A Way into Mystery, A Way Out of Catastrophe

A Way into Mystery, A Way Out of Catastrophe:

Jung on Symbols and the Symbolic Life


“… the alarming poverty of symbols… is now the condition of our life…”
Jung, “Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious” (1934)[1]

“I am convinced that the growing impoverishment of symbols has a meaning. It is a development that has an inner consistency. Everything that we have not thought about, and that has therefore been deprived of a meaningful connection with our developing consciousness, has got lost…. it would be far better stoutly to avow our spiritual poverty, our symbol-lessness, instead of feigning a legacy to which we are not the legitimate heirs at all. We are, surely, the rightful heirs of Christian symbolism, but somehow we have squandered this heritage. … Anyone who has lost the historical symbols and cannot be satisfied with substitutes is certainly in a very difficult position today: before him there yawns the void, and he turns away from it in horror. What is worse, the vacuum gets filled with absurd political and social ideas, which one and all are distinguished by their spiritual bleakness…”                                                                       
Jung, “Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious” (1934)[2]

            In the final paragraph of the previous essay[3] I identified the symbol as one way into mystery. If we are lucky and also aware of the value and power of the symbol it might also be our way out of catastrophe. To see how this is so, we need to examine Jung’s thoughts on symbols and why he felt the “symbolic life”[4] is so important.

This is a very big topic: Jung wrote 23 essays on symbols[5] and filled entire volumes in his Collected Works[6] with discussions of various types of symbols (especially alchemical[7] and dream symbols).[8] To provide a thorough, comprehensive treatment of Jung’s work on symbols would require a substantial book—much more than the ambition of this essay. For our purposes here we are only going to discuss the types, sources, qualities and features of symbols, as Jung identified them, and then consider the functions of symbols, and why they are important, especially in terms of our current predicament living, as we are, in a time of “symbol-lessness.”[9] But first we must defined “symbol” and explain how it differs from “sign.”


Jung’s Definitions of “Symbol”

Jung provides over 2 dozen definitions of “symbol” in his Collected Works and other writings. The most “formal” of these is the one in CW 6, where Jung provided definitions for many of the technical terms he used. He defined “symbol” there as

“… the best possible description or formulation of a relatively unknown fact, which is… known to exist or is postulated as existing.”[10]

So “symbol” is a description or formulation. But Jung also regarded symbols as processes:

“… there are other processes which bear within them a hidden meaning, processes which are not merely derived from something but which seek to become something, and are therefore symbols….”[11]

the symbol is “… a process of comprehension by means of analogy…”[12]

as products:

“Every psychic product, if it is the best possible expression at the moment for a fact as yet unknown or only relatively known, may be regarded as a symbol,…” if it is not yet clearly conscious.[13]

“The symbol is always a product of an extremely complex nature, since data from every psychic function have gone into its making.”[14]

as expressions:

“… a symbol is the best possible expression for something that cannot be expressed otherwise than by a more or less close analogy.”[15]

true symbols… should be understood as an expression of an intuitive idea that cannot yet be formatted in any other or better way…”[16]

and as images:

symbols “… are images of contents which for the most part transcend consciousness.”[17]

“What we call a symbol is a term, a name or an image which in itself may be familiar to us, but its connotation, use and application are specific or peculiar and hint at a hidden, vague or unknown meaning.”[18]

a term or image is symbolic when it means more than it denotes or expresses. It has a wider “unconscious” aspect… that can never be precisely defined or fully explained…”[19]

Jung also described the symbol as “the living facts of life,”[20] a “container of meaning,”[21] a “condensation of all the operative unconscious factors,”[22] a “god-image,”[23] a “form of intervention from the unconscious,[24] a “new spirit of life,”[25] “the spiritual meaning of the natural instinct,”[26] “a living body,”[27] “the psychological mechanism that transforms energy,”[28] and as “natural attempts to reconcile and reunite opposites within the psyche.”[29] Symbols can be terms, names, thoughts, feelings, acts or situations[30] that have a wider “unconscious aspect… that can never be precisely defined or fully explained.”[31]

