The Ten Pillars of the Bridge of the Spirit

Sue Mehrtens is the author of this and all the other blog essays on this site. The opinions expressed in these essays are her own and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of other Jungian Center faculty or Board members. Honesty, as well as professional courtesy require that you give proper attribution to the author if you post this essay elsewhere.



The Ten Pillars of the Bridge of the Spirit



“… Faust is the most recent pillar in that bridge of the spirit which spans the morass of world history, beginning with the Gilgamesh epic, the I Ching, the Upanishads, the Tao-te-Ching, the fragments of Heraclitus, and continuing in the Gospel of St. John, the letters of St. Paul, in Meister Eckhart and in Dante….”

Jung (1932)[1]



The year 1932 marked the centenary of the death of the German author Johann Goethe, and the Swiss author Max Rychner sent a questionnaire to several notable figures asking them about their attitude toward Goethe.[2] Jung was one of these “notabilities,” and he replied in a short letter that addressed Rychner’s questions, stressing his esteem for Faust. So much esteem, in fact, that Jung labeled Faust as one of the “pillars” of global spiritual wisdom. In this essay we will examine the insights in this single sentence.

What first struck me as I read this letter was the image: a bridge over a morass. A “morass” is “a piece of soft, low, wet ground; swamp; marsh.”[3]—clearly terrain that needs a bridge if one is to traverse it. It seemed interesting to me that this is how Jung regarded world history: Human experience requires the means to rise above the mud of life. The implication is that, without a bridge, human beings would get bogged down in “the swamplands of the soul.”[4]

His choice of works to include as “pillars” is interesting for their age: Typical of Jung, none of them is modern, none contemporary. Jung was not much for modernity.[5] The most recent “pillar” is Goethe, who died a generation before Jung was born.[6] The oldest, Gilgamesh, dates from the turn of the 2nd millennium B.C.E.[7] Jung placed Goethe in a four-thousand-year long tradition of wisdom literature.

The next insight I found interesting was Jung’s list. It suggested that he was widely read in both Eastern and Western wisdom traditions. This led me to check volume 20 of his Collected Works to see if the works he listed showed up in his own writings, and my research indicated that not only had he read each of the 10 works, he cited them numerous times. Clearly these works informed his thinking in major ways. How so? We will examine each “pillar” for how/why Jung felt this work was important in supporting the spiritual journey.

Gilgamesh. Jung cited the ancient Akkadian epic of Gilgamesh 70 times in his Collected Works.[8] It is one of the earliest of the “hero” myths, recounting a man’s quest for immortality which, of course, ends in failure, i.e. he remains mortal, but the search leads to new spiritual development and creativity.[9] What is “new” here is the shift from worship of the Mother goddess to a new consciousness that developed into the patriarchy and the male god of the Judeo-Christian tradition.[10] Jung drew on this epic repeatedly for its illustration of archetypal elements of the hero’s journey, e.g. magic,[11] challenging tasks,[12] conquests,[13] and regressions.[14]

I Ching. Jung got interested in Oriental philosophy in mid-life, in the 1910’s. He appreciated the Chinese understanding of the cyclical nature of the opposites, i.e. how the yin and yang are constantly shifting from one into the other, even as the one contains the other within it.[15] Also appealing to Jung was the Chinese idea of action through non-action (wu wei).[16] Around 1920 Jung began experimenting with the Chinese “Book of Changes,” getting “all sorts of undeniably remarkable results.”[17] Shortly thereafter he met Richard Wilhelm, a German sinologist who translated the I Ching into German.[18] Jung was pleased, in reading Wilhelm’s translation, to see that he shared Jung’s sense of the “meaningful connections”[19] the book seemed to spark. Jung found the book so supportive of his concept of synchronicity that he wrote the Foreword to Cary Baynes’ translation into English of Wilhelm’s translation from the Chinese.[20] In his dream analysis seminar, Jung taught his students how to use the I Ching to amplify or help interpret dreams.[21]

The Upanishads. One of the most important scriptures in Hinduism, the Upanishads were cited 77 times by Jung.[22] The ancient Hindu sages understood the value of resisting the temptation to look without, and instead stressed turning within, so as to behold “the glory of the Atman within.”[23] Jung had the same conviction, as he told Fanny Bowditch: “Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes,”[24] and like the authors of the Upanishads, Jung recognized the identity of Atman and Brahman.[25]

