C. G. Jung and the Alchemical Imagination
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C. G. Jung and the Alchemical Imagination

Passages into the Mysteries of Psyche and Soul

Stanton Marlan

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eBook - ePub

C. G. Jung and the Alchemical Imagination

Passages into the Mysteries of Psyche and Soul

Stanton Marlan

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About This Book

Winner of the 2021 American Board & Academy of Psychoanalysis Annual Book Prize for Best Theoretical Book in Psychoanalysis!

Stanton Marlan brings together writings which span the course of his career, examining Jungian psychology and the alchemical imagination as an opening to the mysteries of psyche and soul.

Several chapters describe a telos that aims at the mysterious goal of the Philosophers' Stone, a move replete with classical and postmodern ideas catalysed by prompts from the unconscious: dreams, images, fantasies, and paradoxical conundrums. Psyche and matter are seen with regards to soul, light and darkness in terms of illumination, and order and chaos as linked in the image of chaosmos. Marlan explores the richness of the alchemical ideas of Carl Jung, James Hillman, and others and their value for a revisioning of psychology. In doing so, this volume challenges any tendency to literalism and essentialism, and contributes to an integration between Jung's classical vision of a psychology of alchemy and Hillman's Alchemical Psychology.

C.G. Jung and the Alchemical Imagination will be a valuable resource for academics, scholars, and students of Jungian and post-Jungian studies, Jungian analysis, and psychotherapy. It will also be of great interest to Jungian psychologists and Jungian analysts in practice and in training.

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Chapter 1
Jung’s discovery of alchemy and its development in the Jungian tradition

Jung considered alchemy in a way that few if any before him had imagined. Alchemy for the most part had been relegated to the status of a historical anachronism or hidden away within the confines of an esoteric occultism. To the contemporary mind, alchemists were viewed as odd, reclusive and strange old men in their laboratories hopelessly trying to change lead into gold. Their practice was seen as nonsense, or, at best, as a precursor to the modern science of chemistry.
Jung began his reflections with a similar attitude, as he describes in Memories, Dreams, Reflections (1963). There he notes that when he first desired to become more closely acquainted with alchemical texts, he procured the classic volume Artis Auriferae Volumina Duo (1593):
I let this book lie almost untouched for nearly two years. Occasionally I would look at the pictures and each time I would think, ‘Good Lord, what nonsense! This stuff is impossible to understand’.
(Jung 1963: 204)
However, as his enquiry grew deeper, Jung concluded that the alchemists were speaking in symbols about the human soul and were working as much with the imagination as with the literal materials of their art. The gold that they were trying to produce was not the common or vulgar gold, but an aurum non vulgi or aurum philosophicum, a philosophical gold (Jung 1963). They were concerned with both the creation of the higher man and the perfection of nature. In a 1952 interview at the Eranos Conference, Jung stated:
The alchemical operations were real, only this reality was not physical but psychological. Alchemy represents the projection of a drama both cosmic and spiritual in laboratory terms. The opus magnum had two aims: the rescue of the human soul and the salvation of the cosmos.
(Jung, quoted in McGuire and Hull 1977: 228)
This move brought alchemy into the realm of contemporary thought and was the beginning of a sustained psychology of alchemy.
To see alchemy in this way—as a psychological and symbolic art—was a major breakthrough for Jung and a key to unlocking its mysteries. The exploration and development of this insight led Jung eventually to see in alchemy a fundamental source, background and confirmation of his psychology of the unconscious. The impact of alchemy on his continuing work was so great that: ‘A good third of Jung’s writings are directly or tangentially concerned with alchemy, proportionately far more than he wrote about typology, association experiments, eastern wisdom, or parapsychology’ (Hillman 1980: 30, n. 3). As Schwartz-Salant (1995) has noted: ‘C.G. Jung, perhaps more than any other modern researcher of alchemy, is responsible for resurrecting this body of thought as a respectable field of study’ (Schwartz-Salant 1995: 2).