If, at this point, you’re feeling Jung’s definitions obscure more than they clarify, Jung makes your feeling well-founded, when he notes that

“… symbols are only indistinct, subsidiary associations to a thought, which obscure it rather than clarify it.”[32]

So obscuration, lack of clarity, “a perpetual challenge to our thoughts and feelings”[33] are marks of symbols and working with symbols. Far from finding this off-putting, Jung enjoyed this challenge, finding it “stimulating” and “intensely gripping.”[34] Those of us less adept than Jung at swimming in the roiling waters of the deep unconscious might be excused a sigh of wonderment at this point. But, as I noted at the beginning of this essay, symbols are a way into mystery, so we cannot be surprised if the subject is murky and “clouds of unknowing”[35] are all around us.

            As we stumble along in these clouds, let’s attempt to distinguish symbols from signs. A “sign” is a “representation of something known,”[36] e.g. the “symbols” used in mathematics. These are not true symbols,[37] as Jung defines “symbol,” because they are conscious, real, with fixed meanings, serving as conventional abbreviations or “a commonly accepted indication of something known.”[38] The content of signs is definite;[39] a stop sign—red, six-sided, imprinted with a word—is a sign, not a symbol.

            By contrast, symbols have many meanings and have a “positive value,”[40] while the sign is “less than the thing it points to;…”[41] A sign is real, but a true symbol is both real and unreal[42] (i.e. it relates to both the objective and the subjective levels of reality). While signs can be interpreted semiotically, Jung felt that to treat a symbol semiotically would ignore “the real nature of the symbol and debases it to a mere sign.”[43]

            Jung recognized that his attitude toward symbols was very different from Sigmund Freud’s. Freud was a “reductive doctor” for whom the symbol was regarded as a symptom.[44] Jung’s “Zurich School” took a very different approach:

“For the Zurich School the symbol is not merely a sign of something repressed and concealed, but is at the same time an attempt to comprehend and to point the way to the further psychological development of the individual…”[45]

In other words, symbols for Jung have a very positive function (about which we will elaborate below, when we consider the functions of symbols).

In determining whether something was a sign or a symbol, the key was the attitude of the individual: Does the “observing consciousness” regard “a given fact not merely as such but also as an expression for something unknown”?[46] If so, then the fact was a symbol. So a thing could sometimes be just a sign, at others times, a symbol.

            Are the clouds of confusion dissipating, or getting thicker? Things might improve if we consider types and examples of symbols, and symbols’ qualities and features.


Symbols: Types, Sources, Qualities and Features

            Types and Examples of Symbols. Jung distinguished between “living” and “dead,”[47] “fixed” and “relative,”[48] neurotic and psychotic,[49] personal and collective symbols.[50] A symbol is “living” “… only so long as it is pregnant with meaning….”[51] If or when this symbol gets superseded by a better formulation “then the symbol is dead, i.e. it possesses only an historical significance.”[52] It becomes “extinct,”[53] of interest mainly to art or cultural historians. With regard to the difference between “fixed” and relative symbols, Jung stressed that the individual dreamer and his/her immediate state of consciousness is the crucial factor in determining the meaning of a symbol,[54] but “relatively fixed symbols do exist,…”[55] (that is, some symbols have certain accepted meanings, like “the ocean” symbolizing the collective unconscious) and these allowed Jung to work out his theories about the structure of the unconscious and develop general guidelines for working with dreams. Neurotic symbols—those produced by people suffering from a neurosis—tend to be ambiguous, pointing up and down, forward and back.[56] While neurotics’ symbols are more personal, psychotics produce symbols that draw more on the collective unconscious.[57] Collective symbols constitute “… the basic structure of the personality.”[58] while at the same time being common to lots of people and therefore having a general effect that “touches a corresponding chord in every psyche–…”[59] Jung felt this type of symbol tends to be deeper than personal symbols[60] and often is religious in nature.[61]

