Sum it up for me

Aion – Class 2 by Edward Edinger



This is class number 2 and the assignment covers the foreword and paragraphs 1 to 19 which include the first 2 chapters entitled “The Ego” and “The Shadow”.

Last time you recall we discussed the various meanings of the word “aion” and the way the term has evolved through the centuries and I didn’t quite complete that presentation because I wanted to include the Gnostic usage of the term “aion”, so I will start with that this evening.

The Gnostic Usage of the Term “aion”

Hans Jonas in his book “The Gnostic Religion” describes the role of the term “aion” in Gnosticism. Here’s what he says about it and I have a chart up here that illustrates what he is talking about at the same time, so you can look that chart as you listen to what he says. He says:

“In the inivisble and nameless height there was a perfect Aion. Preexistent. His name is ‘Forebeginning’, ‘Forefather’, and ‘Abyss’.”

The Gnostic Religion by Hans Jonas

This was the original primordial deity, named Aion, and

“Nothing can comprehend Him. Through immeasurable eternities He remained in preponderous repose. With him was ‘Thought’, also called ‘Grace’ and ‘Silence’. Once this ‘Abyss’ took ‘Thought’ to project out of Himself the beginning of all things and he sank this project like a seed into the womb of the ‘Silence’ that with Him.”

The Gnostic Religion by Hans Jonas

And She conceived and

“Brought forth ‘Mind’ or ‘Nous’ (νοῦς) who was like an equal to his begetter and alone comprehends the greatness of the Father. He was called the ‘Only Begotten’ in the beginning of all things and together with him ‘Truth’ – female was produced.”

The Gnostic Religion by Hans Jonas

And this then made the first tetraed, the first tetraed being Abyss, and Silence, and Mind and Truth, and this first tetraed is a pair of two syzygys (Συζυγία). “Syzygy” means “pair” and further aions were then generated out of this second pair, and from them came forth “man” and “church”, which is again a male+female pair, and “word” and “light”.

Word and Light and Man and Church and that then gave a total of 4 syzygys and that was called the “Ogdoad” (ὀγδοάς), that first eight.

And these Aions then produced through the glory of the Father wished to glorify the Father by their own creations, so they produced further emanations and from Word and Light there issued 10 additional aions and from Man and Church 12 additional and so they altogether constituted 30 aions in 15 pairs and that totality is called the “Pleroma” (πλήρωμα).

I think you should be familiar with this basic image because it was something quite basic to Jung and he used some of this terminology. The term “Pleroma” was a term that was part of his usage and the very next chapter is called “Syzygy”, and one is inept to know what that means unless you’re familiar with this grand conception of the origin of things that was part of Gnosticism.

Now, to go on to today’s subject matter.

The Foreword

We have fist the foreword in which it’s customary for an author to what he’s up to and that’s what Jung does in this foreword. He tells us that the theme of of this book is the change of the psychic situation in the Christian aeon which coincides with the astrological conception of the Platonic-month of the Fishes, in other words Pisces.

This notion of the Platonic-month requires a little elaboration. I can’t assume that you’re all familiar with the it so I thought it might be worthwhile to review basically what the idea of the Platonic-month is. It’s based on the astronomical fact of the precession of the equinoxes. I had made a chart of that phenomenon which I’m going to try to explain to you in an understandable way and if any of you have any questions about it, hold on to them for the discussion period and we’ll go into it further, but what I tried to do in the chart here in the background is to picture the way the Earth, the Sun and the circle of the Zodiac line up at various times. The largest circle represents the circle of the Zodiac. That’s the circle that passes through the Heavens and that revolves around the Earth (the Earth revolves around it actually) once every 24 hours, so one can think of the circle of the Zodiac as representing the background of the fixed stars. At the center of my chart is the Sun with the planet Earth orbiting around the Sun once a year, and you can see the way the chart is set up, that at any given time of the year the Sun has in its background one of the Zodiacal signs, so that you can see that I have 3 different dotted lines indicating how in different settings the Sun will be located is a different Zodiacal sign.

Now a long time ago, at the beginning of spring, at the spring-equinox, the Sun used to be in the sign of Aries the ram, but due to the precession of the equinoxes, which means that there is a very tiny play, or loosening of the celestial mechanism, it’s not absolutely tight, so that over a long period of time the Sun shifts its position relative to the background of the Zodiacal signs, so that about 1 A.D. at the beginning of the Christian aeon it left the sign of Aries and started into the sign of Pisces and now, 2000 years later it’s about to leave the sign of Pisces and enter that of Aquarius. Similarly, if you go back at 2000 B.C. you find that it was just leaving the sign of Taurus the bull, then.

