Carl Jung – The Unconcious Mind, Dreams and Symbols

Published Categorised as Carl Jung, Psychology, Religion
Introduction to Carl Jung through his book Man and His Symbols

Carl Jung is one of the founding fathers of depth psychology (Along with Freud and Adler who I have written about in previous summaries). Jung’s theories were built on the bedrock of psychoanalysis Freud had laid down, however, as with Alfred Adler, Jung’s “Analytical Psychology” ended up differing significantly from Freud’s. Jung expanded the understanding of the unconscious to a broader view beyond Freud’s emphasis on the sexual, to the more myriad and complex influences of symbols and archetypes.

His views become more important today than ever in a world where individuals claim to be governed by logic and rationality whilst having little conscious understanding of the unconscious elements which drive them to neuroticism and unnecessary suffering.

Purpose of this article: In the following article, I have summarised Part 1 of the book Man and His Symbols, titled “Approaching the unconscious”. Part 1 was written by Jung and the remainder was co-authored by his contemporaries. I have included key quotes throughout and personal reflections. This provides a foundational understanding of Jung’s theories and their origins and serves as a starting point for future reading.

Who should read this book: Those interested in the intersection of psychology, symbolism, and religion. Anyone wondering where to start reading Jung should start here as the book was written with the intent of being legible to the layperson.

A distillation of the book:

Our mind contains elements we are usually unaware of, that influence our behaviour. This “unconscious” evolved just as our physical form did to support our functioning and growth in the world. Given its evolutionary origin the unconscious contains a sort of embodied wisdom and is able to process information in different ways to our conscious mind. Because of this it can help balance out ways in which we our thoughts and feelings are not serving us, as well as develop our conscious mind though its various life stages. This process is called individuation.

Because human psychic development follows regular patterns, so our unconscious contains regular psychic patterns to help in the individuation process. Jung named these archetypes. These archetypes take similar structures across cultures, such as that of the hero myth, the warring twins, the devouring mother, tales of beauty and the beast, or death and rebirth.

Whilst they may sound abstract, these archetypes are a necessity for human psychological development. For example a heroic effort is required to separate from the comfort of the mother in order to become an adult and contribute to society; or a sort of psychological death and rebirth is necessary as we move into married life and leave our independent lives behind. These patterns serve a purpose and play out all the time in our lives. By studying them we can hope to understand the psychic reality as it differs from material reality.

These archetypical psychic patterns are intuited and in a sense “discovered” by humanity from the archaic remnants of our evolved psyche so there is no direct way to study them, but we can study their influence. Societies embody the archetypes in myths, symbolism, religions, and rituals and we experience them personally in our dreams. In this way man contains and expresses the archetypes within symbols and symbolic actions.

We cannot deny these archetypal patterns. When they are repressed they spill out and become transformed to what could accurately be described as demonic. At worst this leads individuals to neurosis at worst it leads societies to genocide. Change must start with the individual being willing to peer into their shadowy unconscious and seek to understand themselves more.

Approaching the unconscious

The importance of dreams

Quote from the chapter:Because there are innumerable things beyond the range of human understanding, we constantly use symbolic terms to represent concepts that we cannot define or fully comprehend. This is one reason why all religions employ symbolic language or images. But this conscious use of symbols is only one aspect of a psychological fact of great importance: Man also produces symbols unconsciously and spontaneously, in the form of dreams.”


  1. The unconscious and its nature to symbolise

An individual cannot understand the world or act without generating simplified representations of an infinitely complex environment. “a word or image is symbolic when it implies something more than its obvious and immediate meaning.”

It is not easy to grasp this point. But the point must be grasped if we are to know more about the ways in which the human mind works. Man, as we realize if we reflect for a moment, never perceives anything fully or comprehends anything completely. He can see, hear, touch, and taste; but how far he sees, how well he hears, what his touch tells him, and what he tastes depend upon the number and quality of his senses. These limit his perception of the world around him.”

Thus we encounter the world in a split way. One as unconscious psychic events and neural activity and two as the conscious experience of the world around us.

