Text Box: Life of a Mystic – Brian O’Neill, editor

Carl Gustav Jung

Carl Jung and Analytical Psychology

It is rare to find a psychologist or psychotherapist who hasn’t heard of Carl Jung, even if they are not interested in spiritual or transpersonal psychology. 

Jung was originally closely linked to Freud and seen as the heir apparent to the Freudian throne - Freud called him adopted eldest son, successor and crown prince. (Jung 1963, p.398) Jung, like many other colleagues, separated from Freud and developed his own view of psychology and psychotherapy, in this case Analytical psychology (although most people refer to it as Jungian).

While there are several views as to why Jung broke with Freud, perhaps the greatest difference between them (from a spiritual perspective) is that Freud was ego based while Jung was oriented to a wider spiritual process of self individuation. 

Freud’s approach to therapy was to assist the person (as ego) to exercise control over unconscious forces while Jung saw the ego as only an aspect of a wider self which was both conscious and unconscious and was a part of a wider collective unconscious. 

The process of individuation described by Jung involved conscious integration of the aspects of the self, such as the shadow and the anima or animus. This was not a process whereby the ego learnt to control but to broaden, to accept and to integrate.

Jung was accepting of and inspired by religious, spiritual and mythical phenomena and willing to include these aspects and experiences within the psychology he developed. Some Jungian writers like to attribute this to his father being a clergyman and his mother’s interest in the occult, however in reading his autobiography there were also internal forces in Jung to which he was responding as a child and which later he would write about and psychologise. 

Another aspect of Jung (which he noted himself) was his ability in his writing to produce a strong response – either positive or negative. For example, he felt driven to write about Job and to explain how, even though Job trusts in God’s will, this does not stop him undergoing trials and tribulations – the “wrath of God” and what Jung describes as “God’s tragic contradictoriness” (Jung 1963, p. 243). 

Jung explains this as the bright and dark side of God or the God-image.  He believed that God created the world and its sins – God is responsible for these sins and it is we who must suffer because of it. 

Jung realised he would be unleashing a storm of  protest in saying this, yet felt a need to express himself more clearly about the religious problems of modern man. Such statements were seen by Jung as simply that – statements. This is the process (according to him) of a scientific psychology, to provide utterances which will inspire thoughtfulness and not be seen as an eternal truth. (Jung 1963, p.243-244)

Numerous authors have either accepted or rallied against such spiritual and religious statements, including other Jungian analysts. In this vein a critique of Jung’s psychology has been that it is not truly a psychology of the soul, a spiritual psychology, but a scientific psychology reaching for the soul, which doesn’t get there in the end. 

William McNamara is particularly critical and states that while Freud dismissed religion and betrayed the self, Jung created a psycho-idolatry, which is worse. He did see Jung as having a keen sense of religion, and quotes the famous statement, which says that, for people in the second half of life, the basic problem is finding a religious outlook in life. 

Yet Jung falls into the trap of Kantian theoretical agnosticism wherein God is a convenient abstraction, an archetype, and is ignored as an ontological reality. (McNamara, 1981, pp. 84-86)

C.S. Lewis wrote a very comical small book called “The Screwtape Letters - Letters form a Senior to a Junior Devil”.  These letters are about how to tempt people away from a Godly life and into a life of sin. 

At one point Screwtape says... “If once we can produce our perfect work - the Materialist Magician, the man, not using, but veritably worshiping, what he vaguely calls Forces while denying the existence of spirits -  then the end of the war will be in sight”

This in essence is the critique of McNamarra about Jung – that he is the Materialist Magician. That he has created a psychology which veritably worships the Self and individuation, and the abstraction of God as a concept, but does not go all the way – or in McNamarra’s words:

“And he failed precisely because he did not believe. He did not embrace the All. He could not adore” (McNamara, 1981, p. 86).

While it is easy to see Jung in this light, McNammara sells him short. Jung himself, almost in defence, states that so-called believers in God see nothing but atheism in his attempt to reconstruct the primitive unconscious psyche.  

Yet it is with italics that Jung speaks of “God” as an archetype, or uses the term “God-image”. 

He states clearly that in doing this he saying nothing about God’s real nature but is attending to our psychological attempts to language and experience that which we call God. 

In his “Later Thoughts” chapter of Memories, Dreams Reflections, he provides a more humble view of God – that God is love. He has been faced again and again as a doctor with the mystery of love and never been able to explain it. No language is adequate for the paradox, no words expresses the whole.  

He becomes poetic, and talks of being at Love’s mercy, caught up in it, and enclosed within it, dependent upon it and sustained by it. 

