Sum it up for me

Aion – Class 13 by Edward Edinger


Table of Contents


This is class number 13 in the study of Aion, and our assignment tonight covers paragraphs 193 through 212, and this includes the first section of chapter 10 “The Fish in Alchemy”, section one which is titled “The medusa” – the jellyfish.

The images that I’m going to talk about tonight are three:

  1. number one is the jellyfish
  2. number two is fire and
  3. number three is the wheel.

The Jellyfish

Starting out in paragraph 195 Jung quotes the earliest known alchemical reference to the fish. What he’s doing here is he’s tracking down fish symbolism through the last 2000 years and he’s locating where the fish symbol first shows up in alchemy. It turns out that its first reference is to a jellyfish. I read some of that text:

“[CW09:2:195] There is in the sea a round fish lacking bones and cortex (an alternative translation for cortex would be scales or shell) and having in itself a fatness, a wondrous virtue which if it’s cooked on a slow fire until its fatness and moisture entirely disappear, is saturated with seawater until it begins to shine.”

Collected Works, Volume 9, Part 2, Aion by Carl Jung

And then he quotes another treatise farther down:

“[CW09:2:195] When the yellowing appears there is formed the collyrium (the eyewash of the philosophers) and if they wash their eyes with it they will easily understand the secrets of philosophy.”

Collected Works, Volume 9, Part 2, Aion by Carl Jung

This reminds us of the book of Tobit you remember, where the gall that’s extracted from the fish is the eyewash for the old man’s blindness. Then Jung goes on commenting on this text in paragraph 197 where he says that:

“[CW09:2:197] the text remarks that when the round fish is warmed or cooked on a slow fire begins to shine”

Collected Works, Volume 9, Part 2, Aion by Carl Jung

And this leads Jung then into Pliny and to the ancient idea of the Stella Marina the, star of the sea, and this legendary fish was said to be hot and burning and, of such a fiery nature, that you when you rub it with a stick you can straightway use the stick as a torch, and then goes on to say:

“[CW09:2:197] this animal generates so much heat that it not only sets fire to everything it touches but also it cooks its own food”

Collected Works, Volume 9, Part 2, Aion by Carl Jung

In other words if you catch one of these fish it’s all cooked for you ready to eat and hence, according to the to Nicholas Caussin‘s text it signifies the inextinguishable power of of true love.

Jung goes on to talk about the fact that the roundness of the of the jellyfish and its radial arrangement from a central hub are especially important facts for its symbolism. It’s a kind of living mandala. Just to illustrate that fact I’ve sketched the jellyfish on the board here, how it looks from the side, and how it looks if you look down on it from above, you see. It really is a living mandala. Jung presents a very striking image in paragraph 206 of the Earth as a great jellyfish. In this paragraph he talks about the

“[CW09:2:206] in the pole was found the heart of Mercurius which is the true fire wherein its lord has its rest”

Collected Works, Volume 9, Part 2, Aion by Carl Jung

And he then talks about a peregrinatio operation, in which the four directions are traversed, east, west, north, and south.

“[CW09:2:206] Together the north-south meridian and the east-west meridian form a cross, a quaternity which characterizes the nature of the pole of the Earth. From the pole the four directions radiate out, thus it is that the northern hemisphere resembles the round body of the hydro medusa, the jellyfish, whose spherical surface is divided by four, or multiples of four radials and therefore it looks like a globe seen from the pole.

Collected Works, Volume 9, Part 2, Aion by Carl Jung

Like this in other words.

That’s an excellent example of the of Jung’s vivid, plastic, psychological imagination that can take the image of the jellyfish and see that image in the appearance of the Earth as it would look from an Archimedean point above it. It indicates a particular attachment, a particular connection, I think, to the jellyfish image. We learn in the very next couple of paragraphs where that connection comes from. It comes from a very important dream that he had as a young man. This is Jung’s jellyfish dream, although he doesn’t acknowledge it here, that it’s his dream, but in “Memories, Dreams, Reflections” he does say, that it’s his.

