Book Review: Ego and Archetype by Edward F. Edinger

Book Review: Ego and Archetype by Edward F. Edinger

Individuation and the Religious Function of the Psyche.

This book review is by Lynelle Pieterse. The Jungian Book Club will be exploring this book during this month.

In the introduction we are reminded that Jung “achieved a magnificent synthesis of human knowledge.” Through his work we have come to know the reality of the psyche and the phenomenology of how it manifests in us and in the world. We can therefore recognise the same phenomenology expressed in the culture-products:  myth, religion, philosophy, art and literature. The area where we best see the reality of the psyche is when one person works in a committed way on their own personal development which Jung terms, the process of Individuation – “a process in which the ego becomes increasingly aware of its origin from and dependence upon the archetypal psyche.”



In this section Edinger discusses Individuation and the stages of development. He explains the challenges, i.e., what the relationship is of the ego to the Self, specifically how the ego manifests as an “Inflated ego”, and an “Alienated ego”. Finally, he describes how the “Encounter with the Self” manifests in the psyche and what its value is on the path toward Individuation. Regarding the Inflated ego, Jung’s theory of the collective unconscious or the archetypal psyche is significant. Edinger writes, “we know that the individual psyche is not just a product of personal experience […] it has pre-personal or transpersonal dimension which is manifested in universal patterns and images such as are found in all the world’s religions and mythologies.”

The structuring or ordering principle which unifies the various archetypal contents is explained as the central archetype or archetype of wholeness, the Self. In relation to the Self, the ego is described as the centre of conscious personality and the subjective seat of identity. The Self is then the seat of objective identity, the inner empirical deity or ‘imago Dei’. The Self is expressed through symbolic images. The book is about the Self as the richest source for the phenomenological study of the Self in the many representations man has made of the deity.

Some of the themes and images of the Self are discussed – Wholeness, totality, union of opposites, point where God and man meet. It is considered to be central source of life energy, and simply described as God. Edinger explains that according to Jung there are two autonomous centres of psychic being, the ego and the Self; that the importance of the relationship between the two is like man’s relationship to his Creator, as shown in the religious myth. Parallel with this, man’s psychological development can be understood in terms of the relationship between the Ego and the Self. It is the progressive evolution of the Ego-self relation that is of value.

The structure of the psyche in terms of the ego and the Self is explained. There is the primordial Self, or what Jung calls the ‘uroborus’. The individual ego is born out of this. Ego development takes place; in the first half of life the focus is on ego development and specifically regarding the separation between the ego and Self. In the second half of life, the focus is on how the ego relates to the Self. With reference to the first half of life, the ego-Self separation is key. It is as two stages, as a cycle that alternates between Inflation and Alienation.

With regard to ego-Self identity, Edinger presents a diagram to explain the Ego-Self axis. There is a connecting link between the two which ensures the integrity of the psyche. One can become conscious or partly conscious depending on how the ego relates to the Self. The Self then being the totality of the psyche and the dialectic between the ego and the Self is the process of Individuation.

When ego inflation occurs, the ego thinks it is bigger than it is, thinks it is the Self. When this happens, the ego is totally identified with the Self and experiences itself as a god – the original state of the unconscious is wholeness and perfection, metaphorically speaking, God.

We yearn for the symbolically primitive which is perfect, the original state that we experienced when we are born. The basic problem for the adult becomes how to achieve union with nature and the gods, without bringing about the inflation of identification with the Self which is what he yearns for, i.e., how to “successfully remove the child from his inflated state and give him a realistic and responsible notion of his relation to the world, while at the same time maintaining that living link with the archetypal psyche which is needed in order to make his personality strong and resilient.” The child experiences himself as the centre of the universe, but before long the world begins to reject his demands. It is reality that contradicts the unconscious ego assumptions. “All of us deep down have a residue of ego inflation that is manifested as an illusion of immortality.”

