"Ars bene honesteque vivendi"



Erich Neumann was a student of Jung whose writings are required reading for anyone interested in a fuller understanding of Jung’s theory of archetypes. I focus here on two of his books, prompted by the challenge of appearance versus reality as posed in A Midsummer Night’s Dream in my Shakespeare walkthrough.

The Great Mother: 1955

I intend to attempt to summarise this book as briefly as possible.

  • The structure of the archetype:

“The term numinous applies to the action of beings and forces that the consciousness of primitive man experienced as fascinating, terrible, overpowering, and that it therefore attributed to an indefinite transpersonal and divine source. 5.” This is a quote from Rudolf Otto.

“The archetypes of the collective unconscious are manifested as Jung discovered many years ago, in the mythological motifs that appear among all peoples at all times in identical or analogous manner and can arise just as spontaneously–that is, without any conscious knowledge–from the unconscious of modern man. 13.”

“For this reason the following remark of Jung’s is still applicable to the modern consciousness: ‘myth is the primordial language natural to these psychic processes, and no intellectual formulation comes anywhere near the richness and expressiveness of mythical imagery. Such processes deal with the primordial images, and these are best and most succinctly reproduced by figurative speech’. This figurative speech is the language of the symbol, the original language of the unconscious and all mankind… Early man–like the child–perceives the world methodologically. That is, he experiences the world predominantly by forming archetypical images that he projects upon it. The child for example first experiences in his mother the archetype of the Great Mother, that is, the reality of an all powerful numinous woman, on whom he is dependent in all things, and not the objective reality of his personal mother, this particular historical woman which his mother becomes for him later when his ego and consciousness are more developed. 15.”

“The symbolic imagery of the unconscious is the creative source of the human spirit in all its realisations. Not only have consciousness and the concepts of its philosophical understanding of the world arisen from the symbol but also religion, rite and cult, art and customs.”

  • The archetypical feminine and the Great Mother:

“The uroborus, the circular snake biting its tail, is the symbol of the psychic state of the beginning, of the original situation, in which man’s consciousness and ego were still small and undeveloped. As symbol of the origin and of the opposites contained in it, the uroborus is the Great Round in which positive and negative, male and female, elements of consciousness, elements hostile to consciousness, and unconscious elements are intermingled. In this sense the uroboros is also a symbol of a state in which chaos, the unconscious, and the psyche as a whole were undifferentiated–and which is experienced by the ego as a borderline state. 18.”

Schema I is opposite page 19 and attempts to outline the outward and inward plane of projection. From bottom to top this schema illustrates the movement from the unconscious through to the projected figures of the world. Two more schema will follow and we will discuss these as they occur. There is good commentary on the anima.

  • The central symbolism of the feminine:

“This central symbol is the vessel. From the very beginning down to the later stages of development we find this archetypical symbol as essence of the feminine.” 39.

“The vessel symbolism of the body containing the psyche is also alive in modern man. We speak of our inwardness, of the world of inner values, and so on, when we mean psychic or spiritual contents, as though they were contained in us, in our body-vessel, and as though they came out of it. In reality however the contents of the collective unconscious for example, are in the same sense outside as the world of objects: we can situate them equally well outside, above, below, or inside us. Thus from time immemorial mankind has projected one part of the archetypical inner world into heaven, and another part into hell. But despite these projections the characteristic relatedness to the image of the body-vessel in which the content lives is clearly preserved.” 40.

There is reference to the tree and the branches of the tree upon which leaves grow and reference to the universal reference in poetry to this analogy/archetype. 53.

  • The Transformation Mysteries:

“The favoured spiritual symbol of the matriarchal sphere is the moon in its relation to the night and the Great Mother of the night sky. 56.”

This patriarchal consciousness that says,”The victory of the male lives in the spiritual principle”, devaluates the moon and the feminine element to which it belongs. It is “merely of the soul”, “merely” the highest form of an earthly and material development that stands in opposition to the pure spirit that in its Apollonian–Platonic and Jewish–Christian form has led to the abstract conceptuality of modern consciousness. But this modern consciousness is threatening the existence of Western mankind, of masculine development, for the one sidedness of masculine development has led to the hypertrophy of consciousness at the expense of the whole man. Consequently the knowledge distilled by the abstracting collective consciousness of man – the knowledge of matter, for example – resides in the hands of earthly representatives of masculinity who seem by no means suited to incarnate “the pure incorporeal solar principle”. And, on the other hand, the character of wisdom and light belonging to the Archetypical Feminine are not to be designated as “merely of the soul”. The patriarchal consciousness starts from the standpoint that the spirit is eternal a priori: that the spirit was in the beginning… what Aristotle stated to be the law of all development is fulfilled…. “For that which genetically follows is by nature a first and that which is genetically last is first”. Here we are not concerned with the philosophical aspect of this statement but with its psychological foundation. Starting from the final product of this process of development, from consciousness, with which he identifies himself, the male proceeds to deny the genetic principle, which is precisely the basic principle of the matriarchal world. Or, methodologically speaking, he murders his mother and undertakes the patriarchal revaluation by which the son identified with the father makes himself the source from which the feminine – like Eve arising from Adam’s rib – originated in a spiritual and antinatural way. The necessity and relative justification of this standpoint for consciousness, and particularly for a male consciousness, cannot be contested, but in its radical one-sidedness it can only be understood against the background of the fundamentally antithetical, equally necessary, and equally justified principal of the matriarchal world. 57-58.”

Schema II is now introduced to discuss the symbolism of spiritual transformation. This basically focuses on the body of the woman from which all life begins 45. A good summary is provided on page 63.

