Lecture 46 — School for Secrets

by C G Jung

Contents List:

A "Secret" Recipe
Psychic Energy
Evolution of Consciousness
Health and Wholeness
The Psyche
Scientifically Speaking
Psychological Objectivity

Return to:

Index to Hermetic System Lectures
Ardue Site Plan

See also:

The Holy Spirit
Sleeping Christianity
A Myth for the Soul

A "Secret" Recipe

There is no better means of intensifying the treasured feeling of individuality than the possession of a secret which the individual is pledged to guard. The very beginnings of societal structures reveal the craving for secret organisations. When no valid secrets really exist, mysteries are invented or contrived to which privileged initiates are admitted. Such was the case with the Rosicrucians and many other societies. Among these pseudo-secrets there are, ironically, real secrets of which the initiates are entirely unaware — as, for example, in those societies which borrowed their "secret" primarily from the alchemical tradition.

The need for ostentatious secrecy is of vital importance on the primitive level, for the shared secret serves as a cement binding the tribe together. Secrets on the tribal level constitute a helpful compensation for lack of cohesion in the individual personality, which is constantly relapsing into the original unconscious identity with other members of the group. Attainment of the human goal — an individual who is conscious of his own peculiar nature — thus becomes a long, almost hopeless, process of education. Even the individuals whose initiation into certain secrets has marked them out in some way are fundamentally obeying the laws of group identity, though in their case the group is a socially differentiated one.

The secret society is an intermediary stage on the way to individuation. [My emphasis. — Ed.] The individual is still relying on a collective organisation to effect his differentiation for him; that is, he has not yet recognised that it is really the individual's task to differentiate himself from all the others and stand on his own feet. All collective identities, such as membership of organisations, support of "isms", and so on, interfere with the fulfilment of this task. Such collective identities are crutches for the lame, shields for the timid, beds for the lazy, nurseries for the irresponsible; but they are equally shelters for the poor and weak, a home port for the ship-wrecked, the bosom of a family for orphans, a land of promise for disillusioned vagrants and weary pilgrims, a herd and a safe fold for lost sheep, and a mother providing nourishment and growth.

It would therefore be wrong to regard this intermediary stage as a trap: on the contrary, for a long time to come it will represent the only possible form of existence for the individual who nowadays seems more than ever threatened by anonymity. Collective organisation is still so essential today that many consider it, with some justification, to be the final goal; whereas to call for further steps along the road to autonomy appears like arrogance or hubris, or simply folly.


Nevertheless, it may be that for sufficient reasons a man feels he must set out on his own feet along the road to wider realms. It may be that in all the garbs, shapes, forms, modes, and manners of life offered to him he does not find what is peculiarly necessary for him. He will go alone and be his own company. He will serve as his own group, consisting of a variety of opinions and tendencies — which need not necessarily be marching in the same direction. In fact, he will be at odds with himself and will find great difficulty in uniting his own multiplicity for purposes of common action. Even if he is outwardly protected by the social forms of the intermediary stage, he will have no defence against his inner multiplicity. The disunion within himself may cause him to give up, to lapse into identity with his surroundings.

Like the initiate of a secret society who has broken free from the undifferentiated collectivity, the individual on his lonely path needs a secret which for various reasons he may not or cannot reveal. Such a secret reinforces him in the isolation of his individual aims. A great many individuals cannot bear this isolation. They are the neurotics, who necessarily play hide-and-seek with others as well as with themselves, without being able to take the game really seriously. As a rule they end by surrendering their individual goal to their craving for collective conformity — a procedure encouraged by all the opinions, beliefs, and ideals of their environment. Moreover, no rational arguments prevail against the environment. Only a secret which the individual cannot betray — which he fears to give away or which he cannot formulate in words and which therefore seems to belong to the category of crazy ideas — can prevent the otherwise inevitable retrogression.

The need for such a secret is in many cases so compelling that the individual finds himself involved in ideas and actions for which he is no longer responsible. He is being motivated by neither caprice nor arrogance, but by a dira necessitas [compulsion — Ed.] which he himself cannot comprehend. This necessity comes down upon him with savage fatefulness, and perhaps for the first time in his life demonstrates to him ad oculos [clearly. — Ed.] the presence of something alien and more powerful than himself in his own most personal domain where he thought himself the master.

