Category Archives: Jung

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 After reading Deirdre Bair’s detailed biography of Jung, and following up my recent post (and as yet unpublished book) on Jung and the Middle Way, it seems increasingly clear to me that this is a classic case of a messy Middle Way strategy being misunderstood by polarised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.

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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


On our recent summer retreat at Anybody’s Barn, I introduced an evening activity of drawing our own mandalas. This is a practice I experienced first in the Triratna Buddhist movement, but well worthy of wider adoption. There was some initial resistance, but everyone involved seems to have then found it a rewarding exercise, enabling them to reflect synthetically on the various factors supporting integration in their own lives or holding them back. It’s that process of reflection that’s valuable about it, rather than producing a work of art, but using visual symbols rather than words can also help to open up new perspectives.

What is a mandala? The terms derives from the Sanskrit word for ‘circle’, and mandalas are circular diagrams in which the spatial alignment of symbols in relation both to each other and to the centre can represent their relationship to an integrative process. The traditional Buddhist interpretation of mandalas is to see them as diagrams of enlightenment: but just by breaking down ‘enlightenment’ spatially one is already beginning to see it as an incremental process, a journey towards the centre, in which one may make asymmetrical progress. It’s for that reason that when Jung encountered mandalas he immediately identified them with excitement as diagrams of integration – a universal psychological process rather than one dependent on particular absolute Buddhist concepts. He found mandalas in many other cultural contexts, as well as in his dreams and in the dreams of his patients. Unfortunately, as with most such symbols, you’ll also find mandalas absolutised as symbols of cosmic order of some kind. The Wikipedia page on mandalas even starts off by saying they are symbols of the universe! But they most usefully represent our experience, not claims about ultimate reality.

It struck me recently that Jung’s adoption of mandalas as universal symbols, even though they were first identified explicitly in Buddhist culture, is a good analogy for the Middle Way. Jung used the idea of the Middle Way independently long before he engaged with Buddhism (see this earlier blog), but in a similar universal way to reflect a general human psychological process. If Buddhists have no problem with the idea that mandalas are universal, there seems no reason why they should not also accept the Middle Way as universal on a similar basis. Just as mandalas should not be defined in restrictive ways that prevent us from recognising the similarity of mandala forms across cultures, the Middle Way should also not be defined in restrictively Buddhist ways that prevent us recognising the absolutisations that may impede us in a variety of human situations rather than only those that applied at the time of the Buddha.

The integration depicted in a mandala is what I would call an integration of meaning: that is, that it depicts symbols that can be mutually recognised and synthesised in terms of a common understanding, even if they appear to be opposed.Middle Way Philosophy 3 Of course that integration of meaning can also provide us with inspiration for an integration of belief: that is, we can reflect on the potential compatibility of some aspects of apparently opposed beliefs associated with the symbols. But a mandala itself doesn’t tell us how to reframe our understanding of opposed beliefs so that we can integrate them : it merely provides inspiration for doing so. The way in which mandalas can depict integration of meaning is the reason I used a mandala on the cover of my book Middle Way Philosophy 3: The Integration of Meaning.

One of my favourite Buddhist mandalas is the Five Buddha mandala, because this depicts five symbolic Buddhas that represent different types of wisdom. These types of wisdom are in constant tension with each other. For example, the Blue Buddha, Akshobhya, represents non-discriminating or mirror-like wisdom according to which all Mandala of the Five Buddhas Vaddhaka versionbeliefs are ultimately empty (because none can be absolutely justified). On the opposite side of the mandala to Akshobhya, though, is the Red Buddha Amitabha, who represents discriminating wisdom as well as compassion. At the same time as recognising the lack of ultimate justification for our beliefs we need to recognise that as embodied beings we can adopt provisional beliefs about our specific environment, and indeed have particular loyalties to the people we know in our embodied experience. Thus we do not need to flip between absolute scepticism and particular loyalty: we can integrate those perspectives, and the White Buddha Vairocana can represent that integration in the middle. Similarly, the Green Buddha Amoghasiddhi represents the wisdom of success, as opposed to the wisdom of sameness in the Yellow Buddha Ratnasambhava. On the one hand we are actually attached to particular desires and wish to be successful in achieving them, whilst on the other we can recognise that from a different perspective, those desires and their fulfilment may not be significant and may be generously renounced for a wider perspective. The White Buddha can simultaneously represent the integration of these perspectives. That’s only a brief taste of the richness of the Five Buddha mandala. Vessantara’s Meeting the Buddhas is a useful guide to this symbolism.

The Buddhist tradition has developed mandala symbolism in the most extraordinary ways, including not just paintings but also in a multitude of other forms: ageless monuments (at Borobodur and Mandalay – which is named after mandala) at one extreme and temporary sand mandalas at the other. Beyond Buddhism, mandalas are also widely used in Hinduism. In Christianity, you can find mandala forms in Celtic crosses and rose windows. Hildegard_von_Bingen_Liber_Divinorum_OperumPictured here is a Christian mandala from Hildegard of Bingen’s fascinating mystical writings, which are accompanied by a number of illustrations as she was an artist as well as a writer. Interestingly here it is the human body that is the focus of integration at the centre of the mandala, and the depiction of God (who appears to be both males and female) encompasses the mandala as a whole rather than only its centre. The stretched figure, representing the universal man, is reminiscent of Christ on the cross, which is used at the centre of a number of Christian mandalas. Jung remarked that Christ being crucified between two thieves itself forms a mandala, especially as one of the thieves is traditionally said to have repented and responded positively to Christ whilst the other reviled him. There is thus a pattern of opposites in the two thieves to be symbolically integrated in Christ, who can represent the role of the acceptance of suffering in widening our perspectives to accept new conditions.

In the end, it doesn’t matter so much what tradition you approach mandalas through so much as that you make integrative use of it. Whatever the traditional role for such diagrams, they are not ends in themselves and do not usefully represent any kind of ultimate truth. Rather they represent a process by which you yourself can be inspired to reframe your experience. Around the outside of the mandala I drew on the recent retreat were to be found Facebook, bathroom cleaning, negative events in world politics, and the temptations of cake, all of which represent things that could be integrated, but are quite hard to deal with! Nothing is too mundane to be included and ultimately be open to integration.

Pictures: Five Buddha Mandala by Aloka, used on the cover of ‘Middle Way Philosophy 4: the Integration of Belief’ with the kind permission of Vaddhaka; Hildegard of Bingen picture from Liber Divinorum Operum (Wikimedia).