JUNG AND THE TAROT – PART I – Carl Gustav Jung

Who was Carl Jung

Carl Gustav Jung (b. 1875 – d. 1961) was a Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who founded analytical psychology. His work has been influential not only in psychiatry but also in anthropology, archaeology, literature, philosophy and mysticism.

Unfortunately, today, not too many people have heard of Jung – while most are quite familiar with Freud. Yet it was Jung, who coined many terms used not only in psychology, but in every-day life: introvert, extravert, synchronicity, anima, persona, archetype, individuation and more.

Early on in his career, Jung was an admirer of Freud and the two men even collaborated, as Freud, likewise, was quite fond of Jung’s work. However, by 1913, their relationship soured as Jung found some of Freud’s conclusions incomplete and somewhat negative and unrealistic.

Freud believed that everything in our lives goes back to a primal sexual urge, and is shaped by our relationship with our parents. He insisted that the human unconscious is a repository of repressed emotions and desires. Jung, however, downgraded the importance of sexuality and childhood conflicts in our reaction to daily life for the sake of individual psyche and quest for wholeness.

Jung’s system of Analytical Psychology

Jung operated on the premise of what he called ‘self-regulating’ psyche, which is composed of tensions between opposing attitudes of the ego and the unconscious. According to Jung, a neurosis is a significant unresolved tension between these contending attitudes.

Jung took great care to define the unconscious of a person as comprised of both, a personal unconscious (proceeding from the experiences of the individual) and a collective unconscious (issuing from the inherited structure of the brain, and common to humanity). This is important to esoteric study in that it goes some way towards explaining the power of archetypal, symbolic systems like the Tarot. Indeed, the concept of archetypes – potent universal symbols appearing in myths, fairytales and dreams – is a significant part of Jung’s concept of the unconscious.

Jung and The Tarot

Jung was familiar with the Tarot (although not, necessarily their history).  He referred to the cards in a number of letters and lectures. He believed that divination systems, like the Tarot or the I Ching, descended from the archetypes of transformation. Therefore, they were useful in providing that layer of unconscious that we cannot grasp with our human minds. Jung believed that the pictures and symbols of the cards, through the synchronicity of their appearance and position serve as a link. They are a connection, with the collective unconscious we could not, otherwise, attain.

Jung maintained that the archetypes presented in the Tarot, as they fuse with regular elements of life of the cards lead to an intuitive understanding flow of life. A flow of life to which we may not, otherwise, be privy.

In his words

“The original cards of the Tarot consist of the ordinary cards, the king, the queen, the knight, the ace, etc. Only the figures are somewhat different. And besides, there are twenty-one cards upon which are symbols, or pictures of symbolical situations. For example, the symbol of the sun, or the symbol of the man hung up by the feet. Or the tower struck by lightning, or the wheel of fortune, and so on. Those are sort of archetypal ideas, of a differentiated nature. They mingle with the ordinary constituents of the flow of the unconscious. And therefore it is applicable for an intuitive method that has the purpose of understanding the flow of life. Possibly even predicting future events, at all events lending itself to the reading of the conditions of the present moment.

It is in that way analogous to the I Ching. I Ching is the Chinese divination method that allows at least a reading of the present condition. You see, man always felt the need of finding an access through the unconscious. Access to the meaning of an actual condition. That’s because there is a sort of correspondence or a likeness between the prevailing condition and the condition of the collective unconscious.”*

Today, Jung’s theories of archetypes, ego functions, anima and animus and others, can help us further our understanding of the Tarot. With that understanding, our readings can be more meaningful, spiritual and profound.

*[from Visions: Notes of the Seminar given in 1930-1934 by C. G. Jung, edited by Claire Douglas. Vol. 2. (Princeton NJ, Princeton University Press, Bollingen Series XCIX, 1997), p. 923.]

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