He believes that if one possesses a grain of wisdom, then lay down your arms and name the unknown as God. And in doing so one confesses one’s subjection, imperfection and dependence.

Surely this speaks of adoration and embracing the All. 

Jung said that the closer the psychology reflects the psyche, the closer it merges with the psychologist, and current Jungian writer, O’Connor, argues that this is particularly so in the case of Carl Jung (O’Connor, 1986 page 2). While in many ways this is true, Jung’s psychological writings do not always capture the full picture of the man. 

It is in reading his autobiography that a fuller picture of the man and his relationship to spirituality and God emerges. This is particularly so in reading about his life as a young boy and as an old man.

In writing his memoirs, Jung has particularly strong religious feelings at the ages of 11 and 12 even though he does not find an ease with Christianity, clergy and in particular the Jesuits. 

His whole childlike understanding of death was of Jesus taking people who had died, and was portrayed in a religious metaphor which caused him to mistrust “Lord Jesus”. 

Coupled with this unpleasant metaphor, his first sight of a Catholic priest dressed in a large black robe (which terrified him), added to this distrust and fear of Jesuits and Jesus. He later sneaked into a Catholic church and fell, banging his chin on metal, which traumatised him and which left him with a fear of Catholic churches. 

Writing at 83 years old, he has still not unwound the influence of these early memories. It became increasingly impossible to adopt a positive attitude to Jesus, yet God was something different. 

God was not personified and someone who people were familiar with, nor complicated by contradictions or mistrust. So it was to God that Jung turned as child and to whom he prayed, and which gave him great comfort.

One of these early experiences was to have a profound effect on his spiritual outlook and the way in which he later viewed God. This experience goes to the core of his psychological understanding of the self, the experience of God by the psyche and the nature of evil.

At the age of twelve he was walking into the cathedral square at noon on a gloriously day with blue sky and radiant sunshine. Overwhelmed by the beauty of the cathedral and the day, he began thinking how all this was made by God who sits above it all far away in the blue sky on a golden throne. 

Suddenly he stopped. He felt a choking sensation and became numb. He imagined if he thought further something terrible would happen and he would create a frightful sin. 

After three nights of fitful sleep in which his mother thought he was ill, he finally awoke torn between not thinking and the need to think. How could he be subjected to such double thoughts and anguish when he simply was worshiping God? Had he or his family done something wrong? 

He finally traced this back to Adam and Eve and the serpent and concluded that God’s intention was that they should sin as he created it all that way.

He saw this as a test of some sort, and tried to figure out what was required of him. He decided God required him to show courage, so he courageously keep the images going where he had stopped before and imagined faeces falling from under the throne unto the cathedral breaking the roof and walls. 

For Jung this was great relief and a revelation of unutterable bliss. He wept for happiness and gratitude, feeling he had given into the will of God and received grace. 

He writes that in the trial of human courage, God refuses to abide by traditions, no matter how sacred, and if one fulfils God’s will, one can be sure of going the right way. As to why God befouled the cathedral, well, Jung decided this was because God could be something terrible. 

This became Jung’s dark and terrible secret which he says overshadowed his whole life.

It is at this point that I see in Jung and his psychology not the personal lack of adoration and belief that McNammara offers but a faulty or misguided trust in his own ability to understand or work out the Divine nature. How does he know, for example, this is God’s will and not his own will or imagination coming into play. 

Jung based the validity of his assumption on his feelings of relief after struggling. He made sense of this by noting in the bible the places where Pharisees, publicans and reprobates are the chosen ones – how the unjust steward was praised and Peter the waverer was the rock upon which the church was built. 

Such an orientation to understanding the human psyche, accepted without question, shows a childlike ego centric logic and emotionality – this is right because it feels right.

For Jung this became the big secret which prefigured his entire life. As he states, “today I am a solitary, because I know things and must hint at things which other people do not know, and usually do not even want to know.” (Jung 1963, p. 58) 

He writes in his section of “Late Thoughts” that there is not better means of increasing the treasured feeling of individuality than the possession of a secret, and this is clearly been one of the big secrets which gave him a sense of individuality early in life. 

This helped him deal with his feeling of being inferior as a child, as he now had demonstrated the courage to proceed as God willed, as he perceives it.  

He writes at a later stage that it is against such complexities in dealing with the dark side of God’s nature that man has won an achievement through his efforts, and where he succeeds in conquering and holding for himself an area of relative freedom. (Jung 1963, p. 374)

Later in life Jung experienced what we would today call a Near Death Experience. In 1944, having broken his foot and then suffering a heart attack, he experienced deliriums and visions as he “hung on the edge of death”. 

In part he also sees this as due to the oxygen and camphor injections, a point which would doubtless sit well with William James.

In one particular vision he was high up in space above the Earth (at a time long before we had pictures of such events) and saw the globe as would a astronaut walking in space. 

He was close enough to see Ceylon below his feet and the Himalayas in the distance and this was the most glorious thing he had ever seen. 

Then his attention was caught by a large dark block of stone about the size of a house or bigger, floating in space like he was (this was long before 2001: A Space Odyssey). 

Outside beside the entrance to the block of stone and saw a Hindu in a lotus position. 

As he approached the entrance he felt everything being stripped from him, yet still remained. As he was involved in this process and about to enter the temple his doctor appeared and had been delegated to say he must return to the earth – and the vision ceased. 

From then on he was greatly disappointed in not entering the temple and saw the world as a “box system” where each person sat by alone in a little box, like a prisoner. The world became drab and he looked forward to the night time when he would lie awake and be in an utterly transformed state or ecstasy – he felt as if floating in space in the womb of the universe. 

After three weeks, as he began to recover, these visions faded and stopped. It is at this time that he then begins to write what he calls a good many of his principal works, which were no longer his opinion but his surrender to the current of his thoughts.

He later describes these states as “the ecstasy of a non-temporal state in which present, past and future are brought together into a concrete whole.” (Jung 1963, p. 327) While Jung defined this state as potentially full of feeling, he focuses on his observation of these states from a complete objectivity. He experiences the same objectivity when he saw his dead wife in a dream like vision. She was objectively wise without the slightest emotional reaction.

He understood this and the visions to be part of a completed individuation which involves the detachment from emotional ties. He then makes some unusual statements about this experience, in which he says 

“Objective cognition lies hidden behind the attraction of the emotional relationship; it seems to be the central secret. Only through objective cognition is the real conjunctio possible.” (Jung 1963, p. 328)

These stories of his early and later life indicate to me a flavour of Jung’s approach to the study of the soul, his psychology, which have basic elements about conflict in comparison to those of Emanuel Swedenborg, Evelyn Underhill and William James. 

Swedenborg, Underhill and James are clear that these changes to the soul happen not as a result of man’s individual personality but to the supernatural operations of the Deity. 

At this point, Jung argues, psychology and religion diverge, with psychology turning to the unconscious and cognition without an acknowledgement of the Divine Source. This divergence is not final and may be included in a psychology which includes religion (Jung 1963, p. 214).

Like wise Underhill warns against Jung’s “objective cognition” in dealing with these spiritual experiences and states

“… reason has been trained to deal with the stuff of temporal existence. It will only make mincemeat of your experience of Eternity if you give it a chance, trimming, transforming, rationalising that ineffable vision, trying to force it into a symbolic system with which the intellect can cope. This is why the great contemplatives utter again and again their solemn warning against the deceptiveness of thought when it ventures to deal with the spiritual intuitions of man.”

Practical Mysticism
Evelyn Underhill,1914, pp. 106-107

Jung’s remaining sense after the illness was how important it is to affirm one’s own destiny and to forge an ego which does not break down when incomprehensible things happen, an ego that endures and is capable of coping with the world and fate. This clearly, as he states, coloured so much of his later and principle works, and it is this psychologising of the spiritual as a “Materialist magician” that he draws the criticism of writers such as McNammara.  

I am left with a query as to whether in the end this is truly the Noble Quest of the Buddha that Jung has engaged on – to seek the undying and the unborn. Or is it a divergence of psychology from religion and God (a la James) in substituting the Self for the Divine.  

In many ways it would be easy to choose one or the other of these options, yet Jung is not a man to be pinned down with easy classifications. 

John Sanford quotes from a letter of Jung where he says: “Individuation is ultimately a religious process which requires a corresponding religious attitude – the ego-will submits to God’s will.” (Sanford, 1984, p. 24,). 

Yet this is not stated in his psychology. I believe the answer is relative to the context, and remains to an extent a reflection in the way in which we view Jung as both as man, as a mystic and as psychologist.

“It is remarkable that the study of fish was attributed to my father. In the dream he was a caretaker of Christian souls, for, according to the ancient view, these are fish caught in Peter’s net. It is equally remarkable that in the same dream my mother was a guardian of departed spirits. Thus both my parents appeared burdened with the problem of the ‘cure of souls’, which was in fact really my task.”


Memories, Dreams, Reflections

Carl Jung, 1963, p.241