            Examples can help illustrate the distinctions between these types. Some symbols that still have life in our culture include : the Stars and Stripes, Mother, a diamond ring, the snake, and the act of shaking hands.[62] Others have died, like a host of social symbols that no longer have meaning for us, e.g. seating a woman on a man’s right (denoting a proper, socially acceptable woman) or on a man’s left (indicating a woman who was a harlot or not fit to be introduced in “proper company”). The cabiri, the sol niger, the hierosgamos, the philosopher’s stone, the glory body, and the Tetramorph[63] are some symbols that once had life in Western culture but now are of interest only to Jungian analysts using their understanding of alchemy to follow the development of patients’ analysis.[64]

            Symbols can be images, like the quaternity, the point, the wheel.[65] They can be actions, like rebirth, death, circumcision, or self-piercing.[66] They can be objects, e.g. vessels, containers, towers, whales, birds, trees, the morning star, the lion, the rose, the bull, fire, the horse, the eagle, the mountain, Saturn, Jupiter, the Sun, the Moon.[67] The world’s religions are full of symbols: the Trinity, the dying god, Jerusalem, Babylon, dogmas, the pearl of great price, the treasure buried in the field, the grain of mustard seed, the heavenly city, the yantra, the life of Buddha, the life of Christ.[68] Jung felt that, since religious symbols generally are the least intelligible, they are often the most vulnerable to extinction, i.e. loss of meaning.[69]

            The fish, the whale, the phallus, the mandala, the uroboros and the cave are examples of symbols with “relatively fixed” meanings.[70] Other symbols, like the cross, the 6-pointed star, or the crescent moon, have more relative meanings—meanings which depend more on context or the personal beliefs and associations of the individual dreamer.[71]

            Sources of Symbols. Speaking of the dreamer brings up the topic of where symbols come from: dreams.  They are “products of the unconscious deriving from archaic modes of psychic functioning.”[72] The psyche creates and perceives symbols,[73] and “gives birth to its dynamis in the form of a symbol.”[74] Forming deep in the psyche, far below our conscious reason or will,[75] symbols rise up from the creative unconscious and will stay “in the unconscious just so long as the energic value of the conscious content exceeds that of the unconscious symbol.”[76] Some situations encourage the creation of symbols, e.g. analysis, or a regular, disciplined dream work practice. Jung was adamant that our rational mind or reason cannot produce symbols,[77] because the symbol is irrational[78] and formed through the activity of every one of our psychic functions,[79] drawing on “the really complex and unfamiliar part”[80] of our mind. So symbols cannot be made to order. They are not invented but spontaneously happen,[81] and they seem to be especially prolific when we are making conscientious and diligent efforts to attend to our soul. This makes sense, since symbols are the language of the psyche.

            Qualities and Features of Symbols. Coming from our soul, the symbol is “remote from comprehension.”[82] Jung felt this was good, even essential, because this quality of the symbol (which we, with our lust to figure things out, don’t much appreciate) makes the symbol able to “withstand attempts by the critical intellect to break it down.”[83] So “unknowability” is one feature of a symbol. (Do those “clouds of unknowing” come to mind at this point?)

            Another quality we mentioned above: Symbols are irrational. This is why reason cannot create symbols. A third feature is paradox.[84] Symbols have a dual character: they are real and unreal,[85] and have both a positive and negative expression.[86] They contain both rational and irrational truth, comprising both without being either.[87] Their paradoxical nature gives rise to the “third thing” that does not exist in logic but that can reconcile opposites and promote wholeness.[88]

            A fourth quality of symbols is their “overdetermined” nature.[89] That is, a symbol can have many meanings and be interpreted in many ways. Outstanding examples of “overdetermined” symbols are the tree, mother and the fish, about which Jung wrote long chapters or digressions in several of his essays.[90] The meanings of a symbol are profound and transcend time,[91] but, as noted above, the particular meaning a symbol has depends in part on the personal associations the dreamer assigns to it.[92] Context is the key to determining meaning: where the dreamer is in his/her life, what is going on in outer reality, the dreamer’s history, relationships, current activities, degree of balance or one-sidedness—all these and more need to be considered when trying to get at the meaning of a symbol. Since the psyche strives for balance, a symbol may have a compensatory meaning if the dreamer’s life is out of balance.[93]

            A final feature of symbols is power. Symbols have a high energy charge, making them potent, serving up the “irresistible dynamis of the unconscious” with a force that Jung calls “magical.”[94] Symbols’ redeeming power[95] makes the impossible possible,[96] unites the opposites, and fosters new movements and developments in outer life.[97] Which brings us to a discussion of the functions of symbols.


