Visiting Carl Jung’s Tower in Bollingen

Patricia Kucmanova
Jan 31 · 12 min read

.. after running away from the ‘woke’ world.

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at the Bollingen Tower.

I went to visit Carl Jung’s Tower in Bollingen, Switzerland.

First time the idea to visit it crossed my mind exactly three years ago. Back then I just got off my little part of Camino de Compostela and spent two weeks homeless in big Spanish cities. Homeless, because I always ran out of money faster than convenient, somewhat stuck in the habit of attempting big travels with too little money. It would also not come to mind to find a place to stay on couchsurfing as human contact wasn’t necessarily something I craved, and self-sabotage was a bigger tool in my tool belt than self-care or self-preservation. And so I strangely chose to sleep on benches, get eaten by swarms of mosquitos and go hungry, dirty, and absolutely desperate at times. But strong in conviction I was at the bare-bone depth of things where insights into the nature of life and universe dwell.

At that time, I was also still London-broken from living in the city for nine painful months; and Stonehenge-revived after running away from it to the sacred fields stretching along the laylines crossing the english country-side. I moved to England after having finished years long travels across North America. In the land of dreams and liberty I did what I was used to- traveling on very little to no money, but a philosophical and spiritual thirst that kept me riding even the biggest waves of challenge and unknown.

As I found myself standing on the ground zero back in my home country, Slovakia, having cashed in after my mother sold the apartment I grew up in (which also appeared as a rather symbolic gesture of a whole new start), I was full and empty at the same time. I was ready to build me an authentic life and fully pursue the areas of thought and expression I was interested in. I thought it was going to be in the Netherlands, where I could settle for a while and earn a living to support myself while creating the life I wished to live, based on things I had lived through.

On my way there, I wanted to visit the Tower in Bollingen, Switzerland. Home of Carl Jung. I’d been following Jungian thought for years, in which I found inspiration and hope to go on despite the inexplicable and overwhelming happenings within the mind and outer reality. Jung helped me to understand that there is a process the human mind goes through, where the unconscious wants to make itself visible by flooding the consciousness with something we may well call madness. So comforting, I thought. This is a process of individuation, this is the process of becoming your whole Self. This is the mystery. This is the hero’s journey, this is the journey of a fool. This is the mythical slaying of the dragon. Meeting the Godhead.

I consider the Bollingen’s Tower to be Magnum Opus of Jung’s work. This is obviously silly in the face of his scientific work, and volumes of deep insight into the human psyche he published. But apart from being a professor, analyst, scientist and a writer, he was a mystic and an artist. The Tower is the Magnum Opus of his mystical art work. It’s also what I think to be material manifestation of highest form and something that has been my greatest heart’s desire for years. To create a dwelling where one can live uninterrupted in unity with nature and all things. To quote the man himself: “In Bollingen, silence surrounds me almost audibly, and I live ‘in modest harmony with nature.’ Thoughts rise to the surface which reach back into the centuries, and accordingly anticipate a remote future. Here, the torment of creation is lessened; creativity and play are close together.”

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The Bollingen Tower

He built it with his hands purely out of his intuition to do so, and it built itself in 4 parts throughout 12 years. In conversations with some of his colleagues, he mentions a dream he had, with the Tower existing in other realms simultanously. ‘The tower exists in heaven.’ .. and he brought his heaven to earth.

The Tower is Jung’s soul, and I had to visit it. I had to see it, feel it, ask it questions. But three years ago, it didn’t happen. I was taking a bus with lots of luggage and to visit Bollingen would have been too inconvenient. And so I went straight to the Netherlands, started to live a whole different life, and forgot all about the Tower. Now, three years later, on my way to Slovakia, I drove from France through Switzerland and with the Red Book sitting on my front seat there was no question about visiting Bollingen.

Not only do I find it auspicious that it had been exactly three years since my initial desire to go, it also symbolized the end of the detour I made. In those three years of living in the Netherlands I forgot all about my personal myth, all about my own journey. In the world I suddenly found myself in, these things weren’t credible.

Or, at least, I wasn’t strong enough to hold their credibility in the world that is empty of them. And so I suppressed a large part of me, ‘the spirit of the depths’, and focused on building the part that was required to grow in ‘the spirit of the times’. (to use Jungian terminology) This brought me great anxiety.