“[CW09:2:208] He dreamt he was walking in a wood. It became more and more lonely and wild primeval forest. Trees were so high, foliage so thick it was almost dark on the ground. All trace of a path had long since disappeared. He pressed on, pressed forward, and came to a circular pool measuring 10 to 12 feet across. It was a spring and crystal clear water looked almost black in the dark shadows. In the middle of the pool there floated a pearly organism about 18 inches in diameter that emitted a faint light. It was a jellyfish.”

Collected Works, Volume 9, Part 2, Aion by Carl Jung

It’s interesting to notice how we described it in “Memories” [aka in his book “Mermories, Dreams, Reflections”]. It’s described more emotionally in “Memories”. There he says:

“[M,D,R:Page 85] In a wood threaded with water courses in the darkest place, I saw circular pools surrounded by dense undergrowth. Half immersed in the water lay the strangest and most wonderful creature, a round animal shimmering and opalescent hues, consisting of innumerable little cells or organs shaped like tentacles. A giant radiolarian measuring about three feet across.”

Memories, Dreams, Reflections by Carl Jung

Here it’s one meter, and in Aion it’s 50 centimeters. That’s an indication that this symbolic image is so alive, it can’t even hold it’s single size, you see. It shifts in size.

[At this point, someone from the audience adds the following remark: “as it gets older”, to which Edinger replys: “very good”]

Jung continues:

“[M,D,R:Page 85] It seemed to me indescribably wonderful that this magnificent creature should be lying there, undisturbed in the hidden place, in the clear deep water. It enroused in me an intense desire for knowledge, so that I awoke with a beating heart, and I decided overwhelmingly in favor of science. It removed all my doubts.”

Memories, Dreams, Reflections by Carl Jung

Now, one question that comes up here would be how was it that this dream led Jung to his vocational orientation. You see, he was in a state of vocational confusion. Now one idea expressed in the “Memories” account would be that this image of a natural organism led him to the idea of studying natural science, Naturwissenschaft, is the word he used. But another idea is that the jellyfish as a living mandala, is a kind of organic pole star, so that when a person encounters his own living pole star, it orients him, then he knows where he is, he knows where he’s going, he knows what he’s supposed to do. I would think both of those ways of seeing it would be relevant.

When this text that I referred to, that spoke about the fiery star of the sea and the fish that was so hot it cooked itself, that leads us into our next theme, which is the theme of fire symbolism.

Fire Symbolism

Talking about this theme Jung cites various texts describing the fire of the starfish and describing it in oppositional or antinomial terms. Let’s consider paragraph 198 for instance. He quotes Picinellus as saying

“[CW09:2:198] This fish glows forever in the midst of the waters, and whatsoever it touches grows hot and burst into flame. This glow is the fire of the Holy Ghost. He refers also to the fiery tongues of the pentecostal miracle. This reminds him of the action of divine grace which sets on fire the parts that are drowned in a sea of sins and for the same reason the fish means charity and divine love.”

Collected Works, Volume 9, Part 2, Aion by Carl Jung

But then going on to the next paragraph Jung indicates that this glowing starfish also is connected with profane love, not just divine love. It can actually represent the fire of hell.

“[CW09:2:199] According to one author it burns but gives no light. Then conceiving to your mind a deep pit, impenetrable darkness, fire that has no brightness, having all fire’s power burning, but without any light. Such conception – Jung says – describes the fire of hell. This is the fire of “concupiscentia”, or the spark of letchery.”

Collected Works, Volume 9, Part 2, Aion by Carl Jung

So here we have uh this same fiery fish described in the one hand as representing divine love and divine grace, and on the other hand the fire of hell and the spark of lechery. And Jung notes:

“[CW09:2:200] How curious it is that diametrically opposite interpretations of the same symbol can be given without disturbing the interpreters.”

