Jung and the “New Dispensation”

Jung and the “New Dispensation”


            In the previous essay I noted how Jung anticipated a new development in the evolution of religion. Some of his followers call this the “new dispensation.”[1] Just what this means, and the role the individual will play in it, is the subject of this essay.

            We must begin with some definitions, since “dispensation” is not a household word for most readers of this blog. Nor would Jung’s definitions of “God” be familiar to most readers. After defining terms, we will consider the role of the individual in the emerging spiritual landscape, and we’ll conclude by setting the subject in the broader context of the evolution of Western civilization.


Some Definitions


            “Dispensation” comes from the Latin verb dispensare, “to manage, distribute, allot, arrange, dispense.”[2] Given our materialistic ethos most Americans would immediately think of the dispensing of resources, stuff, food or money. But our focus here is more on intangibles. What intangible is being dispensed? Jungians would say the stuff of the psyche. “Dispensation” defined in psychic terms is “the specific arrangement or system by which our perception of the world is ordered.”[3]

            This system is not something a group of people decide to create: It is the work of the objective psyche or Collective Unconscious, and it evolves over time.[4] Thousands of years ago the psyches of the ancestors of Western people operated within a participation mystique with Nature.[5] In time, this changed, as the ancient Hebrews took up monotheism, and their perception became ordered around the worship of Jahweh, the God of the Torah.[6] The fact that we now speak of an “Old Testament” and a New bespeaks the later evolution of another form of ordering, what Jung’s followers call the “Christian dispensation,”[7] centered around the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.

            Jung felt that the key difference between the Judaic and Christian religions was the “transformation of the God-image”[8] that occurred over hundreds of years from the time of Job (c. 600-400 B.C.) to the time of Christ. As he anticipated the shift from the Age of the Fishes (Pisces) to the Age of the Water-Bearer (Aquarius),[9] Jung recognized the outlines of a new form of religious expression.

            Jung’s follower, analyst Lawrence Jaffe, coined a term for this new form: the “psychological dispensation.”[10] The first dispensation was the Judaic, the second, the Christian. What Jaffe and other Jungians now see is the emergence of a new religion of consciousness,[11] a “religion of experience”[12] that will reconcile the first and second dispensations.[13]

            This “psychological dispensation” is a form of religious expression in which

experience supplants faith: Jung articulated this key feature of the new dispensation in the interview he had with John Freeman of the BBC late in his life. Freeman asked Jung if he believed in God. Jung paused and then said, “… I know. I don’t need to believe, I know.”[14] This was not the only time Jung spoke about his knowing the Divine. In an earlier interview Jung said “I only believe in what I know. And that eliminates believing. Therefore I do not take his existence on belief—I know that he exists.”[15]

In the psychological dispensation, the role of the individual becomes central, as Jungian analyst Edward Edinger noted, when he said that by becoming “…aware of the transpersonal center of the psyche, the Self,”[16] and by living “… out of that awareness, [the individual] can be said to be the incarnation of the God-image.”[17] This quote begs further definition. What is meant by “God”? by “God-image”? by “Self”?

Jung’s Definitions of God

            Since “God” is a word most Western people have heard often, the reader of this blog essay is likely to assume he/she knows what Jung meant. Not so! First, note the plural in the sub-heading: Jung used many terms to define the Divine in his voluminous writings.

Second, ever the empiricist, Jung was not about to indulge in vagueness with his terms. He recognized that “god,” as a concept, is unknowable, “because no one can get outside his/her own psyche.”[18] Jung reminds us that “… everything men assert about God is twaddle, for no man can know God.”[19] Jung makes a distinction, therefore, between “God,” the unknowable, and the “God-image,” that sense or image we have in our minds. Jung said: “… I speak of the God-image and not of God because it is quite beyond me to say anything about God at all.”[20] And Jung was quite critical of theologians[21] who did claim to speak of God and describe God, without making any distinction between the unknowable and the mental image.

