Category Archives: Jung

When we were very Jung

It was about 2 years ago now when I first read Jung’s Red Book, which had been published in 2009 after sitting unpublished for nearly a century. Although I previously had a long-standing interest in Jung, reading that extraordinary text brought me to a new level of engagement with Jungian ideas, in recognition of their potential strength of connection with the Middle Way. The first fruit of that engagement was a series of blogs (1,2,3 & 4), but then there were also new reflections on Christian symbols that contributed to The Christian Middle Way, the giving of a talk at the Bristol Jung Lectures, and also the writing of a book on the interpretation of the Red Book which I am currently trying to find a publisher for (The Jungian Middle Way). The other aspect of this engagement that I want to reflect on here, though, has been increasing engagement with Jungians. Who are the Jungians? How do they understand themselves? I’m not sure I can really answer that question, but can only give you some impressions. I’m not sure I’ve ever been quite so baffled by a group of people who in any way shelter under the same label.

There does seem to be a Jungian community – one that gathers in major cities across the Western world for talks or therapeutic training, but that also has a significant online presence. There are a number of Jungian groups on Facebook, and one of their distinguishing features is often how vast they are. The core of that community seems to consist in therapists, but there is obviously also a wider audience from a public that has been grabbed, as I was, by the Red Book, or by earlier popular Jungian writings such as ‘Man and his Symbols’ or the autobiographical ‘Memories, Dreams, Reflections’. Anyone with an imagination can be readily intrigued by Jung.

What I have found most baffling is the range of people and the range of their attitudes. This probably reflects the ambiguities in Jung himself. At his most clear and reflective, Jung is committed to writing only on the basis of experience, whether that takes the form of psychological evidence from patients or from his personal experience. He is unsurpassed, in my view, in his understanding of the meaning of that experience. At his best, he clearly separates archetypal meaning from projections of that meaning onto the world – so, for example, the Shadow is clearly an archetypal form representing our own hatred and rejection, which we should avoid projecting onto people or other entities, but rather symbolise in its own right as Satan or another evil figure (see my earlier blog on evil). In other places, however, Jung relaxes this distinction and drifts into metaphysical assertions (for example in the Gnostic Seven Sermons, near the end of the Red Book), or into groundless empirical assertions – famously including the dawn of the Age of Aquarius, and also including some very dodgy generalisations about gender, nationality and race.

Jungians, I’ve found, are similarly very varied. Some Jungians are balanced, sane, wise, thoughtful, pragmatic people whom I’ve been grateful and honoured to meet. Others are not so wise or discriminating. I am not going to mention any specific names, but here are some of the less balanced types I’ve encountered: the New Age intuitive who takes astrology seriously as a guide to the future; the spiritual intuitive who claims to just KNOW God; the obsessively rigorous scholar who won’t accept anything not clearly proved in the text of Jung’s writings; the pseudo-historian who has a detailed account of a past matriarchal civilisation that he believes could teach us all peace; and the self-appointed online authority who insists that I must be ‘overthinking’ and not using my feeling and intuition if I dare to criticise anything Jung said. Sometimes the Jungian community seems like the nearest we have to a substantial Middle Way community, but at other times it seems like a bunch of credulous hippies, and at other times a rather sinister cult.

It seems to me that perhaps the biggest issue creating this diversity, apart from the inconsistency of Jung’s own writings (and the tendency of some Jungians to absolutise them as a necessary source of truth), is the question of the status of intuition. Intuition is the means by which most of us are able to deal with complex experience readily. We ‘get the gist’ of a situation, or a perspective, or a person through a holistic overview that unconsciously draws on lots of previous experience of similar situations. Those of us who are more inclined to rely on our intuitions may thereby gain an advantage in understanding and preparedness, when compared to someone who tries to work everything out by laboriously matching concepts to what they sense. Intuition also gives us archetypal meaning by unconsciously formatting what we experience. So intuition is not flakey – it’s necessary and everyone uses it. Jung and Jungians, though, perhaps rely on it more than most as a source of insight into psychological forms and relationships.

