been a leading element of Western culture while unity has been
a leading element of Eastern culture.
In Western culture
it has been the paradoxical duality between consciousness and unconsciousness,
masculine and feminine, future and past, life and death. In Eastern
culture there have not existed these divisions. It has always been
the dominance of the feminine, unconsciousness of that old past
death of childhood.
the mother of Western culture, has never been able to recognize
or understand this duality. Like all mothers, duality has always
been a foreign, masculine concept to her.
Yet this original
separation from the "mother culture" of the East has always been
felt by her child, Western culture.
In its attempt
to grow and move away from its "mother" Western culture has always
been saddled with that grand paradox of life--the desire to return
to the initial unity of the East and the new freedom and separation
represented by Westward expansion.
a basis for this original cultural duality in the basic drives of
Libido and Thanatos--life and death. But it was most eloquently
expressed by Freud's pupil Otto Rank in Will Therapy where the two
symbols are seen as fears in perpetual battle throughout the life
of an individual.
"The fear in
birth, which we have designated as fear of life, seems to me actually
the fear of having to live as an isolated individual, and not the
reverse, the fear of loss of individuality (death fear). That would
mean, however, that primary fear corresponds to a fear of separation
from the whole, therefore a fear of individuation, on account of
which I would like to call it fear of life, although it may appear
later as fear of the loss of this dearly bought individuality as
fear of death, of being dissolved again into the whole. Between
these two fear possibilities, these poles of fear, the individual
is thrown back and forth all his life...."
The paradox of
Western cultures is expressed in this unresolved battle. The failure
to resolve this has created a cyclic movement back and forth between
the two. It has been that overriding Zeitgeist of Western culture,
hovering over entire eras and explaining entire periods of history
as the dominance of the fear of life or the fear of death.
While the two
concepts battled in Western consciousness, the overall direction
of Western culture has been one of separation from the Eastern mother.
In effect, Western culture is the symbol for the growth of consciousness
out of the original unconsciousness inside the mother.
In this sense,
Western progress has traditionally been linked to movement away
from past birth in the East and towards the symbolic future of the
West. It was a historical voyage based on discovery and the presence
of an undiscovered world.
the founding of America and settlement of the American frontier,
a dilemma was presented for this traditional definition of Western
The dilemma centered
around the need for continued progress yet, at the same time, the
absence of place for progress to expand into.
Western child of the East was forced into a new perspective when
the undiscovered world became a discovered one.
solution was for Western culture to replace expansion into place
(and its historic westward movement) with expansion into space.
It is more than coincidental that psychology, that great inward
exploration, arose at the same time western expansion into place
came to a halt at the Pacific Ocean in California.
Yet the real
destiny of America was established many years before--in the two
founding (paradoxical) principles of America in freedom and equality.
For the task given to American destiny was the confrontation of
the Eastern idea of unity, and equality, with the Western idea of
separation, and freedom. The ideas came to be embodied in the freedom
of the Republican idea and the equality of the Democratic idea.
It has also seen the symbolism of this paradox in the opposition
between the mass culture (of the first part of the twentieth century)
and the segmented culture (during the last third of the twentieth
It is these two
great dualities which have played themselves out in the America
of the twentieth century. This symbolism has played itself out in
cycles of American culture. The dominance of one or the other is
expressed by leading genres in such areas as films, literature,
brands, theory paradigms and institutions as well as the two-party
political system of Democrats and Republicans.
At the beginning
of the new millennium they continue to battle each other in the
feminine "context" of the non-linear Internet electronic technology
of space which stands in opposition to a masculine "content" of
the linear "messages" within this feminine context.
Much of the current
confusion of our information age might be resolved with America's
acceptance of this grand duality and the determination to explore
the challenge of this grand historical paradox.
It is a paradox
represented on the earth by America but also in the heavens with
the astrological change from the sign of Pices to that of Aquarius--from
the sign of the fish, contained in the water context of the mother,
to that of the "water carrier" of Aquarius who finally understands
water context enough to finally get outside of it and become a carrier.
This great astrological
change was noted in one of Carl Jung's final works, Aion.
In many ways, Aion may come to symbolize Jung's real contribution
* * *
It is one of
the strangest books Jung ever wrote and one of his last projects,
published when he was seventy-six. Like Mysterium Coniunctionis
and all of Jung's late works, Aion was written after his
grave illness of 1944 from which he never believed he would recover.
When he did survive he felt these years were like a gift, given
to accomplish some final purpose in his life. A type of rebirth.
