Jul 262015


Today is the birthday of Carl Gustav Jung (1875), often referred to as C. G. Jung, a Swiss psychiatrist and psychotherapist who founded analytical psychology. His work has been influential not only in psychiatry but also in philosophy, anthropology, archaeology, literature, and religious studies. He was a prolific writer, though many of his works were not published until after his death. Jung created some of the best known psychological concepts, including the archetype, the collective unconscious, the complex, and extraversion and introversion.

Jung was a solitary and introverted child. From childhood he believed that, like his mother (who had a day and a night persona which were radically different), he had two personalities—a modern Swiss citizen and a personality more suited to the eighteenth century. “Personality Number 1,” as he termed it, was a typical schoolboy living in the era of the time. “Personality Number 2″ was a dignified, authoritative and influential man from the past.  Do you begin to see why I like the man but am a bit suspicious of him?

A number of childhood memories made lifelong impressions on him. As a boy he carved a tiny mannequin into the end of the wooden ruler from his pencil case and placed it inside the case. He added a stone which he had painted into upper and lower halves, and hid the case in the attic. Periodically he would return to the mannequin, often bringing tiny sheets of paper with messages inscribed on them in his own secret language. He later reflected that this ceremonial act brought him a feeling of inner peace and security. Years later he discovered similarities between his personal experience and the practices associated with totems in indigenous cultures, such as the collection of soul-stones near Arlesheim or the tjurungas of Australia. He concluded that his intuitive ceremonial act was an unconscious ritual, which he had practiced in a way that was strikingly similar to those in distant locations which he, as a young boy, knew nothing about. His conclusions about symbols, psychological archetypes, and the collective unconscious were inspired, in part, by these experiences. Whilst I greatly admire people who have been weirdos from birth, I am skeptical of the utility of their ideas.

At the age of twelve, shortly before the end of his first year at the Humanistisches Gymnasium in Basel, Jung was pushed to the ground by another boy so hard that he momentarily lost consciousness. A thought then came to him—”now you won’t have to go to school any more.” From then on, whenever he walked to school or began homework, he fainted. He remained at home for the next six months until he overheard his father speaking hurriedly to a visitor about the boy’s future ability to support himself. They suspected he had epilepsy. Confronted with the reality of his family’s limited means, he realized the need for academic excellence. He went into his father’s study and began poring over Latin grammar. He fainted three more times but eventually overcame the urge and did not faint again. This event, Jung later recalled, “was when I learned what a neurosis is.”


Jung did not plan to study psychiatry since it was not considered prestigious at the time. But, studying a psychiatric textbook, he became very excited when he discovered that psychoses are personality diseases. His interest was immediately captured—it combined the biological and the spiritual, exactly what he was searching for. In 1895 Jung studied medicine at the University of Basel.

In 1900 Jung began working at the Burghölzli psychiatric hospital in Zürich with Eugen Bleuler. Bleuler was already in communication with the Austrian neurologist Sigmund Freud. Jung’s dissertation, published in 1903, was titled On the Psychology and Pathology of So-Called Occult Phenomena. In 1906 he published Studies in Word Association, and later sent a copy of this book to Freud.

Eventually a close friendship and a strong professional association developed between the elder Freud and Jung, which left a sizeable correspondence. For six years they cooperated in their work. In 1912, however, Jung published Wandlungen und Symbole der Libido (known in English as Psychology of the Unconscious), which made manifest the developing theoretical divergence between the two. Consequently, their personal and professional relationship fractured—each stating that the other was unable to admit he could possibly be wrong. After the culminating break in 1913, Jung went through a difficult and pivotal psychological transformation, exacerbated by the outbreak of the First World War. Henri Ellenberger called Jung’s intense experience a “creative illness” and compared it favorably to Freud’s own period of what he called neurasthenia and hysteria.


What I find troubling and unhelpful about both Freud’s and Jung’s theorizing is an aggrandizing tendency on both their parts to turn personal experience into universal experience – “if I have felt it, everyone must feel it.” I hypothesize that this is whence Jung’s concept of the archetype derives. Always being honest up front, I will readily admit that I find the notion of the archetype to be vague, ethnocentric, and ultimately misleading and worthless.

