Jung and the Hermetic Law of Correspondence

 

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.

 

Jung and the Hermetic Law of Correspondence

 

“As above, so below; as below, so above.”

                                                                                    The Kybalion[1]

 

“… everything without is within, everything above is below. Between all things … reigns “correspondence” (correspondentia)…”

                                                                                    Jung (1929)[2]

 

“… whatever qualities a man does not recognize in himself—shadow, anima, whatever—will confront him in real life. Outer reflects inner; that is the general rule. If there are any psychological rules that are valid always and everywhere, that is one of them.”

                                                                                    Sharp (2008)[3]

 

 

            Jung was a student of ancient wisdom, and few aspects of that wisdom drew more of his respect than Hermetica—the corpus of material that came down from classical antiquity and informed much of the thinking of the medieval alchemists.[4] One of the major Hermetic principles was the law of correspondence.[5] In this essay I will define this law and discuss how Jung understood it and related it to his work as a psychiatrist. In the final section I will explain how this law has played a role in terms of my healing, giving me hope and allowing me to pass on this hope to my students.

 

Definition of the Law of Correspondence

 

            The full text of the Law of Correspondence states “As above, so below; as below, so above; as within, so without; as without, so within.” The “above” refers to the heavens, the macrocosm, or the World Soul, while the “below” refers to the earth, the physical plane, the microcosm, or the human soul.[6] The “without” is outer reality, “real” life, the realm in which we live, eat, pay bills, meet deadlines and interact with others. We might think of the “without” as our landscape, while the “within” would be our “dreamscape,” or what Jung called our “inner world”[7] or inner city,[8] the realm in which we function when we dream, where we can encounter our inner partner (anima/animus), shadow side, ego, Self and other inner characters.

            For most modern people it is a stretch to imagine the reality of the inner world, so mired are we in the materialist, rationalist worldview. The worldview within which the Law of Correspondence operated was very different. How so? In two key ways.

            First, the ancient and medieval proponents of this law recognized a series of “planes” of reality, e.g. the physical plane, the mental plane and the spiritual plane,[9] distinguished by the variation in their rates of vibration.[10] The slowest, coarsest or densest plane is the physical, the world of matter; the fastest or finest vibration is the spiritual. These planes interpenetrate each other,[11] and, according to the Law of Correspondence, a situation on one of the levels shows up on the other two. So, if I wanted to glean insights into my spiritual reality, I could examine my physical life, my health, wealth etc. to do so. If I wanted to understand a health situation more fully, I could ask for insights from the spiritual plane and then watch my dreams for their guidance.[12]

            The second important point, in understanding this law, is something mentioned in an earlier essay[13] written for this blog site: the concept of the unus mundus, or the unity of all things. Ancient and medieval philosophers believed that everything was connected to everything else, and, thanks to the “sympathy of all things,”[14] something seemingly unrelated to another thing could have an influence on it. In this way of thinking, the human body was regarded as a microcosm of the world, the macrocosm. The soul of an individual was linked to the World Soul (anima mundi). The seven metals used by the alchemists in their laboratories each related to one of the seven planets,[15] as well as to the alchemical materials, the ages of man, the signs of the zodiac, etc. Likewise the sympathy of all things can explain the basis of astrology: because the heavens—the “above”—correspond to the individual, the configuration of the planets at the time a person was born can provide insight into his/her talents, health, challenges, and fate.[16] The ancients recognized the link between the planets’ energies and the individual personality. We have only to consider the general reaction to astrology by modern intellectuals to see just how far our modern culture and its knowledge base (i.e. science)[17] have departed from ancient wisdom.

            But Jung was quite appreciative of ancient wisdom and he drew upon ancient and medieval sources constantly in formulating his ideas. One of these sources was the Corpus Hermeticum.           

 

Jung and the Law of Correspondence

 

            The works that comprise the Corpus Hermeticum were supposedly written by Hermes Trismegistus, “Thrice-Great Hermes,” the mythic source of ancient lore and teachings whose true origins are lost in the mists of time.[18] Calling the texts “Hermetic” is an example of pseudoepigraphy, the ancient and medieval custom of giving a work a false attribution to give it more credibility.[19] Hermes/Mercury, the god, no more wrote any of the texts than the man in the Moon. The true authors will never be known, nor are we likely ever to have the complete collection of Hermetic texts. Only fragments of this body of wisdom literature are extant today, and, using his wife’s wealth and the cooperation of fellow students of ancient philosophy like Manly Hall,[20] Jung was able to read most of the Hermetic texts.

            Jung was not timid in expressing his high regard for Hermetic wisdom: “in alchemy and Hermetic philosophy… were collected the most enduring and the most important mythologems of the ancient world. It is significant that Hermetic philosophy was, in the main, practiced by physicians.”[21] As a physician, intent on curing souls, Jung recognized the healing power of the holistic vision of the Hermeticists.

            Equally appealing to Jung was the Hermeticists’ recognition of the psyche: “… Hermetic philosophy had for its goal an explanation that included the psyche in a total description of nature.”[22] While modern scientists—even including psychiatrists and psychologists!—try to “… forget [their] archetypal explanatory principles, that is, the psychic premises that are a sine qua non of the cognitive process, or to repress them in the interests of ‘scientific objectivity.’ The Hermetic philosopher regarded these psychic premises, the archetypes, as inalienable components of the empirical world-picture.”[23]

            Besides its healing power and its inclusion of the psyche in its worldview, the theory of correspondence appealed to Jung for the way it fostered understanding of the psychology of the unconscious and for its ability to explain the results of the experiments in parapsychology that were beginning to appear in the scientific literature in the 1930’s.[24] Jung had had long experience with parapsychology, his mother being a “sensitive” and his cousin a medium. Jung wrote his doctoral dissertation on his cousin’s unusual psychic abilities and the whole subject held a fascination for him for his whole life.[25] Correspondence—that we are all connected—can explain parapsychological phenomena like remote viewing and telepathy, while it is the basis for analysts’ focus on the inner life: If outer life isn’t working well, look within and work on the inner reality, so as to change the outer. Which brings me to the final section of this essay.