Jung’s writings on alchemy

The English publication of Jung’s Collected Works did not follow the order of his original writings or presentations. Some individual volumes have been arranged as collections of papers from different periods and not necessarily in terms of the unfolding of his ideas or the importance of his work. Editorial notes to each volume help to place his original writings back into chronological order. Although the historical unfolding of his ideas can be traced in his autobiography Memories, Dreams, Reflections (Jung 1963), it should be noted that Jung’s works on alchemy are not simply systematic. The development of Jung’s theoretical ideas might best be considered as a mosaic of discovery, elaboration and synthesis of his ongoing exploration of the unconscious and of its connection with alchemical thought.
As noted, Jung’s work on alchemy constitutes a considerable field of research. The most obvious resources are to be found in those volumes of his Collected Works dedicated specifically to alchemy. These include Psychology and Alchemy (vol. 12), Alchemical Studies (vol. 13) and his magnum opus, Mysterium Coniunctionis (vol. 14). In addition to these major works, important alchemical reflections can be found in Aion (vol. 9ii) and in The Practice of Psychotherapy (vol. 16). The important paper in the latter volume related to alchemy is ‘The psychology of the transference’ (1946). Jung notes that this essay can also serve as an introduction to his more comprehensive account in Mysterium Coniunctionis. In addition, The Symbolic Life (vol. 18) contains a few short reflections: ‘Foreword to a catalogue on alchemy’ (1946), ‘Faust and Alchemy’ (1949) and ‘Alchemy and psychology’ (1950). The last piece was written initially for the Encyclopedia Hebraica and is a short synopsis of the alchemical work that is more fully elaborated in Psychology and Alchemy. Another short synopsis is also detailed in an interview with Jung in C.G. Jung Speaking: Interviews and Encounters (McGuire and Hull 1977). The interview was conducted by Mircea Eliade at the Eranos conference in 1952. These two synopses give a short but mature overview of Jung’s alchemical process.
Beyond these materials, Jung’s autobiography Memories, Dreams, Reflections (1963) contains his recollections of his discovery and elaboration of alchemy. These reflections are amplified in a considerable number of letters reproduced in C.G. Jung Letters, Volumes 1 and 2. These letters are a small treasure trove of correspondence with such figures as H.G. Baynes, Karl Kerenyi, Hermann Hesse, Erich Neumann, Victor White, Maud Oakes, John Trinick and others. In addition, there are also a collection of unpublished seminar notes containing 15 lectures from the winter of November 1940 to February 1941, which were compiled by Barbara Hannah with the help of a number of others including Marie-Louise von Franz, Toni Wolff and Jung himself. These notes, though reproduced, have not been made available to the public and were generally restricted to seminar members and analysts. Other tools for researching Jung’s alchemical work include the General Bibliography (vol. 19, 1979a) and the General Index (vol. 20, 1979b) of the Collected Works. The index contains two sub-indices that focus on Renaissance collections of alchemical texts and their authors; it also contains alchemical themes and symbolic references that locate these ideas and images in Jung’s overall alchemical writings. In addition, the student or researcher may find The Abstracts of the Collected Works of C.G. Jung (1976) to be of value, as it contains synopses of all of Jung’s collected works.

