Jung’s Map of the Psyche with Alchemy

Jung’s map of the psyche can still be a great boon to those who want to enter inner space. He extended his theories further to include studies of history, culture, and religion and create a key link to the modern physics. His map can be a useful tool for those who want orientation and guidance, for some who are lost, it can be even a lifesaver; for others, it will stimulate a powerful urge to experience what Jung is talking about (Stein, 1999, p.6).  Jung’s map of the psyche is a massive achievement of intellect, observation, and creative intuition. This is my attempt as a student and absolute novice to explore his magnum opus by synthesizing my interest in alchemy and religion, specifically in the sacred realm of Christianity.

The Psyche

The psychic system as a whole consist of many parts. Thoughts and archetypal images stand at one end of the spectrum, representations of the drives and instincts at the other end, and in between are vast amount of personal material such as memories forgotten and recalled and all the complexes. The factor that orders this whole system ties it all together is an invisible agent called the Self (Stein, 1999, p.168).

The way in which the psyche manifests is a complicated interplay of many factors, including an individual’s age, sex, hereditary disposition, psychological type and attitude, and degree of conscious control over the instincts. The psyche is the starting-point of all human experience, and all the knowledge we have gained eventually leads back to it. The psyche is the beginning and end of all cognition. It is not only the object of its science, but the subject also. This gives psychology a unique place among all the other sciences: on the one hand there is a constant doubt as to the possibility of its being a science at all, while on the other hand psychology acquires the right to state a theoretical problem the solution of which will be one of the most difficult tasks for a future philosophy (Sharp, 1991).

The Unconscious

The concept of the unconscious is exclusively psychological and not a philosophical concept of a metaphysical nature. In Jung’s view, the unconscious is a psychological borderline concept which covers all psychic contents or processes that are not conscious. It includes all psychic contents the lie outside of consciousness, for whatever reason or whatever duration. Actually, this is the vast bulk of the psychic world. The unconscious was the major area of investigation in depth psychology, and Jung’s most passionate interest lay in exploring that territory (Stein, 1999, p.16). We can distinguish a personal unconscious comprising all the acquisitions of personal life, everything forgotten, repressed, subliminally perceived, thought, felt. But, in addition to these personal unconscious contents, there are other contents which do not originate in personal acquisitions but in the inherited possibility of psychic functioning in general, i.e., in the inherited structure of the brain. These are the mythological associations, the motifs and images that can spring up anew anytime anywhere, independently of historical tradition or migration. These contents are called the collective unconscious (Jung, 1976, p. 485). A bridge leading to the images of the collective unconscious are the animus and anima function, it allows the ego to enter into and to experience the depths of the psyche. The anima is the female element in the male unconscious, while the animus is the male element in the female unconscious. This inner duality is often symbolized by a hermaphroditic figure like the crowned hermaphrodite.

In alchemy, Mercurius is described as hermaphroditic (dual nature), both male and female, light and dark, visible and invisible. He is the egg of nature known only to the wise, given only to the few. Penotus, a pupil of Paracelsus, stresses the corporeal aspect when he says that Mercurius is “nothing other than the spirit of the world become body within the earth” (Jung, 1983, p. 261). In Jung’s model, to gain some mastery over the shadow opens the door to the anima or animus. This projection is even more difficult to withdraw than the shadow—perhaps because its object (usually a love-object) is more often than not perceived as something to be desired rather than avoided. In fact, Jung felt that if the withdrawal of shadow projection was the apprentice-piece of psychological work, withdrawal of anima or animus projection was its masterpiece (Jung, 1980, p. 29). If the anima or animus projection is successfully withdrawn, this opens the door to the wisdom figure, who is the gateway to and image of the Self.