            Third, Jung’s “God” was not absolute, but “relative to man.”[22] Regarding the Divine as absolute would place God “outside all connection to mankind.”[23] Jung recognized that “Such a God would be of no consequence at all.”[24] And God was of great consequence in Jung’s psychology, as seen in the 498+[25] citations listed in the Index to his Collected Works alone (not considering his Letters, or the other books, essays and articles he wrote).

            Jung spoke much of God, but his uses of the term vary greatly. Here are some statements likely to resonate:

“God is Reality itself.”[26]

God is “… a factor unknown in itself.”[27]

God  is “… an inner experience, not discussable as such but impressive.”[28]

“God is a universal experience which is obfuscated only by silly rationalism and an equally silly theology.”[29]

“… God is ev to pan.” (in all things)[30]

“God is an immediate experience of a very primordial nature, one of the most natural products of our mental life,…”[31]

“… I do know of a power of a very personal nature and an irresistible influence. I call it ‘God’.”[32]

“I only know Him as a personal, subjective experience…”[33]

God is “… the principle of order…”[34]

“… God is a mystery, and everything we say about Him is said and believed by human beings… when I speak of God I always mean the image man has made of him…”[35]

            But consider these quotes from Jung that might either shock or puzzle the typical Western person:           

God is “… an apt name given to all overpowering emotions in my own psychic system, subduing my conscious will and usurping control over myself. This is the name by which I designate all things which cross my willful path violently and recklessly, all things which upset my subjective views, plans and intentions and change the course of my life for better or worse.”[36]

God is “… the power of fate in … positive as well as negative aspect,…”[37]

“After thinking this over I have come to the conclusion that being ‘made in the likeness’ applies not only to man but also to the Creator: he resembles man or is his likeness, which is to say that he is just as unconscious as man or even more unconscious,…”[38]

“… it would be an arbitrary limitation of the concept of God to assume that He is only good and so deprive evil of real being. If God is only good, everything is good….”[39]

“… I know of the existence of God-images in general and in particular. I know it is a matter of a universal experience and … I know that I have such experience also, which I call God. It is the experience of my will over against another and very often stronger will, crossing my path often with seemingly disastrous results, putting strange ideas into my head and maneuvering my fate… outside my knowledge and intention…”[40]

And Jung recognized just how strange some of the above might sound to the typical Western person, when he wrote: “… it is strange and painful to us to admit a paradoxical or a contradictory God-image.”[41] We are not used to defining the Divine as a force that upsets our life, that “maneuvers our fate” or that includes evil. Even more surprising is Jung’s idea that God might be even more unconscious than humans. Which brings us to the third type of definition Jung used for “God:”

psychological usages:

“My God-image corresponds to an autonomous archetypal pattern. Therefore I can experience God as if he were an object, but I need not assume that it is the only image.”[42]

“’God’ therefore is in the first place a mental image equipped with instinctual ‘numinosity,’ i.e. an emotional value bestowing the characteristic autonomy of the affect on the image.”[43]

“For me ‘God’ is on the one hand a mystery that cannot be unveiled, and to which I must attribute only one quality: that it exists in the form of a particular psychic event which I feel to be numinous and cannot trace back to any sufficient cause lying within my field of experience. On the other hand ‘God’ is a verbal image, a predicate or mythologem founded on archetypal premises which underlie the structure of the psyche as images of the instincts (‘instinctual patterns’)… these images possess a certain autonomy which enables them to break through, sometimes against the rational expectations of consciousness (thus accounting in part for their numinosity). ‘God’ in this sense is a biological, instinctual and elemental ‘model,’… which, despite its numinosity, is and must be exposed to intellectual and moral criticism…”[44]

“… ‘God’ within the frame of psychology is an autonomous complex, a dynamic image, and that is all psychology is ever able to state. It cannot know more about God.”[45]

On a personal level, Jung used another term for God: the Self. This is a major term in the new dispensation and must be defined.