Resources beyond Jung’s writings

Beyond Jung’s own works, a number of Jung’s followers have written about alchemy in a way that helps the reader to enter the complexity of his work with greater ease. Both Marie-Louise von Franz and Edward Edinger have explicitly stated this goal in their works on alchemy. Specifically, von Franz’s Alchemy: An Introduction to the Symbolism and Psychology (1980) and Alchemical Active Imagination (1979) serve as good introductory texts, as does Edinger’s Anatomy of the Psyche (1985), as well as his other detailed studies which guide readers through Jung’s most difficult works: The Mystery of the Coniunctio: Alchemical Image of Individuation (1994), The Mysterium Lectures (1995) and The Aion Lectures: Exploring the Self in C.G. Jung’s Aion (1996a). In addition, Nathan Schwartz-Salant has compiled a work entitled Jung on Alchemy (1995) which, along with a scholarly introduction, contains carefully selected passages from Jung’s major works.
Many Jungian analysts have written on and/or referenced Jung’s work with important insights that lend themselves to understanding Jung’s alchemical project. Andrew Samuels has dedicated a chapter of his book The Plural Psyche (1989) to helping others understand Jung’s involvement with alchemy and to showing its relevance for current analytical theory and clinical application. David Holt’s (1987–1988) article ‘Alchemy: Jung and the historians of science’ in Harvest provides a reference guide to the historical literature for those who have an interest in Jung’s work in relation to the history of science and to scientific ideas. Holt has researched the important journal Ambix, a periodical concerned with the history of chemistry and alchemy, which contains many responses to Jung’s alchemical writings. Beverley Zabriskie (1996) has also addressed in her work the issue of the relationship of Jung’s alchemy to modern science, particularly physics. The continuing importance of alchemy for current Jungian thinkers has been addressed by me in my edited book Fire in the Stone: The Alchemy of Desire (1997), which brings together a range of essays by Jungian analysts and scholars who have been inspired by the continuing vitality of the alchemical metaphor in their own work. Containing essays by James Hillman, Paul Kugler, Pat Berry, Don Kalsched, Lionel Corbett, Ron Schenk, Scott Churchill and myself, this collection can serve as introductory to the range of application of the alchemical metaphor. Finally, Murray Stein (1992) has produced a series of ten audiotapes entitled Understanding the Meaning of Alchemy: Jung’s Metaphor of the Transformative Process, and Joseph Henderson (1987) has recorded a video on the alchemical text, Splendor Solis, with his commentary and discussion.
Beyond the references mentioned earlier, which survey the breadth of alchemy’s application, there are a number of Jungian thinkers who have made contributions to the psychology of alchemy and who have addressed and elaborated specific alchemical themes. Each in his or her own way has been carrying on the work originally begun by Jung himself. It would be impossible within the scope of the present overview to include and elaborate every source or contribution from those who have applied Jung’s theory to alchemy. However, a number of these contributors—including von Franz, Edinger, Hillman, Nathan Schwartz-Salant, Paul Kugler, Stanton Marlan, Jeffrey Raff, Walter Odajnyk, Hayao Kawai, Wolfgang Giegerich and Yasuhiro Tanaka—have been chosen to represent ideas that reflect a wide range of perspectives from classical application to contemporary revisionist themes. The work of these writers will therefore be more fully elaborated later in the text.
Many others have made important contributions, and their work can be pursued by readers interested in the particular themes of their writings as follows. Michael Fordham (1960) wrote about the relationship of analytical psychology to theory, alchemy, theology and mysticism. In 1967, Aniela Jaffé published an article entitled ‘The influence of alchemy on the work of C.G. Jung’. Robert Grinnel’s (1973) book Alchemy in a Modern Woman applied alchemy to a clinical case and followed its archetypal dynamics. In the same year, David Holt (1973) in ‘Jung and Marx’ continued his reflection on the importance of alchemy for understanding theory. Joe Henderson (1978) wrote on the ‘Practical application of alchemical theory’, which examines Solomon Trismosin’s Splendor Solis and considers whether in theory or practice, we are ‘always seeking to heal the split between Spirit and Matter’ (Henderson 1978: 251), and in 2003, he and Dyane Sherwood published Transformation of the Psyche: The Symbolic Alchemy of the Splendor Solis. K.D. Newman (1981) in ‘The riddle of the Vas Bene Clausum’ amplified the idea of the closed container ‘giving particular attention to the practical application it has for analytical psychotherapy’ (Newman 1981: 239). Patrick McGoveran (1981) applied an alchemical model to a therapeutic milieu with psychotic borderline patients. Mario Jacoby (1984) in his book The Analytic Encounter: Transference and Human Relationship wrote about the application of alchemy to the analytic situation, focusing specifically on transference and erotic love. Barbara Stevens Sullivan (1989) in her book Psychotherapy Grounded in the Feminine Principle reflected on alchemy and the transference, as did Jean Kirsch (1995) in her paper ‘Transference’— both adding important ideas about the nature of the dialectical relationship. Sullivan’s particular contribution was to revise the masculine and feminine principles and...

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