Active imagination

In this artwork, the foreground frames the background vision. The strange animals, combining different pairs of opposites, represent the self. The man and the animal are gazing at each other, seeing each other. The head of the reflection in the water is obstructed by the foliage in the foreground. It is the task of the man to reflect consciously on this vision, and to live it.

The transcendent function is a central aspect of the process of active imagination. It was an early concept which Jung later developed into his concept of the Self. Active imagination with its compensatory function, was seen as the method. (1)

Definiteness and directedness are characteristics of the conscious attitude, because it must adapt to the outer world, but it is inevitably one-sided. The self on the other hand, is concerned with the well-being of the whole personality. (2) Natural conscious one-sidedness repeatedly leads to the building up of a load in the unconscious, and the transcendent function aims at restoring this imbalance. A dream might attempt to restore the balance, or a slip of the tongue might attempt to draw one’s attention to the problem. Active imagination in all its forms can assist in this process. (3)  

Jung initially approached active imagination by teaching his patients to develop their imagination. A patient would be asked to concentrate on an emotion or a dream image to develop his “theme.” Later he included many forms of creative expression as part of this process. (4) Depending on how much one invests in the image, by looking at it, it may “set one right.” (5)

In general, if one starts with an image, one looks for the affect, and if one starts with the affect or emotional content, one looks for the image. In the first part of active imagination, consciousness is led by the unconscious to gain access to unconscious content. The second more difficult part is the ethical problem of coming to terms with this content. (6) “An emotional and intellectual understanding is needed; they [the images] require to be not only rationally integrated by the conscious mind, but to be morally assimilated.” (7)


1. Chodorow, J. (1997) Jung on active imagination, encountering Jung. Princeton University Press, US. P.5

2. Chodorow quoting Jung, p. 43 – 45. (The transcendent function, par 131 – 138)

3. Chodorow quoting Jung, p.49 – 51. (The transcendent function, par 152 – 159)

4. Jung, CG. (1960) On the nature of the psyche. Bollingen Foundation, NY. Par 400 – 402.

5. Chodorow quoting Jung, p. 152. (The Tavistock lectures, par 413)

6. Chodorow, p. 10.

7. Chodorow quoting Jung, p. 95. (The aims of psychotherapy, par 111)


At Richard Wilhelm’s memorial service in 1930 Jung expressed his gratitude for the rich contribution that Wilhelm made to Western society and to him in person. He singled out Wilhelm’s translation of the I Ching and described it as radiating the simplicity and ‘plantlike’ wisdom of Chinese culture, emerging like a light out of thousands of years of dark background ‘horrors,’ suffering. (1)

In Western culture it answers a need, with Christianity having become ‘debilitated.’ Western culture is tired of rationalism and intellectualism; it “wants to hear truths that broaden rather than restrict, that do not obscure, but enlighten, that do not run off them like water, but penetrate them to the marrow.” But new sensations alone will not help us; we have to “earn the right to it by working on ourselves.” (2)

The I Ching is based on an acausal system, as opposed to the familiar Western system of cause and effect, and centers around the concept of what Jung had named synchronicity or meaningful coincidence. Synchronicity refers to two or more events which appeared simultaneously, born from the same moment; they are meaningfully related, but not causally.  (3)  

Jung says: “Synchronicity therefore means the simultaneous occurrence of a certain psychic state with one or more external events which appear as meaningful parallels to the momentary subjective state and, in certain cases, vice versa.” (4)

Jung wrote a foreword to Wilhelm’s translation of the I Ching. He viewed it as a testimony to his individual experience of the book; he personified the book and asked it for its judgement on Jung’s intention of presenting it to the Western mind. In answer the I Ching told him “of its religious significance, of the fact that at present it is unknown or misjudged, of its hope of being restored to a place of honor.” (5)

The I Ching whose wisdom may be said to center around the principle of ‘tao’, refers to a quest for meaning in life, which has become a collective phenomenon in our time (6). Seen from this perspective the I Ching can be a great support to anyone seeking deeper meaningful containment.

Image credit: Bodhi Tree Leaf Yin Yang artwork from the Royal Thai Art website.


1 – 2 + 6. CG Jung, CW 8. Richard Wilhelm: In Memoriam, par 87 – 90.

3. CG Jung, CW 8 par 849.

4. CG Jung, CW 8 par 850.

5. Foreword by CG Jung from I Ching, The Wilhelm Edition, p. xxviii.

The well

Our world is dominated by rationality and superficiality, resulting in loneliness and meaninglessness, but by restoring the relationship between ego and Self, one may draw from the wellsprings of Life.

All over the world, wells have been dug by hand since the ninth millennium BCE (1). Human settlements have always been dependent for survival on a well with a fresh clear spring, so that social structures developed around it.

In mythology Demeter is often depicted next to a well (2); Mother Holle is found at the bottom of a well. (3) Christ as symbol of the Self standing next to a well, described himself as the source of the Living Waters. (4)

The well resembles a tree, for water can be drawn up to serve life and growth similar to how a tree draws up water through its roots and fibers. It conveys the idea of a dispensing of nourishment, available to all. Life is inexhaustible. It grows neither less nor more; it exists for one and all. Generations come and go, and all may enjoy life in its inexhaustible abundance. (5)

Wells have been associated with sacred ceremonial descent, ritually lived, for millennia. Like the holes in the ground, hand-dug by men and women over time, it resembles the development of consciousness over time. Archetypal patterns of descent, linking above and below, ego and Self, became more fully known by humanity and potentially available to anyone who would ‘go down all the way’ to the roots, who ‘does not neglect the work’ (5).