  • The functional spheres of the feminine:

Schema III  (82) is an attempt  to translate the numinous of the archetypical development into quasi visual terms. The commentary on all of this is quite excellent and there is a very good reference to the figure of Dionysus. 72.

  • The phenomenon of reversal and the dynamic of the archetype:

This chapter takes the schema and goes one step further into its three-dimensional perspective of a globe. 77. There is also a reference to “ecstasy,  which with its disintegration of consciousness leaves the way open either for a positive or negative development of the psychic situation, is typical for the phenomenon  of reversal that is possible in both polar situations. The pole is not only an end point but also a turning point. When an ego approaches a pole along one of the axes, there is a possibility that it will pass beyond this pole to its opposite. This is to say that in their extremes the opposites coincide or can at least shift into one another. This phenomenon, which is typical for the unfathomably paradoxical character of the archetype, constitutes the foundation of a great number of mysteries, rites of initiation, and the occult doctrines, in which this basic psychological situation is realised and in which those undergoing initiation are expected to realise. 76.

“Spiritual transformation, that is, a fundamental change of the personality and consciousness, occurs only through the crucial emergence of an archetype. 78.” The overall conclusion of this exploration is that much of what occurs cannot be explained in its entirety. ‘In living reality, every development is surprising: with all its inner causality and purposiveness, it is new and unique for the consciousness that experiences and investigates it, and hence defies schematization.” 83.

The remainder of the book explores examples of the archetype of the Great Mother as expressed in art through the ages from a global perspective.

The Origins and History of Consciousness, 1949, translated 1954:

I have turned to this book because it is the foundation for the discussion in the previous book. Again I am reading these books in order to refresh my sense of archetype and the collective unconscious. A Midsummer Night’s Dream has evoked the whole world of imagination which clearly relates to the post-Freudian notion of the subconscious, while the appeal to dream flows directly into Freud and Jung.

I have read through Part 1 of this book. It is extremely well written and has a remarkable passage on transformation which focuses on the myth of Osiris. There is an excellent treatment of the elements of the hero which requires some analysis. 195–219. There are brilliant asides and observations and an extraordinary amount of erudition but overall this approach leaves me perplexed. The argument is constantly that the investigation of primitive myth will somehow uncover the collective unconscious and thus reveal various archetypes which have psychological significance for modern man. The argument  drifts into Alchemy, as ever, in depth psychology, which always causes me to pause.

Jung wrote a Foreward to this book which is very complimentary to the author and is a form of a passing of the baton to his successor. I believe Neumann is the clearest presenter of his teacher’s thoughts, albeit that his writing style is dense and often obscure. Of course, this is a translation, but the style is quite turgid.

And this I think is where the challenge really begins. There is constant reference to the Kabbalah which takes the thought process into the esoteric in a way that I seriously question. It seems to me that Jungian thinking is highly intuitive and requires great leaps of imagination such as are ridiculed in Midsummer Night’s Dream. This may not be entirely fair but it does seem an inevitable consequence of this particular line of thinking. It is quite obviously an approach that will have wide appeal to a large segment of the artistic community. Fellini and Bergman readily come to mind and Herbert Read leans heavily on this model of thinking when he discusses 20th-century art, in particular Henry Moore. So there is much to be explored in that context but I fear my walk-through of Shakespeare has not benefited from my aside into these two books.

The issue of imagination remains a profound issue and it is possible that as I continue my walk-through there will be more recourse to this particular aside. For the time being I return the two books to the shelf and will return at a future date.

In summary I can argue that the sources of love are profoundly irrational and lie in the subconscious. I would also argue that for Western man, the value of the companionship which can be derived from romantic love and subsequent marriage bonding must be taken seriously. Clearly, the concept is collapsing incrementally as we move into the 21st-century but we do not have any appropriate substitute on the immediate horizon. Perhaps there is a need to deepen the affections as Snow argued, although in what form this should be taken is not abundantly clear. The problem with the discussion of the hero archetype is that it does not focus enough attention on the individual person but spends far too much time on the generic notion of the archetype. Thus I believe Heidegger is closer to the point in his approach. Clearly this will require further thought and reading but not until I have completed the walk-through of Shakespeare. The one area where I feel deficient is in the area of genetics and modern medicine in terms of the mood altering drugs which are now available and the findings of neurobiology. The swinging away from depth psychology into a greater emphasis on drugs needs close monitoring combined with the inroads of neorobilogy. Equally what is happening in the world, in local communities, and with individuals, requires a fresh re-evaluation of the findings of depth psychology. For example, Neumann concludes his Origins with the following quote: “the collective unconscious of mankind must be experienced and apprehended by the consciousness of mankind as the ground common to all men. Not until the differentiation into races, nations, tribes, and groups has, by a process of integration, been resolved in a new synthesis, will the danger of recurrent invasions from the unconscious be averted. A future humanity will then realize the center, which the individual personality today experiences as his own self–center, to be one with humanity’s very self, whose coming to birth will finally vanquish and cast out that old serpent, the primordial uroboric dragon. 418.”

In returning to this note I am struck by my sense of the need to catch up on current neurobiology, as in Damasio, et al. The debates on “the talking cure” (psycho-analysis) underline the very human need to find someone to talk to about personal issues, to find some level of trust, of intimacy, in an otherwise unbearably lonely universe. People talk to their Personal Trainers, and these people have become the analysts of the future, simply by listening. Bartenders have done this for years. I need to close off a little of this via Popper. But for now, I return to Shakespeare’s King John.