A vivid example is the story of Jacob [Gen. 32:22-29. — Ed.], who wrestled with the angel and came away with a dislocated hip, but by his struggle prevented a murder. In those forthcoming days, Jacob's story was believed without question. A contemporary Jacob, telling such a tale, would be treated to meaningful smiles. He would prefer not to speak of such matters, especially if he were inclined to have his private views about the nature of Yahweh's messenger. Thus he would find himself willy-nilly in possession of a secret that could not be discussed, and would become a deviant from the collectivity. Naturally, his mental reservation would ultimately come to light unless he succeeded in playing the hypocrite all his life. But anyone who attempts to do both, to adjust to his group and at the same time pursue his individual goal, becomes neurotic. Our modern Jacob would be concealing from himself the fact that the angel was after all the stronger of the two — as he certainly was, for no claims were ever made that the angel, too, came away with a limp.

Therefore the man who, driven by his daimon, steps beyond the limits of the intermediary stage truly enters the "untrodden, unreadable regions" where there are no charted ways and no shelter spreads a protecting roof over his head. There are no precepts to guide him when he encounters an unforeseen situation — for example, a conflict of duties. For the most part, these sallies into no man's land last only as long as no such conflicts occur, and come swiftly to an end as soon as conflict is sniffed from afar. I cannot blame the person who takes to his heels at once. But neither can I approve his finding merit in his weakness and cowardice. Since my contempt can do him no further harm, I may as well say that I can find nothing praiseworthy about such capitulations.


But if a man faced with a conflict of duties undertakes to deal with them absolutely on his own responsibility, and before a judge who sits in judgment on him day and night, he may well find himself in an isolated position. There is now an authentic secret in his life which cannot be discussed — if only because he is involved in an endless inner trial in which he is his own counsel and ruthless examiner, and no secular or spiritual judge can restore his easy sleep. If he were not already sick to death of the decisions of such judges, he would never have found himself in a conflict. For such a conflict always supposes a higher sense of responsibility. It is this very quality which keeps its possessor from accepting the decisions of a collectivity. [My emphasis. — Ed.] In his case the court is transposed to the inner world where the verdict is pronounced behind closed doors.

Once this happens, the psyche of the individual acquires heightened importance. It is not only the seat of his well-being and socially defined ego; it is also the instrument for ensuring what it is worth in and for itself. Nothing so promotes the growth of consciousness as this inner confrontation of opposites. Quite unexpected facts turn up in the indictment and the defence is obliged to discover arguments hitherto unknown. In the course of this, a considerable portion of of the outer world reaches the inner, and by that very fact the outer world is impoverished or relieved. On the other hand, the inner world has gained that much weight by being raised to the rank of a tribunal for ethical decisions. However, the once unequivocal ego loses the prerogative of being merely the prosecutor; it must also learn the role of defendant. The ego becomes ambivalent and ambiguous, and is caught between the hammer and the anvil. It becomes aware of a polarity superordinate to itself.

By no means every conflict of duties, and perhaps not even a single one, is ever really "solved", though it may be argued over, weighed, and counterweighed till doomsday. Sooner or later the decision is simply there, the product, it would seem, of some kind of short-circuit. Practical life cannot be suspended in an everlasting contradiction. The opposites and the contradictions between them do not vanish, however, even when for a moment they yield before the impulse to action. They constantly threaten the sanity of the personality and entangle life again and again in their dichotomies.

Insight into the dangers and the painfulness of such a state might well decide one to stay at home, that is, never to leave the safe fold and the warm cocoon, since these alone promise protection from inner stress. Those who do not have to leave father and mother are certainly safest with them. However, a good many persons find themselves thrust upon the road to individuation. In no time at all they will become acquainted with the positive and negative aspects of human nature.

Psychic Energy

Just as all energy proceeds from opposition, so the psyche too possesses its inner polarity, this being the indisputable prerequisite for its aliveness, as Heraclitus realised long ago.

Both theoretically and practically, polarity is inherent in all living things. Set against this overpowering force is the fragile unity of the ego, which has come into being in the course of millennia only with the aid of countless protective measures. That an ego was possible at all appears to spring from the fact that all opposites seek to achieve a state of balance. This happens in the exchange of energy which results from the collision of hot and cold, high and low, and so on.