I could not find stillness and space for wonder in the scenes that opened up around me. I was largely surrounded by liberal students and young professionals, artists, queers, drunks and all kinds of social justice fighters. Majority of people who frequented my circle was highly extroverted and expressive, entitled to their contemporary opinion, very priveleged, and doing some kind of drugs, even if ‘just’ those prescribed by the therapist for their anxiety or burn-out. Burn-out is a very popular term in millennial generation entering the market. Many people experience it months after finishing their studies, and I’ve seen them extinguishing it with drinks, sniffing it away, or smoking it out. Apparently it works.

Very often I could not say a word because there was no space for silence. You know what I mean? I always look for the authentic thing to say that is scratching me on the inside, instead of just filling the space with incessant talking that leaves everything one-sided. I’d often just simply not said anything in those ‘chill casual hang outs’ by the beer, because, for one, not having space to, and, two, contributing to the audio mental garbage piling up around me felt pointless anyway.

It was a lot about where you hang out and who you hang out with, where you had your last over-priced four course meal, what you ‘fight’ for and what you’re angry with, whether and whom you’re currently dating, how busy and actually unavailable you are, and how cool the sum up of the previous makes you. My, by now buried, interests laid elsewhere and I wasn’t very good at trying to built my identity around what my environment expected of me. For the most part I was ill, isolated and frowning. Sure, I got into some very cool things, and I met some very dear people, and I had some very good times. I also got to see myself from different angles and discover new strengths and talents. And damn, I am deep cool, though based on the sum up of different attributes than formerly mentioned. The priveleged blind middle-class ‘woke’ world was simply not for me and I found myself deteriorating exponentially, and mad. Just like one is when one lives a lie. I was not building a life I wished for, but badly living within the frameworks of what society expected of me. This was such failure, but so deeply woven around me as it forcefully advertised itself as something I should want, making it difficult to find a way out.

And so life asked of me to surrender to mystery, once again, after a myriad of powerful wake-up calls announcing my-own-nature-suppressing nature of things that kept me in the loop of trying. There was no other way, it was like constantly walking against a wall. I suppose some people like the wall. Its heaviness may be easier to bear than nothingness. Cos this kind of surrender makes your head spin with fear. But as things spin, they also come to life, and the myth is alive again. First though, there’s the shedding of the skin, and revealing of the illusion, and this is more painful than any of the things I know. This is peeling of projections, my own, societal and those of others they put on me. This is a loss, this is annihilation, this is being in a boiling cauldron of everything that went wrong. The cauldron is my head, my loved ones, the world around me. Reality is on fire and I can only watch. But then, there is coming out of there. Bare and a failure. Calm, anew, clean, standing on the home ground. As Nietzsche said: ‘Every acquisition, every step forward in knowledge is a result of courage, of severity toward oneself, of cleanliness with respect to oneself.’

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Dawn at Obersee.

I woke up in Bollingen at dawn. The world was still dark blue as I made my way along the lake Obersee towards the Tower. Thin long clouds turning pink announced the sun would soon come up. The Swiss Alps with their snowy peaks stretched along the lake. What a place to live, I thought. Wouldn’t expect anything else of Jung. The morning was quiet and fresh, so was my head. For the first time in what I think may have been months.

I found the Tower. It was an unassuming jewel, standing on the lakeside in solitude, partially hidden under the crowns of tall, now leafless, trees; about two kilometers northeast of the little friendly town of Bollingen. A fairly busy road curves above it which I imagine wasn’t there in times of Jung. It brings me warmth and a smile to intuitively feel how much he wouldn’t like it. I sure didn’t. As I descended down to the Tower though, silence enveloped me again. I was overwhelmed, excited and not really sure what to do at the same time. And so I just explored.

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Outside the Tower.

All the doors were locked and a thick fort guards the Tower. I looked around and figured I could make my way in if I hopped on the lake stones that lay around the fort. For a long time I’ve been a fan of entering inaccessible places by a little bit of cleverness and a little bit of physical effort. This worked, and I made it into the small yard between the Tower and the lake shore. The first thing that caught my attention was a large cubic stone with a little metallic roof that stood under a beautiful, wise-ancient-looking, crooked tree.

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The Tower, the Tree and the Stone.