Definitions of the Self

“… the self is a redoubtable reality….”[46]

the Self is “… an empirical concept [that] designates the whole range of psychic phenomena in man… it encompasses both the experienceable and the inexperienceable (or the not yet experienced)…”[47]

the Self is “… a transcendental concept…[that] thus characterizes an entity that can be described only in part.”[48]

“The self is not only the center, but also the whole circumference which embraces both conscious and unconscious; it is the center of this totality,…”[49]

“I call this unknowable the ‘self’…”[50]

“The self is … a borderline concept, not by any means filled out with the known psychic processes.”[51]

The Self is the “archetype of wholeness and the regulating center of the psyche;… a transpersonal power that transcends the ego.”[52]

The Self “… might equally be called the ‘God within us’.”[53]

            As that form of the Divine that lives within each of us, the Self was a key component of Jung’s thought and is a key feature of the emerging “psychological dispensation.” It reflects Jung’s stress on the individual, as the sole carrier of consciousness.[54] Where Yahweh was the focus of the first, Judaic, dispensation, and Jesus was the focus of the second, Christian, version, the individual person will be the focus of the third dispensation. To the role of the individual we now turn.


The Role of the Individual in the New Dispensation


            In several previous essays[55] I noted how Jung had no use for mass movements or “mass man.” He disliked large groups and felt no lasting change ever occurred in collectives. In Answer to Job, the book in which Jung developed most clearly his sense of the future form of religion, he noted

There is only one remedy for the leveling effect of all collective measures, and that is to emphasize and increase the value of the individual. A fundamental change of attitude (metanoia) is required, a real recognition of the whole man. This can only be the business of the individual and it must begin with the individual in order to be real.[56]

In one of his last books, The Undiscovered Self, written for laymen, Jung pleaded with people to recognize the vital role each of us is meant to play now, in these critical times:

So much is at stake and so much depends on the psychological constitution of modern man… does the individual know that he is the makeweight that tips the scales?[57]

As the “sole and natural carrier of life,”[58] the individual—not groups, organizations, congregations, clergy or a priestly class—bears the full weight of responsibility in the new dispensation. This means we must look within, not without. We must value our inner guidance, our intuition, and cherish our imagination and creativity, two human qualities so expressive of our divine nature. We must also do our inner work, to get in touch with and integrate our shadow side, our contrasexual side (animus or anima), to hold the tension of opposites that confront us all through life.

            The new dispensation recognizes that individual people “are to become incarnating vessels of the Holy Spirit on an ongoing basis.”[59]  The role Jesus played in the second dispensation, individuals are to take up in the third. When Jesus spoke of the “living water”[60] that he could give to people he was looking ahead to the coming eon when each of us will be the “bearer” or container of that “living water” that symbolizes the Holy Spirit. “Water bearer” is the symbol for the zodiacal sign of Aquarius.[61] The individual is at the center of the metanoia that is now underway, as we move slowly out of the Age of Pisces into the Age of Aquarius.


The New Dispensation in the Evolution of Western Civilization


            “Slowly” is not used loosely here: world eons change over many centuries. Jung looked back in Western history and identified a 12th century monk, Joachim of Flora, as one of the first Western writers to spot the change which was just beginning.[62] Joachim wrote of the 3 “ages” of Western history: the “Age of the Father,” the term he used for the first, Judaic, dispensation; the “Age of the Son,” his term for the Christian dispensation, centered around Jesus Christ as the Son of God; and he foresaw an “Age of the Holy Spirit,” when divinity would no longer be lodged “out there,” in some figure outside human beings.

            Jung recognized the instability that characterized the 12th century,[63] with its numerous heresies. Joachim’s ideas were anathematized by the Church,[64] which, then as now, had no use for individual people claiming they could know or “be a carrier” of God. How could such people be controlled or kept under the thumb of church leaders, if they felt they could have direct and personal knowledge of the Divine?

            Jung wants us to understand that the first two dispensations are loosing their “juice,” their vibrancy, their hold on the Western consciousness. Goethe saw this.[65] Nietzsche recognized it, and tried to sound the alarm in his famous statement that “God is dead.”[66] The God of the earlier dispensations—that version of the Divine that is “out there,” external to human beings, accessible only through the mediation of some religious hierarchy—is changing, as Western consciousness evolves.

