Carl Jung’s scariest book

A book review of Aion — Researches into the Phenomenology of the Self

Aion is one of Jung’s central books and focuses on the concept of the Self. Some other Jungian themes like the ego, shadow and anima/animus are also mentioned. I’ve touched a bit on Jung himself and his philosophy in my review of “The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious”, so I will spare it here.

After some general introduction to archetypes, the book starts by discussing the notion of evil, particularly in Christianity. It has a tradition that states that evil is simply the lack of good, but not a thing in itself. He argues against this from a logical standpoint, but more importantly, he illustrates how this type of thinking has harmed society’s notion of evil, and thus the shadow of each individual. This is crucial because it plays a key role in the role of the individuation process — becoming the self.

He presents the self archetype through the lens of Christ, and he’s the “living myth of our culture”, as Jung puts it. He represents the totality of personality and the embodiment of the divine. To achieve this totality, however, one must also embrace our unconscious dark side, what Jung calls the shadow. This is often represented with animalistic symbolism. It’s commonly illustrated by a snake or a reptile. In myths and fairy tales, often a dragon. This dark side, however, is not purely negative. It’s also a source of insight, power, creativity, and more. While this was recognized in Gnosticism, Christianity rejected this “inferior” aspect of the personality and externalized it into the Antichrist. Hence Jung’s insistence at the beginning on the reality of evil and the mistake of casting aside only in relation to goodness.

There is a heavy influence of alchemy, where the “lapis philosophorum”, and all their countless variations, all point to the “Anthropos”. The lapis philosophorum is the philosopher’s stone, which allows the turn of base metals into gold. It’s also associated with immortality and enlightenment. The Anthropos is the first human being in the Gnostic system. For Jung, this is the perfect and whole man, in which the conscious and unconscious processes are united. This self is the antithesis of the subjective ego-psyche.

Aion — Researches into the Phenomenology of the Self, published by Carl Jung in 1969

Jung’s writings on alchemy are quite difficult. From what I’ve gathered, it’s the symbolism between matter and psyche. It’s obsessed with transformation, but it’s quite different from chemistry (even beyond proto-chemistry) because it takes into account the ego doing the transformations. The transformation of matter depends on the transformation of the spirit, they viewed it as the same thing. The alchemical opus (the process of making the philosopher stone) is the individuation process. The transformation of the spirit wasn’t inside you (the ego) per se. It was outside of you (the unconscious), which was cast upon matter.

A large chapter is dedicated to the fish symbolism of the self, in which a fish may be caught in the deep sea and incorporated into the human body. The sea represents the unconscious and the unknown, and the fishing is the symbol for the self and was for a long time a symbol for Christ. It also represents a tradition of “integrating” Christ into one’s inner experience — the “Christ within”.

There are many other things touched on in this book, although they do generally cluster around the topic of the self and its symbolism, I’ve only described a tiny portion of it — perhaps about 5–10%. It’s quite possibly the most difficult book I have read. There are countless times where I have no idea what he’s talking about for pages on end. Sometimes, it clicks after he touches it from another perspective. Sometimes it doesn’t. His writings on astrology, in particular, I found it close to impenetrable. Most of the time, I recognize he’s trying to “reverse engineer” what led to astrology in the first place and its symbolism. Yet, the way he does so often seems so disconnected from our current worldview that is very hard to follow. Besides, I felt at times that it was mixed with metaphysical beliefs, which only makes it an infinitely more confusing topic.

If you want to take a deep dive into the concept of the Self, you will definitely find a lot of material here. However, if you just want a general conception of it, or dipping your feet into Jungian theory in general, this is likely a bad choice. It’s complex, time-consuming and hard to follow. Even so, like in any of Jung’s books, there are countless gold insights into the psyche, which for some may justify the read. It certainly did to me.

Thanks for reading. If you like non-fiction book reviews, feel free to follow me on Medium. You can get new articles by email by clicking here.

I also have a philosophy podcast. If you want to check it out look for Anagoge Podcast.

Tiago V.F.

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Tiago V. Faleiro

Tiago V. Faleiro

BA Psychology & Philosophy ; Currently studying MSc Applied Neuroscience at KCL ; Host of Anagoge Podcast www.anagogepodcast.com

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