Carl Jung

Carl Gustav Jung (1875–1961) was a Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who founded analytical psychology. Among the central concepts of analytical psychology is ‘individuation’—the lifelong process of differentiating oneself through one’s conscious and unconscious elements. Jung considered it to be the main task of human development. He is credited with developing some of the most widely known psychological concepts, including synchronicity, archetypes and archetypal images, the collective unconscious, the psychological complex, the shadow, and extraversion and introversion.

Jung’s father was an impoverished rural pastor in the Swiss Reformed Church who took an academic approach to faith, while his mother was a depressed recluse who claimed nightly visits by spirits. This exposed Jung to both traditional religious thought and the occult early in his life. Jung later retold a childhood memory of carving a totem into the end of a wooden ruler and ornamenting it with a painted stone. Hiding it in his attic, he periodically would bring messages printed in his own secret language to it. He reflected on how this ceremonial act echoed other totem rituals in indigenous cultures, though he had no prior knowledge of them. These early experiences helped shape his views on divinity, and inspired his interest in symbols, archetypes, and the collective unconscious that were to become the hallmarks of his career.

Unlike Freud, who believed God was as an illusion based on the infantile human need for a powerful father figure, Jung insisted upon the value of metaphysical and spiritual concerns to the human psyche. For Jung, there were no solutions to psychological problems without addressing our irrationality, and the needs of what he called the soul:

“The great problem of our time is that we do not understand what is happening to the world. We are confronted with the darkness of our soul, the unconscious.”

“We in our Western ignorance do not see, or have forgotten, that man has or is visited by subjective inner experiences of an irrational nature which cannot be successfully dealt with by rational argument, scientific evidence, and depreciative diagnosis.”

“I believe that we have the choice: I preferred the living wonders of the God. I daily weigh up my whole life and I continue to regard the fiery brilliance of the God as a higher and fuller life than the ashes of rationality.”

Despite thousands of references to ‘the God’ and ‘the Soul’ in Jung’s works, it is clear that Jung’s view of these terms were not traditional. In fact, he made clear on numerous occasions that his use of the word ‘God’ in his writings referred most often to human images of God, and not to his own interpretation:

“This is the point which is regularly misunderstood: people assume that I am talking about God himself. In reality I am talking about human representations.”

“God is a mystery, and everything we say about Him is said and believed by human beings… when I speak of God I always mean the image man has made of him.”

“It would be a regrettable mistake if anybody should take my observations as a kind of proof of the existence of God.They prove only the existence of an archetypal God-image, which to my mind is the most we can assert about God psychologically.”

“When I say that I don’t need to believe in God because I “know,” I mean I know of the existence of God-images in general and in particular.”

On occasion, however, Jung did reflect on his personal views of God:

“I do know of a power of a very personal nature and an irresistible influence. I call it ‘God’.

“God is nothing more than that superior force in our life. You can experience God every day.”

“According to my view, one should rather say that the term “God” should only be applied in case of numinous inconceivability.”

For Jung, this “God” and the “Soul” were inextricably bound with the unconscious:

“The world of gods and spirits is truly ‘nothing but’ the collective unconscious inside me.”

“I have been compelled, in my investigations into the structure of the unconscious, to make a conceptual distinction between soul and psyche. By psyche I understand the totality of all psychic processes, conscious as well as unconscious. By soul, on the other hand, I understand a clearly demarcated functional complex that can best be described as a ‘personality.'”

“[The Self]…might equally be called the God within us.”

Jung spent most of his life delving into the aspects of the unconscious. He believed it was underpinned by what he called the ‘collective unconscious,’ a realm of the human unconscious populated by instincts and archetypes: universal symbols such as The Great Mother, the Wise Old Man, the Shadow, the Tower, Water, the Tree of Life, and others. These mythologies were so ingrained in us, he believed, that they caused people to relate their own experience to them in order to derive meaning. Analytical psychology, which Jung founded, revolves around examining the patient’s relationship to this collective unconscious. This mythological realm is where he believed God communicated to us:

“God always speaks mythologically. If he didn’t, he would reveal reason and science.”

