Too Jung to Remember


The mythologist Joseph Campbell once said that Freud went fishing without realising that he was sitting on the back of a whale. Continuing this image, it might be said that Carl Jung (1875-1961) was the man who brought the presence of the whale to light. His idea of a ‘Collective Unconscious’ establishes Freud’s description of a personal unconscious as the tip of an iceberg, whose deepest strata reach back to the beginnings of our species. All this, the entire unfolding panorama of human evolution, is preserved in hidden recesses of the psyche. We carry within us a living history of all that we have been. These recesses are dark in the sense of obscure and difficult of access, not least for the haltingly sovereign egos of our time. Such darkness doesn’t have to portend evil or foreboding. Only our outlooks make this so.

For Jung, the Psyche encompasses the totality of a person’s psychological being. This wholeness is given, although it tends toward fracture and dissipation under pressures imposed by the social world. Our task as humans is to work towards individuation, if necessary against the tide of cultural pressures to conform. Individuation entails becoming who we most truly are, all that we must be if the promise of our life is to be fulfilled. It entails discovering whatever gifts we bring to life and their expression, by means of our conduct, into the world. What we are as individuals builds on all that we have been as an evolving species. What we might become, given the backdrop of an immense Collective Unconscious, is a matter for our individual responsibility. Thus individuation is always achieved in the light of a growing personal awareness as our individual consciousness steps out from the vast matrix of a personal and collective unconscious to play its proper part in evolution.

This is the challenge of individuation which Jung lays before those with the courage to accept it. It has little in common with the individualism of sovereign egos, since it stresses the need to look back and integrate rather than master or discard. Every human, simply by virtue of being human, has a potential for individuation, even if this entails tasks that aren’t for the faint-hearted and of which we don’t easily become aware in our modern world.

Jung was Freud’s disciple and heir apparent for the early part of his career. Then, in 1912, he published a work called ‘Symbols of Transformation’ which broke with his mentor’s rigid determinism. This book first promoted Jung’s sense that a person’s life is shaped by factors of purpose or design, even if such teleological reasoning (Greek: telos, meaning ‘goal’) has no place in the worldview of mechanistic science. For Jung, we are always tending towards integrity in our lives, or rather a fuller realisation of integrity, even when we feel blocked or frustrated. This conviction really struck him in mid-life, when he was starting to make contact with symbolic manifestations of the Collective Unconscious in his own experience. Something more than Freud was prepared to acknowledge seemed to be involved.

Despite this, Jung was of the opinion that the focus of Freudian psychology was appropriate for the early decades of most people’s lives. In later stages, however, he felt that issues which were primarily spiritual rather than sexual took precedence. The more his exploration of the Collective Unconscious advanced – by means of work with his patients but also, pre-eminently, by means of his own inner work – the more convinced he became of this. It is significant that Jung should have made this journey himself, like the ancient mythic figures of Orpheus or Aeneas. His experience as a pioneer and self-healer in this respect was a source of deep authority when it came to guiding other people along similar paths. This is not the same as being a student or scientific monitor of other people’s experiences. Jung actually began his own work of individuation first. In some respects this makes him more akin to the shamanic healers of tribal cultures than to modern psychiatrists with formal training in medical science, although he had that too.

Given his account of the Collective Unconscious, it comes as no surprise that Jung’s model of the Psyche is more complex than Freud’s. For the most part, as indicated, he felt that Freud’s description of the personal unconscious in terms of repressed material of a sexual nature was basically correct. Jung went further, however, and this is reflected in his account of psychic structure.

The ego is as Freud describes it: an executive centre of ‘ordinary’ consciousness which oversees routine cognitive functions of perceiving, attending, remembering and the like. In addition, though, our contacts with the social world are mediated by the persona. This refers metaphorically to a range of masks we wear or roles we play for the sake of expediency. It has to do with being polite and getting on, often at a cost of avoiding deeper issues of conflict with others or inside ourselves. Thus if we identify too closely with our persona, our inner desire to individuate will be frustrated, leading to dissatisfaction with an implicitly registered lack of authenticity and substance in our lives. This is a particularly fraught area during adolescence and middle age, both times at which we particularly need to assert our authentic dispositions over against, if necessary, the requirements of social conformity.

