Christian consciousness.) Nevertheless, Jung’s quaternarian
consciousness and myth of individuation could be the right way for the profane
person, because it is
educational and maturational for personality. There is
no way of assessing its value for all kinds of people; so it is not possible to reject the
quaternarian Self. I hold instead that the Self is complementarian,
that is, either
3 or 4.
Ascension of the spirit
A dream of a modern man: “I am in a place ‘in the middle of nowhere’ called ‘The Hub’.
At the back of this place, I could see a field of corn, glowing so
beautifully in the light, that it was like liquid gold.”
If he is in The Hub, he has presumably been transported to the
very centre of Creation, and what he sees there would represent the
ultimate Truth. But there is no grand manifestation of the Christian
Trinity, nor of any Jungian archetype. Instead, he witnesses the Gnostic
and alchemical truth about the scintillae, the fragments of the body of
Sophia. After her fall, the soul-sparks lay scattered in the intelligible realm as seeds
of the spirit. The seeds have given rise to an enormous golden field of
corn. Every ear of corn consists of numerous golden grains — the
Evidently, the scintillae are ripe for harvest. The Gnostics took to
ingesting material substances that were especially potent, whereas the
alchemists let the matter ferment in the alembic, and devoted themselves
to artwork, writing, and meditation. We modern people understand the soul-sparks
as representing a life-giving addition to the unconscious psyche. The dream divests with the mythological
expectancies that we may have about the most sacred place of all. It is
instead emphasized that complementation is the one and only
truth. In Thomas 97, Jesus says:
The kingdom of the Father is like a woman carrying a jar full of meal.
While she was walking on a distant road, the handle of the jar broke and
the meal poured out behind her on the road. She was unaware, she had not
noticed the misfortune. When she came to her house, she put the jar down
and found it empty. (Thomas, 97)
In Gnostic theology, the fall of Sophia is portrayed as a “mistake”. In
logion 97, her spirit is dispersed like meal in the wind. Every particle
of meal represents a heavenly scintilla. The final phrase (“found it
empty”), in the original text, alternatively reads “fell into it”. Thus,
this saying would represent the fall of Sophia, which results in the
creation of material reality.
The identity of Sophia (Wisdom) is not entirely clear, however. In
general Gnostic theology, Christ arrives to arouse the earthly
inhabitants to do the salvational work. But in several places in the
Christian sources it is through Christ that the universe has been created. “He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through
Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into
being” (John 1:2-3). St Paul, as several authors have pointed out, has a
Gnostic leaning: “[all] things were created through him and for him.
And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together”
(Coloss. 1:16-17). Thus, he is interspersed in the sublunar realm, and he is also
the wisdom responsible for the orderly character of the world. That
Jesus is somehow identical with the fallen Sophia is evident in Thomas:
Jesus said: “I am the light that is over all things. I am all: from me
all came forth, and to me all attained. Split a piece of wood; I am
there. Lift up the stone, and you will find me there.” (Thomas, 77)
In the biblical Wisdom books, Jahve expresses his longing to reunite
with Wisdom (which in Hebrew is a feminine noun). It was through Wisdom
that Yahweh “founded the earth”. In the Christian interpretation,
however, it is the Son and the Father who are longing after reunion. In
John 17:5 Jesus implores the Father to take him back to his former
glory: “And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory
that I had with you before the world existed.”
The alchemists, however, took the view that the incarnated spirit was
androgynous, and called him the spiritus Mercurius. It was for obvious
reasons not possible to refer to him as the Christ, although in secret
doctrine he is referred to as the Christchild, who is calling for help
from the dark wood.
Regardless of the theological difficulties regarding gender, the
underlying meaning is obvious. The Christ’s incarnation really occurred
at the beginning of time (i.e. at the dawn of self-consciousness).
At the Fall of Man he became lost in the terrestrial realm. Under the
name of Mercurius, he is the object of the alchemist’s work of
redemption. The redemptive opus
consists in effecting his ascension, i.e.
the opposite of incarnation.
Incarnation and apotheosis
The movement of the divine is two-way, at least in the long perspective.
The Christ incarnates but he also resurrects and returns to the Father.
The theme of incarnation is typified in the myth of Prometheus, who
falls to earth and is chained to the rock. Narcissus is tethered to
earth as a daffodil, whereas Attis, the consort of Kybele,
manifests as a pine tree. Yet, at the ritual opening of his grave, it
was found to be empty. He had resurrected and returned to the Otherworld.
The divinity of Jesus and his Ascension are regarded as historically real.
But it is also a cosmogonical event underlying the creation of the universe. The former myth serves as
symbol for the redemptive work of the individual. In the following of
Jesus, we may work toward the redemption of the mercurial Christ, who is
fettered in material existence. The very human person Jesus, through his
redemptive work, experiences a transfiguration into the resurrection
body. It is the self-redemptive outcome of the individual’s salvational work
the indwelling spirit, namely the Christchild.
The redemptive work of Jesus Christ is the focus of institutionalized religion
whereas the cosmogonical incarnation is the secret truth belonging to
esoteric tradition. It connotes a mysterious identity of the hermaphroditic Adam and the Christ.
On this view, the fall of Adam is equal to the cosmogonical incarnation of Christ.
Nevertheless, the symbol emphasizes the
individual’s role in the redemptive work. By working toward the
redemption of God, we also redeem ourselves.
Psychological integration corresponds to the theological notion of
incarnation whereas complementation corresponds to the apotheosis. Jung interprets the alchemical and Gnostic work
of redemption as the psychological work of integration, that is, the
fettering of the godly archetype to the temporal world. In fact, they
were working toward the emancipation and elevation of the fettered divinity.
It is obvious that Mercurius is a god fettered in matter and that the
alchemist’s work consists in redeeming him from this state. Mercurius
incarnated and became fettered to material existence in the same sense
as Prometheus. However, in Jung’s reading, ‘matter’ corresponds to the
unconscious and redemption takes the meaning of integrating the
archetype with consciousness. But this represents, in
itself, a reduction of the deity to a function of consciousness. In
other words, it correspond to incarnation, and it does not accomplish the
return of the Son to Father. Thus, the autonomy of the spirit is in fact
quenched. As a matter of fact, the collective unconscious has already
incarnated, and it is time to return the favour.
From this, it is evident that consciousness has two functions. It does
not only have the capability to integrate contents, in accordance with
the synthetic function of the ego. There is also a sympathetic function
, representing another form of
consciousness, a “moonlight consciousness” with the capability to
further the process of complementation. It is the transcendental
consciousness, which is capable of seeing the divine, imbuing it with
sacred moonlight, thus restoring it to its true stature. The
receptacle must be warmed in moonlight, says the alchemist, and the
moon plant (Lunaria
) will soon burgeon.
It is evident that theory is lacking in a function of
complementation. When Jung studies works of art, they only have value in
so far as they can furnish archetypal content for the satisfaction of insatiable ego consciousness. That’s why he dismisses modern art as neurotic and
degenerative (cf. Jung, 1978, para. 724). He cannot see what others see with their dim conscious
light, namely the artwork as a receptacle of spirit to be multiplied and
reinforced. Nowhere in the outer world can we get such an intense
experience of the holy than in an exhibition of modern art. The artists
have managed to catch the spirit in a canvas frame, there to be
reinforced by our moonlight consciousness.
Jesus says that, “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies,
it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24). The
Christ has this in common with Osiris. In below image of Osiris-Nepra,
from a bas-relief at Philae, wheat is growing from the deity’s body. The
sprouting wheat implies resurrection.
We may conclude that the dream of the “golden corn hub of the universe”
portrays the celestial realm as enormously plentiful and that it rises from a
seed in the black earth. The dream portrays the esoteric and
cosmogonical view of the Christ as the indwelling spirit that needs the
help of a human farmer to resurrect. Presumably, it represents the work
of many farmers, and not only the dreamer. The complementation process
continues autonomously, unless quenched by an overwhelming focus on
integration and accomplishment. It happens every time we take notice of
the divine, without our being able to integrate it with consciousness.
Thus, the divinity is being watered and invigorated by a special animating or sympathetic
function of consciousness, which is reciprocal to the synthetic
function. But complementation, consciously applied, speeds up the
process greatly, which was also the intention of the alchemists. They
collected the earth containing the golden seeds, and placed it in a
greenhouse for the spirit.
The sympathetic function of consciousness
I theorize that consciousness has a double function — it is both
‘synthetic’ and ‘sympathetic’. Psychoanalysts endorse the view
that consciousness is only synthetic — it appropriates psychic content as
its own. The ego believes itself to be the one who formulates the
cognitive content. Swedenborg emphasizes this function, too.
Integration serves to empower the ego with new
insight and understanding. It opens up our eyes to reality.
In myths and dream it is portrayed as a form of self-sacrifice, when a
roaming deity lands in reality and takes root. In Australian myth, the
wandering forefather spirits gave rise to everything we see, including
the landscape structures. Thus, from the vantage point of consciousness
it fulfills a positive function. However, myth and dream often portray
it as enchainment, dismemberment, and death. After all, a deity has lost its
autonomy and become fettered to temporality, as was also the fate of
The ego is sometimes portrayed as an insatiable dictator, a one-eyed
giant that enslaves psychic content. In Scandinavian fairytales, the
characters are captured by the mountain, swallowed by it wholly or
partly. Sometimes they are stuck in a thorny thicket that surrounds the
mountain, transfixed on the thorns. The dangerous ego-mountain, which is
sometimes made of glass, is inimical to the spontaneity and naturalness
of psychic life.
A one-sided focus on assimilation leads to a
voracious ego attitude, an egoic giant given to the gathering of riches. Personality focuses on the empowerment of consciousness and the enslavement of
the spirit. The standpoint is taken to its extreme in Edward Edinger’s vulgar version of psychology (cf. Winther, 1999, here
However, should consciousness dampen its light the effect is wholly
different. When the alchemist’s vessel is exposed to a mild heat, or a
mild moonlight, things start to burgeon. The process is sometimes
depicted in dreams. The dreamer is looking into an aquarium where there is rubble
and algae. Plants begin to grow. The plants detach from the bottom and
begin to swim freely as beautiful species of fish.
The process may continue; the cold-blooded fish may turn into a
warm-blooded animal, which eventually is transformed into a human child.
It is emphasized in such dreams that it is the sentient eye looking into the aquarium
that has effected the changes. It seems to portray a sympathetic
function of consciousness that has the capacity to animate dead matter.
It is the opposite of the synthetic function, which transfixes and kills
the living unconscious content.
Instead, the sympathetic function endows the spirit with life and
freedom. When inanimate matter is being animated, it means that
consciousness has given life to something that wasn’t there before.
Thus, it is a different process than the assimilation of a preexistent
archetype. Whereas the synthetic function is associated with the
scientific and philosophical temperament, the sympathetic function is
what characterizes the artist, the poet, and the contemplative.
The principle of ‘power’ is the opposite of ‘love’, in a sense.
Obviously, the empowerment of consciousness is not generally
destructive. It is morally neutral. It’s only when it goes too far and
the ego turns into a voracious “mad scientist” that it must be regarded as
evil. On the other hand, the sympathetic function of consciousness is what underlies the
process of complementation, which is the opposite of integration. When
the religious person makes use of the sympathetic function during
prayer, the divine is endowed with life-spirit. This important power of
consciousness is in Christian theology termed ‘love of God’ or ‘love of Christ’. In John 14:31 Jesus expresses his love for God the
Father. The love of God has been central to the spirituality of a
number of Christian mystics such as Teresa of Avila. In a sense, it
gives birth to God. It is his turn to rise from inanimate matter, as Adam
and Eve once did.
The Greek deities were dependent on ambrosia
, a drink that conferred
immortality upon whoever consumed it. Our sympathetic consciousness is
capable of producing the drink of immortality for the gods. Yet
psychology focuses single-mindedly on the assimilation of the archetype. It
is taken for granted that there are heavenly riches, ready-made in the
unconscious, which are ripe for integration with consciousness. There is
no notion of a genuine creative capacity of consciousness, which can give
birth to new life from inanimate matter, in the manner of a sacred art
Although Jung understands, intuitively, that the unconscious mustn’t be
overtaxed, it is not properly formulated in theory. Purportedly, if
God is dead and life has turned stale, the only option of renewal is to
see what the archetypal domain has to offer in the form of a new revelation.
It’s time to enter the cave and excavate new valuable goods that may
have a redeeming effect on us.
Yet, there is an opposite and alternative way. Sympathetic consciousness
may focus its mild light on the material that is dead and inanimate. Our
consciousness has the capacity to reanimate spirit. If God is become wholly
immersed in the sublunar realm, then we have the responsibility to
reawaken him from his inanimate condition. On this view, there is no
ready-made archetype awaiting in the shadows, capable of saving us
from our predicament. In fact, we have to reverse the process in order
to imbue the archetype with life. We must be prepared to give rather
Consciousness must shine its light on the clay of the unconscious and
breathe life into the new forms that take shape semi-autonomously. It
requires a different attitude of consciousness, characterized by the
piety and penance of an austere life. It involves introversion,
withdrawal, and a contemplative focus of consciousness. It may come to
expression as an unearthly and probably very abstract art form — a
sympathetic and contemplative form of creativity.
The process requires a diminution of personality, which runs counter to
the Jungian ideal of completeness. There is no other way than to
relinquish our profane and synthetic consciousness. It must be quenched,
because the stark floodlight drowns the mild light of the sympathetic
function. This does not mean that the notion of integration, as
such, is wrong. But psychological integration is only half the truth.
At a point in time, the spiritual pilgrim is required to perform the
‘sacrificio intellectus’. Jung downplays the notion as the rejection of
rationalism, but it really implies a more radical offering, namely the
shedding of the old person and the birth of the new. At this point, the
resurrection body of the alchemists begins to take shape. The process
gives birth to Adam Kadmon or the filius philosophorum, signifying
the new and immortal personality — the glorified body.
In the context of alchemy and art, James Elkins’s book is relevant: What
Painting Is – How to Think about Oil Painting, Using the Language of
(2000). Elkins equates the artist’s studio with the alchemical
laboratory. He says about Jung’s work on alchemy:
That is what I find most admirable about Jung’s encounter with alchemy:
its absolute immersion, and the tremendous risk of thinking directly
about incest, the hermaphrodite, and its uncanny similarity to Christ.
Very few books can be counted as genuinely unsettling, and I think
Jung’s works on alchemy have to be among them — along with some of the
alchemical texts he studied. It is easy to read his books and come away
with a sense of whimsical eccentricity, but if the ideas are taken
seriously they can have a corrosive effect on indispensable ideas in
Western thought. (p. 148)
However, he also claims that the Jungian attitude of consciousness is
inappropriate for the alchemical and artistic state of mind. In order to
attain the latter, it is necessary to revoke knowledge (which I refer to
as the toning down of the conscious faculty). Elkins says that “[above]
all, alchemy is the record of serious, sustained attempts to understand
what substances are and how they carry meaning […] Alchemy and
painting are two of the last remaining paths into the deliriously
beautiful world of unnamed substances” (p. 193).
[When the alchemical and artistic] substances are at work, they can’t
also be the objects of intellectual speculation. Jung couldn’t think
about the laboratory partly because he only saw substances as psychic
allegories. The same failure haunts this book, because every notion,
every concept and allegory, pushes me a little away from the subject I
am trying to describe […]
The buried spiritual content of modern and postmodern art may be the
great unexplored subject in contemporary art history. Still, any book
devoted to the subject is bound to fail because it would have to spell
out so many things that the artists do not even tell themselves. Such a
book would mercilessly transgress the boundary between the experience of
paint and its meanings. It is the same with alchemy: in both cases the
underlying act is spiritual — and especially
redemptive — but the public
language is only inconsistently and weakly so. The advantage of alchemy
over theology, Jungian psychology, or art criticism for exploring
spiritual meaning in art is that it is a sister discipline. Alchemy is
also shy, and it also keeps to substances and lets them silently fill
with meaning rather than blurting out what seems most precious.
