Book Review: Man and His Symbols – Carl Jung

Man and His Symbols is the last work undertaken by Carl Jung before his death in 1961. He had never tried to popularise his work and refused several attempts by his colleagues to persuade him to do so.

At this moment he had a dream. Instead of talking to the great scholars, he was directing himself to the general public. Jung was essentially “advised” by his own unconscious to reconsider an inadequate judgment he had made with the conscious part of his mind.

The principle aim of “Man and His Symbols” is an introduction to Jung’s work and ideas. The last year of his life was devoted almost entirely to this book, finishing his own section only some 10 days before his final illness.

Man and his Symbols is an examination of man’s relation to his own unconscious, emphasising the importance of dreams in the life of the individual.

The book was first published in 1964 and is divided into five parts, four of which were written by Jung’s closest associates in the world of analytical psychology.

Part I. Approaching the Unconscious – Carl G. Jung

The Unconscious

Jung introduces the reader to several key ideas: symbols, dreams, and archetypes, which all arise from the unconscious.

The language of the unconscious are symbols, and the means of communication are dreams.

Symbols are objects of the known world hinting at something unknown; it is the known expressing the life and sense of the inexpressible.

Dreams are an integral and personal expression of the unconscious. They are just as “real” as any other phenomenon attaching the individual.

Due to the vast amounts of complex data encountered in daily life, human understanding must create a method of simplifying the concepts. The limitations of consciousness forces certain concepts of our daily life to become subliminal and develop part of the unconscious psyche, and without us realising it, they influence the way in which we react to people and events.

Jung observes that primitive man was much more governed by his unconscious instincts than modern man, who has become too rational. This one-sidedness has created a dissociation in the psyche of modern civilisation.

Using the symbolic images of dreams, Jung found that the unconscious was conveying crucial information to help the entire psyche reach a balance which the conscious attitude has repressed.

Dreams are the essential message carriers from the instinctive to the rational parts of the human mind. Their interpretation enriches the poverty of consciousness, reviving the forgotten language of the instincts.

While the unconscious symbolic language in a dream is specific to an individual, it continues to rest on a bedrock layer of shared psychic material across all humans. Jung calls this the collective unconscious. This is where archetypes are found. These our inherited experiences of human life, representing universals patterns of emotional and mental behaviour.

They have been ingrained in man since time immemorial. However, archetypes cannot be fully interpreted if one does not consider the whole life situation of the individual. They come to life only if one takes into account their relationship with oneself.

“The one thing we refuse to admit is that we are dependent upon “powers” that are beyond our control.”

Part II. Ancient Myths and Modern Man – Joseph L. Henderson

The Hero Myth

Joseph L. Henderson illustrates the appearance of several archetypal patterns in ancient mythology. For modern man, these appear somehow irrelevant to our current society due to the development of the conscious ego. However, many collective celebrations such as Christmas and Easter, are ripe with unconscious symbolic content that we rarely recognise intellectually within the ego.

One of the most common archetypal motifs is the hero myth. The hero descends into darkness to slay dragons and other monsters, usually winning the battle.

The essential function of the hero myth is the development of the individual’s ego-consciousness – his awareness of his own strengths and weaknesses – in a manner that will equip him for the arduous tasks which life confronts him.

Most people are unaware of their shadow (the dark side of their personality). The hero, on the contrary, must realise that the shadow exists and come to terms with its destructive powers if he is to defeat the dragon. Before the ego can triumph, it must master and assimilate the shadow. This heroic sacrifice represents the death and rebirth of an individual.

The need for hero symbols arises when the conscious mind needs assistance in some task that it cannot accomplish unaided or without drawing on the sources of strength that lie in the unconscious mind.

Part III. The Process of Individuation – M.L. von Franz


Marie Louise Von Franz describes the process by which consciousness and the unconscious have learned to live at peace and to complement one another. This is known as individuation and is perhaps the most important part of the whole book, addressing the essence of Jung’s philosophy of life: Man becomes whole when (and only when) the process of individuation is complete.

If a person devotes himself to individuation, he frequently has a positive contagious effect on the people around him.

Jung interpreted around 80.000 dreams in his life and he discovered that they seem to follow a pattern. If one watches one’s dreams over a period of years, one will see that certain contents emerge, disappear, and then turn up again. This slow process of psychic growth is the process of individuation. It is driven by the unconscious, which is the guiding force of psychic development. The ego acts as a bridge with the outer world and has the capacity to bring the unconscious elements into consciousness.

The source of the dreams is what Jung calls the Self, the totality of the whole psyche, which is different from the ego or consciousness. It is often represented by mandalas.

In order to have a relationship with the Self archetype, one must face and assimilate one’s shadow and the anima or animus.

The anima and animus are the contrasexual aspect of one’s personality. The anima is the personification of all feminine psychological tendencies in a man’s psyche, it is “the woman within”, while the animus is “the man within”.

A positive integration of these archetypes can put one’s mind in tune with the right inner values and thereby opening the way into more profound inner depths. This allows an individual to be more conscious of the activity of the unconscious in daily relationships with others and the world itself, avoiding the ego to become inflated and being more authentic to yourself.

Part IV. Symbolism in the Visual Arts – Aniela Jaffé

Cave of Altamira

In Part 4 “Symbolism in the Visual Arts”, Aniela Jaffé, demonstrates man’s recuring interest in the symbols of the unconscious. The visual arts delight us by a constant appeal to the unconscious.

The artist may be seen as the spokesman of the spirit of his age. He is controlled by forces of the unconscious:

“People don’t have ideas. Ideas have people.”

Jaffé takes us through a history of art from the lens of analytical psychology. She states that three central symbolic motifs are represented continuously throughout human history: the stone, the animal, and the circle.

Humans began to arrange stones and carve them to indicate the divinity and spirit found in the stone itself.

Animals have been continuously documented through cave paintings as adornment or objects of veneration. The animal motif is symbolic of man’s instinctual nature. The acceptance of our animal nature is essential if wholeness is to be achieved.

Humans across time and cultures have always used the circle as a symbol of wholeness. Jung equated this symbolically with a representation of the Self.

In turning to modern art, Jaffé argues that it reflects the dissociated nature of human age, consequence of an extremely rational age, retreating from reality.

Part V. Symbols in an Individual Analysis – Jolande Jacobi

Analytical psychology

In the final chapter “Symbols in an Individual Analysis”, Jolande Jacobi presents an individual case of a successful analysis. However, it must be pointed out that there is no such thing as a typical Jungian analysis. There can’t be, because every dream is a private and individual communication, in other words, every Jungian analysis is unique.

It is the case study of Henry, an introverted 25-year-old engineer. With his logical mind, he represses everything “irrational”, giving way to an unbalanced psyche. He also has an extreme dependence on his mother. He is stuck and unable to move forward in life due to a continual tension with instinct and his anima.

Over the course of his analysis and dream interpretation, he is able to explore the unconscious and reach a level of maturation that is mirrored in the outer reality of his life, as he successfully overcomes his complexes and is able to marry and move out of his family home, becoming a self-sufficient and responsible adult.

This strengthening of the ego completes the first half of the individuation process, the second half of one’s life consists of the establishment of a right relationship between the ego and the Self.

For Jung, the only real adventure remaining for each individual is the exploration of his own unconscious. The ultimate goal of such a search is the forming of a harmonious and balanced relationship with the Self.

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Man and His Symbols in 10 Minutes | Carl Jung

Man and His Symbols is the last work undertaken by Carl Jung before his death in 1961. The principle aim of “Man and His Symbols” is an introduction to Jung’s work and ideas.

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