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.