            Jung’s followers believe that the form of spiritual expression consistent with the evolution of Western consciousness will partner the individual person with God,[67] with individuals becoming friends of God[68]—a God recognized in all its completeness (containing both good and evil). Gripped by the numen in encounters with the Self,[69] the individual will recognize what Jesus meant when he spoke of the “treasure buried in the field.”[70] In the new dispensation, consciousness will be the new value and goal. And the purpose of living will be to create more and more consciousness.[71]

            Creating more consciousness is not easy. People will have to expend “arduous, conscious effort” to do it.[72] Doing so will force confrontation with the deus absconditus, the hidden god, the shadow side of the Divine. The God-image mentioned above will need to widen, to include the breadth of Jung’s many definitions listed earlier. For some people reluctant to look on the dark side or to go into their depths,[73] this new dispensation will be most unpalatable.

            But Jung and his followers see many benefits. For the individual these include, a tremendous expansion of compassion, empathy and creativity (born from recognizing one’s shadow, redeeming one’s suffering,[74] and touching into the ultimate creative impulse), as well as an unshakeable sense of security (through constant awareness of the Self and its guidance).[75]

            For the collective, widespread adherence to the new dispensation promises the redemption of matter (for people will recognize that all of physical reality is pervaded with the Divine);[76] the spontaneous formation of communities of like-minded people (something we are seeing even now, in the growth and popularity of organizations like the Jungian Center);[77] the healing of societal malaise (as more people find the true source of meaning and healing); and the evolution of the Collective Unconscious into a more ethical and creative psychological force.[78]

            Jung pointed out the vital necessity for a new religious myth that would undergird Western culture. He recognized that we are living in a time that has lost its central myth, which Edward Edinger called “a truly apocalyptic condition.”[79] Our civilization has become rudderless, without the means to steer Western societies in meaningful ways, without solid bases for decision-making. In earlier essays[80] we discussed the archetype of the apocalypse and how current global conditions are leading us closer and closer to confronting our collective shadow. The emergence of the “psychological dispensation” is one positive sign on the horizon that could avert global disaster. But for it to do so requires individuals to find that “treasure in the field”—the treasure that lies within each of us.




Edinger, Edward (1996), The Aion Lectures: Exploring the Self in C.G. Jung’s Aion. Toronto: Inner City Press.

________ (1984), The Creation of Consciousness: Jung’s Myth for Modern Man. Toronto: Inner City Press.

Elder, George & Dianne Cordic (2009), An American Jungian: In Honor of Edward F. Edinger. Toronto: Inner City Press.

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

________ (1990), Liberating the Heart: Spirituality and Jungian Psychology. Toronto: Inner City Press.

Jung, Carl (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.

________ (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.

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

________ (1975), Letters, 2 vol., ed. Gerhard Adler. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Leff, Gordon (1973), “Heresy in the Middle Ages,” Dictionary of the History of Ideas, II. New York: Charles Scribners’ Sons.

Lewis, Charlton & Charles Short (1969), A Latin Dictionary. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Sharp, Daryl (1991), Jung Lexicon: A Primer of Terms and Concepts. Toronto: Inner City Books




[1] E.g. Edward Edinger and Lawrence Jaffe; cf. Edinger (1984), 88-90; Edinger, in Elder & Cordic (2009), 177; Andrew Burniston, in Elder & Cordic (2009), 265; and Jaffe (1990), 20,21,108,136,143-4,165; and Jaffe (1999), 17-18,51.

[2] Lewis & Short (1969), 591.

[3] Jaffe (1999), 18.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Participation mystique is a term Jung borrowed from the anthropologist Claude Lévy-Bruhl to refer to the “’prelogical’ mentality of primitives…” Gerhard Adler, the editor of Jung’s Letters, notes that “Jung made frequent use” of the term “to denote the state of projection in which internal and external events are inextricably mixed up, resulting in an irrational and unconscious identity of inside and outside.” Footnote 11 to Jung’s letter to Pastor Walter Bernet, 13 June 1955; Letters, II, 264.