The Sun’s movement through each Zodiacal sign is called the Platonic-month and it takes approximately 2000 years, so that for a complete circuit to take place to make a Platonic-year that would be 26000 Earth-years.

Now, it’s that astronomical fact which astrologists have attached certain meaning to and that Jung attaches certain synchronistic meaning to and the Christian aeon which corresponds sychronistically to the 2000 year period in which the Sun occupies Pisces is the Platonic-month that is now coming to an end and that’s what Jung refers to when he speaks in the foreword to the change of psychic situation in the Christian aeon which coincides with the astrological conception of the Platonic-month of the Fishes.

Two other important statements I draw your attention in the foreword. In one he says “I write as a physician, with a physician’s sense of responsibility, and not as a proselyte.”, the word “proselyte” is the “Kenner” in German and perhaps could be better translated as “one confessing a faith”, so he is announcing that he is writing as a physician and not as one confessing a faith. I take this to mean that he is speaking out of an objective, empirical attitude, corresponding to the medical attitude and also that he feels constrained by the medical ethics which dictate that one be primarily be concerned with the health and well-being of the patient, that one do no harm, and that one be helpful at all, if at all possible. What he is trying to be helpful about is his attempt to heal what he calls in one place the “utopian mass-psychosis of our time”, but this remark about writing with a physician’s sense of responsibility reminds us an important issue that Jung was keenly aware of, and that is the problem of writing books on the subject matter he was writing about to a mixed audience. Anybody that wants to can pick up his book and start reading and that means then that what he has to say is being directed simultaneously to people of many different levels of development. We all have that problem when we talk in public but Jung was particularly aware of that issue because what he has to talk about, depending on how it’s presented, can be a healing panacea, a saving knowledge for some people and it can be an absolute poison for others, depending on one stage of development and how one’s able to understand what’s presented. Do not underestimate the gravity of this issue and it goes on a way to explain Jung’s particular mode of expression in his later work. Take “Answer to Job” for instance where he speaks largely on a mythological level and those that can make the translation will get the message, and those that can’t won’t be harmed. That’s how I understand this statement: “I write with a physician’s sense of responsibility”.

The other comment I would note is, he says:

“Nor do I write as a scholar, otherwise I would wisely barricade myself behind the safe walls of my specialism and not, on account of my inadequate knowledge of history, expose myself to critical attack and damage my scientific reputation.”

Aion by Carl Jung

See, this is an allusion to the fact that Jungian-analysts, just by the nature of what they do, their task being to work with the reality of the psyche and that being their job, Jungian analysts necessarily are poachers on the posted domains of other disciplines. We’re constantly venturing into the scholarly grounds of history, and anthropology, and mythology, and all the arts actually, tracking our prey, tracking the animal whose tracks are to be found in these various things and what we’re tracking of course is the objective psyche and we see the tracks of the objective psyche in all these old documents so we have to go after it there, but that makes us then vulnerable to criticism from the scholars who barricade themselves behind the safe walls of a specialism, you see. That’s inevitable. So, if we know that’s what we’re doing in advance then we’re at least forewarned.

Turning now to chapter 1, the Ego.

Chapter 1 – The Ego

As I mentioned last week, this book is built the same way that the psyche is built, so, naturally it starts with the Ego because the Ego is the first entity that we encounter when we start to deal with the psyche, either in ourselves or in someone else and Jung begins with a good definition in the 1st paragraph.

“[1] We understand the ego as the complex factor to which all conscious contents are related. It forms, as it were, the centre of the field of consciousness; and, in so far as this comprises the empirical personality, the ego is the subject of all personal acts of consciousness. The relation of a psychic content to the ego forms the criterion of its consciousness, for no content can be conscious unless it is represented to a subject.”

Aion by Carl Jung

He then goes ahead to describe how the Ego rests on two different bases, on the somatic and the psychic or another way of putting it is the Ego develops at the intersection between the soma and the psyche. In paragraph 6 he says:

“[6] It seems to arise in the first place from the collision between the somatic factor and the environment, and, once established as a subject, it goes on developing from further collisions with the outer world and the inner.”