As Jung wrote: “Whoever denies the existence of the unconscious is in fact assuming that our present knowledge of the psyche is total. And this belief is clearly just as false as the assumption that we know all there is to be known about the natural universe. Our psyche is part of nature, and its enigma is as limitless. Thus we cannot define either the psyche or nature. We can merely state what we believe them to be and describe, as best we can, how they function”

With an awareness of this unknown part of the psyche, we can see how many religions developed the idea of a soul, and various spirits which influence this soul. These descriptions are symbols which imply an element of the unconscious that cannot be precisely grasped or defined. We consciously use symbolic language when they say things like “What the devil has gotten into you” when someone is possessed by an altered mood, or become unreasonable or forgetful. We also unconsciously communicate symbolically when we dream, Jung believed that dreams offer a unique window into “man’s symbolizing faculty”.

2. The importance of dreams:

Jung described when he asked a client to freely associate he could start them off almost anywhere (e.g. dreams, a painting, or a crystal ball), and by letting them speak their mind they would eventually talk about their personal problems and complexes.

This gave Jung a different idea, instead of using the dream as the starting point to free associate from, he would use the dream images as the central point to “circumambulate” or investigate for meaning.

He writes, “From this line of reasoning, I concluded that only the material that is clearly and visibly part of a dream should be used in interpreting it. The dream has its own limitation. Its specific form itself tells us what belongs to it and what leads away from it. While “free” association lures one away from that material in a kind of zigzag line, the method I evolved is more like a circumambulation whose center is the dream picture. I work all around the dream picture and disregard every attempt that the dreamer makes to break away from it. Time and time again, in my professional work, I have had to repeat the words: “Let’s get back to your dream. What does the dream say?”

When analysing the dreams of his patients Jung observed recurring symbols and their meanings and found that these symbols had been observed for the entirety of human history. Jung believed these symbols were hardwired into our brains over the evolutionary process, we are not born a blank slate but bring with us a collective set of unconscious symbols.

For example, as an animal that sexually reproduces, we have hardwired within us symbols of male and female. The feminine psychological elements in every male Jung named the “Anima” and the masculine psychological elements in every female Jung named the ‘Animus”.

Personal thoughts and notes: As Jung pointed out the brain must have a way to deal with the rapid growth in the complexity of problems due to multiple contributing factors, this is known as combinatory explosion. We are bombarded with enormous amounts of information, our mind knits this information together into a cohesive narrative from which we can understand and act on the world. In James Gibson’s book “The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception” he makes the case that humans visually perceive the world through the lens of their embodied self. Meaning as a person with a body, in the world and with some goal in mind. We see tools (or obstacles) primarily before we see the object itself. Or as Gibson puts it “Perceivers are not aware of the dimensions of physics. They are aware of the dimensions of the information in the flowing array of stimulation that are relevant to their lives”.

In order to deal with the complexity of the world, we are hard-coded to simplify it. How do we simplify it? By giving the world meaning as to how it applies to us. This means we inhabit a sort of representational symbolic narrative, contextualised by our brain in relation to ourselves, our past our present and our potential future.

The scientific method has been successful at stripping out the meaning from the world around us by comparing and contrasting multiple observations. However, in this, we no longer value the subjective and symbolic.

Past and future in the unconscious

Quote from the chapter:Thus, part of the unconscious consists of a multitude of temporarily obscured thoughts, impressions, and images that, in spite of being lost, continue to influence our conscious minds.

A man who is distracted or “absent-minded” will walk across the room to fetch something. He stops, seemingly perplexed; he has forgotten what he was after. His hands grope about among the objects on the table as if he were sleepwalking; he is oblivious of his original purpose, yet he is unconsciously guided by it. Then he realizes what it is that he wants. His unconscious has prompted him. If you observe the behavior of a neurotic person, you can see him doing many things that he appears to be doing consciously and purposefully. Yet if you ask him about them, you will discover that he is either unconscious of them or has something quite different in mind. He hears and does not hear; he sees, yet is blind; he knows and is ignorant. Such examples are so common that the specialist soon realizes that unconscious contents of the mind behave as if they were conscious and that you can never be sure, in such cases, whether thought, speech, or action is conscious or not.

