Sum it up for me

Aion – Class 1 by Edward Edinger



What I am going to do tonight is a prelude to the book and the first assignment only starts with next week’s class, so tonight I’m just going to make some introductory remarks concerning how to read Jung’s later works and then spend the rest of the time talking about the title. The title is more complicated then it looks and we’ll go into that matter.

How to read Jung’s later works

So first of all I want to say a few things about the procedure of reading Jung’s later works.

These last works are very difficult, that must be acknowledged to start with. He decided, especially after his illness in 1944 when he had a new birth so to speak and another span of time to realize himself. Jung decided that he was going to write the way he wanted to and from then on his audience would have to meet him where he was rather than he go to great trouble to meet his audience where he knows they’re likely to be, so that puts an extra burden on the readers of Jung, of his later works anyway.

I have 3 specific principles to suggest that you follow in the process of reading Aion.

  1. The first principle is to recognize Jung’s magnitude. Before you start reading it’s vital that you realize that Jung’s consciousness vastly surpasses your own. If he puts something in a way that seems unnecessarily difficult to you the proper procedure is to assume that he knows what he’s doing and that he knows something that you don’t know. If you make the assumption that you know better and if you start out with a critical attitude then don’t bother, the book isn’t for you then if that’s how you feel about it. See the fact is that Jung’s depth and breadth are absolutely awesome to all us ordinary people. We are all lilliputian by comparison and that means that inevitably when we encounter Jung he makes us feel very small, very inferior and we don’t like to feel inferior, it doesn’t feel good. We like to feel big, rather than little. But I must confess that I have no use for little people who criticize Jung in order to defend themselves against their own littleness. I have no objection to little people, I’m one myself, I have a great deal of sympathy for littleness, but it’s not acceptable to me is the failure to acknowledge one’s littleness and to defend against it by trying to pull down Jung to one’s own small size. In order to read Jung successfully we must begin by accepting our own littleness and when we do that, that makes us teachable. Then we are open and prepared to learn something. We don’t assume we know it all already. That’s principle number one, recognizing Jung’s magnitude.
  2. Principle number two is to understand his method. Especially in his later works Jung writes about the psyche in what I would call a presentational way. I mean by that, that he presents us with the psychic facts rather than theories about the facts. We are so used to living our lives out of a conceptual context that we spare ourselves the encounter with the raw facts and because we’re not familiar with the psychic facts he presents they therefore seem alien and disconnected to us. So our task is to become familiar with the facts that he’s talking about and as we gradually gain that familiarity then their interconnections and the whole presentational method becomes visible to us, it becomes meaningful and as we become familiar with the psychic facts that Jung presents we begin to see the interconnection of images that are assimilated by the process of amplification. This leads than into a whole different mode of thinking, other than the one we’re used to. We’re used to the method of linear thinking whereas the presentation of psychological facts that is done by the method of amplification can be described as what I would call cluster-thinking in which one has a central image and that image then attracts to it or one finds connected with it a cluster of related images. An example of the cluster method is what I use in my book “Anatomy of the Psyche” where I have a series of charts of the various alchemical operations. Those are cluster-charts, you see, they are not linear, they are a cluster of images that gather around a central core image and it’s very important that we practice and get thoroughly familiar with the process of cluster-thinking, because this is the way we assimilate dream-images, this is the way we amplify dreams both our own and our patient’s and if we’re not thoroughly comfortable in this mode of functioning then we won’t be able to penetrate the meaning of the dream. Now once we get passed the first couple of chapters of Aion then the basic content of the book concerns themes and images of the objective psyche and what I intend to do with that material is to order my discussion of each assignment in terms of the themes and images that are presented in the assignment, so I would suggest that as you read each assignment you ask yourself what theme, what image is being presented now. Jung’s method is calculated to teach us think thematically and to think in a clustering fashion so that when we perceive one theme or one image then that leads by amplification or association to other related images slalom around an increasingly larger cluster. So I hope one of the things that the studying of Aion will do for you is to help you both in the process of cluster-thinking and in the process thematic-thinking, in other words learning how to perceive and extract the theme and image that’s embedded in the body of the material and that’s not so easy to do if you don’t know how to do it, so when one’s presented with a dream if you can’t recognize the thematic content of the dream, you’re lost, you can get associations from the patient but you won’t have anything to contribute, unless you recognize the theme and you can say: the theme is this and then there are parallels to this theme here and there that you can offer. So that’s principle number two, the principle of understanding Jung’s method.
  3. Then principle number three is what I would call the fruitcake principle. I mean by that, that you must read Jung the way you eat fruitcake. Very slowly. It’s exceedingly rich and exceedingly delicious because it’s the richness of the psyche itself that’s being presented to you but it is very concentrated and especially in this book, Aion, as we will see as we proceed Jung just alludes to vast areas of symbolic reference because he doesn’t want to write too long a book and because these areas are so familiar to him that it would be boring spell it out loud, you see, so he just alludes and so if you got these kernels, these rich pieces of nut and heavy fruit that has to be masticated and digested very slowly in order to be appreciated. It can be assimilated only in very small bites. So that means that you must read one sentence at a time and be certain that you are familiar with every term and reference in that sentence. You see there is a great temptation for all of us when we encounter things we are not familiar with to skip over it and thinking maybe the next sentence will explain is that won’t happen. That will not happen. If you skip unfamiliar matters you’ll soon be lost, so I urge you don’t do that. Work with a dictionary and an encyclopedia at your side and whenever you come up at something that you’re not thoroughly with, look it up. That means that you’ll be looking into a Latin dictionary, it means you’ll be looking into historical matters to a considerable extent, because this is a book about history, that’s partly what it’s about, anyway, and you need to realize that Jung is discussing the entire cultural history of the human race as though it were the case history of a single patient. Now he has the entire record of that human patient at his fingertips but none of us do. None of us does and that means then that we must fill in our gaps as go along by familiarizing yourselves with everything that you’re not familiar with and I repeat: don’t skip anything.

