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.