Painting, I said, takes place outside science and any sure and exact
knowledge. It is a kind of immersion in substances, a wonder and a
delight in their unexpected shapes and feels. When nothing much is known
about the world, everything is possible, and painters watch their paints
very closely to see exactly what they will do. Even though there is no
contemporary language for that kind of experience, the alchemists
already had names for it centuries ago. They knew several dozen
varieties of the materia prima, the place where the work starts, and
their terms can help us understand there are different ways of beginning
the work. They had names for their transmutations, and those can help
give voice to the many metamorphoses painters try to make in paint.
Alchemists tried to give order to their nameless substances, and their
names correspond to artists’ colors and media. They worried about their
knowledge, and whether it might be a sham (does it take a lifetime to
make the Stone, or only a moment?); and the same anxieties are
traditional in painting. And, of course, alchemists spent time thinking
about the Stone, the ineffable goal of all their work; its qualities can
also be ways to think about painting. (p. 188)
The alchemists were well aware of the destructive potential of
consciousness on their work, and that’s why they insisted that the
artifex must surrender his daylight consciousness by way of a
‘sacrificio intellectus’. Jung says that the latter represents the
abandonment of rationalistic judgment, which would allow the artifex to
take the unconscious products seriously, facilitating psychological integration (cf. Jung, 1980, p. 50). But the
alchemists, very evidently, never had any problems with rationalism.
After all, they were anything but modern-day rationalists. If anything,
they were prone to take their epiphanies rather too seriously.
The ‘sacrificio intellectus’ really means something more thoroughgoing,
namely a permanent dimming of the whole conscious faculty. Elkins discusses
this very problem in his book, namely the incompatibility of the
synthetic function of consciousness with the spiritual work of the
alchemist and the artist:
The love of the studio is an unreflective, visceral love, and for that
reason the ideas I am setting out in this book risk being too
explicit, too much dissected, too open to conscious thought (p. 74).
Although his vantage point isn’t theoretical, but revolves around our
irrational relation to half-known substances, it’s evident that Elkins’s
view of alchemy diverts sharply from Jung’s. For Jung, alchemy was a
forerunner of Jungian psychology, representing an attempt at
archetypal assimilation. By and large, it was a failed project,
since they were unable to assimilate the contents of the unconscious.
He saw it as a proto-science, which later bifurcated into psychology
Contrary to this, Elkins views alchemy as a para-scientific
working alongside science (from para-, meaning “beside”) (cf. p. 117).
His view that it belongs to a different paradigm than science
altogether, substantiates my view of the creative process as the
of spirit. True creativity calls for self-forgetfulness and
a concomitant sacrificio intellectus. True alchemy and true painting
are techniques of complementation, foreign to the attainment of profane
knowledge and the integration of archetypes with consciousness.
From this perspective, one might question whether the characteristic
Jungian art form, revolving around archetypal themes rather than the
fundamentals of colour and shape, isn’t in fact a red herring. Many
artworks of this type would rather represent an attempt at
mythologization, which shall serve to underpin stagnant personality and mythic individuation, for better or worse.
The descending and ascending Anthropos
According to Genesis 1:27, “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them”. The first man was Adam. According to Judaic tradition, it indicates that Adam was originally created a hermaphrodite. (However, some rabbis have suggested that the woman of the first creation account is to be identified as Lilith.) Also among the Gnostic Valentinians, as well as in earlier systems, occurs the notion that the first principle of man, the Anthropos, was hermaphroditic.
The Anthropos is perhaps best viewed as both two and one, corresponding to the quantum phenomenon of ‘entanglement’. Two particles, even miles apart, are still to be regarded as a wholeness. In many ways they behave as a single entity. If the one particle changes state, the other immediately changes state to its complementary. I have suggested that the human Self is really ‘complementarian’, that is, it corresponds to the principle of two-in-one. Thus, it mirrors the ‘wholeness-duplicity’ of both the Anthropos and the quantum entanglement principle.
The fall of the Anthropos (“Adam-Eve”) equals the cosmogonical incarnation of Christ. It implies a mysterious identity of Adam and Christ, especially since Christ is also called the Second Adam or the New Adam. “So it is written: ‘The first man Adam became a living soul’; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit” (Corinthians 15:45). Thus, the Adamitic fall symbolizes the incarnation of the celestial principle whereas the resurrection and ascension of Christ represents apotheosis, that is, the restitution of the fallen Adam.
The eternal Son of God, “became flesh” as he was miraculously conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary. This is how theology conceives of the incarnation, namely as a growing in the womb. It corresponds to how the Mercurius emerges out of base matter in the alchemical ‘vas’, which is often compared to the womb. Although Jesus is God incarnate, it is nowhere evident in the Christian sources that he actually incarnated at a point in time, as he was incarnate already in the womb. Thus, it was an incarnation “from below”, as it were. He lay embedded in material reality already from the beginning, and his victory consists in his ascension from physis
Where do the scriptures speak of his descension to earth? It seems evident that he has been here ever since the fall of Adam. The immaculate conception does not denote incarnation. It signifies the absence
of insemination, and that’s why he is exempt from original sin. Unlike Adam, the Christ rises out of celestial nature already embedded in the cosmic realm. He emerges out of base matter, just like the Mercurius. We must abandon the ingrained prejudice that he descended from the heavenly abode at the beginning of the Christian era, since the incarnation occurred long before. The work of many gardeners of the spirit, as in the image of Osiris-Nepra, led to his ascension out of the humble natural domain.
According to the Nicaean creed Jesus “came down from heaven, and was
incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became man.” Of
course, at some point in time he must have come down, but it
didn’t occur at the Annunciation. The Annunciation is merely the
announcement of the incarnation (from “below”, as I view it). If an
impregnation by the Holy Spirit occurred it must have happened later,
when the Holy Spirit “overshadowed” her. It seems as if Matthew wants to
have us believe that Mary was impregnated by the Holy Spirit (i.e. that
he committed rape, as Zeus did to his female victims). To this end he
misquotes scripture. Isaiah says that “[the] virgin will conceive and
give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” (7:14). Matthew
misquotes “a virgin will conceive” as “a virgin shall be with child”.
Thus, it is possible to argue that Mary is still a virgin despite having
conceived a child. Isaiah does not say this.
Is it correct to understand “overshadowing” as the impregnation by the
Holy Spirit? I don’t think so. The overshadowing occurred as a
preparation for the arrival in her womb of the Son of God. Obviously, if
the most important event in history is going to take place inside her
body, she must have the support of the Holy Spirit, who has the power to
make her strong and pure of heart.
How is it possible to solve the dilemma of Matthew? If the Christ
already lies embedded in material existence, the impregnation isn’t
necessary. The earth is already fructified, and the Sophia is with
child. Neither the Holy Spirit nor a human being needs to contribute to
the incarnation. Mary will be fructified without having been
inseminated. After the event she will remain a virgin.
It seems that certain
Christian thinkers reason that Mary really had a choice, but it is nonsense. After all, one cannot expect God
the Creator to refrain from saving the world because of an
obstinate woman. In the
Catholic faith the doctrine of Immaculate Conception states that Mary
herself was preserved from original sin. She was born
without sin and she lived a sinless life. It means that she had already
been ordained as the Mother of God before her own birth.
The fact that she is preserved from original sin means that she cannot
go against God. She is in the same perfect state as Adam and Eve before
the Fall. Since her will is the same as God’s will, it’s not possible to
argue that she had a choice. The theological dilemma is resolved if
Jesus is already present at her own conception, as a seed inside her own
body as well as the whole of reality. The Gospel of Thomas says that
Jesus is the soul-spark. He is everywhere; inside the wood, under the
stones. Thus, there is no need for Mary to be impregnated by the Holy
spirit because the earth is already pregnant with the Christ. Of course,
the Gnostic exegesis is anathema to Christian theology.
I think the descent occurred at the fall of Adam, because he and the
Christ are mysteriously the same. The first Adam descends whereas the
second Adam ascends. In fact, St Augustine regarded the fall of Adam
as a ‘felix culpa’ since without it the Saviour would not have arrived
to rectify creation. In my view, he remains the Second Person of the Holy
Trinity regardless of his whereabouts. The Gnostics had diverse solutions to the
theological dilemma of Christ.
Thus, it is evident that Adam represents the descending Anthropos whereas Christ represents the ascending Anthropos, as does also the alchemical Mercurius. Accordingly, the alchemists refer to the resurrected spiritus mercurialis as Adam Kadmon (from the Kabbalah, meaning ‘original man’).
The human Self, although it is seemingly one, harbours the same kind of duplicity. The transcendental trinitarian Self mirrors the ascending Anthropos whereas the immanent quaternarian Self mirrors the descending Anthropos. The descending and ascending Anthropos are attached in the manner of the uroboros
, the tail-biting snake. That’s why the transcendental Self strives upwards from its indwelling condition, whereas the immanent Self strives downward from its discarnate condition, working toward incarnation and integration.
Since the Self functions as ideal for the ego, there are two different attitudes; those of integration (corresponding to incarnation) and complementation (corresponding to ascension). The latter represents the path of self-transcendence, since it is modelled on the indwelling transcendent Self that strives upwards. In the temporal sphere, the two standpoints are irreconcilable as they cannot coincide in time. It has to do with the strong luminosity and focus of worldly-minded personality, which is conflicting with the principle of self-transcendence and the acquirement of “moon consciousness”. I employ the terms synthetic and sympathetic for these two types of awareness.
From the above it’s easier to understand Jesus’s redemptive work. As he rises from the dead he has acquired the resurrection body, the body of the indwelling Anthropos, which is now taken back to the heavenly realm. Thus, the restoration of creation has been secured. The artifex continues the work in the following of Christ, by amassing the light-sparks that lie scattered in existence, which will be transported to the heavenly abode upon his own ascent. The work of complementation, which is the watering of the indwelling spirit, leads to the “incarnation from below”, followed by apotheosis.
The Holy Grail
Jung adopted Swedenborg’s Neoplatonic view of the Anthropos. This is the Grand Man or Homo Maximus, whose body consists of creation in its entirety. Jung had no notion that the Self resided in the earth and everywhere around us, in the very substance of the alchemists and the painters, implying that the heavenly kingdom is already present in the temporal realm. He regards this a naive and mistaken notion, a projection of a psychic fact. Yet, the very substance of matter, such as the colours of the painter, is carrier of alchemical spirit. Jung stubbornly identified with the quaternarian Self although his dreams pointed at the duplicity of the Self, as exemplified in the dream of “kneeling before the highest presence”, where he enters a gigantic mandala and encounters Akbar (the equivalent of the corrupt Adam, the descending Anthropos) and Uriah (corresponding to the Christ, free of sin; the ascending Anthropos) (cf. Jung, 1989, pp. 217-20). Jung had other dreams that also pointed him in the direction of the transcendental Self. In these powerful dreams he was on the quest for the Holy Grail. He recounts how he, together with half a dozen Swiss, travels to a sooty, dark, and rainy Liverpool, where he finds a central square.
In the center was a round pool, and in the middle of it a small island. While everything round about was obscured by rain, fog, smoke and dimly lit darkness, the little island blazed with sunlight. On it stood a single tree, a magnolia, in a shower of reddish blossoms. It was as though the tree stood in the sunlight and were at the same time the source of light (ibid., p. 198).
It is the “pool of life” in Liverpool. (The liver is the seat of life, according to old belief.) It seems that he has to venture into a dreary landscape to find the pool of life, which is the Sacred Grail. It accords with the trinitarian ideal of self-abandonment. His companions spoke of another Swiss who was living nearby, close to one of several secondary centers containing small replicas of the island. His companions expressed surprise that he should have settled here. But Jung thought, “I know very well why he has settled here.” Arguably, this unknown Swiss is the projection of Jung himself in the future, when he has abandoned everything and settled in the most sombre environment as the Keeper of the Grail.
However, this was not to be, because self-transcendence was out of the question for Jung. Instead he saw the dream as depicting the climax of the whole process of development, and he immediately gave up drawing and painting mandalas. He did not want to see that it pointed to the future in the way of the Swiss man who lived there, representing the path of worldly transcendence and complementation. Instead he takes the view that the goal had been revealed. He says that it’s not possible to go beyond the centre that represents the Self, the principle and archetype of orientation and meaning. Accordingly, the image was regarded as having a “healing function”. He viewed it as therapeutic and it gave him his first inkling of his personal myth.
I hold that the dream’s sense of finality depends on how it represents the final truth, and it’s not the climax of development. The dream really represent a turning point, where a critical decision must be taken. The manner in which he had attained the notion of the Self, represents to him an achievement of intellectual realization, which is the end of the road. Allegedly, one cannot go beyond this realization of the Self principle. The way in which the archetype is employed as a tool of evasion is characteristic of Jungian psychology. The meaning of the dream is collectivized and is thus made less pertinent to personal life in the future. The very structure of the dream is turned into a principle of consciousness, which is supposed to have a healing effect in that it contributes to one’s personal myth.
Allegedly, the principle of the archetype must be integrated and consciously lived. However, to always reason in terms of archetypes means that one gives preference to assimilation of contents that may not at all be relevant for integration with personality. Instead, we must look to the wholeness of the dream and refrain from cherry-picking the archetypes for the purpose of integration. It is characteristic of dreams that the most important and controversial element is presented in terms of “Oh, by the way, there is this little matter also!” Accordingly, the dream says, “Oh, by the way, there is a Swiss man living in the vicinity.” This is the real focal point of the dream, and not the shining tree. The reason why the truth is presented in this oh-by-the-way form is because the meaning is somewhat taboo to the ego. The shining magnolia tree, however, was just what the ego wanted to dream about.
He quenches the dream by assimilating it to consciousness as a therapeutic myth, whereas it really points the way to a continued search for the Holy Grail, because it was not a contemporary tree, it was a future tree. Since he had understood the principle of the Self, he had reached the climax of development, and there it must stop short. Integration with consciousness is what counts, i.e., the transformation of the archetype into conscious principles to be imitated. Jung complained about the ‘imitatio Christi’; yet he himself tends to adopt the aesthetic attitude, devoting himself to archetypal imitation.
Had he thought more deeply about his final statement in the dream (“I know very well why he has settled here”), he would probably have arrived at the conclusion that it wasn’t for aesthetic reasons that the Swiss man had settled there. I’m sure he was employed as the gardener of the shining magnolia. He had been tending the seedling from the beginning and it’s he who is behind its triumphal growth to a shining tree. Jung, already in the dream, has a predominantly aesthetic appreciation of the dream, which would become his definitive locus of consciousness. He chose to settle down as the Swiss man devoted to aesthetic symbolization and intellectual assimilation rather than the Swiss man responsible for the cultivation of the tree.
In fact, it was the Swiss resident that needed to be understood at this stage, and not the tree. As a symbol of the Self, he is duplex, representing either the path of integration or the path of complementation. Thus, he represents two different ways of looking upon the tree. When impacted by consciousness the archetype splits in two, and the one aspect is integrated whereas the other aspect is negated and sinks back into the unconscious sea. Arguably, the Swiss resident signifies two different standpoints and two different future paths, and thus the dream represents a crossroad in Jung’s development. He chose the way of assimilation and aesthetic imitation rather than complementation and cultivation. This outcome, which is bound to lead to stagnation, would have been negated had he better understood the Swiss resident.
This interpretation is corroborated by the dream about the grand mandala wherein resided Akbar and the transcendental Uriah. The latter lived high above the mandala in a place “which no longer corresponded to reality”. Jung is impelled to bow down before Uriah, but he cannot bring his forehead quite down to the floor, as was expected of him. Thus, the coin never dropped. In like manner, the Swiss resident resides in close connection to a mandala. But Jung would come to see him as the earthbound Akbar and not as Uriah, who had to ascend a steep flight of stairs, from the centre of the mandala, in order to reach his abode high up on the wall. One could say about Jung’s conclusions that they are not really incorrect, but he fails to recognize the other alternative.