The Functions of Symbols

            Symbols have so many functions—in general, in healing, in analysis, in promoting unity—that we will consider them under these headings. First, some provisos. To be useful, a symbol must be living, not dead.[98] To be helpful, it must be valued.[99] To be effective, it must be unassailable (i.e. it must be able to withstand attempts by the logical mind to figure it out).[100] To be powerful it must not be robbed of its independent character, or “reduced,” à la Freud. Freud reduced symbols (like the parental imagoes) to signs, and thus robbed them of their power to transform regression into a progression.[101] If we hope to get the most out of our encounter with a symbol, we have to be willing to wrestle with it to extract the meaning it has for us, rather than rely on the analyst to tell us the meaning.[102] If we look to the symbol to serve as a bridge between the conscious and the unconscious, our consciousness must cooperate and be willing to participate in the process.[103] Finally, to maximize the symbolic experience, we have to cherish the psyche’s choice: It threw up this symbol, not some other. There is significance in this choice. We must ask ourselves why this choice, knowing there is some wisdom or illuminating insight here.[104]

            Some General Functions of Symbols. Symbols have a life-giving, life-enhancing effect[105] by pointing us to “the onward course of life” and “beckoning the libido toward a still distant goal” which can inspire us and spark forward motion in outer life.[106] Because they are the language of the soul, symbols convey the significance of everything psychic,[107] and give expression to the “immutable structure of the unconscious.”[108] Symbols have a redeeming effect because they “express the full right of all parts of the psyche to exist”[109] and help to remind us of the suppressed antithesis of inner opposition.[110] Jung is referring here to the fact that we usually are not aware of our inner division—how we are open and also closed, how we are out of balance, or how we are ambivalent about some course of action. Symbols can also redeem lost parts of our childhood, keeping “the mature personality in touch with the childhood sources of energy.”[111] By allowing us to take the unconscious into account, symbols help us to perceive more accurately.[112] Because symbols are created with data from all the psychic functions, they help us become aware of our inferior function and bring to consciousness psychic contents that we have not acknowledged.[113] In this way symbols can play a compensatory role. Symbols also allow us to use the instinctual flood of energy for effective work in the world. This is because symbols canalize libido (our instinctual energies) as well as transform it.[114] While beginners in the realm of symbols can find symbols frustrating in their many definitions and mystery, Jung insisted that they do not conceal, but rather teach.[115] Jung felt symbols have magic and can speak to the unconscious via “primitive analogies.”[116] They express “… that intermediate realm of subtle reality,”[117] and can illustrate the individuation process and help us to understand it.[118] Jung quoted Karl Kerenyi, who stated that “… in the symbol the world itself is speaking.”[119]

            The Healing Functions of Symbols. Symbols can help us “get a hold on our lives,”[120] and this is true even if we don’t have conscious understanding of the symbols.[121] Symbols can help us deal with suffering, because suffering throws up symbols that we can work with.[122] By serving as a bridge or pointer a symbol can help prevent the libido from getting stuck, and this freeing of libido bound in the unconscious makes possible a new manifestation of life.[123] Symbols resolve inner conflicts[124] and help prevent the sphere of instinct from becoming overloaded.[125] By paying attention to symbols we can prevent an unconscious disturbance of the conscious functions.[126] Symbols can also help us re-establish a lost connection with ideas and feelings and thus they foster a synthesis of the personality.[127] The production of symbols by the psyche helps to maintain or restore mental equilibrium and psychological health.[128] In addition to these health benefits, symbols revivify, because they bring to life psychological functions in us that have been unused, repressed or devalued.[129] Certain types of symbols (e.g. mandalas and other quaternity symbols) can promote a “rearranging of the personality” and provide “a kind of new centering.”[130] This can be very comforting, as those who work with mandalas on a regular basis can attest.[131]

