Book Review: Jung and the Alchemical Imagination by Jeffrey Raff

I HAD been interested in the work of C.G. Jung for quite a few years, but this book – recommended to me by a close friend – deals more with the spiritual and esoteric side of his psychology. The author is well-qualified to elaborate on such matters, having served at the C.G. Jung Institute between 1972 and 1976, before graduating and working as a Jungian analyst ever since.

Raff begins his work by outlining the structure of the psyche, which, for those unfamiliar with Jung’s ground-breaking work on psychology, is comprised of two outer aspects: namely, the ego (also known as the consciousness or ‘I’) and the personal and collective unconscious. This is the partition between what Jung described as the waking part of the human psyche and that which many of us find considerably more difficult to engage. In the centre of these two areas we find the self, or what some people describe as ‘wholeness’. Beyond that, however, at the very core of our being, is the imaginative power that drives the whole process. As Jung explained, the union of the conscious and unconscious results in individuation. In other words, this is the ‘latent self’ becoming transformed into what is known as the ‘manifest self’. So there is a three-fold dimension to the psyche: the self, the transcendent function and the active imagination. Raff uses this structure as the basis for his own ideas, which include the ally and the psychoid.

The ally is an inner figure which is generated through meditation techniques, but which nevertheless remains a product of the psyche and therefore something distinctly imaginal which comes directly from within oneself. The psychoid, on the other hand, is rather different in that it comes from outside, in the external world. This happens when the ego is focussed outward, rather than inward. This can even take the form of a physical or synchronistic experience of some kind, something Raff describes as being ‘more real’. The author believes that the practice of active imagination is achieved in seven key stages. Firstly, the mind must be settled completely through breathing techniques or yoga in order to create a sense of inner repose. It is then necessary to visualise the figure that you wish to contact, a form of intentional evocation. After that, unconscious activation brings the figure alive through voice, thought or sensation.

Once this has been achieved, there must be a form of interaction. This is when the ego responds to the unconscious by ‘greeting it’ and explaining why such contact is required in the first place. This can be a lengthy process, but once interaction has taken place it is possible to embark upon the stage of reflection. By using the intellect, in other words, the ego must consider the experience without accepting it at face value. This may involve even more interaction, but this is soon followed by a resolution. This is when the original intention is arrived at through a state of tension. Thus, the transcendent function is activated and the consciousness is significantly altered.

Finally, through integration the ego incorporates this insight into its daily life and both inner and outer worlds can interconnect and invite the ego into both. Moving on, as the title suggests, Raff approaches Jung from an alchemical perspective and the book contains some beautiful illustrations taken from the Book of Lambspring. This work was published in Frankfurt in 1625 by Lucas Jennis and is a series of fifteen emblematic plates. It was originally published in Prague under the title, De Lapide PhilosophicoTriga Chemicum (1599), assembled by Nicolas Barnaud and then disseminated by way of the alchemical circles that surrounded the Holy Roman Emperor, Rudolf II. Raff uses the Book of Lambspring as a means of examining the symbolic connotations of Jungian psychology and putting things into their correct alchemical perspective.

One of the key sources for Raff’s work, however, is Gerald Dorn, a sixteenth-century alchemist who studied under Paracelsus. Dorn produced a document known as the Mysterium Coniunctionis, which contained three stages of his ‘Great Work’. The First Coniunctio, or Union, is where the ego begins to accept the existence of the self. Consequently, through dreams and the active imagination it realises the power of the transcendent function and begins to forge the manifest self. In the Second Coniunctio, the self takes on a life of its own within the psyche and the ego now perceives itself to be part of the manifest self. The ego and the unconscious are therefore bound together in an indissoluble union. Finally, the Third Coniunctio is where the individual self comes into contact with the unus mundus, or divine world, which existed before spirit and matter were even created. This is the psychoidal world, in which spirits and energies are said to exist at a much higher level. Jung, too had studied Dorn’s Mysterium Coniunctionis and I was therefore confused why Raff had decided to leave the details of Dorn’s manuscript out of his bibliography. After a little more research, it soon transpired that Raff had added his own colouring to Jung’s earlier references to Dorn, but I don’t think this detracts in any way from what is a wonderful and superbly visual text for anyone with an interest in these matters. Highly recommended.

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