Contents: After establishing the nature of the unconscious in the first chapter Jung now explores the influence it can have on one’s conscious mind. From common forgetfulness to advertisements designed to trigger good feelings, to a dance floor that puts us into a sort of trance, all the way to a complete eclipse of the conscious mind by the unconscious, as seen in the image below.

In cases of extreme mass hysteria (which was in the past called
“possession”), the conscious mind and ordinary sense perception seem eclipsed. Above, the frenzy of a Balinese sword dance causes the dancers to fall into trances and, sometimes, to turn their weapons against themselves.

Jung states that many people overestimate the role of willpower and think that nothing can happen to their minds that they do not decide and intend. It is not always easy to discriminate between the two. “If you observe the behavior of a neurotic person, you can see him doing many things that he appears to be doing consciously and purposefully. Yet if you ask him about them, you will discover that he is either unconscious of them or has something quite different in mind. He hears and does not hear; he sees, yet is blind; he knows and is ignorant.

Whilst the unconscious mind contains (and generates dream symbols out of) “all urges, impulses, and intentions: all perceptions and intuitions; all rational or irrational thoughts, conclusions, inductions, deductions, and premises; and all varieties of feeling.”, it can also plan for the future and formulate new ideas. Jung writes “Many artists, philosophers, and scientists owe some of their best ideas to inspirations that appear suddenly from the unconscious.”

The 19th century German chemist Kekule, researching into the molecular structure of benzene, dreamed of a snake with its tail in its mouth (This is an age-old symbol: above, a representation of it from a third-century B.C. Greek manuscript.) He interpreted the dream to mean that the structure was a closed carbon ring as on the page from his Textbook of Organic Chemistry (1861)

Personal notes and thoughts: An applicable example to your average person of the unconcious taking over, would be the feeling of “being on autopilot”. A long car drive can place our unconscious mind quite literally in the driver’s seat. It’s not until we need to swerve unexpectedly that we are jolted back into control. Regarding the unconscious mind generating new ideas, I have successfully designed powerpoints slides and organised excels in my dreams (Perhaps I need a holiday).

The function of dreams

Quote from the chapter: “These subliminal aspects of everything that happens to us may seem to play very little part in our daily lives. But in dream analysis, where the psychologist is dealing with expressions of the unconscious, they are very relevant, for they are the almost invisible roots of our conscious thoughts. That is why commonplace objects or ideas can assume such powerful psychic significance in a dream that we may awake seriously disturbed, in spite of having dreamed of nothing worse than a locked room or a missed train.”

Contents: Dreams have an irrational and fantastic nature to them which can lead many to disregard them. When we don’t understand a dream it is not because it has no meaning but rather that we lack understanding of the emotionally charged pictorial language of the unconscious. In our daily experience, we are expected to “disregard the trimmings of fantasy” as Jung puts it. However, the minds of primitives do not have such sharp distinctions as in our “rational” societies.

“We are so accustomed to the apparently rational nature of our world that we can scarcely imagine anything happening that can- not be explained by common sense. The primitive man confronted by a shock of this kind would not doubt his sanity; he would think of fetishes, spirits, or gods.”

Modern man experiences fantasies, visions, voices, and powerful emotions just as much as his primitive counterpart, however, the explanations for these experiences have changed for the worse.

The Modern vs Primitive Hypochondriac

To use an analogy, fear is like water, it takes the shape of the vessel it is placed in. In the recent past, our religious context was the vessel which contained and explained our fears. It was not uncommon to talk of the fear of God, or demonic attacks. Now forsaking such a supportive narrative structure our anxieties spill out and take the form of ever more unique neuroses and phobias.

Jung gives the following as an example to explain the impact this dawn of rationality has had on our psychology.

“I recall a professor of philosophy who once consulted me about his cancer phobia. He suffered from a compulsive conviction that he had a malignant tumor, although nothing of the kind was ever found in dozens of X-ray pictures. “Oh. I know there is nothing.” he would say. “but there might be something.” What was it that produced this idea? It obviously came from a fear that was not instilled by conscious deliberation. The morbid thought suddenly overcame him and it had a power of its own that he could not control. It was far more difficult for this educated man to make an admission of this kind than it would have been for a primitive to say that he was plagued by a ghost. The malign influence of evil spirits is at least an admissible hypothesis in a primitive culture, but it is a shattering experience for a civilized person to admit that his troubles are nothing more than a foolish prank of the imagination. The primitive phenomenon of obsession has not vanished: it is the same as ever, It is only interpreted in a different and more obnoxious way.”

