Saturday, April 23, 2022



Rose F. Holt, M.A., Jungian Analyst

April 22, 2022

On April 22, 2022, I gave an updated lecture on Jung's tome, AION, via Zoom, for the C. G. Jung Society of St. Louis  The occasion was a benefit for the Society's Scholarship Fund.  The lecture will be followed by two on-line study groups to discuss the work further.  

Here is the text of my lecture.  Accompanying slides are below. 

AION TALK - APRIL 22, 2022  [SLIDE 1]

GOALS [Slide 2]

I’ve set some goals for our time together and they all center around the issue of religion and religious traditions in the development of personality.  Because “religion” is such a laden word, I will use a less-charged definition of the word in this discussion, Jung’s definition.  God is also a word with many meanings.  In my talk, please know I mean god-image, the ways humankind visualizes, defines, and understands its gods.  And, of course our image changes over time.  The god-images from antiquity have been updated.  The god-image of my childhood is hardly applicable to my life today. 

JUNG [Slide 3]

Many of you know a great deal about C.G. Jung.  Briefly he was a Swiss psychiatrist, early collaborator with Sigmund Freud, who struck out on his own and left us a huge body of work, some 20 plus volumes (more yet to be published) based on his lifetime of psychoanalytic work with individuals, his own deep Inner experiences (explained and artistically illustrated in his RED BOOK), his theoretical researches, and psychological theories.  AION, published in 1945, is our subject this evening.  

Experience meant a great deal to Jung, his own and that of his patients.  He famously said, “Learn all the theories but throw them out when you meet with a living person.  Every person is unique and requires a unique understanding.”  Of course, self-understanding looms large in the Jungian approach.  There are many hints in AION that can help us with self-understanding


Aion was a Mithraic God dating from the 2nd and 3rd Century.  He represents an ancient archetypal pattern in the psyche, the time principle active in human life. The figure has a human body, the head of lion, and is encoiled by a snake.  


Jung became interested in Aion after he had this fantasy in December of 1913 (at age 38) early on in his creative illness:  I saw the snake approach me.  She came close and began to encircle me and press me in her coils.  The coils reached up to my heart.  I realized as I struggled, that I had assumed the attitude of the Crucifixion.  In the agony and the struggle, I sweated so profusely that the water flowed down on all sides of me.  I felt that my face had taken on the face of an animal of prey, a lion or a tiger.  [1925 Lectures, p. 96]

Jung took his dreams and fantasies very seriously.  All his major life decisions were guided by them.  In his old age, he wrote that for much of his life he had been gripped, even controlled by an inner daimon that pressed him on in his work.  He may have been recalling his early encounter with the god Aion.  I’ve come to believe Aion is a shape-shifter.





Jungian analysts emphasize inner experience, not so much a patient’s adaptations to reality, though we certainly do not ignore necessary adaptation.  Analysis, is appropriate for people already adequately adapted, perhaps even over-adapted.  In psychoanalysis with individuals, we focus on clients’ experiences, their feelings, their world view, their issues, their stories for themselves.  We explore their and our own dreams and fantasies for understanding and guidance.  Jung, in his practice, avoided all theory, taking a completely phenomenological approach, phenomena meaning “what shows itself, what shines through.”  He was guided by Monoimos dictum.  What began to shine through for Jung was the vastness of the human psyche, much of it unexplored, and the potentiality within psyche for expanding individual consciousness.  What shines through if we don’t interfere too much can be astonishing.  


Jung begins AION by describing various elements of the individual psyche and the ways they function.  In this sketch I’ve tried to illustrate the parts of psyche most of us are conscious of in our first decades.  We get information from the outer world from our psychological functions:  intuition, feeling, thinking, and sensation.  Our consciousness is extremely elastic, capable of expanding over our entire lifetime.  This area, the personal unconscious, consists of all the repressed, difficult, unacceptable parts of ourselves that have found no welcoming outlet in the outer world.  Our defense mechanisms for keeping these factors out of our awareness include regression, excess emotionality, projection, and perseveration.  These shadow characteristics are problematic for us and may begin to interfere with our conscious functioning.  This area, the persona, includes the adapted ways we have of meeting the world.  In dreams clothing or lack thereof is often symbolic of the ways we are adapted or maladapted.  When painful eruptions (complex reactions) occur in our personal unconscious, our personas often breakdown.  We are embarrassed, ashamed, exposed.  “I don’t know what came over me.”  “I was beside myself.”  The expression “saving face” relates to the persona.