The meaning of the Grail
Yet, the Holy Grail was not a finished business. During a visit to India, Jung had a tremendous dream in which he is again back in England’s wasteland on a quest for the Grail (Jung, 1989, pp. 280-82). There he visited a barren island together with a Swiss company, half a dozen of whom would accompany him to the northern end of the island to acquire the Grail, which must be transported to the castle at the island’s southern coast, where the Grail was to be celebrated the same evening. It turns out that the island was actually divided into two halves by an arm of the sea, the narrowest part of which was about hundred yards. He now had to leave the company, take off his clothes, and swim alone to the northern island, on whose barren rock stood a lonely little house that harboured the Grail.
The bipartite island corresponds to the bipartite structure of the Self. I surmise that the little house is the abode of the keeper of the Grail, who is a recluse in the same sense as Uriah and the Swiss resident. The way in which Jung leaves the company and undresses, to be followed by a baptismal purification in water, also signifies the adoption of the trinitarian ideal of Self. The dream is universally relevant and it’s worthwhile to study it closer. It is emphasized in the dream that egoic knowledge, personified by a very cunning German professor, counts for nothing. The professor’s focus on knowledge made him blind to the fact that a little hooded gnome of black iron was scurrying about on a black iron décor, artfully formed into a grapevine. It is the reality of the situation that counts. It seems to compensate Jung’s insistence on assimilation and knowledge, and it points to the spirit embedded in matter, which requires another attitude for us to behold.
Jung clear-sightedly concludes: “It was as though the dream were asking me, ‘What are you doing in India? Rather seek for yourself and your fellows the healing vessel, the ‘servator mundi’, which you urgently need’” (pp. 282-83). His quest of symbolization drew opposition from the unconscious. He must go beyond the conceptual notion of Self to the actual making of the spirit. It was required of him to shed both his clothes and his knowledge, in order for him to stand naked and pure before the Grail.
In the dream it was emphasized that one must search the meaning
of the Grail and not focus solely on knowledge. The meaning of the Grail as the carrier of the blood of Christ can better be understood from the above discussion. The blood has always been regarded the very substance of life, an idea which is behind the pagan religious blood offering. Ever since the primordial cosmogonical incarnation of Christ, the sacred life principle — his blood — has been embedded in cosmos. His sacrifice caused matter to be soaked in divine blood. The Christ lay scattered in existence much like Osiris, whose fragmented pieces were gathered by the goddess Isis.
From the sacralized earth grows forth, especially with the help of human hand, the marvelous forest stars, the gathering of which leads to the resurrection and ascension of the deity. The analogous symbol of the heavenly tree, growing from the body of the hermaphrodite, is exemplified in below image from the Rosarium Philosophorum. The tree that grows from the hermaphrodite’s navel is analogous to the magnolia with reddish blossoms that grows in the middle of Liverpool, where the island corresponds to the body of the hermaphrodite (the indwelling Anthropos). Somebody must have gathered this earth. In the image we can see the spirit ascending as the filius philosophorum.
Hermaphrodite and ascending spirit.
The Rosarium Philosophorum.
This whole process involving complementation belongs to the secret of the Holy Grail. It implies that the conscious faculty has the capacity to restore celestial signification and autonomy onto existence out of the very earth itself. Today, the quest for the Holy Grail is abandoned and the world has taken a turn for the worse. We cause devastation to the earth and to other species. Humanity, for want of a profound meaning of life, is becoming more and more neurotic and narcissistic, because everything revolves around the expansive ego.
Modern humanity has recourse only to the all-embracing, integrative, heroic, scientific, and knowledge-based faculty of consciousness. In order to save humanity, the earth, and all its wonderful species, we have no other choice than to gear down. But it cannot be achieved as long as we hold to the ego and refuse to take self-abandonment seriously. Contrary to what Jung thought, psychology cannot rectify the world, because theory is rooted in the very same Western paradigm of ego expansiveness and defensiveness. Instead to follow the path of self-abandonment is the only way of coping with a simple and frugal lifestyle, because sacred meaning is extracted out of nature herself. The ego needn’t have resort anymore to the whole assortment of technical toys, obsessions and futile ambitions.
Indeed, there are, as Elkins points out, people still devoted to the quest. There are artists and contemplative mystics that are working to bring the spirit back to its former glory. But the reason why they have this capacity is because they are so remarkably unconscious from the outset. Why must such clever people as Jung and Pauli be recruited to the quest? How likely is it that they are going to abandon their brightly shining ego? The likely answer is that they would have been equally resourceful in the practice of complementation as in the practice of integration. It seems that the Self is trying to save the world, which in its entirety constitutes the Holy Grail.
Historians of psychology have underestimated Swedenborg’s
influence, even though Jung affirms that he studied him intently during two periods in his life. Perhaps Jung and his successors are reluctant to admit
psychology’s indebtedness to a Swedish spirit-seer (albeit an
important scientific name during first half of life). Sonu Shamdasani, in his
study (2003), doesn’t even mention him. It is understandable that Jung
chose not to give Swedenborg the credit that he deserves, but a historian of
psychoanalysis shouldn’t leave him out. It is tantamount to history
falsification. I have studied the connections in my article, ‘Jung and
Swedenborg: modern Neoplatonists’ (here
Jung’s foremost source is
Swedenborg’s Christian version of Neoplatonism. Here the influx of
heaven also takes expression as ‘correspondences’, a notion mirrored in
Jungian synchronicity. Spirits and angels compare to
psychology’s complexes and archetypes. Swedenborg says that “the angels
of the inward heaven are separate because of their earthly-minded
characters […], while the angels of the very inward and innermost
heaven are together throughout the universe” (Spiritual Experiences
n.626). The partition of the inward heaven corresponds to the partition
into a personal and a collective unconscious. The point is that the
inward heaven is metaphysically the same as the realm of spirits. As the
latter is not a place, but a state of spirit (i.e. the moral and
intellectual content of mind), there is no real metaphysical barrier.
Our reasoning and feeling mind is in the realm of spirits.
Swedenborg’s version of individuation represents an ascent through discrete degrees of a yet more
elevated (and more inwardly) “enlightenment from within”. Thus, illumination from within corresponds to conscious realization in Jung.
Since he puts emphasis on societal engagement, the notion of
individual ascent mirrors Jung’s notion of individuation. The movement to wholeness means an ascent through the degrees by way of ‘conjunction’, which is the union of the more elevated and spiritual degree with the outer or lower degree. Thus, conjunction is integration. The progress leads to an approximation with the Grand Man (Homo Maximus), mirrored in Jung’s concept of the Self. Swedenborg says that “[t]he Grand Man consists in heaven in its entirety, which in general is a likeness and image of the Lord” (Arcana Coelestia
, n.3883). Heaven is the innermost man, and Jung has appropriated this concept as “Christ as a symbol of the Self”.
Swedenborg, who rejects monastic
practices and advocates a full-fledged life, argues for a wholeness both
in the heavenly and worldly sense. This is exactly the Jungian sense of wholeness. The spiritual pilgrim may tune in
with the heavenly inflow by seeing the heavenly correspondences in the
The ‘anima’ is the inner spiritual faculty; the ‘soul’. Thus, the notion is used in a similar sense as in Jungian psychology. Swedenborg asserts that male and female psychology are mirror images, that is, the female is like the male on the inside and vice versa. This is equal to Jung’s unconscious anima-animus relation. The ‘animus’, as lower mind or natural mind, overlaps with Jung’s notion of the shadow. There is in both Swedenborg and Jung a focus on dreaming, dream interpretation, and spirit-seeing (active imagination). Both thinkers reject asceticism and emphasize adaptation to life’s totality.
Swedenborg conceptualizes ‘spirit-seeing’ as a technique of conjuring “symbolic mental images of the angels of the inward heaven” (Spiritual Experiences
, n.2186). In order to do this in a waking state, he drank copious amounts of coffee. That’s why I think that it’s essentially a left hemisphere exercise that amounts to an allegorical representation of conscious thoughts. Jung transliterates the technique as ‘active imagination’. Historians of psychology have clearly underestimated Swedenborg’s influence. It’s like Jung tries to bury this fact in the production of the Black Books and The Red Book. He claims that everything which he produced after this period of crisis was merely an elaboration of what had been revealed to him. In fact, it mostly derives from Swedenborg. Perhaps Jung was gifted with this Swedenborgian talent for “automatic allegorization” of conscious concepts. I gather that the spiritualistic talent ran in his family.
Swedenborg’s notion of proprium
is defined as our ‘selfhood’, our sense of awareness as separate and autonomous individuals. It has two forms, either human or heavenly (cf. New Jerusalem
, n. 82).
The word ‘proprium’ is derived from Latin ‘proprius’, meaning ‘what
pertains or belongs to oneself’. In Danish, proprium means ‘proper
name’. It denotes not only (illusory)
selfhood, but also the human inclinations associated with it, namely
self-love, love of the world, the rationale of appropriating truth as
self-derivative rather than heavenly, and the notorious sins of
self-gratification and self-righteousness. Whereas the ego is for Jung a
neutral concept, Swedenborg’s view coincides more or less with the
modern notion of narcissistic tendency of personality. Jung had a penchant for
neutral and scientific concepts, but perhaps the ego is not at all
neutral. On Swedenborg’s view, it is always connected with profaneness
The human proprium is constantly undergoing modification by the heavenly
proprium, which is also present in our soul. Thus, the human proprium is
partially incapacitated and cannot drag us down into falseness and
vulgarism. There are two parallel propria in the psyche, constantly
being regenerated or generated. Swedenborg maintains that they are
separate, although the heavenly proprium serves to vivify the human
proprium. “[It is] moderated by truths and goods from the Lord. In this
way it is made alive and seems to be no longer present. Its apparent
absence and causing no further harm is meant by ‘being wiped out’,
though in fact it is in no way wiped out but remains” (Arcana Coelestia
It relates the picture of two selves,
one secular and one heavenly. Swedenborg says that if the heavenly Self
is stifled in its growth, then personality will sink into the personal
hell of the human proprium. When the “celestial seed” is “choked by
tares”, the person is no longer spiritually alive (ibid.). The
narcissistic personality is undoubtedly very collective-minded, and it explains
why such people are so remarkably predictable. It’s as if narcissistic
people have been cast in the same mould.
If this is correct, then our
experience of individual personality is predicated on either of two
archetypes including the extent to which they have acquired dominion in
In a sense, Swedenborg’s notion of a bipartite proprium rhymes with my notion of the
‘complementarian Self’, in which the transcendental Self is
complementary to the immanent Self. The transcendental Self corresponds
to the heavenly proprium. However, according to Swedenborg, the human proprium is never abandoned, only pushed aside to leave room for the heavenly proprium.
The modernized Neoplatonic structure of Jungian psychology implies
that the descending Anthropos (the Self oriented toward immanence)
remains the focus of realization. It is a one-sided
perspective that must be complemented with the opposite standpoint of
intellectual abandonment, to the furtherance of the ascending Anthropos
(the Self oriented toward transcendence). Historically, this dilemma is
illustrated by the conflict between Plotinus and the Gnostics. To
Plotinus, the founder of Neoplatonism, the ascent towards the supreme
principle is only possible for a man as long as he is guided by
‘Intellect’, that is, conscious enlightenment must take precedence, just
as in Jung. Plotinus particularly condemns the idea of a deficiency on
the level of the intellect itself, which is a typical Gnostic notion (cf. Narbonne, 2011, p. 134).
In the Gnostic view, the abandonment of the intellect is
essential. The Gnostics have contempt for the heavens as well as for the
godly beings which it harbours, all of which stem from the
Intelligible. The stars were believed to have an evil influence, and
astrological determinism constitutes an obstacle to the liberation of
the soul. Thus, Gnostic cosmogony renders the divinities associated
with the descending
Anthropos (Adam) as responsible for evil.
It is evident that Gnostic and Hermetic thought centers upon the
emancipation of the soul from the restraints caused by intelligible
structures, and that’s why the creative and artistic faculty takes
precedence. If we were to express our contempt for the
archetypes as serving merely to maintain the illusory myth of personal
individuation, then we have in effect adopted a modern Gnostic
perspective. It represents the abandonment of the egoic structure. It facilitates the creation of spirit from any substance; a spirit
self-supporting and self-contained like the Uroboros, and wholly
independent of archetypal motifs or intelligible constraints in any
When the spirit is liberated from matter, it no longer adheres to the
laws of psyche and matter. It no longer remains part and parcel of the
functions of consciousness. For some reason, they have given the name
“love” to the liberated spirit, probably having to do with the sympathetic function of consciousness. When the opposite happens and the spirit
is assimilated to matter, it signifies integration and enhancement of
consciousness. It results in increased knowledge and functional
enhancement of personality. In following this ‘psychic’ path, the ego will
abide by the law of individuation, under a yet stronger dominion of the
demiurge, i.e., the Jungian Self as Primal God Image.
Thus, if there is a rule and a method pertaining to complementation and
self-abandonment then it would be to break the rules and to disregard the
methods. Should the individuant write something, or paint in
oils or acrylics, avoiding symbolic themes and disregarding the
aesthetic formulation in terms of beauty, etc., then it invokes a sense
of freedom of spirit which is priceless. He may try and paint an abstract
image that has no figurative sense and which does not give expression to
an archetype or any other theme from life. The artist is then breaking the laws
of the demiurge, along Gnostic lines.
Should the pilgrim withdraw from life and devote himself fully to such
activity, then he is effectively abandoning all the attachments of the
ego, including the intellect. I don’t know how it is possible to have a
passion that does not accord with any law of the psyche nor the body.
Yet it is the passion of the wind that blows wherever it pleases. As they
say of the child born from the alchemical fire: “The Wind has carried it
in its belly. The nurse thereof is the Earth” (Tabula Smaragdina
). It speaks of a strong
belief in the very substance of earth, colour and sound, away from all
our profane obsessions, abstractions, techniques,
regulations, and concepts.
The emancipative Gnostic standpoint springs from the Self. The Self
carries the conflicting opposites within itself. The emancipative force
wants to come into play in the life of us all. Yet, it necessitates a
complete change of heart, and it’s not so simple as to repudiate all
theory. It is evident that we cannot understand Gnosticism, alchemy, and
Lurianic Kabbalah from Jung’s perspective of mundane Neoplatonism. The central
message is misconstrued as signifying assimilation of spirit,
although it really revolves around emancipation of spirit
and the redemption of the indwelling Anthropos.
Although traditional Neoplatonism speaks of climbing the ladder of transcendence, Jungian theory has adopted a warped Neoplatonic structure, and
that’s why it’s uncongenial with alchemical and Gnostic thought. To
bring it into accord with the latter, it would necessitate an amendment
to theory, but not a total remodeling. Gnostic thought is a secret
hidden in plain sight. As an integral but secret part of Western tradition,
it flows like a subterranean river through history, which sometimes surges
up to form a new spring of fresh water.
The Kingdom of God
According to Luke 8:2, Jesus cast out seven demons from Mary Magdalene.
This is one of several statements of Gnostic hue in the gospels and in
Paul’s letters that have escaped censorship. The seven demons is probably a reference
to the seven archons who in Gnostic theology are associated with
the seven planetary deities. The archons have by the wicked demiurge
been appointed the rulership of this world. They are a form of lower
deities that keep mankind in shackles. These deities are indeed viewed
as demons and the Gnostic holds them in contempt. Typically, the
candidate seeking liberation must journey through the seven planetary
heavens in order to escape the captivity of the Archons. Concerning the ‘seven demons’ Timothy Freke & Peter Gandy say:
Jesus is portrayed as having expelled ‘seven demons’ from ‘Mary called
Magdalene’. The number seven is significant. In the Gnostic mythical
schema, the cosmos has seven levels, represented by the sun, moon and
five visible planets. These were sometimes imagined as demonic forces
which entrap us in materiality. Above these is the ‘ogdoad’ or ‘eighth’,
represented by the starry skies, which is the mythological home of the
Goddess. The Gnostic journey of awakening from incarnation is sometimes
conceived of as mounting a sevenfold ladder to the ‘ogdoad’. That Mary
has been freed from seven demons represents Jesus having helped her to
ascend the seven rungs of the ladder to the heavens. (Freke & Gandy, 2001, p. 97)
The Gospel of Thomas likewise has many Gnostic sayings interspersed.