The Tao-te-Ching. “The Book of the Way” and its author, Lao-tzu were cited by Jung 28 times.[26] Like the I Ching in being a classic statement of Chinese philosophy, the Tao-te-Ching appealed to Jung for many of the same reasons for which he liked the Upanishads: the Brahman-atman teaching, the middle way between the opposites,[27] the “redeeming and uplifting effect” that knowledge of the Tao brings,[28] the sense of tao as making possible “deliverance from the cosmic tension of opposites.”[29] Also resonating with Jung’s predilections was Lao-tzu’s stress on humility and modesty. “High rests on low,” says Lao, which Jung quotes to advocate resistance against the “lure of the persona…”[30]

The fragments of Heraclitus. Heraclitus was Jung’s favorite ancient author. He cited him in ten of the 18 volumes of his Collected Works.[31] None of Heraclitus’ works has come down to us in a complete form—hence Jung’s reference to “fragments.” Why did Jung put such value on an author who left only fragments? Because Heraclitus understood the fundamental feature of life—change—and that reality exists in a tension of opposites that is constantly in flux. He expressed this in a word Jung cited 45 times: enantiodromia—a “running to the opposite.”[32] When we live in a one-sided way, e.g. overly rational, or too focused on sensate stuff, the psyche tries to compensate by sending us dreams, or outer-life experiences meant to help us restore a balance.[33] Jung also appreciated Heraclitus’ recognition of the “ever-living fire,”[34] or world energy, the magic power of the burning bush of the Old Testament, and the aura around medieval saints. Heraclitus’ concept of “soul” also appealed to Jung: soul as “a spark of stellar essence,”[35] fiery and dry, “the magic breath of life.”[36]

The Gospel of St. John. Of the four gospels, Jung cited the Gospel of John most,[37] referring to 63 of the 879 verses in this book of the Bible. Chapters 1, 3 and 14 of John’s gospel were cited most frequently, speaking of the Incarnation, John’s testimony about Jesus, the recruitment of some of the disciples, Jesus’ teaching to Nicodemus about being born of the Spirit, Jesus as the Light that has come into the world, and Jesus’ promise of the gift of the Holy Spirit. Many of these verses were used centuries later by Joachim of Flores in developing his concept of the three Ages—the Age of the Father (the age of the Jews and the Old Testatment), the Age of the Son (the age of Christianity and the New Testatment), and the coming Age of the Holy Spirit, when humans would be taught by the Spirit.[38] Jung took up Joachim’s idea, in his belief that a new form of religion was emerging as the Age of Pisces (the age of Christianity) was giving way to the Age of Aquarius (the age of the “new dispensation”).[39]

The letters of St. Paul. Jung was the son of a Protestant minister, so he grew up hearing the Bible read, preached and studied. He himself read Paul’s letters in both the Greek and various translations (Latin, Authorized Version, Douay, Revised Standard, Vulgate).[40] Being able to read the original, Jung knew how frequently Paul was mistranslated (e.g. telos, teleios being rendered as “perfect,”[41] rather than “complete;” pistis being translated as “faith,” rather than “trust”),[42] and much of Jung’s arguments for a new dispensation rest on his corrections of these errors. Jung also was able to recognize the Gnosticism in Paul, thanks to his familiarity with the original Greek (e.g. Romans 5:12ff, 8:5-10, 12:4, 13:11-13; I Corinthians 2:6-8,10-3:18; 7:32-34; 8:1-3; 10:23-31; 11:5,17-34; 12:3,12-27; 14:2-19; 15:21,29-32,44,49; II Corinthians 4:4; 5:1-5,16; 11:22; Galatians 3:19 & 28; 4:3 & 9; Ephesians 1:10; 2:14-18; 4:3ff,8-11; 5:25-32; 12:5,23; and Philippians 2:6-11 are passages that reflect Paul’s exposure to Gnostic ideas and concepts).[43]

Meister Eckhart. This 13-14th-century German theologian had much to recommend him to Jung, in terms of his ideas, not the least of which was his being condemned by the church as a heretic, for his belief in the “little sparks of soul”[44] which gave human beings the ability to connect with the Divine without the intermediation of the Church. Many of Eckhart’s ideas came from his mystical moments, i.e. his personal experiences of God, and Jung resonated with this. Like Eckhart, he could say that he did not need to believe in God, for he had come to know God.[45] Eckhart’s interpretation of Scripture also appealed to Jung, as this quote by Jung of Eckhart indicates:

