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Remember the Nature of Our Time:Jung on Navigating the Transitio
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.
Remember the Nature of Our Time: Jung on Navigating the Transitio
“… Considering the terrible time in which we are living… it reminds me of… those dark centuries when the culture of antiquity was gradually falling into decay. Now once again we are in a time of decay and transition,… The vernal equinox is moving out of the sign of Pisces into the sign of Aquarius,… Our apocalyptic epoch … contains the seeds of a different, unprecedented, and still inconceivable future…
The coming new age will be as vastly different from ours as the world of the 19th century was from that of the 20th with its atomic physics and its psychology of the unconscious. Never before has mankind been torn into two halves, and never before was the power of absolute destruction given into the hand of man himself. It is a “godlike” power that has fallen into human hands….”
“The archetypes are of course always at work everywhere. … An archetype, as we have said, is a dynamic image, a fragment of the objective psyche, which can be truly understood only if experienced as an autonomous entity.”
“A special position must be accorded to those archetypes which stand for the goal of the developmental process.”
“In the course of this process the archetypes appear as active personalities in dreams and fantasies. But the process itself involves another class of archetypes which one could call the archetypes of transformation. They are not personalities, but are typical situations, places, ways and means, that symbolize the kind of transformation in question. Like the personalities, these archetypes are true and genuine symbols that cannot be exhaustively interpreted, either as signs or as allegories. They are genuine symbols precisely because they are ambiguous, full of half-glimpsed meanings, and in the last resort inexhaustible.”
Recently in a conversation with my analyst the archetype of the transitio came up and we noted how helpful it would be for people to be aware of the nature of our time and the archetypal underpinnings of our global reality. Jung defined the archetype as
“a dynamic image, a fragment of the objective psyche, which can be truly understood only if experienced as an autonomous entity.”
Jung wrote extensively about archetypes, mostly on the personal level (e.g. anima, animus, senex, puer, shadow, etc.) but also on the collective level.
For example, just as we each have a personal shadow, so societies have shadow aspects. Prominent figures can illustrate both. Donald Trump, for example, revealed for us our inner liar, trickster, misogynist, cheater and demagogue, but he also helped us spot our American materialism (“he who dies with the most toys wins”), anti-intellectualism (despising science and denigrating the expertise of epidemiologists), narcissism (“looking out for #1”) and roughneck ethics (gun-toting fighting and federal executions). Likewise, we experience the archetypes of change on both personal and collective levels.
Jung called this “class of archetypes… the archetypes of transformation,” and he defined them as
“…typical situations, places, ways and means, that symbolize the kind of transformation in question. Like the personalities, these archetypes are true and genuine symbols that cannot be exhaustively interpreted, either as signs or as allegories. They are genuine symbols precisely because they are ambiguous, full of half-glimpsed meanings, and in the last resort inexhaustible.”
This essay considers two of these archetypes: the mortificatio, and the transitio. But first, some explanation about archetypes and their features.
Some General Remarks about Archetypes and Their Intentions
First, archetypes are universal, non-local and transpersonal. They transcend cultures, so at this time everywhere on planet Earth we are experiencing the transitio and mortificatio archetypes. All of us are feeling the effects of the changes these archetypes involve, because they link us to all humanity, regardless of our locale and country.
Second, archetypes are potentially transformative. That is, they can effect deep and lasting change both within us and in our society. Why? Because archetypes are numinous, drawing on the power of the Self, Jung’s term for the god within. It is important, in this regard, to note that Jung saw the Divine as a process, not as something static, and in his teleology Jung felt this process has a goal or purpose. For individuals this goal is, broadly speaking, individuation. For societies, it involves the maintenance of justice, the promotion of welfare, and the creation of the “peaceable kingdom” described by the Old Testament prophets.
The third point to bear in mind about archetypes is that all archetypes have intent: they want to generate some specific behavior or call up some response or action. The Mother archetype calls up protection for the baby. The puer archetype wants the child to play, while the senex archetype calls forth responsible, mature actions that can guide or support the child. The archetypes of change also have intent: the putrefactio asks us to cull the interesting biological specimens (aka “rotten leftovers”) from the back of the refrigerator or, more metaphorically, to reflect on what is sapping or draining our energy and give it up (whether a personal relationship or an activity).