In Jungian psychology, archetypes are highly developed elements of the collective unconscious. Being unconscious, the existence of archetypes can only be deduced indirectly by examining behavior, images, art, myths, religions, or dreams. Carl Jung thought of archetypes as universal, archaic patterns and images that derive from the collective unconscious and are the psychic counterpart of instinct. They are inherited potentials which are actualized when they enter consciousness as images or manifest in behavior on interaction with the outside world. They are autonomous and hidden forms which are transformed once they enter consciousness and are given particular expression by individuals and their cultures. There is obviously something mystical about the idea of archetypes – pre-existing ideas that we are somehow born with (the exact opposite of the notion of “the blank slate”). Here we have the “nature vs nurture” debate yet again with Jung lying somewhere in the middle. I am sympathetic to this middle ground in general but not to Jung’s way in particular.

Jung described archetypal events: birth, death, separation from parents, initiation, marriage, the union of opposites; archetypal figures: great mother, father, child, devil, god, wise old man, wise old woman, the trickster, the hero; and archetypal motifs: the apocalypse, the deluge, the creation. Although the number of archetypes is limitless, there are a few particularly notable, recurring archetypal images, “the chief among them being” (according to Jung) “the shadow, the wise old man, the child, the mother … and her counterpart, the maiden, and lastly the anima in man and the animus in woman”.


Jung, in exploring these types, is in line with 19th century anthropologists such as James George Frazer who wanted to universalize the particulars of all cultures, a tendency that found modern expression in the works of Joseph Campbell. I do recognize that Jung distinguished between the inchoate, primordial archetype and its actualization in the physical world. But there is no denying that purported archetypes, such as the hero, tend to become rigid and doctrinaire. Jung himself was confused and confusing on this point, and his disciples more so. You can see “the dragon” everywhere if you want to – dragon images exist in all cultures. But there is a world of difference between the Medieval European dragon and the ancient Chinese one, the former being malevolent and the latter benevolent. Of course you can argue that these two opposing images are surface manifestations of opposing archetypes, but then you just descend into a muddled realm of “everything is everything.”

The archetypes I find most troublesome are masculine and feminine. There is no need to resort to mystical primitivism to tease these out; they are common, everyday experiences. Archetypal thinking has a habit of essentializing these qualities in unhelpful and potentially harmful ways. People speak, therefore, of their “masculine side” and their “feminine side.” Why do that? Why not just talk about being kind, loving, caring, cruel, domineering, or what have you? Why codify and classify these qualities as masculine or feminine, and why universalize them? They are simply human qualities. Classifying in this way seems a tad 19th century Germanic to me. Try learning Chinese count words if you need convincing that different cultures classify in different ways: (“things that are flat and useful,” such as bus tickets and dining tables, or “things that are segmented,” such as bamboo and trains).


Jungians sometimes ask questions such as “what is your favorite color?” or “what is your favorite food?” and then “why?” as a way of probing the archetypal meaning(s) of our experiences. OK. I’m game. I thought about this for a while and came up with cock-a-leekie soup as my favorite dish. Actually I find such a question a bit fatuous. But you can distill it down to something like “what would you like for your last meal?” Cock-a-leekie resonates with me on many levels. I note in reviewing past posts that I’ve often mentioned cock-a-leekie but have never actually given a recipe. Time to change that.

My father, a Scot, was fond of making cock-a-leekie especially at Christmas time, and I learnt how to make it from him (principally by watching). So, it speaks to me of FATHERS AND SONS, FAMILY, and TRADITION. I always make it on Christmas Eve now in memory of the times when my sisters and their families gathered at our house. It is WARM, and COMFORTING. I always feel happy when I sit down to a bowl. It is VERSATILE. I always make gallons at a time and use the broth later as a basis for gravies and stews. It is SIMPLE: simple to make and simple in flavors. It is NOURISHING. You’ve just got to have crusty bread with it, homemade if possible (fresh from the oven), but cock-a-leekie is a complete meal all by itself.

I’ve looked at a ton of recipes in my time (some insisting that prunes are a traditional and essential ingredient – ugh) but they all come down to an archetype.


©Cock-a-Leekie Soup

You’ll need your biggest stock pot. Put a medium sized chicken (3-4 lbs) in and cover with chicken stock. Bring gently to a simmer whilst adding coarsely chopped onions, the tender green parts of several leeks chopped, a handful of chopped fresh parsley, and lashings of freshly ground black pepper (absolutely critical). Skim the scum from the top as it rises, then partly cover and simmer for about an hour (or until the meat is tender but not boiled to death – you want the meat juicy).

Remove the chicken from the broth and set it aside to cool a little before stripping the meat from the bones and cutting in bite sized chunks.

Keep the broth on a simmer and add in the white part of the leeks cut into thick rounds. Let the leeks poach until they are al dente, then add back in the chicken to thoroughly warm through, plus an extra handful of chopped parsley and more black pepper.

Serve piping hot in deep bowls with crusty bread.