Archives for category: Jung

“…life has gone out of the churches, and it will never go back. The gods will not reinvest dwellings that once they have left. The same thing happened before, in the time of the Roman Caesars, when paganism was dying. According to legend, the captain of a ship passing between two Greek islands heard a great sound of lamentation and a loud voice crying: Pan ho megas tethneken, Great Pan is dead. When this man reached Rome he demanded an audience with the emperor, so important was his news. Originally Pan was an unimportant nature spirit, chiefly occupied with teasing shepherds; but later, as the Romans became more involved with Greek culture, Pan was confused with to pan, meaning “the All.” He became the demiurgos, the anima mundi. Thus the many gods of paganism were concentrated into one God. Then came this message, “Pan is dead.” Great Pan, who is God, is dead. Only man remains alive. After that the one God became one man, and this was Christ; one man for all. But now that too is gone, now every man has to carry God. The descent of spirit into matter is complete.”

— C. G. Jung “Is Analytical Psychology a Religion?

(Emphasis mine)


The religious person enjoys a great advantage when it comes to answering the crucial question that hangs over our time like a threat: he has a clear idea of the way his subjective existence is grounded in his relation to “God.” I put the word “God” in quotes in order to indicate that we are dealing with an anthropomorphic idea whose dynamism and symbolism are filtered through the medium of the unconscious psyche. Anyone who wants to can at least draw near to the source of such experiences, no matter whether he believes in God or not. Without this approach it is only in rare cases that we witness those miraculous conversions of which Paul’s Damascus experience is the prototype. That religious experiences exist no longer needs proof. But it will always remain doubtful whether what metaphysics and theology call God and the gods is the real ground of these experiences. The question is idle, actually, and answers itself by reason of the subjectively overwhelming luminosity of the experience. Anyone who has had it is seized by it and therefore not in a position to indulge in fruitless metaphysical or epistemological speculations. Absolute certainty brings its own evidence and has no need of anthropomorphic proofs.
— C. G. Jung, The Undiscovered Self

Reading this I find myself asking: “Evidence of what? Certainty in what?” There is no proof in experience except of the experience itself. And for me, trying to hold experience as only that with no meaning, without any concepts is, at best, extremely difficult. The interpretation is that in which I might be certain but any interpretation appears to be constructed from previous beliefs and values. Without some pre-existing myth, or framework, the experience proves only that it is possible to have such an experience.

Even with a myth, a numinous experience is only the beginning. The experience may solidify, ground, even prove one’s faith and chase away whatever doubts may have existed before. Now, however, the true work begins, the work of integrating this experience and its meaning into day-to-day life. This is the work that Jung started working on in his 3 years of encounter with the unconscious, this is the work that never ends.

Seeing objectively one’s whole being, be it through dreamwork, guided imagination, or meditation can be intensely freeing. For me, it took facing the pain of feeling completely alone, apart from the world and everything in it. Facing this most hidden part of me allowed me to have faith in myself and in my practice. Not having to hide this part of myself, I was free to face the world around me more fully. Not having to spend energy in hiding a part of myself, I was naturally energized and joyful. That experience, however, merely pointed the way and it is up to me to continue down this path.

I have seen and accepted (at least for a while) a part of me that I wasn’t able to see before. To be true to that experience I must keep uncovering more and more of my self. This path, however, is not easy. It brings new questions and new doubts to the surface. Having had certainty before is not always helpful when surrounded by doubt. The memory of that faith is fading away when faced with present pain. More than once I felt completely lost, asking myself “what does it mean?!”

Anyone who has had it it is seized by it and therefore not in a position to indulge in fruitless metaphysical or epistemological speculations.
— C. G. Jung, Ibid.

It has been the same in my experience. For a while I was seized by experience, by truth, and as long as I was seized the questions did not matter. All was clear. Eventually, however, one is no longer seized and then the rest of one’s life begins with whatever measure of faith is left.

Myth is the natural and indispensable intermediate stage between unconscious and conscious cognition” Memories Dreams and Reflections, p. 311

When Jung and others speak of the containing myth of previous generations, they are not telling the whole truth, in order to see that we need to look at the different notions of truth over periods of human development. Ken Wilber talks about three levels of development: mythic, rational and post-rational. For a person in the mythic stage, myth is seen as concrete, universal truth. However, for a person in the modern age the standard for truth is the scientific method. Through scientific thinking we can see that myth is a story with little basis in reality. We can also, as Jung did, recognize the power of myth but for many of us, myths still fail the basic test of truth. And so, the question is asked how can a modern person connect to a myth?