            Some Functions of Symbols in the Context of Analysis. Jungian analysts are well-trained in handling symbols[132] because Jung recognized how helpful symbols are in analysis. During the course of an analysis symbols will appear that show the analyst what’s going on, since symbols express psychic states and do so far more clearly than any concepts or theories.[133] At times these symbols will point to a process of centering, indicating the appearance of the Self.[134] Analysts value the symbol and by doing so the symbol “acquires a conscious motive force.”[135] This then gives the symbol’s “unconscious libido-charge an opportunity to make itself felt in the conscious conduct of life.”[136] That is, symbols can help the analyst and analysand gain the collaboration of the unconscious in working out the problems that brought the person into analysis. By “arousing all the repressed and unacknowledged contents”[137] of the psyche, symbols serve as “the remedy” that can repair neurotic dissociations and resolve conflicts caused by neuroses.[138] In addition to helping the analyst determine what the unconscious is saying, symbols can serve as a “heaven-sent opportunity”[139] for the patient to assimilate contents that had been in the unconscious. Symbols can also give the analyst clues as to the onset of the transference.[140] As we noted above, by refusing to reduce symbols to signs Jungian analysts (unlike Freudians) retain the power of symbols to free up blocked libido and thus convert regression into progression, forward motion, greater freedom and growth for the patient.

            Symbols as Unifiers. Symbols heal. They can also promote unity, in both individuals and in our world. This is because symbols make the irrational union of opposites possible.[141] Logic won’t do it. It takes the power of the psyche to bring together the opposites and allow them to flow together in a new movement of life.[142] In individuals symbols unify all the functions, including the most highly differentiated mental functions (so prized by rationalistic Western culture) and the “lowest and most primitive levels of the psyche” (levels on which some traditional and native cultures operate).[143] Because they arise from the collective unconscious and draw upon the myths and archetypes common to all cultures, symbols can help to bring people, nations, and collectives together.[144] Through its form the symbol can reconcile conceptual polarities; through its numinosity, the symbol can reconcile emotional polarities.[145] Since, as the quote from Karl Kerenyi noted above, the world speaks in symbols, we can turn to symbols to promote world healing and peace, if we recognize their power and potential. Our doing so is not likely, however, given our current reality. We turn to this—our “symbol-less” predicament—in the last section of this essay.


Jung on Living in a Symbol-less Reality

            The quotes at the beginning of this essay give clues as to Jung’s attitude toward our time. He was not a fan of the contemporary world. He felt the 20th century was barbaric in its denigration of human nature.[146] He spoke often of “the spiritual malaise of our time,”[147] and lamented that “… the spirit of our time thinks itself superior to its own psychology.”[148] Hence the “unparalleled impoverishment of symbolism”[149] that Jung saw as a feature of Western culture.

            The loss of symbols Jung saw as having “incalculable consequences,”[150] grave consequences, consequences the full extent of which even now—50+ years after Jung’s death—we fail to grasp. In this “time of general disorientation,”[151] when all the trends of our world are resulting in more and more dehumanization,[152] symbols could help repair “our spiritual dwelling.”[153] They could help address the loneliness, isolation and craving of people for meaning and purpose.

