Carl G. Jung

Carl G. JungCarl G. Jung(1875–1961) Swiss psychiatrist who founded analytical psychology and almost single-handedly revived modern interest in Alchemy. Carl Gustav Jung’s exploration of people’s inner realms was fueled to a large extent by his own personal experiences involving dreams, visions, mythological and religious symbolism, and paranormal phenomena. A pupil of Sigmund Freud, he took Freud’s work concerning the unconscious and brought it into spiritual realms.

Jung was born on July 26, 1875, in Kesswil, Switzerland. When he was four, his family moved to KleinHuningen near Basel. Jung’s entry into mystical and mysterious realms began early in childhood in dreams. As a boy, he began to feel that he had two personalities; besides himself was a wise old man who stayed with him and had increasing influence on his thought throughout his entire life. He experienced precognition, clairvoyance, psychokinesis, and hauntings. Perhaps his psychic sensitivity was an hereditary gift: His mother and maternal grandmother both were known as “ghost seers.” His grandmother, Augusta Preiswerk, once fell into a three-day trance at age 20 during which she communicated with spirits of the dead and gave prophecies. Jung’s mother, Emilie, kept a personal journal of paranormal occurrences that took place in the house in which Jung grew up.

In 1898, Jung’s interest in occult phenomena turned serious. A 16-year old cousin who was a practicing medium performed spiritualistic experiments for Jung’s study. His notes later became the basis for his doctoral thesis and first published paper, “On the Psychology and Pathology of So-Called Occult Phenomena” (1902). Meanwhile, he decided to become a psychiatrist and in 1900 did his medical training at Basel.

Jung became interested in mythology around 1909, and a year later published a paper, “The Psychological Foundations of Belief in Spirits,” in the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR)in London. Jung did not believe in literal spirits but said that there are three main sources for the belief in spirits: the seeing of apparitions, mental disease, and dreams, the most common of the three. He said that spirits of the dead are created psychologically upon death: Images and ideas remain attached to relatives and are activated to form spirits by intensity of emotion.

Also in 1909, he resigned a post at Burgholzki Mental Clinic where he had been practicing for nine years. He traveled to the United States with Freud and received an honorary degree from Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts. (Jung also received an honorary doctorate from Harvard in 1936, from Oxford in 1938, and from the University of Geneva in 1945.) In 1910, he was appointed permanent president of the International Congress of Psycho-Analysis.

Jung worked closely with Freud from 1907 to 1913 but broke with his mentor due to significant disagreements, among them Freud’s emphasis on sexuality, his dismissal of spiritual aspects of the psyche and of the paranormal, and the meaning of symbol s. In 1914, Jung resigned from his position at Burgholzki Mental Clinic, and in 1915, he resigned a professorship at the University of Zurich.

After these breaks with the establishment, Jung delved deeply into dreams, mythology, and ultimately alchemy. He suffered a six-year-long breakdown during which he had psychotic fantasies. He was labeled a “mystic” and was shunned by his peers. He experienced numerous paranormal phenomena. He became immersed in the world of the dead, which led to his Seven Sermons to the Dead, written under the name of the second-century Gnostic writer, Basilides, and published in 1916. He described the spirits of the dead as “the voices of the Unanswered, Unresolved, and Unredeemed.”

After his recovery, Jung developed more fully his own theories: the psychological types, the anima (feminine principle) and animus (masculine principle), the collective unconscious, and archetypes. Of symbols, Jung said that they should be understood as “an intuitive idea that cannot yet be formulated in any other or better way.” Concerning dreams, he said that they are the private property of the dreamer in terms of their meanings but said that some dreams come from the collective unconscious and belong to all humankind.

Jung was intensely interested in Gnosticism, particularly its Sophia, or wisdom, the desirable elements once rejected by the church along with its heretical elements. His explorations of Gnosticism, joined with his interest in alchemy, paved the way for a modern revival of interest in the spiritual dimensions of both subjects.

In 1944, Jung had a near-death experience (NDE) following a heart attack. He felt he was fl oating high over the Earth and could see from the Himalayas across the Middle East to a part of the Mediterranean. He became aware that he was leaving the earth. Then he saw near him a huge block of stone that had been hollowed out into a temple. To the right of the temple entrance, a black Hindu was sitting in a lotus position. Jung knew that he was expected inside the temple. As he drew closer, he felt his earthly desires and attitudes fall away from him, and he became aware that inside he would understand the meaning of his life. At that moment, his earthly doctor appeared in the form of the basileus of Kos, the healer at the temple of Aesculapius, the Roman god of healing (Aesclepius in Greek), telling him that he had to return to Earth. Jung did so but most unhappily and with great resentment against his doctor.