Several scholars believe it is the oldest gospel since it provides
insight into the oral gospel traditions that preceded the canonical
gospels. In modern language the archons translate to archetypal powers,
whose influence the Gnostic must try and escape.
Gnosticism cannot be fitted within Jung’s model because it points in
a wholly different direction. After all, the
focus of the latter is on archetypal integration and conscious
The focal point of Jesus’s message is the Kingdom of God. It is already
present among us as the mustard seed or as the corn of wheat that lies
embedded in the earth. Given the right conditions, it will lead to an
abundance of sacred prosperity, which is the Kingdom of God: “[Indeed
it] is smaller than all seeds. But when it is grown, it is greater than
the herbs, and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and
lodge in its branches” (Matt. 13:31-32).
And then he goes on to liken the Kingdom with leaven: “Whereunto shall I
liken the kingdom of God? It is like leaven, which a woman took and hid
in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened” (Luke 13:20-21).
If the woman is Sophia then the three measures of meal would signify the
sublunar world, according to the ancient ternary division: firmament-
earth-underworld. Something akin to the smallest of seeds and as
insignificant as a little lump of leaven, will come to permeate
existence. This notion resonates with the alchemical lapis
life-giving power permeates all that it comes into contact with. It is
the Gnostic pearl, the scintilla, or the celestial seed, that lies hidden
The alchemical ‘lumen naturae’ has been connected with the Holy Spirit. The alchemists
sometimes identifies Mercurius with Sapienta or the Holy Ghost (cf.
Jung, 1983, ‘The Spirit Mercurius’). It seems that we variously view
the divine from different angles, such as a sacred life-force, or as
heavenly law and psychological process, or as a deity with very human
characteristics. So it appears necessary to have a triune view of the
divine. The Mercurius is sometimes referred to as Mercurius Triplex (cf.
Jung, 1974, para. 403). But can the Holy Ghost be
identified as the indwelling spirit, captured in existence, or is he a
free agent in the celestial realm? I’m sure Christian theologians would
side with the latter interpretation.
Traditional theology has had great difficulties interpreting the Kingdom
of God, and that’s why the notion has been neglected in Christian
teaching. But it is evident that Jesus is speaking of the indwelling
spirit as a heavenly tree that grows forth and separates out of matter.
Paul in his letters to Corinth speaks about ‘gnosis’ and ‘sophia’
(wisdom) and uses terminology also found in later Gnostic literature.
Central to St Paul was that ‘the Law’ had played out its role. The Law
is not merely Jewish religious law. Above all, it refers to the psychic law that
keeps us in shackles. The Gnostics saw the Archons as responsible for
the lawfulness of life, keeping us in a bind. Elaine Pagels discusses
Paul’s pneumatic message in 1 Corinthians:
Here Paul sums up his whole message to the elect. Proclaiming himself
free in dietary and sexual matters (9:4-5), he is ‘free from all’
(9:19), free from the demiurge’s psychic law. Yet he stands in the
pneumatic law, that of God the Father and of Christ (9:21), which is the
law of love (Pagels, 1975, p. 72).
Concerning the Gnostic aspects of Paul’s
teaching, Freke & Gandy say:
Of all early Christians, Paul was the most revered by later Gnostics.
He was the primary inspiration for two of the most influential schools
of Christian Gnosticism, set up by the early second-century masters
Marcion and Valentinus. Christian Gnostics calling themselves
‘Paulicians’ ran the ‘seven churches’ in Greece and Asia Minor that were
established by Paul, their ‘mother Church’ being at Corinth. The
Paulicians survived until the tenth century and were the inspiration for
the later Bogomils and Cathars.
Marcion was originally a student of the Simonian Gnostic Cerdo, but when
he set up his own highly successful school it was Paul he placed
centre-stage as the ‘Great Messenger’. (Freke & Gandy, 2001, p. 27)
Christianity in general has played down the message of the Kingdom of
Gordon Fee, professor of New Testament studies at Regent College, said,
‘You cannot know anything about Jesus, anything, if you miss the kingdom
of God. You are zero on Jesus if you don’t understand this term. I’m
sorry to say it that strongly, but this is the great failure of
evangelical Christianity. We have had Jesus without the kingdom of God,
and therefore have literally done Jesus in’. (Roberts, 2001, p. 52)
If the notion signifies the Christian community united in spirit, why
doesn’t Jesus say so? Instead he says things such as this: “My kingdom
is not of this world” (John 18:36). He also says: “The Kingdom of God is
spread out upon the earth, only people do not see it” (Thomas, 113). The
phenomenon of the religious community united in worship has been known
since times immemorial. There is no need for Jesus to hide such an idea
behind obscurantist sayings. It is obvious that the saying about the
woman and the leaven has a deeper significance than the devotional agape
of the religious congregation.
It is evident that both the traditional
Christians and the Gnostics can find support in the teachings of Jesus and Paul. The original message bifurcated into the Christian focus on
incarnation and the Gnostic focus on apotheosis. Both standpoints are
equally true, and they were both present in Jesus’s teaching. That’s why
I hold that the symbol of the Self must harbour both opposites, since it
is circular, like the Uroboros, in the way it works both toward
integration and complementation.
The psychic and the pneumatic
In the Gnostic systems mankind is typically divided into three groups,
the hylic (somatic), the psychic, and the pneumatic. These are really
human personality types and not creeds of consciousness. Thus, not all
Gnostics were pneumatics. Many members of Gnostic movements were in fact
psychics, who were not yet ready for gnosis and liberation. The hylics
lead life in worldly identification whereas the psychics have
their focus on the soul’s intelligible faculty (‘Intellect’). Although
intellectual understanding takes precedence, they are still devoted to
hylic life. The pneumatics, who have awakened the soul-spark, are
looking beyond both the hylic and the psychic worlds. It means not only
that they renounce earthly life, but they also downplay the role of
human consciousness and the intellect.
Elaine Pagels explains that gnosis signifies
‘insight’ rather than rational ‘knowledge’ (cf. Pagels, 1989, p. xix). In the Valentinian creed, also the
psychics were able to attain salvation by receiving the Gnostic teaching
through which they could reach the maximum psychic level of the
demiurge. It relates to ego consciousness and the education of the
cognitive faculties of personality. This was called salvation through
‘pistis’ (faith). Although the pneumatics attained rebirth and spiritual
resurrection in the present life, the psychics had to wait until the end
of the world before they would experience transfiguration into the
resurrection-body. The point is that one must have attained the psychic
level before one may pass to the superior pneumatic level of the Elect.
The latter, since they had transcended the ego, had recourse to
intuition and a dim intelligible light, which allowed them to remain closer
to the spirit.
Psychic life, which follows the law of the demiurge, must needs lead to
psychic death. St Paul says that “I through the law am dead to the law,
that I might live unto God” (Gal. 2:19). Central to Paul is the manner in
which the law has given rise to awareness of sin, which in turn leads to death, for
“[the] sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law” (1 Cor. 15:56). Thus, when psychic death occurs the pilgrim may rise to a new
life. Whereas the soul was before consubstantial with the psychic
demiurge, the new pneumatic being is consubstantial with the indwelling
spirit Sophia. It is evident that it is a very radical message that
involves a rebellion against the Creator himself. It is
very characteristic of Gnostic thought.
The Neoplatonists were regarded as psychics, and this label also befits
the Jungians. Jung went as far as pronouncing ‘esse in anima’ as his
ontological creed, which means that the psychic is viewed as the essence
of reality. Yet, Jung’s dreams kept insisting that he shed his psychic
substance and become an Elect. In the dream of the Grail Castle (Jung, 1989,
pp. 280-82) he sheds his clothes and takes to swimming to the barren
northern island where he must acquire the Grail. What would he have
found in the lonely little cottage? Probably nothing of archetypal
value; only a mere seed or a little lump of leaven, that is, the most
humble thing. Yet, it is the holiest thing imaginable. It is evident
that the “German professor” and his company of Swiss represent the
‘psychics’ whereas Jung himself is expected to attain the pneumatic
level on the island of the Elect. He is surprised to find that the
island, representing the Self, is divided into a southern psychic region
and a northern pneumatic region. This should also be reflected in
It is important to understand that the Gnostics in general didn’t reject
intellectual knowledge about the psychic laws of the Archons. After all, some Gnostics saw
the soul’s demise as a necessary phase
in transformation. It was the perpetuation of psychic individuation that
they rejected, the going about in circles.
Yet, the manner in which most Gnostic sects rejected the world as evil
precipitated their downfall, because they didn’t see it as worthwhile to
contribute to the perpetuation of the human species on this earth. The
problem was that people thought concretely during this era. Material
existence was concretely evil rather than evil in the abstract sense. It
was absolutely evil rather than having a destructive influence on personality
in the present situation.
Benjamin Walker (1983) gives many
examples of the absurd consequences of concrete thinking. It is quite
amusing and chocking to boot. Since the soul-sparks of Sophia abide in
all earthly creatures, certain sects took to eating all the diverse
species of nature. The soul-sparks that were thereby united with the
human soul would be carried safely to the heavenly realm upon the ascent
of the soul. Thus, the Borborians thought of their distasteful eating
habits as a redemptive work. The substances most ripe with spirit were the seminal and menstrual
fluids. They were ingested during ritual practices among several Gnostic
sects, such as the Phibionites and the Manicheans. I do not condone the credulous appreciation of historical Gnosticism and the view that Christianity represents a falsification of Jesus’s message.
The complementarian Self
The Gnostics had two primary gods: the demiurge and the Monad (e.g.).
The former is the psychic deity representing worldliness whereas the
latter is the otherworldly pneumatic god who is a ‘deus otiosus’ (idle god). Due to
a metaphysical crevasse in the sphere of divinity, existence is
experienced as dichotomic. It must needs inspire a religious absolutism,
with harmful consequences. Thus, the dichotomy is better lifted down to
the human level where we may understand it as a complementarity of the
Self. On such a modern view, the opposites aren’t metaphysical anymore, but
relate to different periods in the life of the individual. Jung’s
psychic Self is counterbalanced by the pneumatic Self. It means that we
may follow two different paths in life. I have pictorialized the
complementarian Self from images occurring in dreams.
The above image is how I
picture the Grail island in Jung’s dream (Jung, 1989, pp. 280-82). I have
sketched the northern island as smaller, although it isn’t evident from
The above image is derived from Jung’s “highest presence” dream (ibid.
pp. 217-20). The pneumatic Self (Uriah) is located at A and the psychic
Self (Akbar) at B.
The following image is Wolfgang Pauli’s “world clock” (Jung, 1980,
p. 203). On the horizontal mandala, representing the secular Self, are
four little men with pendulums.
Jung says about this image:
[The] figure tells us that two heterogeneous systems intersect in the
self […] We shall hardly be mistaken if we assume that our mandala
aspires to the most complete union of opposites that is possible,
including that of the masculine trinity and the feminine quaternity on
the analogy of the alchemical hermaphrodite (ibid., p. 205).
Thus, by including the otherworldly trinitarian Self, he has in effect
defined the complementarian Self. He didn’t take it further, however, because he mistook the masculine trinity as consciousness and the feminine quaternity as the unconscious.
Arguably, the Taoist Taiji symbol remains the eminent symbol of the
Self. The most important element is the overlapping in the form of the
dots. The spirit is indwelling in material reality and vice versa. The
castle and the cottage of the Grail Island may be understood in a
In classical or Zoharic Kabbalah as well as in Neoplatonic systems,
creation depends on the continuous inflow of heavenly life-force, without
which the cosmos would revert to nothingness. In Lurianic
however, there is a focus on restoring the divine light to its source.
I submit that the godly life-force must needs flow in both
directions, whereas our modern focus on integration gives rise to a
unidirectional flow. Nathan Wolski characterizes the Zoharic view of the
The directionality of the divine flow is one of unfolding from
hiddenness and oneness to knowability and onto division and separation.
The path of human life, however, runs in the opposite direction, from
division and multiplicity to unity and integration. The Zoharic world is
one of overflowing Eros; God flows to us and we to Him, and in moments
of grace we meet one another in the middle (Wolski, 2010, p. 59).
Notice how well it jibes with the Jungian view. It seems that
Jungian psychology is an aberrant version of the Iamblichean Neoplatonic tradition whose central principle is the continuous heavenly inflow and the concomitant work of personal integration.
According to Isaac Luria (1534–1572), creation
represents a self-sacrifice of God, with the aim of gaining
self-consciousness. What gave rise to phenomenal existence was a
catastrophic event, namely the shattering of the sefirotic vessels.
cosmos still harbours the scattered sparks of divine light that the
shards of the vessels brought with them. It took a turn for the worse
when Adam fell. His fragmented disunity of soul sparks lie embedded in
the cosmic realm. The fall of Adam coincides with the arrival of
, as the worldly counterpart of divine inner
Lurianic Kabbalah has a notion of ‘tikkun’ that relates
to complementation. Brian Lancaster says about ‘tikkun’:
‘Tikkun’ is the process through which the elements of light may be
purified from the shards of evil with which they fell as a consequence
of the breaking of the vessels. The human role in this cosmic narrative
arrives here in the process of ‘tikkun’. Humans are the primary beings
in the lower realm of the created worlds where the admixture of good and
evil has to be finally clarified. It is a human responsibility to effect
this clarification in order that the light might be restored to its
source. It was the breaking of the vessels that sundered the
relationship between the male divine principle (focused in ‘Tiferet’)
and the female principle of the ‘Shekhinah’. ‘Tikkun’ is the process
whereby the union is to be re-established […]
The job of ‘tikkun’, that of seeking out and gathering the fragments of
light that fell through the breaking of the vessels, requires the Jewish
people to be in exile in order that they might be able to find the
sparks in the darkest of places (Lancaster, 2005,
Luria says that the earth is “the vessel of the divine living presence”
(Dunn, 2008, p. 88). We could interpret the Occidental idea of the Holy Grail along
similar lines, as signifying the whole of phenomenal existence. In
Luria, ‘kavvanot’ (sing. ‘kavvanah’) acquires the meaning of ‘mystical
intention’, which is related to ‘tikkun’:
One can not overestimate the power and fullness of meaning that the
personality of God bears upon the hidden soul. Its most redeeming effect
occurs when a creature joins this divine event with its own in ‘tikkun’.
Isaac Luria sought to restore the ‘partsufim’ [divine forms/personae]
and to channel their inner consciousness (‘mohin’) through the power of
mystical intention — ‘kavvanot’. “Through the practice of ‘kavvanot’…the mystic took an active role in bringing together the shattered
superstructure, mending the broken vessels.” A creature that opens its
heart with the genuine fullness of healing and meditation toward God
(‘tikkun’) transcends the earthly profanity of prayer and enters into
[citing Scholem] Since ‘kavvanot’ is of a spiritual nature, it directly
affects spiritual worlds and can be an especially powerful factor if it
is completed by the right [person] at the right place. The process of
restitution of all things to their true place requires…not only an
impulse which originates from God, but also an impulse which originates
from the creature’s religious action. All true life and every real
healing of the breach that pervades the worlds arise from the
interrelationship and meeting of the divine and human impulse (ibid. pp. 46-47).
It seems to me that psychology can be informed by Kabbalistic mystical
theology, provided that we adopt a notion of complementation. Otherwise
I can’t see how Kabbalah, alchemy, and Gnostic theology, can be
interpreted in terms of psychology.