            Symbols could also be useful in redeeming tradition. Jung lamented that our world has a tendency to destroy all tradition and render it unconscious.[154] The result? We live rootless lives, with an “alarming poverty of symbols,”[155] due in part to the iconoclastic nature of Protestantism. At the same time that he was critical of his own Protestant background, Jung was equally critical of Catholicism for its dogmatism, which he felt killed and stiffened symbols.[156]

            The quote from “Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious” at the beginning of this essay notes our “very difficult position today:… the void.”[157] Jung was aware of how the vacuum caused by our loss of the symbolic life was leaving us vulnerable to all sorts of “absurd political and social ideas, which one and all are distinguished by their spiritual bleakness…”.[158] Capitalism, consumerism, intellectualism, communism, socialism, globalism—none of these holds the solution to what ails contemporary humanity. Jung went so far as to describe our condition as pathological:

“Our intellect has achieved the most tremendous things, but in the meantime our spiritual dwelling has fallen into disrepair. … what we possess is no longer valid, and our hands grow weary from the grasping, for riches lie everywhere, as far as the eye can reach. All these possessions turn to water, … the artificial sundering of true and false wisdom creates a tension in the psyche, and from this there arises a loneliness and a craving like that of the morphine addict, who always hopes to find companions in his vice.”[159]

Clearly, Jung would not be surprised at the global epidemic of drug abuse and drug trafficking, as we slip deeper and deeper into a profound global sickness of spirit.

            Where will this lead? Jung predicted “an interlude of barbarism,”[160] and as noted in an earlier essay,[161] on his deathbed Jung had a vision that whole areas of the world would be devastated. He saw this as happening in 50 years. Since he died in 1961, the jig might be up very soon!

But even as he was pessimistic about our ability to avoid a global catastrophe, Jung held out words of advice:

“The saving factor is the symbol… while… the symptoms of inner disunity multiply and there is a growing danger of inundation and destruction by the unconscious… all the time the symbol is developing that is destined to resolve the conflict. …”[162]

We can anticipate the appearance of a redeeming symbol in the midst of the coming destruction and devastation. If enough people are aware of this prediction of Jung’s and able to pay attention, so as to spot the symbol, we might be able to use the power in this symbol to work toward the apocatastasis, that “restoration” that Jung felt would come after the apocalypse.[163]



            Despite all their mystery and elusiveness symbols are vital components of our lives, the language of our souls, the way the world speaks to us. We ignore them at our peril—the peril of our lives, the peril of our world, the peril of our future. Symbols can help us heal as individuals, and they just might help restore sanity, meaning and purpose to our collective reality, if we realize their power and purpose.



Jung, C.G. (1964), “Approaching the Unconscious,” Man and His Symbols, ed. C.G. Jung. New York: Dell Publishing.

________ (1960), “The Psychogenesis of Mental Disease,” Collected Works, 3. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1961), “Freud and Psychoanalysis,” Collected Works, 4. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

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

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

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

________ (1960), ”The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche,” CW 8. 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.

________ (1970), “Civilization in Transition,” CW 10. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

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

________ (1953), “Psychology and Alchemy,” CW 12. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

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

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

________ (1966), “The Spirit in Man, Art, and Literature,” CW 15. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1954), “The Practice of Psychotherapy,” CW 16, 2nd ed. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1976), ”The Symbolic Life,” CW 18. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

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

Wolters, Clifton trans. (1961), The Cloud of Unknowing and Other Works. Baltimore: Penguin Books.

[1] Jung, Collected Works, 9i, ¶23. As has been the convention in these blog essays, Collected Works will hereafter be abbreviated CW.

[2] CW 9i, ¶28.

[3] “Loving the Mystery: Jung on Our De-Psychized Modern Reality,” posted to this blog site last month.

[4] This is the title of one of Jung’s essays; see CW 18, ¶s608-696.

[5] These are listed and referenced in CW 20, pp. 651-2.

[6] See especially CW 5, ¶s 300-418; 9i, ¶s 627-712; 9ii, ¶s 287-346; 11, ¶s 296-448; 12, ¶s 44-331; 13, ¶s 304-482; and 18, ¶s 416-696.

[7] On alchemical symbols, see especially CW volumes 12, 13 and 14.

[8] On dream symbolism, see especially CW 18, ¶s 521-559.

[9] CW 9i, ¶28.

[10] CW 6, ¶814.

[11] CW 6, ¶822.

[12] CW 4, ¶553.

[13] CW 6, ¶817.

[14] CW 6, ¶823.