The crucial issue is that of what intuition can justifiably tell us. On the one hand it can provide a ready access of meaning with which we can understand our experience. However, the problem with Jungianism at its flakiest is the way in which people feel they’re justified in deriving absolute facts directly from intuitions. The meaning gets translated directly into beliefs about the world without going through an intervening process of critical reflection. So that’s why we get people who believe in astrology, think they ‘just know’ God, or know the essential characteristics of, say, Germans, or women, through the operation of intuition. In the terms of Middle Way Philosophy, they are absolutising.

The research on intuition discussed by Daniel Kahneman also shows how unjustified this is. Kahneman compares studies done on the intuition of firefighters and stock traders. Experienced firefighters had excellent intuitions about when a burning building was about to collapse, because the conditions in burning buildings follow a predictable enough pattern to make unconsciously processed information reliable. However, stock traders performed worse than random when they followed their intuitions about which stocks would do best. In the past I’ve written a story about this contrast. The more complex the thing you have intuitions about, the less reliable they are, and the more important it is to slow down and actually think about it and consider the evidence.

Jungianism unfortunately has a bad reputation amongst many people who are scientifically or philosophically trained, because of this unjustifiable use of intuition to draw absolute conclusions. These hard STEM types are missing out on a good deal of very helpful material in Jungian thought. I would urge them to reconsider. But I also really wish that respect for empirical evidence was a more widespread and consistent feature of Jungian thinking than it is. You really don’t have to give up on the riches of Jungian meaning to expect adequate justification for your beliefs. You really can have your cake and eat it here. So perhaps we should all grow up.


Some other resources on Jung on this site:

Jung: Middle Way Thinkers Series

Podcast Interview with Stephen Farah: Senior Lecturer at the Centre for Applied Jungian Studies, Johannesburg

Podcast Interview with Helena Bassil-Morozow on Jungian Film Studies

Jung and Nazism


Picture: Carl Jung by Charles-Henri Favrod (CCBYSA 3.0)


Jung and Nazism

In the aftermath of World War 2 and since, controversy has raged about Carl Jung’s attitude to Nazism, with some condemning him as a Nazi sympathiser, and others defending him in the strongest terms. After reading Deirdre Bair’s detailed biography of Jung, and following up my recent post (and as yet unpublished book) on Jung and the Middle Way, it seems increasingly clear to me that this is a classic case of a messy Middle Way strategy being misunderstood by polarised interpreters on both sides.

Jung was a citizen of Switzerland, which remained neutral throughout the Second World War. However, throughout the 1930’s he remained the president of an international psychoanalytic society that was based in, and dominated by, Germany. From the time of the rise of Hitler in 1933 this society was subject to Gleichgeschaltung, the regulations by which the Nazi government ensured conformity to Nazi values in organisations of civil society. In many ways Jung was a convenient tool for the Nazis, as they were able to use him as a source of credibility for their gleichgeschaltet version of psychoanalysis, purified of what they considered the corrupting Jewish influence of Freud with his decadent emphasis on sexuality. Although there was ambiguity in this position, because the society was formally international, the Nazis were able to manipulate that ambiguity, and he was only finally able to resign from this presidency in 1940.

It is this involvement, together with a number of incautious public statements about the psychology of races and nationalities (some of which generalised about Jewish psychology as distinct from other races) that form the basis of a case against Jung that has been raised on a number of occasions by his detractors, and even led to one (not very realistic) proposal that he be prosecuted at the Nuremberg war crime tribunals. For his critics, any compromise with Nazism or involvement in Nazi-dominated organisations makes Jung a Nazi sympathiser, and any generalisations about the psychology of Jews make him anti-Semitic.

