Jung: Exploring the ‘arrheton’

Jung: Exploring the ‘arrheton’

It took a while but this book has me hooked now – I'm loving this window onto Jung's development. I do find, however, that after an immersion of 50 or so pages I have to take a few days to ruminate over what I’ve read. Last weeks reading was no different, it has taken four days for me to feel like I can approach editing with a fresh perspective, I get so drawn in to his story and overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information and the detail.

I've finished his early years and he is now a practicing psychiatrist at the Burghölzli Mental Hospital in Zürich where he is as interested in the mental processes of the other practitioners as he is in the minds of the patients. For Jung, psychiatry was most interesting when a "human mind reacted to the sight of its own destruction" (112). Jung’s desire to know the mind better was, I believe, a reflection of his desire to view his own mind with greater perspective after a tumultuous adolescence during which he often felt a stranger in his own body, and a witness to a war between two parts of his personality, No. 1 and No. 2.

The evolution of his conscious awareness of No. 2 began with the creation of a ‘manikin’ in its likeness at 10. As a boy of eleven, he would use the image of this "little man in frock coat and top hat" with his soul stone (more about that later), to give himself courage when he was feeling small – this was his "inviolable secret," his Other (26). He also drew an analogy between his small “secret in the attic” and God, "a unique being of whom, so I hear, it was impossible to form any correct conception" of whom no graven image could be made and who was, therefore, much more 'secret' than Jesus (27).

When Jung was 12, he remembers suddenly becoming aware of himself such that while he had previously ‘existed’, he now ‘knew’ that he existed (33). This was the conscious emergence of his No. 2 personality. This new "Me was not only grown up, but important, an authority, a person with office and dignity, an old man, an object of respect and awe" (33). This new persona, this 'other', "was an man who lived in the eighteenth century, wore buckled shoes and a white wig and went driving in a fly…" (34). At this young age, he had the distinct impression of "living in two ages simultaneously, and being two different persons" (35). And yet, at 12, he made no conscious connection to his ‘manikin’.

Jung began to analyse his No. 2 personality and compare it to those of other people. His mother's No. 2 was very earthy and spoke with a different voice, a seer "who is at the same time a strange animal… ruthless as truth and nature… the embodiment of the 'natural mind'" (50). While Jung had little faith in the words spoken by his mother’s No. 1, her No. 2 often delivered strange comfort in his greatest times of crisis, introducing him to Faust and consoling him after his father’s death.

Jung entered medicine and then decided to specialize in psychiatry only after agonizing for years over his own split nature. His No. 1 was his outward persona – grumpy, somewhat brilliant, in love with nature and the sciences – struggling to make friends and to succeed academically, in other words, an average teenage boy. His No. 2, on the other hand, was his inner arrheton, or secret, personality that loved God and philosophy and was part of the "collective spirit whose years are counted in centuries" (91).

I had to do a little research on the arrheton to figure out what it was. Apparently it derives from the Greek and deals with the "ineffable secret" of the Eleusian Mystery schools. So then I had to look up ineffable, which means

concerned with ideas  that cannot or should not be expressed in spoken words (or language in general), often being in the form of a taboo or incomprehensible term. This property is commonly associated with philosophy, aspects of existence, and similar concepts that are inherently "too great", complex, or abstract to be adequately communicated. In addition, illogical statements, principles, reasons, and arguments are intrinsically ineffable along with impossibilities, contradictions, and paradoxes. Terminology describing the nature of experience cannot be properly conveyed in dualistic symbolic language; it is believed that this knowledge is only held by the individual from which it originates. (Wikipedia)


This definition, in my opinion, is exactly how Jung felt about his No. 2, whom he believed also enabled his direct experience of God. He quickly learned that to try and convey to others what he had experienced was impossible, unless they had experienced a similar event (and no one had), and his words were only met with mistrust and disbelief.

Jung reflects in Memories, Dreams, ReflectionsMemories, Dreams, Reflections that this split is "played out in every individual [though] most people's conscious understanding is not sufficient to realize that he is also what they are" while he himself had "always tried to make room for anything that wanted to come to [him] from within" (45). This is an example of his dedication to Embodied Wisdom, and an inspiration for me to more fully develop my own (more on that later as well). This feeling of separation gave Jung the strength to go his own way and the disputes between his Self and the Other were his "profoundest experiences: on the one hand a bloody struggle, on the other supreme ecstasy" (48).

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