The Concept of the Unconscious Revisited

Tidings of the Eagle, by Nicholas Roerich (1927)

There is a deceptive idea that many followers of depth psychology seem to adhere to. It is the perception that what depth psychologists call “the unconscious” is some sort of objective reality, or compartment of the mind that stores the thoughts, ideas, images we repress, things we forget, etc. Basically, anything we are not consciously aware of is supposedly “stored” in the unconscious. This is inaccurate. The word simply means, “not aware.” We treat “the unconscious,” as a place or thing when, in reality, there is much we are simply unaware of. Not very hard to understand, but lots of people who are interested in the human mind, and especially Freudian, Jungian and post-Jungian psychology, make this mistake. In fact, some seem to speak of the unconscious as a divine entity, even capitalizing the word and attributing all sorts of powers to it. I’m sure I’ve been guilty of this, myself.

Again, unconsciousness is simply a lack of awareness. For example, I am trying to remember the name of someone I went to school with when I was a child. I can see her face clearly in the imagination, but I am unconscious of what her name is. I don’t remember her name. But, if I think of her face for awhile, the name usually comes to me. Does this mean that lost memories are stored in a compartment of the mind called the unconscious? No, it simply means I was momentarily unaware of the name.

Jung proposed a model, a revision of Freud’s picture of the mind, that divided the unconscious into two layers, “personal unconscious,” and “collective unconscious,” the latter being the “storehouse” of what Freud had previously called “archaic remnants.” In retrospect, we see this dichotomizing as being a product of the extreme adherence to Cartesian dualism. Both men were still in the grip of, what Jean Gebser calls, the decaying mental-rational mode of consciousness. It is true that Jung’s view evolved over the years to an understanding closer to Gebser’s, but many of his followers still hold to this bifurcated idea. Yes, there is a collective and a personal aspect to the mind, but they are not compartmentalized. They work in unison.

Furthermore, consciousness and unconsciousness are not oppositional areas of the mind. In everyday experience, they walk hand-in-hand. In reality, they are one. In his classic work, The Ever-Present Origin, Gebser declares

There is no so-called unconscious. There are only various modalities (or intensities) of consciousness: a one-dimensional magical, a two-dimensional mythical, a three-dimensional mental consciousness. And there will also be an integral four-dimensional consciousness of the whole (Gebser 204).

Gebser does make allowance for using the term to describe lesser intensifications of consciousness. In our day, we would speak of the archaic, the magical, and the mythical modes of consciousness as less intense, since we are currently dominated by the mental-rational modality. Unconsciousness would also relate to the respective dimensionality of the less intense modes (archaic, magical, and mythical) than what we currently experience. The archaic has zero dimensionality, the magical is one-dimensional, the mythical is two-dimensional, and of course, the mental-rational has access to three dimensions. According to Gebser, there will be a four-dimensional consciousness. This is known as the integral mode. It will amalgamate all previous modes.

James Hillman makes some very pertinent and interesting observations concerning “the unconscious” in his work, The Myth of Analysis:

How does this term help us now? Already in Jung’s usage the term was becoming inadequate. He had to speak of a consciousness in the unconscious, and he ascribed to the unconscious a superior, guiding intentionality–which is more fitting to divinities than to subliminal mental processes.

By questioning the term, we do not doubt the existence of unwilled and unreasonable psychic states, of dreaming and of subliminal creative activities, or of any of the disturbances that are called the psychopathology of everyday life, nor do we question their “inferiority” as “sub” forms of consciousness, as we now conceive consciousness… (Hillman 174).

And also,

The term, “unconscious” is suitable for describing states where consciousness is not present–coma, for instance; but to use the word for the imaginal region, for morally inferior or culturally ignorant behavior, for instinctual release reactions, and for a causal agent who “sends” dreams and to which one can turn to ask an opinion, is an erosion of categories. To personify it and regard it as one’s inhibitory daimonic voice, or totem animal, or familiaris is not merely superstitious. Such habits are sacrilegious, because they deprive the Gods of their due. The unconscious is a concept, not a metaphor, even if what it represents is indeed the metaphorical and the source of metaphors. Thus we seem unable to avoid speaking in this peculiar, superstitious manner. But it is not good psychology to make a theology of the psyche or to psychologize the divine (Hillman 175).

Language in our current mode of consciousness does not sufficiently deal with the difficult realities of the human mind. I think, however, that both Gebser and Hillman are are on the right track.

Hillman, in another place in The Myth of Analysis, likens the term, unconscious, to what the ancients called memoria. I find this quite fascinating. The human ability to memorize vast amounts of information is a fascinating topic. Hillman thinks it is closely connected to the soul and what Henry Corbin called the mundus imaginalis, the imaginal world.

Regarding Gebser, I think he might say that memoria is the modality of consciousness holding all four modes of consciousness, preserving all of mankind’s experiences with consciousness throughout the history of the human race. The soul is timeless. Because of that, the four modes are presently accessible to us. Our origin, as living creatures, is “ever-originating,” an eternal presence. We have forgotten this. Our true selves have been disconnected from eternity. We have wandered far from our origin. Our task here is to re-member, to re-collect that which has disintegrated. It’s not a remembering in the sense of memory, but a re-integration of what has been torn asunder. It is difficult to say what the origin is, but it seems similar to what Hermetists calls The All. It is certainly non-spatial and non-temporal. All the various modes of consciousness emerge from the origin. In fact, I would go so far as to say that all things in the universe share in this ever-present reality. It is not an external reality. The very roots of our being lie within us, connected rhizomally to the origin, and, in turn, to each other.

Works Cited

Gebser, Jean. The Ever-Present Origin. Trans. by Noel Barstad and Algis Mickunas. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1985.

Hillman, James. The Myth of Analysis: Three Essays in Archetypal Psychology. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1972.


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Portents of Doom

The Great Day of His Wrath, by John Martin

Strange irruptions from the depths of unconsciousness began to burst forth in the late nineteenth century, up to the beginning of World War I. It was evident that a disintegration was occurring, one that would ultimately lead to two world wars, the invention and detonation of several nuclear weapons, the rise of fascism, and the death of nearly one hundred million people.

Several important events occurred in 1912. C.G. Jung published Psychology of the Unconscious (Wandlugen und Symbole der Libido). It signaled the split with Freud, and would usher in a new revolution in psychology. Alfred Wegener formulated his theory of continental drift, which I have connected to Gebser’s theory here. On the morning of April 15, RMS Titanic was swallowed by the sea, plunging over two miles to the bottom of the North Atlantic after striking an iceberg the previous evening. The death of the Titanic sounds a powerfully dissonant chord in the increasing cacophony of the earth. It is a harbinger of things to come. Almost fifteen-hundred lives were lost that night because of a very freakish convergence of rare natural occurrences (irruptions from the collective unconscious, perhaps?). On June 6, the mighty Alaskan volcano, Novarupta, erupted spewing thirty times more material into the earth’s atmosphere than Mount St. Helen in 1980. Was this also evidence that something was amiss? Was it a dark outpouring of collective unconscious content from the depths of the Anima Mundi?

