Science born from the mystery of the soul. C.G. Jung's inner transformation - Part 1

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C.G. Jung (1875-1961), the founder of Analytical Psychology, experienced a profound psychological transformation at the age of about 40. He gave expression to it, among other works, in a treatise entitled Septem Sermones ad Mortuos (Seven Speeches to the Dead). Jung later explains that he "felt compelled from within to formulate and speak it out [...] Then it began to flow out of me, and in three evenings the thing was written" [1]. It is a kind of gnostic myth, formulated in a "peculiar language", as Jung himself says. He later saw this phase of his life as the "source and origin" of his later work.[2] 

C. G. Jung searched for the light in the mysteries of the soul. He was intensively concerned with alchemy and through it came to an examination of the works of the early Christian Gnostics. 

The relatively short treatise [3] is subtitled The Seven Teachings of the Dead. Written by Basilides in Alexandria, the city where the East touches the West.

In seven speeches, Jung addresses the "dead" in the form of Basilides of Alexandria. Basilides was a famous Gnostic of the second century, he represented a world view according to which the divine fullness of being (the Pleroma) reveals its essence in a sevenfold process – through opposing polar forces directed towards each other.

The "dead" which are the subject of this scripture are not really dead beings, but people who feel dead because their souls lack true knowledge.

They came back from Jerusalem where they did not find what they were looking for. They sought admittance to me and demanded teaching from me, and so I taught them. Jung advocated - like Basilides once did - a "Gnosis Kardias", i.e. a knowledge that originates in the heart of man.

The structure of the Sermones is divided into seven teachings, which correspond to seven stages of a soul development process. This unfolds in a panorama of seven soul spaces in which images emerge and events of transformation take place.

In this article we focus on four essential teachings.

"Within us the pleroma is torn" (Sermo I).

Basilidis teaches the dead:

Listen: I begin with the nothingness. Nothingness is the same as fullness. In infinity, full is as good as empty. Nothingness is empty and full. [...] We call the nothing or the fullness the PLEROMA. Therein, thinking and being cease, for the eternal and infinite has no qualities.

The pleroma is a boundless, impersonal space at the root ground of the human soul; it encompasses its conscious and unconscious life. According to Jung, the soul is the intrapsychic definition of this fullness.

But we are the pleroma itself, for we are a part of the eternal and infinite. However, we do not partake of it, but are infinitely distant from the Pleroma, not spatially or temporally, but ESSENTIALLY, in that we differ in essence from the Pleroma as a creature limited in time and space.

The qualities of the Pleroma reveal themselves in pairs of opposites, as:

- the effective and the ineffective

- the fullness and the emptiness

- the living and the dead [...]

- the light and the dark [...]

- the good and the evil [...]

- the one and the many, etc.

The pairs of opposites are the qualities of the pleroma, which are not because they cancel each other out.

The Pleroma is everything, differentiation and non-differentiation. The differentiation is the creature. It is differentiated. That is why man distinguishes, for his essence is distinction.

The qualities that cancel each other out in the Pleroma are differentiated in man.

In us the pleroma is torn asunder.

In this sentence lies the essential spiritual knowledge that Basilides wishes to impart to the dead. The soul of man is not in the original fullness of its being. It distinguishes the qualities of the pleroma into opposites, which do not cancel each other out in it, but appear individually.

Man is no longer aware of the compensatory reaction of his unconscious when, for example, he desires the beautiful and good and receives the ugly and evil. It is the wholeness that comes forward.

The danger now is that a person, by longing for the original wholeness back, falls into the pleroma in thought and his consciousness dissolves in its empty fullness.

Basilidis says: Not your thinking, but your being is differentness. Therefore, you should not strive for difference as you think it, but for YOUR BEING.

The wholeness of the human being according to his unique being wants to reveal itself in his original self. Jung calls the striving for this the Principium Individuationis: the inherent tendency of the human psyche not to give up its light of consciousness lest it fall back into the inner abyss of primordial nothingness. [4]

(to be continued in part 2)


[1] Aniela Jaffé, Erinnerungen, Träume, Gedanken von C.G. Jung, Olten, 3. Auflage, 1985, S. 193 f.

[2] Stephan A. Hoeller, Der gnostische Jung und die sieben Reden an die Toten, Calw 1987

[3] Es ist veröffentlicht als Anhang zu Erinnerungen, Träume, Gedanken von C.G. Jung, a.a.O.

[4] Stephan A. Hoeller, a.a.O., S. 81

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