[15] CW 6, ¶93 note 44.

[16] CW 15, ¶105.

[17] CW 5, ¶114.

[18] CW 18, ¶416.

[19] CW 18, ¶417.

[20] CW 18, ¶571.

[21] CW 6, ¶401.

[22] CW 6, ¶202.

[23] Ibid.

[24] CW 6, ¶204.

[25] CW 6, ¶438.

[26] CW 16, ¶362.

[27] CW 9i, ¶291.

[28] CW 8, ¶88.

[29] Jung (1964), 90.

[30] CW 18, ¶416.

[31] CW 18, ¶417.

[32] CW 3, ¶136.

[33] CW 15, ¶119.

[34] Ibid.

[35] This phrase I derive from the title of the 14th century book on the mystical experience; see Wolters (1961).

[36] CW 6, ¶816.

[37] CW 6, ¶817.

[38] CW 5, ¶180.

[39] CW 16, ¶340.

[40] CW 4, ¶673.

[41] CW 18, ¶482.

[42] CW 6, ¶178.

[43] CW 8, ¶88.

[44] CW 6, ¶821.

[45] CW 4, ¶674.

[46] CW 6, ¶818.

[47] CW 6, ¶816.

[48] CW 16, ¶339.

[49] CW 10, ¶360; and CW 3, ¶527.

[50] CW 18, ¶481; and CW 3, ¶527.

[51] CW 6, ¶816.

[52] Ibid.

[53] CW 6, ¶819.

[54] CW 16, ¶339.

[55] Ibid.

[56] CW 10, ¶360.

[57] CW 3, ¶527.

[58] Ibid.

[59] CW 6, ¶820.

[60] CW 9i, ¶291.

[61] CW 18, ¶481.

[62] CW 18, ¶35.

[63] These are found in alchemical and religious sources.

[64] CW 14, ¶514.

[65] CW 14, ¶667.

[66] CW 18, ¶35.

[67] CW 6, ¶s 406 & 458; CW 13, ¶s 68 & 114; CW 5, ¶s 180,238,447,600 (note 186),619 & 671; CW 16, ¶s 340,345 & 347; CW 10, ¶637, note 3; CW 9ii, ¶s 127,185,187,285,291,293 and 317.

[68] CW 6, ¶439 & 458; CW 13, ¶81; CW 11, ¶277,281,723,781 & 810.

[69] CW 4, ¶434.

[70] Although these “fixed” meanings can vary quite a bit; CW 5, ¶180; CW 10, ¶637, note 3.

[71] A Muslim would respond to the crescent differently from a Christian, Jew, Buddhist or Hindu, just as a Jew would respond to the 6-pointed star (Star of David) differently from a Muslim.

[72] CW 16, ¶253.

[73] CW 6, ¶425.

[74] CW 6, ¶426.

[75] CW 16, ¶19.

[76] CW 6, ¶182.

[77] CW 11, ¶280; CW 18, ¶568.

[78] CW 6, ¶438.

[79] CW 6, ¶823.

[80] Jung (1964), 93.

[81] CW 18, ¶568.

[82] CW 6, ¶401.

[83] Ibid.

[84] CW 11, ¶282.

[85] CW 6, ¶178.

[86] CW 16, ¶496.

[87] CW 10, ¶24.

[88] CW 13, ¶199.

[89] CW 11, ¶723.

[90] On the tree, see CW 13, ¶s304-482; on the mother, see CW 5, ¶s300-612 and CW 9i, ¶s148-198; on the fish, see CW 9ii, ¶s 127-149 & 162-266.

[91] CW 6, ¶828.

[92] CW 6, ¶819.

[93] CW 16, ¶518.

[94] CW 6, ¶443.

[95] CW 6, ¶401.

[96] CW 6, ¶443.

[97] Ibid.

[98] CW 6, ¶819.

[99] CW 6, ¶204.

[100] CW 6, ¶401.

[101] CW 6, ¶201.

[102] CW 16, ¶101.

[103] CW 16, ¶s 252 & 471.