The World Soul has a shadow side, just as we do. It is the collective shadow of humanity. The fall toward darkness we have been experiencing for a little over one hundred years is the result of an ongoing mutation of the consciousness of mankind. We are in what fellow blogger, Scott Preston, calls a time of “dehiscence,” which is “a term used in botany to describe the last stages in the life of a plant or flower. It is when the plant, upon reaching maturity, dies, but in the process bursts or otherwise broadcasts its seeds” (Preston). This idea eloquently describes what has occurred, and what is occurring. The so-called Modern Age met its demise around the beginning of World War I, which began in August of 1914, just two years after the events described above. The ancients would call these “evil omens,” portents of future calamity and malaise. But, even though an age has been destroyed, and is still in the process of being destroyed, another is being birthed. The so-called New Age is on the horizon, that is if chaos doesn’t overtake us first. The collective World Soul must make peace with her Shadow prior to a new holistic and rhizomal mode of consciousness taking root. This means we must make peace with the dark energies within us. The over-inflated ego must be put to death. Like the Apostle Paul, we must “die daily” to the deceit of the narcissistic ego. A harmonious Soul is our only hope as a species. In conclusion, a warning from Jean Gebser:

…weapons and nuclear fission are not the only realities to be dealt with; spiritual reality in its intensified form is also becoming effectual and real. The new spiritual reality is without question our only security that the threat of material destruction can be averted. Its realization alone seems able to guarantee man’s continuing existence in the face of the powers of technology, rationality, and chaotic emotion. If our consciousness, that is, the individual person’s awareness, vigilance, and clarity of vision, cannot master the new reality and make possible its realization, then the prophets of doom will have been correct. Our alternatives are an illusion; consequently, great demands are placed on us, and each one of us have been given a grave responsibility, not merely to survey but to actually traverse the path opening before us (Gebser 5).


Works Cited

Gebser, Jean. The Ever-Present Origin. Trans. by Noel Barstad and Algis Mickunas. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1985.

Preston, Scott. Dehiscence and “Golden Age”. The Chrysalis. 26 Aug. 2015.



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The Inner Striving of the World Soul

Weeping Woman, by Picasso
Weeping Woman, by Pablo Picasso

Alas! Two souls within my breast abide,

And each from the other strives to separate;

The one in love and healthy lust,

The world with clutching tentacles holds fast;

The other soars with power above this dust

Into the domain of our ancestral past (From Goethe’s Faust).

I realize this classic verse from Faust speaks to the terrible inner conflict of one who, on one hand is attached to the cares of the mundane, everyday world; on the other hand is a person seeking truth, self-realization, or, as Nietzsche called it, self-overcoming. The former is interested only in self-aggrandizement and material things. The world and nature are to be subservient to and distinct. The latter person is interested in overcoming the egocentric life, and loving her world and her fellow humans. In my experience, the conflict is an intense ordeal that never ceases.

We are familiar with interpreting this passage as pertaining to our own struggle. But these words can also be elevated to the level of the World Soul, that collective personage that is the sum total of human consciousness. Does she also experience the pain of this struggle? If the current state of our world is any indicator, then yes, most assuredly. On one hand, we see a disintegration of society, civilization, and culture. Historically, this side of the World Soul has become more evident since the advent of the Great War in 1914. Since then, the earth has been plunged into chaos and turmoil. One of the most disastrous events in this destructive chain was the discovery of nuclear energy. The atomic weapons dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki set off a deadly chain of events that we’re still seeing the effects of today, nearly seventy years later. This is not to mention the meltdowns at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima.

Since 1914, irruptions of the shadow personage of the World Soul have been wreaking havoc in our world. We all know of the problems and challenges we face in the coming decades. But, there are “two souls” abiding within the World Soul. The other is full of truth, love, creativity, awareness, and wisdom. Just as we struggle, one nature against the other, so does the World Soul. Alongside the terror and malaise we have faced since 1914, there have also been amazing human achievements that have kept alive the notion that the human race can survive and thrive in the decades and centuries to come.

The World Soul must overcome herself and enter a deeper level of consciousness, just as we strive to do. The manner in which this will occur will be if we discipline ourselves and overcome ourselves, as Nietzsche bid us, along with many other wise human prophets. We must strive to overcome ego-consciousness and the narcissism of our world. If we band together in doing this, the world will survive and flourish. We know what will happen if we fail.

As in my last article, we have strayed too far from our origin. So has the World Soul. She has allowed it because we have allowed it. To find her way back, we must decide to find our way back. In his book, Ever-Present Origin, Jean Gebser writes,

Man is in the world to sustain it as well as himself “in truth,” not for his or its own sake, but for the sake of the spiritual present. It is this spiritual present which elevates wholeness to transparency and frees us from our transient age, for this age of ours is not the present but partiality and flight, indeed, almost a conclusion. Only someone who knows of origin has present–living and dying in the whole, in integrity.

Carl Jung writes in the Undiscovered Self,

[A] mood of universal destruction and renewal…has set its mark on our age. This mood makes itself felt everywhere, politically, socially, and philosophically. We are living in what the Greeks called the kairos–the right moment–for a “metamorphosis of the gods,” of the fundamental principles and symbols. This peculiarity of our time, which is certainly not of our conscious choosing, is the expression of the unconscious human within us who is changing. Coming generations will have to take account of this momentous transformation if humanity is not to destroy itself through the might of its own technology and science….So much is at stake and so much depends on the psychological constitution of the modern human.

I am confident we will be transformed, as will the World Soul. It won’t be easy, but nothing great ever is.


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The Epoch of Soul Revisited

General Confusion, by Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz

Three years ago on this blog, I wrote these words:

It must be the World Soul that transforms the Earth. By this, I mean the actual personality that is the collective Soul of the human race. The same self-organizing force that maintains our natural world is the same power that has begun to bring this about in the psyches of all of us, whether we consciously recognize it or not. The Epoch of Soul has arrived.

I was beginning to become aware of a movement in the collective psyche that would bring about what I called the Epoch of Soul, but I was still seeing imperfectly. The vision is still not entirely clear, but it is coming into sharper focus. The Epoch of Soul is nearing, but it has not yet arrived, as much as wishful thinking would desire it. Humanity is still somewhat within the confines of what Jean Gebser calls the “mental-rational” mode of consciousness. It is deteriorating, and has been since the rise of perspective during the Renaissance. It would seem that we are in the last throes of the overemphasis on ratiocination, if events of the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries are reliable indicators.