Edinger refers to myths to explain how the inflated ego manifests. In the story of Adam and Eve: “The myth depicts the birth of consciousness as a crime which alienates man from God, from his original wholeness. The serpent is the symbol of knowledge or emerging consciousness. Its temptation represents the urge toward self-realisation in man and symbolises individuation. Eating the forbidden fruit symbolises the transition from eternal state of unconscious oneness with the Self to a real, conscious life in space and time. […] The innate and necessary stages of psychic development require a polarisation of the opposites, conscious vs. unconscious, spirit vs nature.” (20) “Pain and suffering and death do exist prior to the birth of consciousness, but if there is not consciousness to experience them, they do not exist psychologically. […] We have to become alienated from the natural unconscious state of wholeness if we wish to develop into consciousness.” (25)

A description of the process of the Alienated ego follows. “Although the ego begins in inflation this condition cannot persist. Encounters with reality bring about an estrangement between ego and Self.” (37) The process of alienation is symbolised by such images as a fall, and exile. In these myths it shows how the ego has been injured. This injury can best be understood as damage to the ego-self axis. “The Self stands behind the ego and can act as a guarantor of its integrity. Jung says, the ego stands to the self as the moved to the mover.” (38) The myth that describes this process is the Old Testament man (ego) who was created in the image of God (Self). “The ego-self axis represents the vital connection between ego and Self that must be relatively intact if the ego is to survive stress and grow. This axis is the gateway or path of communication between the conscious personality and the archetypal psyche. Damage to this axis impairs or destroys the connection between conscious and unconscious, leading to alienation of the ego from its origin and foundation.” (38)

The Self may be experienced in childhood in relation to the parents, initially the mother in that she represents the Self – nourishing, protecting. The dependent child represents the childish ego consciousness. An illustration of this immature consciousness follows through the use of various myths: “Cain is a figure of alienation.” (45). “Melville’s book, ‘Moby Dick’, is a beautiful example of […] an alternation between the states of inflation and alienation.” (46) We are reminded that “just as the experience of active inflation is a necessary accompaniment of ego development, so the experience of alienation is a necessary prelude to awareness of the Self.”

Jung reminds us of the numinous power of the Self, with specific reference to alienation of the ego and the religious experience. “The classic symbol for alienation is the image of the wilderness. And it is here, characteristically, that some manifestation of God is encountered.” (50) Edinger quotes Jung in this regard:

“A religious attitude, understood psychologically, is based on an experience of the ‘numinosum’, i.e., the Self. But it is impossible for the ego to experience the Self as something separate as long as the ego is unconsciously identified with the Self. This explains the need for the alienation experience as a prelude to the religious experience.” (52)

The restitution of the ego-Self axis which follows inflation and alienation is key. “Like the body, the unconscious psyche has an instinctive wisdom which can correct the errors and excesses of consciousness if we are open to its messages. This corrective function derives from the Self and requires a living, healthy connection between Self and ego in order to operate freely.” (61)

What follows is the idea that we can eventually encounter the Self. “The inflated state, when acted out, leads to a fall and hence to alienation. The alienated condition likewise, under normal circumstances, leads over to the state of healing and restitution.” (62) The role of the collective is a powerful influence in correcting these states. Edinger refers to traditions in Zen Buddhism and Christianity as examples. “All religions are repositories of transpersonal experience and archetypal images.” […] When the collective psyche is in a stable state, the vast majority of individuals share a common living myth or deity. Each individual projects his God-image (the Self) to the religion of his community.” (65) However he warns that these practices also deprive man of the opportunity to experience the encounter with the Self on an individual level. The solutions according to Edinger is possible if the individual is “able to work consciously and responsibly with the activation of the unconscious he may discover the lost value, the god-image, within the psyche.” (68) What then follows is a breakthrough which occurs “usually after an intense alienation experience, the ego-Self axis suddenly breaks into conscious view. […] The ego becomes aware of, experientially, of a transpersonal centre to which the ego is subordinate.” (69) The book of Job is an example of “a remarkably comprehensive symbolic account of an encounter with the Self.” (76) “Jung considers that Job was released from his despair through a process of increasing consciousness on the part of deity.” (94)

The last section under Chapter 1 illustrates the process of the individuated ego. “Individuation is a process, not a realised goal. […] Speaking generally, the individuation urge promotes a state in which the ego is related to the Self without being identified with it. Out of this state there emerges a more or less continuous dialogue between the conscious ego and the unconscious, and also between outer and inner experience. A two-fold split is healed to the extent individuation is achieved; first the split between conscious and unconscious which began at birth of consciousness, and second the split between subject and object.” (96) Edinger concludes by saying, “For modern man, a conscious encounter with the autonomous archetypal psyche is equivalent to the discovery of God. After such an experience he is no longer alone in his psyche and his whole world view is altered.” (104)



As mentioned earlier, the work is to establish in us a unique centre in which the universe reflects itself. Edinger starts off by reminding us a most common modern psychological disorder of sorts, one of feeling that life has no meaning.