“Christ says, ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hid in a field.’ This field is the soul, wherein lies hidden the treasure of the divine kingdom. In the soul, therefore, are God and all creatures blessed.”[46]

Then Jung goes on to note:

“This interpretation agrees with our psychological argument: the soul is a personification of the unconscious, where lies the treasure, the libido which is immersed in introversion and is allegorized as God’s kingdom. This amounts to a permanent union with God, a living in his kingdom, in that state where a preponderance of libido lies in the unconscious and determines conscious life. … If, then, Eckhart reaches the conclusion that the soul is itself God’s kingdom, it is conceived as a function of relation to God, and God would be the power working within the soul and perceived by it. Eckhart even calls the soul the image of God.”[47]

Jung also found Eckhart’s delineation of the various viae to be compelling: We can experience the Divine via the via positiva, the via negativa, the via creativa, and the via transformativa as we work with the dynamis, or power of God, in daily living.[48]

Dante. Most of Jung’s 31 citations of this 13th-century Italian poet come from his master work, Divina Commedia, the “Divine Comedy,” consisting of 3 parts, the Inferno (Hell), the Purgatorio (Purgatory), and the Paradiso (Paradise).[49] As with all the great works of literature, Dante drew on archetypal images, and Jung noted many of these, e.g. the hero’s journey (could anything be more daunting that a trip through Hell??), the psychopomp in the person of the great pagan author Virgil,[50] the mystic rose,[51] and Beatrice, the poet’s muse.[52] Characteristic of Dante’s time was a cultural and spiritual revitalization that swept Europe and led to the creation of many cathedrals devoted to “Notre Dame,” i.e. the Virgin Mary. Jung notes how Dante becomes “the spiritual knight of his lady,”[53] for whose sake he undertakes his “heroic endeavor,” inspired by Beatrice, who carries Dante’s anima.[54] The setting of the Comedy is also archetypal: Dante tells us he was, at the start of his journey, at the midpoint of his life, and in a dark wood, i.e. a potentially dangerous transitional time and place in life.[55]

Faust. Perhaps no other book, besides the Bible, was more significant to Jung than Goethe’s Faust. In the index to Jung’s Collected Works, citations to Faust consume four full columns, and Jung cited Faust in every one of the 18 volumes except volume 1.[56] Jung was unstinting in his praise of this work. In his reply to Max Rychner, he said

“It seems to me that one cannot meditate enough about Faust, for many of the mysteries of the second part are still unfathomed. Faust is out of this world and therefore the most living present. Hence everything that to me is essential in Goethe is contained in Faust.”[57]

Jung was first introduced to the book by his mother when he was 15 years old,[58] an impressionable age, and clearly Faust made a big impression on him—an impression beyond enjoyment. He wrote Rychner that he could not “enjoy” Goethe, as “it is too big, too exciting, too profound.”[59] What did Jung find especially important in Faust? Goethe’s understanding of alchemy and the temptations life holds for those who seek knowledge and power. Volumes 9i, 12, 13 and 14—Jung’s works on alchemy—are replete with multiple references to Faust,[60] which is not surprising since the hero was an alchemist, and one not above making a pact with the Devil.

As a final note, I think Jung’s list is useful for those who wonder what sorts of things Jung might encourage students to read. Well, here’s a list of the spiritual works that he felt provided support for those on the spiritual journey. Any person seeking to deepen his/her spiritual understanding could benefit greatly from thoughtful immersion in these texts.




Dante (1954), The Inferno, trans. John Ciardi. New York: New American Library.

Edinger, Edward (1996), The New God Image. Wilmette IL: Chiron Publications.

Fox, Matthew (1980), Breakthrough: Meister Eckhart’s Creation Spirituality in New Translation. Garden City NY: Doubleday.

Hollis, James (1996), The Swamplands of the Soul. Toronto: Inner City Books.

Jaffe, Lawrence (1999), Celebrating Soul: Preparing for the New Religion. Toronto: Inner City Press.

Jung, C.G. (1956) “Symbols of Transformation,” Collected Works, 5, 2nd ed. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1971), “Psychological Types,” CW, 6. Princeton: Princeton University Press

________ (1966), “Two Essays on Analytical Psychology,” CW 7. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1959), ”The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious,” CW 9i. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1959), “Aion,” Collected Works, 9ii. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1969), “Psychology and Religion: West and East,” CW 11. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1967), “Alchemical Studies,” CW 13. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1963), “Mysterium Coniunctionis,” CW 14. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1979), CW 20. General Index to the Collected Works of C.G. Jung, compiled by Barbara Forryan & Janet Glover. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1975), Letters, ed. Gerhard Adler & Aniela Jaffé. 2 vols. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1965), Memories, Dreams, Reflections. New York: Vintage Books.