The calcinatio, as the “refiner’s fire,” shows up in life often as feelings of frustration–that we are not getting what we want. The intention here is that we reflect and consider the possibility that what we want (i.e. our ego’s desire) might not be what our higher wisdom (i.e. the Self) wants for us, and then surrender the willfulness of the ego (which is not the same as giving up, but rather a relaxation into trusting the Self to provide). In my experience of working with this archetype, something much better shows up in due time.
The solutio archetype is, as the word implies, all about dissolving and solving. It is associated with the element of Water, and it often shows up in life as dissolving structures. Rarely are these structures actual buildings (although one time when I discussed this with an astrology client, it was: in a hurricane her house came off its foundation and floated down the river!). Usually the changes associated with this archetype show up as routines or relationships that have provided structure to our lives, e.g. the manager whose job had him up at 6AM to catch the 7:35 train to the city, back home at 6:30 for dinner, a routine he lived within for 40 years, until he retired; or the woman whose thirty-year-long marriage gave her a settled routine to her day, now dissolved when her husband divorced her. The intention here draws on the wisdom of the element: Just as it is foolish to try to grasp water, so we do well to refrain from trying to hold on to what is dissolving in our lives. “Go with the flow” well captures the intent in the solutio.
The intent of the sublimatio archetype is to rise above or step back so as to gain a higher perspective or a more objective view of a situation or relationship. Jung drew on the alchemists’ understanding of sublimatio; he did not interpret “sublimation” as Freud did. Fulfilling the intention of this archetype tends to be easier for Thinking types, for whom objectivity is more natural, than it is for Feelers. Transits to the natal chart can help identify when a sublimatio response is appropriate in life.
The opposite of the sublimatio is the coagulatio. The former would have us rise above, while the latter asks us to get grounded, practical, in touch with reality. In times when daydreaming and woolgathering are tempting, this archetype can play an important role in keeping us on track and focused on the demands of the day. As archetypes of change the coagulatio, sublimatio, solutio, calcinatio, and putrefactio show up at various times throughout our lives, both on the personal and collective levels. Our focus here is on two archetypes that are particularly important now.
The Mortificatio Archetype and Its Intent
The roots of mortificatio are Latin: mors (death) and facere (to make). Some processes in medieval alchemy entailed a killing, e.g. the alchemist would “make a death” by shooting a crow. In our current reality, we are experiencing this archetype all too widely, as hundreds of thousands of people have died, and too many families have experienced the loss of a loved one. Less literally “death” can refer to the ending of a dream or goal for the future, the ending of a job or a relationship. In this more metaphorical sense we all can say we have experienced the mortificatio at some time in our lives.
However the “death” shows up, as an archetype it has intent. It asks something of us: to grieve and to be open to a rebirth. Jung would remind us that after every apocalypse (the terrible time of destruction) there is an apokatastasis (a restoration or rebirth into something new or fresh).
While it is understandable that families now grieving the loss of a loved one are not likely to recognize the rebirth, they should feel entitled to grieve AND to recognize that grief does not run to the usual impatient American timetable that would have it over soon. Grief has its own timetable–weeks or months for some, years even decades for others. When I lost my fiancé in 1997, it was a good ten years before I stopped tearing up at certain memories. Our Sensation Thinking culture is all too ready to move on, to tell the bereaved to “get over it,” when such an attitude is both cruel and ignorant of the intent of the archetype.
Because the mortificatio is an archetype, it is numinous. It can put us in touch with the Self and its teleological vision. As God reminded St. John of Patmos, the Self “makes all things new,” and one facet of doing so involves removing the old, the tried and true, the familiar, the structure we relied on, the relationship so dear to us. From my own experience of mourning numerous losses, I have come to recognize that, along with the grieving comes a time when I have sensed some new thing, new viewpoint, new opportunity, new hope. Just how this hope might show up for individuals will vary. For us as a collective we might hope for a deeper shared sense of compassion, for a greater appreciation for wise, grounded national leadership (the lack of which meant so many thousands more deaths), for a shared feeling of our common humanity and how we are truly “all in this together.”