However, Jung’s position was highly ambiguous. On his own account, his motive in remaining involved with the Nazi-dominated society was to maintain the position of psychoanalysis and to help Jewish psychoanalysts. If he had tried to take a position of purity and refused to be involved, he would have lost the possible opportunity to help psychoanalysis survive in Nazi Germany, and the opportunity to help maintain the status of persecuted Jewish psychoanalysts. After 1940, with the cohesion of the international society destroyed and Freud having fled to England, it is fairly clear that he recognised such hopes as naïve. However, he did manage one substantial achievement, which was to employ an (ironically Jewish) lawyer called Rosenbaum to introduce lots of loopholes into the anti-Semitic regulations being introduced to the society by the Matthias Goering (cousin of the more famous Goering) – who effectively developed political control over it.

As in many such highly charged and polarised political contexts, there is plenty of evidence that can be seized upon and interpreted one way, and also plenty of evidence the other way. Any case thus becomes overwhelmingly a product of confirmation bias. There is also plenty of scope for hindsight bias if we assume that the attitude Jung took to Nazism earlier in the 1930’s should have been based on their later actions – but nobody knew the full horrors to come. Highly unscientific generalisations about the psychology of races were also common currency at the time.

Later in the war, Jung also became involved in support of a plot to get Hitler overthrown, effectively providing advice about Nazi psychology to a US secret service operative working in Switzerland, as well as psychoanalytic support to a close friend who was more directly involved, both of whom were working in support of a German officer involved in a plot to overthrow Hitler. Jung’s support for anti-Nazi activities may have even gone further than this. Allen W. Dulles, the US agent mentioned, is quoted by Bair as saying “Nobody will probably ever know how much Professor Jung contributed to the Allied Cause during the war, by seeing people who were connected somehow with the other side.” Dulles went on to decline to give further detail on the grounds that most of the information was classified.

What makes me think that Jung was attempting to practise the Middle Way in any sense in this complex and ongoing situation? Partly my reading of the Red Book, which mentions the Middle Way explicitly, as I have discussed elsewhere. Partly, however, it also seems the best way of making sense of Jung’s actions. He was not ideologically motivated, though he could often be accused of political naivete. He saw the justification of one action or another in the situation, even when that situation was one dominated by Nazism, rather than solely in the terms of an ideal situation in which Nazism was not dominant. His moral values were those of individuation (as he usually called it) or what I would tend to call integration, the actual practice of which depends on the quality of judgements rather than any pre-formed general rules about the objects of those judgements.

His involvement was thus deeply messy, and he obviously left himself vulnerable to blame from both sides. It was not Nazi or Anti-Semitic, but neither was it Anti-Nazi in a way that would have made his activities less effective at the time by seeking purity from Nazism. However, it does also seem that he could have followed this path more effectively than he did: by developing more politically awareness, by seeking clearer evidence than he had before making racial generalisations, and by making the Middle Way a more explicit basis of action so as to reduce the chances of being misunderstood. Like the rest of us, however, Jung had limited knowledge, limited abilities and limited understanding with which to work, and the path of the Middle Way only requires reconciliation and adaptation to these conditions, not an unrealistic expectation of transcending them, as a basis for responsibility.

I can even find some inspiration in the way that Jung handled this difficult series of situations, not despite, but because of the many human failings that his biography has made me all too aware of. Would I, or any of us, have done better? Adopting the principle of charity seems to be the first requirement for reading the situation – a principle that allows us to appreciate the strength of messy achievement without idealising it.


The Resurrection

We do not know whether or not Jesus was resurrected on the third day, but we do experience a more profound and much more common kind of resurrection, when out of every intransigent problem springs hope. Of course, we maintain many kinds of hope, but the most powerful is that which comes out of apparently lost situations, which are only a matter of despair because of the way we have been framing them. The resurrection stands for not only a reframing of death, but a reframing of all other human suffering.Piero resurrection

If, indeed, as the gospel narratives insist, Jesus was resurrected, it was an odd kind of resurrection. For the resurrected Jesus, it seemed, delighted in teasing people’s plodding certainties when resurrected even more than he did in life. Instead of confronting his disciples directly after his resurrection, he left them to discover an empty tomb and to be told the news by an angel[1]. When resurrected, he appears and disappears abruptly and unpredictably[2]. He is often not recognised at first, but only in retrospect or when he performs a characteristic gesture[3]. He can enter a room with a locked door[4]. He is at pains to point out that he is not a ghost, but a corporeal being who eats, can be touched, and bears the physical marks of the crucifixion[5], but in other respects he hardly follows the normal habits or limitations of an embodied person.