After the death of his wife, whom he had married in 1903, Jung began to build a castle of stone on his newly acquired property in Bollingen, Switzerland. He carved numerous alchemical and mystical symbols into the stone. The ongoing building and altering of his tower signified for him an extension of consciousness achieved in old age. The tower and its symbolic role in his life is a leitmotif in Jung’s writings. During his retirement at Bollingen, Jung reworked many earlier papers and developed further his ideas on many topics that are now of intense interest, including mandala symbolism, the I CHING, alchemy, synchronicity, and especially the phenomenology of the self, the latter culminating in the major work Aion in 1951. In Aion, Jung summarized the roles of the “archetypes of the unconscious” and commented especially on the Christ image as symbolized in the fish.

Jung believed in Reincarnation and was influenced by The Tibetan Book of the Dead. He believed his own incarnation was not due to karma, however, but to a passionate drive for understanding in order to piece together mythic conceptions from the slender hints of the unknowable. He feared greatly for the future of humankind and said that the only salvation lay in becoming more conscious. He said he believed that his work proved that the pattern of God exists in every person.

Jungian principles have been found to be applicable to nearly all academic disciplines from mythology to religion to quantum physics and to nearly all aspects of modern life. His prolific writings have been collected into 20 volumes plus a supplement.


Jung’s interest in alchemy grew out of his intense interest in Gnosticism and his desire, as early as 1912, to fi nd a link between it and the processes of the collective unconscious that would pave the way for the reentry of the Gnostic Sophia into modern culture. He found such a link in alchemy.

Jung also was prompted to research alchemy by his dreams (see below). He collected a vast body of works on alchemy and immersed himself in study of the subject. His first work on alchemy was a lecture on alchemical symbolism in dreams, entitled “Dream Symbols and the Individuation Process,” delivered in 1935 at Villa Eranos. A year later, also at Eranos, he lectured on “The Idea of Redemption in Alchemy.” His first book on the subject was Psychology and Alchemy (1944). Aion, Alchemical Studies, Psychology and Alchemy, and Mysterium Coniunctionis also deal with alchemy. In Mysterium Coniunctionis (1955–56), his last masterpiece, he states that he was satisfi ed that his pyschology was at last “given its place in reality and established upon its historical foundations.” Jung’s knowledge of alchemy is exemplified throughout all of his later writings.

Jung saw alchemy as a spiritual process of redemption involving the union and transformation of Lumen Dei, the light of the Godhead, and Lumen Naturae, the light of nature. The alchemists’ experimental procedure of solve et coagula (dissolve and coagulate) symbolized the “death” and “rebirth” of the substances they used. The alchemists were part of the process themselves and transmuted their own consciousness into a higher state through symbolic death and rebirth. The alchemists’ “projection,” or transmutation of base metals into gold and silver, takes place within the psyche as the process of individuation, or becoming whole.


Jung had alchemical dreams and visions long before he knew what alchemy was about. Once he became immersed in it, he was able to understand dreams and visions from a new perspective, and he also was able to develop his theories on the personality. Alchemy led to one of his most important concepts, individuation, which is the process of becoming whole. Through our experiences in life, we are challenged to integrate pieces of ourselves. Each one of us has a feminine side, called the anima, and a masculine side, called the animus, which must be brought into harmony with each other. In addition, we have the shadow, parts of us that are repressed. Individuation enables us to become conscious of both our smallness and our great uniqueness in the grand scheme of things.

Like many of his contemporaries, Jung considered alchemy as “something off the beaten track and rather silly.” But between 1926 and 1928, he had a series of dreams that changed his mind and his life.

In the first dream in 1926, he fi nds himself in South Tyrol during wartime. He is on the Italian front, driving back from the front lines in a horse-drawn carriage with a little peasant man. Shells explode all around them; the journey is very dangerous. They cross a bridge and then go through a tunnel whose vaulting has been partially destroyed by the shelling. At the other end is a sunny landscape, and the radiant city of Verona. The landscape looks lush and green. Jung notices a large manor house with many annexes and outbuildings. The road leads through a large courtyard and past the house. They drive through a gate and into the courtyard. Another gate at the far end opens onto the sunny landscape. Just as they are in the middle of the courtyard, the gates at both ends clang shut. The little peasant leaps down from his seat and announces, “Now we are caught in the seventeenth century.” Jung thinks to himself, “Well, that’s that! But what is there to do about it? Now we shall be caught for years.” He is then consoled by another thought: “Someday, years from now, I shall get out again.”

