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Man and his symbols
Man and his symbols

Authors: Carl Gustav Jung, Marie-Louise von Franz, Joseph Henderson, Aniela Jaffe, Yolande Jacobi 

Man and his symbols: Along with Freud, Jung became the creator of the psychology of the 20th century, but his views on the psyche and the unconscious differ from Freud’s. Interpreting the motives of people’s behavior, Freud focuses on sexuality, and the subconscious understands only as a receptacle for repressed desires. Jung pays key attention to symbols, understanding the subconscious as a vast world, by no means limited by our complexes, but accommodating a variety of thoughts. According to Jung, the subconscious speaks to us in the language of symbols common to all mankind, and this communication takes place in a dream. The ability to contact the subconscious, being able to decipher your dreams, is a feature of a holistic personality.

When Jung was offered to write a book in which the basics of his method would be stated in a popular form, he refused for a long time – the subject of study is too complicated. And he agreed only after he saw a dream in which he addressed a huge crowd of people who were listening to his every word. Jung considered such a dream as a hint of the subconscious: the idea of ​​a popular presentation of the theory would be successful.

Man and his symbols

Practicing psychoanalysis, Freud led his patients along the path of complex associations: when talking about your life or a dream you had, say the first thing that comes to mind, free analogies will lead to repressed complexes. Jung believes that complexes can be revealed in simpler ways, and the method of associations will lead too far away from the content of a dream, which is always a strictly specific pattern of meaning.

A person may dream that he inserts the key into the keyhole or lands the door with a log. Freud would interpret these images as a sexual allegory, prompting the patient to think in this direction. Jung would have considered such an interpretation too general and wondered: why did the subconscious choose the key in one case, and the log in the second? Is this related to the dreamer’s personal experience or are we talking about some universal symbols? As a result, it may turn out that the subconscious hinted not at all at sexual problems.

Man and his symbols

Every minute we perceive much more information than we can remember and even realize – otherwise the consciousness would be overloaded with impressions and we would be incapable of any action. Forgotten by consciousness, images, thoughts, and sensations are deposited in the subconscious and continue to implicitly influence our thinking, and sometimes turn into discoveries: this is how Mendeleev saw the periodic table in a dream. Moreover, Jung believes that the subconscious mind is capable of generating completely new ideas that are not reducible to already accumulated experience and have never visited consciousness before. In this case, the person says: “I have a vague premonition,” and then the premonition comes true.

Consciously thinking, we limit ourselves to the framework of rationality, but in a dream, all restrictions are removed. Dream images seem strange and confusing: all because we are poorly able to understand figurative language. Everyday life requires clear definitions: we talk about “love”, “relationships”, and “work”, while everyone puts personal meanings into these concepts (for one, “love” is an ongoing drama, for another, a quiet family idyll). In fact, we can only partially agree on “love”, “relationships”, and “work” with each other (hence the numerous misunderstandings and conflicts). As a result, only the subconscious mind is responsible for all the extraordinary psychic associations generated by things or ideas, and in dreams, it gives free rein.

Our primitive ancestors spoke figurative language much better than we do, and therefore were in a completely different relationship with reality. Bushman, who saw a wild cat in the thicket of the forest, understood that in front of him was a village shaman, who temporarily chose such a guise, or the very soul of the forest. Some tree in the forest could be of vital importance for the savage, because it had its own soul and voice, and was also connected with the fate of the savage himself. In a word, for primitive people things did not have such distinct boundaries as for our rational mind. Hence Jung’s keen interest in the culture of primitive communities.

Man and his symbols

In many dreams, there are symbols and associations similar to primitive myths and rituals. Freud calls such symbols “remains of antiquity” and does not attach much importance to them. Jung, on the other hand, believes that these symbols are an integral, living, and very influential part of the subconscious, regardless of whether its owner is illiterate or educated, old or young, and reality, passed through the prism of symbols, can turn into prophetic dreams.

A little girl, the daughter of Jung’s acquaintances, had frightening fantasies based on pre-Christian cosmogonic myths that she had never heard of before (“Worms, snakes, fish and humanoid creatures penetrate the mouse. Thus the mouse turns into a man …”). And after a while the girl fell ill and died. The collective unconscious itself played out in her mind the scenario of future death, Jung believed.