A well needs to be maintained, cleaned, lined. Through Jung’s psychology the existence and mechanisms of this psychic structure was made conscious and accessible to any individual who felt called upon to undertake the journey, perhaps a first step in the collective ‘restoration of the well’. No longer only the property of the shaman or priestess, it is freely available to any individual who would take it up in all earnestness. By undertaking the night sea journey, the individual relationship between ego and Self may be restored and the individual replenished by the waters of Life to find connectedness and meaningful nourishment.


1., well

2. JE Cirlot, 2002. Dover Publications Inc, NY.

3. A dictionary of symbols, p. 3693. Grimm’s Fairy tale of Mother Holle.

4. John 4: 4 – 26

5. I Ching, p. 185 – 6

An African Tale

Seven maidens went to the river to fetch water. One girl went a little further. While the others were waiting, they decided to play her a trick and hid their bead necklaces in the sand, pretending to have thrown it into the pond to see what might happen. On return, the girl trustingly believed them and threw her necklace into the pond. Laughingly they retrieved theirs and went away. In great distress the maiden cried out at the pool but was told to move on. At another pool she was told to enter. Without hesitation she jumped into the pool and encountered a one-legged, one-armed old woman. A cruel Dimo (1) kept the old woman enslaved and had devoured her one arm and leg. Deeply touched by her suffering, the girl cleaned her wounds. In turn, the old woman protected her when the Dimo appeared, declaring that he smelled a human and, after he had left, rewarded her richly. On returning to her village the other maidens were jealous of her fortune and thought they could also be lucky. They jumped into the pool, but they were rude to the old woman and mocked her. When the terrible Dimo appeared, she did not protect them… (2)

A tale of individual seeking and descent leads to encountering one’s own one-sidedness, the wounded old woman, in the depths of one’s being. A trusting, sincere and compassionate approach is naturally rewarded by the archetype itself. But natural resistance to ‘the other world’ often results in a self-damaging attitude of disrespect.

The wounds have to be tended. In another version of the tale, it is cleaned by licking it, like an animal might do: “saliva is symbolically a healing water that we are all born with.” (3)

“The threaded bead necklace stands for the unifying of diversity… it becomes a cosmic and social symbol of ties and bonds.” (4) Associated with the heart chakra it represents our capacity to relate to our deeper selves and others. An apt symbol of Ubuntu, a conscious descent may restore this sense of identity and interconnectedness. (5) (6)


1. DIMO: is said to be ‘partly man, partly animal, partly spiritual’, a trickster figure. It is widely found in Africa in Swahili and the Niger-Congo basin and in Southern Africa, e.g., in Zulu and Sesotho cultures. From “Tricksters and Trickery in Zulu Folktales” by Noverino Noemio Canonici, 1995; PhD dissertation, University of KZN, SA.

2. Edith McPherson, 1919. Native Fairy Tales of South Africa, London Harrap, UK. Distributed by Heritage History. “The lost beads” p.45.

3. Helen Luke, 1995. The Way of Woman, Double Day Publishing, US, p. 100

4. JE Cirlot, 2002. A Dictionary of Symbols, Dover Edition, p. 227

5. UBUNTU: a quality that includes the essential human virtues; compassion and humanity.

6. MOTHER HOLLE: This tale is reminiscent of the tale of Mother Holle, where a young girl loses her spindle, jumps into a well and serves a fearsome old woman with compassion. Her envious stepsister represents the individual shadow to be integrated.

Mother Holle

A negative relationship with the personal mother may be deeply wounding, but in the tale of Mother Holle we find a relational archetypal pattern (personified as feminine) aimed at restoration and inner growth.

A maiden had a cruel stepmother who forced her to work hard and spin till her fingers bled. One day while rinsing her sore fingers, the spindle slipped from her hand into the well. Ordered to retrieve it immediately, she jumped into the well in great sorrow. She awoke to find herself in a meadow through which she started to walk. Along the way she was requested to do certain tasks which she did with compassion, as was her nature. After a while she reached a hut where a frightening old woman lived, Mother Holle. She was instructed to shake the bedding till the feathers fly, for it brings snow on earth. She took courage and served the old woman well for a time but then she became homesick. To her surprise the old woman helped her to find her way home through a doorway where she was showered with gold. Upon her return her lazy envious stepsister wanted her share of the gold. She stung her finger and jumped into the well. She was careless while attending to the simple tasks on her way and Mother Holle soon tired of her lazy servant. Dismissed, leaving through the doorway, she was showered in pitch which clung to her for the rest of her life.

Trying to gain approval and love a person may work hard to serve the negative mother complex, working one’s fingers to the bone and wounding oneself. All one receives in return are envy and rejection. In utter despair and great sorrow, a descent follows. One discovers a different world, and a new path unfolds where one learns to undertake tasks simply and for their own sake, ‘cooling off’ the complex.

Undertaking this service is frightening, it demands courage, but one may learn to serve an aspect of the Self truthfully. The envious stepsister, the shadow, may be tamed, and spiritual meaning may be found, extending far beyond the personal complex.


Dougherty, Nancy J.; West, Jacqueline J. The Matrix and Meaning of Character (pp. 142-144). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.

The Dog

Dogs are often intimately part of both our visible and dream worlds, valued for their loyalty, guidance and protectiveness, as playmate, companion or working dog. Due to this familiarity, when a dog appears in a dream it may be easier to assimilate than a wild animal. 