Ego consciousness can be sort of an amalgam of one’s idea of oneself with rules of behavior, an invisible trellis of idea, parental dictums, cliches, institutional norms shaped and determined by personal factors.  

It’s not all bad news because there are wonderful parts of ourselves awaiting development in the personal unconscious.  We see these potentialities in dreams when some admired figure appears announcing possibilities for the individual. We often shrink back from the implications of such a figure because of the work, effort, and change required for making it real in our lived experience.


This sketch illustrates Jung’s more expansive view of the personality and the psyche.  Contained in the inner world are archetypal patterns and instinctual energies.  Aion’s energies  reside here.  Who among us hasn’t been gripped by a project or creative work that did not let us go until it was realized?  In a very real sense, that is the energy of Aion though our ego is apt to take credit.


When an individual breaks through his/her personal unconscious, conscious contact with this larger world becomes possible.  No one knows quite how or why it happens but such a breakthrough is often felt as healing, or, to use an old-fashioned concept, as redeeming.  A relationship with an inner world as interesting, fascinating, and troubling as relationship with the outer world becomes possible. It is as if the fish discovers water.


Before the age of reason when intellect began to dominate consciousness, contact between these worlds was effected by religious rites, sacraments, and rituals.  The individual could acquire a deep faith in something ineffable and larger than itself.  Of course, many people still do.  People unable to muster an abiding faith are not so lucky.  

Consciousness (our fish out of the water)—aware of itself and aware of its source, the unconscious—is able to dip into the waters selectively and pour from it.  (The symbol for the looming Aquarian Age is the water bearer. )


Most of this part of the psyche remains largely unconscious; we only know it by its effects on our lives.  Aphrodite Is alive and well here as are the patterns and energies of Dionysus, Athena, Hecate, Mars, Zeus, Jesus, and others, among them the ancestors.  Jung began to realize this part of the psyche is common to all humankind, that its archetypal patterns inform and shape our consciousness in ways we are generally oblivious to.  Patterns for family, mother, father, journey, love, hate, jealousy, vocation, monsters, angels, devils are all contained within this collective unconscious.  Individually in our personal consciousness, we wrestle with the energies that emerge from here, usually believing they are our energies, our demons, our personal possessions.  A better and more accurate assessment of the situation is that we can be readily possessed by them but do not realize it.

With the understanding of its relationship with water, the individuating ego (our fish) can no longer deal with the contents of the deep in its old, more limited ways.


In his own experiences and in the experiences of his patients, Jung discovered an archetype of the Self, a central organizing principle in the psyche.   He soon realized that there is a mysterious, growing and developing relationship between this self archetype and the ego.  Both serve as the executives of their domain, the ego in consciousness, the self in the unconscious.  It is a difficult relationship for the ego to develop because it is reluctant to yield any part of its fiefdom. Usually it has to lose many skirmishes and battles before it will admit defeat.  Once communication is established (usually due to a fantasy, a dream, a numinous experience, and some painful defeats), a budding relationship between ego and self begins and can prove a great boon for the individual.  This line of communication—ego to self; self to ego—is called the transcendent function.  Though concept it is, we can know it only through experience.  It is as different as a menu is from the meal.

In AION Jung traces the emergence of a new energy from the unconscious, a developing archetype with the primary symbol of Christ and how it has been assimilated by both consciousness and the collective unconscious over two millennium.  There are various symbols for this developing archetype—Buddha, Mohammed, Tao—all interpreted differently, in conflicting ways.  Dubbing this reality the self moved it from the religious to the psychological, more ordinary realm and out of the realm of metaphysics.  For many of us, experiences of the self take the place of an often unrealizable faith.

Jung was long taken with the problem of evil.  Christian dogma has defined its god-image as all-good, omniscient, and omnipotent.  What then is the problem with Allah?  With Mohammed?  Whence then comes evil?   The theological answer is that it emerges from the human realm.  In his work with patients and in his self-understanding, Jung saw there were mighty forces existent in the unconscious that could overpower an individual, a group, a people, a religion, and often did.  Remember, he published AION in 1945.  Personal conscience, cultural norms, government, laws, institutions, religions, parental dictums, the Ten Commandments, the Beatitudes are guidelines people have used to handle the problem of evil—with varying degrees of success.  