Man and his symbols

For psychological health, it is necessary that the conscious and subconscious act in a coordinated manner. We dream exactly what is required to adjust mental balance. The ability to decipher these symbolic messages enriches our thinking with the forgotten language of our ancestors. But the interpretation of dreams is a delicate matter. First of all, you can’t trust a variety of dream books that offer generalized interpretations (“money dreams of acquisition, and cats dream of failure”). There are no two identical dreams. Jung and his students have often been criticized for being unscientific. They answered: for a psychoanalyst, there is no more obvious idea that all people are different, the main thing is to comprehend the individuality of the client, having learned to interpret the signals of his subconscious. And archetypes help in this.

Symbols around us

What are archetypes

As the human body retains traces of centuries of evolutionary development, our psyche has its own history. It retained the primitive features characteristic of the ancient, pre-rational mind. It is on them that the symbols of our dreams are based. According to Jung, the mind is made up of three parts:

  • ego — the conscious self;
  • the personal unconscious: our memories, both accessible and repressed;
  • collective unconscious. It is inhabited by archetypes – universal, universal images. Archetypes are closer to instincts than to rational thoughts, they are innate and inherited, organizing all our experiences and experiences, combined with each other in complex combinations.

There are a lot of archetypes. Jung considers the following to be the most important:

1. Shadow. This archetype includes our shortcomings, repressed desires, and weaknesses. It symbolizes the unknown and chaos, and in dreams, it manifests itself in the form of a demon, a dragon, a dangerous stranger, and various exotic dark images.

2. Anima / Animus. In the male psyche, the anima represents the feminine, and the Animus in the feminine, the masculine. Anima embodies vague feelings and moods, a craving for the irrational, and the ability to subtly feel people. It was not for nothing that in ancient times the will of the gods was solved not by priests, but by priestesses like the Greek Sibyl. And in the northern tribes, shamans wear women’s clothes, showing the feminine side of their nature – this helps to get in touch with the spirits. In men, the properties of the Anima are formed under the influence of the mother, in women, the father has the main influence on the Animus. He endows women with inner firmness, but often the Animus also embodies calculated cruel thoughts: his embodiment in world culture is Bluebeard, who kills his wives.

3. Self. This archetype embodies the union of consciousness and the unconscious and the highest form of wholeness that can be inherent in a person. Our ancestors intuitively guessed about such an inner center: the Greeks called it Daimonius – this is an inner voice that warns against trouble at a decisive moment; the Egyptians expressed the Self in the concept of the Ba soul, in primitive communities it was often considered a guardian spirit embodied in an animal or a fetish. In the East, the Buddha embodies the Self, in the West, the Christ. In dreams, the Self is symbolized by a mandala, a circle, or a square; this archetype can also manifest itself in the form of a wise old man, a sorceress.

The Self can take on the form of animals, thus alluding both to our instinctive nature and to the deep connection of the subconscious with external reality. Therefore, in myths and fairy tales, there are so many animal helpers like the Gray Wolf, and in the religions of almost all continents there are gods in the form of animals: the Egyptian god Thoth appears in the form of a man with a bird’s head; the Greek Zeus, conquering the hearts of his beloved, takes the form of a swan, a bull or an eagle; in Christianity, the evangelists are symbolized by a bull, a lion and an eagle, and Christ himself appears in the form of a lamb: even the son of God needs an animal principle no less than a spiritual one.

A dream in which a person is being chased by a beast is interpreted by Jungians as the isolation of instinct from consciousness and the desire to overcome this gap. The more dangerous the behavior of the animal in a dream, the deeper the instinctive essence of the sleeping person is hidden in the subconscious and the more important it is to release it.

Man and his symbols


The Unconscious in Culture

The power of the subconscious manifests itself not only in the clinical material available to the psychoanalyst but also in human culture. Archetypes have given life to myths, religions, and philosophies. Just as dreams contribute to the mental balance of an individual, so myths and religions have become mental therapy for entire nations.  We still live by their rules. Christians celebrate Christmas by expressing their feelings about the birth of a son of God, even if they don’t believe in the virgin birth. The plots of ancient myths emerge in the dreams of modern people, even if they are never intentionally interested in these myths – the subconscious mind continues to generate symbols, just like thousands of years ago when our ancestors embodied them in rituals and ceremonies. We depend on these messages more than we think.

A 50-year-old man was an exciting person prone to bouts of melancholy – constant self-doubts, inspired by his mother in childhood, had an effect. However, his professional career was extremely successful. A man has a dream: his son, in the guise of a medieval knight, must fight a crowd of men in black. At first he is ready to fight, but then he takes off his helmet and smiles at the leader of the opponents: it is clear that they will become friends. The son of a man is his own ego, which for many years was tormented by the Shadow (men in black – self-doubt). The man fought the Shadow all his life, but now, encouraged by the thought that his son had grown up, and also by his own professional achievements, he knew true heroism, which was embodied in a dream in the symbol of a noble knight. There is no need to fight the Shadow anymore, he takes it for granted, so the opponents go towards each other. A man is no longer attracted by the idea of ​​constantly proving his superiority, he moves from brute force (symbol – a duel) to diplomacy (symbol – a refined knightly culture). Such a dream is a sign of maturity.