[6] Edinger (1996, 37.

[7] Jaffe (1990), 20.

[8] Jung, Collected Works, 5, ¶396n; 9ii, ¶303. As has been the convention throughout these blog essays, CW will hereafter be the abbreviation for Jung’s Collected Works.

[9] Aquarius is Latin for “water carrier;” Lewis & Short (1969), 148.

[10] Jaffe (1990), 19.

[11] Jaffe (1999), 7.

[12] Jaffe (1990), 19.

[13] Ibid., 20.

[14] Quoted in Edinger (1996), 27.

[15] Jung, Letters, II, 271.

[16] Edinger (1984), 84.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid., 91.

[19] Jung, Letters, II, 377.

[20] Ibid., 260; italics in the original.

[21] E.g. Martin Buber; see Jung, Letters, II, 68,147,367-8,371,375-9,570-3.

[22] CW 7, ¶394.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid.

[25] The plus sign is due to the fact that the 498 citations do not include those in Answer to Job, which number in the hundreds.

[26] CW 11, ¶631.

[27] Jung, Letters, II, 525.

[28] Ibid., 4.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Ibid., 157.

[31] Ibid., 253.

[32] Ibid., 274.

[33] Ibid., 275.

[34] Ibid., 302.

[35] Ibid., 384.

[36] Ibid, 525.

[37] Ibid.

[38] Ibid., 496.

[39] Ibid., 519.

[40] Ibid., 522-3.

[41] Ibid., 623.

[42] Ibid., 154; italics in the original.

[43] Ibid., 522; italics in the original.

[44] Ibid., 254-5; italics in the original.

[45] Ibid., 572; italics in the original.

[46] Ibid., 571.

[47] CW 6, ¶789.

[48] Ibid.

[49] CW 12, ¶44.

[50] Jung, Letters, II, 258.

[51] Ibid.; italics in the original.

[52] Sharp (1991), 119.

[53] CW 7, ¶399.

[54] CW 16, ¶223.

[55] “Jung’s Timelessness and Thoughts on Our Current Reality,” Jungian Center blog posting for July 2009.

[56] CW 10, ¶719.

[57] Ibid., ¶586.

[58] CW 16, ¶223.

[59] Edinger (1996), 193.

[60] John 4:10.

[61] Aquarius is Latin for “water-bearer,” as I noted earlier.

[62] Edinger (1996), 72.

[63] CW 11, ¶139.

[64] Leff (1973), 417,421.

[65] Edinger, in Elder & Cordic (2009), 185.

[66] Ibid., 190.

[67] Ibid., 173.

[68] Michael Anderton, in Elder & Cordic (2009), 267.

[69] Edinger, in ibid., 177.

[70] Matt. 13:44.

[71] Edinger, in Elder & Cordic (2009), 173; and Edinger (1984), 17.

[72] Edinger, in Elder & Cordic (2009), 168.

[73] Ibid., 219.

[74] For what is entailed in redeeming suffering, see my essay, “The Gift of Suffering,” in the Jungian Center blog archive for September 2008.

[75] See the earlier essay “Components of Individuation, Part IV,” on this blog site; posted February 2010.

[76] Jung, Letters, II, 157.

[77] Edinger, in Elder & Cordic (2009), 202-3.

[78] Elder, in Elder & Cordic (2009), 255.

[79] Edinger, in Elder & Cordic (2009), 226.

[80] See “Jung’s Prophetic Visions and the Alchemy of Our Time,” “Jung’s Challenge to Us,” and “Jung and the Archetype of the Apocalypse,” Jungian Center blog postings for January-March 2009, August 2009 and October 2009, respectively.


One Comment

  1. Thank you so much for the renemdir to BE STILL. Even in my time with Him, I can busy myself…sometimes bc of fear of what He might speak. Today was good and a very good exercise for me to listen!

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