Collected Works, Volume 9, Part 2, Aion by Carl Jung

See, this double aspect of the fiery fish corresponds to the double aspect of the fish that we were talking about last time. Another text also illustrates this doubleness. On page 130, paragraph 200:

“[CW09:2:200] Take fire or unslaked lime … In this fire God himself glows in divine love … Without this fire can the art never be brought to perfection … It’s also the fire of the philosophers … It’s also the noblest fire which God created on Earth, for it has a thousand virtues. To these the teacher replies that God has bestowed upon it such virtue and efficacy … that with this fire is mingled the godhead itself. And at the same time the fire purifies as pure purgatory does in the lower regions.”

Collected Works, Volume 9, Part 2, Aion by Carl Jung

So, it’s both divine loving fire, and purgatorial fire at same time.

Now, the reason these images are given such emphasis by Jung, is that they are the way the psyche describes itself concerning libido. That’s the nature of libido. It’s simultaneously sacred divine fire of divine love, and purgatory hell fire. See, on the one hand it manifests as primitive desirousness that consumes when it manifests in its primitive intensity, unconsciously. On the other hand, in its conscious differentiated form, it manifests as transpersonal love, the highest function of the human psyche to posit, to perceive, and to live out of the capacity to attribute supreme value. That’s the nature of transpersonal love.

Transpersonal love is the capacity to posit the existence of, to perceive, and to live one’s life out of the awareness of that perception of objective transpersonal value. It’s the ability to create, and live out of transpersonal value. That’s what objective love is. It’s valuing at the highest most conscious level.

Now, animals share the lower level of this with us. They can value a good meal. And we can value a good meal too, so we share that with the animals. But that’s not objective love, you see. That’s the lower form, that’s “concupiscentia“.

In this passage Jung makes a reference in note 20, in which he speaks of the vision of Arisleus. He says:

“[CW09:2:Note:20] this recalls the vision of Arisleus.”

Collected Works, Volume 9, Part 2, Aion by Carl Jung

Add a reference to that, on your margin say: CW 12, that’s “Psychology and Alchemy”, paragraphs 435 to 440 and 449 to 450.

In those paragraphs Jung goes into the vision of Arisleus. The gist of which is that Arisleus, an alchemical philosopher descends to the bottom of the sea with some companions to rescue the king of the sea, who is in trouble down there. And he runs into some trouble himself – which I won’t go into, some incest trouble – and the result is that he and his companions are imprisoned in a glass house – in other words in an alchemical vessel – and subjected to intense heat. And that’s where Jung tells us that this recalls the vision of Arisleus. Intense fire or heat in the sea corresponds to the hot fiery fish in the sea. And that intense heat that Arisleus and his companions experienced had a transformative consequence, and a favorable outcome, but they had to endure the purgatorial fire of that intense heat.

According to one text, fire has a quaternary nature, referred to in paragraph 203.

“[CW09:2:203] According to Blaise de Vigenère the fire has not two but four aspects:
– the intelligible which is all light;
– the heavenly partaking of heat and light;
– the elemental pertaining to the lower world and compounded of light, heat, and glow
– and finally the infernal opposed to the intelligible glowing and burning without any light.
Here again we encounter the quaternity which the ancients associated with fire, as we saw from the Egyptian conception of Set in the four sons of Horus, and from Ezekiel’s vision of the fiery region to the North. It is not at all likely that Vigenère was thinking of Ezekiel in this connection.”

Collected Works, Volume 9, Part 2, Aion by Carl Jung

Then we have an important footnote. That’s footnote 35:

“[CW09:2:Footnote:35] The quaternary symbols that appear spontaneously in dreams always point, so far as I can see, to totality or the Self. Fire means passion, affects, desires, and the emotional driving forces of human nature in general, that is everything which is understood by the term libido. When the alchemists attribute a quaternary nature to fire, this amounts to saying that the self is the source of energy.”

Collected Works, Volume 9, Part 2, Aion by Carl Jung

That’s a very powerful statement slipped in there very quietly, without any fanfare. I suggest you underscore that phrase: “the Self is the source of energy” – and put a few marks at the side of the margin. Because stop to consider what that means. It has very sizable implications. It’s very important in practical analytic work. For instance just at the beginning, when one is gathering the anemesis, the life story, what we’re most interested in knowing about, will be those aspects of one’s life story that have libido intensity in them. Either positive or negative because those spots of intensity will be indications of where the Self is touching the young Ego’s developmental process. The same thing is true in analyzing the events of everyday life: intense desires, or reactions of all kinds, whether they be positive, and creative and constructive, or whether they’d be devilish and dangerous. Either way, they’re from the Self, and they’re the things that we need to pay most attention to.

