Water: The Great Symbol of the Unconscious



*****When our natural inheritance has been dissipated, then the spirit too, as Heraclitus says, has descended from its fiery heights. But when spirit becomes heavy it turns to water, and with Luciferian presumption the intellect usurps the seat where once the spirit was enthroned. The spirit may legitimately claim the patria potestas over the soul; not so the earth-born intellect, which is man's sword or hammer, and not a creator of spiritual worlds, a father of the soul.*****

(Ed.) A number of elements should leap out at a hermeticist upon reading this passage. The juxtaposition of fire and water, and the particular use CGJ makes of it, for one. He will have more to say on this matter. For another, his comparison of the role of spirit and intellect. CGJ is using "spirit" in the same way we might refer to the Ego in Tiphareth, and "intellect" in the way we would refer to Hod. "Soul", I think, refers to the combined action of Hod, Netzach, and Yesod.

*****Therefore the way of the soul in search of its lost father -- like Sophia seeking Bythos leads to the water, to the dark mirror that reposes at its bottom. This water is no figure of speech, but a living symbol of the dark psyche. I can best illustrate this by a concrete example, one out of many:
A Protestant theologian often dreamed the same dream: He stood on a mountain slope with a deep valley below, and in it a dark lake. He knew in the dream that something had always prevented him from approaching the lake. This time he resolved to go to the water. As he approached the shore, everything grew dark and uncanny, and a gust of wind suddenly rushed over the face of the water. He was seized by a panic fear, and awoke.
This dream shows us the natural symbolism. The dreamer descends into his own depths, and the way leads him to the mysterious water. And now there occurs the miracle of the pool of Bethesda: an angel comes down and touches the water, endowing it with healing power. In the dream it is the wind, the pneuma, which bloweth where it listeth. Man's descent to the water is needed in order to evoke the miracle of its coming to life. But the breath of the spirit rushing over the dark water is uncanny, like everything else whose cause we do not know -- since it is not ourselves. It hints at an unseen presence, a numen to which neither human expectation nor the machinations of the will have given life. It lives of itself, and a shudder runs through the man who thought that "spirit" was merely what he believes, what he makes himself, what is said in books, or what people talk about. But when it happens spontaneously, it is a spookish thing, and primitive fear seizes the naive mind.*****

(Ed.) Clearly, the water has the same significance here as in Keys 2, 17, 18, etc. The wind is also identified with pneuma or ruach. This is where I began to get excited as I first read this essay, intuiting that he was going somewhere with all this that was significant to my own journey.
This passage reminds me of an event which occurred to me and 2 friends back in 1975. We had taken some good acid, and were out in the woods. We sat on the edge of a cliff, overlooking a stream. Just sat there for a period of time (how long is hard to say Time was down on the corner, smoking a cigar and shooting the breeze with Space at that moment), not saying a word. Suddenly, spontaneously, I cried out "What is the meaning of the void?" Brief pause, and then a wind blew over us, rippling the water and making the trees dance. We all looked at one another and said "Whoa!" I was unable to put into words what that meant to me, nor could the others, but we had all three been deeply touched on a numinous level. I can scarcely do any better today, except to say that its effect on me was to point me towards an understanding of synchronicity which has been a key figure of my journey ever since.

*****Water is the commonest symbol of the unconscious. The lake in the valley is the unconscious, which lies, as it were, underneath consciousness, so that it is often referred to as the "subconscious", usually with the pejorative connotation of an inferior consciousness. Water is the "valley spirit," the water dragon of Tao, whose nature resembles water -- a yang embraced in the yin. Psychologically, therefore, water means spirit that has become unconscious. So the dream of the theologian is quite right in telling him that down by the water he could experience the working of the living spirit like a miracle of healing in the pool of Bethesda. The descent into the depths always seems to precede the ascent.*****


Commentary to be added later.


Back to Jung Introduction Page

Comments