From the 16th to 19th century, mankind was obsessed with the expansion of the physical domain – exploring foreign lands and conquering unknown territories. But as the age of empires dwindled and access to education became more abundant in the 20th century, we began to look inward. And what we found there was more alien and strange than anything the New World could offer. Carl Jung was one of these metaphysical travellers who explored the boundless depths of the psyche.
‘Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.’
The Life Of Carl Jung
‘As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light of meaning in the darkness of mere being.’
Carl Gustav Jung was born in the small Swiss town of Kesswil on the 26th of July, 1875. Paul Jung, father to Carl, was a pastor for the local Catholic church. This resulted in an early fascination of theology for Carl Jung. Alternatively, Emilie Jung – Carl’s mother – was an eccentric and deranged woman, often playing victim to overt melancholy and what would be prescribed today as clinical anxiety and depression.
Like many young intellects, Jung was an introverted and lonely child struck by the odd nature of the world and he was desperate to learn more. Unknowingly, Jung began studying his own unconscious psychology. As he moved through early schooling, the young Carl Jung would collect stones, tokens, and craft small totems that would fulfil an inner need – an unconscious need. Years later, in professional retrospect, Jung likened this to the behaviour of many early and nomadic tribal civilisation who worshipped unique totems. These archetypes were proof enough for Jung that there exists in the world archetypes that are embedded in the human psyche, regardless of time or place.
After graduating, Carl Jung yearned to combine his passion for spirituality and science. Psychiatry, though not considered prestigious at the time, was his chosen calling. Jung enrolled at the University of Basel in 1895. A year into his studies, Paul Jung passed away, leaving his family broke and uncertain for the future. Thankfully, through the charity of extended family, the younger Jung was permitted to continue his studies.
In 1900 Jung began work in a Zurich psychiatric hospital. It was here where he would begin to put his ideas of the individual, archetypes, and human unconscious into practice. Three years later Jung married the significantly younger Emma Rauschenbach, who also happened to inherit a particularly large share in the Swiss International Watch Company (Schaffhausen). This would support the Jung’s academic pursuits throughout their lifetime.
‘The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed.’
While working at the psychiatric hospital, Jung published Diagnostic Association Studies, among many other papers and books. This research came to the attention of one Sigmund Freud and the two quickly became close friends and collaborators.
Freud’s revolutionary study of the psychoanalytic sparked a thought revolution throughout the European academic world, and Jung was not immune to his charm. Jung recalls their first face-to-face conversation continued for over 12 hours. Correspondence would continue throughout the years and Freud began to see Jung as a potential apprentice and successor.
However, the man’s opinion on the nature of humanity’s very being drove them apart. It was Jung’s 1912 Psychology of the Unconscious that would determine the glaring differences in their work.
Any readers of Freud would understand that mankind was essentially driven by his libido and sexuality. To put it tremendously simply, this is where the intricate differences between Jung and Freud lay. Although both believed humans were ruled by a deep unconscious (i.e. the id, ego, and superego), Jung had a more optimistic approach than his Austrian counterpart.
Jung believed that a collective unconscious ruled throughout the minds of all men and women and that this was evidenced through the striking similarities of different culture’s rituals. Furthermore, Jung pointed to specific archetypes that dominated worldwide theology, stories, and traditions. Lastly, Jung pursued individuation: the lifelong journey of dissecting an individual’s conscious and unconscious. Jung believed this journey to be of foremost priority to any human’s fulfilled life.
‘Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darknesses of other people.’
Carl Jung’s life and legacy are intimately intertwined. Like Freud, his work is often considered pseudoscience and an early attempt to unravel the mysteries of the mind. However, it is important to consider his contributions to psychiatry and psychology, as they offer unique insight and metaphorical truth.
The Collective Unconscious
This is the belief that mankind shares distinctive ritualistic and symbolic instincts. The best evidence of these are the traditional archetypes found in almost all culture’s myths and legends. This is the result of a shared evolutionary ancestor and the importance of archetypes in a species’ survival. Some of these shared archetypes include the strong father, caring mother, god, anti-god, wise old man, and trickster.
In Christian doctrine, the ‘strong father’ is God the Father, whereas the ‘caring mother’ exists in the Virgin Mary. This is extended across many civilisations to include the ‘Earth Mother’, the universal provider, and ‘Sky Father’ the universal protector.
Archetypes of the Individual
Like Freud, Jung believed that the psyche was made up of separate, distinct personalities. Carl Jung called them the ego, personal unconscious, and the collective unconscious. However, Jung also determined four separate archetypes of the self, such as:
The Persona: How one presents themselves to the outside world and how they interact with others. A personality-driven, metaphorical ‘mask’ of sorts.
The Shadow: The animalistic desire to fulfil basic instinct. This includes the drive for sex and in men can lead to bouts of untamed aggression. Carl Jung believed it was important to incorporate the shadow healthily into our lives, rather than just ignore it.
Anima/Animus: Anima is the feminine unconscious of the male psyche whereas animus is the masculine unconscious of the female. Like the shadow, it is imperative to live out our anima/animus, as Jung understood life to be a balance of the masculine and feminine. In order to truly know ourselves and the opposite sex, we must understand our anima/animus.
The Self: The complete total of an individual’s psyche and the result of the other archetypes. Coming to know one’s self is the true path of life and takes up the majority of our time and energy – mostly unconsciously.
Individuation is the realisation of ‘the self’ and involves a psychological integration of the conscious and unconscious minds. Carl Jung was obsessed with this process, as he constantly tried to reveal the unconscious of his patients and himself. When he was 38, Jung experienced a ‘confrontation with the unconscious’, in which he began to see strange visions and hear odd voices.
Recalling the experiences of his mother, Carl Jung feared the worst. However, the well-established psychiatrist also saw the experience as an opportunity of learning. In The Red Book, he recorded these encounters and knowingly encouraged their occurrence. Through self-analysis of his unconscious, Jung only confirmed his studies and belief in the collective unconscious.
We don’t all have to enter psychotic trance or publish multiple papers on the prominence of the subconscious in mankind. But what Carl Jung’s legacy dares us to do is look inward. What you will find will not be pleasant but once you master the unconscious you may begin – at long last – to integrate the many elements of your being. And you may just find that through your individuation, we are all bound by more than just a common evolutionary path.