An experienced dog handler once told me that you never stroke a stranger’s dog; you never know; similarly, when a dog appears in a dream, one has to determine whether it is a helper or not; the context within which it appears may assist one. Barbara Hannah highlights four opposing characteristics of the dog as an archetypal visitor: as friend-betrayer; guide-hunter; watchdog-thief, and as licking wounds and eating grass, as healer. (1)

Because they howl to the moon, the dog was the companion and protector of the Moon Goddesses of old, later replaced by the lion. Like the moon that dies and are regenerated again anew every month, dog sacrifices were known to have been made at least since 6000 BCE. Sometimes they are depicted together with butterflies signifying transformation. (2)

As carrion eaters, ‘cleaning’ away the dead, they were originally part of funerary rites which earned them the role of guardians of the beyond. Greek Cerberus is guardian of the Western gate, associated with Hecate, searching for the souls of the departed. In Egyptian mythology, Anubis the gold-collared jackal/dog is guardian of the beyond and guide of the journeying Osiris through the underworld, overseeing the process of transformation and rebirth.  

Sirius the dog star is said to be the brightest star in the heavens. It is the star of Isis, searching for the dismembered Osiris, the star of the way. Scent and smell govern the life of a dog, tracking the way. (2)

Artemis as Lady of the Hunt is often depicted with her hounds. When Acteon saw her bathing, saw the goddess unveiled, she was offended, turned him into a stag and he was torn to pieces by his own hounds, sacrificed. The bath, the nakedness of the Goddess and the tearing to pieces of the sacred king, was all part of an inner drama of death and renewal. (3)


  1. Barbara Hannah. The Archetypal Symbolism of Animals: Lectures Given at the C.G. Jung Institute, Zurich, 1954-1958 (Polarities of the Psyche) (Kindle Location 659). Kindle Edition.
  2. Buffie Johnson, Lady of The Beasts, Inner Traditions International, Vermont, US, 1994. Page 114 – 7
  3. Barbara Walker, The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets, HarperCollins, 1983. Page 58 – 60

The Creative Way

The creative space, the space between heaven and earth visited by shaman and artist alike since the dawn of the human race, has always been a sacred space, a sanctuary, and the cradle of all creativity.  No serious artwork can be produced without engagement with the sacred side of being, or without a personal struggle with one’s own demons. Some measure of integrity towards one’s own depths are demanded, for any honest creative endeavor is born, manifests, through the pain and suffering of the soul, however simple or unperfect the expression may be, is alive and commands our respect.

To create is to give shape to unconscious contents, to bring into being that which is hidden. An unfolding process, it may provide one with a perspective on aspects of the manifesting unfolding lifeforce. Like a tree it grows from below, from the unconscious towards consciousness. Deeper psychic processes often appear in creative inner work and may be witnessed, made conscious. The archetype, the ‘god,’ wants to enter our real lived lives and to exist in time and space.    

Through this living creative process, the reality of the deeper life may be consciously experienced and conversed with. The experience of ‘something’ communicating with one is a profound testimony to the reality of psychic life. A form of active imagination, this approach allows one to contain overwhelming unconscious content consciously in a moment of crisis.  

One’s own unique symbol vocabulary, originating from ‘the stories of our lives,’ may be allowed to unfold. Images arising from these foundational archetypal patterns have the ability to contain one profoundly, making senseless suffering meaningful, endurable.

From Rilke: 
“I live my life in growing orbits 
which move out over the things of the world. 
Perhaps I can never achieve the last, 
but that will be my attempt. 
I am circling around God, around the ancient tower, 
and I have been circling for a thousand years, 
and I still don’t know if I am a falcon, or a storm, or a great song.” (1)


1. M. Beazly in Reflections on Madison County, Ex Press Bridges Publishing Inc, GB, 1994, quoting from Selected poems of Rainer Maria Rilke, edited and translated by Robert Bly.

A Meaningful Worldview

A worldview that originates from our archetypal roots is meaningful, containing. Jung often encouraged his patients to give thought to developing a worldview and many eventually returned to childhood faith. However, the modern individual may no longer feel so contained by the religious systems of earlier times.

The religious attitude, a basic psychic attitude, may instinctively manifest as traditional religious practice, an ‘-ism’ of some kind, a living conscious relationship to the divine within, the Self, or a mixture of it all. Making sense of human suffering, and mortality, is a basic containing religious function. Religion, as a mythological pattern with an archetypal foundation, centering around and contained by the Self, grows from the instinctual depths of the unconscious. In the relationship between ego and the Self, the Other is experienced as numinous, sacred, godlike, and this mystery has been projected outside and worshipped since time immemorial.

Death followed by rebirth is one of the oldest mythological patterns, dating back thousands of years; in the moon mysteries, “the moon, after the full, wanders across the heavens in search of its vanishing light until the darkness seizes it completely, and it is gone,” to reappear again after three days, reborn (1). In ancient Egyptian mythology the scarab beetle was a symbol of rebirth carrying great weight.

In the final months of his life Jung described the beneficial effects of a meaningful mythological worldview:

“The need for mythic statements is satisfied when we frame a view of the world which adequately explains the meaning of human existence in the cosmos, a view which springs from our psychic wholeness, from the co-operation between conscious and unconscious. Meaninglessness inhibits fullness of life and is therefore equivalent to illness. Meaning makes a great many things endurable – perhaps everything.” (2)

He ends by saying about meaning and meaninglessness that both are true, but if meaninglessness outweighs meaning, the meaningfulness of life will vanish, and with it hope and faith in Life, for “Life is – or has – meaning and meaninglessness.” In the words of Lao-tzu: “All are clear, I alone am clouded.” (3)


  1. Anne Baring and Jules Cashford, 1991. The Myth Of The Goddess, Evolution Of An Image, Penguin Group, GB, p. 385
  2. CG Jung, 1961. Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Random House Inc, New York, p. 340
  3. Memories, Dreams, Reflections, p. 358, 359

Learning from the Other

Inherent in the confrontation with Otherness is a possibility to learn from the Other, but when coming face to face with a stranger, one may unexpectedly feel overwhelmed by the otherness of the Other and act accordingly.

