Book Review: Memories, Dreams, Reflections – Carl Jung

Memories, Dreams, Reflections is the autobiography of Carl Jung written in collaboration with his close associate Aniela Jaffé. It was published a year after his death in 1962.

At his advanced age he would not undertake anything of the sort unless he felt it was a “task” imposed on him from within.

Jung had spoken with many great men of his time but only a few of these occasions remained in his memory. On the other hand, his recollection of inner experiences had grown all the more vivid.

This book is the only place in his extensive writings in which Jung speaks of God and his personal experience of God. In his scientific works he uses the term “the God-image in the human psyche” based on the objective language of scientific inquiry, while in this case it is subjective, based on inner experience.


“My life is a story of the self-realisation of the unconscious. Everything in the unconscious seeks outward manifestation, and the personality too desires to evolve out of its unconscious conditions to experience itself as a whole.”

For Jung, life cannot be tackled as a scientific problem, but rather by way of myth, which expresses life more precisely than science.

“Life has always seemed to me like a plant that lives on its rhizome. Its true life is invisible, hidden in the rhizome […] What we see is blossom, which passes. The rhizome remains.”

I. First years

Jung had a dream around three years old that would preoccupy all his life. There was a stone stairway leading down, he started descending it, as he went deeper down, there stood a golden throne – upon which a giant cyclops sat with a single eye gazing upwards. He heard his mother shout out: “That is the man-eater!”

This represented a subterranean God “not to be named” and Jung would think of this underground counterpart as the dark side of Lord Jesus, a frightful revelation which had been accorded to him without him seeking it.

II. School years

In his school years, Jung had an important experience. He had the overwhelming expression 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.”

Carl Jung experienced two personalities throughout his whole life. Personality No.1 made up his outer experience: studies, job, responsibilities – as well as his interest in science. While Personality No. 2 made up his inner experience, primarily concerned with his dreams, and his interest in psychological and philosophical matters.

III. Student years

In his later student years, Jung had to choose whether to study science or the humanities. He experienced two dreams which removed all his doubts in favour of science.  One day, he opened up a textbook on psychiatry preparing for his exams. As he saw the words “diseases of the personality”, his heart began to pound.

“Here was the empirical field common to biological and spiritual facts, which I had everywhere sought and nowhere found. Here at last was the place where the collision of nature and spirit became reality.”

Jung went on to write his first book on the psychology of schizophrenia and thus began his career in psychiatry.

IV. Psychiatric Activities

At the core of Jung’s psychiatric activities was the burning question: “What actually takes place inside the mentally ill?”

The exploration of conscious material is insufficient, as the ego is only half of one’s personality. Jung had to find out how to gain access to the unconscious, in order to reach the patient’s whole personality.

Jung relates the case of one of his patients, an 18 year old girl who had been abused at an early age and felt humiliated in the eyes of the world, but elevated in the realm of fantasy. She told Jung that she had been living on the moon. The consequence was complete alienation from the world, a state of psychosis. Jung managed to bring her back, anchoring her in reality.

Since then, Jung decided to regard the sufferings of the mentally ill in a different light. For he had gained insight into the richness and importance of their inner experience.

However, only if the doctor knows how to cope with himself and his own problems will he be able to teach the patient to do the same. The doctor is effective only when he himself is affected.

“Only the wounded physician heals”

V. Sigmund Freud

Jung was very much influenced by Freud in his early years and they had a strong relationship. They even analysed each other’s dreams. However, major differences soon arose in their approach to the human psyche.

Freud’s theory of sexuality as the prime motivational force in man was too one-sided and Jung began to speak of the instincts of hunger, aggression, and sex as expressions of psychic energy.

Jung called his psychology “Analytical Psychology” as distinct from Freud’s “Psychoanalytic” theory.

VI. Confrontation with the Unconscious

After parting ways with Freud, Jung entered a period of inner uncertainty and disorientation. He consciously submitted himself to the impulses of the unconscious. Towards the end of 1913, he was seized by an overpowering vision: he saw thousands of dead bodies and the whole sea turned to blood. An inner voice spoke:

“Look at it well; it is wholly real and it will be so. You cannot doubt it.”

He had this and other similar visions before the start of the First World War.

“Philemon and other figures of my fantasies brought home to me the crucial insight that there are things in the psyche which I do not produce, but which produce themselves and have their own life […] I observed clearly that it was he who spoke, not I. He said I treated thoughts as if I generated them myself […] It was he who taught me psychic objectivity, the reality of the psyche.”

Philemon represented superior insight and a living personality of Jung’s unconscious.

He began his confrontation with the unconscious and found out that the archetype of orientation and meaning is the Self, represented by mandalas, which one must have a balanced relationship with.

VII. The Work

Jung had to find evidence for the historical prefiguration of his inner experiences. He studied the Gnostics, for they too had been confronted with the primal world of the unconscious. His encounter with alchemy was decisive. Alchemy formed the bridge on the one hand into the past, into Gnosticism, and on the other into the future, to the modern psychology of the unconscious.

VIII. The Tower

Jung felt that he needed to achieve a representation of his inner thoughts apart from books, thus began “The Tower”. Situated at Bollingen, it is the product of 12 years of work, in which he added four elements, representing a quaternity, a symbol of the Self.

“At Bollingen I am in the midst of my true life, I am most deeply myself.”

IX. Travels

Jung documents some of his most important travels, some of which include the Pueblo Indians in America, North Africa, and India.

He observed that primitive man does what he does (he is led by unconscious impulses) while civilised man knows what he does (he is given over to reflection). While we are more complicated, we lack intensity of life.

He observed that for the Pueblo Indians:

“Their religious conceptions are not theories to them, but facts, as important and moving as the corresponding realities.”

Jung had also travelled to India and was deeply moved:

“India gave me my first direct experience of an alien, highly differentiated culture.”

X. Visions

In 1944, Jung suffered from a heart attack and thought he was close to death. He experienced intense visions. He was high up in space and could see the earth. There was an entrance which led to a temple.

“It was as if I now carried along with me everything I had ever experienced or done, everything that had happened around me. I might also say: it was with me, and I was it. I consisted of all that, so to speak. I consisted of my own history, and I felt with great certainty: this is what I am.”

He then saw a vision of his doctor telling him that he must return to earth. He thought:

“Now I must return to the ‘box system’ again. For it seemed to me as if behind the horizon of the cosmos a three dimensional world had been artificially built up, in which each person sat by himself in a little box…”

In the day, Jung felt depressed. However, in the night he was filled with intense visions.

“It is impossible to convey the beauty and intensity of emotion during those visions. They were the most tremendous things I have experienced.”

XI. On Life After Death

Jung reflects on life after death, stating that man ought to have a myth about death, for reason alone shows him nothing but the dark pit into which he is descending.

“The sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being.”

XII. Late Thoughts

In his late thoughts, Jung reflects on the importance of myth in our lives, which cannot be replaced by science. Our conscious life is continuously moulded by them and they are the substratum of our existence. We are not born tabula rasa.


“I know only that I was born and exist and it seems to me that I have been carried along. I exist on the foundation of something I do not know. In spite of all uncertainties, I feel a solidity underlying all existence and a continuity in my mode of being.”

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Memories, Dreams, Reflections | Carl Jung

Memories, Dreams, Reflections is the autobiography of Carl Jung written in collaboration with his close associate Aniela Jaffé. It was published a year after his death in 1962.

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2 thoughts on “Book Review: Memories, Dreams, Reflections – Carl Jung

  1. Thank you for this. Yes, MDR in particular, and Jung in general, have been a big influence over my thinking.

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