 

My Own Experience of the Law of Correspondence

 

            When I began my analysis my life was not working well at all. I sat before my analyst in our first meeting aware (from previous work with other therapists) that I had both a negative mother complex and a negative father complex—problems with my mother and poor relationships with men, bosses and authority figures. I knew I had to work on both complexes, but the father complex was more problematic, and I was deeply doubtful that anything in outer life would change by my doing stuff like dream work and active imagination. The skeptic in me said as much: “If this stuff really works, then at some point I’m going to meet a really nice guy, and not more of the bums I’ve been attracting.” (Bums, because, given my negative father complex, and the negative animus that had developed in me, I attracted men who reflected my inner reality). My analyst assured me that the inner work would pay off in an improvement in my outer life. And she was right, although it took years before I met the man of my dreams.

            Since that time, decades ago, I’ve worked with many students, watching their outer life improve, as it reflects the shift in their inner reality. “As within, so without.” It really does work! Everything is connected to everything else, and undertaking personal change—doing the inner work to become more conscious—really does lead to greater happiness, fulfillment and a clearer sense of life purpose and direction.

            This is not easy for most people to believe. Given the materialistic bias of our contemporary world it is a stretch for most of us to buy the idea that tending to intangibles—stuff we can’t see, quantify, measure or objectify—can really transform material reality. Personal experience of the magic of the Law of Correspondence may be necessary before most people will believe it. Analysis is not the only way to test the truth here: You can work with your dreams and tend to your inner life on your own, but it helps to have people to turn to who have lived this truth and experienced for themselves the power in the Law of Correspondence, as their trust and confidence can help you boost your own.

 

Bibliography

 

Bair, Deirdre (2003), Jung: A Biography. New York: Little, Brown & Co.

Barz, Ellynor, Gods and Planets: The Archetypes of Astrology. Wilmette IL: Chiron Publications, 1991.

Greene, Liz, Relating: An Astrological Guide to Living with Others on a Small Planet. York Beach ME: Samuel Weiser, 1978.

________, The Astrology of Fate. York Beach ME: Samuel Weiser, 1984.

________, Saturn: A New Look at an Old Devil. York Beach ME: Samuel Weiser, 1976.

________, The Inner Planets: Building Blocks of Personal Reality. York Beach ME: Samuel Weiser, 1993.

________, The Luminaries: The Psychology of the Sun and the Moon in the Horoscope. York Beach ME: Samuel Weiser, 1992.

________ (1983), The Outer Planets & Their Cycles: The Astrology of the Collective. Reno NV: CRCS Publications.

Hall, Manly (1928/2003), The Secret Teachings of All Ages. New York: Penguin Books.

Harman, Willis (1986), An Incomplete Guide to the Future. New York: W.W. Norton.

________ (1988), Global Mind Change. Indianopolis: Knowledge Systems.

Howell, Alice, Jungian Symbolism in Astrology. Wheaton IL: Quest, 1987.

Jung, C.W. (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.

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

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

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

Layton, Bentley (1987), The Gnostic Scriptures. Garden City: Doubleday.

Three Initiates (1912), The Kybalion. Chicago: Yogi Publication Society.

Whitmont, Edward (1993), The Alchemy of Healing. Berkeley CA: North Atlantic Books.

 



[1] Three Initiates (1912), 28, 113-135. This work is now in the public domain and can be downloaded free from the Internet.

[2] Collected Works 15, ¶12. Henceforth Collected Works will be abbreviated CW.

[3] Sharp (2008), 17.

[4] CW 9i, ¶120n.

[5] Some of the other Hermetic principles are: Mentalism (All is Mind), Vibration, Polarity, Rhythm, Cause and Effect, and Gender; Three Initiates (1912), 25-26.

[6] CW 15, ¶12.

[7] CW 7, ¶s 317, 326-327.

[8] Daryl Sharp adopted this term when he created the publishing company devoted to the works of Jungian analysts. Google “Inner City Books” for their blog and contact information.

[9] Three Initiates (1912), 114.

[10] Ibid., 141.

[11] Ibid., 118.

[12] Whitmont (1993), 15,60,73,87,99,175.

[13] “Signs in the Skies: Jung on UFOs”

[14] CW 8, ¶924.

[15] CW 12, ¶490. Uranus, Neptune and Pluto, not recognizable with the human eye, had not been discovered yet.

[16] This is the epistemological basis for astrology. For what modern Jungian-oriented astrologers have done with astrology, cf. the works of Liz Greene, Ellynor Barz and Alice Howell.

[17] For more on science as the knowledge base of our culture, see Harman (1979) & (1988).

[18] Hall (1928/2003), 93.

[19] Layton (1987), 325-326.

[20] Hall amassed a large collection of incunabula and other rare texts in his researches in esoterica, some of which he lent to Jung.

[21] CW 13, ¶353.

[22] Ibid., ¶378.

[23] Ibid.

[24] CW 8, ¶966.

[25] Bair (2003), 52.