He decided he
was going to write the way he wanted to and that his readers would
have to make the major effort toward understanding. The book Aion
was one of the fruits of this late "rebirth" in Jung's life and
for him gave expression to a type of "secret knowledge" he felt
he possessed. In a private conversation to Margaret Ostrowski-Sachs,
published in Conversations with C.G.Jung, Jung told her:
"Before my illness
I had often asked myself if I were permitted to publish or even
speak of my secret knowledge. I later set it all down in Aion.
I realized it was my duty to communicate these thoughts, yet I doubted
whether I was allowed to give expression to them. During my illness
I received confirmation and I now knew that everything had meaning
and that everything was perfect."
More than Jung
writing Aion, the book seemed to write him. Jung remarks
in a letter to his good friend Victor White in December of 1947
that he needed to express something but was not sure what it was:
"I simply had
to write a new essay I did not know about what...In spite of everything,
I felt forced to write on blindly, not seeing at all what I was
driving at. Only after I had written about 25 pages in folio, it
began to dawn on me that Christ--not the man but the divine being--was
my secret goal."
Rather than something
planned out like a number of his other works, Jungnotes to White
that Aion "came to me as a shock" and he felt "utterly unequal
to such a task."
If Jung's overall
work might be compared to a great cathedral, the "priest" of the
cathedral was less concerned with preaching the gospel to others
as much as clarifying things in his own mind. After his illness
it was therefore a time of deep reflection for Jung. His real life
cathedral was his castle on the lake at Bollingen and he left it
less and less.
But even for
those who chose to make the journey to the Jungian Cathedral, it
was still difficult to find the book Aion when they arrived.
Rather than command a prominent place near the altar, it wasmore
or less hidden from view. The "bookstore" of the cathedral--thatpublicity
vehicle that parceled out pieces of Jungian thought to thegeneral
community--gave prominence to Jung's more accessible books suchas
Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Psychological Types and Modern Man
in Search of a Soul. It left works such as Mysterious Coniunctionis,
Answer to Job and Aionfor the truly adventuresome to
discover on their own terms as they left the main parts of the Jungian
cathedral and ventured down into the basement to sift through old
brittle, yellowed pages inside dusty boxes.
* * *
The book was
originally published in German in 1951. The central theme of the
work he set felt forced to write, the book he notes that "he set
it all down in" and was able to speak his "secret language" contained
the broadest scope of anything he had ever written. Its time line
was the entire Christian aeon of two thousand years from the birth
of Christ to the year 2,000 and the second millennium.
In the Foreword
to Aion, Jung tells us that the theme of the book is the
change of the psychic situation in the Christian aeon which coincides
with the astrological conception of the Platonic month of the fishes
or Pisces. Those familiar with astrology may recognize that the
notion of the Platonic month is based on the astronomical procession
of the equinoxes. The movement of the sun through each zodiacal
sign is called the Platonic month. In the spring equinox of around
1 A.D., the beginning of the Christian aeon, the equinox left the
sign of Aries and started into the sign of Pisces. Now, 2,000 years
later, it is about to leave the sign of Pisces and enter that of
about this grand two thousand year cycle and the sequences contained
within the cycle. Perhaps the best place to start when approaching
Aion is with The Aion Lectures by Edward Edinger.
These lectures were given at the Jung Institute of Los Angeles between
1988 and 1989 and, like Edinger's Mysterium lectures, also provide
a short type of "Cliff Notes" to help one navigate the complex waters
of the work.
As Edinger notes
in the Forward to his book, "Jung's Aion laid the foundation
for a whole new department of human knowledge, a scholarly discipline
one might call archetypal psychohistory." It is a discipline based
on the insights of depth psychology to the data of cultural history.
"The historical process," writes Edinger, "can now be seen as the
self-manifestation of the archetypes of the collective unconscious
as they emerge and develop in time and space through the actions
and fantasies of humanity."
* * *
While it is impossible
to do justice to this work in the space we have here, we can briefly
touch on the broad symbolism Jung approaches in Aion. Pisces
is symbolized by the fish and Aquarius by the water carrier. The
contextual symbolism is one between the dualities of inside and
outside. The fish (Pisces) is contained within water while a water
carrier (Aquarius) cannot be contained within water if he is to
be a carrier of water. He (Aquarius) must be outside of the water.
The aeon cycle therefore represents a change from being controlled
by the container to being outside the container.
The fish may
symbolize the psyche and Jung seems to be suggesting that the two
eons will have a different relationship to the psyche. Jung might
be suggesting that the context we have been discussing will evolve
into a content and that a new context for humanity will evolve.