The question remains, is it possible to ‘water the divine’ while remaining attached to profane
desires? Religious practices of worship would have had such a function
in history, and religious life is led in parallel with earthly life. It
seems to me that complementation is an autonomous or semi-autonomous
process, which however is greatly enhanced if the ego detaches itself
from the world. Worldly abandonment is almost synonymous with self-abandonment, it seems. Judging from mystical literature, and the dreams
of people (including Jung’s), self-transcendence is a requirement for
success on the trinitarian path involving complementation. Lancaster says:
For Kabbalah, the ego is a false god lacking substantiality. It lies at
the root of the ‘yetser ha-ra’, the ‘evil inclination’ that ensnares the
individual into self-serving desires. Kabbalistic work is intended to
make real the rearranged form of the word, in order that the individual
should gain insight into the emptiness at the core of their being. Where
‘I’ had been, the higher mystical state reveals nothing other than the
divine becomingness that defines the essence of the individual
‘neshamah’ [breath; spirit]. (Lancaster, 2005,
A complementary spiritual paradigm
As I have already mentioned, Lurianic Kabbalah is indebted to Gnostic
and Hermetic thought, whereas the Zohar clearly echoes Neoplatonic
beliefs. Evidently, the Kabbalah harbours two irreconcilable opposites:
the Neoplatonic standpoint is counterpoised by Lurianic thought. Thus,
it stands on two legs. In psychology, a corresponding theoretical development should be sought, that is, a development in terms of complementation and the complementarian Self. It cannot be avoided because it is the truth about the Self. I put forward an
alternative to the unitarian model, namely the Self as complementarian
and the universe as bipartite in complementarian terms — ‘Complementaris
Mundus’ as opposed to ‘Unus Mundus’ (cf. Winther, 2013b, here
According to such a view, there is indeed room for notions of faith and
final cause (teleology), but only following a change of
outlook, when the individual is no longer engrossed in the scientific
and causal world. Our Self harbours two distinct aspects, a mundane and
an extramundane. Accordingly, we may experience the universe in two
alternative ways, as spiritual or material. However, we cannot combine
these experiences of the world, because they are mutually exclusive.
Yet, Jungian theory attempts to amalgamate them. I maintain that Jung’s
coalesced metaphysic is akin to the worldview of paganism, in
which the gods were always nigh. However, alchemy’s experience of the
indwelling spirit is nothing like this. It takes a toll to extract the
spirit from matter. Although spirit and matter are indeed overlapping,
and the celestial fragments are therefore omnipresent, it is not present
in ready-made form. A continuous creative effort, as well as a radical
change of consciousness, is required for the successful distillation of
At the limits of science, we must put on celestial
glasses, and begin to
see the universe differently. We should endorse science as far as
possible, including cognitive science’s notion of innate unconscious
, even though it cannot live up to psychology’s notion of
archetypal autonomy and telos. There are two different ways of looking
at reality, which are both truthful, provided that we avoid mixing them
together. Only the trinitarian paradigm can give an account of the
archetype in terms of spiritual meaning and teleology. It is fruitless
to search for an explanation solely in scientific terms.
The gist of my argument is that spirit and matter must be disentangled.
They ought to be seen as two different realms of equal reality-status.
Although mutually exclusive, they are compatible under the aegis of
complementarity. Such a separation runs counter to psychology’s message,
which aims to imbue the temporal world with spirit. Archetypal theory
is a motley of otherworldly and scientific notions, and it doesn’t
really work. We may look at the universe with spiritual eyes, or we may
look at it with worldly eyes, but not really at the same time. Since the
spirit retains its transcendent nature, it means that it cannot be
observed through scientific spectacles. In our scientific mode of
being we have no grounds for a belief in angels or transcendental beings
of any sort, that can have an impact in material life. Yet, in our
transcendental mode of being, following upon self-abandonment, we have
earned the mental capacity of sacred regeneration. It’s like playing on a celestial instrument, whose
sound echoes throughout the universe.
Psychology’s focus on integration is one-sided and deleterious. It must be counterbalanced with a notion of complementation, directed at the restoration of godly autonomy. Its mythological equivalent is the gathering of the shattered remnants of the deceased divinity.
The godly being who fell to earth and whose limbs were shattered in existence is an important theme in religious history. The Gnostics and the alchemists resolved to gather the bodily parts of the divinity, interspersed in materiality. The theme occurs in Mesoamerican myth where the primordial sacrifice is portrayed as the severing of godly limbs. It also occurs in the myth of Osiris, whose bodily parts were scattered across Egypt. The fall and death of the deity is connected with worldly realization and the opening up of new intelligible faculties. According to the Book of Enoch, the fall of the angelic beings gave rise to great cunning and scientific knowledge in humankind.
Yet, the process doesn’t end there — the deity must resurrect. According to myth, the bodily parts of Osiris were gathered by Isis and Nephthys. Isis, with the aid of Thoth, breathes life into him again. (Thoth is sometimes identified with Hermes Trismegistus, the father of alchemy.) Thus, the god, like the phoenix, rises from the ashes to renewed prominence.
After all, the enrichment of the intelligible world cannot be regarded the end goal of the divine drama. The restitution of the godly being from his or her fallen condition is central to religious and mystical tradition. Yet, psychology has turned a blind eye to the theme. It depends on a misinterpretation. The restoration of the deity is wrongly understood as its integration with consciousness, although the regained autonomy of the archetype must really be analyzed in terms of the opposite process of complementation or ascension.
The fall and dismemberment of the deity is the effect of its arrival in the temporal realm, which is regarded a great sacrifice with benign consequences for humanity. Nevertheless, the depletion of heavenly life has long-term deleterious consequences. As people are endowed with new powers of consciousness, they will lose their heartfelt connection with the divine, and iniquity begins to spread like wildfire on earth. The voracious ego swells up to enormous dimensions. This is the theme of the Book of Enoch. As a consequence of the angelic fall and the endowment of human consciousness, a race of “giants” emerged whose heinousness was unparalleled.
Instead of devoting themselves to godly worship, the sons and daughters of Job spent their time feasting. They might even have eaten the sacrificial meat intended for God. Job is rightly worried that they may have sinned and that’s why he makes burnt-offerings for them. The central theme in Job is the restitution of sacred power, and not its continued integration or incarnation, in terms of Jung. This is why the prosperous world of Job had to be destroyed and God regain his status as a world-shattering force.
When Dionysos looked into the mirror, presented to him by the Titans, it resulted in his fall into the cosmic realm. His bodily parts were consumed by the Titans, whose ashes in turn were scattered in existence. In a similar vein, Narcissus became self-aware when he saw his reflection in the water. The seer Tiresias had foretold that Narcissus would live to a ripe old age, “if he didn’t come to know himself.” Consciousness is a deadly realm for the gods. Richard Seaford says:
In the sixth century AD the neoplatonist Olympiodorus wrote that ‘Dionysos, when he put his image into the mirror, followed it, and in this way was divided up into the universe.’ […] Already in the third century AD Plotinus had noted the power of a mirror to ‘seize a form’, and a few lines later writes that ‘the souls of men, having seen their images, like Dionysos (had seen his) in a mirror, became there (i.e. in the images) by leaping from above’ […]
Here Plotinus has in mind not just Dionysos looking into a mirror but more specifically the whole story of him being lured — by the sight of his own image in the mirror — to being dismembered by the Titans, as signifying the fall and fragmentation of the soul into material reality. (Seaford, 2006, p. 116)
Yet, Dionysos was destined to resurrect. According to one version he is restored to life from his heart, which had been preserved by Athena (ibid. p. 112). The earliest known narrative of Dionysos’s ‘sparagmos’ (dismemberment) and rebirth relates that he came back to life after Rhea reassembled his limbs (cf. Heinrichs, 2011). The manner in which the deity is reconstituted by the mother goddess, seems to point at a process that takes place autonomously and unconsciously. It demands “mothering”. Yet, already in the Old Kingdom of Ancient Egypt, the priests had learnt the celestial secret of how to accomplish the restoration of Osiris, who was identical with the mummy of the Pharaoh. The autonomy of the deity was restored with the aid of human hand.
I am the phoenix, the soul of Re, who guides the gods to the Netherworld when they go forth. The souls on earth will do what they desire and the soul of [the deceased] will go forth at his desire. (The Book of the Dead, Spell 29B)
The religious restoration of the soul-fragments out of base matter was to be continued in the practice of the Gnostics and the alchemists. Although their work centered on self-redemption and the redemption of God, it also meant that humanity was saved from the deleterious consequences of an over-expanded consciousness, whose relation with the sacred had lost its vitality.
The current overestimation of the intelligible and rational must be rectified. The one-sided process of integration, leading only to its continual increase, must be counterbalanced by an opposite movement of divine restitution. It is necessary to revise our view of human consciousness as something essentially good, whose light we must always strive to intensify. Keep in mind that humanity was created from the ashes of the Titans. After Zeus learnt of the dismemberment of Dionysos, he blasted them with a thunderbolt, turning them into soot. The following excerpt describes Olympiodorus’s account of the myth:
Because humanity arose from material that was predominantly Titanic in nature, each human is born with the stain of the Titans’ crime, but a remnant of Dionysus leavens the mixture. Each human
must expiate the Titans’ crime by performing rituals in honor of Dionysus and Persephone, who still suffers from the “ancient grief” of losing her child; by doing so, humans can win better afterlives. Meanwhile Dionysus was in some manner revived or reborn. (Graf & Johnston, 2007, p. 67)
Notice the similarity between Dionysian cosmogony and its counterparts in Gnosticism and Lurianic Kabbalah. The fragments of Dionysos are mingled with the ashes of the Titans. It seems that the Titanic substance is connected with consciousness, a deadly poison to the gods. The fact that humanity is made of this Titanic substance constitutes the Greek version of original sin. Consciousness is a poison capable of transforming the ego into a demi-god, a Titan or giant, a notion resonant with the narcissistic and overblown ego that notoriously turns its back to the gods and takes to evil ways.
The restitution of the godly is the focus of the Isis and Osiris myth, the Dionysian mysteries, ancient Christian cult, Gnostic religion, Mesoamerican religion, Lurianic Kabbalah, and medieval alchemy. The notoriety of the theme should tell us something. Evidently, it is a central aspect of human psychology and it must be understood in psychological terms. I have myself dreamt about it numerous times. This is a youthful dream of mine:
A little yet godly man lived among his people who were all very happy. But one day he had to leave his people. They saw him zigzagging like a will-o’-the-wisp over the ocean, until he finally disappeared. The people fell into a gloom. At this time the sun was merely a diffusely shining cloud. But after a long time the sun cloud sent a long tube down to the ocean. The tube transported the god-man up to the sun cloud. As a consequence of the union, the cloud contracted and became the blazingly bright sun.
It tells the story of a paradisal age that comes to an end with the fall of the god-man, who is likened to a soul-spark lost in existence. His subsequent restoration leads to the creation, or the invigoration, of the sun god. In Egyptian myth, the restoration of Osiris leads to the birth of the sun god Horus, who was also a feeble light in the beginning. One might question why a young man should dream of such Gnostic themes. The dream cannot be explained in the present terms of psychology, because it speaks of the restoration of the autonomous archetype, and not its assimilation. It says that the sentient world must be reduced to the furtherance of the divine and the shining ‘numinosum’ in heaven.
Not only myth and religion give credence to a notion of complementation; it seems that dreams of modern men do, too. The mystical path according to the indwelling spirit is part and parcel of our psychology — a very central archetype. Thus, today’s notions of integration, intellectual betterment, and societal adaptation, risk leading people astray. These methods lack relevance for a portion of the population, because they experience the unconscious demand that the process is taken in the other direction.
Orpheus in the underworld
From the perspective of the unconscious, or from the viewpoint of archetypes or godly beings, the temporal realm is the ‘Underworld’; the dreary and grey material continuance that the gods must endure when they have suffered death, having been absorbed and stifled by the sentient function.
Neither Orpheus nor Eurydice represent human egos. Eurydice is an oak nymph and one of the daughters of Apollo. Orpheus, in one version of the myth, is the son of Apollo and the muse Calliope. Thus, they are to be regarded as gods, or in modern terms, archetypes — autonomous entities of the unconscious psyche. Orpheus and Eurydice ran faster and faster through the woods (in an alternative version, Eurydice is being pursued by a satyr). It means that an energetic accumulation took place in the heavenly realm, until the fateful moment arrived when the energetic level got too high, and Eurydice passed the border of awareness. It happened when she was bitten by the snake. (Correspondingly, the eyes of Adam and Eve “were opened” when the serpent delivered its poison.) In cosmogonical terms, the oak appeared on earth at this very moment, just like the death of Narcissus meant the emergence of the narcissus herb.
Eurydice’s death meant a division of the archetype. The sentient realm became enriched, whereas the surviving half, namely Orpheus, remained in the celestial realm. The division that happened as a result of conscious assimilation is portrayed as the divorce of Orpheus and Eurydice, somehow representing the feminine and masculine aspects of the archetype. Orpheus is portrayed as a cultural hero. It illustrates the conscious enrichment that occurred upon the assimilation of his ‘content’, namely Eurydice. Besides music, his gifts to mankind include medicine, writing, agriculture, magical arts and astrology, as well as mystery rites and cults.
As Jahve is longing after Sophia so Orpheus is longing after his Eurydice. He resolves to free her from the clutches of Hades, which lies under the intelligible and material world. Thus, he journeys to the Underworld to retrieve her. By escorting her back to the sacred realm he aims to achieve her restoration as a goddess. The music of the unconscious, with which he can make even the stones dance, is his weapon of choice. It signifies how the spirit is extracted out of dead matter. His song, and the tones from his lyre, instills the moribund and integrated archetype with sacred life-blood, and it begins to emerge out of physis.
The fatal moment arrives when he turns to look at her. Their eyes are opened to each other, which signifies awareness. Eurydice, who was just about to pass the threshold to freedom, autonomy, and immortality, is again poisoned with self-awareness, and she sinks back into the cosmic domain where death reigns.
It seems that in this reading, current psychological understanding is stood on its head. Typically, the Underworld would be seen as the unconscious, and Orpheus as a human ego whose attempt to integrate the anima fails. Although the story might finely illustrate
various ideas about psychological assimilation, it really signifies the opposite process, namely complementation. If the ego is involved, myth is bound to be understood in terms of integration. Yet, von Franz criticizes the way in which Jungians tend to apply the Freudian personalistic approach, and interpret the fairytale hero as a normal human ego (cf. von Franz, 1996, p. viii). It is better understood as a god or an archetype, whereas the scene of his adventure is the heavenly realm or the unconscious.
Music and art have the power to awaken the spirit from its sleep in Hades. But why did Orpheus fail? The answer would be that the process of complementation here takes place unconsciously. It has much greater chance of success should the ego remain aware of the process and lend it support, by toning down its light, and by allowing Orpheus lyre to resound. The spiritual pilgrim may follow Orpheus’s call to mystical practice. Orphism was a mystery religion that involved asceticism. To further the process, it is worthwhile to adopt a contemplative mood and give artistic expression to Orpheus’s music. It can always be heard faintly resounding in the wind, but only if we learn to focus our faculties on the celestial energies rather than the temporal.
The praxis of complementation
What does complementation and self-abandonment mean in practical terms?
The problem is that we have here gone beyond the psychic law of the
demiurge. The process isn’t lawful anymore. It is no longer governed by
the archetypes or the technical know-how of consciousness. It is all
about escaping the rules that keep the spirit fettered. If one were to
create and follow regulations pertaining to complementation, then that would be like
shooting oneself in the foot.
The Gnostic had two ways of breaking the psychological laws of the
demiurge. The passive way was the most common, i.e., the refusal to go
along with the ways of life. Thus, they became ascetics and recluses.
Other sects broke the rules actively, for instance, by breaching taboos
and indulging in sexual licentiousness. Again, they understood Gnostic
thought very concretely.
has always been
the chief trinitarian practice, taking the form
of breathing-exercises, for instance. However, also
artistic creative practices can be understood in the light of
contemplation. Since artistic products
haven’t much value, except perhaps in the aesthetic
sense, they tend to be underestimated. They do not contribute much to the conscious side, it seems.
However, this is an important point. They contribute instead to the sacred domain, in the sense of complementation and self-transcendence. The
artistic work could serve as an act of divine reimbursement.
Painting has a contemplative side to it. It generates a non-conceptual
focus that may captivate one’s mind for hours, during which time all of
one’s obsessions and thoughts are forgotten. It is a curious phenomenon
that has something of a cathartic effect. The problem is that we always
view artistic creativity with the end product in mind, as if it were the
question of building a house, or something. However, we may also view it
as a means of putting the mind in a contemplative mood. It means that
the end product, as such, plays not much role.
