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Jung and Spirituality

Jung and Spirituality

by Ean Begg

“The decisive question for man is: Is he related to something infinite or not?” (Memories, Dreams, Reflections, p.300)

This reflection of Jung’s forms the common ground between his psychology and all religions. The ultimate purpose of The Guild of Pastoral Psychology is to be a forum for the exploration of these two approaches and the correspondences between them, thereby throwing light on the meaning of human life, the nature of God and the mystery of death.

Jung so appreciated the aims and work of the Guild that he agreed to be its Founder Patron. The title of the talk he gave to it in 1939, “The Symbolic Life”, was chosen for the final volume of his Collected Works.

The son of a pastor, he strove to interpret Christianity so as to make it meaningful and psychologically relevant both to himself and to modern man and woman in search of soul. His break with Freud was in defence of spiritual values against what he saw as one-sided atheism of psychoanalysis.

During the two millennia of the Christian era much of spiritual value was repressed and it was one of Jung’s great achievements to rectify this. For example: Gnosis, experiential knowledge of divine mysteries, was a specialist academic study when Jung turned his attention to it and highlighted its importance. His perseverance was rewarded when the first-fruits of the library of Nag Hammadi (whose discovery made Gnosticism front-page news), were named the Codex Jung and presented to him in 1953. Alchemy was hardly more than a footnote in history when Jung, guided by a dream, discovered that its true gold was a symbol of individuation and brought the subject back into collective consciousness and common parlance. He himself practised astrology — once the Queen of Sciences — and used it in his work, bringing it once more into the light of day as worthy of serious research. He championed the cause of great mystics such as Meister Eckhart, long viewed with suspicion and condemned by the Church, and restored them to their rightful place.

His most notable triumph was to further the redemption of the feminine principle in Christianity, a lost sheep since the days of the veneration accorded to Sophia and Mary Magdalene by the early Church. he left to his wife the task of writing a book on the Holy Grail, but he himself had a great dream in which he had to swim to an island off Britain and bring it back. The proclamation of the dogma of the bodily Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the parallel emergence of the women’s movement were a vindication of his efforts and some atonement for the years of witchcraft and heresy trials that blackened the name of woman.

Although seeking to resolve the problem of Christianity was of primary importance to Jung, he felt at home with the mystical core of all faiths. He paid much attention to Cabala, especially the mystery of the bridal chamber. In Islam his main focus was on Khidr, the wise teacher who accompanied Moses, and who may be encountered at any moment as the manifestation of the Self. He reminded Jung of his own meetings with the living archetype, Elijah, and who walked and talked with him on the banks of the Zurichsee. His introduction and commentary to “The Tibetan Book of the Dead”, as well as those to “The I Ching”, — which he consulted assiduously — and “The Secret of the Golden Flower, A Chinese Book of Life”, show his deep understanding of Buddhism, Taoism and the subtleties of Chinese thought. He refers frequently, especially in “Symbols of Transformation”, to the “Upanishads”. though he thought that we in the West were not yet ready to put on the spiritual apparel of India.

But it was not just the great world religions that fascinated Jung. His travels to New Mexico led him to respect the tradition and practice of the Pueblos, as children of the sun, and to value the friendship and teaching of their Chief Ochwiay Biano. Similarly, his stay with the Elgonyi people of Kenya and Uganda introduced him to their God as the sun in its moment of rising, and the still just surviving natural religion of Africa.

Jung never visited Australia, though his psychology is well established there. But he devoted much writing to the religious ideas and practices of the native Australians. He saw in their cross-cousin marriage laws an illustration of his theories of the inner dynamics of the contents of the psyche. Jung had a personal fellow-feeling with these people from the Dream-Time, through the child-stone, in which children’s souls live, that can be activated by rubbing with the cult object known as a churinga. When Jung read about this he suddenly remembered the secret manikin he had carved in childhood and hidden in the forbidden attic with a black stone from the Rhine, and which had served him as his own soul-stone.

It is, perhaps, not too much to say that Jung has provided us with a key to understanding all religions, without devaluing or psychologizing them away.

If there is something we can call the Way of Jung it has nothing to do with any system of beliefs, dogmas or rituals, or the imitation of Jung. It is about following one’s own path, or making it as one treads it. Such is the Symbolic Life, the Individuation Process.