From a Jungian point of view one’s experience in encountering another is largely determined by the projected nature of the individual’s worldview, of how one perceive one’s existence in this world to be meaningful and containing; this is in turn largely determined by the nature of one’s relationship to the Self. When encountering a stranger one may experience one’s worldview to be incomplete, not containing, a destabilization of one’s perception of oneself in one’s world.

Levinas, a Jewish French-Lithuanian philosopher (1905 – 95), saw “the meaning of existence in terms of the ethical transcendence of the Other.”(1) For Levinas, the Other is infinitely foreign and one’s relationship and responsibility to him/her is that of infinity; it is not equal or comparable. (2) An ensuing feeling of responsibility is not a rational choice but happens unconsciously; it is as if one gives oneself as ‘hostage’ to the Other, in a form of ethical surrender, to suffer from his/her suffering. (3)

If “one brings more than one can bear” (4) into the encounter, the other may be traumatized by projective identification, the ‘ejecting’ of the uncomfortable feelings, an attempt to protect oneself. Envy, guilt and shame may be unconsciously experienced by both parties, and depending on the basic personality structure, one’s ‘wiring,’ one may respond by either trying to restore the relationship to the Self in the outer relationship, seeking the other, or by withdrawing, even fighting the other.

Jung reminds us that the only way to act responsibly and respectfully towards the stranger other is to withdraw our projections, a matter of integrity. When I think I know, the other only becomes an aspect of “the narrative presence of my worldview and narrative,”(5) but a more conscious approach to the other, with humility and awareness of one’s ignorance, may enable one to listen attentively to “the narrative presence of the other,” to learn from the other. (6)


  3. Bart Noorteboom, 1995. Levinas: Philosophy of the Other, Noorteboom quoting Levinas, p. 115, on
  4. Sharon Todd, 2003. Learning from the Other, Levinas, Psychoanalysis and Ethical Possibilities, State University of New York Press, p. 15
  5. Sharon Todd, p. 15
  6. Sharon Todd, p. 15

Humanizing the Archetype

Since ancient times humanity made stone images of their gods and goddesses, for they experienced the archetype as the deity itself. The statue god was experienced as a living stone, an unconscious projection of the Philosopher’s Stone as symbol of the Self. Over millennia the single simple statue image, like the archetype of the Self, differentiated into vast pantheons but each statue image retained something of the original mystery, combining our primal roots with the ultimate ideal human.

When praying in earnest to the god/ess it was thought to answer by way of nodding. The word ‘numinous’ comes from ‘numen’ and means in Latin, ‘a nod, the nodding of the god when it is questioned.’

Interaction with the archetype may have a more positive or negative outcome: in Mozart’s opera, Don Giovanni kills Don Pedro, father of one of his many lovers; later he invites the statue of Don Pedro to dinner and it nods acceptance. But Don Giovanni is unrepentant, insincere, and the statue pulls him into hell. (1)

In contrast, in Ovid’s Pygmalion is told of Pygmalion’s resolve to remain celibate, resisting his natural needs out of fear of women. He became obsessed with his needs, prompting him to make a statue: the archetype burst forth through his natural creative ability, to give shape to herself. It enchanted him, he fell in love with it and thus was influenced to overcome his fear. Lovesick and obsessed but humbled he begged Venus for a wife resembling his statue, and was answered: the statue became alive, that is, the archetypal pattern of relating became manifest in his real lived life. Pygmalion became husband and father; his personality matured into adulthood. (2)

Edinger concludes that by “pouring loving attention into the psyche, it brings the archetypal soul to life,” (1) it humanizes the archetype.

Photo Credit:


  1. ARAS Concordance, Image of the Statue: Edward Edinger, Mysterium Lectures, p. 234 – 8
  2. Hughes, Ted. Tales from Ovid: Twenty-four Passages from the “Metamorphoses”, Pygmalion.

The Wounded Healer

Jung pointed out “the mythological truth that the wounded wounder is the agent of healing, and the sufferer takes away suffering.” (1) Chiron represents ‘the one who is wounded,’ the one who wounds self and others, ‘the wounder’, and ‘the one who suffers’ because of the wounding. (2)

Asclepios is often called the Father of Medicine. Some say that he was rescued from his mother’s funeral pyre and raised by the centaur Chiron, who taught him the art of healing. (3) The myth refers psychologically to the capacity “to be at home in the darkness of suffering and there to find germs of light and recovery with which, as though by enchantment, to bring forth Asclepios, the sunlike healer” (4)   

Looking back upon wounding encounters, we might see that it brought us inner growth and a deepening of compassion. The birth of healing power from the ‘original wound’ that we must address in the therapeutic relationship, belongs to the archetype of the wounded healer. An archetypal image can manifest in human psychology consciously or unconsciously, or often, as a mixture of the two, entangled with our wound and presenting us with a problematic situation which we must address consciously, both as therapist and as patient. The therapist as the healer has his/her own wound which may be drawn in if it provides ‘hooks’ for the patient’s projections. By each working separately on the problem, the archetype is constelated within the therapeutic space, bringing movement along the path. (5)

The wound holds a key: it plays an important role in the process of individuation as that which is the source of one’s inner suffering as well as the bringer of healing and transformation, not only to oneself, but also to others, a gift in service of Life.

Von Franz says: “In seeking for the meaning of your suffering, you seek for the meaning of your life. You are seeking for the greater pattern of your own life, which indicate why the wounded healer is the archetype of the Self – one of its most widespread features – and at the bottom of all healing procedures.” (6)


  1. CG Jung, Four Archetypes p. 136
  2. M Reinhart, Chiron and the Healing Journey p. 81.
  3. ARAS Concordance (wounded healer/NIGREDO): E. Edinger, quoting Kerenyi, Anatomy of the Psyche par 0.
  4. ARAS Concordance (wounded healer/SHRINES-AND-ORACLES-OF ANCIENT-GREECE): E. Edinger, Eternal Drama par 0.
  5. ARAS Concordance (wounded healer/TRANSFERENCE-COUNTERTRANSFERENCE): E. Edinger, Mysterium Lectures p. 317
  6. ML von Franz, Puer Aeturnus p. 114

An Inner Critic

The four weary travelers came through great danger to the king of the Mark. He looked weary, was bent over, almost dwarfed, having sat “too long in shadows and trusted to twisted tales and crooked promptings.” They came to warn and assist him but were accused of bringing bad news. Wormtongue, his advisor, praised his self-defeating viewpoint, reminded him that his son was slain, that everything was hopeless, that the courageous hero who undertook the quest against the dark was not to be trusted. It was better to give up, await certain death. (1)

This elusive figure is whispering: “Do not try, you know you can’t, why bother; everything is hopeless.” This is negative self-talk, “constant self-criticism, shaming and guilt. The task is to pay attention to the inner speaking – what we are saying to ourselves all the time.” (2)

Wormtongue, as the personal shadow, was sent to the king by the evil Saruman, the Trickster in his negative aspect. The figure of Wormtongue fits in with the passive-aggressive character structural pattern (not personality disorder or rebellious teenager) as described by Dougherty and West. This pattern or trait, perhaps as unconscious Sensation, is associated with identification with the stranger archetype, the Trickster or the Self, as opposed to the mother as the primary caregiver. This creates a false sense of independence, while the child is still fully dependent on the parent.

The hallmark of the pattern is negativism, and “of being done to”. Denial is the “bedrock” defense of this pattern. It is described as provocative and self-defeating, while obstructing and playing with reality, retreating from responsibility. (3)

The four types are patterns and aspects of the Self, our archetypal foundation, and give rise to the personal shadow. To engage consciously with the negative self-talk, and the archetypal energy behind it, is the beginning of active imagination. In a letter to PW Martin, Jung explained that there is no single technique of dealing with the shadow, but ultimately rather of negotiation and of consciously suffering it through, a crucial aspect of the integration of the opposites. (4)


  1. JRR Tolkien, Lord of the Rings, 1966, p. 533 – 537
  2. L. Sikes and MD Molton, Four Eternal Women, Toni Wolff revisited, 2011, p. 67 – 8
  3. NJ Dougherty and JJ West, The Matrix and Meaning of Character Structure, 2007
  4. Jung’s Letters, PW Martin, 8-20-1937

Black Madonna, Forgotten

More than 500 shrines of the Black Madonna appeared world-wide, but mostly in central Europe, between the 11th and 15th centuries. Scholars suggest that she represents ancient goddesses, like Artemis, Diana, Cybele, Isis and others. (1)

Judy Zappacosta, Jungian analyst from California, researched her modern presence in Europe, she said: “I was very moved by the essence of sitting before a feminine dark figure that had such a deep interiority to her that she just pulls you in, into darkness, into silence, and actually into mystery…

“There’s an ownership that is taken up by the local people, that they are the keepers of, they say, “the Lady,” [who] is part of their lives in a very everyday way… they change her clothing; they have festivals, dances, lots of relationship to fertility, and motherhood, and things that bring them close to the people that are beyond the church’s style of owning a particular icon. The Black Madonna seems to have slipped through ownership by the church… she lives within chapels all through the places that you usually find her… way upon rural wild wilderness places, less-travelled regions… [where she] has always been discovered…”(2)

The Black Madonna can be seen as a personification of the forgotten Great Mother. Over millennia, the unconscious, personified as the feminine principle, has become gradually more suppressed by consciousness, personified as the masculine principle, in all of us. As aspects of the unconscious became submerged, it became the task of the shaman/ess to undertake the descent into the underworld, maintaining a relationship to this forgotten world. This is e.g. portrayed in the myths of Inanna, Persephone and Orpheus.

Later, even this process of descent into the underworld became forgotten, until it was made accessible again by Jung’s psychology, so that we might consciously undertake the inner journey.

The silent form of the Black Madonna may inform and contain us each on our own journey, in our dark night of the soul, as we grapple with our fate. It is her call: by heeding it, by following her lead, we each in our own way contribute to the restoration of her temple.


  1. Website of Europe up close: Article on The Mystery of the Black Madonna
  2. Website: Depth Insights Blog: Symbolism of the Black Madonna, a Jungian Perspective, Interview with Judy Zappacosta


Only once did Jung name a book after a god; this god was Aion. Aion-Khronos represents a father-god, Greco-Roman with Persian influences. His cult, Mithraism, (100 – 500 AD) was destroyed by Christianity. (1) Jung said about Aion:

“In the cult of Mithras there is the key god Aion. He is represented with the winged body of a man and the head of a lion, encoiled by a snake which rises up over his head. He is Infinite Time and Long Duration, the supreme god of the Mithraic hierarchy, and creates and destroys all things, a sun-god. As the lion-headed god with the snake around his body, he represents the union of opposites, light and darkness, male and female, creation and destruction. He is represented as having his arms crossed and holding a key in each hand. He is the spiritual father of St. Peter, for he too holds the keys. The keys which Aion is holding are the keys to the past and future. The idea of the key is often associated with the mysteries in the cave.” (2)

In the Mithraic mysteries the serpent and the lion are opposites; to be entwined is to be devoured, to return to the mother’s womb. As a symbol of time, Aion has the zodiac portrayed on his body. Time is expressed through dawning and extinction of consciousness, death and rebirth, to come into being through ‘infinitely long duration,’ through repetitive transformations of the creative force, libido. (3)

As in the ancient moon mysteries, where Dionysus was sacrificed as the bull-god and son-lover of the Great Mother, symbolizing the sacrifice of animal nature, so in the Mithraic mysteries (4) Mithras overcame his immortal brother symbolized as the bull, by killing, eating and integrating him ceremonially. (1)

Jung described Mithraism as a complete solar psychology, aimed at restoring the relationship between the mortal and immortal brothers: Mithras as consciousness and the bull as the instinct or archetype, the Self, similar to St. Peter and Christ. (5)

The slow unfolding of this archetypal process, the cruel immaturity of the god, the cultural manifestation of the process, have to be suffered through by humanity over time. This is how we as humans contribute to the manifestation, the creation, of the god.