Jung carved this stone, intuitively again (‘When the stone was finished, I looked at it again and again, wondering about it and asking myself what lay behind my impulse to carve it.’), on his 75th birthday (“In remembrance of his seventy-fifth birthday C. G. Jung made and placed this here as a thanks offering, in the year 1950.” says a note on one of the walls). As he says, it is an explanation of the Tower, it is a ‘manifesto of the occupant, but one which remains incomprehensible to others.’

Three of its four sides are carved in greek and latin. The first one to be carved was the wall facing the Tower. In latin, it reads:

Here stands the mean, uncomely stone,

“Tis very cheap in price!

The more it is despised by fools,

The more loved by the wise.

This is a verse by the Spanish alchemist Arnaldus de Villa Nova, and a reference towards the philosophers’ stone, magnum opus, the ultimate goal of every alchemist, lapis philosophorum, often despised and rejected.

The second to be carved was the wall that now displays a mandala on one with a figure of Telesphoros of Asklepios in the centre of it. Jung dedicated a small inscription in Greek to him, ‘who roams through the dark regions of this cosmos and glows like a star out of the depths. He points the way to the gates of the sun and to the land of dreams.’

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The Stone.

The wall facing the lake carries the longest piece of carved writing. I traced it with my fingers and read out loud in latin as the sun came up. The translation goes:

‘I am an orphan, alone; nevertheless I am found everywhere.

I am one, but opposed to myself. I am youth and old man at one and the same time.

I have known neither father nor mother, because I have had to be fetched out of the deep like a fish, or fell like a white stone from heaven.

In woods and mountains I roam, but I am hidden in the innermost soul of man.

I am mortal for everyone, yet I am not touched by the cycle of aeons.’

I looked around and I could see Jung sitting there smoking his pipe, deep in thought, overlooking the lake, being in different worlds at once. Bridging realities and extending borders of human consciousness. Determined stallion riding through the darkness of human psyche, illuminating things previously hidden. I saw where he tied his boat and I felt the tranquility of the lake as he calmly sailed through its vastness.

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Sunrise at the Tower.

Finally again, I was able to close my eyes and breathe in deeply and feel motivation to go on in life, to delve deeper into the mysteries that calmly wait under the layer of dust my failed contemporary living left on it.

This was a new beginning in old ways for me, and even though my fingers and toes were freezing, I took the Red Book out and spoke aloud to the Tower and the Spirit of Jung. I asked for help, I asked for guidance, for I needed it very much. Then I closed my eyes, took couple breaths and intuitively opened the book. Page 380. Chapter: ‘The Gift of Magic.’

Here’s what I got:

“The gifts of darkness are full of riddles. Submit to the riddles and the thoroughly incomprehensible. There are dizzying bridges over the eternally deep abyss. But follow the riddles.

Endure them, the terrible ones. It is still dark, and the terrible goes on growing. Lost and swallowed by the streams of procreating life, we approach the overpowering, inhuman forces that are busily creating what is to come. How much future the depths carry! .. Protect the riddles, bear them in your heart, warm them, be pregnant with them. Thus you carry the future.

The tension of the future is unbearable in us. It must break through narrow cracks, it must force new ways. You want to cast off the burden, you want to escape the inescapable. Running away is deception and detour. Shut your eyes so that you do not see the manifold, the outwardly plural, the tearing away and the tempting. There is only one way and that is your way; there is only one salvation and that is your salvation. Why are you looking around for help? Do you believe that help will come from the outside? What is to come will be created in you and from you. Hence look into yourself. Do not compare, do not measure. No other way is like yours. All other ways deceive and tempt you. You must fulfill the way that is in you.

Oh, that all men and all their ways become strange to you! .. You always want to have at least one foot on paths not your own to avoid great solitude! .. So that someone pulls you over onto their path, where you stray from yourself, and where it is easier for you to set yourself aside. As if you were not yourself! Who should accomplish your deeds? Who should carry your virtues and your vices? .. Everything must be fulfilled. Time is of the essence, so why do you want to pile up the lived and let the unlived rot?”

Ruthless and on point. The tree shivered and I shivered with it. I put my hand on the tree and the images of laughing Jung came to mind. The man had humour and lightness despite (or because of?) the depths he carried in him.

I slowly made my way out with a rekindled flame in my heart. Ready for what is to come.

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Telesphoros of Asklepios and I.

Additional pictures of the Tower:

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All images taken by me.

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