[104] CW 7, ¶139.

[105] CW 6, ¶819.

[106] CW 6, ¶202.

[107] CW 5, ¶77.

[108] CW 11, ¶280.

[109] CW 6, ¶s820 & 824.

[110] CW 6, ¶824.

[111] CW 6, ¶459.

[112] CW 6, ¶212.

[113] CW 6, ¶453.

[114] CW 8, ¶s91-92.

[115] CW 8, ¶471.

[116] CW 13, ¶44.

[117] CW 12, ¶400.

[118] CW 16, ¶219.

[119] CW 9i, ¶291.

[120] CW 7, ¶493.

[121] CW 4, ¶490.The effect is due to the emotional impact of the symbol.

[122] CW 5, ¶447.

[123] CW 6, ¶435.

[124] CW 6, ¶446.

[125] CW 16, ¶460.

[126] CW 6, ¶212.

[127] CW 11, ¶285.

[128] CW 18, ¶475.

[129] CW 6, ¶444.

[130] CW 9i, ¶645.

[131] Students working with their dreams at the Jungian Center have experienced this.

[132] Jung felt their training should include studies in primitive psychology, comparative mythology and religion; CW 16, ¶44.

[133] CW 16, ¶219.

[134] Ibid.

[135] CW 6, ¶204.

[136] Ibid.

[137] CW 6, ¶455.

[138] CW 11, ¶285.

[139] CW 5, ¶468.

[140] CW 16, ¶381.

[141] CW 13, ¶31.

[142] CW 6, ¶442.

[143] CW 6, ¶s823-4.

[144] CW 13, ¶11.

[145] CW 9ii, ¶280.

[146] CW 9ii, ¶271.

[147] CW 11, ¶165.

[148] CW 6, ¶203.

[149] CW 9i, ¶50.

[150] CW 11, ¶280.

[151] CW 18, ¶559.

[152] Ibid.

[153] CW 9i, ¶31.

[154] CW 9ii, ¶282.

[155] CW 9i, ¶23.

[156] CW 6, ¶202.

[157] CW 9i, ¶28.

[158] Ibid.

[159] CW 9i, ¶31.

[160] CW 9ii, ¶282.

[161] See “Jung’s Prophetic Vision and the Alchemy of Our Time,” on this blog site.

[162] CW 6, ¶446.

[163] For an elaboration of what the apocatastasis might look like, see the essay “The Apocatastasis of Global Civilization: Seizing the Opportunity in the Archetype of the Apocalypse,” on this blog site.



  1. I’m reluctant to buy the lamentations of our woeful contemporary life devoid of symbols. Much of the symbology of the past was tied up in superstition, mindless ritual and religious institutions that have shown themselves to be no less fraught by economics and politics. Perhaps that is a somewhat jaundiced and over simplified view but nonetheless endowed with at least a grain of truth. Much work (individuation) has lead to questioning and deconstructing the sacred cows of institutionalized religion to the end of adopting a more mindful path, seeking out a new more authentic way that embraces a diversity of wisdom and practice. Symbols are around us in abundance. They are just less mediated by organs of power unless one wants to include the whole domain of commercial brands. Perhaps the opportunity is here now to make our own meaning of symbols, to make our own symbols in a way that is more personalized. Its really a little more up to us now to take responsibility for immersing ourselves in symbols. I think of Thomas Moore’s book: “The Re-enchantment of Everyday Life”. A very digestible and worthy read exhorting us to find the magic around us – if only we cared to look.

    Am I saying the same thing? Perhaps yes. What think you?

  2. Yes, I agree that individuals now make their own symbols, and that’s the point: As a culture, Western civilization has lost the universality of its symbolic life. Perhaps that is the result of globalization or multi-culturalism. I don’t know. But Jung felt it, saw it coming, and he lamented it. I suppose it is part of the hero’s task to identify his/her symbols–those images/concepts/icons that have purchase on his/her soul–and surely this is a heroic task, as few people (aside from artists) undertake such work. As you say, most people are content to just take over the logos of commercial brands.

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