The contextual symbolism which now contains humanity may be coming
to the end of its cycle. The emerging symbolic struggle is to move
out of water. As Edinger suggests in The Aion Lectures, with the
coming Age of Aquarius "we have the image of a vessel, an allusion
to the symbolism of the alchemical vessel and to the capacity to
contain the psyche, rather than be contained by it." Instead of
being a fish contained in a psychic fish pond, the individual becomes
a conscious dispenser of the psyche.
that Christ may have foreshadowed the age of the water carrier.
Both Mark and Luke recount that Christ directed two of his disciples
to make preparations for the last supper saying to them, "Go into
the city and you will meet a man carrying a pitcher of water. Follow
him." (Mark 14:13 and Luke 22:10) The man leads the disciples to
the house in which they are to go to the upper room for the Passover
meal of the last supper. And Christ was also seen as a water-bearer
and water dispenser. To the Samaritan woman at the well he said
that if she had asked him for a drink, he would have dispensed eternal
living water for her. (John 4:10)
But, as Edinger
remarks, the water Christ dispensed did not generate more dispensers.
Rather it generated fish contained in the water. The church, Edinger
speculates, became the water carrier, the fish pond in which the
faithful fish could swim. The great secret knowledge of Jung was
the discovery of the containment, the water. "If my reading of the
symbolism of Aion is correct," says Edinger, "the aeon of
Aquarius will generate individual water carriers." This will mean
that the psyche will no longer be carried by religious communities
but instead it will be carried by conscious individuals. "This is
the idea Jung puts forward in his notion of a continuing incarnation,
the idea that individuals are to become the incarnating vessels
of the Holy Spirit on an ongoing basis."
Jung provides the broadest contextual basis for symbolism he ever
explored. The symbolic contextualism is the archetype of the God-image
(the Self) and how this archetype has progressively revealed itself
in the course of the Christian aeon. With the creation of this strange
book Jung was finally able to gain a sense of peace in his final
years. His secret knowledge was indeed "permitted" to be brought
forth into the world. And with it, a foundation for a new science
of a symbolism of culture.
* * * Today,
Jung's thin little book has been relegated to dusty bookshelves
in forgotten bookstores, to esoteric niche debates within the relatively
small community of certain Jungians, and perhaps a few others.
Like the context
of the East, it never presents its argument but simply is its argument.
Its message is
particularly difficult for a contemporary America where the loud,
screaming messages of masculine content dominate the silence of
In this precarious
situation, America has been given the historical task of creating
a type of synthesis of the unconscious equality and reductionism
of the Eastern mother with the progress towards consciousness, freedom,
separation and growth of her Western child--growth into more and
more pieces of information which has ushered in a great "smog" hanging
over the land obscuring the Eastern "medium" with the Western "message."
America is called
upon to create synthesis, not analysis ... to reduce this smog,
not understand it.
Perhaps the first
step is becoming quiet and turning down the bright, loud lights
of popular culture. All this creating our "obscuring" smog.
But it is not
just your normal dim, dead greyish yellow Los Angles smog that hovers
over American culture today. Rather it is that brilliant, vibrant,
radiating smog similar to that neon "smog light" which permeates
the atmosphere just a little bit above Las Vegas.
If we can just
reduce this neon entrancement the path toward this new synthesis
may be opened before us. Yet the road ahead will still be a long
and treacherous one.
was expressed well by the psychologist Bion in his 1974 "Brazilian
Lectures" when he noted:
"Instead of trying
to bring a brilliant, intelligent, knowledgeable light to bear on
obscene problems, I suggest we bring to bear a diminution of the
light--a penetrating beam of darkness; a reciprocal of the searchlight
... The darkness would be so absolute that it would achieve a luminous,
absolute vacuum. So that, if any object existed, however faint,
it would show up very clearly. Thus, a very faint light would become
visible in maximum conditions of darkness."
© 2000 John Fraim All Rights Reserved
John Fraim is
President of The GreatHouse Company in Santa Rosa, California. GreatHouse
is a consulting, research and publishing firm with a focus in the
area of the symbolism of popular culture. He has a JD from Loyola
Law School and a BA from UCLA. His books Symbolism of Place
and Symbolism of Popular Culture will soon be published.
His book Spirit Catcher received the 1997 Small Press Award
for Best Biography. His articles have appeared in a wide range of
publications and Web sites such as Business 2.0, Journal
of Marketing, Media & Culture Journal, Psychological
Perspectives, the Jung Site and Industry Standard.
For text of articles and further information on GreatHouse, visit
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