All of this suggests overwhelmingly that the resurrection of Christ is not a glorious certainty that we should believe in as a historical event, but rather a glorious uncertainty. When all seems lost in the old paradigm, when the paradigm shifts to a new way of understanding, we should only expect the unexpected. In amongst the possibilities remains the likelihood that all is lost, but there also remains grounds for hope – that even the most intractable conditions may yield when we are prepared to change our view of them. Incurable cancer may clear up. The certainties of Newtonian physics can give way to relativity. People separated by the entire mass of the earth can communicate instantaneously without leaving their bedrooms. A man from a race once enslaved can become president.

The new grounds of hope arise from the integration of energy associated with possibilities that were previously repressed. That means that, in archetypal terms, resurrection is created from the integration of the Shadow. That process of integration of the Shadow is represented in the non-scriptural Christian tradition of the harrowing of Hell. Between the crucifixion and resurrection, it is traditionally believed, Christ descended to Hell, bound Satan, and rescued the Old Testament prophets who had been damned purely due to original sin, regardless of their personal merits. One can see this, of course, as a medieval theological invention designed to explain away an awkward implication of atonement: that nobody who lived before Jesus could be saved, no matter how good or faithful. However, that development also has a positive symbolic function which we could perhaps interpret rather as removing the apparatus of original sin and damnation entirely: when we engage in the integrative mediation represented by Christ, we are freed from the Hell of the constricted ego.

For Jung, the harrowing of Hell has a close relationship with the psychological function of the resurrection:

The present is a time of God’s death and disappearance. The myth says he was not to be found where his body was laid. “Body” means the outward, visible form, the erstwhile but ephemeral setting for the highest value. The myth further says that the value rose again in a miraculous manner, transformed.  It looks like a miracle, for, when a value disappears, it always seems to be lost irretrievably. So it is quite unexpected that it should come back. The three days’ descent into hell during death describes the sinking of the vanished value into the unconscious, where, by conquering the power of darkness, it establishes a new order, and then rises up to heaven again, that is, attains supreme clarity of consciousness. The fact that only a few people see the Risen One means that no small difficulties stand in the way of finding and recognising the transformed value. [6]

The prime Christian virtues are faith, hope and love: but all of these are founded, not on absolutising beliefs, but on the recognition of uncertainty. Faith, in an experiential sense rather than the sense of absolute belief, depends on embodied confidence. ‘Doubting’ Thomas was not wrong to seek embodied experience as the basis of his faith, and Jesus treats his need with understanding[7]. We might be better to call him Faithful Thomas. Faith projects that confidence forward into what we have not experienced yet, but hope goes further in offering possibilities that we could not justify faith in. Love (or charity) depends on maintaining a flexible and rounded view of others, who are neither instruments nor obstacles to us, but rather persons. All three of these virtues, then, are dependent on provisionality, and none of them can be practised without the Middle Way. But hope is the most forward of them all, the most alive to mere possibility. Hope springs most of all from the flexibility of the imagination, and is constrained by the iron repression of belief. That is why it is so ironic that the resurrection, so much a symbol of hope, should have become an object of metaphysical belief and thus undermined hope.


The above is an extract from Robert M. Ellis’s forthcoming book ‘The Christian Middle Way: The case against Christian belief but for Christian faith’.