“Our relation to life has become ambiguous. The great symbol system which is organised Christianity seems no longer able to command the full commitment of men or to fulfil their ultimate needs.” (107)

He distinguishes between different uses of the word ‘meaning’, and specifically to the subjective use of the word as it relates to our psychological orientation. In the first instance when something deep has happened to us, we experience subjective, living meaning. Dreams, myths and works of art can convey this sense of meaning as well. By asking, what is the meaning of my life it becomes more subjective that the question, what is the meaning of life. The first question now holds the possibility of an answer.

“The problem of life meaning is closely related to the sense of personal identity. […] Who am I. (109)

“Modern man’s most urgent need is to discover the reality and value of the inner subjective world of the psyche, to discover the symbolic life. As Jung said: “Man is in need of a symbolic life…Only the symbolic life can express the need of the soul – the daily need of the soul, mind you!” (109) Edinger explains,

“A symbol […] is an image or representation which points to something essentially unknown, a mystery. […] A sign is dead, and a symbol is alive. Symbols are spontaneous product s of the archetypal psyche. One cannot manufacture a symbol; one can only discover it. Symbols are carriers of psychic energy. […] The relation between the ego and the symbol is a very important factor.” (110)

The three relations between the ego and the symbol are, in short: Where the ego identifies with the symbol, it lives out the image concretely, and the ego and archetypal psyche is one; when the ego is alienated from the symbol if functions outside of consciousness, and all symbols are merely seen as signs. “Its mysterious urgencies will be understood only in terms of elementary, abstract factors. And the third option, Edinger writes is the one to strive for. Here the ego, “while clearly separated from the archetypal psyche, is open and receptive to the effects of symbolic imagery. A kind of conscious dialogue between the ego and emerging symbols becomes possible. The symbol is then able to perform its proper function as release and transformer of psychic energy with full participation of conscious understanding.

Edinger explains the difference between two fallacies, concretistic and reductive, that can occur in the area of symbol and ego interaction. The one is the concretistic fallacy, where the ego in a more primitive state cannot distinguish symbols of the archetypal psych from concrete, external reality, e.g. the animalistic beliefs in primitives, or in religious believers who misunderstand religious images to refer to literal facts.

“The reductive fallacy makes the opposite mistake. In this case the significance of the symbol is missed by misunderstanding it only as a sign for some other know content […] that it can see behind symbols to their ‘real’ meaning. […] It operates on the assumption that no true mystery, no essential unknown transcending the ego’s capacity for comprehension, exists […] The conflict [between the two] is at the core of the contemporary conflict between traditional religious view of man and the so-called modern scientific view.” (112)

“As with all matters pertaining to personality, the concretistic and reductive fallacies will not be changed by rational exhortation. Actually they can be considered as two successive stages in personality development.” (113)

The first to relate to the early stage of ego development, i.e. as seen in primitives and children, and the latter “stems from a state of alienation between ego and the symbolism of the unconscious and occurs in a later stage of development. […] this leaves a dissociation between ego and unconscious which sooner or later must be bridged if one is to become whole. […] The ultimate goal of Jungian psychotherapy is to make the symbolic process conscious. […] The basic proposition is this: An unconscious symbol is lived but not perceived […] experienced only as a wish to some external action.” (113) Here the process of analogy can reveal the hidden image of the unconscious symbol. As Jung says,

“The creation of … analogies frees instinct and the biological sphere as a whole from the pressure of unconscious contents. […] Since such symptom images have the same origin as dreams, we can approach them in the way we would a dream – by the method of amplification.” (114)

In a further exposition in this chapter, reference is made to images of deity and specifically to the fact that their value is that of symbols because “a deity or superpower cannot be precisely defined. It is not a sign for something know and rationally understood, but rather a symbol expressing a mystery. This manner of interpretation, if successful, can lead the patient toward symbolic life. (115) Myths are used to describe the process of becoming conscious of symbols in the psyche. Such is the example of Job.

