Jungian explorations

During a previous era of my life I became interested in Jungian psychology. I think it started after college when I fell in love with the novels of Robertson Davies, which reflect his own interest in the work of the Swiss psychologist. (One of them, The Manticore, is even based around the main character’s sessions with an analyst in Zurich.) The acknowledgment of the importance and reality of symbols, dreams, and archetypes strongly appealed to me, along with the overall vision of a mythic dimension to life. This chimed with the way I experience the world, and with what has brought healing and integration to me in my own path.

I started to look at some non-fiction works that explored these ideas further, and I’ve been going back to some of them lately. The books of Robert A. Johnson are very accessible and were helpful to me in learning how to use dreams and the associated method of “active imagination” to work through difficulties in my life, along with considerations of masculine and feminine psychology. I think that Owning Your Own Shadow was the first one of his books that was recommended to me, and I still find it a brief but very useful introduction to this important concept.

Our dominant white American culture strongly resists going into the shadow, as we prefer to project it elsewhere (especially onto other races and countries) so that we don’t have to acknowledge our own “dark side.” As we can see from current events this causes immense problems, yet action can only really start with the individual. It’s a task that every thinking, caring person should take up, lest the darkness in our souls overwhelm us.

Also helpful to me in going down this path have been the fairy tale studies by Marie-Louise von Franz. With my lifelong interest in folklore and mythology, I found these absolutely fascinating. Shadow and Evil in Fairy Tales and The Feminine in Fairy Tales have been particularly thought-provoking. Again, through considering these stories we learn how important it is to bring to light what is overlooked and downgraded in our modern, patriarchal culture. In this unconscious realm are buried the treasures and gifts we need to bring wholeness into a shattered world.

Some other favorites include Here All Dwell Free: Stories to Heal the Wounded Feminine by Gertrud Mueller Nelson, a wonderful in-depth exploration of the tales “The Handless Maiden” and “Briar Rose”; and The Kingdom Within: The Inner Meaning of Jesus’s Sayings by John A. Sanford, which gets at the heart of Christianity’s archetypal wisdom by revealing it as an inner path.

Have you read any of these books, or do you have any others to recommend on the topic? Are there other approaches to psychology that appeal to you?

11 thoughts on “Jungian explorations

  1. I haven’t read the books you mention but I too was attracted to Jungian psychology when I was younger. I’ve read huge chunks of Memories, Dreams, Reflections and a compendium of, extracts from his writings; I also read his wife Emma’s The Grail Legend (edited by von Franz) and gained a lot from it despite some scholarly shortcomings on the grail literature.

    Since I love ideas there were a lot of Jungian concepts that appealed to me, and though I was always inclined to take them with a pinch of salt when they strayed too far into unsupported evidence, they often had a poetic, intuitive rightness about them.


  2. I loved those Robertson Davies books 25 years ago–I read the whole series while nursing my first baby. I didn’t really pay attention to the psychology aspect, though.


    1. I learned more about it when I also read his autobiographical works. There he talks quite a lot about his own interests, including this one.


  3. What a fascinating post! I only know of Jung from Psychology 101 way back in college. “Owning Your Own Shadow” sounds particularly interesting. to me. I’ll have to check it out!


  4. I am intrigued! I know next to nothing about Jungian psychology; I’ve come across Marie-Louise von Franz but never read her despite my love of fairy tales, it seems I really should. I like the sound of the Robinson book too. I’m coming more and more to believe in the importance of symbol, myth and ritual in life.


    1. It’s helpful to have some knowledge of Jungian terminology before tackling von Franz. The Manticore is not a bad introduction – and you might as well read the rest of the Deptford trilogy too. If you’ve never read Robertson Davies, you definitely should!


      1. A reading project! 🙂 Thank you!

        I have read one of Robertson Davies’ trilogies a long time ago, set in a university? Can’t remember if it was Deptford or Salterton. I have no idea why I’ve never read any more as I liked it very much.


        1. Though academics appear in most of his books, the “Cornish trilogy” is the one set mainly around a university – particularly the first one, The Rebel Angels. Do read more … I love them all!


          1. Oh yes, I think it must have been the Cornish Trilogy, I recognise the title ‘The Rebel Angels’. Oddly enough I don’t think I have a copy of it, though I do have the others (albeit at my parents’, in another country), unread. I can’t think why I haven’t read them before. Though I say that about so many books…


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