The power of analytical psychology is not just in the analysis process, it is also in the fact that analytical psychology is, in itself, a modern myth. Nowhere is this more obvious than in Jung’s autobiography, a classic hero myth that is also the creation story of this mythology. Jung’s continuing efforts to prove, despite constant claims to the contrary, that his psychology is based in science are part of his noble attempt to make this mythology relevant and acceptable in the modern age.

By creating a modern myth, Jung made it possible to breath new life into existing myths through reinterpreting them in light of depth psychology. Through this process both mythologies gain something. The new mythology of depth psychology gains support in an established history. The other, older, mythology gains a chance to become relevant again, in a way that it has never been relevant before.

To claim that Jung is strictly set in a rational, scientific mind-set would be too limited a view. In fact, it sometimes appears that this dedication to science is a burden he had to bear in order for his ideas to be seen as credible. Jung saw beyond the small mindedness of his peers and of modern society in general. It is post-rational thinking that formed the basis of all his science. His ability to see beyond mere “scientific truth” is what made it possible for him to recognize the reality of the psyche and the validity of subjective, psychic experience thereby moving beyond the dualism forced on us by scientific thinking.

The answer to the question at the top of this paper is given by the symbol of the trinity. In the first stage (mythical) we identify myth with objective reality. In the second stage we step away from myth and claim our own (egoic) view of the world. In the third stage we must learn how the two aspects relate to each other thereby transcending the apparent difference. This stage involves losing some of the control the Ego claimed in the second stage and some of the clarity afforded by the first stage. But, through learning to hold the resultant complexity, we finally gain the ability to be in full contact with our wholeness, as part of a continuing process of individuation.

“It is only because the persona represents a more or less arbitrary and fortuitous segment of the collective psyche that we can make the mistake of regarding it in toto as something individual. It is, as its name implies, only a mask of the collective psyche, a mask that feigns individuality, making others and oneself believe that one is individual, whereas one is simply acting a role through which the collective psyche speaks.”

C. G. Jung “The Relations between the Ego and the Unconscious” c. 1912

In “A Guided Tour of the Collected Works of C. G. Jung,” Robert Hopcke makes the point that Jung’s attitude toward and investigation of religion help redeem religion for modern people as “an aspect of human existence at once both vital to human fulfillment and amenable to investigation and understanding.” My own experience certainly validates Hopcke’s sentiments in several ways.

Coming from a rational view of the world, I find myself often biased towards a reductionist approach that tends to reduce religion to an illusion or a comforting story much along the lines of Karl Marx: “religion is the opiate of the masses.” Over the last several years, however, I see that tendency slowly replaced by an openness to alternative views and an attitude of questioning towards my own limited views.

I am beginning to see the value of a containing myth and the difficulties that come up when such a myth is lacking, or is incoherent. In fact, I suspect that I have been feeling the effects of this problem exactly, over the last year. I believe that such a myth could serve as a vehicle to understand the inner experience of something greater than just myself or the experience of longing for such a connection (a longing often described by the Sufis).

While it is easy to dismiss another person’s religious ideas as creative fiction or as a defense mechanism empty from any further meaning I find that this outright dismissal may be pointing at an attempt on my side to avoid dealing with the intensity of numinous experience brought about by existential questions such as “Why am I here?” This intensity can be hard to hold, especially without the container provided by religion.

Looking at the universality of religion and the recurrence of certain themes (e.g. redemption) I think we have to recognize that there are deep commonalities shared by human beings everywhere. There are issues at our very core that we’ve grappled with throughout history. These issues carry a strong charge, one that I recognize in myself as well.

It is hard to deny that religions and myths worldwide point at some similar truths. These truths are not necessarily found in the answers provided, as those may vary between different cultures and different times. Rather, truth can be found in the questions asked.

Source: A guided tour of the collected works of C. G. Jung / Hopcke

In Freud’s view religion is an irrational illusion created out of a defense mechanism. Jung takes a broader look.

  1. Religion as a set of beliefs and rituals that also allows for a relationship with something greater.
  2. Religious beliefs may be real and valuable in the person’s psyche. Depth psychology can allow us to understand those beliefs rationally.
  3. We must account for more than just western beliefs. As we take this broader look we see that there is more than simple transference.

Jung was not interested in judging the validity of religion or religious systems. He did not believe that as a psychologist he was capable of that nor was that his task. Jung sees religion as a way to understand the human psyche.

From the universality of religion, Jung deduced that religion is a product of the collective unconscious. In Jung’s view there are two components of religion:

  1. Religious experience or contact with the numinosum (in dreams, visions, etc.)
  2. Religious practice, dogma, ritual, etc. This is necessary to protect people from the power of numinous experience.