Man and his symbols

Art is another powerful channel for the collective unconscious. Let’s take one of the key symbols of various cultures – a stone. In primitive societies, even raw stones carried a deep meaning and were considered places of dwelling for spirits (that’s why people still put tombstones on graves). Their descendants gave the stones more expressiveness, first placing the raw stones in a certain order (Stonehenge, stone gardens in Zen Buddhism), and then processing them manually. From the point of view of a modern person, the sculptor processes the stone, giving it beauty. From the point of view of the primitive master, the sculptor processed the stone, giving him the spirit of the depicted creature.

Some characters are truly unfading. This is the circle – according to the Jungians, the most powerful and universal symbol. This is a sign of the Self, expressing the integrity of the psyche, the completeness of life. The circle indicates this in a variety of forms and guises, whether it be the primitive sun worship of the ancients, the mandalas of Tibetan monks, or the spherical models of ancient astronomers. Even the “flying saucer” rumors popular after World War II were interpreted by Jung as an attempt by the collective unconscious to heal the fatal rift inherent in the apocalyptic 20th century with the symbolism of the circle.

Man and his symbols

It was not for nothing that the art of the 20th century returned to the primitivism of antiquity. The world became more and more unknowable, and art responded to this with abstractness and a flight of associations. Picasso, Kandinsky, and Malevich left the realm of the concrete, appealing directly to the collective unconscious in their geometric fantasies. The poet André Breton experimented with Freud’s method of free association, writing down phrases that came to mind without any control. Salvador Dali, to whom the plots of paintings sometimes came in a brief moment before awakening, was struck with surreal horror. To rational Europeans, the new artistic language seemed no more understandable than the language of the Sumerians.

Jung and his followers are also extremely interested in the achievements of 20th-century physics: they see direct analogies in the development of the humanities and natural sciences. The physics of the new century has discovered a paradoxical quantum microworld – psychology has discovered the world of the unconscious with its “relativity”. Both the laws of the unconscious and the laws of the quantum world are unknowable to the end. Physicists recognized that the principles of determinism by no means exhaust the complexity of the world – Jung built his method on moving away from causality to the search for meaning, asking not “why did I do this?”, but “why did I do this?” In both cases, the “observer effect” plays a fundamental role (both in quantum physics and in analytical psychology, the experimenter inevitably influences the course of the experiment) and the principle of complementarity (it is possible to adequately represent the physical object of the microworld only in mutually exclusive categories: for example, light must be described as a wave, and as a particle; and the description of our mental life is possible only taking into account both rational and subconscious thinking).

After all, Jung argues, most of the fundamental concepts of physics (energy, atom, matter) were created by ancient Greek philosophers and are tightly tied to archetypal symbols, and those were born in the subconscious. These symbols do not necessarily reflect objective reality, and we, as it became clear in the 20th century, cannot be aware of any “objective” reality. The point is only to find at least somewhat satisfactory explanations of the surrounding world, which would link the facts of the external and internal environment. The great physicist of the 20th century, Werner Heisenberg, not without reason believed that, by exploring nature, a person, instead of knowing its objective characteristics, “finds himself.” Jung is convinced that both aspects of reality, studied by physics and psychology, should be perceived by science as a single field. All phenomena of life are united in a common psychophysical space, and we can connect to it thanks to symbols.

Individuation, or On the way to yourself

Why is knowledge about archetypes so important? Since they act almost like instincts and help us organize experience and impressions, then by listening to his imagination (by day) and dreams (by night), a person can harmonize his personality, putting the unconscious at the service of consciousness. Jung calls this individuation – the realization by a person of his uniqueness, the achievement of the Self.

Few people can consider themselves the master of their soul. On the contrary, more often than not, people are unable to control their emotions and are not yet aware of the ways in which the unconscious influences our actions. The work of the subconscious is connected with archetypes, but modern man has lost all understanding of them. He protects himself from the irrational and the unconscious. In the 20th century, philosophers said that God is dead, rationalism as the key to understanding things remains in force, including in science. Even among Christians, the Church stands between the conscious and the subconscious, but she does not want to admit that any religious revelation is primarily a personal mental experience born of the subconscious (any religion develops from this individual initiative, but as it develops, an increasing number of believers inevitably moves away from the original experience of the miracle). the emotional energy that arose in our ancestors from a symbolic unity with nature and the world is lost – it is compensated only by dreams. And the human psyche remains the same complex mixture of knowledge and prejudices that accumulated at different stages of centuries of mental development.

