Carl Gustav Jung - His Life
Created | Updated Jan 28, 2002
Carl Gustav Jung was one of the greatest explorers of the human mind, his ideas having profoundly influenced such varied disciplines as art, anthropology, atomic physics, philosophy, mythology, theology and parapsychology, as well as the development of psychology and psychotherapy. He was the most enigmatic and controversial disciple of Sigmund Freud, introducing to psychoanalysis crucial questions about religion and the soul which Freud neglected. He was a prolific writer leaving behind 18 volumes of work. His theories of the life cycle, dream symbolism and the collective unconscious, and even his terminology, have entered our language in a way that is only parallelled by Freud. Our perception of Jung today as a quasi-religious sage overlooks the fact that he was primarily a scientist and a scholar, occupied as he was with making objective and knowable to consciousness the inner, subjective world.
The Formative Years
Jung was born on 26 July, 1875, in the village of Kesswil by Lake Constance, Switzerland. His family, although limited in means, were deeply concerned with medicine and religion. He was the only son of the Reverend Paul Achilles Jung (1842-96), a country pastor and Oriental and classical scholar, and his wife Emilie, youngest daughter of Samuel Preiswerk (1799-1871), a distinguished theologian and Hebraist. Carl was named after his paternal grandfather, a German-born physician and professor of surgery at the University of Basel, as well as a Grand Master of the Freemasons of Switzerland. It was even rumoured his grandfather was the illegitimate son of Goethe, to whom he bore a physical resemblance.
At the age of six, Carl's father began to instruct him in Latin. He continued his study of the language as he grew older and learned to read old texts with ease. The skill facilitated his lifelong study of the classics, history, anthropology, and religion. It was said that he liked reading about exotic Oriental religions, in particular studying pictures of Hindu gods.
In 1879, the family moved to the environs of Basel where, living in an old parsonage, his father ministered to the local parishioners. In 1884, Carl's sister, Gertrud, was born. Carl entered school in Basel and completed his formal education there. When aged 11, he had a personal experience of the negative powers of the unconscious mind. Carl hated school. One day he was knocked down by a fellow student, and knocked his head when he hit the ground. He began having fainting spells and had to stay at home; doctors thought he had epilepsy. One day he overheard his father expressing grave concerns about his future. This galvanised Carl into action and, feeling somewhat guilty, he set about the task of 'curing' himself through hard work, becoming a solitary, bookish, intellectual youth, who continued to puzzle over religious and philosophical questions.
Around the same time, Carl had a mystical experience. Walking home from school, he suddenly felt he had emerged from a cloud, and had a feeling: 'Now I am myself'1. This strong sense of 'I' had imparted a sense of 'authority' in him. Thereafter, Jung (aged 12) became aware of two distinct personalities within himself. As number one personality he perceived himself as a moderately gifted young man with vaulting ambition. Conversely, his number two personality was someone in high authority, a wise old man who lived in the 18th Century.
Despite an intense interest in philosophy and archaeology, Jung (influenced by a dream) decided to study natural science, then medicine, at Basel University. Graduating in 1900, and having decided to specialise in psychiatry, Jung was appointed as an assistant physician at the Burghölzli Mental Hospital, a public psychiatric institution in Zürich, of which Eugen Bleuler was then director. Five years later, in 1905, Jung was appointed senior physician at the hospital and lecturer in psychiatry at the University of Zürich.
In 1903, he married Emma Rauschenbach (1882-1955), daughter of a rich Schaffhausen industrialist. Between 1904-1914 they had five children: four daughters and a son. Until her death in 1955, Emma collaborated closely with her husband in his work. By 1909, Jung's private practice had become sufficiently remunerative to enable him to resign his hospital post; four years later he resigned from the University also. From then on, he spent considerable time writing and travelling.
Jung was interested in dreams from early childhood, considering his inner life more eventful then his outer one. This interest in dreams increased with his psychological studies and practice. Another lifelong interest was the occult, which was aroused following his father's death in 1896, and continued during his student years. While studying at home one day, he heard a loud noise like a pistol shot coming from the dining room. On entering there, he found that the 70-year-old, solid walnut table has mysteriously split in two. No explanation could be found for the occurrence. Another incident involved a bread-knife in a drawer which shattered into several pieces2. Jung took these experiences to be poltergeist phenomena.
Taking an active interest in mediumistic activity, Jung began attending family seances over a four year period (spiritualism was commonplace in Basel during this period and, indeed, many of Jung's relatives were said to be clairvoyant). Observing the manifestation of 'split-off' unconscious processes, the subject of occult phenomena became the subject of his doctoral dissertation in 1902.
The Tower at Bollingen
Though valuing his family, as an introvert, Jung had a great need for solitude. In 1922, following the death of his mother, he bought some land at Bollingen, beside the upper lake of Zürich, and began to build a primitive stone dwelling that was to become his 'Tower.' This was his spiritual retreat, a place where he could escape the demands of his worldly life and spend time in great simplicity. With no electricity, telephone, or central heating, and with water fetched from a well and food cooked on a wood-burning stove, it put him in touch with nature. At Bollingen, he loved to sail his boats on the lake, carve inscriptions in stone, chop wood, paint murals and entertain close friends and family. It was also a place where he could pay homage and commune with his ancestors.