The Transitio Archetype and Its Intent
The Latin transitio comes from two roots: trans and ire–“to go across”–and when we are in a transitional time, we are in the process of shifting from one phase or stage to another. We have all experienced this: Our teen years are a classic transitio time, when we are between childhood and adulthood.
Think back to your teen years and what comes to mind? Intervals of confusion, moments of disorientation, times when your desires, goals, and tastes were in flux. One day we acted wise beyond our years, the next we displayed childishness. Eventually we grew up, left behind the things of childhood and took on adult responsibilities, but we still were likely to experience transitions, e.g. when we married, when we had children, when we left one job for another, or made a major shift in occupation or location. These external transitions are obvious. More subtle, but no less important, are the inner transitions or phase changes that occur as we go through life.
If we are diligent in working with our dreams we can get insights into these changes. For example, it is often the case that our dream journal gets full of cryptic, hard-to-interpret dreams at times when our inner work has shifted to a whole new higher/deeper level. I am currently observing in my students’ dreams many such dreams, as we work through the PTSD induced by four years of Trump’s reckless, abusive and norm-shattering behavior.
Like the other archetypes of change, the transitio has intent. It wants us to become aware of the feelings and features of this time when things are “betwixt and between” and to hold these feelings consciously as we adjust to the new phase or stage of life. It is easier to do this when we know what some of these features are.
Outer changes in our life circumstances are the easiest to identify. Clearly we are in a transition at the beginning of a marriage or a co-habitation situation if we have lived alone before. Equally easy to spot is when the death of a spouse or child has left a gap in our lives. Such events break up old patterns and routines, inducing feelings of discomfort or disorientation. In the worst case scenario (which I lived through) we can be forced to give up everything: marriage, job, career, friends, home, sense of identity. Fortunately such extreme forms of kenosis–the archetypal stripping that removes anything that blocks our further growth into individuation–are rare.
Most of the time transitions are more subtle, inward and harder to spot. They can
come with the break up of rigidities (in thinking and/or behavior patterns), the surfacing of anxieties and fears, the discovery of old family “schemas and scripts” that no longer are appropriate, issues around trust, and/or vague feelings of being adrift, unmoored or out of sorts. None of these is pleasant. None would we wish to hold in consciousness, but the archetype asks this of us. Why? To help us develop patience, fortitude and trust in the Self. More broadly, to foster our individuation.
The Mortificatio and Transitio in Our American Society
Our collective culture is strongly oriented to the ESTJ type in Jung’s system of typology: Extraverted, Sensate, Thinking and Judging. Neither our Extraverted orientation nor the functions and attitude suit us well, as a culture, for coping with these two common archetypes of change.
Extraversion looks without, seeks external distractions (the video games, the streaming movies, the happy hour at the local watering hole) and has little use for the inner life and considerations thereof.
Sensation focuses on what can be seen, heard, touched, tasted, smelled–all outer experiences. The subtleties of our inner city are denigrated or lost completely with this focus. The mortificatio, bringing death and destruction, presents a heinous affront to the physical plane on which the Sensate person lives.
The Thinking type appreciates what is logical, rational and explainable in linear, analytical terms. But the psyche speaks via the imagination, myths, mysteries, fantasies and non-linear experiences–often ineffable, beyond what the left brain can fathom. The grieving that is a central intent of the mortificatio has no appeal for the Thinker.
And the Judging attitude prizes decisive, quick resolution of issues, appreciates the black-and-white interpretation of situations and wants leaders who present clear-cut choices and act promptly. The Judger hates to wait or be forced to deal with ambiguity. Its values are “need, greed and speed.” Since the essence of the transitio is ambiguity, lack of clarity about just what is going on, and a seemingly endless interval of things hanging fire, the Judging type finds this archetype very unpleasant to endure.