Picture: Resurrection by Piero della Francesca


[1] Mk 16:1-8; Mt 28:5-7

[2] Lk 24:31,36 & 51

[3] Lk 24:16; Jn 20:14; Jn 21:4

[4] Jn 20:26

[5] Lk 24:38-43; Jn 20:26-9

[6] Carl Jung (1958): Psychology and Religion, §149

[7] Jn 20:24-9

The MWS Podcast 106: Helena Bassil-Morozow on Jungian Film Studies

Our guest today is Helena Bassil-Morozow , a cultural philosopher, writer, and lecturer in media and communication at Glasgow Caledonian University. She’s interested in ways in which we interact with our society, and particularly how our identities are shaped by our environment. Her books include ‘Tim Burton: The Monster and the Crowd’ , ‘The Trickster in Contemporary Film’. Her latest book which she has co-written with Luke Hockley and which comes out in December is entitled ‘Jungian Film Studies: the Essential Guide’ and this is going to be the topic of our discussion.

MWS Podcast 106: Helena Bassil-Morozow as audio only:
Download audio: MWS_Podcast_106_Helena_Bassil_Morozow

Click here to view other podcasts

Archetypes for science

To talk of an archetype is just to talk of a basic, universal psychological function that we can either project or take responsibility for as part of ourselves. Religion, art, and myth are of course rife with archetypes, but there’s no reason to assume they stop there. Archetypes can be found in every field of human experience. So why not science?

I’ve been thinking recently a bit more about what scientific archetypes might be like. Since scientists and other supporters of science are people, we can expect the same four basic archetypal functions in them as in anyone else, but they are likely to take a rather different outward form, because scientific culture makes such a point of avoiding ‘subjective’ stories (unless they are the object of scientific investigation themselves). So scientific archetypes are likely to avoid traditional forms, but (since they are based on the human mental constitution) nevertheless emerge.projection-of-truth

If scientists don’t acknowledge their own stories, that creates a new danger of projection, where the stories are simply played out in the ‘objective world’ without recognition that they are a result of the biases and assumptions of the scientist. The fact that much scientific ‘rationality’ depends on procedures to eliminate bias that are followed at a group level, rather than just individual thinking, increases that danger. So I thought it might be helpful to try to identify some scientific archetypes to look out for. This can also provide another way of distinguishing science from scientism. Scientific method itself is entirely compatible with acknowledging the biases represented by these archetypes, but scientism is equivalent to projecting these archetypes outwards without acknowledgement (particularly the final one).

So I’m going to base my suggestions for scientific archetypes on the four basic archetypes I’ve described elsewhere: for example in my 2014 talk, and book Middle Way Philosophy 3. These are the hero, the shadow, anima/animus, and the God archetype (which Jung also called the self).

The hero is the archetype of the ego, representing our idealisation of what we can achieve in the form we identify with at the moment. I recently discussed the hero in another blog. We identify with the heroes in stories because they are striving for goals in the face of difficulties just as we are, and we feel their triumph as they achieve them. So, who is the hero in science? Well, the scientist of course. Maybe it’s Galileo whom we identify with as a martyr for the cause, or Einstein as the genius who overcomes the doubters. The scientific hero may slay the dragons of ignorance, or perhaps of pseudoscience, religion or irrationality, to win the fabled Nobel prize and carry it home in triumph. The scientific hero is projected when you really think that someone else is like that and you really believe in their goals 100%, or perhaps that you yourself are such a hero. Such an archetype can be integrated when you recognise that figures like Einstein can be inspiring, but they’re also complex, and that the desire to slay those particular dragons is based on limited assumptions that may need further examination.