Writing can also put the mind in a serene state, which we may experience
while visiting nature, seated under a tree, listening to the wind
and watching the clouds. It must
have something to do with the state of mind which is invoked, since it
is a form of contemplative practice. It is nothing like active
imagination and the assimilation of content, and that’s why it could be likened to
the gathering of soul-sparks. Painting and writing have
different effects. The pilgrim sees the scintillae with the mind’s
eye, and picks them up. They are like profound fragrances carried by the
wind. In dreams, the practice is portrayed as the eating of
jelly sweets or tending to the colourful fishes in the aquarium.
Sometimes, in my experience, it is portrayed more concretely, like using a magnifying glass
to focus the sun rays, by this means to etch the words onto an old
The painted image, if it gives expression to the energies of Mother
Earth, is different in my evaluation. It is capable of conveying
celestial energy and it provides the viewer with motivation to pursue
the path of complementation. Painted art can have a sublime yet forceful
effect on me. I am baffled by the fact that modern art had no such
effect on Jung (cf. Wojtkowski, 2009). In a letter to
Esther Harding he says, “I am only prejudiced against all forms of
modern art. It is mostly morbid and evil on top [of that]” (Letters
vol. 1, p. 469). But Australian aborigines made “modern art” rock
paintings thousands of years ago. Of course, such paintings cannot be
regarded as morbid because they have a sacred meaning.
“Wandjina rock art”. (Wikimedia Commons.)
It seems that we mustn’t underestimate the practice of contemplation as
an integral part of complementation. However, it is worthwhile to view
contemplation in a different light, and introduce a new concept that
reinterprets apophatic and cataphatic tradition (the ways of negation and affirmation). Whereas
apophatic contemplation refers to the imagelessness of Christian and
Buddhist mysticism (e.g.), cataphatic mysticism has its roots in
Neoplatonic and pagan tradition, and refers to the assimilation of
the godly, by means of images. Divination and magic play an important role, as in Iamblichean Neoplatonism.
The contemplative practice that I have sketched above, interprets
spiritual tradition somewhat differently, since it is neither directed at
assimilation nor at attaining emptiness of mind. The difference between
apophatic and cataphatic is no longer pronounced. It is possible to read Pseudo-Dionysius
in this way, because he
says that the image of God hides in nature and may be disclosed. Thus, things of the world are not merely an allurement and a hindrance, as in radical apophatic tradition. Rather, the perceptible may also assist the contemplative on his journey towards God (cf. Winther, 2015, here
Infused contemplation is Christian mysticism’s advanced level of
contemplation in which the spirit of God is infused into the mind, and
the mind therefore becomes void of temporal representations. It differs
from ‘meditation’ in that the latter has discursive elements on which
one focuses. Infused contemplation serves to empty the mind
in order to allow room for the infusion of divine mind, whereas the
creative form of contemplation, in terms of psychology, serves a
generative and invigorating purpose vis-à-vis
Instead of a theological interpretation of contemplation we may look
upon it in terms of psychology. Clinical psychology has developed a
contemplative therapy based on “mindfulness”, drawing on the Buddhist
technique of Anapanasati. Mindfulness meditation, especially as a method of
reducing accumulated bodily stress, has met with great success in the
Western world. Evidently, contemplation may be understood exclusively in
psychological terms. The contemplative praxis, as an integral aspect of
human nature, has been largely forgotten in the modern world. It may
account for many of the nervous and stress-related problems that
westerners suffer from. Comparatively, every horse and every cat knows
how to contemplate. Cats were kept by Zen Buddhists and Christian
medieval monks. They were seen as exemplary role models, always
maintaining serenity of mind.
In The Feminine in Fairy Tales
(ch. 3), M-L von Franz
work, crochet work, and weaving, as a form of contemplation. She regards
the spider as a Mother symbol and associates the knitting activity with
the spider’s work. Since it connects us with the repressed Earth Mother
it has a wholesome effect. Von Franz says that such work generally has a
very salutary effect, especially on women.
We may figuratively look upon constructive, practical, or artistic
contemplation as a form of knitting activity whereby a spiritual
spider’s web is manufactured, which serves to catch
the fireflies (scintillae). Contemplation seems to be an integral part of human psychology and it
also occupies a central place in religious tradition. It is yet another
example of a transcendental aspect of the human psyche that has been
neglected by psychology. What purpose shall it serve, if it
isn’t designed for the assimilation of psychic content nor any other
creative goal? But, as Poul Bjerre explains, a necessary
prerequisite for successful adaptation and assimilation of personality
is a harmonious mind, and that’s why he recommends the praxis of
contemplation (cf. Bjerre, 1933, p. 303).
In this chapter I will show that the development of modern art, since Matisse, coincides with spiritual tradition, as taught by the Neoplatonists of ancient antiquity, Christian mystics, Indian Dharma tradition, and Taoism. The goal is to overcome attachment, achieving transcendence. In Neoplatonic terms, what first takes place is the reversion (epistrophê) of one’s life’s energy, so that movement is instead directed toward the transcendental One. This will lead to henôsis, which is spiritual union and the achievement of oneness. There is one major benefit of the myth. It serves the important function of “overcoming the world”, which is essentially the same theme as modern artists have laboured with. In psychological terms, it leads to the freeing of personality and the achievement of individuality proper. This coincides with the resolution of the mother complex, which in its broadest definition is equal to unconscious attachment to everything worldly. Psychologists do not know why the unconscious psyche strives after this development. However, von Franz argues that the spiritual passion is even stronger than sexuality. This is corroborated by the enormous following that spiritual tradition has amassed throughout history.
As Henri Matisse (1869-1954) expressed it, he and the Fauvists broke through the stone wall that Paul Cézanne (1839-1906) had worked to undermine, thus invoking the epoch of modern art. Characteristic of Matisse’s art is the large fields of pure colour, contrasted with each other. So it was a move towards greater abstraction. This was continued in Expressionism, which is essentially a development of Fauvism. And then Kazimir Malevich (1878-1935) and the Suprematists took the process even further and said that there must only be rectilinear fields of colour, and perhaps one or another circle and triangle. Eventually, colour was removed altogether when Malevich painted a white square on white background.
“White on White”. Kazimir Malevich, 1918.
This painting relates a feeling of transcendence, signifying emancipation from worldly dependence. In religious terminology it is connected with a strong feeling of relief, called bliss. Says Malevich:
Objects have vanished like smoke; to attain the new artistic culture, art
advances toward creation as an end in itself and toward domination over the
forms of nature. (Malevich, 1915)
To own such a painting would be like owning a holy relic, capable of endowing the environment with spiritual signification. If we cannot afford to buy it, then we may create something similar ourselves. The “religious” aspect of art is a time-honoured concept. Once upon a time all art was religious.
So, in symbolical terms, this represents a continual move towards transcendence. According to Malevich, the white background represents infinity, emptiness, and transcendence.
White was for Malevich the color of infinity, and signified a realm of higher feeling…an utopian world of pure form, attainable only through nonobjective art. Indeed, he named his theory of art Suprematism to signify ‘the supremacy of pure feeling or perception in the pictorial arts’; and pure perception demanded that a picture’s forms ‘have nothing in common with nature.’ Malevich imagined Suprematism as a universal language that would free viewers from the material world. (Smith, 2004, p. 85)
In “Yellow Plane in Dissolution”, the process is expressed in the fading of the form into white mist.
“Yellow Plane in Dissolution”.
Kazimir Malevich, 1917.
Despite this, the mimetic
view of art has retained its grip on artists and amateurs alike. It means that art comes from the outside, and we simply copy it. Already Plato was very critical of this stance. According to Plato, pure Beauty is non-representational, because it is transcendental Form (cf. Pappas, 2015). The breaking of the bonds with the outer world represents detachment, which in psychoanalytic language is termed resolution of the mother complex. People are generally fond of nature and the Impressionists’ representations of it. We are also fond of sweets, alcoholic beverages, and many other things that we ought to detach ourselves from. And that’s why painting mustn’t be seen as mere pleasurable activity, through the easy path of mimesis, because it means that the bond with the world as Mother is retained.
Matisse, in his dialogue with André Masson (1896-1987), expresses this idea of detachment when he says: “I always start with something — a chair, a table, but as the work progresses I become less conscious of it. By the end I am hardly aware of the subject with which I started” (Adres, 2010). So the process of detachment is repeated again and again during his work. That’s why art ought to continue in the footsteps of Expressionists and Suprematists, and not back-pedal to a mimetic art form. Impressionism needn’t be practiced as such, however. Yet, the way painting is taught today is to use Impressionist means to copy correctly, so that one gets the right impression
. But, really, it is all about getting the right expression
. I question the whole concept of practicing diverse tricks to achieve a mimetic result. The result is often a “beautiful” painting of some artistic value. Yet, how well an artist has succeeded in imitating a mountain side is not that interesting. What matters is what he has to say. In my judgment, this is low-class art. Sadly, many amateurs find it appealing, and thus they waste a lot of time learning it. So this goes in the other direction than detachment and emancipation, as professed by Matisse, because with increased skill, the better is the mimetic result.
What strengthens the argument is the Cubism of Georges Braque (1882-1963) and Pablo Picasso (1881-1973). During the analytic period they disassembled the object into facets, also reducing the colouration to greys and ochres. So here we have the same detachment from the natural object that we see elsewhere in modern art. In the words of Malevich, they achieved “domination over the forms of nature”.
The conclusion is that both art history and the psychological motive behind painting revolve around similar themes as spiritual tradition. Yet, many a painter will continue to paint just for pleasure and to “have fun”, because he/she lacks the strong spiritual impetus of the unconscious.
In view of this, we ought to promote the higher art forms, such as Cubism, because these coincide with the directionality of the unconscious that strives after individuation and emancipation of personality. It is the only remedy against collectivism, which has haunted us throughout history, and which today shows its ugly head in the form of militant Islamism. (Yet, the impact of multiculturalism, postmodern relativism, and global welfarism, is even more destructive.) Malevich said that art was essential in reconstruction of the world, and he was right, because it serves an end of individual emancipation.
People who cannot find satisfaction in acquiring social and monetary status must go to the stream that runs deep. This entails creating a “lie” that one can passionately endorse. But the inner source, which radiates this passion, is not a lie. Pablo Picasso says:
We all know that Art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realize truth, at least the truth that is given us to understand. The artist must know the manner whereby to convince others of the truthfulness of his lies. If he only shows in his work that he has searched, and re-searched, for the way to put over lies, he would never accomplish anything. (Barr, 1946, pp. 270-71)
I can hardly understand the importance given to the word research in connection with modern painting. In my opinion to search means nothing in painting. To find is the thing. Nobody is interested in following a man who, with his eyes fixed on the ground, spends his life looking for the purse that fortune should put in his path. The one who finds something no matter what it might be, even if his intention were not to search for it, at least arouses our curiosity, if not our admiration. (Barr, 1946, pp. 270-71)
Carl Jung, contrary to Picasso, endorses the unceasing quest for truth, which is like a heroic mission, forever searching for that four-leaf clover. He says that the integration of the Self is coupled with a tremendous effort. But, in fact, we are capable of making a find where we stand. The alchemists said that the materia prima
, out of which gold is made, can be found right at your doorstep. When placed in the alchemical egg, the most commonplace material will turn to gold. (See above: “Still Life With Chair Caning”.) Jung’s position is bound to lead many a searcher astray in the wilderness, endlessly searching for a truth that doesn’t exist. Since Picasso’s standpoint is truly alchemical and artistic, he is anathema to Jung. This is evident from his 1932 article, where Picasso is characterized as being schizoid and his art pathological (cf. Jung, 1966, pars. 204ff).
The Harlequin is a recurrent motif of Picasso’s. In my view, the Harlequin would correspond to the Mercurius, who shall undergo union (coniunctio
) with the soul, which is Columbine. That’s probably why the alchemists said that the Harlequinade points at the secret of alchemy. Yet, Jung says that “Harlequin gives me the creeps” (para. 214). It seems that he has a strong resistance to the artistic jester, who creates illusions from what he finds outside his doorstep. Accordingly, Jung’s alchemical research, although containing much of value, is encumbered with grave psychological misinterpretations. In fact, the central truth of alchemy was to stop searching and start finding. This is also the central truth of individuation.
Georges Braque and his atelier compares to the alchemist and his laboratory. Braque lived more or less as a reclusive. He mostly painted still lifes of common articles. Jacques Damase says that “[these] pictures are a microcosm reproducing the painter’s professional universe” (Damase, 1963, p. 76). Arguably, the goal is to build a kind of microcosm, because this is
the alchemical lapis
. It is undergoing refinement while the artifex is working toward a better grasp of the divine light that leavens ordinary things. Braque says: “I know exactly where I am going. My goal is my desire to make paintings of the utmost significance” (p. 78). “My goal is my desire” — that’s a pregnant statement. Significantly, he strives to achieve “utmost significance” by painting household objects. Says Damase:
Braque is the painter who succeeded in placing a dirty bidet or a dubious washbasin in the finest gilded salons of millionaires because, for him, “the best part of art consists of discovering what is ‘common’.”
What could be more ordinary than a lemon, than a still life with an apple and a pipe; boring, in theory, and yet this lemon and this pipe are worth thousand of pounds — because they are the guardians of a mystery. (Damase, 1963, pp. 78-79)
With Braque, [there] is no substance or reality, but a quality, or lack of image, more or less convincing, which he makes of one object in relation to another. “I ended up,” he said, “with a kind of alienation from the object, so as to give it a pictorial meaning, sufficient to it’s new life. When I paint a vase, it is not to manufacture a utensil capable of holding water, but for another reason. Objects are recreated to another end: here, that of taking part in a painting. By losing their normal functions, objects become more human. They are united, therefore, by the relationships which grow up between them, and, especially, between them and the painting and myself.” (ibid. pp. 76-77)
In consonance with the rest of existence, the unconscious has a game-playing foundation. The central theme of individuation is emancipation of personality, and the maintenance of wholeness, but not in the sense of attaining completeness. Society, too, is like a gaming board where we follow certain rules and perform certain stage acts. This coincides with our general picture of reality. Physicist Richard Feynman said that the universe functions very similar to a chess game (cf. Schonfield, 2012). Today we know that everything
consist of little particles, similar to game pieces, that move around on the chess board of the universe, following certain rules. Religious worshipers play a game which involves certain ritual acts and the belief in an invisible “spiritual Father”. These would seem to be figments of imagination, because all that exists are material particles, which are not inert and “dumb”, but know how to behave on the universal gaming board. It seems that the only thing that exists is the playing of games. Whatever we do, we are merely occupied with diversions. It is indisputable if we look at the artistic occupations. However, also scientific research is a game as well as a contest. It is all about finding out the rules that material particles follow, which are sometimes very complicated. And when we have learnt these rules, we can build yet more technological toys with which we may amuse ourselves and create yet more advanced games.
What’s missing from the Jungian perspective is the way in which individuation can mean a sloughing off of an aspect of personality, bogged down by an illusory worldview and exhausted ways of adaptation. Individuation is generally pictured as the growth of a tree; but the process could equally well be viewed as metamorphic, as when a caterpillar turns into a butterfly. However, this is not in accordance with the Jungian ideal of completeness
, which means growing yet more branches on the tree to achieve a grand wholeness. So, for instance, if intellect is primary, it can only be the question of integrating the other functions sufficiently. Abandoning the intellect for an artistic development is out of the question, for it would mean that another function becomes primary. It means killing, or cutting away, developed branches of the psychic tree. However, I believe that this is what individuation sometimes demands of us. It is a common theme in spiritual teachings of the world, namely to cast off the old and habitual in order to attain a new being.
On Jung’s view, the myth of the individual must be substituted for the myth of the collective. It means that individuation is a form of personal mythology. Accordingly, it involves finding one’s own myth. So, on Jung’s account, disillusionment with the world means to cast off the myth of the collective (cf. Jung, 1972, p. 240). Yet, he offers his own myth of “completeness” as universal, and also his notions of anima
and mana personality
as stages of individuation. So, whereas the Christian mystic, through consecutive steps of spiritual ascent, attempts to achieve union with Christ in the unio mystica
, Jung sets as goal the union with the anima, mana personality, and Self. The Self is the same as Swedenborg’s notion of Homo Maximus — the universal image of Christ.