It is not surprising that the first sensations of the Self are often accompanied by dissatisfaction and suffering – in everyday life, this is called the crisis of a certain age. The ego can perceive the signals of the Self as interference with ordinary desires and project them onto some external object: in such cases, the boss, spouse, relatives are “guilty”, while the languishing one himself “doesn’t live somehow”. Many myths describe this initial stage of individuation as a difficult test that is assigned to the protagonist: “go there, I don’t know where.” Output? Trust your subconscious, learn to listen to its voice, and also believe in the symbolism of surrounding objects and “random” coincidences(since all the phenomena of life are united in a common psychophysical space, then accidents are just regularities that we do not fully understand). Having studied thousands of his own and other people’s dreams, Jung noticed that a person’s dreams sooner or later develop into a kind of ornament, and if you watch it long enough, you can see the direction of psychological changes. Certain images are repeated or disappear, the same situations can be dreamed over and over again, but a change in details. Change can be accelerated by the correct interpretation of dreams and their symbols. Watching them, we promote individuation – we go towards the Self.

Since any religion originates from personal psychic experience, can a variety of religious practices help on the path to gaining the Self? Following in the footsteps of any spiritual leader does not mean experiencing the same pattern of the process of individuation – the repetition of rites is indispensable here, there simply is no universal model of individuation. To be a supporter of the Jungian view of the psyche means to try to live your own unique life as sincerely as possible.

Man and his symbols

Different people perceive the direction of their changes in different ways. Someone lives without worries, feeling that he is following the right course. It happens that the Shadow so confuses a person that the voice of the subconscious is not audible at all. And sometimes a person can resist subconscious prompts because he feels their devastating consequences (an inner voice pushes him to murder or treason). When working with clients, Jungian psychologists carefully trace the complex pattern of dreaming symbols to determine what result the release of deep subconscious forces can lead to. For each of us, the recognition of the unconscious means we need, to be honest with ourselves and be ready for the fact that life can change radically as a result of subconscious prompting.

Top 10 Thoughts

1. Every minute we perceive much more information than we can remember and even realize – otherwise the consciousness would be overloaded with impressions and we would be incapable of any action. Images, thoughts, and sensations are forgotten by consciousness are deposited in the subconscious and continue to implicitly influence our thinking, and sometimes turn into discoveries.

2. The subconscious mind is also capable of generating completely new ideas that are not reducible to already accumulated experience and have never visited consciousness before. In this case, the person says: “I have a vague premonition,” and then the premonition comes true.

3. Thinking consciously, we limit ourselves to the framework of rationality, but in a dream, all restrictions are removed. Dream images seem strange and confusing: all because we are poorly able to understand figurative language.

4. In many dreams there are symbols and associations similar to primitive myths and rituals. These symbols are an integral, living, and very influential part of the subconscious, regardless of whether its owner is illiterate or educated, old or young, and reality, passed through the prism of symbols, can turn into prophetic dreams.

5. For psychological health, it is necessary that the consciousness and subconscious act in a coordinated manner. We dream exactly what is required to adjust mental balance. The ability to decipher these symbolic messages enriches our thinking with the forgotten language of our ancestors. But the interpretation of dreams is a delicate matter.

6. The psyche consists of three parts: the ego, the conscious self; the personal unconscious: our memories, both accessible and repressed; collective unconscious.

7. The collective unconscious is inhabited by archetypes – universal, universal images. Archetypes are closer to instincts than to rational thoughts, they are innate and inherited, organizing all our experiences and experiences, combined with each other in complex combinations. It is on the archetypes that the symbols of our dreams are based.

8. The power of the subconscious manifests itself not only in the clinical material available to the psychoanalyst but also in human culture. Archetypes have given life to myths, religions, and philosophies. Just as dreams contribute to the mental balance of an individual, so myths and religions have become mental therapy for entire nations.

9. Listening to his imagination (day) and dreams (night), a person can harmonize his personality, putting the unconscious at the service of consciousness. Jung calls this individuation – the realization by a person of his uniqueness, the achievement of the Self.

10. For each of us, the recognition of the unconscious means they need, to be honest with ourselves and be ready for the fact that life can change radically as a result of subconscious prompts.

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