An Introduction to Carl Jung

Kate Hoolu

Limited space dictates that this is a very brief overview of some of the work of Carl Jung in psychology, with some contrasting references to Sigmund Freud; one of his mentors. It is not intended to be anything more than a basic intro for people who have little or no knowledge of the man, and to stimulate some discussion on the forums.

Jung was born in Switzerland in 1875. He trained as a medical Doctor, later specialising in Psychiatry. Psychiatrists were then called Alienists, in that they were dealing with minds that were considered "alien" to the normal; and the whole field of dealing with the mind was very much in its infancy at the turn of the last century. By the age of 30 Jung was a senior lecturer in Psychiatry at Zurich University, later collaborating in the field of psychoanalysis for a number of years with Sigmund Freud. Jung produced a huge quantity of literature on the mind and lectured extensively, while still maintaining a private practice as a psychoanalyst and psychiatrist. He died in 1961, aged 85.

If the work of Freud could be summed up in one word it is "sex"; Freud's more generally known theories depend largely upon investigating and often treating some or other aspect of the development of the self (psyche) with regard to sex or gender issues. A one word précis of Jungianism is much more problematic, but could be either "consciousness" or "mysticism". While Jung had a great interest and background in formal religion and theology, mysticism here is meant on a more individual-personal level. The conflict between the respective ideas of Jung and Freud (which led to their eventual professional disagreement and divergence) is that Freud envisaged a whole personality that developed through relationships with others. Jung's vision was of a balanced and whole psyche evolving with and within itself, without absolute necessity for any involvement by an external other person in order to attain psychological "wholeness". Jung often used seemingly irrelevant concepts, formerly in the realm of occultism, religion, folklore and superstition.

It isn't possible in the space available to mention many of Jung's major theories and areas of study, such as the anima-animus, collective unconscious, astrology, divination, the UFO phenomenon and synchronicity (co-incidence and causality theory) the latter of which provides an interesting cross-over between psychology and modern physics which had not previously been realised. What I will concentrate on is his theory of archetypes and symbolism.

In world mythology there are numerous stories often having a remarkably common recurrent theme, even if the exact detail seems different. Jung believed this to be an original universal "language" composed of principles and ideas rather than literature itself. An example of this would be the archetypal hero who has to face overwhelming odds and defeat some immense and fearsome monster (e.g. St George and the Dragon in English folklore). Jung saw this as an externalised metaphor of a universal process of deep conflict and resolution occurring within the natural and healthy development of individual psyches throughout history, and thus recurring in many of his patients. He used the archetype both as an allegory of the mental processes and a means of therapy. For a patient undergoing major psychological trauma (for which the battle with a dragon could be a close metaphor) the archetype of St George would be a powerful tool when visualised beside them, or even seen as merging with them .

If the patient were from a culture where St George was a foreign or unfamiliar myth then there would generally be an analogous story from their own background, which could fulfil the same function; for example Theseus and the Minotaur in Greek culture. On a developmental level; the internalised "living out" of a variety of mythic events can seem to provide great benefit to the individual. Even science fiction stories such as the "Alien" films are largely a restatement of the mythical killing of the dangerous beast against overwhelming odds.

Similarly it is argued that Mr Spock of "Star Trek" is merely a restatement of an archetype which has also been variously depicted in the past as the leprechaun of Celtic folklore, a Native American traditional vegetation spirit called Mescalito, and the fictional Peter Pan. Perhaps these films have been so successful simply because, as Jung believed, we all have these archetypes deep within us, and therefore relate to the imagery strongly on a subconscious level? Archetypes run far deeper than being useful just for separation of cinema-goers and their money, however. Hitler arguably used the Aryan mythologies and the archetype emphasised by the all-conquering Wagnerian Germanic operas to galvanise his country to prepare for war 70 years ago.

It is perhaps in his dealings with the "non-literate" language of symbolism that Jung is at his most accessible, since it transcends the written word: his books were mostly produced in German, and the works of his translators are not entirely helpful or forgiving to English readers. Jung's "Man and His Symbols" gives an excellent overview of how deeply integrated symbolism is in 20th Century life, and how powerful an influence it has on our subconscious behaviour. These range from a mundane, but very effective level in our susceptibility to clever advertising; to the explosion of both modern art forms and the space race, which Jung saw as greater symbols of man's need for transcendence of our current limited consciousness.

Jung had a passionate interest in interpretation and analysis of the symbolism of both his own and his patients' dreams; seeing great importance in the seemingly meaningless and bizarre manifestations of symbols by the apparently "sleeping" mind. Some of his therapy revolved around his patients keeping diaries of their dreams in relation to their life events in waking consciousness; and he kept detailed case studies for future reference. Jung believed that it was by understanding the personal meanings of the symbolism that lay at the heart of solving the patient's subconscious problems.

Indeed, many of the popular "interpret your own dreams"-type books on general sale are largely derived from simplifications of his ideas based on the collected dream records; however as Jung himself said, dream interpretation is far from straightforward: "Careful analysis will never rely too much on technical rules; the dangers of (self) deception and suggestion are too great. In the analysis of isolated dreams above all, this kind of knowing in advance and making assumptions on the grounds of practical expectation or general probability is positively wrong".

Similarly with the acceptance of Freudian terms into language (e.g. ego) many Jungian terms (such as archetype, synchronicity) have come into everyday use- indeed at a recent academic conference Dr Vivianne Crowley, who is both an occultist and psychologist, highlighted how these terms have entered common parlance among occultists, many of whom have not read Jung, or even heard of him.

In the 40 years since Jung's death his "soul-based" human approach to psychology has become more widespread. It seems that with expanding worldwide interest in a spiritual approach to life, the work of Jung will continue to grow in popularity. Much of Jung's work, in common with other psychoanalysts, is entirely subjective and ultimately, scientifically untestable. It cannot be proven to be "true", and equally cannot be disproved. To his credit, he freely acknowledged this, and remained as scientific as he could be; within the limits of his speciality. Subjectively, he offers a sense of humour, warmth and integrity to his work that is lacking from other authors in the field. He also has an optimistic vision of mankind as a growing, evolving race with a future and a purpose, unlike the Behaviourist school of psychology that sees humans as largely robotic organisms reacting on a simple and predictable mechanical level.

KH

Sources

Foundations Of Psychology; N Hayes, RKP 1994
Jung; A Storr, Fontana 1986
Man and His Symbols; CG Jung, Aldus 1979
Psychology and Alchemy; CG Jung, RKP 1952
Synchronicity; CG Jung, RKP 1977
The Freud Reader; edited by P Gay,Vintage 1989
Prometheus Rising; RA Wilson, Falcon 1983
Cosmic Trigger; RA Wilson, Abacus 1977
Ishtar Rising; RA Wilson, Falcon 1990
Quantum Psychology; RA Wilson Falcon 1989
Brewer's Book of Myth & Legend, Helicon 1994
Mysteries; Colin Wilson, Granada 1979
The Occult; Colin Wilson, Granada 1979
Penguin Dictionary Of Psychology 1987
Psychology: R Gross, Hodder & Stoughton 1994