The dream that motivated this class

OK. You might be interested to know that this class, the decision to give it, began with a dream of mine. I had this dream about a year ago on September 2nd, 1987, and the dream was this:

"Jung is speaking about his writing of Aion. He says that while he was writing it he received a lot of criticism because of its content, however he kept right on in order 'to complete his escrow account with history'."

Well, to all of you who have bought a house you’ll know what an escrow account is. An escrow is a written agreement such as a deed or a bond put into the custody of a third-party and not in effect until certain conditions are fulfilled by the grantee.

My dream tells us that Aion receives a lot of criticism as it’s being written, but Jung keeps on because he’s going to put it in escrow with history. It means then that the grantees, the receivers of this volume have to fulfill certain conditions before it becomes available to them. We are the grantees, we are the receivers of this account with history. It means I think that the receivers have to work on understanding it in order for it to take effect so the book is just going to sit there on library shelves unless or until the grantees, the receivers of it fulfill the conditions necessary in order to understand what it means, so that’s how I think of this class, as a class of grantees, all of us trying to fulfill the conditions of that escrow account so that it becomes available to us. We’d like to move into that new house if we can, but it’s still in escrow so to speak.

Jung had a dream concerning Aion too. In a letter to Victor White, written in December 1947, he says this:

“Not very long after I wrote to you, I simply had to write a new essay I did not know about what. It occurred to me I should discuss some of the finer points about anima, animus, shadow, and last but not least the self. I was against it, because I wanted to rest my head. Lately I had suffered from severe sleeplessness and I wanted to keep away from all mental exertions. In spite of everything, I felt forced to write on blindly, not seeing at all what I was driving at. Only after I had written about 25 pages in folio, it began to dawn on me that Christ — not the human but the divine being — was my secret goal. It came to me as a shock, as I felt utterly unequal to such a task. A dream told me that my small fishing boat had been sunk and that a giant (whom I knew from a dream about 30 years ago) had provided me with a new, beautiful seagoing craft about twice the size of my former boat. Then I knew — nothing doing! I had to go on. My further writing led me to the archetype of the God-man and to the phenomenon of synchronicity which adheres to the archetype. Thus I came to discuss the ἰχθύς – “ichthys” and the then new aeon of Pisces 0° (following Aries 30°), the prophecy of the Antichrist and the development of the latter from 1000 A.D. in mysticism and alchemy until the recent developments, which threaten to overthrow the Christian aeon altogether.”

Letters of C. G. Jung, Volume 1 by Gerhard Adler

Another comment concerning Aion of interest was made to Margaret Ostrowski-Sachs which I’ll read to you. This was just a personal comment in a private conversation which she then recorded.

“Before my illness in 1944, I had often asked myself if I were permitted to publish or even speak of my secret knowledge. I later set it all down in Aion. I realized it was my duty to communicate these thoughts, yet I doubted whether I was allowed to give expression to them. During my illness I received confirmation and I now knew that everything had meaning and that everything was perfect.”

