Monthly Archives: January 2016

Carl Jung: Jesus, God and how childhood neurosis affects later thinking

In the last post I discussed Jung’s creation of the little figure which he kept as a secret treasure in the attic and a number of times in the months following this creation he was able to think about this figure and it helped him regain confidence. Even when feeling crushed and ‘forlorn’ Jung remembered that he was also the ‘Other’ – the person with the secret who had the black stone and the little man in frock coat and top hat.
Later thinking back to this time Jung wonders about the connection between Jesus – or the Jesuits in their black robes – and the men he saw wearing frock coats and top hats standing by the grave. He also connects the grave with the underground temple of the phallus and the placing of the figure in the pencil case. He sees all these as aspects of unconscious development: ‘they are like individual shoots of a single underground rhizome.’ From his accounts it is quite clear why Jung was later so ambivalent about Jesus – as a representative of the hero archetype who tries to save the world and meets their own destruction. He writes that as a child it became increasingly impossible for him to have a positive attitude towards Jesus although from the age of 11 the idea of God began to interest him. Jung felt that God was untainted by Jung’s fear and distrust – he didn’t wear a black robe nor the brightly coloured clothes which Jesus often wears in pictures – rather he was unique and could not be dealt with so familiarly as people seemed to do with Jesus. God might be like a powerful old man but it was impossible to draw any firm conception of him. Again Jung felt a certain analogy with the secret in the attic and the secret nature of God.
At school Jung found divinity classes unspeakably dull and mathematics impossible, but he was also often fearful and distrusting and wonders whether this links back to an early abandonment by his mother but at the age of 12 Jung had an experience of neurosis which taught him a great deal. He began to have fainting spells whenever he had to go back to school or do his homework and for six months stayed away from school doing what he wanted to do. He was able to plunge into the world of the mysterious – growing more and more away from the world – but as he writes ‘I had the obscure feeling that I was fleeing from myself.’ Jung, shamed by overhearing his father sharing his worries about the boy with a friend, eventually conquered the neurosis by sheer willpower and was able to understand how and why the neurosis had come about. This became a shameful secret but he acknowledges the attraction of being away from the world and delighting in solitude. ‘Nature seemed to be full of wonders, and I wanted to steep myself in them. Every stone, every plant, every single thing seemed alive and indescribably marvellous. I immersed myself in nature crawled, as it were, into the very essence of nature and away from the whole human world.’ It’s interesting to consider that if he had continued on this path Jung would have been following the mystical tradition and we might know about him in a different context. However one of the things that stands out from his account is the strengthening then of his ego and later, much later, Jung draws on this again when he begins to delve into his deepest unconscious. However his early ambivalence towards Jesus and his dislike of institutional religion is revealed in his later writings and I think clouds his ability to accept anything outside of the psyche or beyond his own ideas of the God – image. It is this early embedded perspective that makes the breakdown in his later relationship with Victor White almost inevitable.

Carl Jung: how childhood experiences contribute to adult belief and thinking

Carl Jung’s memories of going to a Catholic church are focused on slipping on the step and gashing his chin on a piece of iron. He connects the injury to having done something forbidden something connected again with Jesuits and so for years afterwards he was attracted to and fascinated by a Catholic Church but uneasy about what might happen. At the same time looking at a children’s book that contained pictures of exotic religions, especially that of the Hindus, Jung had an obscure feeling that there was a connection with his original revelation in his dream (described in an earlier post) which he kept as a secret that could not be betrayed. As a child he hated going to church apart from at Christmas but as a schoolboy was still increasingly aware of the beauty of the daylight world alongside the inescapable world of shadows filled with frightening unanswerable questions ‘which had me at their mercy.’ Sometimes at night he experienced things ‘incomprehensible and alarming’ including strange lights and apparitions. The age of seven when ill with croup he had a vision of a glowing blue circle inside of which moved golden figures which he thought were angels. Jung interprets this vision both psychologically and spiritually – there’s an atmosphere in the home and in the conflictual relationship between his parents but the angels allayed his fears.

As an only child until the age of nine Jung was much alone playing imaginary games and puzzling over what was meant and how he stood in relationship – in one description the relationship with a stone on which he sat: ‘am I the one who is sitting on the stone, or I the stone on which he is sitting.’ Years later recapturing this memory Jung recognises the quality of eternity – what is eternal absorbed him as a child and was something he could reconnect to as an adult. Jung carved a little figure at the end of a ruler which he carried in his pencil case making a little bed and a little coat for this figure who also had a special stone. The pencil case with the figure of the stone was hidden in the top of the house to remain a special secret – something to visit and that offered the boy a sense of security. Jung sees that he was constantly on the lookout for something mysterious. ‘Consciously, I was religious in the Christian sense, though always with the reservation: “But it is not so certain as all that!” or, “what about that thing under the ground?” He was left feeling that there was always something else something secret that people did not know about – something beyond or more than all the religious doctrine and teachings that he had to learn about.

It’s only when Carl Jung is 35 that he remembers his carved mannequin in the context of reading about soul-stones and a little cloaked god of the ancient world and from this he understands that there are archaic psychic components which enter the individual psyche without any direct line of tradition. From a later carving comes the figure Atmavictu – ‘the breath of life’, the creative impulse. Jung writes that as a child he is performing a sacred ritual done by others around the world who have the impetus to create without necessarily knowing why. Often the reflection takes place much later.