“To be able to recognise the archetype to see the symbolic image behind the symptom, immediately transforms the experience. It may be just as painful, but now it has meaning. Instead of isolating the sufferer form his fellow humans, it unites him with them in a deeper rapport.” (116)

Jung’s words guide us on our journey into contact with the archetypal psych. He writes: “I was living in a constant state of tension… To the extent that I managed to translate the emotions into images – that is to say, to find the images which were concealed in the emotions – I was inwardly calmed and reassured.” (117) Edinger relays this as, “the symbolic life is some form of prerequisite for psychic health.” He documents many cases of dreams and stories of clients who through the natural engagement with the symbolic life within their psyche, they illustrate the process of “analytical psychology concerning the origin and the development of the conscious ego.” (121) In further illustrations through the use of dreams, there is reference back to the ego-Self axis and its functions. An example of a dream is used:

“I would draw your attention to the light symbolism in this dream […] Light represents consciousness […] refers to the creation of the ego which is the light of consciousness born out of the darkness of the unconscious [ there are wise men in the dream who bring gifts and wisdom] “Wisdom is light in the psychological sense. The wise men are bringers of light of consciousness.” (129)

The symbols that the ego and the archetypal psyche present us with, allow symbolic meaning to be transmitted. “The symbol leads us to the missing part of the whole man.” (130)

The following chapter is symbolic exposition of Christ as paradigm of the individuated ego. “The image of Christ, and the rich network of symbolism which has gathered around Him, provide many parallels to the individuation process. In fact, when the Christian myth is examined carefully in the light of analytical psychology, the conclusion is inescapable that the underlying meaning of Christianity is the quest for individuation.” The myth of Jesus Christ is unique in its assertion of the paradoxical double aspect of Christ. He is both God and man. […] Understood psychologically, this means that Christ is simultaneously a symbol for both the Self and the ideal ego.” (132)

An exposition of this myth follows regarding Jung’s idea that the Christ can be seen as the symbol of the Self. Edinger’s view is that Jung “never really elaborated the idea of Christ as symbol of the ego.” He continues to explore the subject by saying that Christ as an illegitimate child did not have a traditional father figure. In such a case there is “no layer of personal experience to mediate between the ego and the numinous image of the archetypal father.” This resulted in a void in the psyche which made it vulnerable to the forces of the unconscious. “Jesus would appear to fit [this] description. He experienced a direct relation to the heavenly (archetypal) father and described in numerous vivid symbolic images the nature of the kingdom of heaven (the archetypal psyche)”. (133) Edinger continues to say that Jesus spoke about the idea of projection thousands of years before depth psychology even existed. E.g. Jesus said: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye with never a thought for the great plank in your own eye?” On the subject of over-identification with parents and family, Jesus warned: “For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother…” (133)

From these examples, it seems that Jesus encouraged the “solitary condition, the state of being autonomous individual. This can be achieved only by a separation from unconscious identification with others.” (134) And so the symbol of the cross is related to man finding his true self. “To take up one’s own cross would mean to accept and consciously realize one’s own particular pattern of wholeness.” (135) These teachings are not meant to be taken literally. Jung suggests that it is best understood on a subjective or inner level. In his seminar on “Visions” […] 1930 in Zurich referred to the Sermon on the Mount as similar to the discovery of depth psychology for the individual. E.g. the following beatitudes can be understood psychologically. “Blessed are: the poor in spirit” – the ego that is aware of its own emptiness is now open to the unconscious and can experience the archetypal psyche (kingdom of heaven); “…those who mourn” – the individual who withdraws their identification on an object outside of themselves, experiences a senses of loss; “…the meek” – when the attitude of the ego is thus to the unconscious it is teachable and flexible with regard to its assumptions; “…those who hunger” – Edinger explains, “this describes the empty ego who does not “identify its own opinions and judgements with the objective inner law”.[…] “Blessed is the merciful” refers to the ego when it has a “kind and considerate” attitude toward the shadow; “…the pure in heart” describes an ego that has made the unconscious (it’s dark stuff) conscious and in doing so becomes pure and open to experience the Self; “…the peacemakers” is explained as the ego’s role in reconciling the opposites, acting in the interest of the Self, as a kind of “son of God”; and finally, “…the persecuted” relates to the ego that experiences pain, but does not turn it into a negative dynamic in the psyche, and “is rewarded by contact with the archetypal psych and its healing, life-giving images.” (137-138)