Aion by Carl Jung

You know we use this term “Ego” very freely indeed gribbly, but we shouldn’t, because the more we reflect on it the more one realizes that the Ego what it is in its very existence is a profound mystery. It isn’t something known at all, it’s very mysterious. All that we can really define it as the seat of consciousness, or the center of consciousness, that’s all that the definitions amount to, no more than that, and what we realize is that all consciousness must be registered by an Ego in order to exist. It’s a sine qua non (something absolutely indispensable or essential) of consciousness, the Ego is, but we really hadn’t been aware of its existence for very long. I think we can say that so far as the history of Western culture is concerned, full consciousness of the Ego was discovered by René Descartes when he announced that discovery in 1637, which is not to say that there wasn’t some sense of individual conscious identity before that, but the full consciousness of the Ego was discovered by him and he described it in his “Discourse on the Method”. He starts out his philosophical reflections by doubting the existence of everything, you see he could say: for all we know, some malevolent deity may have put us into a dream-state so that everything we see is no more than an illusion or a fantasy and we can’t be absolutely sure that anything really exists except one thing, one thing that’s absolutely certain is we can’t exist without the existence of our own Ego, and his term for that was:

“Cogito ergo sum.”

Discourse on the Method by René Descartes

Now, that’s commonly translated as “I think therefore I am”, but that’s not quite accurate. A better translation would be “I am conscious therefore I am”. That’s the bedrock foundation of every individuals existence. We can’t deny that the Ego exists because it’s the seat of consciousness, you see. Everything else might be denied.

Now, very interestingly a dreamer who was well educated and had some knowledge of Latin had a dream that came to my attention. The dream was the Latin sentence that started out with Descartes’ statement “cogito ergo sum” and then continued “ergo scivio, Deo gratias, Deus est“, which means “I am conscious therefore I am, therefore I know by God’s grace, that God is”. That’s a very interesting addition that the modern Unconscious has made to Descartes’ discovery of the Ego and the more you reflect on it, the more you can recognize the symbolic meaning of that statement. See, the Cartesian discovery of the Ego re-occurs in the childhood of the individual. The young child at first refers to itself in the third person, then maybe about the age of 3 it starts using the pronoun “I”, but that doesn’t mean that it yet has self-conscious awareness of the Ego, that’s not the case, that only comes later and it may not even come at all. For Jung it came at about the age of 11. I’m going to read that to you, he describes how that happened to him in “Memories, Dreams, Reflections” in page 32, he writes:

“I was taking the long road to school from Klein-Hüningen, where we lived, to Basel, when suddenly for a single moment I had the overwhelming impression of having just emerged from a dense cloud. I knew all at once: now I am myself! It was as if a wall of mist were at my back, and behind that wall there was not yet an “I.” But at this moment I came upon myself. Previously I had existed, too, but everything had merely happened to me. Now I happened to myself. Now I knew: I am myself now, now I exist. Previously I had been willed to do this and that; now I willed. This experience seemed to me tremendously important and new: there was “authority” in me.”

Memories, Dreams, Reflections by Carl Jung

I think what Jung is describing here with particular clarity happens only dimly to some people and I think to many it doesn’t happen at all. Perhaps in the discussion period some of you might recall for us your own experience of this kind. For myself, I had no clear-cut single experience that would correspond to this one that Jung describes, but I do remember, around the age of 11 or 12 becoming fascinated with the word “I” and its meaning. I would repeat that word again and again until dark mysterious vistas would open up, the whole notion of being a separate conscious individual that is a carrier of unique consciousness set apart from the world took on a profound mystery for me and it would be revealed by this repetition of the word “I” and still generate that same feeling, it’s quite a mystery.

The next philosophical elaboration on this subject was done by Schopenhauer (Arthur Schopenhauer) and as you may know Schopenhauer was an important early author for Jung. Here’s how Schopenhauer starts his masterpiece “The World as Will and Representation”, this is the 1st paragraph of that work.

“The world is my representation. This is a truth valid with reference to every living and knowing being, although man alone can bring it into reflective abstract consciousness. If he really does so philosophical discernment has dawned on him. Then it becomes clear and certain to him that he does not know a Sun and Earth, but only an I that sees the Sun, a hand that feels the Earth, but the world around him is there only as representation, in other words, only in reference to another thing, namely that which represents, and this is himself. If any truth can be expressed a priori it is this, for it is the statement of that form of all possible and conceivable experience, a form that is more general than all others in time, space and causality.”

The World as Will and Representation by Arthur Schopenhauer

So all these presuppose it.

“The division into subject and object that is the common form of all those classes. Everything that in any way belongs and can belong to the world is inevitably associated with this being conditioned by the subject and it exists only for the subject. The world is representation.”