Comparisons between modern and primitive man are essential to understanding our symbol-making propensities and the part dreams play in expressing them. This is because our dreams present images that are often analogous to primitive ideas, myths, and rites. As Jung puts it, these “associations are the link between the rational world and the world of instinct.”

Having stripped away the world of instinct we can be caught up in the external world and be swayed by the opinions and ideas of others, losing our individuality to collective thought. The unconscious mind and its dreams try to restore the psychological balance between the internal unconscious and the external conscious world. Dreams compensate for deficiencies in personalities, warn one of the dangers, and give us insight into what we need to do to grow into healthy individuals. Jung cautions that no dream symbol cannot be separated from the individual who dreams it, and as such no dream symbol instruction manual will ever be useful. Whilst there can be common symbols or motifs that occur between individuals and across time it is only in the context of the individual’s experience that dreams can be made sense of.

Personal thoughts and notes: In his book “The Gay Science” Nietzsche famously wrote the following paragraph on the death of God. Understanding how Jung’s conceptualised the importance of the symbols one inhabits puts Nietzche’s writing in a new psychological context.

“Where has God gone?” he cried. “I shall tell you. We have killed him – you and I. We are his murderers. But how have we done this? How were we able to drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What did we do when we unchained the earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving now? Away from all suns? Are we not perpetually falling? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there any up or down left? Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is it not more and more night coming on all the time? Must not lanterns be lit in the morning? Do we not hear anything yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we not smell anything yet of God’s decomposition? Gods too decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we, murderers of all murderers, console ourselves? That which was the holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet possessed has bled to death under our knives. Who will wipe this blood off us? With what water could we purify ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we need to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we not ourselves become gods simply to be worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whosoever shall be born after us – for the sake of this deed he shall be part of a higher history than all history hitherto.”

On the compensatory nature of the unconscious: It is also worth noting that the collective opinions of others can still have the guise of promoting one’s individuality and one’s unique nature. When society encourages our individuality we should caution ourselves as to what sort of individuality it guides us towards, and the narratives these recommendations are nested within. The exceptional documentary “The Century of the Self” explores how by integrating Freudian ideas into their work public relations firms made advertisements which appealed to the individuality of the buyer with the express purpose of creating the modern mass consumer.

Advertisements used to emphasise conformity and sociability to encourage buying behaviour. Many modern ads encourage individuality however the message is still the same, “everyone should conform to the buying our products”. Jung writes “These and other influences may cause us to live in ways unsuited to our individual natures; and the psychic imbalance that can follow must be compensated for by the unconscious.

The analysis of dreams

Quote from the chapter: “There are many symbols, however (among them the most important), that are not individual but collective in their nature and origin. These are chiefly religious images. The believer assumes that they are of divine origin — that they have been revealed to man. The skeptic says flatly that they have been invented. Both are wrong. It is true, as the skeptic notes, that religious symbols and concepts have for centuries been the object of careful and quite conscious elaboration. It is equally true, as the believer implies, that their origin is so far buried in the mystery of the past that they seem to have no human source. But they are in fact “collective representations,” emanating from primeval dreams and creative fantasies. As such, these images are involuntary spontaneous manifestations and by no means intentional inventions.

Contents: There are signs made by humans, which have a finite meaning, then there are symbols which come from the unconscious and we only get glimpses of their meaning. These are often shared collectively with others via religious structures.

Freud’s theory of dreams was that they were deliberately convoluted to disguise their potentially harmful contents from the dreamer. Jung disagrees, describing how such an interpretation leaves dreams open for the analyst to project their personal worldview onto the individual. Jung believed that to interpret dreams effectively we must deeply understand a person’s nuanced, personal history, as well as symbols, which contain the collective psychic history of mankind.