There are, however, powerful beams of light shining into the collective psyche. We can finally see the integral structure beginning to influence human consciousness. An excellent example of this is how the Internet has influenced our lives in the past twenty years or so. The Internet is a huge rhizomal structure, analogous to the World Soul. Myself, and others, have written, for several years, about the rhizomal nature of the World Soul. In my article entitled, Rhizomal Soul, I describe how hierarchies based on transcendent power structures are quickly crumbling. The rise of immanence is the spread of rhizomal soul, roots snaking underground, interconnecting the previously unconnected, making an idea like “nation-state” totally obsolete. Have you ever seen what underground roots can do to a road or sidewalk? They grow underneath and actually lift and tear at the cement until it cracks and deteriorates. This is what the horizontal growth of the World Soul is doing to hierarchical power structures. This is all part of the manifestation of the integral consciousness structure.

The collective unconscious is a powerful rhizomal presence in human experience. It is a complex, subterranean root system that snakes and intertwines all humans in the tangle and convolution of Soul. This collective entanglement will one day decentralize the self-aggrandizing and narcissistic tendencies of human ego. It is already beginning. The rhizomal Soul will one day replace the Me Generation with the We Generation. No, it will not be perfect; Utopia will never totally manifest on earth, but we are a world of strivers, even though our goal may not always take us in a particularly linear evolutionary path. We may whirl in the maelstrom for a thousand years or more, but, eventually, the mutation to deepened consciousness will come. The more we allow the rhizomal root structure of Soul to grow, the quicker we will get there. It is up to us to care for Soul and nurture it.

The integral structure of consciousness has been undergoing birth pangs for several decades already. Of course, it will include all previous structures, the archaic, the magical, the mythical, and the mental-rational. Interestingly, Gebser’s model is based on a four-fold structure, while C.G. Jung viewed the quarternity as a basic structure of reality. This is also analogous to William Blake’s Four Zoas.

The World Soul is not only the collective soul of the human race, as I had previously mentioned, but of all things in our universe.  I believe it is this power that is orchestrating these mutations of human consciousness, which began with primordial man. According to Sufi mystic, Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee,

The world is a living spiritual being. This was understood by the ancient philosophers and the alchemists who referred to the spiritual essence of the world as the anima mundi, the “Soul of the World.” They regarded the World Soul as a pure ethereal spirit diffused throughout all nature, the divine essence that embraces and energizes all life in the universe (Anima Mundi: Awakening the Soul of the World).


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Learning to Think Anew

Die Schnecke hat Gesicht – Raimund Joachim Höltich

If we are interested in redefining our world, we must change the manner in which we think. We must learn to think anew. In essence, we must unlearn thinking. Calculative thinking is fine, in the proper context, but it is not the only kind of thinking we humans need to utilize. When we read a poem for instance, we most certainly do not use calculative thinking. As Martin Heidegger said, “…we can learn thinking only if we radically unlearn what thinking has been traditionally” (What Calls For Thinking?).

Our thoughts and ideas come in the form of images. Is the brain the source of these? Yes, but there is more to it. I am of the opinion that every part of the body thinks. We are provided with thoughts and ideas through imaginally communing with the World Soul. Since soul permeates every atom of the animaterial body, thoughts and ideas can have their origin in any bodily element. It’s more likely that the body/soul is a Gestalt. Remember, when I mention “soul,” or “body,” I mean the intertwined soul-body. I call it the animaterial human. This is similar to what Heidegger called Dasein, but with an emphasis on the ensouled nature of Being. It is akin to what Jung called psychoid reality, or his idea of the unus mundus.

Thoughts are not just “in the head.” The animaterial human is a continuum for thought. The brain is obviously a processing center for the body, but that doesn’t mean that thinking is necessarily a product of the brain. In our age, we view the brain as a computer, a calculative thinking machine. Thinking is not necessarily calculative. Western culture has overemphasized many things, especially analytical thinking. We have limited our definition of thinking to one type. Yes, this has brought our civilization many wonderful advancements, but at what expense? We have also unleashed many evils on the world. Most of all, we have forgotten the more essential type of thinking, which I call metaphorics.

Metaphorics is the type of thinking that occurs in art, dreams, mysticism, poetry, and mythologizing. Knowledge, in the form of images, ascends from the Cosmic Mind, the World Soul. As we commune with the Cosmic Mind through meditation, rumination, active imagination, and dreams, certain images enter our conscious minds. These form metaphors, symbols that help us comprehend this knowledge. The aim of the World Soul is to impart gnosis to us through these metaphors and symbols. A good example of this is a dream that Carl Jung had not too long before the schism with Freud:

I was in a house I did not know, which had two stories. It was “my house.” I found myself in the upper story, where there was a kind of salon furnished with fine old pieces in rococo style. On the walls hung a number of precious old paintings. I wondered that this should be my house, and thought, “Not bad.” But then it occurred to me that I did not know what the lower floor looked like. Descending the stairs, I reached the ground floor. There everything was much older, and I realized that this part of the house must date from about the fifteenth or sixteenth century. The furnishings were medieval; the floors were of red brick. Everywhere it was rather dark. I went from one room to another, thinking, “Now I really must explore the whole house.” I came upon a heavy door, and opened it. Beyond it, I discovered a stone stairway that led down into the cellar. Descending again, I found myself in a beautifully vaulted room which looked exceedingly ancient. Examining the walls, I discovered layers of brick among the ordinary stone blocks, and chips of brick in the mortar. As soon as I saw this I knew that the walls dated from Roman times. My interest by now was intense. I looked more closely at the floor. It was of stone slabs, and in one of these I discovered a ring. When I pulled it, the stone slab lifted, and again I saw a stairway of narrow stone steps leading down into the depths. These, too, I descended, and entered a low cave cut into the rock. Thick dust lay on the floor, and in the dust were scattered bones and broken pottery, like remains of a primitive culture. I discovered two human skulls, obviously very old and half disintegrated. Then I awoke (Jung 158-159).

An amazing dream, indeed! These images ascended into Jung’s consciousness while he was sleeping, leading him to make some of his most important discoveries, including the theory of the collective unconscious. Obviously, Jung had been communing with the World Soul. He said, “Certain questions had been much on my mind during the days preceding the dream” (Jung 161). He had been seriously meditating on these questions, which is exactly what one would expect just prior to such a revelation. Jung said, “the dream became for me a guiding image” (ibid.).

Hermes, the World Daimon, plays a part in this exchange of knowledge too. Hermes, as Guide of Souls, charges our personal daimones to facilitate the gnostic experience, to carry the knowledge we need at a particular time, from the Cosmic Mind and whisper it to our conscious minds.


Works Cited

Jung, C.G. Memories, Dreams, Reflections. trans. Richard and Clara Winston. New York: Vintage, 1961.

