I want to say one thing about this first part of Carl Jung’s Seminars on the Visions of the American woman Christiana Morgan: thank you Mary Foote for taking the notes of these talks!
Mary Foote studied under John Singer Sargeant in Paris, but gave up her portrait painting in 1928 to study under Jung.
Her notes on these Seminars show another side of Jung, is my take on things. That is a different man to the intense, wordy, sometimes incomprehensible writer of the Collected Works.
In fact when it comes to his letters and seminars – anything in fact apart from the Collected Works, I find the writing easy to read, the ideas lucid and with a direction that you want to follow.
I’m writing this even though Jung analyses another American woman at distance in his Collected Works vol 5 to my distaste. There I have the problem that analysing the dreams or visions of someone at a distance seems tricky and open to any interpretation you wish.
Here the woman has actually been in Jung’s care. But what makes it really digestible is the fact that gently leads us on a journey that the patient has herself, sticking close the principle (which he seems to have forgotten in vol 5) that every dreamer is an individual, and applying general principles is tricky.
Then there is another fact which could be peculiar to my own thinking. Instead of reducing, as Jung does in vol 6, everything to very simple, basic symbols, ie Mother Earth, here he delights in details, in the multifariousness of the human mind.
So when Morgan has the following vision, Jung’s eventual interpretations delight and surprise.
I stumbled out onto a great plain where I saw a snake and begged of the snake to lead me away. The snake led me through some cool grass beside a river. In the river I saw the beautiful form of a man. I entered the water and followed him. He took me by the hand and we went up a bank and entered a temple. I said: “expel the fire from me”. He told me to kneel by the altar and he gave me water to drink, but I said: ‘the fire within me still burns’. He took out his sword and struck the walls of the temple so that, with a nose of thunder, they crumbled to the ground. The man then put his hand on my forehead and said: “Woman, you are forgiven. Arise and hold communion with the people.”
The brilliance with what follows lies in the way each part shows something important about the dreamer. The snake is the path of life, but because it leads to water, she must be wary even as she follows it.
The appearance of the male figure exemplifies a favourite line of Jung’s: that in life there are certain things that we have to deal with. We can’t shirk unless we want to be led down the road of a neurosis. So the man is the “stumbling block in her personal story” which she has to meet head-on.
This the absolute genius of Jung in his explanation in Visions Part Four: lectures given between May 6 and June 23, 1931.
“Why, people ask me, must it be brought down to such a test? Why must things get into reality? Because if the thing remained a mere thought, then the egg would not be worth the candle; it would not be worthwhile to open the egg or to bother about such phantasies at all. But we have to bother about them because they really contain the germs of life without which that particular life would remain mutilated or sterile. So you understand why the snake means that she must look out. Things are becoming real.”
Wow: that is good! Then Jung points to the logical approach of the anima, this male figure, which does not work. A drink of water cannot quench the fire within, in other words. That fire, says Jung, is the burning you feel when something is incompatible with your previous sense of being.
She needs a rite, illustrated by a worship in a temple here, that can help adapt herself to take on her new thing.
As an illustration of the way that life brings new things to us which we have to adapt rather than reject, this is simply wonderful. Because she cannot simply destroy the fire: it won’t go away. Just like it is life that comes from the eternal fire, and you can’t destroy life.
But there’s more. Jung is convinced that when the male figure says: “You are forgiven” that there are echoes with the adulterous woman in John 7. And here we move into the realm of self-acceptance.
Jung tells his audience that “If you want to be appreciated or loved, appreciate yourself, love yourself, do right for yourself, and everybody will do the right thing to you.”
The meeting of others in communion is about accepting your own faults as if you are an adulterous woman, and I suppose, in a kind of way, being saved.
I really cannot recommend this book enough, comprising over a three-and-a-half year period in the early 1930s.
It was my holiday reading while in Cyprus 2012 and only added to a wonderful time there. Days looking at the golden sunlight on the compact Orthodox church opposite, with shouts from children in distant parts of the village of Drouhsia, made for a great place to read some powerful visions.