Thus, what Jung offers is a revitalized Neoplatonic myth of spiritual ascent (anabasis
). However, whereas Neoplatonic and Christian mystical ascent involved worldly renouncement, Jung maintains that worldly adaptation must be pursued and maintained. This view is predicated on his ideal of completeness. He argues that you can only be complete if you’re both worldly and spiritual, a notion that rhymes with a particular form of Neoplatonism, namely Swedenborg’s system. Jung conceives of an opus psychologicum
, corresponding to the opus alchymicum
, the goal of which is “complete individuation”. This involves a struggle against nature. He says:
[H]owever much the alchemist may extol venerabilis natura, it is in either case an opus contra naturam […] The ancients were optimistic enough to see this struggle not as a chaotic muddle but as aspiring to some higher order. (Jung, 1974, para. 469)
However, from an evolutionary perspective, going against nature could not have been biologically adaptive. It is hard to see how the individuative drive, involving a period of psychic meltdown, could be favoured by natural selection. Whence comes individuation, in its Jungian guise? The only explanation is that it must have been placed in our soul by a Higher Power. So it is an unscientific and Neoplatonic notion. Pauliina Remes says that “[this] turn (epistrophé
) and ‘ascent’ (anabasis, anodos
) refers to the human being’s desire and attempt to actualize the higher levels of her being” (p. 114). Epistrophé signifies a reversal of life. The Neoplatonic view that objects of knowledge are internal and innate to the soul gives rise to the famous Neoplatonic “inward turn”. The reversal of life is a turn inwards (cf. Remes, p. 167).
This is Jungian individuation in a nutshell. The myth is functional
in that it serves to emancipate the individual from worldly identification. Yet, we must face the fact that the whole theoretical edifice is Neoplatonic and not scientific. Indeed, Jung attests to its mythic character:
So too the self is
our life’s goal, for it is the completest expression of that fateful
combination we call individuality, the full flowering not only of
the single individual, but of the group, in which each adds his
portion to the whole.
Sensing the self as something irrational, as an indefinable existent,
to which the ego is neither opposed nor subjected, but
merely attached, and about which it revolves very much as the
earth revolves round the sun — thus we come to the goal of individuation.
I use the word “sensing” in order to indicate the apperceptive
character of the relation between ego and self. In this
relation nothing is knowable, because we can say nothing about
the contents of the self. The ego is the only content of the self
that we do know. The individuated ego senses itself as the object
of an unknown and supraordinate subject. It seems to me that
our psychological inquiry must come to a stop here, for the idea
of a self is itself a transcendental postulate which, although justifiable
psychologically, does not allow of scientific proof. (Jung, 1972, para. 405)
Jesse Bering (2012) has shown that this “sensing” of an ulterior mind, is a consequence of a peculiarity of our species, namely our “theory of mind”, which gives rise to an acute sensitivity to being in the judgmental presence of others. There is no empirical evidence of an opus contra naturam
inbuilt in our psychic constitution. However, we know that the unconscious is very adaptive. “If this is what makes you happy, let’s play the game of individuation!
” Accordingly, the unconscious plays along and produces images of transformation. But this will only continue as long as the scam works and remains convincing to the conscious mind, and as long as it furthers mental health and longevity. Correspondingly, those who are “saved” and adopt the Christian faith, will often encounter Jesus in dreams. Indeed, having a purpose in life confers longevity, especially in a social setting where you can get support.
We can deduce that having a faith is biologically adaptive. But this is like playing a game where the unconscious plays along. From my own experience, the unconscious has an overwhelming focus on mental and bodily welfare. I have no experience that it wants to push down the ego from its pedestal. But as soon as the ego becomes hubristic and self-sufficient, the unconscious is bound to produce compensatory images. This is because having a modest and unpretentious ego promotes mental health and adaptability.
Likewise, temperance in eating and drinking promotes physical health, and that’s why my own unconscious insists that I should eat proper food, not drink much alcohol, and having sufficient exercise. The central unconscious impetus is the well-being of the organism. Well-being is wholeness — to be whole is to be healthy. However, Jung wrongly associates wholeness with completeness, and therefore argues that ‘perfection’ is inconsistent with wholeness. This is a mistake, because wholeness and simpleness are wholly congruent.
All in all, Jung has afforded us a new collective myth, which is really his private myth of individuation, building on Swedenborg’s form of Neoplatonism. But it could be argued that the notion of personal achievement on the path of individuation puts shackles on the individual. It is bound to make people frustrated with the life they have, because the myth of individuation speaks of a treasure at the rainbow’s end. It prevents them from living in the “here and now”. Nothing of what is proffered as goals of individuation is achievable, as such, because it is merely a myth that is supposed to replace the Christian myth. So it is really the question of “playing at” doing the individuative journey and to accomplish the integration of archetypes.
The alchemical myth also involves passing through stages, although it was symbolized by material transformations. In forging this myth, the alchemists found purpose in their lives; but they could also make it manifest through creative work. That’s why it is called a Sacred Art. Jung renounces art, however, arguing that nothing needs to be made manifest, because it is all about psychological
transformations. This, he maintains, is the only manifestly real. Accordingly, he emphasizes the reality of the psyche.
But this has a backside. It means that he has short-circuited the mythic foundation of individuation, since it becomes impossible to perform it as a playing activity, which is what it really is — merely an art form, and merely a playing activity. In the words of the alchemists, it is a ludus puerorum
— a children’s game. Anyway, the goal of the Self is unreachable:
These images are naturally only anticipations of a wholeness which is, in principle, always just beyond our reach […] Fundamentally, of course, they always point to the self, the container and organizer of all opposites. But at the moment of their appearance they merely indicate the possibility of order in wholeness. (Jung, 1974, para. 536)
Most people, I suppose, would balk at the notion of spending the second half of life on a wild goose chase. Against this notion, I hold that individuation means, firstly, to attain psychological emancipation. Secondly, it means to realize the inner capability of infusing any creative work with meaning. Thus, the individuant ought to recognize, much like Braque and Picasso, that it is all about creating a lie that aspires to Truth. Such an inner playful passion is wholly realizable, unlike the Self of Completeness. It could be called the “inner sun”.
We are genetically preconditioned to form a God image. There’s no doubt that the Self exists in this sense, that is, as a psychic complex. But this means that it should be regarded a God-illusion
created by the psyche. It is there only to enhance our survival value. Jung views the very experience of this complex as proof of the empirically veracity of the Self. Yet it is only proof of an autonomous self-deception created during human evolution. We are being deceived. During near-death experiences, the unconscious creates a deception that we are about to enter the realm of divine love. Researchers have stimulated the brain electrically to produce similar experiences. Of course, drugs, such as LSD, can also produce such “evidence”. LSD users have had experiences of the divine.
How are we to judge such material? It is only proof that the unconscious psyche is capable of producing a colourful celestial imagery. It’s no wonder — after all, the human brain is the most complicated structure in the universe, as far as we know. The unconscious is keen on creating an illusion that life has purpose. This serves to prevent depression and motivate the individual to continue life’s struggle. So these are adaptive illusions
. The God image has put a restraint on our voracious ego. Being “good”, in the eyes of the omniscient Father, would have been highly adaptive, especially since our verbal capacity of gossip often has the consequence of ostracism. Says Jesse Bering:
The cognitive illusion of an ever-present and keenly observant God worked for our genes, and that’s reason enough for nature to have kept the illusion vividly alive in human brains. (Bering, 2012, Kindle Loc. 2912f)
This all corresponds with Jung’s original formulation of the archetypal theory. It is the Self archetype which gives rise to the God image. But this means that God is merely a figment of our evolutionary imagination. Regardless of what form it takes, the Self is a fiction — a fancy formulated by the unconscious psyche.
Jung first tried to remedy the inevitable atheistic and rationalistic repercussions by claiming that the psyche is real enough — which is supposed to mean that our fantasies are “real”. But this didn’t work very well. So, eventually, he formulated a transcendental metaphysic according to which the archetype-as-such resides in an otherworldly dimension (cf. Jung, 1977a, pars. 786-89).
According to Jung, the Self manifests in dreams, for example, as a horse, a tree, a castle, etc. This is the only “empirical” evidence there is. Of course, if we take the view that an idea of mind is “real”, then the dream image is veridical in the scientific sense. It follows that Dali’s “burning giraffe” is real
, too, because it is an empirical content and a reflection of an archetype. If we view the archetypes as they were originally conceived, namely as acquired patterns of mentation, then they are equally real as instincts. But an instinct isn’t metaphysically
real. When the species goes extinct its instincts are gone, also. So that’s why Jung’s original conception was unsatisfactory to him, and it explains why he backpedaled 2300 years to the Platonic worldview. Curiously, since the Self denotes “complete manhood”, it signifies “maximal collectivity”. Jung says:
[Through self-knowledge] there arises a consciousness which is no longer imprisoned in the petty, oversensitive, personal world of the ego, but participates freely in the wider world of objective interests. This widened consciousness is no longer that touchy, egotistical bundle of personal wishes, fears, hopes, and ambitions which always has to be compensated or corrected by unconscious counter-tendencies; instead, it is a function of relationship to the world of objects, bringing the individual into absolute, binding, and indissoluble communion with the world at large. (Jung, 1972, para. 275)
However, he also says that we mustn’t “become” this collective being but must remain anchored in our ego. Our relation with this symbol of complete manhood should be like that of the earth rotating around the sun (ibid. para. 400). Even so, the psychic Self as our life’s goal, and the pursuit of this goal as life’s essential meaning, is not a tenable idea. In order to put faith in this concept it is necessary to adopt a belief in the soul’s survival after death. The realization of the Self would represent the creation of the resurrection body ahead of time. The alchemists entertained such beliefs, because the creation of the filius philosophorum
, infans solaris
, etc., had such connotations. But modern people cannot believe in such things, anymore. So how can individuation gain ascendancy in public consciousness, when it is rooted in 19th century woolly philosophy about the World Soul? It doesn’t work anymore.
The symbol of God has had an adaptive purpose. Having purpose in life confers health and longevity. It is part of our nature to think in a religious way. These are illusions created by the brain, according to archetypal premises inbuilt in our genome, moulded by cultural factors. According to Bering, “culture develops and decorates the innate psychological building blocks of religious belief” (Kindle Loc. 1835). The Self is defined as “God within us” (Jung, 1972, para. 399). Thus, God has been transferred into the psyche as an autonomous psychic content
that is to be regarded as “real”. Jung says:
From the point of view of psychology, the names we give to the self are quite irrelevant, and so is the question of whether or not it is “real”. Its psychological reality is enough for all practical purposes. (Jung, 1993, para. 532)
This is like saying that the thunder god Thor must be taken at face value because we can experience his causatum in the form of thunder and lightning. Thor strikes fear and awe into our heart, and that’s the only thing that counts. But, today, since we have learnt that thunderstorms derive from electric activity, we are not awestruck anymore, merely impressed. Likewise, since I know that my dreams derive from electric activity in the brain, I am no longer struck by wonderment. I won’t turn to religious worship because of having had religious experiences.
To say that psychological experience defines what’s “real” does not accord with the modern scientific worldview. In that case, if I see a man at a distance, hobgoblins must be regarded as real, since the man appears to my senses as minuscule. We must always remain critical of our senses and interpret our experiences. We no longer feel religious awe, since we are aware that phenomena depend on such things as electric activity. But this only means that we have acquired a more subtle sense of wonderment. There is no need for a “re-enchantment” of the world.
Religious awe is a primitive feeling, pagan in kind. We ought to go beyond this phase, and strive after the sublime. Jungian psychology has Neo-Pagan qualities in that the worldly experience involves the fulfilment of a grand wholeness, reminiscent of the age-old chimera of an earthly paradise. But we should get away from the Big Ideas.
Comparatively, the alchemical gold is a function of creativity, a little fountain, which takes shape in the life of the individual. Its products are very concrete, and not illusory. Libido flows in the soul of the individual, but it is like a glittering rivulet — it’s not grand and forceful. In my youth I had a remarkable dream that compensated this notion:
A midget approached me and pronounced: It’s better to be a little fountain that spouts water than to be a large fountain whose source has run dry.
This formulates a better view of the Self, namely as a little fountain, associated with the Mercurius. To Jung, the sun is an apt symbol of the Self. But we shall not strive to fly close to the sun, like Icarus. In fact, it is the smallest planet, namely Mercury, which symbolizes the true Self. It is the inner “life-giver”, the subtle passion for life, which typically comes to expression in some form of creativity. This is the gold that the alchemists sought. The Mercurius is the proper Self for the modern time — a Self that must be created out of matter by a conscious effort of the artifex.
Individuation has favourable psychological effects because it delivers the individual from imprisonment in collective identity. But this does not endow life with meaning. Nor does eating more vegetables, which is also healthy. So not many people will listen to such an argument. If joining a collective group provides economical opportunities as well as social status, including marital opportunities, then people will go for it. They will worship any god or believe in any dogma, and in that way adjust to the collective, as long as it allows them to propagate their own genes and provide for their children and themselves.
These are the things that matter in people’s lives: social status, stable income, genetic propagation. Individuation, to stand out from the group, will only create difficulties for the individual. It inevitably leads to loneliness. There is nothing factual about individuation, and the realization of the Self, as goals of life. A central concept is “finding your own myth” and creating your own path in life. But this means to acknowledge that the myth of individuation, as formulated in Two Essays
(Jung, 1972), and elsewhere, is invalid. After all, if we’re going to create our own myth, then we can’t follow a preordained concept.
So it is a hoax. However, so is everything else. Nor does science provide purpose in life. Science is working to reveal the hoax of the universe. Everything consists of elemental particles, which have once been compressed to the size of a ping-pong ball. And it will all vanish in a distant future. All the stars will die down, and eventually everything in the universe will be ripped apart on account of spatial expansion.
There is no objective
God, no objective
Self, no objective
Meaning. So we have to kindle the fire ourselves. It means to arouse interest and passion for the creative subject matter, so that we may rise enthusiastically from the bed each morning. In order to achieve this, we should refrain from participating in any collectivistic illusion, including the psychological form of worship. The alchemist in his laboratory, the artist in his atelier, the author in his studio — they are all working to create meaning: “My goal is my desire to make paintings of the utmost significance” — Georges Braque.
Today we know that only the material universe is metaphysically real. However, it seems that matter is endowed with wonderful qualities, and that’s why it can give rise to the self-conscious mind (vid. Winther, 2014b, here
). Just as the alchemists say, the spirit is enclosed in matter, and it can be awakened to life. So, arguably, a better idea is to view matter as ultimate reality. According to Neoplatonic and Hegelian philosophy, which Jung builds on, matter has inferior metaphysical status. In Neoplatonism, inert matter is unreal, and therefore belongs to the evil principle.
British philosopher Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947) took the opposite view. On the surface his system is Neoplatonic, but he gave matter highest reality status, whereas ideas are regarded as mere potentials for material creation. Whitehead says that “there is no going behind actual entities to find anything more real” (Whitehead, 1978, p. 18). On this view, the most fundamental principle in the universe is creativity, which works to unify the diverse manifold. Everything builds on and is influenced by other things in creation. So this has not much in common with the modern existentialist or postmodern distrust of metanarratives, since we are always partaking in the creation of the world. Whitehead holds that all worldly things are “self-creative”, having different grades of “intensity”.
Both Hegel and Jung have equated progress
with the evolution of consciousness
. Against this, Whitehead views the evolution of expression
as central. Ideas, necessary for creation, are synthesized from the worldly experience. Every thing created relates to the whole, and will also serve as grounds for new creation, since worldly things can harbour ideas, termed “eternal objects”. The world does not have a fixed essence, but depends on continual creative progression. So world and idea are not far removed, but remain interdependent within the continual flow of creation.
It seems to me that Whitehead’s philosophy better rhymes with the artistic and alchemical conception. On this view, individuation means “bringing oneself into the world” in the creative sense, because everyone carries a piece of the world’s puzzle. This does not rule out introversion, which is ultimately a way to radically participate. Subjectivity remains central as it serves to determine the objective facts about the world through creativity (cf. Rosenblum, 2016, Kindle Loc. 450).