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Cauldron of Knowledge

Print by J.E.C. Williams in the book 'Y Mabinogion', trans. J.M. Edwards (Wrexham, 1901).
Print by J.E.C. Williams in the book ‘Y Mabinogion’, trans. J.M. Edwards (Wrexham, 1901).

There is a Celtic legend called the Cauldron of Changes that you can read on the website, Chalice Centre. I would like to discuss one aspect of this story that pertains to the knowledge of Soul and its transformative effects on human beings.

In the story, a peasant boy named Gwion is hired by Ceridwen to stir and keep watch over the cauldron, which she has prepared for her ugly and hapless son, Avagddu. Because of her great love for the boy, she desired to find a way to transform her son. After studying books of Druidic alchemists, Ceridwen has learned how to make a special brew that can illuminate one with the knowledge of all things, past, present, and future. She carefully gathered all the necessary ingredients into a large iron cauldron, which must simmer for a year and a day. She conscripts Gwion to keep watch over the steaming vessel.

According to the alchemists, tasting three drops of the magical liquid would bestow the aforementioned knowledge. For a year, Gwion stirred the cauldron with a large wooden spoon, and kept the flames burning by feeding it with twigs and leaves. On the last day, Gwion decided to stir the pot sunwise for luck. As he did so, three drops flew out of the pot and landed on his hand, burning him. Immediately, he thrust his hand into his mouth to cool the burn. An instant after swallowing the magical elixir, his mind was illuminated. Worlds upon worlds opened within him, spreading out endlessly into eternity. In an instant, he was made aware of all the interconnections of Nature. He could hear and understand the trees, the babbling brook, the crawling insect. He could hear and understand their music and their languages.

You can read the rest of the story in the above link. What I have described so far is quite intriguing for someone who is fascinated by the things of the Soul.

First of all, this myth reveals the powers contained within the cauldron, which I see as a metaphor for the unconscious psyche. In our stage of evolutionary development, a simple taste of these powers can transform our entire lives. Perhaps in the future, there will be a greater flow of knowledge between consciousness and unconsciousness. For most of us, however, these incidents do not occur all the time. Now, we experience occasional irruptions of the unconscious into our conscious minds. These are incidental, stupendous, and wonderful examples of the powers of the soul, but they are prototypical of what lies ahead for the human species.

After our culture has experienced several centuries of intense emphasis on reason, logic, rationality, and science, the powers of the soul have atrophied. This began to change in the twentieth century, with the increased interest in things of the soul. This is in large part a result of the work of C.G. Jung. We still, however, have a long way to go. The process of evolution takes much time. We know we are circumambulating to a point in history where the powers of the soul will be restored. We see it moving in that direction everyday, especially on the Internet.

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Worlds of Being and Meaning

 Nova Aurigae, Stanislaw Ignacy, Witkiewicz - 1918

Nova Aurigae,
Stanislaw Ignacy, Witkiewicz – 1918

This article is dedicated to my brother, Jeffrey, who died July 27, 2014, of complications resulting from congestive heart failure. Jeff was only 49. He was a life-long student of history, religion, and the esoteric. He bequeathed to me his library, which I will cherish as long as I am upon this earth.

…the Gods and Goddesses are worlds of being and meaning in which my personal life participates (Miller 61).

Our ego-centered culture has not yet grasped the fact that the archetypal structures of all reality are these worlds of being and meaning. We do not live in these worlds; these worlds live through us.  To the degree that we recognize the Powers who manifest through our lives, we can become that which we were meant to be.

These Powers are in conflict with each other. Throughout our lives, we undergo our very own Trojan War. Pathologization is the way of the soul. This conflict can be mediated by a “transcendent function,” which is the “transpersonal nature of the archetypal structures…it gives us an Archimedean point of leverage, a perspective on the world from the standpoint of the world whose name is that of a God or Goddess” (ibid.).

This viewpoint transcends both the subjectivity of psychology and the objectivity of science. In essence, there is no inner/outer dichotomy. All reality is founded upon these worlds of being and meaning, the pantheon of Gods and Goddesses, and how they manifest through, not only our lives, but through the entire universe: stars, worlds, galaxies, and all animateriality. One can trace all things back to a particular God or Goddess. These are the foundation stones upon which our reality is built.

The Powers have manifested throughout human history in many different forms, especially in the many religious views of the world. I have always wondered why there are so many different factions within Christianity, for instance, since this is where my roots are. There are even factions within the factions. There is a first church of this and a first church of that. It seems so insane, but it is the way of reality, the way of the Powers. They fight and war against each other continually. This is how the Fabric of Reality is constructed.

During the nineteenth century, Friedrich Nietzsche believed that the monotheistic God of Christianity had lost its potency. Each God or Goddess has potency and uniqueness. Because they are at war, a God or Goddess who loses its potency is supplanted by others. This is connected with the idea that a symbol or image can lose its power, and is then subsequently replaced by other symbols. In the case of the monotheistic God, the practice of using symbols and images was, for the most part, eliminated during the Reformation. Symbols possess power, so when the symbol goes, the God will eventually die out. Nietzsche also believed that the monotheistic nature of this God led to his death, and then mankind’s encounter with nihilism. But the encounter with nihilism is but a prelude to transformation. “The death of God gives rise to the rebirth of the Gods” (Miller 4).

Jung’s idea of the archetypes of the collective unconscious was an imaginative historical breakthrough, a watershed event for human psychology. As we hear the stories of the Gods and Goddesses, we are provided with a framework for imagining their worlds of being and meaning, how they live and breathe through us, and through all of reality throughout the universe.


Works Cited

Miller, David. L. The New Polytheism. New York: Harper & Row, 1974.



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Polytheism in Archetypal Psychology

Creation of the World, by Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz, Public Domain

Archetypal psychology is not interested in the integration of the multiple psychic persons to a unified Self, as in Jungian theory. The soul is polytheistic, according to this view. To allow each autonomous Being to have its own place, no attempt should be made to gather them into a central self. The Anima Mundi is diffused throughout Nature, where all animatter is specked with fiery sparks of divinity. As fiery, orange scintillae spark upward from a campfire into a night sky, so do the light-filled blazings of Soul permeate throughout the psyche, symbolized by the innumerable stars that dot the heavens. These are the Archetypal Powers worshiped by ancient civilizations. They do not desire to be centralized. It is contra naturam. Rather, it is better to discover which god is owed its due by dealing with the fragmented messages that arise from the unconscious, alerting us to their presence. These messages come in dreams, symptoms, complexes, illnesses, fantasies, etc.

James Hillman, founder of archetypal psychology, writes that archetypal psychology would

…accept the multiplicity of voices, the Babel of the anima and animus, without insisting upon unifying them into one figure, and accept too the dissolution process into diversity as equal in value to the coagulation process into unity. The pagan gods and goddesses would be restored to their psychological domain (Hillman 39).