From Conversations with C. G. Jung by Margaret Ostrowski-Sachs

Well, that’s not written in Aion, that’s a quote from a little volume of “Conversations with Jung” published privately by Margaret Ostrowski-Sachs. You can find it in the library if you’re interested.

So this is some of the background of writing of the book and of the giving of this class.

About the title: “Aion”

Now for the rest of the time I’m going to talk about the title, the word “Aion”.

This term “Aion” is a very complex symbolic image which has evolved through the centuries and hence has a rich set of meanings. You know, every word is a psychic organism, it has as its core some fundamental human experience and there will be an image of that experience embedded in the etymology of the word and then as you trace the way its usage has evolved you see a whole organism unfolding and this word “aion” is a particularly rich example of that fact.

Ancient Greeks had 3 words for “time”. I put those 3 words up here on the blackboard: χρόνος – “chrónos”, καιρός – “kairós”, αἰών – “aión”.

  • Chronos (χρόνος) referred to quantitative, linear time, so it would be the scientific term, so to speak.
  • Kairos (καιρός) refers to the special moment, the special content of a particular time, it’s the right moment, it’s the time of fulfillment, so that Christ could say for instance: my time has not yet come. My “kairos” hasn’t come, you see.
  • The third term, aion (αἰών) is more diffuse and ambiguous but it came to mean a very long period of time, something like an age, or even eternity, or even forever.

The word aion (αἰών) is linked to a couple of other words that should also be mentioned which I have listed here in the center:

  • aion (αἰών) meaning “age”, “epoch”, “long time” and
  • aionios (αἰώνιος) meaning “without beginning or end”, “eternal”, or “forever” and
  • aidios (ἀΐδιος) again meaning “eternal”.

They all have as their root origin the term “aion” (αἰών).

The use of the word goes back to Homer (Ὅμηρος). In Homer the term “aion” is often used as parallel to “psyche” (ψυχή), to “soul”, or to “life”. In Hesiod (Ἡσίοδος) it denotes a lifespan and in Aeschylus (Αἰσχύλος) it refers to a generation. So it can mean “the time which one has already lived or will live”, it can relate to past as to future, and then as the philosophers picked it up it came to refer to the “far future”, into eternity.

In Homer’s Iliad (Ἰλιάς) for instance speaking of the death of a warrior Hera (Ἥρα) says to Zeus (Ζεύς): “when his psyche and aion have left him then send Death to bear him away”. You see, “aion” here means his lifespan, a kind of separate inner reality, kind of inner partner that is practically identical to his soul, when his psyche and aion have left him.

In another place Homer identifies “aion” with the “inner water which wastes away in tears”. So for instance when Odysseus (Ὀδυσσεύς) is weeping for his return home, Homer says: “nor were his eyes ever dry of tears but they flowed down the sweet aion as he lamented for his return”. See here is the thought that the “aion” is a kind of “inner water” and there’s only a limited quantity of it and when it gets all used up, then one dies, you see. By that way of thinking you shouldn’t cry very often.

In Aeschylus, in Agamemnon (Ἀγαμέμνων) “aion” means quite explicitly “a life partner”, he is the source of the poet’s inspiration because the chorus of elders exclaims: “the aion that has grown with me inspired of the gods read it upon me persuasion and the strength of song”. What the elders saying is that my inner aion inspired me to be able to be a poet and sing my song, you see.

In another place in Aeschylus the word means “a generation”. “Old is the tale of sin I tell but swift in retribution to the third aion it abides”, it means: “to the third generation”, the guilt, you know, is passed on from one generation to another.

Then finally when we get to Plato’s (Πλάτων) Timaeus (Τίμαιος) when he is talking about the creation of the universe, he says: “now the nature of the ideal being was everlasting but to bestow this attribute in its fullness upon a creature was impossible, therefore he resolved” – he, the demiurge – “to have a moving image of aion and this image we call chronos”, in other words, he resolved to have a moving image of eternity and this image we call time, so that’s Plato’s famous definition of time as the moving image of eternity, but it’s the image of chronos the moving image of aion, you see, another version of the term.

Plotinus (Πλωτῖνος) finally refined this idea, that time is the moving image of eternity in this passage: “If eternity (aion) is like at rest, unchanging and identical and already unbounded and time must exist as an image of eternity then we must say that there is another lower-life corresponding to the higher-life. The lower-life has instead of the unity without distance or separation a unity by continuity and instead of a complete unbounded whole a continuous unbounded succession and instead of the whole altogether the whole which is and always will be going to come into being part by part.” I’m not sure you got that on one reading, but the idea it’s really quite a psychologically founded notion, the idea is that eternity or aion is an image of totality outside of time whereas time is an image of that same totality spread out in a temporal sequence. This corresponds exactly to Jung’s remark in “Mysterium Coniunctionis” that you may remember that the one after another is a bearable prelude to the deeper knowledge of both at the same time, the side-by-side.