Even for the INFP–the Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling, Perceptive–the type opposite our majority American type–dealing with the archetypes is not easy. Jung was explicit about this:
“Whoever goes to himself risks a confrontation with himself. The mirror does not flatter, it faithfully shows whatever looks into it; namely, the face we never show to the world because we cover it with the persona, the mask of the actor. But the mirror lies behind the mask and shows the true face…. This confrontation is the first test of courage on the inner way, a test sufficient to frighten off most people, for the meeting with ourselves belongs to the more unpleasant things that can be avoided so long as we can project everything negative into the environment…. This problem is exceedingly difficult, because it not only challenges the whole man, but reminds him at the same time of his helplessness and ineffectuality….”
So why bother? Jung would reply that confronting ourselves is part of creating more consciousness, which he felt is a key task of human beings. On a more practical note, knowing about the archetypes and their intentions makes it possible for us to go with the flow of the energies they represent, and life is much easier when we choose to row the boat of life with the current than against the current.
The typical American character type is not well suited to dealing with either the mortificatio or the transitio archetype. These archetypes are not going away any time soon. The pandemic is likely to be with us for months into the future, and its long-term effects, in terms of jobs lost, whole areas of employment reconfigured, and massive dislocations yet to be recognized, will be with us for years. More broadly, Jung knew the global transition from the Age of Pisces to the Age of Aquarius will take not years but centuries, so, for our own mental health and physical well-being, we would do well to recognize the dangers inherent in frustrating archetypal intent: Life does not work well when we deny, ignore or work against what an archetype intends.
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 “Letter to Pater Lucas Menz,” 22 February 1955; Letters, II, 225.
 Collected Works 7 ¶184. Hereafter Collected Works will be abbreviated CW.
 Ibid. ¶185.
 CW 9i ¶80.
 CW 7 ¶184.
 Cf. CW 9i (the whole of which is on archetypes); CW 7 ¶s 141-191; CW 18 ¶s 521-559; CW 11 ¶s 222-233.
 Cf. Cruz & Buser (2017), Lee (2017), Posner (2020) & Trump (2020) for these and many other features of Trump’s personality and psychology.
 CW 9i ¶80; italics in the original.
 Stevens (2003), 44,49.
 Ibid. 85.
 Ibid. 68,85.
 CW 6 ¶428.
 Stevens (2003), 69.
 Cf. Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephanian, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi; Micah 6:8 offers a succinct statement of what the Lord desires: “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” For the peaceable kingdom: I Chr. 4:40.
 Stevens (2003), 139-171.
 Edinger (1985), 148.
 Ibid. 22
 That is, in kairos time, the Soul’s time, which may not be the same as our impatient ego’s sense of time. For Jung’s thoughts on kairos time, see CW 10 ¶s 398 & 585.
 Edinger (1985), 47-49.
 Ibid. 117.
 Freud defined “sublimation” as “a process of deflecting libido or sexual-motive activity from human objects to new objects of a non-sexual, socially valuable nature.” Freud (1938), 18-19.
 Sublimatio intervals are timed by transits of Jupiter or Uranus, especially to the personal planets.
 Edinger (1985), 84.
 Lewis & Short (1969), 1167.
 Edinger (1985), 164.
 Ibid. 148.
 Peters (2020), 93-94.
 Rev. 21:5.
 Lewis & Short (1969), 1889.
 Allan & Dyck (1987), 23-43.
 This is the title of Mahdi (1987).
 Edinger (1992), 138.
 Goleman (1985), 75-84,198.
CW 6 contains Jung’s description of psychological types; ¶s 1-671.
 Keirsey & Bates (1984), 14-15.
 Edinger (1985), 147-8.
 Ibid. 154,161.
 Keirsey & Bates (1984), 22-24.
 Mipham (2003), 21.
 CW 9i ¶s 43-44.
 CW 11 ¶575; cf. Jung (1965), 326, and Edinger (1984), 17.
 Jung expended much effort in his attempt to determine when the Age of Pisces ended and the Age of Aquarius began; see CW 9ii ¶149, note 84. Two problems thwart such dating efforts: which star should be used as the guide? And what is the length of the Platonic month? For a detailed discussion of this issue, see the blog essay “Jung’s Platonic Month and the Age of Aquarius,” archived on this website.
 Stevens (2003), 139-171.