Aspects of Jesus’ teachings illustrate how we can interpret them psychologically. The many references in passages in the gospel that refer to that which has been lost, “refer[s] to the special significance of the lost or repressed portion of the personality. […] The lost part is the most important because it takes with it the possibility of wholeness. The inferior function which has been lost to conscious life needs to be given special value if one’s goal is the wholeness of the Self. The last becomes first and the stone that the builders ejected becomes the cornerstone.” (143)

More examples follow of images from the gospel that support the path to individuation and wholeness. The value of Christ as the Self-oriented ego, meaning an ego which is conscious of being directed by the Self, is a core aim toward Self-acceptance, as “God’s beloved”. But a warning follows that if the ego starts to identify with this valuable discovery and “appropriates it for personal purposes” it falls prey to inflations. The three temptations of Christ in the dessert are considered necessary challenges that the ego would encounter when it encounters the Self. In other words, if the ego identifies with the Self, it loses the ability to acquire transpersonal wisdom i.e. to seek the myth or archetypal image which expresses his individual situation.” Edinger reminds us that transpersonal images have the ability to “protect [the ego] from the danger of inflation”. (149) The powerful image of Jesus on the cross expresses the position of the ego in the individuation crisis it will undoubtedly encounter. It relates to the “paralysing suspension between opposites”, that “the ego and the Self are simultaneously crucified”; and to “the archetypal psyche’s spontaneous tendency to nourish and support the ego”. A so called ‘Dark Night of the Soul’ is the place where the ego is able to have a profound encounter with the Self (with God), where the two merge. In St John of the Cross’s words this “is the state of union with God.” (150)

Edinger concludes by referring the second half of our life, “At this phase of development, the image of the suffering deity is immensely pertinent. This symbol tells us that the experience of suffering, weakness, and failure belongs to the Self and not just to the ego.” (153) “Man as the image of God becomes relevant. “If the figure of Christ is a mirror for the ego, it is certainly reflecting a paradoxical double image. Is the individual ego then both man and God, ego and Self? […] Jung touches on this same question in his alchemical studies”. (155) The conclusion is that an intimate connection was reached between the ego and God. “If we formulate this idea psychologically, it means that the real ego relates to the Self only via an ideal ego as paradigmatic model (Christ) which bridges the two worlds of consciousness and the archetypal psyche by combining both personal and archetypal factors. […] With these rather ambiguous reflections we encounter analytical psychology’s most difficult problem, namely the nature of the relation between the ego and the Self. […] The ego is the seat of consciousness and if consciousness creates the world, the ego is doing God’s creative work in its effort to realise itself through the way of individuation.” (156)

The chapters on Being an Individual discusses the ‘a priori’ existence of the ego. Edinger writes:

“The notion that one’s identity has an ‘a priori’ existence is expressed in the ancient idea that each person has his own individual star, a kind of celestial counterpart, representing his cosmic dimension and destiny. […] The process of achieving conscious individuality is the process of individuation which leads to the realization that one’s name is written in heaven. […] The fact is that embedded in the manifestations of unconscious individuality lies the supreme value of individuality itself, waiting to be redeemed by consciousness.” (159-160)

A section is devoted to an ego that devotes itself to selfish and egocentric behaviour, with reference to Narcissism, “the general misunderstanding concerning self-love. […] Narcissus represents the alienated ego that cannot love, that is cannot give interest and libido to life – because it is not yet related to itself.” (161) The image of the widow (meaning “desolate in this world”) is used to illustrate how a “dependent projection must be broken.” (163) Images related to the process of alchemy as seen in the Monad, are also used – “that the principle of individuality is the creative principle itself [and] does convey forcefully the sense that the individual is the carrier of a profound mystery. (165) Numerous instances of individuality follow, and Edinger concludes: “the whole world for each is peculiar and private to that soul. […] We each inhabit our own separate world and have no way of knowing how our world compares with that of others. […] It follows then that there will be as many worlds as there are centres of consciousness, and each is separate […] hermetically sealed from all others.” (169)