The chaotic times that we live in may also be seen against this background.


  1. Ancient History Encyclopedia / Mithraic Mysteries
  2. CW 18 par 266
  3. CW 5 par 425
  4. CW 5 par 659
  5. CW 5 par 288

Creative course program

We will explore the psychological creative space as a containing space, its unfolding content and how it may be meaningful. The natural tendency of the unconscious to restore equilibrium in creative work will be discussed, together with its symbolic function. Objectivity and relating assists us in inviting the content of the work into our real lived lives. Old stories or fairytales from around the world will be used to demonstrate these characteristics of the creative process. Electronic links to the reading material will be emailed. I look forward to discussing your questions and comments, and how it might enrich your relationship to your deeper self.

Module 1

Introduction: In this discussion we explore unhelpful ways that might affect our creative inner work. We explore the importance of choosing a suitable creative medium, how to get started, and more.

The creative space: In a Native American legend, we will explore aspects of the creative space as a containing symbolic space, why this is so important, as well as an introductory approach to meaning making.

Module 2

Restoring inner balance: We will explore the tendency of the unconscious to restore inner equilibrium within the contained creative space, as demonstrated in an ancient Chinese story.

The work of David Blum: A short case study of the development of the main motifs in the work of David Blum, well-known conductor and writer from New York, who drew images from his dreams. During his illness, his creative work was an important source of meaningful support to him.

Module 3

The role of relating: By relating to the content unfolding in the creative space, we are influenced by it. In Ovid’s Pygmalion we explore how symbolical creative work may contain one in a meaningful way and how the content of the work might influence and alter an outdated conscious approach to life.

Sharing: In conclusion of our work together, there is an opportunity to share the content of our work and experience the process first hand, but it remains optional. One might share only an image, or what one feels comfortable to share.

<< Back to Creativity and the Inner Other


The phoenix or fire-bird, is a mythical bird the size of an eagle and graced with certain features of a pheasant. When the phoenix sees that its death is drawing near, it builds itself a nest and exposes itself to the rays of the sun until it burns itself to ashes. Another phoenix then arises from the marrow of the bones of the old one. In Egypt it was called the bennu bird and was associated with the sun god Ra and with Osiris, the Wise Old Man as a representation of the positive father archetype. (1)

This potentially transformative aspect of fire, as portrayed in the myth of the phoenix, is further demonstrated by the fairy tale, Fitcher’s Bird: an old man disguises himself as a beggar only to abduct one beautiful maiden after another. They all end up locked away, decapitated and hewn to pieces, until the third daughter is cunning enough to trick the old man; she makes her escape by disguising herself as a magical bird, and by burning down his house.

In the story, the third daughter makes her final escape by ‘becoming a magical bird’. She does this by getting into a barrel of honey and then rolls in feathers, after having cut open a feather-bed. Her act implies total commitment, with ‘her whole body,’ her whole being.

By disguising herself she enters a fantasy space, but at the same time, she also exists in reality; she embodies energy from both consciousness and the archetypal world of the unconscious. In this way she creates a living symbol in the form of the magical bird that may bring about change. The symbol is not merely an intellectual fact. Inspired by Fitcher’s Bird, Kalsched emphasizes the potentially beneficial influence of symbolical creative work in therapy with traumatized individuals. (2)

When she leaves, the house of the old man burns down and the negative complex is destroyed. This in turn allows for positive masculine energy to enter, perhaps in the form of the Wise Old Man.


  1. JE Cirlot, A Dictionary of Symbols, 1971, p. 253
  2. D Kalsched, The Inner World of Trauma, 1996, p. 186 – 200

Indra’s Net

I have a dream | A song to sing… When we were young, we had dreams, and perhaps unrealistic ideas about how to fulfil our dreams. Whether we have learned to live our dreams or not, they continue to inspire our choices and decisions in some way. When we become older and look back on our life’s journey, we might see that our feet have been drawing a map over the years: choices, influences, patterns revealing the basic character-structure, the seed of the personality.

“Schopenhauer points out that when you reach an advanced age and look back over your lifetime, it can seem to have had a consistent order and plan, as though composed by some novelist. Events that when they occurred had seemed accidental and of little moment turn out to have been indispensable factors in the composition of a consistent plot. Schopenhauer concludes that it is as though our lives were the features of the one great dream of a single dreamer in which all the dream characters dream, too; so that everything links to everything else, moved by the one will to life which is the universal will in nature.

“[This] idea appears in India in the mythic image of the Net of Indra, a net of gems, where at every crossing of one thread over another there is a gem reflecting all the other reflective gems. Everything arises in mutual relation to everything else…as though there were a single intention behind it all… Each incarnation… has a potentiality, and the mission of life is to live that potentiality. How do you do it? My answer is, ‘Follow your bliss.’” (Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth: read more at alexincyde.blogspot)

The sea, as the unconscious, is such a complex web of life, wild and wonderful, and every plant and animal and microbe, every droplet and grain of sand, all are the gems, organically or inorganically alive, and dreaming themselves and dreaming us, the mystery. We, too, are vital links in this web, pulsating stars. Trusting in it may enable each of us to live our own unique story, to shine our own living dream.

