An Alchemists’ LairShaun Matthee
I am not an intrepid traveler. I am rather attached to my comforts and routines and usually overwhelmed by the airports and stations and luggage and people and shops. So it was with great trepidation that I set off to Zurich to attend the C.G. Jung Institute Winter Intensive, 2016. I traveled with a group organised by Dr. Leslee Brown that included accommodation and outings. This really worked for me, since I usually hide out in my hotel room too intimidated to explore on my own. Zurich is amazing, I loved it and it was the first time I saw snow! Lake Zurich, The Black Madonna and the incredible library at the Einseideln Monastery, the Jungian workshops and seminars, are just some of the amazing things I experienced.
But the highlight of the experience by far was visiting Jung’s Bollingen Tower. This house with four towers was built by Jung in stages throughout his life. The first tower was built in 1923, with additions added during 1927, 1931, and 1935. A second story was added to the 1927 addition after the death of Jung’s wife Emma in 1955. It is now the owned by the family trust. Jung’s extended family uses it during summer as a holiday home, but in winter it is too cold to stay there. Although It is not open to the public, we were privileged to get a private tour by Jung’s grandson Hans Hoerni, as part of the Winter Intensive programme at the Institute. Bollingen is Jung’s testament to his own individuation process and his relationship to symbols and alchemy.
What an incredible experience! Hans was sixteen years old when his famous grandfather passed away and he has few precious memories that he shared with us. He told us that Jung used to go to an island in the Zurich lake and camp out there with his family until his wife Emma complained that it was too unpleasant. He then purchased the land on which he built the Bollingen tower to create a place to go to during their holidays. The initial structure was a circular tower only. Hans told us that Jung started building it himself until he got to about a meter high and then realised that he needed some professional help. He shared with us stories from his childhood: how big and soft his grandfather’s hands were, how the grandchildren were told to be quiet around the house when their very old grandfather was there until his mother decided that it really is not practical and they stopped going when Jung was around. He told us that he was with Jung when he carved the inscription for Emma after her death and he remembers when the stone chipped. He also relayed a story from when he was ten years old. He and his father went skiing, and upon returning decided to go past the Bollingen Tower. This was during January. How surprised he was to find Jung and his helper wrapped up in thick coats sitting around the kitchen table freezing, when he had a beautiful warm house back in Kusnacht!
What is obvious when you visit Bollingen is that this was Jung’s authentic expression of who he was. His family treasures its authenticity and it has no running water, only a water pump, no electricity and only one outhouse. On our tour we were only allowed inside the bottom level which included the kitchen still kept with the original furniture and utensils, a space where the family used to eat and a fireplace. We were not allowed to photograph the inside of the tower, only photographs outside were allowed. Hans shared with us that Bollingen was broken into and a number of weapons that hung above the fireplace was stolen. Also, some salt seeped through the stone and Hans’ brother carved over the inscriptions to make them visible again. Hans also showed us two photographs that have not been published of Jung without his shirt chopping wood.
The family cooks and spends most of their time outside on a patio. The ceiling of the patio is painted in the various family crests, where Jung inscribed the names of Marie Louise von Franz and Ruth Bailey who helped him to paint this during 1957.
Hans recalled the story of how one of his aunts found the skeleton of a French soldier on the property when they were excavating for the build. Jung had carved an ode to the unknown soldier in one of the rocks. All around the property, there are carvings of various images and verses. It was a magical experience seeing the carved stones and listening to Bob Hinshaw reading the English translations of these stones to us.
Jung was guided throughout his life by many powerful symbols. One of these symbols were stones. Since when Jung was a child, stones had symbolic meaning for him. He wrote in Memories, Dreams, Reflections:
“The stone symbolized something permanent that can never be lost or dissolved, something eternal that some have compared to the mystical experience of God within one’s own soul.
It symbolizes what is perhaps the simplest and deepest experience, the experience of something eternal that man can have in those moments when he feels immortal and unalterable.”
The power of the symbolic meaning of stones are palpable at the Bollingen Tower. Here he spent many days inscribing stones with Latin quotes and images. Just days before his death in 1961, at the age of eighty-six, he dreamt of a great white stone.
On it was the inscription “This shall be a sign unto you of wholeness and oneness.”
The feeling that there is something magical, that you have stepped into a space without time where this alchemist of the psyche transmuted these stones into visions and symbols on his own path to individuation can be felt and experienced at Bollingen Tower, and will remain for as long as it prevails the ravages of time.
Visiting Bollingen Tower filled me with a longing and sadness that I was only able to reflect on once I returned home. As a Jungian, I have deep relationship with the symbols that I surround myself with. One of my most important expressions of who I am and what I choose to reflect about myself is my home. My relationship with my immediate environment is the canvas on which I create my own meaning. What is within finds expression without and this is what I experienced at Bollingen – one man’s ability to carve his world into the stones and foundations of his being. I can understand why Jung chose to spend so much time here, among the symbols and words that reflected his innermost dialogue with his unconscious. I too long for this experience of being at one with my surroundings and seeing myself reflected within the creations of my soul.
Bollingen Tower vibrates with reverence and meaning. It was an inspiration. I am blessed to have experienced and seen it.
Until next time
I would like to take this opportunity to share with you details of an incredible course that Dr. Leslee Brown has organised for May 2016. Having gone on one of her tour experiences myself, during the Jungian Intensive, I really recommend joining her on this exciting summit. Join Dr. Alfried Langle, founding member of Logos therapy, for a profound journey towards authenticity and wholeness presented in his home town Vienna Austria. “Finding oneself- An Existential Summit” presented 8 to 15 May 2016 in Vienna, please follow this link for more information.