Each god and goddess have their particular qualities and characteristics. Forcing them into an abstract unity diminishes their valuable idiosyncrasies. These Beings are Images. Images have a multiplicity of meanings, so shoving them into one personality called the Self devalues their place in the scheme of Nature. As an example, Hillman gives us a brief account of how a bout of depression would be dealt with:

Depression, say, may be led into meaning on the model of Christ and his suffering and resurrection; it may through Saturn gain the depth of melancholy and inspiration, or through Apollo server to release the blackbird of prophetic insight. From the perspective of Demeter depression may yield awareness of the mother-daughter mystery, or, through Dionysus, we may find depression a refuge from the excessive demands of the ruling will (Hillman 40).

You see how rich and valuable the insight is if this method is used. In this way, consciousness “circulate(s) among a field of powers. Each god has his due as each complex deserves its respect in its own right” (ibid.).

Our Western notion of upward progress through hierarchical phases, inspired by monotheistic theology, brought about the idea that there is a target to aim for, i.e. integration into a Self. The problem is, though, this is not the way Nature works.

Hillman might look at the thousands of divisions of Christianity, for example, and probably say it was therapeutic. He might say that the many complexes must be cared for, hence the many, many schisms. In order to care for the soul, the many must be recognized and nurtured.

In Jungian theory, to integrate the various complexes, one must withdraw the projections. But, even Jung himself admitted,

The individual ego is much too small, its brain much too feeble, to incorporate all the projections withdrawn from the world. Ego and brain burst asunder in the effort; the psychiatrist calls it schizophrenia (qtd. by Hillman 41).

When dealing with psychological breakdown, Jungians might say mandalas, as images of unity, could compensate the many complexes by bringing about order from chaos. Archetypal psychology would counter with its idea of reversion, which I will discuss in the next article.

Works Cited

Hillman, James. A Blue Fire. Ed. Thomas Moore. New York: Harper, 1989.


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Thoughts on Jungian Individuation


Since it has been many years now since I have delved into Jung’s idea of individuation, I thought it might be nice to spend an evening allowing Jung’s words to refresh my memory. In the early nineties, Jung’s ideas became the seeds within me that would burgeon into what I now consider to be an ever-spiraling soul-house.

The concept of individuation plays a large role in our psychology. In general, it is the process by which individual beings are formed and differentiated; in par­ticular, it is the development of the psychological individual (q.v.) as a being distinct from the general, collective psy­chology. Individuation, therefore, is a process of differentiation (q.v.), having for its goal the development of the individual personality (Jung, Types 448).

Jung’s theory of individuation is a very Western approach to psychology. Individualism is a mainstay of Western culture because, according to the general Western consensus, the individual alone has the ability to reason, and the ability to choose freely. Of course, these days we are accustomed to discussing a collective consciousness, which could, I suppose, point to a kind of collective reasoning. But Jung claims that individuation is a process that distinguishes a person from the collective. He also claims it is a process that has a telos, or a goal. This makes me uncomfortable.

I am vexed by stereotypical Western notions like linearity. I have written before about John Climacus’ notion of the scala paradisi, which I am not fond of.  I wonder how much this image had to do with the West’s obsession with linearity? I’m sure the idea was around much earlier than Climacus,but he seemed to popularize it to a certain extent.

Jung stresses that individuation must not be understood as a linear development, but as a “circumambulation of the self” (Jung, Memories 196), that is, the movement is toward the center, which Jung says is the Self. One of the symbols in alchemy which represents this process is the Ouroboros, the serpent which devours its own tail. This means that the process is circular and self-contained, according to Jung. Still, though, the idea of a telos, an end-point for the psyche, this mystical center, bothers me considerably.

In Jung’s thinking, the path to individuation is characterized by the constant conflict of opposites, which, of course, produces psychic energy. One must bring the opposites into complete union in order to succeed in individuation. This means that the conscious and unconscious become integrated and assimilate the ego, after which the Self emerges. In alchemy, this union is known as the coniunctio. The coniunctio is symbolized in various ways in alchemy. One such symbol shows a king and queen in a hermaphroditic union. In Jung’s mind, this represents the union of opposites, and, more specifically, the union of anima and animus, the male and female aspects of the unconscious. Jung claims that these must be integrated in order to achieve individuation.

One problem I have with Jung’s theory today is this: back in my early days of reading Jung, I still believed that a person developed gradually, linearly, until, at some point in one’s life, the process would be complete and integration would be achieved. All projections would be withdrawn and life would be rosy. I was fragmented and I yearned for wholeness. I think I was more of a humanist back then. I believed strongly in the possibility of perfecting one’s life and human potentiality. I know that Jung never meant the process to be thought of as linear, but I was stuck in the mud of my culture.

So, Jung believes the goal of individuation is to pull all the fragmented aspects of the psyche together into one complete whole. But what if fragmentation is itself a product of individuation? That would certainly throw a monkey-wrench into the works.

The complexes that will not be integrated force recognition of their autonomous power. Their archetypal cores will not serve the single goal of monotheistic wholeness (Hillman, Fire 40-41).

The idea of the Self seems to be Jung’s inclination to monotheism. I must agree with Hillman concerning Jung’s theory of individuation. “We are compelled to step away from an ideal norm of man and a statistical norm of man” (Hillman, Revisioning 88-89). There are many personalities within us. Our dreams reveal many sides, many beings. That’s just naturally the way we are wired. There is no integrated human who is perfectly whole. This is a fantasy of the heroic Western ego.


Works Cited

Hillman, James. A Blue Fire. Ed. Thomas Moore. New York: Harper, 1989.

Hillman, James. Re-visioning Psychology. New York: Harper, 1975.

Jung, C.G. Psychological Types. trans. H.G. Baynes. Princeton: Bollingen, 1971.

Jung, C.G. Memories, Dreams, Reflections. trans. Richard and Clara Winston. New York: Vintage, 1961.

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On the Nature of the Archetype

A Winter Landscape With A Horse Drawn Cart Going Over A Bridge, Peasants Transporting Pigs Over The River, And Children Sledging, by Andries Vermeulen

In his work, On the Nature of the Psyche, Carl Jung differentiates between the modus operandi of the archetype, and the archetype as such:

The archetypal representations (images and ideas) mediated to us by the unconscious should not be confused with the archetype as such. They are very varied struc­tures which all point back to one essentially “irrepresentable” basic form. The latter is characterized by certain formal ele­ments and by certain fundamental meanings, although these can be grasped only approximately. The archetype as such is a psychoid factor that belongs, as it were, to the invisible, ultra­violet end of the psychic spectrum (Jung 213).

Jung compares the the psyche to the electromagnetic spectrum in order to illustrate the difference between the archetype, in its role as mediator between consciousness and unconsciousness, of images and ideas, and the archetype as such, which is “irrepresentable.” This strikes me as an example of Jung’s fondness for Kantian philosophy. Kant distinguished between the empirical thing, and the thing-in-itself. Jung uses Kant’s framework to describe the way an archetype functions as mediator, and the way an archetype is in itself, which, of course, cannot be fully known. Later, he will compare the archetype as mediator to infrared light in the spectrum.

He says the archetype as such is like ultraviolet light, invisible, and is a “psychoid factor” (ibid.), by which he means non-psychic. In other words, the archetype as such is beyond the psyche, residing in the physiological organism as instinct. It is beyond the psyche because it is incapable of reaching consciousness. The archetype as such, as psychoid factor, creates a bridge uniting psyche and matter. This is what Jung means by the unus mundus.

Since psyche and matter are contained in one and the same world, and moreover are in continuous contact with one another and ultimately rest on irrepresentable, transcendental factors, it is not only possible but fairly probable, even, that psyche and mat­ter are two different aspects of one and the same thing (Jung 215).

By this, Jung is saying that 1) archetype as such (analogous to physiological instincts), and 2) the archetypes (as mediators of images and ideas that reach consciousness) have a common point of origin that is transcendental and irrepresentable. This common source is the unus mundus, the “one world.” It is also what I have called Animatter.

Jung summarizes and explains further:

Just as the “psychic infra-red,” the biological instinctual psyche, gradually passes over into the physiology of the organism and thus merges with its chemical and physical conditions, so the “psychic ultra-violet,” the archetype, describes a field which exhibits none of the peculiarities of the physiological and yet, in the last analysis, can no longer be regarded as psychic, although it manifests itself psychically. But physiological processes behave in the same way, without on that account being declared psychic. Although there is no form of existence that is not mediated to us psychically and only psychically, it would hardly do to say that everything is merely psychic. We must apply this argument logically to the archetypes as well. Since their essential being is unconscious to us, and still they are experienced as spontaneous agencies, there is probably no alter­native now but to describe their nature, in accordance with their chiefest effect, as “spirit,” in the sense which I attempted to make plain in my paper “The Phenomenology of the Spirit in Fairytales.” If so, the position of the archetype would be located beyond the psychic sphere, analogous to the position of physio­logical instinct, which is immediately rooted in the stuff of the organism and, with its psychoid nature, forms the bridge to matter in general. In archetypal conceptions and instinctual perceptions, spirit and matter confront one another on the psychic plane. Matter and spirit both appear in the psychic realm as distinctive qualities of conscious contents. The ultimate nature of both is transcendental, that is, irrepresentable, since the psyche and its contents are the only reality which is given to us without a medium (Jung 214-215, emphasis mine).

This is the foundation of Jung’s theory of synchronicity.

Jung, C. G. On the Nature of the Psyche. The Collected Works of C. G. Jung. (Vol. 8) (R. F. C. Hull, Trans.). Princeton: Princeton, 1954.

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Danger Lurks Below


The supreme danger which threatens individuals as well as whole nations is a psychic danger (Jung 590 ).

We usually think of the unconscious mind as being the source of creativity and blessing for our lives. We have been taught that if we could only become more conscious of what lies in the depths below, we would become more balanced and whole. This is true to a certain extent, but there is a ferociousness in the dark abyss of the unconscious that can rip us to shreds. And this is not the case for individuals only. Human societies are also subject to the volcanic, eruptive fury of the unconscious. We have seen this time and time again throughout history. There is no better example than Hitler and the Holocaust in the 20th century. The once glorious hope of The Enlightenment that Reason would triumph over the irrationality of mankind and bring us to a new age of peace and prosperity has been trampled under by the awful implements of war and atrocity. And for the individual seeking individuation, the notion of a life filled only with goodness and well-being has been shown to be unattainable and naive.

According to Carl Jung,

Reason has proved itself completely powerless, precisely because its arguments have an effect only on the conscious mind and not on the unconscious. The great­est danger of all comes from the masses, in whom the effects of the unconscious pile up cumulatively and the reasonableness of the conscious mind is stifled. Every mass organization is a latent danger just as much as a heap of dynamite is. It lets loose effects which no man wants and no man can stop. It is therefore in the highest degree desirable that a knowledge of psychology should spread so that men can understand the source of the supreme dangers that threaten them. Not by arming to the teeth, each for itself, can the nations defend themselves in the long run from the frightful catastrophes of modern war. The heaping up of arms is itself a call to war. Rather must they recognize those psychic conditions under which the unconscious bursts the dykes of consciousness and overwhelms it (ibid.).

For precisely this reason, humanity has attempted to create certain “alleviating intermediaries” (Safranski) to filter the irruptions of the unconscious into the conscious mind. Yes, these irruptions on a mass scale can come in the form of wars, pandemics, and societal atrocities, and, on an individual level, psychoses and infirmities. The ancients seemed to know more than modern man about creating protections against the ravages of the unconscious. They accomplished this through myth, music, and art. With the advent of The Enlightenment, western man in particular began to view these as mere entertainment. The word, “myth,” even came to mean, in modern parlance, “delusion.” Myth, music, and art are innate, natural filters that mitigate the awesome terrors of the abyss we call the unconscious mind. Humans are hard-wired, so to speak, to utilize these to shield the conscious mind from the unconscious.

Under the category of myth, I would place religion. Religious ritual is one of the most powerful ways ever devised by man to shield the mind from the unconscious. For millennia, humans have engaged in religious ritual, probably unaware of its protective powers. The Catholic Mass was one of the most effective means of warding off the evils that lie in wait to snatch one’s mind away, dragging it down into the Underworld, just as Persephone was dragged down by Hades into the realm of shades. There is something about ritual that most do not understand because of our age of “rationality” and demythologization. Those who still practice the old religions have great understanding of the protective powers of ritual. Typically, Christians, especially Protestants, do not believe or understand this. Most reject imaginal and mythological thinking. Some Catholics and Orthodox still realize it, but this knowledge is waning. Our culture, largely based on science and technology, rejects such thinking. The masses have been conditioned to think this way, but the danger still lurks in the unconscious. The more we ignore it, the more perilous it becomes.

Jung taught us that symbols can be worn out, become obsolete and ineffective. For this reason, much of Christianity has become an ineffective filter for our experiences. We need fresh, new myths that will screen our minds from the damaging effects of the dark unconscious. We need new artistic and musical geniuses that will bestow upon us gifts for the good of the species. We need imagination and creativity!

Art cannot be precisely defined. But, as an attempt to do so, art is unconsciousness made conscious. It is myth made visual, just as music is myth made aural. Art and music come about as close to a universal language as one can get. Great works of art and music are examples of “alleviating intermediaries” placed between the conscious mind and the dark fury of the unconscious to filter unconsciousness to the point where we can, first of all, bear it psychologically, and then benefit from it.