The dream was prophetic: Jung would spend much of the rest of his life looking into alchemy, which peaked in Europe in the 17th century. He searched through works on history, religion, and philosophy to try to illuminate this puzzling dream but to no avail.

Other dreams occurred with the same theme. In them, he sees a previously unknown annex to his own house. He wonders how he could not have known about it. Finally, he enters the annex and fi nds that it contains a wonderful library, full of large 16th- and 17th-century books, handbound with pigskin, and illustrated with strange symbolic copper engravings. He has never before seen such symbols.

In 1928, a turning point came when his friend Richard Wilhelm gave him a copy of The Secret of the Golden Flower, a Chinese mystical and alchemical tract. The Secret of the Golden Flower revealed to Jung the bridge between Gnosticism and the psychology of the unconscious. In comparing the Chinese tract with Latin alchemical works, Jung found that the alchemy systems of both East and West essentially dealt with transformation of the soul.

Jung asked a bookseller to send him anything he obtained on the subject of alchemy. Soon he received a copy of a collection of classic 16th-century alchemical texts, Artis Auriferae Volumina Duo. But the book and its strange symbols still looked like nonsense to him, and Jung left it largely untouched for two years. Finally he realized that the language of alchemy is symbols, and he set about to decipher them. He then understood his dreams.

In the house dreams, the house represented his own consciousness, and the annex represented something that belonged to him but of which he was just emerging into his conscious. The library with its old books represented alchemy itself. Within 15 years, Jung had assembled a library similar to the one in his dream.

Jung had long sought to find a way to bridge the present and the past, to relate analytical psychology to myth through a historical context, and now he found that bridge in alchemy. The intellectual thread of Western alchemy extended back to the Gnostics, whom Jung had studied. He saw that the Gnostics and the alchemists were concerned with the same inner landscape as he.

Jung also recognized the archetypal nature of alchemical symbols and observed them in the dreams of his patients, who knew nothing about alchemy. He was able to understand certain dream motifs that had previously puzzled him. For example, one of his patients had a dream of an eagle flying into the sky. In this dream, the eagle begins to eat his own wings and then drops back to earth. Jung interpreted the dream on a personal level as a reversal of a psychic situation. He then discovered an alchemical engraving of an eagle eating its own wings, and thus saw the image in the dream as archetypal as well.

Three days before he died, Jung had the last of his visionary alchemical dreams and a portent of his own impending death. In the dream, he had become whole. A signifi cant symbol was tree roots interlaced with gold, the alchemical symbol of completion. When he died in his room in Zurich on June 6, 1961, a great storm arose on Lake Geneva, and lightning struck a favourite tree of his.


Much of Jung’s efforts concerned relating analytical psychology to Christianity. In alchemical terms Jung saw the Christ figure as the lapis or Philosopher’s Stone, the agent that transforms the impure into the pure, the base metal into gold. Thus in its highest mystical sense, alchemy represents the transformation of consciousness to love, personified by the hermaphrodite, the union of male-female opposites (physicality and spirituality) who are joined into a whole.

One night Jung awakened from sleep to see a startling vision at the foot of his bed: a brightly lit figure of Christ on the Cross, not quite life-size, and breathtakingly beautiful. Christ’s body was greenish gold. Jung was no stranger to powerful dreams or visions, but he was shaken by this one.

In interpreting the vision, Jung saw that Christ represented the aurum non vulgi (“not the common gold”) of the alchemists. This referred to the more serious, esoteric purpose of alchemy, to produce not just ordinary gold, but aurum philosophicum, or philosophical gold—a transmutation of a spiritual nature. The green-gold of Christ’s body represented the living essence in all matter—the Anima Mundi or World Soul or World Spirit that fi lls everything in existence. Thus, the alchemical Christ is a union between the spiritual and the physical. See also grail .


  • Fodor, Nandor. Freud, Jung and the Occult. Secaucus, N.J.: University Books, 1971.
  • Hall, Calvin S., and Vernon J. Nordby. A Primer of Jungian Psychology. New York: New American Library, 1973.
  • Jung, C. G. Aion. 2d ed. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1968.
  • ———. Memories, Dreams, Reflections. New York: Vintage Books, 1965.
  • ———. Mysterium Coniunctionis. 2d ed. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1970.
  • ———. Psychology and Alchemy. Rev. ed. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1968.
  • Pagel, Walter. “Jung’s View on Alchemy.” Available online. URL: 20PAgel Jung on Alchemy.htm. Downloaded April 12, 2005.


The Encyclopedia of Magic and Alchemy Written by Rosemary Ellen Guiley Copyright © 2006 by Visionary Living, Inc.