Figure 1:
Mercurius represented as Monstrosity being extracted from the Prima Materia
and Coronation of the Virgin transforming Trinity into a Quaternity


Low (2005) explains the etymology of the word consciousness is con, which means “with,” “together,” “jointly,” and scire, meaning “to know.” Furthermore, the word scire is based on another word, skei, meaning to “split,” “to cut.” This leads us to believe that consciousness in some way puts together, through knowing, what was previously split. This idea of a split, or division, also appears in the Sanskrit word for consciousness, vijnana. This is composed of two words, vi meaning “divided,” and jnana meaning “primordial knowing,” or “pure awareness.” Consciousness is complex, whereas pure awareness is not, and that the complexity evolves out of the basic simplicity. The essential new idea is that the purpose of human life is the creation of consciousness. Consciousness is somehow born out of the experience of opposites like good and evil (Edinger, 1995, p.16).

The Gnostic Christians who authored the Nag Hammadi scriptures did not read Genesis as history with a moral, but as a myth with a meaning. To them, Adam and Eve were not actual historical figures, but representatives of two intrapsychic principles within every human being. Adam was the dramatic embodiment of psyche, or soul, while Eve stood for the pneuma, or spirit. Soul, to the Gnostics, meant the embodiment of the emotional and thinking functions of the personality, while spirit represented the human capacity for spiritual consciousness. The former was the lesser self (the ego of depth psychology), the latter the transcendental function, or the “higher self,” as it is sometimes known.

The Ego

The ego, like the consciousness, also transcends and outlasts the particular contents that occupy the room of consciousness at any particular moment. The ego is a focal point within consciousness, its most central and perhaps most permanent feature. Stein (1999) noted that for Jung, the ego forms the critical center of consciousness and in fact determines to a large extent which contents remain within the realm of consciousness and which ones drop away into the unconscious. A strong ego is one that can obtain and move around in a deliberate way large amounts of conscious content. A weak ego is easily succumbs to impulses and emotional reactions, it is easily distracted, and as a result consciousness lacks focus and consistent motivation (Stein, 1999, p.18).

In alchemy, the king, sun and lion refer to the ruling principle of the conscious ego and to the power instinct. At a certain point these must be mortified in order to for a new center to emerge. As Jung says, “Egocentricity is a necessary attribute of consciousness and is also its specific sin” (Jung, 1970, par. 364). On the archetypal level the mortificatio of the king or the sun will refer to the death and transformation of collective dominant or ruling principle.

Figure 2: Sol and Luna Kill the Dragon (Maier, Atlanta Fugiens, 1618)

The Shadow

The shadow is a moral problem that challenges the whole ego-personality, for no one can become conscious of the shadow without considerable moral effort. To become conscious of it involves recognizing the dark aspects of the personality as present and real. This act is the essential condition for any kind of self-knowledge, and it therefore, as a rule, meets with considerable resistance. Indeed, self-knowledge as a psychotherapeutic measure frequently requires much painstaking work extending over a long period (Jung, 1979, p.8). The shadow can to some extent be assimilated into the conscious personality, experience shows that there are certain features, which offer the most obstinate resistance to moral control and prove almost impossible to influence. These resistances are usually bound up with projections, which are not recognized as such, and their recognition is a moral achievement beyond the ordinary. Jung (1990) explains, it is quite within the bounds of possibility for a man to recognize the relative evil of his nature, but it is a rare and shattering experience for him to gaze into the face of absolute evil.

In alchemy, mortificatio drives one’s consciousness down into the most painful consequences of the limitations of human life such as mortality and corruptibility. Our most prized possession­­––ego is slayed and mortified, and submitted to the rotting process of putrefactio, which literally means the process of decomposition that breaks down the dead organic bodies. An important element of the mortificatio is the humiliation and the mortification of the ego when it encounters the Self for the first time. The wounding of the ego is fundamentally necessary because as a result of this wounding the ego is able to recognize itself and being in a relationship larger than itself and more complete. The torture and crucifixion of Jesus the Christ is an example of mortificatio. I have not heard a preacher nor a priest mentioned that upon his arrival at Golgotha, Jesus was offered wine laced with myrrh to lessen the pain, but he refuses it. He is an embodiment of the alchemical process of mortificatio. Whether He really existed on the earth or in the psyche, these apostles who wrote the New Testament was indeed an initiate. One alchemical statement says that death is the conception of the Philosopher’s Stone. Edinger (2009) wrote, “The death of ego, or the ego experiencing itself as dying is very often the prelude to the birth of awareness of the Self.”