Works Cited

Jung, C. G. The Symbolic Life. The Collected Works of C. G. Jung. (Vol. 18) (R. F. C. Hull, Trans.). Princeton: Princeton, 1976.

Safranksi, Rüdiger. Nietzsche, a Philosophical Biography. Tr. Shelley Frisch. New York: Norton, 2002.

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Alchemy: In the Service of Nature



The Promethean archetype, the desire to steal that which was meant to serve Nature and use it exclusively for human purposes, should not be the blueprint for the practitioner of alchemy. Even individual soul-making, if focused solely on the human, does not assist the Anima Mundi in her transmutation. The primary task of the alchemist, his passion, is to further the improvement of the World Soul. The alchemical practice is not to carry out the Promethean aim of what is best for humanity. Rather, it is more akin to a religious devotion to Nature.

Certainly, this is a dichotomizing of humanity and Nature. In reality, they are one and the same. Humanity is certainly a natural phenomenon. It is just as natural as any natural thing can be. The problem arises when the Promethean attitude is venerated to the exclusion of the cherishing and nourishing of Nature. A good example would be a large oil company assuming they are improving the world for mankind by drilling oil anywhere they can find it. What they’re doing has more to do with profit than it does with a supposedly altruistic aim. Of course, this is not serving Nature, but only selfish human ends. This is the Promethean archetype in a nutshell. It has nothing to do with the true practice of alchemy. If you want to understand Prometheus, read Ayn Rand. Her lead characters are almost always Promethean in nature.

Jung recognized what is, in essence, the Promethean spirit in Christianity, and how it differs from the Magnum Opus:

Here we come to a parting of the ways. The Christian receives the fruits of the Mass for himself personally and for the circumstances of his own life in the widest sense. The alchemist, on the other hand, receives the fructis arboris immortalis [the fruit of the tree of immortality] not merely for himself but first and foremost for the King or the King’s Son, for the perfecting of the coveted substance. He may play a part in the perfectio, which brings him health, riches, illumination, and salvation; but since he is the redeemer of God and not the one to be redeemed, he is more concerned to perfect the substance than himself (Jung 352, brackets mine).

So, alchemy has to do with the redemption of God rather than with the redemption of humanity. Humanity certainly benefits from the transformation and transmutation of Nature simply for being part of Nature. (No, this is not an avowal of pantheism on my part, although I do believe in a form of panentheism). The alchemical vocation can certainly bring one “health, riches, illumination, and salvation”, but these are not the primary goals. Where Christianity misses it is in placing man at the center of the universe, and thinking that if man is redeemed, then Nature would be also. This, however, is backwards. The Work is for the sake of the Work, not for the sake of personal enrichment. The Work is to transmute the Anima Mundi.

So, how can alchemy assist in the transmutation and transformation of the World Soul? James Hillman offers these suggestions:

By treating the materials as ensouled, by invoking the spirits of the metals and speaking of their emotional qualities, alchemy found gods in nature, and soul, or animation, in the physical world (Hillman 409).

J.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy is one of my favorite stories. I discovered Tolkien as a teenager, after I heard Robert Plant say once he was reading Tolkien’s books. Straightaway, I went out and bought them. My favorite thing about the story is that it is an animistic tale, for all things are ensouled and all of Nature is reverenced. There are many, many examples of this throughout the story. For instance, the manner in which the hobbits smoke their pipes is fascinating. It’s as if the tobacco has soul, having the ability to take various shapes. And, remember how the swords and daggers had names, and sort of possessed their own personalities? This is ensoulment of natural materials. Nature is not a cold, lifeless place. It is filled with soul, with life.

James Hillman claims that “alchemy is animism” (Hillman 408). This is because the materials of alchemy are reverenced as possessing spirits, motives, emotions, even the ability to cooperate with the alchemist in his various endeavors; not literally, but mythologically. Our modern world has lost this precious attitude in this day of reductionist materialism. There is a dire need to recover this worldview before it is too late.

Works Cited

Hillman, James. Uniform Edition of the Writings of James Hillman Volume 5: Alchemical Psychology, Kindle edition. Dallas: Spring, 2013.

Jung, C.G. Psychology and Alchemy. The Collected Works of C. G. Jung, Vol. 12. Princeton: Princeton, 1953.

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Henry Corbin and the Archetypal Realm

Nicholas Roerich “Song of Shambhala”

The active Imagination is the preeminent mirror, the epiphanic place of the Images of the archetypal world; that is why the theory of the mundus imaginalis is bound up with a theory of imaginative knowledge and imaginative function–a function truly central and mediatory, because of the median and mediatory position of the mundus imaginalis. It is a function that permits all the universes to symbolize with one another (or exist in symbolic relationship with one another) and that leads us to represent to ourselves, experimentally, that the same substantial realities assume forms corresponding respectively to each universe (for example, Jabalqa and Jabarsa correspond in the subtle world to the Elements of the physical world, while Hurqalya corresponds there to the Sky). It is the cognitive function of the Imagination that permits the establishment of a rigorous analogical knowledge, escaping the dilemma of current rationalism, which leaves only a choice between the two terms of banal dualism: either “matter” or “spirit,” a dilemma that the “socialization” of consciousness resolves by substituting a choice that is no less fatal: either “history” or “myth” (Mundus Imaginalis, or the Imaginary and the Imaginal, by Henry Corbin).

French philosopher and theologian, Henry Corbin (1903-1978) was one of the most important intellectuals and scholars of the twentieth century. I first heard of him in the mid ’90’s, after immersing myself in the writings of James Hillman. The latter saw him as a carrier of the torch of Soul, when many in those days were denying its value. In 1949, Corbin attended the Eranos Conference in Asconia, Switzerland, in which he would play a large role, along with C.G Jung.

Most of us are aware of what Corbin means in the above passage by “active imagination.” If you’re not, read Gary Lachman’s wonderful essay at Reality Sandwich.

We know the power and value of this gift that Jung rediscovered for our generation. It was by no means a Jungian invention, for mystics and seers have used it for millennia to enter another, more subtle world. Corbin dubs this realm mundus imaginalis,  the world of the imaginal. He uses “imaginal” to differentiate from “imaginary,” and the disparaging connotations it carries in our rationalistic culture.

Corbin’s worldview requires a complete cosmology and metaphysics of presence. The West once possessed this, but lost it when the Aristotelianism of Averroes swept aside the Avicennan cosmology in the twelfth century. From that point on, the emphasis would be on res extensa and res cogitans.

Our typical idea of historical consciousness of a world of cold, dead objects and linear time will not work here. According to Tom Cheetham, “the human presence spatializes a world around it in accordance with the mode of being of that presence” (The World Turned Inside Out, p 66). This is very Heideggerian, reminding me much of Dasein. In fact, Heidegger was a major influence on Corbin’s work. This mode of being requires a qualitative, not a quantitative space. Our normal idea of space is much too limited for the limitless depths of Soul. That is why our urge to personify machines, as in the seemingly never-ending quest for so-called artificial intelligence, will never produce anything more than a cold, lifeless calculator.

The mundus imaginalis is the realm of Soul, the metaxy, mediating between the physical and spiritual universes. It is the middle course Icarus was instructed to fly by his father, but disobeyed and perished. It is the abode of the Archetypal Images of all existence and the realm of all mythology, which provides for us analogical knowledge by which we can peer into multiple levels of being. Cheetham says,

It is a measure of the depth of the catastrophe to which we have succumbed that we have come to regard this realm as just a fantasy in our heads. It is a realm of Being with its own characteristics, its own laws, and to which we have access by an organ of cognition appropriate to just this realm. The organ of cognition that gains us access to this universe is the active Imagination. It has a cognitive function just as fundamental as sensation or intellection, and like them, it must be trained. Therefore there are a perfectly objective imaginative perception, an imaginative knowledge, and an imaginative consciousness (ibid, p 69-70).

 I don’t know about you, but these are very exciting ideas.

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Jung’s Coniunctio: The Chymical Wedding and Heraclitus











In the workings of alchemy, the reconciliation of Sol and Luna is often referred to as The Chymical Wedding. Carl Jung’s theory of the conjunction of polarities in the psyche borrows heavily from this teaching.

The ancient Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, tells us that “the way up and the way down are one and the same” (qtd. in Wheelwright 78). The idea that opposites complement each other and are actually the same is still alive today in Jungian psychology. As we will see, Jung relied heavily on the interrelatedness of opposites to explain his entire psychological theory. This article will attempt to show the Heraclitan influence in Jungian thought.

The philosophy of Heraclitus is one of the most fascinating examples of thinking in the ancient world. He may have been influenced by Eastern philosophies seeping into the Mediterranean region. He was certainly inspired by the Pythagorean and Milesian thinkers. He was rumored to be a pupil of Xenophanes.

Heraclitus understood the world to be a place where nothing remains fixed; everything is in flux and is constantly being transformed.

One of the main aspects of his teaching is that “opposition brings concord,” and “out of discord comes the fairest harmony” (qtd. in Wheelwright 77). What he means by this apparent contradiction is that both positive and negative realities are required in order for harmony to exist. Justice is exhibited by the striving of one thing against another, for in this striving there is agreement or harmonia. He points to the bow and the lyre to illustrate his point. The strings of a bow and lyre require tension in order to operate harmoniously. If the bowstring were not tightened, an arrow could not be shot. Similarly, if the lyre strings were not tightened there would be no beautiful music. There is harmony in the shooting of an arrow with a bow, and in the music of a lyre, just as there is a certain harmony in the world. The discord which we experience is merely the process whereby unanimity arises. Heraclitus teaches that the consensus is not obvious, but concealed, for “hidden harmony is better than the obvious” (qtd. in Wheelwright 79).

Heraclitus believed that fire, which he seems to identify with God, or the world process, is the source of all becoming. “It throws apart and then brings together again; it advances and retires. Everything flows and nothing abides; everything gives way and nothing stays fixed” (qtd. in Wheelwright 70-71). To him, fire was the perfect symbol to describe reality.

Regarding the human soul, Heraclitus believed it is impossible to ascertain its limits, in the sense of our understanding the depths of the soul. He said, “You could not discover the limits of the soul, even if you traveled by every path in order to do so; such is the depth of its meaning” (qtd. in Wheelwright 72). Here, we have an indication of a similarity arising with what we in the modern world call depth psychology, of which Jung’s Analytical Psychology is an example. Depth psychology is based on the theory of the unconscious mind, i.e., that there are things in the mind which we are not consciously aware of. Sometimes our conscious minds will thrust something which is too painful to bear into the unconscious. These things can then fester in the unconscious, affecting our conscious attitude. For example, certain emotions can be repressed and can influence behavior, many times causing mental distress. The main point here is that Heraclitus recognized the boundless depth of the human psyche some twenty-five hundred years before Freud and Jung.

As in the Heraclitan doctrine, Jungian psychology stresses the existence of a conflict of opposites, or enantiodromia. This is a term which Heraclitus used to describe the endless to and fro process of the eternal flux. The opposites are at war with each other, but in this conflict there is harmony, for both positive and negative need one another. Jung based his theory of compensation on this principle, claiming that the conscious attitude, at times, must be balanced by gaining awareness of certain unconscious processes. According to Jung,

Just as all energy proceeds from opposition, so the psyche too possesses its inner polarity, this being the indispensable prerequisite for its aliveness, as Heraclitus realized long ago” (Jung 346).

A good example of what Jung means lies in an explanation of his doctrine of the anima and animus.

For Jung, all human beings have both male and female characteristics. For instance, all men have a female element abiding in their unconscious minds. Similarly, all women have an unconscious male element. One’s conscious attitude is usually dominated by those characteristics belonging to whatever sex one happens to be. The opposing characteristics, if not recognized by the conscious mind, can bring about many problems in the conscious attitude. For instance, a man who is not aware of his anima may experience irrational moods, peevishness, and bad temper. (Bennet 122). A woman who represses her animus may, for example, not respect the feelings of others because she is overly rational (Bennet 130). For men, Jung called the female image anima. For women, the male image is the animus. These are Latin words which both mean “soul.” Anima is feminine; animus is masculine. If one set of characteristics is dominant, the opposite will manifest itself in dreams, possibly hinting at how the conscious attitude should be adjusted so that balance can be restored to the psyche.

Another area where Jung was influenced by Heraclitus is in his personality typology. Again, he utilizes the Heraclitan principle of enantiodromia to explain why people have different personalities. He begins with the distinction between what he terms introverts and extroverts. Basically, the introvert is characterized by a flow of energy inward; the concentration is on the subject. The extrovert’s energy flows outward, into the world; the concentration is on objects and other people. Every person has both characteristics within them, just as in the anima/animus doctrine. One of the two, however, will dominate the conscious attitude.

Each of these basic attitude types consists of four functions: thinking, feeling, sensation, and intuition. As in the introvert/extrovert distinction, one of the opposites will be dominant. For instance, someone may be an extrovert who is thinking-oriented instead of feeling-oriented. This person might also be guided more by his intuition than his senses. Another may be an introvert who is feeling oriented, and who relates more to sensation. Using this procedure, Jung was able to study human beings in a more precise manner. The Myers-Briggs Personality Test, used by psychologists today, is based on Jung’s typology.


Bennet, E.A. What Jung Really Said. New York: Schocken, 1966.

Jung, C.G. Memories, Dreams, and Reflections. New York: Vintage, 1965.

Wheelwright, Philip. The Presocratics. Indianapolis: ITT, 1966.

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