Jung was fascinated with the biblical character Job, a just and devout man who never gave up trying to be “good enough.”  He never stopped insisting that Yahweh remember the covenant he had made with his people.  Job remembered when Yahweh, in his unconsciousness, did not.

Jung’s “Answer to Job” was Jesus, who confronted the cruel, impersonal, unconscious Yahweh so directly that the very nature of Yahweh changed.  There was a pronounced shift in the god-image.  One very human, civilized, suffering consciousness changed the arrangement between humankind and its god-image.  Job and Jesus were fine; it was the unfeeling, unconscious Yahweh who had the problem.  You could say Job diagnosed the problem, and Jesus began the treatment.  It took a very long time.


As luck would have it, just yesterday a client brought a dream that illustrates what this shift in the background god-image looks like, long imaged in the Christian world as father and son  The dreamer is a woman in in her 60’s and has wrestled with important issues for a long time.  The dream:

A mafia-type man has tied me up and is holding me captive in a basement.  His son releases me.  I want to date the son but am embarrassed because my home is so modest, beneath him.  As we are leaving I am worried the father will take me captive again.  Instead he offers me a drink.

The dream speaks to this woman in her language.  She was raised Catholic, schooled in Catholic dogma that never really meant much to her.  She is religious in the sense of our definition but definitely no longer Catholic.  The dream seizes on an archetypal story—father, son and holy spirit—to deliver a very personal message.  And, true to real human feeling, she does not feel worthy.

Michelangleo’s “The Captive [Slide 19] 

It is the problem of  all of us: dealing with the energies that flow through us that can and do hold us back, tie us in knots, keep us captive.  Our mostly unconscious god-image is a way we filter the energies that break through.  Religions have for millennia been the way humankind has tried to mitigate them.

In a conversation with my friend Rick Vaughn, I got a clearer understanding of the mechanism by which the illusion of “If only I could be good enough” thinking (Job’s struggle) is perpetuated.  Rick pointed out that our modern Christmas Story, “I will get what I hope for if only I can be good enough, and I know Santa Claus is tracking my behavior.  Naturally, I will never have all my wishes fulfilled, therefore I have failed in some way.”  You can see how that myth has morphed into today’s “Prosperity Gospel.”  God showers his riches on people he favors and approves of.  Of course, if our personal god-image is “all good,” so any failing is mine to own, the responsibility can be crushing.  Seems our god-image goes to some lengths to escape guilt.  We, of course, being made in its image and likeness, do, too.

It was in the Job-Yahweh and the more personal Father-Son relationship between Yahweh and Jesus that Jung found the meaning and value of human consciousness.  Each of us can attempt, perhaps is tasked, to develop a consciousness capable of confronting, transforming, and humanizing a bit of those amoral unconscious energies that emanate from the psyche or the unconscious.    

The God-image of Christianity is a of kind, loving, gentle god, but the thundering, angry older god-images can and do still break through to possess the consciousness of individuals and groups.  You could understand the war in Ukraine as an unleashing of primal, archaic  energies (evil, in a word) from deep in the psyche.  Atheism is a special case.  If ego consciousness has no conception, no frame for any kind of reality outside its purview, it has a great need for repression.  Fervent atheism, from a Jungian point of view, is overcompensated doubt.  Invisibility is a clever way our unconscious god-image escapes guilt and responsibility.

For the Christian community, the individual man Jesus struggled and overcame the frightening and dangerous unconscious energies that drove people in the Roman Empire.  Assimilating a Christ consciousness means that an individual has learned to mitigate devastating psychic energies so that they are not unleashed in his/her life.  Jung saw that assimilation as the task of the Piscean Age.  However, in making the Christ figure all-good, Christianity swept evil under the rug. All that repressed energy found release in horrific ways, but the Christian world faulted the human realm so that the real source of evil remained undetected.  Dubbing these energies “the devil” was a apotropaic move and a clever way our god-image protected its reputation.  In the new emerging Aquarian Age, presumably many are equipped with an adequate consciousness to effect a civilizing influence on dangerous energies still alive and well in the unconscious.  

In a personal analysis, investigation and illumination of the shadow side of the personality, those aspects of us that have necessarily been repressed, ignored, or remain undeveloped, play a big part.  The shadow side of Christianity includes any concept of a supreme being less than all perfect. In a parallel fashion, most of us early in life take on an ego identity, that is, a view of ourselves, usually as a “good” person while our less-stellar qualities reside in our unconscious shadow.  Church authorities are guilty of the same sin.