The animus in a woman and anima in a man serve as gateways to the deep unconscious. These archetypes (see below) represent the inner-facing aspect of the psyche. The persona represents its outer face. It is inherently conformist and thus likely to be sex-typed, especially in societies with histories of gender polarization. This involves associating attributes which are judged within given cultures to be ‘feminine’ exclusively with women, and attributes which are deemed to be masculine exclusively with men. Thus our persona-governed outward dispositions tend to conform to gender stereotypes, which induces de facto repression of contra-sexual elements within our inherently bisexual psyches. (The recent impact of second wave feminism diminishes the surface topicality of this account but not its continuing relevance.) Hence the feminine aspects of men (anima) will tend to be repressed, as will the masculine aspects of women (animus). Encountering these repressed contra-sexual elements and integrating them into awareness is a necessary first step on a person’s journey into the deep unconscious. A woman must integrate her animus, a man his anima.

This is what begins to happen when the youngest son meets the beautiful woman in the story of The Water of Life. He can’t ‘marry’ her straightaway of course. It takes time – a ‘year’ of further work – for a man to integrate his feminine aspect. The need for this is already indicated by the absence of the feminine element of water in the all-male enclave of the ailing Father-King. This King is unbalanced, out of contact with his inner feminine and parching to the point of death. The story suggests that he has taught his older sons to be like himself and that they too are heading towards a condition which has made him sick unto death. They ride arrogantly past the humble dwarf as if they knew where they were going although they don’t, and soon end up unable to move – stuck, not flowing – in a dry, hard place. The youngest brother breaks this pattern. Perhaps the father had less time to teach him well, being preoccupied with the older sons. Perhaps this allowed the ‘fool’ more time to absorb the dispositions of his mother, whose death – it would appear – reinforces the absence of feminine values in a Kingdom whose decline seems assured.

Supposing that all the characters in our story represent aspects of a single male psyche, the youngest son would then be the newest, freshest, least culturally habituated aspect, who remains in touch with the maternal unconscious. He listens to the dwarfed voice of intuition and is thus equipped to bring the missing element back, having first encountered the Anima-figure of the Lady of the Fountain. She directs him through the huge room of the deep unconscious to a wellspring, having warned him not to fall asleep (lose awareness, become enchanted) there. Of course he does, unaccustomed as he is to overwhelming inspiration. He remembers his mission in time, however, and brings the water back, eventually restoring flow to a kingdom which had become arid and stuck.

This young man, the bourgeoning male psyche, thirsts for the water of life. It is no accident that Vasalisa, an exploited martyr to difficult circumstances, has to go in search of her inner masculine element of fire. Hearing the voice of intuition is not a problem for her. She has it virtually in direct transmission from her true mother. In the course of trials encountered before she can bring home the gift of fire, however, she needs to draw out her suppressed masculine (which does not mean ‘male’) qualities of assertion,  clarity, imagination, discrimination and resoluteness. Before her journey, she allowed older, stereotypically deformed aspects of her family/psyche to walk over her. When she returns, they are burned to a cinder by the fiery energy she now carries. She commands new means of being in the world and can thus dispense with former persona-governed postures. A common point in both stories is that contra-sexual attributes are suppressed by gender-polarising social orders and need to be integrated if more radical transformations or regenerations are to be possible. I focus primarily on ‘The Water of Life’ because it is marvellously explicit and, no doubt, because I am a man whose personal experience closely matches the archetypal pattern of the story.