The questions asked relating to human solidarity such as where does empathy, love, understanding, and support come into play. The answer seems to lie in our ability to exclude the relationships that are based on projection and unconscious identification. If we are able to do this, we get to a place of “love or relationship […] that can enable us to have objective love and understanding. […] But to the extent that we are related to our individuality as a whole and in its essence, we come into objective and compassionate relation to others.” (170) The concept of unity and multiplicity as opposites in the process of developing consciousness is introduced. Fragmentation is seen in the use of the myths describing “a state of dispersal [where] there can be not experience of essential individuality. One is in thrall to the ‘ten thousand things.’ [..] The process of self-collection, or better self-recollection, involves accepting as one’s own all those aspects of being which have been left out in the course of ego development.” (174)

In this last chapter of the second part of the book, Edinger uses the values of the numbers 3 and 4 as symbols for the structure and the developmental goal with regard to the Trinity Archetype. The number 4 relates to psychic wholeness and the number 3 as it specifically relates to the Father, Son and Holy Ghost as representing of the deity, the Self. He uses 4 to show how the energy of the psyche is able to reach stability and rest. And how the “Trinitarian symbols on the other hand imply growth, development and movement in time.” (182)

“The theme of transformation, of death and rebirth, which is a dynamic, developmental happening, is also associated with the number 3.” (187) Edinger sums it up,

“Four is structural wholeness, completion – something static and eternal. Three on the other hand represents the totality of the cycle of growth and dynamic change – conflict and resolution and renewed conflict again. […] Jung … returns to the alchemical question: […] It could refer to the proper and necessary conflict in man between the completeness of the static, eternal quaternity and the dynamic change and vitality of the trinity.” (189)

The aspect of the no. 3 representing the masculine and the no. 4 the feminine is used to further illustrate the dynamic of the psyches development. (189) He quotes Jung, “We shall hardly be mistaken if we assume that our mandala aspires to the most complete union of opposites that is possible, including that of the masculine trinity and the feminine quaternity.” (192) Edinger concludes, “The trinity archetype seems to symbolise individuation as a process, while the quaternity symbolises its goal or completed state.” (193)



Jung said, “Man has a soul…there is a buried treasure in the field.” According to Edinger the process of individuation often expresses itself in symbolic images of a metaphysical nature. And Jung explored the realm of the metaphysical world with great courage. Paul Tillich in his commentary on Jung’s view, added that the symbolic images “must express what needs revelations, namely, the mystery of being.” (199)

Edinger adds an important point:

“…projected metaphysical content, when withdrawn from projection, may still retain its metaphysical quality. We know that… dreams do reveal, to some extent, the ‘mystery of being’. Hence these messages can properly be called metaphysical, i.e., beyond the physical or ordinary conceptions of life. […] dreams of individuals…tend to also express a general or common viewpoint, a kind of perennial philosophy…being based on the universality of the urge to individuation.” (199)

In this section he records a series of dreams from his patients. He shows how the content of dreams demonstrates the developmental dynamic of the psyche as it manifests in various archetypal images. He concludes by saying: “Somehow the presence of the analyst was needed to release the numinosity of the dream images. Taken as a whole, the dreams conveyed a series of small religious experiences which brought about a gradual and definite change in the dreamer’s life attitude.” (224)

An in depth discussion of the image of the Blood of Christ follows to support the point that “Theology without alchemy is like a noble body without its right hand.” He emphasises that the archetypal image of the blood…must be treated with care. […] the empirical method of analytical psychology requires that we attempt to strip away the protective, traditional context in order to examine the living symbol itself… and its function in the individual psyche.” (225)

“Jung’s psychology is… a verifiable science. […] we are obliged to use the cumbersome empirical-descriptive method which always keeps in immediate view the actual manifestations of the psyche…” (226) Edinger discusses the various meanings of the image of blood in terms of it being the “most appropriate gift to God […] is the notion that blood establishes a bond or covenant […] In the new dispensation the ‘blood of the covenant’ becomes the blood of the communion meal. […] the drinking of Christ’s blood… can be seen symbolically to represent a two-fold cementing process… the individual communicant cements his personal relation to God. Secondly, he becomes psychologically identified… as part of the mystical body of Christ.” (231)