“No science will ever replace myth, and a myth cannot be made out of any science. For it is not that ‘God’ is a myth, but that myth is the revelation of a divine life in man.”

“God has never spoken to man except in and through the psyche, and the psyche understands it and we experience it as something psychic.”

Jung’s God, however, was a holistic one, embodying both “good” and “evil.” This is analogous to another psychological term Jung is famous for, the “Shadow”. Jung believed our Shadow is the necessary darkness within our psyche that allows us to perceive what we call good. His God shared this polarity:

“If God is only good, everything is good. There is not a shadow anywhere. Evil just would not exist, even man would be good and could not produce anything evil.”

“Instead of saying, ‘God is beyond good and evil,’ we can say, ‘Life is both good and evil.'”

“I must free my self from the God, since the God I experienced is more than love; he is also hate, he is more than beauty, he is also the abomination, he is more than wisdom, he is also meaninglessness, he is more than power, he is also powerlessness, he is more than omnipresence, he is also my creature.”

He went further in explaining the relationship of God to the collective unconscious, suggesting that God was unconscious and in need of man to provide a conscious experience (Note the echoes of the famous Alan Watts quote, “Through our eyes, the universe is perceiving itself.”):

“God seems to be unconscious: He does not seem to know men. He tries to see them as He is Himself.”

“Individuation and individual existence are indispensable for the transformation of God. Human consciousness is the only seeing eye of the Deity.”

“God needs man in order to become conscious, just as he needs limitation in time and space. Let us therefore be for him limitation in time and space, an earthly tabernacle.”

Jung held particular disdain for the Age of Enlightenment and Christianity, as he felt these views were not holistic, being imbalanced in their emphasis on rationality and a “good God,” respectively:

“God is a universal experience which is obfuscated only by silly rationalism and an equally silly theology.”

“We think we have conjured away this danger when we call it God, for Christianity has forgotten the dark side of God. The old Church knew that God was dangerous.”

“Christian civilization has proved hollow to a terrifying degree: it is all veneer, but the inner man has remained untouched, and therefore unchanged. His soul is out of key with his external beliefs; in his soul the Christian has not kept pace with external developments. Yes, everything is to be found outside-in image and in word, in Church and Bible-but never inside. Inside reign the archaic gods, supreme as of old.”

The emphasis on the Whole, the immanence of God pervading all things, occurs throughout Jung’s writings. While his mystical and theological upbringing continued to color Jung’s framing of arguments throughout his life, his pantheistic view of God was clear:

“God is an immediate experience of a very primordial nature, one of the most natural products of our mental life, as the birds sing, as the wind whistles, like the thunder of the surf.”

“I am the egg that surrounds and nurtures the seed of the God in me.”

“It would be blasphemy to assert that God can manifest Himself everywhere save only in the human soul. Indeed the very intimacy of the relationship between God and the soul automatically precludes any devaluation of the latter.”

“A saying of the alchemist is, “God is a circle whose centre is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.” The saying holds for God, for the anima mundi and for the soul of man.”

“Just as man was once revealed out of God, so, when the circle closes, God may be revealed out of man.”

“Christ cried out to the Jews, “You are the Gods” (John 10:34) but men were incapable of understanding what he meant.”

Though Jung spoke often of ‘God images’, (which have been conflated with his own personal views of God), he clarified his own personal image of God in 1956, in ‘Symbols of Transformation’:

“The sun… is the only truly ‘rational’ image of God, whether we adopt the standpoint of the primitive savage or of modern science. In either case the sun is the father-god from whom all living things draw life; he is the fructifier and creator, the source of energy for our world. The discord into which the human soul has fallen can be harmoniously resolved through the sun as a natural object which knows no inner conflict.” ~Carl Jung

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