The spiritual aspect of the psyche (Jungian view)


Dr Gregor Kowal
Senior Consultant
in Psychiatry and Psychotherapy,
German Board Certified,
Medical Director,
Clinic for Health and Medical Care
Phone: 00971-4-4574240

Excerpts from “The Basic Postulates of Analytical Psychology”, chapter IX “Modern Man in Search of a Soul”, by Carl Gustav Jung (1933)

The fact that a metaphysics of the mind was supplanted in the nineteenth century by a metaphysics of matter, is a mere trick if we consider it as a question for the intellect; yet regarded from the standpoint of psychology, it is an unexampled revolution in man`s outlook upon the world. Other-worldliness is converted into matter-of-factness; empirical boundaries are set to man`s discussion of every problem, to his choice of purposes, and even to what he calls “meaning”.Intangible, inner happenings seem to have to yield place to things in the external, tangible world, and no value exists if it is not founded on a so-called fact.

Just as formerly the assumption was unquestionable that everything that exists takes its rise from the creative will of a God who is spirit, so the nineteenth century discovered the equally unquestionable truth that everything arises from material causes. Today the psyche does not build itself a body, but on the contrary, matter, by chemical action, produces the psyche. This reversal of outlook would be ludicrous if it were not one of the outstanding features of the spirit of the age. It is the popular way of thinking, and therefore it is decent, reasonable, scientific and normal. Mind must be thought to be an epiphenomenon of matter. The same conclusion is reached even if we say not “mind” but “psyche”, and in place of matter speak of brain, hormones, instincts or drives. To grant the substantiality of the soul or psyche is repugnant to the spirit of the age, for to do so would be heresy.

If we were conscious of the spirit of the age, we should know why we are so inclined to account for everything on physical grounds; we should know that it is because, up till now, too much was accounted for in terms of the spirit. This realisation would at once make us critical of our bias. We should say: most likely we are now making as serious an error on the other side. We delude ourselves with the thought that we know much more about matter than about a “metaphysical” mind, and so we overestimate physical causation and believe that it alone affords us a true explanation of life. But matter is just as inscrutable as mind. As to the ultimate we can know nothing, and only when we admit this do we return to a state of equilibrium.

We may well point to the idea of psychic reality as the most important achievement of modern psychology, though it is scarcely recognised as such. It seems to me only a question of time for this idea to be generally accepted. It must be accepted, for it alone enables us to do justice to psychic manifestations in all their variety and uniqueness. Without this idea it is unavoidable that we should explain our psychic experiences in a way that does violence to a good half of them, while with it we can give its due to that side of psychic experience which expresses itself in superstition and mythology, religion and philosophy.

And this aspect of psychic life is not to be undervalued. Truth that appeals to the testimony of the senses may satisfy reason, but it offers nothing that stirs our feelings and expresses them by giving a meaning to human life. Yet it is most often feeling that is decisive in matters of good and evil, and if feeling does not come to the aid of reason, the latter is usually powerless. Did reason and good intentions save us from the World War, or have they ever saved us from any other catastrophic nonsense? Have any of the great spiritual and social revolutions sprung from reasoning — let us say the transformation of the Græco-Roman world into the age of feudalism, or the explosive spread of Islamic culture?


How often have I heard a patient exclaim: “If only I knew that my life had some meaning and purpose, then there would be no silly story about my nerves!” Whether the person in question is rich or poor, has family and social position or not, alters nothing, for outer circumstances are far from giving his life a meaning. It is much more a question of his unreasoned need of what we call a spiritual life, and this he cannot obtain from universities, libraries, or even churches. He cannot accept what these have to offer because it touches only his head, and does not stir his heart. In such cases, the physician`s recognition of the spiritual factors in their true light is vitally important, and the patient`s unconscious helps him in his need by producing dreams whose contents are undeniably religious.Not to recognise the spiritual source of such contents means faulty treatment and failure.

General conceptions of a spiritual nature are indispensable constituents of psychic life. We can point them out among all peoples whose level of consciousness makes them in some degree articulate. Their relative absence or their denial by a civilised people is therefore to be regarded as a sign of degeneration.

We have learned that there are spiritually conditioned processes of transformation in the psyche.


God and Adam, Sistine Chapel, by Michel Angelo