Not only was “aion” thought of as an inner water but also it was thought that after the death of the individual that inner water was left as a snake, so that the snake was thought of as the soul of the departed one inhabiting the tomb maybe, so I include that in this sequence, so all of these connections I’ve indicated in this chart over here on the right, those are all the major references to “aion”, another example of the cluster, you see. I made that linear chief leaf for the reasons of the shape of the paper, otherwise I would have made it as cluster, you see, if the shape had allowed it.

Now just to give you a little further idea of how this psychic organism called “aion” has shown up, I’ll give you some more examples of its usage.

The Old Testament was translated into Greek in the 3rd century B.C. and that word “aion” shows up there. So Yahweh says to Abraham in Canaan: “[Genesis 13:15] For all the land which thou seest to thee will I give it and to thy seed for an aion. The usual translation is “forever”.

Yahweh says to Moses considering the celebration of the Passover: “[Exodus 12:24] And ye shall observe this thing for an ordinance to thee and to thy sons for an aion.” “Forever” is the way it’s translated, but as you can see from this it doesn’t mean exactly “forever”, that’s what it means to late Western man but that’s not quite what it meant back the beginning.

There are some interesting uses of word in the New Testament. I’ll give you a few examples.

From Matthew 12:32: “[Matthew 12:32] whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this aion, neither in the aion to come.” That’s usually translated “this age” or the “next age”.

For again: “[Matthew 13:40] As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this aion.

From Hebrews: “[Hebrews 11:3] Through faith we understand that the aions were framed by the word of God”, translated “worlds”, you see, either we can have “worlds” on here, but that’s one of the marginal references.

The Lord’s prayer ends: “[Matthew 6:13] For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, to the aions.”

Now shifting to another text, the inscription on the Bollingen stone, the inscription in Greek, that begins as usually translated: “Time is a child—playing like a child—playing a board game—the kingdom of the child.”, that’s the English translation of the German. Jung offered a German word “Zeit” which in English translation is “time” it’s not quite exactly the same and the Greek word that starts that Greek inscription is the word αἰών – “aion”, so it reads: aion is a child playing a board game. Time isn’t exactly right it would probably better say “the age”, “the aeon” is a child playing a board game.

Now in late syncretism “aion” became the name of a deity. We have a picture of it in the furnace piece. This is the so-called Mithraic-god Aion and Cumont (Franz Cumont) in his book “The Mysteries of Mithra” describes the Mithraic-god Aion in these words. If you have the book with you look at that picture while I read this.

“At the pinacle of the divine hierarchy in Mithraic theology was ‘boundless time’, sometimes called ‘Aion’. He was represented in the likeness of a human monster with the head of a lion and his body enveloped by a serpent. The multiplicity of attributes with which his statues are loaded is in keeping with the kaleidoscopic nature of his character. He bears the scepter and the bolts of divine sovereignty.”

The Mysteries of Mithra by Franz Cumont

Those are broken in this picture but in other pictures you can see those.

“He holds in each hand a key as the monarch of the Heavens whose portals he opens, his wings a symbolic of the rapidity of his flight and the reptile that enwraps him typifies the torturous course of the Sun, the ecliptic, and the signs of the zodiac engraved on his body.”

The Mysteries of Mithra by Franz Cumont

See those, who noticed those, they are emblems of the seasons that accompany him and are meant to represent the celestial and terrestrial phenomena that signalize the eternal flight of the years. He creates and destroys all things. He is the lord and the master of the four elements. Then at times he is identified with destiny. “Destiny” would be another word for “lifespan”, that would be another term that belongs in that cluster, that symbolic cluster, so “aion” means “destiny” among other things and so that among all these things and including all these things he becomes the total deity.

This idea then of the “aion” is picked up in the Gnosis in which the initial boundless deity emanates from himself a series of 30 aions. That’s another whole theme and since it will have some relevance to the subject matter of the book I think I will start next time by saying a few words about that Gnostic emanation of the aions, which is another amplification, another elaboration of this rich complex psychic organism called the “aion”, which is what Jung is writing about.

So with that I think I’ll conclude my part of the presentation for this evening.

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