The shadow is the archetype of evil, based on what we reject. The Shadow is often identified with Satan or other evil figures, but can be projected onto someone we hate, who then gets a whole host of shadowy attributes given too them. For example, the boss frustrates you in your current project, so you fantasise that he is nasty in every respect, not realising that he actually goes home and has a wonderful relationship with his children. The shadow for science has already been mentioned as the target for the hero: probably pseudoscience, religion, a rival theory, or whatever is understood as standing in the way of science. For example, you may have identified one way in which you think homeopathy is mistaken, but you then project that evil ignorance onto every other aspect of homeopathy. That means that when examining it you will be heavily subject to confirmation bias that makes you interpret positive or neutral information negatively. To integrate that archetype and avoid projection, you would need to recognise that although some specific beliefs held by those you reject may be unhelpful, you can separate the overall shadow from the figure you reject, who will be much more complex and multifaceted.

The anima/animus is the archetype of the attractive other, which most commonly takes a form sexually opposite to the one you identify with. Falling in love is a common indicator of a projection of the anima or animus: usually with a person, but it could also happen, say, with a place, a subject, a book, or an animal. You believe it to be wonderful precisely because it has qualities you lack yourself, and as a result you fail to see that you could develop more of those qualities in yourself rather than seeking them elsewhere. A scientific anima/animus could be an attraction for something perceived as non-scientific, perhaps even irrational. Thus scientists can be observed not only falling in love with non-scientists of the opposite sex, but also going in for escapist fantasy, or even adopting a religious or new-agey view precisely because it doesn’t fit their normal requirement of scientific rationality. The projection of the archetype depends on that blindness to the incompatibility of the two worlds, because you don’t want to have to make the effort of being rational all the time. To integrate that archetype, though, you’d have to admit the incompatibility and find an overarching understanding that could contain both your scientific self and your fantasising self. In the process you might loosen your assumptions about what ‘rationality’ is and how humans can make use of it.

The God archetype is the big one, that I find those with a scientific worldview are least likely to acknowledge, obsessed as they are likely to be with the ‘existence’ or otherwise of God. The God archetype is a foretaste of a state of integration, also variously called the self, or the wise old man or woman. If you project the God archetype, you believe that there is a God (or a person) beyond yourself who has the energy, wisdom, positivity and awareness that you’d normally attribute to an integrated person – but, in the case of God, to an infinite degree. You might also project that archetype onto a guru, a Buddha, a wizard, a healer, a teacher etc, or even onto yourself if you start to believe that you are perfectly integrated. If you integrate that archetype, though, you recognise that it is your own integration your dealing with, that integration is always a work in progress, and that the people you may be projecting it onto are imperfect.

I have already written a blog that touches on the God archetype in science when I wrote about idealised figures of truth. Truth is one of two major concepts that I think scientists are likely to project the God archetype onto, the other being Nature. Compared to the imaginative richness of  religious representations of God, of course, scientific concepts of truth or nature are likely to be rather dry and abstract, and not often given an imaginative form such as a personification. Nevertheless, it seems clear that some scientists routinely project an absolute truth or nature, either by believing that their theories are ‘true’ and that they know ‘laws of nature’, or that, even if they haven’t achieved it yet, truth and nature are achievable and scientific theory is capable of describing them. Thus they project a quality that depends on their actions, attitudes and procedures (objectivity) onto the universe itself.

Just as with God, there is no harm at all in having truth or nature as archetypes representing your goals. As such they can be highly meaningful. However, if you assume that the object of your efforts really exists out there, you make a similar basic mistake to those who believe in a supernatural God or a perfect lover. To integrate such projections, we need to separate out the archetypal symbol and recognise it as such, but refrain from projecting it onto the people or things in the world around us, or even the world as a whole.

Of course, it’s not just scientists who may be subject to the scientific versions of unintegrated archetypes. They may increasingly just be products of the scientific worldview as it is also adopted by others. As a group, scientists are also probably more likely to detect these kinds of projections than most other people. So I don’t want to be read as having a special go at scientists, only as pointing out that they are subject to exactly the same processes as everyone else, and it would be rather surprising if they were exempt. Reflecting on the presence of these archetypes might also help to discourage the more naïve versions of scientism in which the scientifically-influenced make metaphysical assumptions that they believe are justified by scientific results.

Picture: composite of projector with ‘Truth’ sculpture by Lefebre