The Self

The Self is the center and the circumference of Jung’s psychology. Its realization through the process of individuation was, for Jung, the ultimate goal towards which we strive as human beings; indications of its presence can be found in all aspects of human endeavor especially in religion and mythology (Coleman, 1). Jung said, that the experience of the self is always a defeat for the ego. When you take confrontation of the Self and begin to see that the transpersonal substance is so much larger than the ego, and so much grander than the ego hope to imagine itself to be, the ego experiences its littleness, it’s tininess and deprivation. Wounded healer is a term created by psychologist Carl Jung. The idea states that an analyst is compelled to treat patients because the analyst himself is wounded. It takes great courage and internal strength for the wounded healer to retrace her challenging past history in order to transform it into a wellspring of self-knowledge, faith and wisdom. Like a salve that heals a wound but leaves a scar, wounded healer’s scar tissue is their past personal story that can be retold to inspire and heal others. This past personal story gives the wounded healer their unique healing skills to empathically understand and feel the fear, pain and suffering of others.    

Christian symbolism of the Self

Jung’s choice to consider all religions as myths was further influenced by his view of psychoanalysis. Jung’s theories constitute a religion can be seen in his view of God as the collective unconscious and thereby present in each person’s unconscious. For him religions revealed aspects of the unconscious and could thus tap into a person’s psyche. Religion was one of the tools to tap into the self by utilizing its symbols.

The birth of Christ is characterized by all the usual phenomena attendant upon the birth of a hero, such as the annunciation of the angels to Mary, the divine generation from a virgin, the coincidence of the birth with the thrice-repeated conuinctio maxima in the sign of Pisces, which at that precise moment inaugurated the new era, the recognition of the birth of a king, the persecution of the newborn, his flight and concealment, and his lowly birth. The motif of the growing up of the hero is discernible in the wisdom of the twelve-year-old child in the temple, and there are several examples in the gospels of the breaking away from the mother (Answer to Job, 644). In Aion, Jung stated that Christ acquired its significance because all the contemporary symbolic images of the Self, such as the fish, the cross, the Son of Man and others, have crystallized around it from out of the depths of the collective unconscious. For this reason the figure of Jesus has become identical with the concept of Self and has thus acquired that substantiality and reality which constitute its central significance for the Christian culture (Jung and Franz, 156).


Jung describe complexes as being made up of associated images and frozen memories of traumatic moments that are buried in the unconscious and not readily available for retrieval by the ego such as repressed memories. Stein (1999) explained that complexes have the ability to erupt suddenly and spontaneously into consciousness and to take possession of the ego’s functions. Often there is a subtle triggering stimulus that can be detected if one looks carefully enough into the recent past. A neurotic depression, for instance, may look endogenous until one finds the tiny insult that set it off. A Savior complex, for example, typically develops from painful experiences of abandonment in childhood, and then shows itself in behavior that passes for kindness and helpfulness. These features do not, however belong to ego in an integrated way; rather they tend to wax and wane because they are rooted in an autonomous complex over which the ego has a little control (Stein, 1999, p.55).

            Another great example is the familiar territory of the so-called Oedipus complex. However, for the alchemist, the mother was the prima materia and brought about healing and rejuvenation as well as death. This image of the coniunctio refers to one phase of the transformation process, death, to be followed, one hopes, by rebirth. The immature son-ego is eclipsed and threatened with destruction when it naively embraces the maternal unconscious. However, other images indicate that such an eclipse can be inseminating and rejuvenating (Edinger, 2009, p.212).


            The term projection therefore signifies a state of identity that has become noticeable, an object of criticism, whether it is a self-criticism of the subject or the objective criticism of another. There are two forms of projection; one is passive and the other is active projection. The passive form is the customary form of all pathological and many normal projections; they are not intentional and are purely automatic occurrences. The active form is an essential component of the act of empathy. Taken as a whole, empathy is a process of introjection, since it brings the object into intimate relation with the subject (Jung, 1976, par.784).

