Think of me as a Pseudo-Jungian: An Appreciation of Carl Jung on his 146th Birthday

Think of me as a Pseudo-Jungian: An Appreciation of Carl Jung on his 146th Birthday July 26, 2021


Carl Gustav Jung was born on this day, the 26th of July, in 1875, in Kesswil, Switzerland.

His father was a rural pastor of the Swiss Reformed Church, his mother the child of a prominent clerical and academic family.

He would later write how his mother’s mental illness marked him. He would say he grew up with two personalities, one the boy of his time and place, but the other, a being from some other place, he imagined the 18th century. At first he believed he would grow up to become a minister, then was fascinated by archaeology. Finally he settled on medicine, and psychiatry.

After graduation, and based on some of his research Sigmund Freud invited Jung to visit him in Vienna. This led to a lengthy coorespendence. Quickly Jung was seen as chief among Freud’s disciples, and Freud saw the younger psychiatrist as his heir. But within six years strains began to appear. Jung began to question Freud’s emphasis on the primacy of sex while Freud was concerned with Jung’s growing focus on comparative religions and mythology. By 1913 with the publication of Jung’s Psychology of the Unconscious. they broke with each other completely.

Jung went on to develop Analytical psychology, with its emphasis on symbols and a sense of a collective unconscious. The Wikipedia article on Jung summarizes, “the central concepts of analytical psychology is individuation—the lifelong psychological process of differentiation of the self out of each individual’s conscious and unconscious elements. Jung considered it to be the main task of human development. He created some of the best known psychological concepts, including synchronicity, archetypal phenomena, the collective unconscious, the psychological complex and extraversion and introversion.”

Following a sometimes controversial and generally distinguished career, after a short illness, on the 6th of June, 1961, Carl Jung died.

As a young seeker Jung caught my attention with his emphasis on religion and mythology. And, when I learned that it was he who identified the psychological inclinations of introversion and extraversion, I got his genius. But, I was more than a little suspicious of his idea of a collective unconscious. And as I came to see most people I read who followed him, believed the collective unconscious was a literal thing, long on certainty and very short on evidence, what passing interest I had, passed.

Then, in my mid thirties, as part of a grand scheme for my spouse Jan and I to shift gears into professional lives, I began taking classes at Sonoma State University, studying psychology.

I was working close to full time and I considered the BA nothing more than a ticket to a professional school, and so was pushing through as fast as I could. Some friends stopped me and said, “Do yourself a favor, James. Find a professor you admire and take whatever she or he offers.” They slyly added, “You’ll never regret it.”

One of them who knew the school, Sonoma State, a commuter college some sixty miles north of San Francisco, said “Take a class from Gordon Tappan in the psychology department.” A little reluctantly, but needing some relief from the grind, I signed up. Now, totally by accident I walked into a graduate seminar on archetypal psychology, a variation on Carl Jung’s work. I stood at his desk. Gordon looked at my paperwork, glanced up and said, “Been a mistake. No undergraduates here.” I said, “I’m on a tight schedule and can’t get another class in time to keep my load up, and as someone let me register, I’m not going to leave.”

He gave me the fisheye, then said, “Sit in the back and keep quiet.” I sat in the back but didn’t keep quiet. I ended up taking three classes with him, and found them pretty much the only things I recall from that whirlwind that led to my being able to get into grad school.

Gordon was an archetypalist. And as I’ve said, I never actually had much of a taste for Carl Jung’s work. I think while he was some kind of artist of the heart, he also liked to pretend his work was science. And that just annoyed me.

But, his disciple James Hillman, well, he’s a horse of another color entirely. As is his subset of Jungian thought, archetypal psychology. A few years ago when I learned Hillman had died, I felt actual grief, as if it were the passing of one of my teachers. While I never met him, since Gordon’s class I’ve read a lot of Hillman. I consider him one of my important guides.

I’m particularly taken with what Hillman considered the soul to be for someone who doesn’t think there’s a parasite inside us just waiting for the moment it can break free. You may have noticed how spirit and self, and sometimes mind are, in practice, in our times, all taken as synonyms for soul. Actually this is a problem. Hillman suggested this represents a reductionism in our current culture leading to a simple Cartesian divide “between outer tangible reality and inner states of mind, or between body and a fuzzy conglomerate of mind, psyche, and spirit.”

He also provided me with a way to engage the classical Buddhist understanding of the Three Bodies. One is Nirmanakaya, the realm of history and causality. Another is the Dharmakaya, the realm of the absolute or vast empty. And, the third is the Sambkogakaya, the realm of miracle. Or, as I see it the realm of dream and story.

In this third place the absolute and the phenomenal meet, and there are eruptions, perhaps not disruptions of time and space, but absolutely disruptions of our sense of what is, which are might close.

For me seeing the two views, the classical presentation of the three bodies of the Buddha and Hillman’s three parts of being within mind, psyche, and spirit, opened up the dynamic I kept experiencing in my own life. Seeing neither is precisely it, but that each in its three-fold dynamic points to something more livable than even the great truths of the identity of form and emptiness suggest.

And Gordon provided a pretty direct example of how it all can come together in our lived lives. I was taking a dream seminar with him. One afternoon a member of the group described her most recent dream. The woman was ethereal, tall and thin, with long golden hair that frizzed just enough to create a halo effect around her head. She described how in her dream a woman, and I admit I had a hard time not picturing her, herself, walked toward her holding a golden ball. As she watched transfixed the ball started glowing, the brightness growing, and growing until there was nothing but light. Nothing but light.

When she finished the group was silent. That pause extended a minute or so, almost achingly long. Then out of that silence Gordon asked, quietly, simply, kindly, “What do you think all that light was hiding?”

With all that I knew I was finding aspects of the deep.

And while I could never call myself a Jungian, thanks to Hillman, and most of all, Gordon Tappan, I do have to acknowledge my ongoing debt to the old Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Jung.

Think of me as a Pseudo-Jungian.


We all see through the glass darkly. And, we get caught, as Jung pointed out, in shadows.

But, I’ve found, with gratitude, and hesitation, and more than a shadow of doubt, if we open our hearts, possibilities emerge. And in that regard, Jung opened doors to possibilities, for many, including me.

And, to win the great victory, I feel, I’ve found, we have to continue on. But, always, grateful…


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