The church has used dogma, declarations of heresy, and its authority to repress and suppress certain shadow aspects of Christianity.  As is true for the individual, repression, (and when that fails, suppression) are difficult to maintain when an individual and a group become more conscious.  Gnosticism and alchemy were two areas of opposing thought that emphasized experience and mystery over dogma.  They were excluded from organized church teaching.  Christianity, especially the Catholic Church, through institutionalization, councils, declarations of heresy, the sacraments, and its commanding authority, relegated many contrary issues to its shadow.  Jung, in his analysis of the 2000 years of the history of Christianity carefully examines these shadow aspects.  All this is the subject of AION.


AION AND ASSIMILATION - Aion is an ancient archetypal pattern in the psyche.

So, if we entertain the idea that divine energies are autonomous forces that grip us, as Jung argues, his encounter with the god Aion set the stage for the rest of his life.  Aion, the time principle active in the human psyche, set the general course for the rest of his life.  You could say it squeezed out of him the best he had to offer.

What does it mean to be gripped by an archetypal pattern?  (Archetype meaning simply “a pattern of behavior.”)  We see this happening all the time but have different language to explain it.  My grand nephew Brett is an example.  He played sports in high school and suffered injuries that took him to physical therapy.  That experience awakened in him a pattern he felt compelled to fulfill.  After years of volunteer work, academic study, and clinical work, he became a physical therapist.  He awakened to, then fulfilled an ancient archetypal pattern, the healer, that became his life’s work. 

There are many such patterns, some benevolent, some malevolent.  To be gripped by one can be a blessing and a curse.  Not to be gripped, to be insulated from unconscious energies may actually be preferable.  Common wisdom is that if the unconscious doesn’t trouble you, best you not trouble it.  Trouble drives people into therapy.  Hidden in life’s vexations may be this need to fulfill some as-yet unknown pattern.  The approach most Jungians take in working with individuals is to help them discover then muster up the will to flesh out their own unique life patterns.  Put another way, you might as well be you because everyone else is taken.

AION represents Jung’s final thoughts on a vital issue that engages everyone, though not many people give much thought to it.  The issue:  One’s personal relationship with the cosmos, or one’s cosmology, how it changes over time for an individual and for a culture.

We all have a sort of cosmology.  It can range from “I am captain of my fate and determine everything that happens in my life” to “I am a chip in the ocean, swept about by forces over which I have no control.”  Most of us fall somewhere between these two extremes, but generally don’t think about it.  Second half of life issues are often precipitated by a pressing need to understand and rethink one’s cosmology, to answer pressing questions:  Who am I really?  How might I live differently so as to tackle the vexing problems in my life—relationships, job, inner discontents, my neurotic tendencies?  Understood and approached adequately, it can be a time of tremendous growth in consciousness.

Jung’s view of the meaning and purpose of consciousness, i.e., the incarnation of unconscious energies into the world for its betterment, lends enormous dignity to the individual.  What we do and how we do it matters.  


In casting about for how one might do that, I found this quote:

“Wisdom consists in doing the next think you have to do, doing it with your whole heart, and finding delight in doing it.”


“The state of imperfect transformation, merely hoped for and waited for, does not seem to be one of torment only, but of positive, if hidden happiness. It is the state of someone who, in his/her wanderings among the mazes of his/her psychic transformation comes upon a secret happiness which reconciles him/her to his/her apparent loneliness. In communing with him/herself, he/she finds not deadly boredom and melancholy but an inner partner, more than that, a relationship that seems like a secret love, or like a hidden springtime, when the green seed sprouts from the barren earth, holding out the promise of future harvests." 

                                     [From Vol. 14, MYSTERIUM CONIUNCTIONIS, Para. 623


Though it risks setting up an impossible standard, I want to share the best description for an individuating person I have found.  It comes from a fictional work, Morris West’s Shoes of the Fisherman.

“Yesterday I met a whole person. It is a rare experience, but always an illuminating and ennobling one. It costs so much to be a full human being that there are very few who have the enlightenment, or the courage, to pay the price… One has to abandon altogether the search for security, and reach out to the risk of living with both arms. One has to embrace the world like a lover, and yet demand no easy return on love. One has to accept pain as a condition of existence. One has to court doubt and darkness as the cost of knowing. One needs a will stubborn in conflict, yet open always to the total acceptance of every consequence of living and dying.”  

                                                        Morris West,  THE SHOES OF THE FISHERMAN

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