So that would be one reason why Jung is lavishing so much attention on the symbolism of fire and the fiery fish here, because it’s an image of the most important content of the psyche.

Another aspect of fire symbolism is mentioned in another text in paragraph 210.

“[CW09:2:210] Picinellus feels that his stella maris, “this fish which burns in the midst of the water but gives no light”, besides meaning the Holy Ghost, love, grace, and religion, also symbolizes something in man, namely his tongue, speech, and powers of expression, for it is in these faculties that all psychic life is manifest. He’s evidently thinking of an instinctive, unreflecting psychic activity, because at this point he cites James 3:6: “and the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity among our members, defiling the whole body, setting on fire the wheel of birth, and set on fire by hell.”

Collected Works, Volume 9, Part 2, Aion by Carl Jung

Jung notes the fact that this text is akin to Buddhist ideas, and this brings to mind something that is always an important piece of symbolism to consider, when you’re dealing with the imagery of fire, and that’s the Buddhist Fire Sermon. Nothing will give you a better quick lesson in the nature of Buddhism than Buddhist Fire Sermon. Let me read you some some passages from it:

"All things, oh priests, are on fire.
And what are all these things on fire?
The eye, oh priests, is on fire,
forms are on fire,
Eye consciousness is on fire,
impressions received by the eye are on fire,
and whatever sensation pleasant or unpleasant or indifferent originates in dependence on impressions received by the fire.
With the fire of passions say I,
with the fire of hatred,
with the fire of infatuation,
with birth, old age, death, sorrow, lamentation, misery, grief, and despair
are they on fire.
The ear is on fire,
sounds are on fire,
the nose is on fire,
odors on fire,
the tongue is on fire,
tastes are on fire.
Things tangible are on fire.
The mind is on fire.
mind consciousness is on fire.
And with what are these on fire?
With the fire of passion,
with the fire of hatred,
with the fire infatuation,
with birth, old age, death, sorrow etc.
Perceiving this, oh priests, the learned noble disciple conceives
an aversion for the eye,
an aversion for forms,
an aversion for eye consciousness,
an inversion aversion for impressions,
an aversion for the ear,
an aversion for the tongue,
an aversion for the mind.
And in conceiving these aversions he becomes divested of passion.
And by the absence of passion he becomes free."

So that puts it pretty vividly. See, that’s the radical example of how to formulate and constellate a spiritual counter-pole over and against the infernal aspect of primal fire, primal libido.

This last quotation from James of, “setting on fire the wheel of birth”, that passage leads us from the image of fire over to the image of the wheel, which is my third image.

The Wheel

Also you remember I spoke last time of the wheel of the heavens that revolves around the pole, and I showed you those time-lapse photographs that reveal that wheel in the heaven. This takes us to a very elemental archetypal image. In fact, it would make an excellent image for you to use in order to make the acquaintance of the eros collection. In fact I would suggest that some of you follow up the image of the wheel in the eros collection and see where it takes you. Maybe Claire will be willing to give you some help in doing that, because it’s a particularly good image to follow. It has such widespread ramifications.

I’ve brought along a couple of pictures from the eros collection that concern wheels.

The first one is a colossal wheel from the sun temple in India. It’s a symbol of the sun god. The temple was designed to take the shape of the sun god’s chariot.

The other one is the wheel of the zodiac, which is what Jung talks about in our text. This goes back to the 6th century AD, and it’s from a synagogue in Israel. It’s title is “Helios the Zodiac and the Four Seasons”. It’s a central mosaic from the floor of the synagogue representing the temporal cosmos. Helios and his quadriga (his chariot) are at the center of the universe. The wheel of the zodiac revolves around him, and the four seasons personified as women, fill the four corners of the square. Between the 12 spokes of the wheel are depicted 12 signs of the zodiac.