The problem of types

Quote from the chapter: “These four functional types correspond to the obvious means by which consciousness obtains its orientation to experience. Sensation (i.e. sense-perception) tells you that something exists; thinking tells you what it is; feeling tells you whether it is agreeable or not; and intuition tells you whence it comes and where it is going. The reader should understand that these four criteria of types of human behavior are just four viewpoints among many others, like willpower, temperament, imagination, memory, and so on. There is nothing dogmatic about them, but their basic nature recommends them as suitable criteria for a classification. I find them particularly helpful when I am called upon to explain parents to children and husbands to wives, and vice versa. They are also useful in understanding one’s own prejudices.”

Jung’s Compass of the Psyche

Contents: Jung continues the thread he started in the previous chapter of understanding the individual as important for the interpretation of dreams. He begins by talking about the types of personality traits he has observed. Extrovert vs Introvert, Sensing vs Intuiting, and Thinking vs Feeling. He describes how some people are simply out of touch with their bodily sensations or avoid thinking at all costs, whilst others are very rigid or out of touch with their values. The individual will have a dominant strength that is closest to their consciousness and the opposite they are less conscious of. Note that Jung wrote a whole book on personality typology “Psychological Types”. This chapter only provides a high-level introduction to the topic.

Jung then goes on to demonstrate how the same dream might mean something very different depending on the person. For one, the content might be the unconscious communicating to be bold, whilst to another it communicates a warning of how bold they are being. There is no one-size-fits-all of dream interpretation. As Jung put it “It all depends on learning the language of the individual patient and following the gropings of his unconscious toward the light. Some cases demand one method and some another.”.

The archetype in dream symbolism

Quote from the chapter: “My views about the “archaic remnants,” which I call “archetypes” or “primordial images,” have been constantly criticized by people who lack a sufficient knowledge of the psychology of dreams and of mythology. The term “archetype” is often misunderstood as meaning certain definite mythological images or motifs. But these are nothing more than conscious representations; it would be absurd to assume that such variable representations could be inherited.
The archetype is a tendency to form such representations of a motif, representations that can vary a great deal in detail without losing their basic pattern. There are, for instance, many representations of the motif of the hostile brethren, but the motif itself remains the same.”

Contents: Not all dreams can be interpreted simply by understanding the personal associations of the individual. Some dream elements are not personal but collective to humanity. Just as we evolved organs so have we evolved structures in our psyche which all humans share. These primordial images or “archetypes” are the birthplace of all mythology. It is important for a psychologist to understand mythology as it lays out the “anatomy of the psyche”.

“[Archetypes] are without known origin; and they reproduce themselves in any time or in any part of the world even where transmission by direct descent or “cross fertilization” through migration must be ruled out.”

An archetype is not a specific representation but rather the motif which appears throughout all of humanity and is expressed in a variety of ways across cultures. For example the archetype of the hero, the father, the feuding brothers.

Jung described a young girl who had many archetypical dreams such as “a snakelike monster with many horns, kills and devours all other animals. But God comes from the four corners, being in fact four separate gods, and gives rebirth to all the dead animals.” and shows how these dreams are not personal but have their origins in the collective myths of mankind. Just as we do not expect that animals individually acquire their instincts, so it is with the collective thought patterns of the human mind, they are innate.

Archetypical analysis of a dream can demonstrate that the unconscious has intuited information and problem-solved situations prior to our conscious awareness. A man dreamed his father died in a fire, and not long after he himself died of a high fever. Jung writes, “The unconscious, however, seems to be guided chiefly by instinctive trends, represented by corresponding thought forms that is, by the archetypes. A doctor who is asked to describe the course of an illness will use such rational concepts as “infection” or “fever.” The dream is more poetic. It presents the diseased body as a man’s earthly house, and the fever as the fire that is destroying it.”

Jung ends this chapter by connecting archetypical ideas to religion and society. Whereas a personal complex biases one’s consciousness for a period of time, archetypes create myths, religions, and philosophies that influence and characterise whole nations and epochs of history. These act as a sort of “collective therapy for the sufferings and anxieties of mankind”. If we can look through the eyes of a believer we can see how one can find great solace in their faith during troubling times. When a nation becomes a tyranny they are reminded that their God will have the final say on all nations and liberate them from such sufferings, when famine strike they are told blessed are the poor, when working through pain and disease they have a guiding spirit who comforts them.

