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?