Now this symbolism of fire and symbolism of the wheel are united in this text from James 3:6 that I read you.

"[James 3:6] And the tongue is of fire: a world of iniquity among our members defiling the whole body, setting on fire the wheel of birth and set on fire by hell."

It’s interesting to note how different bible translations translate what’s translated here “the wheel of birth”. τροχός τής ϒενἑσεως. It’s translated “the course of nature”, “the cycle of nature”, “the whole wheel of creation”, “the wheel of our existence for the course of life”. We can understand this image of the “wheel of birth”, or the “wheel of creation” as referring to the original Self, the original state of wholeness to which the Ego is unconsciously bound.

When the process of individuation is constellated, it’s required that the Ego become conscious and disidentify from its unconscious identity with the Self. And to encourage it to do that, this unconscious Ego-Self identity which is a very pleasant state of being in infancy and childhood, becomes a fiery torture. The great myth of Ixion is an example of that phenomenon. He attempted to seduce Hera, but his partner turned out only to be a Cloud-Hera, and he was then punished by being bound to a fiery revolving wheel. Many of Greek vase paintings show the underworld and certain characteristic features of the underworld exist, and one of them is Ixion bound to his fiery wheel. This is an image of the torture of being unconsciously identified to the Self, when individuation has been activated, and is required of you.

There’s another interesting reference to this negative wheel. It appears in the orphic gold tablets. I don’t know if you’re familiar with those or not. If you’re interested, you can read about them in Jane Harrison’s book “Prolegomena to the study of Greek religion”. The ancient orphics had the notion similar to what the ancient Egyptians had, that the deceased person had to negotiate certain obstacles in the afterworld. In order to get to the state of bliss, the deceased would have to answer certain questions successfully, so the orphics buried in the tomb of the deceased gold tablets with inscribed directions as to how to answer the questions that the deceased would encounter, knowing full well, that gold didn’t deteriorate. Modern archaeologists dug them up and so now we can read them. They’re very interesting instructions. They’re told that they go along a certain distance, and they come to a gatekeeper, and they’ll be asked certain questions they’re supposed to answer in a certain way. The wheel comes up in these tablets, because one of the things that the deceased is supposed to tell the gatekeeper, in order to be let through, is who they are and what they’ve accomplished.

The deceased is supposed to say according to these gold tablets to the gatekeeper:

"I have flown out of the sorrowful weary wheel
I have passed with eager feet to the circle desired
I have entered into the bosom of Despoina queen of the underworld (that's Persephone)
happy and blessed one thou shalt be god instead of mortal"

And then it ends with the remarkable statement: “a kid I have fallen into milk”. It’s as though once you get past the gatekeeper, then the ocean of milk is the image of heavenly bliss.

But, the first thing you have to announce is “I have flown out of the sorrowful a weary wheel”, and this sorrowful weary wheel will correspond to what then was called [Note: here he tries to pronounce a Greek word like so: high-mar-mi-ni. I could not discern it better.]. It was the wheel of one’s own horoscope that one was bound to, because as long as one is unconsciously identified with his original totality, he’s bound to his archetypal destiny, you see, and that’s the “sorrowful weary wheel”. And to fly out of the bondage to that sorrowful weary wheel would mean psychologically to become conscious of the wheel of one’s wholeness, and then one chooses one’s archetypal destiny willingly, and it’s no longer an unconscious bondage, it’s not [Note: again, the mysterious ‘high-mar-mi-ni’.] any longer, and it’s no longer Ixions fiery torture wheel. But you see, the image of the bondage to the wheel shows up in all these different cultural contexts, because it corresponds to a basic archetypal reality.

Okay, that’s all I have say tonight. I did want to make one addition to the text in paragraph 198, assuming that not everyone knows even a little German:

"Alles Vergängliche ist nur ein Gleichniss."

is a quotation from the last few lines of Faust part two, and means “everything transitory is but a parable / is only a parable”.

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