While some would say such mythological ideas were invented by a philosopher or prophet who saw the opportunity, a better description would be that archetypes and mythologies are discovered. Jung writes, “The fact is that in former times men did not reflect upon their symbols; they lived them and were unconsciously animated by their meaning.”

Jung gives an example of a tribe, who every morning breathe or spit into their hands, which they then stretch out to the first rays of the sun, as if they were offering either their breath or their spittle to the rising god – to mungu. When asked why they do this their response was “We have always done it”. This tribe would likely never consciously draw comparisons of the spittle or breath to the soul energy, like Christ used spittle to heal the blind. They are simply not as conscious of their motives and think less about their doings.

Two examples of belief in the “magical” quality of breath: Top left, a Zulu witch doctor cures a patient by blowing into his ear through a cow’s horn (to drive the spirits out); top right, a medieval painting of the creation depicts God breathing life into Adam. Bottom centre, in a 13th-century Italian painting, Christ heals a blind man with spittle—which, like breath, has long been believed to have a life-giving ability.
Goethe’s Faust aptly says: “Im Anfang war die Tat [In the beginning was the deed].” “Deeds” were never invented, they were done; thoughts, on the other hand, are a relatively late discovery of man. First he was moved to deeds by unconscious factors; it was only a long time afterward that he began to reflect upon the causes that had moved him; and it took him a very long time indeed to arrive at the preposterous idea that he must have moved himself—his mind being unable to identify any other motivating force than his own.

Personal thoughts and notes: I have gone into greater detail in this section to try capture the scope of what Jung is laying out here. These archetypes are of world-shaping importance whether we want to acknowledge it or not. In the remaining three sections of this chapter, Jung will delve into the implications of these ideas; on modern man and the impacts of his denial of the unconscious forces at play in his life.

Jung concludes this section on archetypes with the following:

“[Modern man], is blind to the fact that, with all his rationality and efficiency, he is possessed by “powers” that are beyond his control. His gods and demons have not disappeared at all; they have merely got new names. They keep him on the run with restlessness, vague apprehensions, psychological complications, an insatiable need for pills, alcohol, tobacco, food – and, above all, a large array of neuroses.”

The soul of man

Quote from the chapter: “What we call civilized consciousness has steadily separated itself from the basic instincts. But these instincts have not disappeared. They have merely lost their contact with our consciousness and are thus forced to assert themselves in an indirect fashion. This may be by means of physical symptoms in the case of a neurosis, or by means of incidents of various kinds, such as unaccountable moods, unexpected forgetfulness, or mistakes in speech.
A man likes to believe that he is the master of his soul. But as long as he is unable to control his moods and emotions, or to be conscious of the myriad secret ways in which unconscious factors insinuate themselves into his arrangements and decisions, he is certainly not his own master. These unconscious factors owe their existence to the autonomy of the archetypes.”

Contents: Jung now turns his attention to society as a whole stating that the world has become dissociated just like a neurotic. We are more powerful than ever technologically but even more divided psychologically. Jung draws on the example of communism to explain how this lack of religious foundation causes us to be swayed by the archetypes.

During the Cold War when Jung was writing, humanity was split between the West and the East. The differences on both sides were of the moral and the mental, ideals and myths. The one big myth driving Communism was the archetypal dream of the Golden Age (or Paradise). A state where, if we banded together, we could achieve peace among men and God on earth. Marx’s simplistic archetypal ideas were so compelling it had birthed the Russian state. But sadly when this myth turned out to be more of an illusion than a true reflection of reality people were willing to kill to maintain a lie rather than face the bitter truth (For my summary of The Communist Manifesto click here.) As Jung puts it:

“The sad truth is that man’s real life consists of a complex of inexorable opposites, day and night, birth and death, happiness and misery, good and evil. We are not even sure that one will prevail against the other, that good will overcome evil, or joy defeat pain. Life is a battleground. It always has been, and always will be; and if it were not so, existence would come to an end.

Religion wisely, holds the archetypal ideas like that of Paradise in careful balance with practices and ideas which modify and regulate them such as the Christian idea of “bearing one’s cross”.
This is the main point of the chapter, that religion serves a real purpose for ourselves and society. Religion does the following and more:

  • Provides nuanced morals to navigate the complexities of life,
  • Prevents infection from the simplistic illusions of archetypal ideas such as that of Communism, and;
  • Gives the believer adequate meaning to weather life’s suffering.