For instance, the antique study of the sky was far more astrology than the science of astronomy: in other words, it was the projected unconscious that was so fascinating. The stars represented forces of a psychical nature. The sun, moon and planets were the exponents, so to speak, of certain psychological or physical constituents of the human character; and this is why astrology can give more or less valid information about character; if I am melancholy, given to depressions and bad moods, Saturn is influencing me (Jung, 1959, par. 120).

The most important question naturally is: What is the prima materia? It is really a projection of the unconscious, as we saw clearly in many of the definitions, for the Middle Ages, as well as Antiquity, saw the unconscious in nature. We could define the unconscious as a psychical existence in ourselves of which we are unconscious. We can only become conscious of it in the form of individual symptoms and indications, and sometimes we are surprised by it. We get messages from time to time from the unconscious: dreams, phantasies, intuitions, visions and

so on; and it is from these that we draw the conclusion of a psychical existence in ourselves, which is totally different to our conscious mind (Jung, 1959, p.119).


People develop many ways through their lifetimes, and they undergo multiple changes at many levels. The total experience of wholeness over the entire lifetime–the emergence of the self in psychological structure and in consciousness–is conceptualized by Jung and called individuation, which he defines as becoming a unified and integrated person. Individuation includes more than the project achieved ideally in the first half of life, namely ego and persona development. Stein (1999) wrote, “Jung offers a succinct summary of what he means by the term individuation, he begins saying it is the process by which a person becomes a psychological individual, which is to say, a separate undivided conscious unity, a distinct whole.” Individuation in the Jungian sense must not be regarded as a product of analysis. Dr. Henderson in accord with Jung says that people may individuate without analysis, that people have always been able to individuate, independent of the label and of the concept. Individuation is basically a generous one and seems applicable to everyone who strives over time with integrity and without lopping off or ignoring any important aspect of their personality or human imperative to come finally and honestly to him or herself, whatever the end product may look like in the eyes of others (Tresan, 2007, p.9).

Individuation and Alchemy

True philosophers make dying their profession. Mortificatio is the most negative operation in alchemy. It has to do with darkness, defeat, torture, mutilation, death and rotting. However, these dark images often lead over to highly positive ones­­––growth, resurrection, and rebirth (Edinger, 2009, p.148). If I am going to look at The Passion of Jesus Christ with alchemical lens, my interpretation of the Stations of the Cross (a Catholic devotion that commemorates Jesus Christ’s suffering on his last days on Earth) is mortificatio hiding under the veil because according to the New Testament, after the Romans crucified Jesus, he was anointed and buried in a new tomb by Joseph of Arimathea but “God raised him from the dead” and he appeared to witnesses before he ascended sublimatio into heaven, to sit at the right hand of Father. A text says, “At the end of the sublimation there germinates through the mediation of the spirit, a shining white soul anima candida which flies up to heaven with the spirit. This is clearly and manifestly the stone” (Edinger, 2009, p.120). The Christ-lapis parallel vacillates between mere analogy and far-reaching identity, but in general it is not thought out to its logical conclusion, so that the dual focus remains. This is not surprising since even today most of us have not got around to understanding Christ as the psychic reality of an archetype, regardless of his historicity. Jung (1970) wrote, “I do not doubt the historical reality of Jesus of Nazareth, but the figure of the Son of Man and of Christ the Redeemer has archetypal antecedents. It is these that form the basis of the alchemical analogies.”

Note: This is just a rough draft, subject for editing and proof reading.


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Edinger, Edward F. (2009). Anatomy of the Psyche Alchemical Symbolism in Psychotherapy.W. Ross MacDonald School Resource Services Library.

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Jung, C. G. (1983) Alchemical Studies. Princeton University Press.

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 Low, A. (2005). What is Consciousness and has it Evolved? World Futures: The Journal of New Paradigm Research, 61(3), 199-227.

Sharp, D. (1991). C. G. Jung Lexicon: A Primer of Terms and Concepts. Toronto, Canada: Inner City Books.

Stein, M. (1999). Jung’s map of the soul: An introduction. Chicago, IL: Open Court Press.

Tresan, D. (2007). Thinking individuation forward. Journal of Analytical Psychology, 52, 17-40.

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