Dr. Carl G. Jung was an historian! Who knew?! His five-decade long study of the mystery of alchemy seemed a sideshow to me for the longest time. Why resurrect an ancient practice, which had been discarded by intellectuals for centuries? What does making gold have to do with it?
Gradually, over many years of studying the master’s work, it became obvious to me that it would be necessary to enter the labyrinth of his oeuvre on alchemy, to understand what Dr. Jung was really saying in all of those books. Finally, I bought a copy, and like the Philosopher’s Stone to which it refers, it remained on my bookshelf for months, untouched by human hands—incorruptible.
Finally, committed and undaunted, I began reading. At the outset, I decided to put a colored tag on any passage of the book from which I thought I could later write an essay on its applicability to 21st Century life. The image above gives some sense of what I thought at the end.
In Psychology and Alchemy, Dr. Jung has given us nothing less than the history of the human mind on a global basis from earliest recorded times. Obviously, millions of years of development preceded even this period of humans, who had the skill to record their lives, but I really get it.
Dr. Jung once famously said, “Thank God I am Jung, and not a Jungian.” Even during his lifetime he knew that a cult of fascination was forming around him, and that is not what he was about. Yes, much of his work is fascinating, but his purpose was to save and coalesce the prima materia of the human psyche for the rest of us, so that new generations could take further steps on the ancient quest: “Know thyself!” To the extent that some Jungians were and are frozen in the worship of his intellect, he must have felt that was a diversion from what he was talking about.
There is an old Buddhist saying, “If you see the Buddha coming in the road, kill him.” The meaning is not the promotion of murder, but rather that anyone who professes to have all of the answers for humanity certainly does not. Even The Buddha himself knew that, and that is the import of Dr. Jung’s statement as well. He provided us with a pointer, a very heavy one, but he meant for us to take the bundle of his prodigious scholarship and make something new from it, not worship it.
Whenever I read Dr. Jung’s work, I ask myself, “What was he saying? What did he expect us to do with this?” One thing is clear to me. He did not dedicate his pretty fully individuated life to the prospect that the rest of us would build statues to his memory. He provided his own memorial in his works. Rather, he provided us with valuable pointers for the way forward for humanity. It is up to us to take the gift of the life experiences he shared with us, and leave something further for humanity.
Yes, I do agree that Dr. Jung’s day job was largely about psychotherapy, and that was a seminal contribution. Many of the great contributors to the human story of the 20th Century needed his professional guidance at some point in their lives. But, works likePsychology and Alchemywent far beyond that, and asked us to make something more of his groundbreaking achievement. We cannot stop to worship it! Rather, we must first understand it, and then carry its quest far into the future.
Regrettably, Dr. Jung’s work on alchemy and mythology gave “competitors” handles to use in detracting from his valuable contribution to humanity. By calling him a mystic, they have suggested that he should be left in the dustbin of the history of psychology. But they have missed the point. They thought they were competing with him for the heart and sole of psychotherapeutic practice, but he was talking about the future of our species.
Psychology and Alchemy is not an easy text to comprehend. Because of its encyclopedic nature, it dwells on arcane studies of the Middle Ages and earlier periods a bit too much for our fractured learning process today. But the colored tabs give only a minimal sense of its significance. Every page contains wisdom we all need. The monumental task for the future is not to worship Jung, but to apply his wisdom to our lives and the lives of our families, our countries, our religions, and the world itself—before it is too late.
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