Jung argues that just because we cannot mechanistically or scientifically measure God’s existence it does not mean that we should do away with religion entirely. The unseen forces in life are just as important as the seen ones. While concepts that cannot be formulated in intellectual terms can be frustrating to a scientist, a practicing psychologist must, “concern himself with psychic realities, even if he cannot embody them them in scientific definitions”.

Personal thoughts and notes: There is a large body of research that supports Jung on the buffering effect religion has on mental health. Individuals with spiritual and religious practices show better overall mental health, report higher quality of life and are more likely to overcome addictions. Jung wrote in Collective Works Volume 11 (Psychology and Religion: West and East) that he has never seen a patient past the age of thirty-five who was cured without finding a religious attitude towards life.

The role of symbols

Quote from the chapter: “A realistic picture of the human mind reveals many such primitive traits and survivals, which are still playing their roles just as if nothing had happened during the last 500 years.
It is essential to appreciate this point.
Modern man is in fact a curious mixture of characteristics acquired over the long ages of his mental development. This mixed-up being is the man and his symbols that we have to deal with, and we must scrutinize his mental products very carefully indeed. Skepticism and scientific conviction exist in him side by side with old-fashioned prejudices, outdated habits of thought and feeling, obstinate misinterpretations, and blind ignorance.”

Contents: Our psychic energies will not be denied. When our archetypical instincts are repressed or neglected they disappear into the unconscious where they form an ever-present and potentially destructive shadow. Here a psychic drive that might have a natural beneficial influence on a person can be transformed to take on a demonic expression. Russia and Germany were ruled by such forces in the early 20th Century.

When such concepts well up in a man they can be integrated into a broader religious pattern or context, this serves to assimilate them and express them healthily. Our emotion-laden, numinous symbols, considered holy by those who share them, serve a purpose as the “organs of assimilation and integration” of such energies into the psyche.

The development of consciousness over one’s lifetime mirrors the evolution of the psyche. The original mind (instinctual and connected with the symbolic) our ancestors inhabited, we too inhabit in childhood. Over time just as we developed a differentiated consciousness that could be separate and therefore aware of itself so to do we develop a self-awareness as we grow into adulthood. Because of this development process, childhood memories often hold symbols of significant emotional weight which (while initially can be a source of distress) the successful assimilation of these previously unconscious concepts can be a path to the expansion of one’s consciousness and growth of the personality.

Personal thoughts and notes: In the subsequent chapter of the book titled The Individuation Process. Dr M.I von Franz describes this individuation process in greater detail where one’s conscious horizons are expanded through exposure and integration of unconscious elements of the psyche.

Healing the spirit

Quote from the chapter: “We do not base our botany upon the old-fashioned division into useful and useless plants, or our zoology upon the naive distinction between harmless and dangerous animals. But we still complacently assume that consciousness is sense and the unconscious is nonsense. In science such an assumption would be laughed out of court…
Whatever the unconscious may be, it is a natural phenomenon producing symbols that prove to be meaningful.”

Contents: Jung concludes by pointing out that while we are technological giants, capable of nuclear warfare, we have a complete disinterest in the soul of man. The unconscious and the dreams it produces is just as real a part of nature as the physics of splitting an atom, but while one is esteemed the other has become a “dump for moral refuse”. The study of individual and collective symbolism is an enormous task which has commenced with Jung’s work but we have a long journey ahead of us before it is mastered.

Concluding thoughts from the perspective of an Organisational Psychologist

Businesses are places where rationality reigns, and the ability to make “data informed” decisions is becoming increasingly important. However, companies are also becoming more aware of the impact their Culture has on their ability to deliver strategic outcomes. We are religious creatures, and taking an anthropological view of humans in the workplace can allow us to create rituals and celebrations which serve to anchor employees around a shared narrative. It is also a reminder that such narratives will always pale in comparison to larger more numinous symbols. As good stewards of the psyches of our people, we must also direct and support them on their own journeys of individuation.

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