Also, Vasalisa doesn’t actually meet an animus figure. The reason for this is that her father is retiring to a point of invisibility and certainly doesn’t serve the functions of protecting and providing with which an archetypal Father is associated. Thus she is left to bring forth her masculine qualities in the absence of a model, as it were. Many youthful hero/ines in myths and teaching stories have absent or deficient fathers. Jung is clear, moreover, that the parent of the other sex conditions the appointment of the Animus/a archetype. Thus when the personal father is deficient – as in the archetypal templates of Saturn and Uranus – the girl-woman faces extreme difficulties which make for an effective teaching scenario. Even in ‘The Spirit in the Bottle’ it is made clear that the ‘money’ (wealth, psychic legacy) of the hard-working father can take the son’s education only halfway. What chance then has Vasalisa, who needs a strong Animus to secure her outer boundaries and light her way into deep recesses of her female psyche?

We are all familiar with stories about women needing to be twice as good to get half as far. Here we have a perspective from depth psychology that avoids the pitfalls of Freud’s unwitting, gender-blind lapses into political allegory (Electra Complex, penis envy and so on). To my mind, Jung’s explicitly mythological engagement with the issue is more helpful. A proper treatment of the theme of the absent father warrants a more specifically focused account than I can offer here. Animus figures are found in the stories of ‘Bluebeard’ and ‘Skeleton Woman’, both of which feature in Clarissa Estes’ ‘Women who Run with the Wolves’, as is ‘Vasalisa the Wise’.

Generally, contra-sexual elements in both men and women need to be developed and expressed through consciousness and conduct. Otherwise, they remain unconscious and are liable to be projected. This mars the quality of actual relationships. Also, if inner and outer dispositions are not brought into an effective balance, then the person’s overt persona-governed aspect will tend to be brittle and inflexible while their underlying unconscious disposition will become its polar(ised) opposite. Thus the domineering ‘macho’ man is inwardly weak and submissive, being effectively cut off from the option of living authentically from his own depths. Securing this option would demand that he first engage his feminine aspect, which his outward face has difficulty countenancing. Likewise, the woman who affects a discourse of gender equality without having  integrated the gifts of her inner masculinity can only rehearse jaded maxims while colluding with real manipulation. She lacks a deeply-rooted confidence to assert herself discriminatingly, with resolution.

An important principle follows from this account: namely, that if an outer conscious disposition is not reconciled with its inner, unconscious complement, then an effect of polarisation will arise whereby the inner disposition becomes the balancing antithesis of the externally affected one. Thus excessive piety in the public world of ordinary consciousness secretes malevolence in the inner world of the unconscious – territory Jung refers to as the Shadow, which our genie story introduces through its metaphor of excessive confinement. The unconscious compensates for imbalances maintained by a person’s conscious disposition. This is usually achieved through the mechanism of projection, which leads to an acting out with others of issues which have been left unresolved within the psyche. There is usually conflict when disowned negativity is projected in this way.

Projection occurs when a latent unconscious disposition overwhelms an unsustainable conscious one. This includes scenarios where a yearning for wholeness and balance in our lives can only be satisfied by making somebody else responsible for it. If the projection is negative – if we project our inner poison – then the half-conscious ‘self’ inclines towards hatred and annihilation of its ‘other’. The Holocaust is a chilling example of this. If the projection is positive – if we project our unacknowledged gold – then ‘self’ becomes urgently driven to ‘love’ and possess its ‘other’. Romantic love offers an example. We need to possess the beloved because this is the only way we can engage with attributes and energies we are overlooking in ourselves. Thus a man might project his anima upon a woman, which involves requiring her to be his perfect feminine complement; in other words, to play the role of his un-integrated inner feminine. A woman might do likewise regarding her un-integrated animus: a real man is needed to perform certain functions in her life which she has not yet found occasion to deal with of her own accord. (Vasalisa’s quest for fire is a notable improvement on penis envy in this respect.) 