The Jungian goal of individuation is maximal collectivity, conditioned by the Self as the complete image of Man. Against this, Whitehead says that to be truly different is to be new — to be ‘one’ requires uniqueness. To achieve such an enhancement of both human nature and worldly existence means to produce genuine novelty, which is creativity proper. To add genuinely one’s own piece to the world’s puzzle advances the entire world.
In contrast, Jungian psychology centers on the realization of the Self as an exclusively psychological goal, as the “completeness” of personality. This view is fraught with difficulties. A better concept is the following. At midlife, or perhaps later, one should have attained sufficient
completeness, through the integration of the shadow, etc. In later life, the realization of the Self really concerns adaptation to life itself — in a way, one ought to establish a little paradise of one’s own.
But this is undoable as long as one clings to the concept of completeness. In fact, one must gear down. This requires that a form of wholeness is accomplished, but not in the sense of completeness. Guillaume Apollinaire (1880-1918) comments on the art of Georges Braque:
This painter is angelic. Purer than other men, he pays no attention to anything that, being alien to his art, might cause him suddenly to fall from the paradise he inhabits. (Fry, 1978, p. 49)
Such a state of mind, which involves a creative flow, would represent the realization of Self. But he has become simple. So the theory around the Self ought to be rectified accordingly.
Jung refers to shadow work as “the apprentice-piece” (Jung, 1980b, para. 61). I criticize the theory around the shadow from the standpoint of Bjerre’s notion of “objectification” (cf. chapter ‘The theory of unconscious compensation’). It means that shadow nature must sometimes be cut off rather than integrated. It was Jesus of Nazareth who first pointed to the problem of the shadow when he told people to look at their own faults rather than pointing out imperfections in others. Otherwise they will become like whitewashed tombs, “which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean” (Matt. 23:27). This represents the integration and realization of shadow nature. However, he also speaks of the opposite principle: “If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off” (Mark 9:43).
The theory of individuation revolves single-mindedly around unconscious integration. The notion of “cutting off” the limb that leads you astray is overtly repudiated by Jung on the grounds that it means striving after ‘perfection’. It is ‘completeness’ that must be sought. But the one does not exclude the other. Comparatively, a physicist employs both integral calculus and differential calculus. In social life, we sometimes have no other choice than to cut off acquaintances, because they are hurting us. Bjerre calls this principle ‘negation’; to objectify and to negate an aspect of personality. So we must employ both integration and negation. In spiritual tradition, it has been of central importance to negate those aspects of personality which are obsessively bound to the sensual. Because we are very prone to waste our time on trifles, we ought to strive after simplicity. This view does not concord with Jungian individuation.
Individuation, allegedly, involves the ego’s fusion with unconscious factors — the archetypes. Jung says that “[the] extreme consequence of this is the dissolution of the ego in the unconscious, a state resembling death” (Jung, 1974, para. 501). Is the encounter with the unconscious really a crushing experience to the ego? In fact, it’s the other way round. When a person has a crushing experience in outer life, and sustains a serious blow to his/her egoic ambition, then an unconscious encounter will take place. This is what happened in Jung’s case. He had tremendous ambition before his break with Freud, but afterwards found himself an outcast. The images that his unconscious produced were inspired from the thorough mythological studies that preceded Symbols of Transformation
(Jung, 1976). Thus, he had acquired a conscious eagerness, and an unconscious anticipation, to experience transformation, because he believed in this myth. Jung says:
The self could be characterized as a kind of compensation of the conflict between inside and outside. This formulation would not be unfitting, since the self has somewhat the character of a result, of a goal attained, something that has come to pass very gradually and is experienced with much travail. So too the self is our life’s goal, for it is the completest expression of that fateful combination we call individuality, the full flowering not only of the single individual, but of the group, in which each adds his portion to the whole. (Jung, 1972, para. 404)
But, really, how attractive is such a goal for the average citizen, to achieve the “completest expression” of individuality, achieved with much travail? I would rather find in the unconscious the fons mercurialis
, the fountain of youth, gushing forth living water. People don’t care much for becoming a “complete personality”. Nobody is going to applause them anyway. And when we encounter sickness and death, all the embellishments of my personhood will turn to ash. As far as I can see, the only motive to undertake the travail of completeness is that the individuant is rewarded a place among the host of angels. Edward Edinger (1922-1998) has such a thought:
Individual consciousness or realization of wholeness is the psychological product of the temporal process of individuation. For that to be made eternal is a mysterious idea. It seems to imply that consciousness achieved by individuals becomes a permanent addition to the archetypal psyche. There is indeed evidence for this idea. For instance, Jung had sublimatio visions when close to death in 1944. He found himself elevated far above the earth and stripped down to an “objective form”… (Edinger, 1985, p. 140)
This is nothing short of silly. It represents a regress to archaic religious belief. Nevertheless, it seems that both Jung and von Franz, in a loose way, entertained such beliefs. Of course, to make sense of the individuative striving, it requires that we survive in spiritual form after death. In the same way as mundane people strive after riches and position on earth, the individuant strives after a position in the celestial hierarchy. This is Emanuel Swedenborg’s thought.
But it is not possible to entertain such beliefs in the modern age of science. Today we know that every form in the universe — stars and galaxies, and every biological species — have evolved spontaneously, and that everything consists of atoms. There is no evidence of a creator God; nor of a celestial hierarchy. Without such beliefs, the striving after completeness, the full flowering of the individual, has lost its motivational impetus.
When we speak of “unconscious guidance” we must qualify our terms. The unconscious impetus really revolves around adaptation to life, to acquire personal harmony, and this serves to further good health and survival. In terms of Bjerre, it is all about avoiding a neurotic standstill. It could mean to focus on subjective meaning
rather than following the path of outward ambition. It has to do with certain facts of life, which means that the unconscious is often more realistic
than the conscious ego.
According to this view, individuation isn’t predetermined according to psychological law. This is contrary to Jung’s view, according to which individuation is teleological
in that it strives to realize the goal of an ideal Self, formally indistinguishable from the God image. However, this view is quite unscientific because it doesn’t take account of the happenstance nature of life on this earth. We simply have to adapt to circumstances and make the best of the situation. Thus, we cannot follow a pre-programmed path. For instance, we could encounter illness, which greatly reduces our mental powers. Above all, we are certain to become bogged down by the many necessities of life, which have nothing to do with an individuative journey.
The upshot is that there exists no treasure at the rainbow’s end, in the form of the Self or the golden ‘filius philosophorum’. It is a myth. Yet, mythic ideas could serve as foundation for a personal creativity
, if the individual cannot find satisfaction in a creative profession. The unconscious does not want to destroy the ego. The only thing that it is “aiming at” is adaptation to life, to acquire harmony and creative flow. It is working towards mental and physical health, in order to better the chances for the biological organism. This makes biological sense.
The notion of achieving a complete individuative journey during one’s earthly sojourn has much in common with the ideal of the consummate Welfare Society, symbolically analogous to the worldly Self of Completeness. Yet, building the “Kingdom of Heaven on earth” has destructive consequences. Already Augustine of Hippo (354-430) refuted the idea of the consummate earthly society in his masterpiece The City of God
(2015). It is like building the Tower of Babel. It means the pursuit of an illusion, because everything earthly is doomed to demise. It is a book that not only Communists and Islamists ought to read. It ought to be read by every politician who believes in the Welfare State as capable of manifesting flawless order, goodness and prosperity for all humanity.
In the theory of individuation, it is the focus on psychological
transformation, as a goal in itself, which is problematic, because it is really a ludus puerorum
. For the emancipated individual, individuation really means the playing of a game, and it is the creative manifestations of the game that carry importance. The journey itself is the goal. It is all about acquiring an inner passion for the game. When the passion awakens in the night of the soul, it is like the red sun rises above the horizon. This is what the alchemists mean by rubedo
, following the stage of nigredo
. In keeping with his focus on psychological transformation, Jung understands the nigredo as the dispiriting consequence of unconscious immersion and shadow integration. In my view, the nigredo is really the consequence of life’s lack of purpose and the fact that the goal is unattainable. The alchemist has found that he makes no headway.
Of course, the appearance of the “inner sun” means psychological transformation, of sorts; but it is really the question of psychological healing
from a neurotic condition of stagnation. A happy smile is back on the alchemist’s face, because he has finally realized that the opus is lacking a goal, and that it is futile to search for the rainbow’s end. He makes the realization that the red tincture
, or the aurum potabile
(golden liquid), is nothing but the passion for the art — the playing of the game. In fact, it is the red sun, that awakens in his soul, which is
the alchemical gold.
Thus, meaning is created by the artifex himself, because it results in a cultural product capable of inducing the same invigorating passion in other people. The red tincture was said to have this transmittable capacity. Thus, the notion of “play” does not signify a light-hearted attitude. On the contrary, it signifies enthusiasm for the subject matter, an impulse that derives from the creative subjective factor
, because it has no motivating factor in an objective truth, whether external or internal. In essence, it is a lie, formulated with ardour and confidence. What if that “red sun”, arising in the soul, could be understood as the Mercurius, and as the true Self? Thus, the goal is attained when the artifex attaches emotionally to the creative game, and projects the archetype on it, just like many alchemists and painters have succeeded in doing.
Individuation is a project for the second half of life, says Jung. However, whether or not young people should settle in the world before they set off on the spiritual path is entirely a pragmatic question. The unconscious supports any way that creates harmony and well-being. There is no psychological law which says that career and family has priority. One must adapt to circumstances and, in the long-term perspective, do what is best for one’s own well-being.
The “integration of the Self” as goal of individuation is a myth, whether or not the individuant believes in the myth and finds comfort in it. Accordingly, a blossoming of individuality in the second half of life is not central. What’s central is creative flow, and that personality can remain whole, which might require simplicity. If the individual becomes too integrated, not having cut off aspects of personality and diverse engagements, then the psychological seams will tear apart and a neurotic condition ensue.
Can the modern and rational individual put faith in the alchemical and artistic myth? In archetypal terms, the evolution of the collective psyche can be formulated as follows. In the Pagan universe, the gods were always nigh. The spirit, in matriarchal religion, permeates the sublunar realm. The reason why Christianity rose to domination was that Paganism had played out its role. People increasingly saw it as naive to make sacrifice and worship to a certain deity in order to better your chances in life. There are letters preserved which portray the Pagan attitude. For instance, in one letter a Roman military tells about a certain god and how useless he was. But now, since he had switched to another deity, he had made a significant career advancement.
The Christian God is remote from such worldly matters. The Christians focused on the moral aspects, and how to make a spiritual rather than a worldly career. So it was a decidedly more modern religion. Thus, the Christian revelation gave life-blood to the patriarchal conception. When the divine Son returns to the Father, it means the retraction of the indwelling spirit. Accordingly, with the advance of Christianity, we see a continual dissolution of many forms of superstition. Christianity has purged the material universe and paved the way for science, which is conceptual. Since science focuses on universal law, it must be characterized as ‘patriarchal’. According to von Franz, this process was too one-sided, which caused a profanization of the feminine archetype (cf. von Franz, 1980, pp. 212-15). Since we no longer gave heed to the feminine deity, present in the worldly domain, she plunged into corporeality and profaneness. Yet the goddess can be extracted from corporeality by means of artistic creativity, that is, in the way of Georges Braque. Indeed, the theme of alchemy is to extract the spiritus mercurii
from matter. Art, practiced in the right way (but not in the mimetic way) has much in common with alchemy. Alchemy is the medieval variant of New Age. It panders to the naive side in us. As Jung could not see it as such, he greatly misjudged it.
To cast off the world, we must realize the meaninglessness of it all. I pointed to the fact that everything consists of atoms that stringently follow pre-defined rules on the gaming board of the universe, and that the unconscious promotes the survival of the organism and the playing of games. Health and well-being is bolstered by playing the illusory game of life. But what if the unconscious now and then produces another message, which does not seem to favour biological and psychic health? What if it says like Jesus: “Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matt. 6:26). Should we live after this premise, then we would go under. Arguably, such a message cannot have the biological unconscious as source, for neither does it promote the survival of the organism nor does it bother about the rules of society.
This is the best proof of God there is. Do people receive such dream messages? Yes, they do, and they are inexplicable from a biological and atheistic perspective. Accordingly, it was the Lord’s will to crush The Man of Sorrows; to cause him to suffer (Isaiah 53). Young people have received messages, from an unknown source, that are exactly contrary to the natural drive, that is, to establish themselves in life. The elect person is supposed to trust in the Father, that he will put food on the table. It seems to show that there is a will in the beyond that only uses the unconscious as conduit for its messages. It gives the lie to modern psychic idealism, that is, to re-enchant the world and to create a mystical cult based on the figures of the unconscious.
© Mats Winther, 2014 (2020 October: added two paragraphs).
. Individuation is defined as the process of psychological differentiation, having for its goal the development of the psychological individual as a being distinct from the general, collective psychology. Individuation is predicated on the archetypal ideal of wholeness
and depends on a vital relationship between ego and unconscious. The aim is not to overcome one’s personal psychology, to become perfect, but to become aware of one’s unique psychological reality, including personal strengths and limitations. Individuation is in the first place an internal and subjective process of integration
, and in the second it is an equally indispensable process of objective relationship, by which a deeper appreciation of humanity in general is attained. The goal of the individuation process is the synthesis of the Self
. It leads to the realization of the Self
as a psychic reality greater than the ego, which means that it is essentially different from the process of simply becoming conscious (cf. Sharp, 1991).
. Archetypes are primordial structural elements of the human psyche. They are systems of readiness for action while also giving rise to typical images and emotions. Archetypes are irrepresentable in themselves but their effects are discernible in archetypal images and motifs. Archetypal themes come to expression in dream, myth and fairytale. Jung says that the archetype as an image of instinct is a spiritual goal toward which the whole nature of man strives. It is the sea to which all rivers wend their way, the prize which the hero wrests from the fight with the dragon (cf. Sharp, 1991).
3. Active imagination
. A method of assimilating contents as they come to expression in dreams, fantasies, etc. Through artful self-expression active imagination serves to establish a line of communication between conscious and unconscious. It contributes to a transformation of ego. The first stage of active imagination is like dreaming with open eyes. The second stage means a transition from a merely perceptive or aesthetic attitude to one of judgment. It involves a conscious participation in the images, the honest evaluation of their personal significance, and a morally and intellectually binding commitment to act on the insights (cf. Sharp, 1991).
. The Self is the archetype of wholeness and the regulating center of the psyche; a transpersonal power that transcends the ego. It is the telos
(teleological purpose and end) of individuation. The Self is not only the centre, but also the whole circumference which embraces both conscious and unconscious. It is the centre of this totality, just as the ego is the centre of consciousness. Like any archetype, the essential nature of the Self is unknowable, but its manifestations are the content of myth and legend. The Self appears in dreams, myths, and fairytales in the figure of the ‘supraordinate personality’, such as a king, hero, prophet, saviour, etc., or in the form of a totality symbol, such as the circle, square, cross, etc. (cf. Sharp, 1991).
The inner opposite gender side of a man and woman respectively. The anima and the animus is both a personal complex and an archetypal image of the opposite sex. Initially identified with the personal mother, the anima is later experienced not only in other women but as a pervasive influence in a man’s life. The anima is not the soul in the dogmatic sense, but a natural archetype that satisfactorily sums up all the statements of the unconscious, of the primitive mind, of the history of language and religion. Jung suggested that if the assimilation of the shadow is the “apprentice-piece” in a man’s development, then coming to terms with the anima is the “master-piece”. Whereas the anima in a man functions as his soul, a woman’s animus is more like an unconscious mind. At times Jung also referred to the animus as a woman’s soul. The animus may manifest negatively in fixed ideas, collective opinions and unconscious, a priori assumptions that lay claim to absolute truth. The anima may manifest negatively as the great illusionist, the seductress, who draws the male into life with her Maya — and not only into life’s reasonable and useful aspects, but into its frightful paradoxes and ambivalences (cf. Sharp, 1991).
. The following links provide information about Iasion son of Zeus and King Iasos of Arcadia (retrieved 2014-08-20).
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