Carl Jung: visions from childhood

Visions from childhood
Carl Jung writes that his memories begin in his second or third year – islands of memory afloat in a sea of vagueness. One of the loveliest is a memory from lying in his pram waking up after a sleep, ‘… to the glorious beauty of the day, and have a sense of indescribable well-being. I see the sun glittering through the leaves and blossoms of the bushes. Everything is wholly wonderful, colourful, and splendid.’ He also remembers consciously seeing the Alps bathed in glowing sunset reds and another time on the lake steamer watching the water. ‘This expanse of water was an inconceivable pleasure to me, and incomparable splendour. At that time the idea became fixed in my mind that I must live near a lake; without water, I thought, nobody could live at all.’
Jung describes his early introduction to religion, his father a cleric conducting burials and a prayer that Jung was taught to say at night. He began to distrust Lord Jesus: ‘he lost the aspect of a big, comforting, benevolent bird and became associated with the gloomy black men in frock coats, top hats, and shiny black boots who busied themselves with the black box.’ Jung describes how partially understood adult conversations can become embodied as objects of fear and mistrust in the mind of a child. It’s about the same time that Jung remembers a dream that he had between the ages of three and four that was to preoccupy him all his life and in the dream we have the interweaving of the psychological and the spiritual.

In the dream he descends a stone stairway at the bottom of which is a doorway with a round arch closed by heavy curtain – a green curtain which he then pushes aside to find a rectangular chamber. In the centre of which there is a red carpet leading to a low platform on which stands a golden throne with a red cushion and on the cushion there is a huge object looking like a tree trunk but made of skin and flesh with something like a rounded head at the top but with no face and no hair but at the very top is a single eye ‘gazing motionlessly upwards.’ Above this was a bright aura but in the dream Jung thinks that the object might crawl creep towards him and he becomes paralysed with fear. This is compounded by his mother’s voice calling out, ‘yes, just look at him. That is the man eater!’ Jung remembers waking in fear and after that he was afraid to sleep in case the dream returned. It’s only later that he realises that the object on the throne was a phallus and much later gained the understanding that it was a ritual phallus. In his account Jung analyses the phallus looking at the connections with the dark Jesus, the Jesuits and the abstract significance of the setting concluding that the phallus of the dream ‘seems to be a subterranean God “not to be named”. He tries to connect the benevolent loving Lord Jesus with the crucified and bloodied corpse and the fear of the man dressed in black. He later sees how sophisticated a dream this was for a small child to have and wanders about the process of how such deep problems which were far beyond his ability to understand came into his mind. ‘Who brought the Above and Below together, and laid the foundation for everything that was to fill the second half of my life with stormiest passion? Who but that alien guest who came from both above and from below?
Years later Jung understood this dream happened in order to bring light into the darkness it was an initiation into the unconscious and the dark secrets of the earth.

We can look now at some of these visions and understand how Jung then developed his particular understanding of God. For no matter how great an intellect or how reflective the insights that occur God is by definition beyond our human understanding. The later difficulties in Jung’s relationship with Victor White centre on Jung’s belief in a God that contains the two parts: goodness and evil and with hindsight it is clear that there are threads back to Jung’s childhood visions in his adult conceptualisation.

Carl Jung: the psychological and the spiritual

During January I am planning to look at the thinking of Carl Jung from the perspective of the interconnection between analytical psychology and spirituality. The focus is on his autobiographical work rather than his more theoretical writings because it is here that he is more relaxed about sharing his spiritual experiences. This first post is an introduction:

I first read Carl Jung in 1980 when I came across his book Memories, Dreams, Reflections. This is the account that he wrote, somewhat reluctantly, towards the end of his life – he was born on July 26 1875, and died on June 6, 1961 – and that was published in the early 1960s. It’s a wonderful account of his life and his thinking, someone open to experiences at the very deepest psychological level and also open to spiritual and religious life. As an analytical psychologist Jung broke away from Freud and founded his own particular way of working therapeutically. When involved in the project of writing about his experiences – Jung was reluctant to write personally before this time – he said how the memories which had remained vivid to him were to do with emotional experiences. The ‘outer’ aspects of his life he saw as accidental and that only what is interior had proved to have substance and a determining value. Any sensible biography he thought were all about outer manifestations of life: people once met, entanglements, blows of destiny, travels and so on but for him he could barely recollect these outer events although at the time he had participated in them with all his energies they no longer stirred his imagination. On the other hand the recollections of inner experiences had continued to grow all the more vivid and colourful. He thought outward circumstances are no substitute for inner experience.

So his biography is really about his inner experiences and the development of his thinking, and there is a particular focus on his religious ideas for Jung believed that the psyche is ‘by nature religious’ and that every being is ‘a splinter of the infinite deity.’ Jung stands outside traditional Christianity not least because of his conception of God who is not entirely good, and as he noted, ‘they would have burnt me as a heretic in the Middle Ages!’ But he did declare his allegiance to Christianity and his great contribution is to look at the religious problems from a psychological point of view. Above all else he understood the need for understanding and reflection rather than blind faith. In 1952 he wrote to a clergyman, ‘I find that all my thoughts circle around God like the planets around the sun, and are as irresistibly attracted by Him. I would feel it to be the grossest sin if I were to oppose any resistance to this force.’
Above all the life experiences that Carl Jung describes is about the bringing of the unconscious into consciousness. ‘We are a psychic process which we do not control, or only partly direct. Consequently, we cannot have any final judgement about ourselves or our lives… We do not know how life is going to turn out.’

Memorably he wrote: ‘Life has always seemed to me like a plant that lives on its rhizome. It’s true life is invisible, hidden in the rhizome. The part that appears above ground lasts only a single summer. Then it withers away – an ephemeral apparition. When we think of the unending growth and decay of life and civilisations, we cannot escape the impression of absolute nullity. Yet I have never lost a sense of something that lives and endures underneath the eternal flux. What we see is the blossom, which passes. The rhizome remains.’