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Feeding your Daemons IV - Carl Gustav Jung: from Art Therapy to Self-Transcendence

"Whenever illness is associated with loss of soul, the arts emerge spontaneously as remedies, soul medicine." - Shaun McNiff , Art as Medicine



Four years after breaking with Freud while going through a period of great personal uncertainty and crisis, 41 years old Carl Gustav Jung published a paper called “The Transcendent Function” (1916, 2nd edition 1957) to summarize his personal struggle of how to live moment -to- moment, and how to integrate this new approach with his research:

Thereupon I said to myself since I know nothing at all, I shall simply do whatever occurs to me… Thus I consciously submitted myself to the impulses of the unconscious.” (p. 173).


Jung also realized that the powers behind his quest might be greater and more difficult to conquer than any of his previous undertakings. However, exploring the "transcendence function", inherent as much as fundamental to our well-being, will become the focus of Jung's life work:

“Constructive treatment of the unconscious, that is, the question of meaning and purpose paves the way for the patient’s insight into that process which I call the transcendent function “ (p.75).


Initially, Jung began with contrasting categories he called compensatory and complementary functions. Eventually, he developed the now-familiar concepts of Persona (the public expectation of how Self should behave), Shadow (what we denied ourselves, instinctive and irrational), the Anima/Animus (the feminine and masculine tendencies in the psyche, irrelevant of the person's gender) and the Self (unification of all previous elements, embracing them all). Some of the more intense work to clarify these concepts by using “active imagination” happened during Jung's self-imposed seclusion some of his biographers called "the psychotic episode" while others, as much as Jung himself, referred to as his “nocturnal work”.


Similar to mystics in various traditions many times before his time, 40 years old Jung, disappointed with his work being done so far, secluded but occasionally engaged with clients at day time while working with invoking various levels of the psyche at night, created some of the most beautifully illustrated manuscripts. Visualization, active mediation, and occasional but rare use of hallucinogens, this work was so intimate that it took four decades after his death to be published. His life and The Red Book in particular is is an incredible testimony to a man who has undergone a classic shamanic transformation process by himself in search of transcendence. The Red Book, which started as an illuminated calligraphic volume, was eventually scaled down into a fusion of two manuscripts (The Red Book: Liber Novus). The detailed analysis of The Red Book concepts and rich imagery can be found at the Gnostic Society Four Lectures presented by Lance S. Owens. However, for Feeding Your Daemons (FYD) practitioners, the concept of using the psyche’s cognitive capacity to intensify and externalize images from deeper levels of consciousness as a catalyst for change demonstrated that in Western psychology and attitudes toward mental health Jung legitimized a Shamanic jump into the unknown of self-consciousness mediated by art.


This is not the first time Jung referred to arts as a catalyst for capturing work of the psyche leading to a better and more integrated personality. Throughout his earlier work, such as Memories, Dream, Reflections (1961) Jung advocated for the use of visualization, clay work, dialogue, movement painting, dancing – whichever means of facilitating evocation because intellectual and aesthetic/creative forces tend to work easier if they work together:

“One tendency seems to be the regulating principle of the other: both are bound together in a compensatory relationship.” (The Collected Works of C.G. Jung: Complete Digital Edition, 1975, p.85)


Three years before his death, Jung further revised his essay on transcendent function giving it the permanent role as a

“...living phenomenon, a way of life … a living birth that leads to a new level of being, a new situation.” (1957, p.23 & 90).


In the late 1980’s one of the forces burgeoning art therapy at the time, Shaun McNiff, theoretically conceptualized using art both as therapy and shamanistic tool/experience that can heal us outside of the medical system due to much broader cross-cultural and anthropological perspective:

“The ancient predecessor of the expressive art therapist can be found in every region of the world in the person anthropologists call the shaman… Shamanism is characterized by a belief in the power of human beings to participate in direct and personal relationships with the supernatural dynamic of life.” (The Arts and Psychotherapy, 1981, p.3).

McNiff, currently the Provost and Dean of Endicott College in Beverly, Massachusetts, will eventually become an internationally-renowned figure in the creative arts therapies and depth psychology and a writer of many critically-acclaimed about creative expression and integration of art with mental health and research.


The integrated practice, such as Feeding your Daemons combined with art therapy, can potentially bridge the difficulty of connecting the seen and unseen, disrupt the fixed and stubborn neurological pathways, help us to reconsider what constitutes reality, and affirm that searching (and finding) self-transcendence, by expanding the self beyond limitation and boundaries of research and practice, has the power to improve our mental health and well-being.




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