________ (1984), Seminar on Dream Analysis. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Kluger, Rivkah (1995), Psyche in Scripture. Toronto: Inner City Books.

Pagels, Elaine (1975), The Gnostic Paul. Philadelphia: Trinity Press International.

Sands, Frederick (1977), “Men, Women and God,” C.G. Jung Speaking: Interviews and Encounters, eds. William McGuire & R.F.C. Hull. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Smith, Huston (1986), The Religions of Man. New York: Harper & Row.


[1] “Letter to Max Rychner,” 28 February 1932; Letters I, 88-89.

[2] Editorial note to Jung’s letter to Rychner, ibid., 88.

[3] World Book Encyclopedia Dictionary, II, 1259.

[4] This is the title of a book by James Hollis; Hollis (1996).

[5] Sands (1977), 249.

[6] Goethe died in 1832. Jung was born in 1875.

[7] Editorial note 1; Letters, I, 89.

[8] Collected Works 20, 296. Hereafter Collected Works will be abbreviated CW.

[9] Kluger (1995), 69.

[10] Ibid., 73.

[11] CW 5, ¶s293,513 & 642.

[12] Ibid., ¶293.

[13] Ibid., ¶396.

[14] Ibid., ¶506.

[15] The circle with half black with a white dot and half white with a black dot is a graphic representation of this concept.

[16] CW 13, ¶s 20 & 38.

[17] MDR, 373.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid., 374.

[20] CW 11, ¶s 964-1018.

[21] Jung (1984), 107, 241-2, 249, 647, 649.

[22] CW 20, 701.

[23] Smith (1986), 75.

[24] “Letter to Fanny Bowditch,” 22 October 1916; Letters, I, 33.

[25] CW 6, ¶189.

[26] CW 20, 397-8.

[27] Ibid., ¶192.

[28] Ibid., ¶362.

[29] Ibid., ¶369.

[30] CW 7, ¶308.

[31] I.e. in CW 3,6,7,8,91,10,11,12,13,14,15,16 & 18. CW 20, 323.

[32] CW 20, 248.

[33] I have had some vivid personal experiences of the enantiodromia. In 2002 and 2003, for example, as the executor of my mother’s estate, I had to clean out, pack up, move her possessions, and work with numerous contractors to prepare her house for sale. All this required my functioning for most of two years in my Sensation function. My dream life made clear the serious imbalance I was experiencing and I discussed this with my analyst. We anticipated that a major interval of Intuition would show up once the move was over, and so it was: A huge upwelling of intuitive inspiration produced several books and the Jungian Center.

[34] CW 7, ¶108.

[35] CW 9ii, ¶344.

[36] CW 9i, ¶55.

[37] CW 20, 117-8.

[38] CW 14, ¶22.

[39] For more on the “new God image” and the “new dispensation,” cf. Edinger (1996) and Jaffe (1989).

[40] CW 20, 118-9.

[41] See the essay “Relinquishing the Addiction to Perfection,” archived on this blog site, for all the specific Bible verses where these mistranslations occur.

[42] CW 11, ¶s9,74 & 167; CW 14, ¶147; CW 17, ¶296.

[43] For more on Paul and Gnosticism, see Pagels (1975).

[44] CW 9ii, ¶344

[45] “The ‘Face to Face’ Interview,” Jung (1977), 428.

[46] CW 6, ¶423.

[47] CW 6, ¶s 423 & 424.

[48] Fox (1980), 10,45,165 & 291. The via positiva is the way of seeking via the positive aspects of God; the via negativa seeks in what God is not, e.g the Void; the via creativa explores spirit through creativity; and the via transformativa takes the form of opening oneself to the changes the Divine desires.

[49] CW 20, 200.

[50] CW 5, ¶119, note 7.

[51] CW 9i, ¶652.

[52] CW 13, ¶215.

[53] CW 6, ¶377.

[54] Ibid.

[55] “Inferno,” lines 1-3.

[56] CW 20, 306-8; 450 citations in all.

[57] “Letter to Max Rychner,” 28 February 1932; Letters, I, 88-89.

[58] Ibid.

[59] Ibid.

[60] CW 20, 307-8.

Leave a Reply