The World as Will and Representation by Arthur Schopenhauer

I’m tempted to read more because it’s so relevant, but time doesn’t permit it, but this theme that Schopenhauer elaborates so vividly is the distinction between subject and object and this theme is a crucial one for Jungian-psychology. This idea is at the basis of Jung’s typology concerning extroversion and introversion. The extrovert is the one that naturally and spontaneously relates to the object and the introvert is the one that naturally and innately relates primarily to the subject.

Now it’s been my experience that this distinction is much easier for an introvert to perceive than for an extrovert. In fact I very often have the feeling that extroverts really don’t get it at all, but it’s absolutely necessary if one is to distinguish oneself consciously from the collective soup, from the state of Participation Mistique with the world and all the objects that are in it and it’s an aspect of Ego development then, the keenness of perception of the distinction between subject and object is an aspect of the well-developed Ego.

Now as Jung tells us in this chapter, the Ego as the subject of consciousness has two aspects. It’s the seat of perception or consciousness, but it’s also the agent of the will, and this brings up the whole problem of free will, and Jung refers to that in paragraph 9. Let me quote that for you.

“[9] The ego is, by definition, subordinate to the self and is related to it like a part to the whole. Inside the field of consciousness it has, as we say, free will. By this I do not mean anything philosophical, only the well-known psychological fact of “free choice,” or rather the subjective feeling of freedom. But, just as our free will clashes with necessity in the outside world, so also it finds its limits outside the field of consciousness in the subjective inner world, where it comes into conflict with the facts of the self. And just as circumstances or outside events “happen” to us and limit our freedom, so the self acts upon the ego like an objective occurrence which free will can do very little to alter.”

Aion by Carl Jung

Another way of describing free will is it can be defined as the libido disposable by the Ego. This is of considerable importance both for one’s self-understanding and for one’s work with patients. One needs to have an estimate at least, an approximation of what the extent of one’s own free will truly is and what the extent of one’s patient’s free will truly is because that determines how one’s going to relate both to oneself and one’s patient. We’re not going to expect oneself or one’s patient to take responsibility for something that is clearly outside the range of the free will of that individual you see. That’s why it’s important to sift these things through clearly to know what one’s doing. As Jung tells us in this chapter the Ego’s freedom is limited by its dependence on the Unconscious in paragraph 11. Let me turn to that.

“[11] With this discovery (of the Self) the position of the ego, till then absolute, became relativized; that is to say, though it retains its quality as the centre of the field of consciousness, it is questionable whether it is the centre, of the personality. It is part of the personality but not the whole of it. As I have said, it is simply impossible to estimate how large or how small its share is; how free or how dependent it is on the qualities of this “extra-conscious” psyche. We can only say that its freedom is limited and its dependence proved in ways that are often decisive. In my experience one would do well not to underestimate its dependence on the unconscious. Naturally there is no need to say this to persons who already overestimate the latter’s importance. Some criterion for the right measure is afforded by the psychic consequences of a wrong estimate.”

Aion by Carl Jung

I want to emphasize that last sentence, I think it’s an important one for analytic work. Some criterion for the right measure is afforded by the psychic consequences of a wrong estimate. Now, what does that mean? I think that statement is calling for an experimental approach. If I don’t know for sure whether a patient’s free will can include a given item I can put it to the test, you see, I can try out a certain attitude and then observe the consequences, observe the psychic consequences and if my estimate has been wrong then I can correct it, you see, but it’s the most important to keep an empirical attitude about the matter and then you’re free to experiment and if you’ve overstepped the estimate if you’ve assumed greater free will than actually exists, then you can correct yourself. As long as you’re conscious it’s always correctable. It’s only when you’re unconscious that you get caught and can’t correct it.

Along the same line as we ask ourselves how much free will does the Ego have that we’re talking to, we also must ask ourselves the related question, that at any given time to who are we speaking, just because the person is in front of us and looking at us and maybe even smiling doesn’t mean we’re speaking to the Ego necessarily. We’re maybe speaking to a complex, we’re maybe speaking to the Shadow, maybe speaking to the Anima or the Animus, or even the Self, or some combination and in the course of an interchange the person, the entity to which we are speaking can fluctuate too, and so that’s something always to be kept in mind, not only how much free will does the Ego have at its disposal, but is it the Ego I am really speaking to at a given time, because naturally we’re going to speak in a different fashion depending on to whom we’re speaking.

Well, that uses up the time I’ve allotted for myself, so I’ll reserve for next time our discussion of the Shadow and append that to next week’s assignment also.

About the author



The reCAPTCHA verification period has expired. Please reload the page.

Sum it up for me

Recent Posts

Recent Comments