There are problems, invariably, when this happens. To begin with, we need the other person to stay as we have imagined them. They are not free to develop any more than we are. This usually means that the person has not been seen as s/he truly is. Typically there is great excitement around the early stages of this process because energy that is normally tied up and disavowed suddenly becomes available through the reflective surface of the other. S/he mirrors back to us dis-owned, un-integrated potentials of our selves. We are primarily meeting ourselves on such occasions. Our normal conscious attitude keeps us from recognising this, however, and trouble generally follows. With time and deepening intimacy, contrary evidence begins to accumulate. The other proves not to be the person we thought s/he was. More likely, we will say that s/he has changed. We all have stories to contribute here: ‘You’re not the wo/man I married’; ‘You only saw what you wanted to see (and so did I)’. Unless inner work is done, we continue to repeat the same pattern, attracting partners who invite and bestow similar projections. Determinants of this are usually rooted in a person’s biography, having to do with the actual father’s or mother’s imprint on our Animus/a as appropriate.

Integrating the Animus/a eliminates such problems and opens a way into the virtually infinite domain of the Collective Unconscious. This is indeed like a vast room full of stories, a storehouse where inexperienced travellers like the youngest son easily fall asleep and lose their way (to individuation). The Collective Unconscious contains all the memories of human evolution. We carry within us, in a quite literal sense, the knowledge of all that we as a species have been. Accessing this knowledge is another matter. Jung describes its organisation in terms of archetypes. These are primordial images which codify residual potentialities for responding to the world in ways which our ancestors have done. In Jung’s sense, archetypes function like photographic negatives developed by experience. They consist primarily of formal dispositions, intrinsic patterning influences which carry their own energy but require appropriate experiences to become activated in a person’s life. Thus, for example, we often feel the power of the Father or Mother archetype following the death of an actual parent.

It is possible for us, as conscious individuals, to integrate archetypal energies or to be  overwhelmed by them. Again, this is mainly a question of how carefully the genie-dwarf-doll within us is attended to. Prominent archetypes include the Father, concerned with the functions of protection and providing for; the Mother, concerned with nurturance and emotional security; the Fool brings freshness and creativity, as does the Child, together with spontaneity and magic; the Elder brings wise counsel while the Wild Wo/man brings integration of animal powers. The Self, for Jung, is the core archetype of the Collective Unconscious. It images our potential for wholeness but rarely figures in a person’s conscious experience before middle age. Once it is acknowledged, however, the person’s psychological ‘centre’ gradually shifts away from the ego into the Self. The ego has to co-operate if this transformation is to be successfully negotiated.

Typically, the symbolic organisation of a person’s life becomes restructured around spiritual values at this time. These displace earlier persona-led priorities. The substance of psychological work which needs to be done here involves withdrawing projections and resolving complexes so that a life of harmony becomes possible, both in oneself and in relationship. A complex refers to psychic contents – images, memories, wishes, feelings, urges – which are organised into clusters (e.g., mother complex, father complex) but have become split off from the main bodies of information which structure our ordinary consciousness. Thus an unresolved mother complex might be systematically undermining my attempts to develop relationships with women but I may never come to understand this because the factors responsible for it lie outside my awareness.

Complexes and projections mostly originate in the Shadow. The personal shadow encompasses all biographical material which the ego is not prepared to integrate, for whatever reason. Behind it stands the Collective Shadow, whose roots stretch the whole way back to our evolutionary origins. This is potentially the most empowering and most dangerous of all archetypes, because of the vast resources of energy vested in it. These are always potentially available but are usually repressed, as in the Freudian scenario, or bottled up as in the genie story. It is necessary for our well-being as individuals and as a species that we should learn to respect and deal with these energies. Otherwise we stand in peril of the likelihood that our officially spirit-less civilisation might be overwhelmed by genies that have been left festering in dark places for too long. Behind this prospect, as our story also teaches, lies a further possibility of great gifts to be won once the work of cultivation has been done. This is the Gold in the Shadow, a vital aspect of our potential to be whole and creatively alive. To realise this potential, it is necessary for Ego and Shadow to work together.

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