Jung makes religion once again accessible to modern people who may have lost their faith in organized religion. By making it a vital aspect of our lives and at the same time something that we can explore ourselves he redeems religion in the modern age.

This is the first reflection paper for my Jungian Psychology & East-West Spirituality class. It may make more sense if you know a little bit about Jung (which is about how much I know). If you want to know more about Jung, I recommend his autobiography Memories, Dreams, Reflections or (if you’re looking for something quicker) Jung: A very short introduction.

Reading about Jung’s early years I cannot help but be struck not just by the depth of his inner reflection but also by his absolute confidence in the authenticity and validity of his inner experience over any claim by an external authority (his father, the bible, the church). He seems to accord similar trust to his interpretation of those experiences:

“Moreover I was certain that this was the wrong way to reach God, for I knew, knew from experience, that this grace was accorded only to one who fulfilled the will of God without reservation”

(MDR Chapter II page 46)

In addition to his strong intuitive side, Jung possesses a sharp rational mind and is not willing to allow logical inconsistencies slide by. His strong intuition, curiosity and dedication to rationality often leave him at odds with the religious dogma of his day. Even so, the one thing Jung still holds above the critical, rational mind is personal experience.

Another strong motivating force in Jung’s life is his desire for connection, with God or with fellow men. Despite the sincerity of that desire he seems to find very few people he can connect with in his early life and the connection to God offered by the church leaves him flat (much like the bread offered at communion). Even when reading the great theologians and philosophers he often finds them lacking save for a few exceptions. As a result, Jung is often left with no other choice then to turn inward either in to his thoughts, the inner world of no. 2 or his fantasies.

In his later life, (chapters V and VI of MDR) his relationship to his No. 2 personality evolves into a much more complex dynamic. This can be seen in his relationship with Freud especially in the way he maintains that relationship out of a sense of duty or the belief that he still has much to learn from the older, more experienced man. Thoughts of this kind appear to be foreign to his No. 2 personality and most likely originated with No. 1. Later, throughout the confrontation with the unconscious, as the number of voices representing the unconscious grows, this relationship becomes even more complex.

A striking example of this evolution in Jung’s relationship to the unconscious is his relationship with his Anima, a relationship that has been rooted in suspicion from its inception. He later argues with her over the value of his work and almost accuses her of trying to deceive him. With time, Jung learns to find and appreciate to positive side of the anima but it is his that his relationship to the unconscious has evolved greatly since his younger days and this must have been a great influence on his understanding of the psyche.

Through the years his intense work with the unconscious Jung begins to discover his personal myth, movement towards the center. It seems that this realization gave him a sense of connection that has been lacking before and that he could never quite satisfy not with God or with any of his heroes (like Goethe or Nietzsche).

I’m not likely to ever submit this but it I feel the need to say it anyway.

How are we to respond to the twentieth-century phenomenon, which Jung noted with such alarm: that the collective containers of religious symbolism are weak, if not altogether gone? For centuries the symbols, rituals, and dogmas of religions, East and West, gathered the psychic energy of individuals and nations alike into traditions that bore witness to life’s meaning and acted as underground springs nourishing different civilization.

Jung and Religion: The opposing self / Ann Ulanov

To which I say, Have they? Are we really so special in being disconnected from the spirit? Or is the difference that in the last hundred years or so it’s become OK to admit to that disconnect? We’re finally able to talk about how we really feel (or perhaps don’t feel at all) about religious ritual and dogma without being labeled as heretics.We’re free to voice our doubts. We’re free to look at the origin of the myths we’ve been handed and ask, just as Jung did, what do they really mean?

It’s possible that the result of this freedom has been some disillusionment with the old traditions. A disconnect. But is that much worse than fear? Is it that much worse than blind devotion? How well served was a peasant from attending church services in Latin? How much spiritual meaning is there in following ritual blindly generation after generation? And does dogma really serve the individual’s spiritual life?

Certainly every period of history in every culture had its mystics. The ones who dive into the spiritual world and plumb its depth anew but those are unique individuals. Likewise there are those who find some spiritual connection in organized religion or in the tradition they were born into but do they ever outnumber those who just follow the rules (for whatever reason)? I am a cynic and so I doubt that (I doubt a great, many things).

On the other hand, this feeling of a lack of connection, we all know it (if you didn’t I doubt you’d have read this far) and the common admonition about young people these days and lack of respect, etc. comes up easily in the mind. So it is easy to say, this generation is so disconnected from the life of spirit. At least in this generation we’re finally free to choose our own path, our own myth and that by itself is something too.