“Another important line of symbolic connections links the blood of Christ with the grape and wine of Dionysus. […] wine is analogous to the ‘living water’ which Christ offered to the woman of Samaria.” (235) Edinger explains the concept of sacrifice as it relates to the image of Christ’s blood. Jung describes the meaning of Christ sacrificing himself through his blood as follows: “If the projected conflict is to be healed, it must return into the psyche of the individual… must celebrate a Last Supper with himself, and eat his own flesh and drink his own blood, which means that he must recognise and accept the other in himself […] An individual’s shadow is invariably bound up with the collective shadow […] This ‘feedback’ process is at the same time a symbol of immortality.” (245)

The conclusion is that the images of blood and wine form part of the alchemical value these symbols have in the developmental stages of the psyche. “As Jung comments… ‘these instructions are the typical alchemical procedure of extracting the spirit or soul, thus for bringing unconscious contents to consciousness.” (251) Edinger describes how “The symbol of the blood of Christ is active in the modern psyche […] how a psychic symptom can be resolved when its core of archetypal meaning is penetrated […] suffering has been transformed into conscious, meaningful suffering which is understood as a necessary ingredient of a profound, archetypal life process, i.e., the extraction of the blood of Christ.” (257) And finally to conclude, he says, “an archetypal dynamism represented by the blood of Christ… confirms the reality of the ‘power of redemption’ which is the essential quality of the blood of Christ.” (259)

In the final chapter, Edinger explores another mythical image. “A rich and complex symbol of the Self is found in the alchemist’s idea of the Philosopher’s Stone – the ultimate goal of the alchemical process.” (260) He reminds us that the goal of individuation is to achieve a conscious relation to the Self, and with this image the Philosopher’s Stone is a symbol of the Self. The Stone is described as if it were four different Stones, and again the number 4 returns to play an important part in this illustration as it represents wholeness. “In order to produce the Philosopher’s Stone, the four elements must then be reunited in the unity of a quintessence. The original whole… is thus restored…”. (265) He concludes by saying, “To bring an emerging unconscious content into consciousness, the immaterial must be clothed in matter, the disembodied, or better the not-yet-embodied, must undergo incarnation; a spirit must be caught in some discernible form in order to become a content of consciousness. (285)

“The knowledge of the archetypal psyche is indeed available only to a few. It derives from inner subjective experiences which are scarcely communicable. However, the reality of the psyche is beginning to find witnesses for itself. The Philosopher’s Stone is a symbol for that reality… It is a potent expression of the source and totality of the individual being. Whenever it appears in the process of psychotherapy it has a constructive and integrating effect.” (295)



To summarise the key learning areas in the book, the goal of the psyche is individuation and wholeness, and encountering the Self is a core developmental aim of the psyche. This key process of the ego – being not yet conscious of itself or of the Self as separate entities –  is to become conscious and return and find a place of balance and restitution on the ego-Self axis.

Symbols are alive and act as carriers of psychic energy. It is important for our psychic health that we engage with them in a conscious way as they relate to the experience of our archetypal psyche. The process of individuation expresses itself by means of symbolic images of a metaphysical nature. Encountering myths as they resonate with the psyche in different ways through dreams, religious and numinous experiences, assist us in making the unconscious conscious.

The goal is to become an autonomous individual separate from unconscious identification with anything outside of ourselves; to remain in the flux of opposites which is in itself a numinous space, because wholeness is found in the union of opposites. We hold fast to the knowledge that embedded in the manifestations of our unconscious individuality, the supreme value of individuality itself lies waiting to be redeemed by consciousness.


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  • Richard Lyons Reply

    You are obviously a Jungian therapist – or something of that ilk – as you are quite articulate in this field. I read the book myself some time ago and you do not seem to be distorting it.

    I also, perhaps naively, assume that your are Dutch – or from the Flemish part of Belgium. I myself am now moving away from Jung – without illumination it must be emphasised – into the study of Jacques Lacan (and Freud).

    I also quite like Kierkegaard’s (non-Calvinist) version of Protestantism, someone whom I once saw being quite savagely criticised by Jung ..this I think was in a biography of him by Ronald Hayman. I sometimes wonder whether CGJ quite understood the Danish theologian!

    August 3, 2020 at 9:41 pm

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