Over a 12-year period he added three more sections to this 'maternal' building until it became a representation in stone of his inner understanding of the psyche's structure (ie, a quaternity as symbol of psychic wholeness). The second storey was added after his wife's death in 1955, when he was 80. This symbolised an 'extension of consciousness achieved in old age', a feeling of being reborn in stone as his own individuation progressed along the path from the ego to the Self, and towards death.
Interest in Alchemy
In 1928, Jung received from the eminent Sinologist, Richard Wilhelm, a manuscript of a Tao-alchemical treatise entitled The Secret of the Golden Flower3. He found in the text confirmation of his ideas about the mandala and the circumambulation of the centre4. Further, he began experimenting with the I Ching or Book of Changes, the ancient Chinese oracle dating back to the 4th millennium BC. Finding 'meaningful connections' between the psychic and physical sequence of events, this led to the formulation of his theory of synchronicity.
Several crucial dreams, which typically followed such events, stirred in Jung a desire to become better acquainted with alchemy, in which Jung found the historical equivalent of his own psychology. He made alchemy accessible by showing how its symbols were similar to archetypal dream and fantasy material and began to collect alchemical works and, though struggling to decipher them, eventually came to realise that alchemy was the historical counterpart of depth psychology rather than a precursor of modern chemistry. The alchemist in attempting to transmute base matter into gold, was really working symbolically on the transformation of his own psyche. Jung had discovered in alchemy a metaphor of individuation.
The Late Years
As he got older, Jung's interest in the world expanded rather than contracted. Though originally eschewing the idea of disciples or any ambition to start a school of psychology, Jung helped found the CG Jung Institute in Zürich, in 1948, and was its first president, serving until he retired in 1950.
After 1945 and until his death in 1961, Jung did, however, see fewer patients, concentrating instead on his alchemical work. This profound interest in alchemy culminated in the publication of 'The Psychology of the Transference' (1946; In: The Practice of Psychotherapy, 1954; CW 16); Psychology and Alchemy (1953; CW 12); Alchemical Studies (1967; CW 13); and his magnum opus Mysterium Coniunctionis (1955-6; CW 14). Containing dream commentaries and amplifications on the images and symbols of individuation as portrayed in alchemy, these works provided his followers with alchemical insights into the analytical process and relationship.
In an effort to 'popularize' his work, and with the firm conviction that it would be the ordinary people who would carry on his psychology, Jung decided (in his early 80s) to write and get published his autobiography Memories, Dreams, Reflections, as well as a collaborative work entitled Man and His Symbols. Explaining his psychology in a most fundamental way was an appeal for the public to realise the reality of the unconscious and, above all, to take their own souls seriously. To this end he needed to reach a wider public and, in 1959, he agreed to be interviewed by John Freeman for a BBC series about famous living people, called Face to Face. The interview was a success, with his much quoted remark about the existence of God - 'I don't believe, I know' - arousing a storm of comment at the time.
Jung had many premonitions of approaching death, and he took these as both a preparation and a reassurance. In one impressive dream he saw the 'other Bollingen' bathed in a glow of light, and a voice told him that it was completed and ready for habitation5. The golden tower (as vessel of the Self) on 'the other shore of the lake' was now ready for him to move into.'
Jung died in Küsnacht, near Zürich, at a quarter to four on Tuesday afternoon, 6 June, 1961. It was synchronistic that about an hour or so afterwards, lightning struck a tall popular tree in his garden at the lake's edge.
Jung himself saw death as paradoxical, an event that had elicited contrasting emotions of grief and joy. He further said that death was 'a fearful piece of brutality... not only as a physical event, but far more so psychically: a human being is torn away from us, and what remains is the icy stillness of death'6.
Books on Jung's Life, Theories and Practice
|Adler, G||Studies in Analytical Psychology||1966||Hodder and Stoughton, London|
|Anthony, M||The Valkyries: The Women Around Jung||1990||Element Books, Shaftesbury, Dorset|
|Bennet, EA||CG Jung||1961||Barrie and Rockcliffe, London|
|Edinger, EF||Ego and Archetype||1992||Shambhala Publications, Boston and London|
|Fordham, F||An Introduction to Jung's Psychology||1987||Penguin, Harmondsworth, England|
|Jacobi, J||The Psychology of CG Jung||1962||Routledge and Kegan Paul, London|
|Noll, R||The Aryan Christ: The Secret Life of Carl Jung||1997||MacMillan, London|
|O'Connor, P||Understanding Jung, Understanding Yourself||1985||Paulist Press, Mahwah, New Jersey|
|Rosen, D||The Tao of Jung: The Way of Integrity||1997||Penguin, Harmondsworth, England|
|Samuels, A||Jung and Post-Jungians||1985||Routledge, London|
|Sharp, D||Jungian Psychology Unplugged||1998||Inner City Books, Toronto|
|Singer, J||Boundaries of the Soul: The Practice of Jung's Psychology||1994||Anchor/Doubleday, New York|
|Stein, M (ed)||Jungian Analysis||1984||Shambhala, Boulder, Colarado|
|Stein, M||Jung's Map of the Soul: An Introduction||1998||Open Court Publishing Company|
|Storr, A (ed. F Kermode)||Jung||1973||Fontana Paperbacks, London|
|Storr, A (ed)||Jung: Selected Writings||1983||Fontana, London|
|Whitmont, EC||The Symbolic Quest: Basic Concepts of Analytical Psychology||1978||Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey|