Symbols

“The symbol awakens intimations,” Bachofen writes; “speech can only explain.  The symbol plucks all the strings of the human spirit at once; speech is compelled to take up a single thought at a time.  The symbol strikes its roots in the most secret depths of the soul; language skims over the surface of the understanding like a soft breeze.  The symbol aims inward; language outward.”  TMD 103

The original intent of symbols, however, can restore the divine-human image and heighten the mystery of life and the experience of the numinous within each and every individual.  Religious law then becomes a natural part of life, as the conscious and the unconscious are awakened and reawakened to life. 

Hence in its scientific usage the term "self" refers neither to Christ nor to the Buddha but to the totality of the figures that are its equivalent, and each of these figures is a symbol of the self.  BW 466

Since the concept of the self is of central interest in psychology, the latter naturally thinks along lines diametrically opposed to theology:  for psychology the religious figures point to the self, whereas for theology the self points to its - theology's - own central figure.  BW 466

The Christ-symbol is of the greatest importance for psychology in so far as it is perhaps the most highly developed and differentiated symbol of the self, apart from the figure of the Buddha  BW 466

A symbol is an image that expresses an essential unconscious factor and therefore refers to something essentially unconscious, unknown, indeed to something that is never quite knowable.  It is “the sensuously perceptible expression of an inner experience.”  It is in the secondary instance made visible through the fact that it activates and groups the material available for representation.  The archetype, in itself unknowable, clothes itself, so to speak, in this material, just as a primitive dancer does with animal hides and masks.  In this way a symbol is created whose nucleus is a nonrepresnetable, consciousness-transcending archetypal basic structure that emerges from the unconscious at different times and in different places as a structured complex of images and leads to the formation of religious and mythological systems of ideas and representations.  “So long as a symbol is a living thing, it is an expression for something that cannot be characterized in any other or better way.  The symbol is alive only so long as it is pregnant with meaning.  But once its meaning has been born out of it, once that expression is found which formulates the thing sought, expected, or divined even better than the hitherto accepted symbol, then the symbol is dead, i.e., it possesses only an historical significance.”  A symbol really lives only when it is the best and highest expression for something divined but not yet known to the observer.  It then compels his unconscious participation and has a life-giving and life-enhancing effect.” 

   Differentiated and primitive, conscious and unconscious are united in the symbol, as well as all other possible psychic opposites.  Whenever such a symbol comes spontaneously to light from the unconscious, it is a content that dominates the whole personality, “forcing the energy of the opposites into a common channel,” so that “life can flow on … towards new goals.”  Jung called that unknown activity of the unconscious which produces the real, life-giving symbols the transcendent function, because this process facilitates a transition from one attitude to another.  A still-living, genuine symbol can thus never be “resolved” (that is, analyzed, understood) by a rational interpretation, but can only be circumscribed and amplified by conscious associations; its nucleus, which is pregnant with meaning, remains unconscious as long as it is living and can only be divined.  If one interprets it intellectually one “kills” the symbol, thus preventing any further unfolding of its content.  Scientific hypotheses are also always symbols to begin with, to the degree to which they refer to a set of facts of which a number are still unknown; when this set of facts has gradually become sufficiently known, however, the symbolic aspect of the hypothesis has merely historical significance.  The more significantly a symbol expresses an unconscious component that is common to a large number of people, the greater its effect on society. 

   When one reflects on these formulations by Jung, it is easy enough to understand the resistance of the churches to psychological interpretations of their symbols that probe too deeply; the fear that the symbols might thereby be destroyed was well founded.  However, the insistence that they should be believed as concrete facts was an unfortunate way out of the dilemma, since it merely fed the rising doubts.  The only way out of this impasse, the only way that guarantees that the living quality of religious symbols will not be prematurely extinguished, is through the realization that religious symbols do not refer to material and concrete facts but to a collective-psychic unconscious reality

   In proper language, concretizing the symbol, is what we call idolatry, so that or whole religion from this standpoint is an idolatrous system.  Perhaps it’s because of this unconscious idolatry of our own that we see idolatry in everybody else and smash their idols.  That’s just a little thought for the day.  TMTT 132

Now people who don’t know anything about the spiritual reference of symbols interpret them in gross matter and get involved in pretty gross activities.  That is to say, if you interpret the spiritual symbol as concrete, then you get involved with the concrete action associated with the concrete body and you have lost the spiritual message.  

As Jung explained in Aion, Christian symbolism not only emerged from a psychic problem of opposites but this problem also characterizes its further development, as is already implied in Christ’s reference to the coming of an “Antichrist”.  This problem of the opposites is emphasized by the synchronistic fact that the Christian aeon is distinguished astrologically by two fishes in opposition to each other.  TGL