The Magic Wand: Chapter 25
This present chapter deals with the years 1928 and 1929. In 1928 Jung began his study of alchemy in earnest. For most people the word 'alchemy' is a loaded one, to say the least. They think immediately of charlatans attempting to turn base metals into gold and also the search for the elixir of life. They then think of elaborate medieval glass retorts and gullible aristocrats willing to part with a lot of money to those fraudsters - alchemists - who promised them either a long life, a cure to an illness or the possibility of turning base metals into gold. For Jung, on the other hand, the language used by the alchemists was in fact an elaborate code for a deeper search, namely their real concern for self-discovery and transformation of their personality. Projecting their desires and fears into experiments, they had psychic experiences that were inseparable from their work. Let me quote Hayman once again at this juncture, because he is particularly insightful here:
It was not long after this that the Romanian scholar Mircea Eliade arrived independently at a similar opinion. He came to believe that 'the traditional science of alchemy works not only upon the matter under transmutation but on the soul.' Gold was 'the symbol of perfection, of freedom, of immortality.' The alchemist was like the yogi, 'who does exercises to master both his body and his spirit.' Eliade points out that that the alchemists claimed their objective was similar to that of the major esoteric and mystical traditions. In China alchemy was linked intimately with Taoism, in India with yoga and Tantrism, in Hellenistic Egypt with gnosis, and in the West with Hermeticism and mysticism. (Hayman, 284)
Jung was a lover of antitheses or the play of opposites one against the other. Yeats spoke of 'antinomies' while Coleridge spoke literally of the power of opposites. I've discussed the topic of the tension of opposites many times in these posts over the past three years so if you run a search for that in this blog you'll find many entries, but the following one is probably the best Tension of Opposites. In like manner when discussing the area of alchemy Jung also describes it in opposition to something else, e.g.,
- Christianity is of the surface of things ........................ Alchemy is of the depth of things
- Christianity is concerned with the conscious................. Alchemy is concerned with the unconscious
- Christianity is concerned with doing - it's active............ Alchemy is concerned with not-doing - it's passive
- Christianity partakes of objective reality .....................Alchemy partakes of the dream world
I have probably overstated these opposites in my own language and lay-out above - I have done so for emphasis. Jung went on also to say that alchemy sought to bridge the gap between these pairs of opposites. For instance, he said that Christianity pointed up two obvious opposites Good and Evil (God and the Devil if you will) while alchemy sought to reconcile these opposites.
Another thing that always appealed to me about Carl Gustave Jung was his universalism. Long before the word became popular he was the quintessential global human being. Not for him the philosophy of the West alone. True to character he embraces the philosophy of the East also. If anything he sought to reconcile the two; to take the best of both; certainly not to say one was better than the other. Our man took the best in both. He loved the culture that emanated from both India and China. Let's quote a veritable eulogy he sings to these ancient cultures:
We Europeans are not the only people on the Earth. We are just a peninsula of Asia, and on that continent there are old civilisations where people have trained their minds in introspective psychology for thousands of years... These people have an insight that is simply fabulous. (Quoted ibid., 282)
These ancient peoples knew a lot about the unconscious mind - long before the term was popular - as did some Western scholars and mystics (these latter were always suspect according to the Official Church who obviously controlled belief through promulgated dogma. Mystics were 'go-it-alone' people who said they were in communication with God themselves without the intermediacy of the Church) like Meister Eckhart, Leibniz, Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer and E. von Hartmann. These are the scholars Jung names as among the ones he said instinctively knew about the unconscious realms. What Freud had done was to not alone draw the attention of modern man to the unconscious but also he was the first to research it scientifically or psychologically.
Jung's visits to Africa and New Mexico had reinforced his conviction that 'certain contents of the collective unconscious are very closely connected with primitive psychology... Deep down in our psyche there is a thick layer of primitive processes...closely related to processes that can still be found on the surface of the primitive's daily life... Our psychic situation is now being influenced by an irruption of the Oriental spirit.' (Quoted, ibid., 283)
Jung embraced and advocated the techniques of disciplines such as yoga and meditation. I have already described in detail his fondness, even obsession, with painting mandalas also an Eastern holistic tradition.
Interesting also is the fact that Jung saw the many gods there were as personifications of the many sub-personalities each of us human beings have within us individually and collectively. In my reading of Jung, the monotheistic God could be a projection of consciousness. Jung has also stated that that plethora of gods were born because the human psyche needed them. Maybe, and I am probably, if not definitely, reading far too much into Jung in saying that deep down God for him is our inner realised Self or our really and truly Individuated Self.
Here is what, according to Hayman, Jung sought to do in his therapy sessions:
What Jung believed he had done for himself and wanted to do for his patients was to shift the centre of gravity from the ego, which is merely the centre of consciousness, to the self, which is between consciousness and the unconscious. 'If the transposition is successful, it does away with the participation mystique and results in a personality that suffers only in the lower storeys, as it were, but in the upper storeys is singularly detached from painful as well as from joyful happenings.' (Ibid., 286)
I have already described in previous post that Jung looked upon the human psyche as a house or castle of many storeys where the upper ones are the conscious and pre-conscious ones and the lower the unconscious ones. The term "participation mystique" was coined by Lucien Lévy-Brühl (1857 - 1939) who was a French scholar trained in philosophy and who made significant contributions to the budding fields of sociology and ethnology. His primary field of study involved the mentality of primitive humanity. He maintained that the primitive mentality was conscious of little difference between subject and object. In fact, an unconscious identity prevailed between the subject and object - human beings were very much part of their landscape or environment.