Moon Mother Mirror

An artist dreamed of a magic mirror that creates his life. “Ego consciousness is a mirror into which the Self gazes…” and “…the ego is a reflection of the Self.” (Schwartz-Salant, 1982, p. 46.)

To be mirrored, is to be seen; one feels contained, accepted, loved. In the world of a child, the eye of the Mother is the mirror, the child’s whole world; it is where a child discovers him/herself, gradually developing an inner mirror and his/her own universe. If the eye of the mother is shut away, one cannot see oneself; all is darkness and death. One fails to exist.

The archetype of the Self as Mother-moon was revered as a deity for many thousands of years. The moon reflects the light of the sun; it is a mirror, in man and woman alike. Self-reflection is an essential aspect of inner growth. The growth of plants was thought to be associated, not with the sun, but with the moon; the cycles of the moon, waxing, full, waning, dark, to return again, has always been associated with renewal. Now, in a dark hour, we know that the light of the Moon will return.

The wounding of the feminine principle over millennia have resulted in wounded mothering in all of us, culminating in this Age of Narcissism with its envy and inner splitting into good and bad. Attachment theory describes the important role of objective compassion in the process of healing; neuroscience confirms that it is even able to regenerate braincells destroyed by early trauma. The effects of being loved lasts forever.

“By the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby… once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to those people who don’t understand… once you are Real, you can’t become unreal again. It lasts forever.”

The Velveteen Rabbit, M. Williams

In the real lived relationship with the analyst, we aim at restoring the relationship to the inner mirror through self-acceptance, which may reflect on the canvas of the inner artist in a dance of light and shadow.

Trickster Creates

A depressed actor dreamed that his child was unable to play. A traumatized child cannot play. A playful approach to life’s difficulties allows one to play around with possibilities in difficult times, to adapt. All forms of creative activity stems from play.

“Trickster makes this world,” he creates. (Lewis Hyde, 1998) Mercurius is a symbol of the Self and of transformation (CW 12 par 17). As Trickster he sits on the border, opens or closes the door. He re-members or dis-members, symbolizes or dissociates us. (Kalsched, 1997, 197)

In symbolical creative work one may find a window on the unfolding process of becoming. When relating to it, inviting it into one’s real lived life, it nourishes immature wounded aspects of the personality, in turn supporting the process of individuation.

If we create the right circumstances, the child will come. Feeling distressed, we might play in a creative medium within a contained liminal space, and be surprised to discover unfamiliar content in the new creation, a message ‘from the deep’, ‘symbolical’, because of the nature of the space.

A symbol is an image of psychic energy, a complex fact, not fully understood by consciousness; it portrays “an objective visible meaning, behind which an invisible profounder meaning is hidden.” (Jacoby, 1957, 77) It contains conscious aspects as well as content from the unconscious. From a conscious point of view, it often appears as a paradox.

In CW8 par131-93 Jung described the Transcendent Function of the psyche: the ego is goal-directed and has to adapt to the outer world. This is right for the ego. The Self, on the other hand, is concerned with the well-being of the whole personality. Because the Self is mostly unconscious, it is not possible for the ego to have this perspective, and it constantly acts in ways that are not beneficial to the whole. The Self tries to restore the balance by way of the symbol, e.g. through a dream image, or in symbolical creative work.

The actor donned the mask of Raven, Trickster, and, entering a liminal space, he playfully started to create his world. Then he took the mask off again and went home.


A man dreamed of finding an intricate old key. The key is associated with the mystery in the cave, the divine birth. (CW 18 par 266) The Eleusinian Mysteries developed from the Greek myth of Demeter and Persephone: Persephone, lovely young daughter of Demeter, was abducted by Hades, Lord of the Underworld, while picking flowers.

Her enraged mother Demeter caused much suffering, whilst roaming the earth, seeking her daughter, until her pleas were finally responded to and Persephone was re-united with her mother, on condition that she spent a part of each year underground. Her return brings about renewal, and the birth of the divine child. The child is seen to belong to both mother and maid, a product of uniting upper and lower worlds.

In the much older myth of Inanna and Ereshkigal, Inanna, heavenly queen of Sumer, influenced by the reality of living in this world, must undertake the journey to her dark underground sister, terrifying Ereshkigal, to rejuvenate the relationship to her archetypal foundation. Both these myths are thought to be a dramatization of the death, or phases, of the moon.

Baring and Cashford describe an ancient Lunar Myth of loss, searching and finding, of Demeter’s or Inanna’s quest for the lost part of herself:

“It follows the course of the moon after the full, when it wanders across the heavens in search of its vanishing light until the darkness seizes it completely and it is gone. The new moon that returns after three days is then the light that the old moon has found, so that the moon has been restored to itself.” (Baring and Cashford, 1991, p. 385)

‘Mother and daughter’ are two aspects of the feminine principle, the moon horns of waxing, seeking or waning, withdrawing, inner opposites forever in conflict. They are two relational patterns found in all of us, men and women alike, one pattern always preferred above the other. (Dougherty and West, 2007) A conscious descent into one’s own depths is needed to restore this wounded inner relationship, the circular, alternating process of loss, seeking, death and birth, the mystery of life.


A woman dreamed of a precious stone, buried in her garden. A precious stone is a symbol of the lapis lazuli, the self. In modern culture, diamonds are often associated with making a commitment in a long-term relationship, felt to signify the rock on which it is built.

We associate the stone with permanence, something may be ‘written in stone’. Stones have also been used to shape religious objects and temples since ancient times. Stonehenge continues to leave us in awe. Meteorites were found in some ancient temples and were revered as the deity itself. ‘Petra’ means rock, and Peter was said to be the rock on which the church was built. As a child, Jung loved to sit on a large stone. He used to think that he was also the stone. Then again he was the boy. He would get off the stone, feeling confused. Was he Carl, the boy, or was he the stone, old and wise? This was the beginning of what he called the number one and number two personalities, leading to his understanding of the ego and the Self.

The aim of the process of individuation is to restore the relationship to the self, an inner mystery. A positive outcome of the process may culminate in the integration of the inner opposites, symbolized as the masculine and feminine principles, in the sacred inner marriage.

Later in life Jung ‘rescued’ a rock which had been rejected by the mason. It was a perfect cube, too large for its purpose, and he let this stone speak for itself. The first thing that he chiseled into the stone, was a Latin verse: “Here stands the mean uncomely stone,

‘Tis very cheap in price! The more it is despised by fools, The more loved by the wise.” (MDR, p. 227)In alchemy, it was said that the cornerstone, the lapis, was rejected by the masons and was called the orphan. In therapy we often discover essential aspects of our personalities that were rejected early in life, and which may turn out to be the cornerstone of the individuation process and the core of the personality.


“The serpent serves as metaphor for the impenetrable manner in which our lives change, twist and renew themselves.”

Buffie Johnson, The Lady of the Beasts, p. 128

The serpent is the instinctive life-force and may be male, female or the self-created. It is a very old symbol.

When appearing as a phallic symbol, it is masculine, and associated with the spirit, but has initially been associated with the Great Mother, one of the earliest symbols of humanity.

The wavy pattern, by which it moves along, connected it to the watery principle of the unconscious. Its ability to shed a skin is associated with the cyclical mystery of death, rebirth, and eternal life. It is coldblooded, mesmerizing and poisonous, yet Jung saw the serpent as an example of the transforming substance (CW 12 par 173): it’s energy has the potential to bring about profound change.

A common manifestation of the serpent is the spiral. Double spirals signify the union of opposites. The tree and the serpent often appear together. The tree may be represented as a staff. The Caduceus consists of a winged staff with two intertwining serpents and was the earliest symbol associated with medicine, alchemy and transformation, and is still found in the medicine world today. The two intertwining serpents represent the integration of the opposites, an essential aspect of healing and inner growth.

The serpent and the dragon share the same symbolism, and the dragon was also called, ‘that old serpent’ or ‘the worm.’ Mercurius says of himself that he is the fire-breathing dragon; this is to say that the dragon is also the Self, the union of opposites.

The tail-biting serpent or dragon, known as the ouroboros, represents the ability of the life-force to eat itself and to renew itself by giving birth to itself anew. It is this process of self-renewal. It was also said that only something that is able to destroy itself, is truly alive.


The sacred alchemical marriage can only be fulfilled once one is able to accept oneself, warts and all. Mourning forms a central aspect of this process of self-acceptance. Grief allows the old life to become compost for the new. Water is the solvent: old structures, depleted of their content, may be dissolved in water. After a period of drought, rain brings a feeling of release, of relief of tension.

We associate our emotional life with water. Without our world of emotions, which Jung called affect, we are stranded in a dry blazing desert, the world of one-sided mind. Logical thinking has its place, but is often over emphasized in modern culture.

Water flows together: our emotional life unites things. When cleansed, it is nourishing. Without water, no life is possible. Water is able to flow around an obstruction and flow on. It fills up the empty space and takes on its shape: it adapts. Water reflects light. When we are able to relate to our emotional life, we are better able to reflect upon ourselves and our lives.

When a pregnant woman’s water breaks, birth is imminent. Creation myths often tell us that water was the source from which everything originated. The sea is a well-known symbol for the unconscious. ‘The waters’ have been associated with the Great Mother symbolism since ancient times: the place of the waters, the womb, is the Great Mother, and also the place to which we eventually return, the tomb.

Creation myths tell us about upper and lower waters. The waterfall connects the waters of above with the waters of below, the higher values and the everyday world. The tree and the fountain draw up the water from below, the water of the earth, the well-springs of life, wisdom, available to everyone who will delve down deep enough within her/himself.

A more conscious integrated perspective on life brings the possibility of compassion that is objectively contained, water with shape, also sometimes called Eros.


The tree represents the manifestation of the life-force, of our ability to grow into greater maturity; when faced with an impossible life situation, one should not try to force anything, but ‘stay in one place and grow, like a tree.’ (Jung, Dream Seminars, 1929)

Growing is a slow process. Only swamp plants shoot up overnight. Inner growth may enable one to outgrow and rise above a difficult life situation, to attain a more objective perspective and discover alternative options that may have been there all along.

A very large tree may grow from a very small seed. The seed has to break open and grow towards the light, the higher values. Breaking open is painful, but necessary; without it there will be no growth.

The tree roots us. The roots stretch away into the darkness of the earth, into the shadow. Like the fountain, the tree may draw water from deep beneath the earth, from the well-springs of life, if the roots reach deep enough.

From world mythology we know that the tree is a place of death and birth, the Mother Tree. In Greek mythology, Myrrha changed herself into a Myrrh tree to escape persecution, and gave birth to Adonis. By truly hearing oneself, one may be reborn from the tree of inner growth. Ursula Le Guin wrote that all trees stem from the centre of the earth. As the world tree, we are all connected, all growing together.

A tree goes through seasons of spring, summer, autumn and winter. After the death-like feeling of winter, stripping away the old, new life returns, blossoming, ripening our fruit. Animals and birds may be fed and sheltered. When the time comes again, we shed our beautiful autumn colors so that it may become compost for new life. Our lives circle continuously through periods of spring, summer, autumn, winter and spring again.