The energy underlying conscious psychic life is pre-existent to it and therefore at first unconscious. As it approaches consciousness, it first appears projected in figures like mana, gods, daimons, etc., whose numen seems to be the vital source of energy — and in point of fact is so as long as these supernatural figures are accepted. But as these fade and lose their forces, the ego — that is, the empirical man — seems to come into possession of this source of energy, and does so in the fullest meaning of this ambiguous statement: on the one hand he seeks to seize this energy, to possess it, and even imagines that he does possess it; and on the other hand he is possessed by it.

This grotesque situation can, to be sure, occur only when the contents of consciousness are regarded as the sole form of psychic existence. Where this is the case, there is no preventing inflation by projections coming home to roost. But where the existence of an unconscious psyche is admitted, the contents of projection can be received into the inborn instinctive forms which predate consciousness. Their objectivity and autonomy are thereby preserved, and inflation is avoided. [My emphasis. — Ed.]


The archetypes, which are pre-existent to consciousness and condition it, appear in the part they actually play in reality: as a priori structural forms of the stuff of consciousness. They do not in any sense represent things as they are in themselves, but rather the forms in which things can be perceived and conceived.

Naturally, it is not merely the archetypes that govern the particular nature of perceptions. They account only for the collective component of a perception. As an attribute of instinct, they partake of its dynamic nature and consequently possess a specific energy which causes or compels definite modes of behaviour or impulses; that is, they may in certain circumstances have a possessive or obsessive form (numinosity!). The conception of them as daimonia is therefore quite in accord with their nature.


If anyone is inclined to believe that any aspect of the nature of things is changed by such formulations, he is being extremely credulous about words. The real facts do not change, whatever names we give them. Only we ourselves are affected. [My emphasis. — Ed.]

If one were to conceive of "God" as "pure Nothingness", that has nothing whatsoever to do with the fact of a superordinate principle. We are just as much possessed as before; the change of name has removed nothing from reality. If the new name implies a denial, we have merely taken a false attitude towards reality. On the other hand, a positive name for the unknowable has the merit of putting us into a correspondingly positive attitude. If, therefore, we speak of "God" as an "archetype", we are saying nothing about His real nature but are letting it be known that "God" already has a place in that part of our psyche which is pre-existent to consciousness and that therefore He cannot be considered an invention of consciousness. We neither make Him more remote nor eliminate Him, but bring Him closer to the possibility of being experienced.

This latter circumstance is by no means unimportant: for a thing which cannot be experienced may easily be suspected of non-existence. This suspicion is so inviting that so-called believers in God see nothing but atheism in my attempt to reconstruct the primitive unconscious psyche. Or, if not atheism, then Gnosticism — anything, heaven forbid, but a psychic reality like the unconscious. If the unconscious is anything at all, it must consist of earlier evolutionary stages of our conscious psyche.

Evolution of Consciousness

The assumption that man in his whole glory was created on the sixth day of Creation, without any preliminary stages, is after all somewhat too simple and archaic to satisfy us nowadays. [c.f. A Rational Approach to Genesis, Part I — Ed.] There is pretty general agreement on that score. In regard to the psyche, however, the archaic conception holds on tenuously: the psyche has no antecedents, is a tabula rasa [a clean sheet. — Ed.], arises anew at birth, and is only what it imagines itself to be.

Consciousness is phylogenetically and ontogenetically a secondary phenomenon. It is time this obvious fact were grasped at last. Just as the body has an anatomical pre-history of millions of years, so also does the psychic system. And just as the human body today represents in each of its parts the result of this evolution and everywhere shows traces of its earlier stages, so the same may be said of the psyche. Consciousness begins its evolution from an animal-like state which seems to us unconscious, and the same process of differentiation is repeated in every child. The psyche of the child in its preconscious state is anything but a tabula rasa: it is already pre-formed in a recognisably individual way and is, moreover, equipped with all specifically human instincts as well as with the a priori foundations of the higher functions. [My emphasis. — Ed.]

On this complicated base, the ego arises. Throughout life the ego is sustained by this base. When the base does not function, stasis ensues and then death. Its life and its reality are of vital importance. Compared to it, even the external world is secondary, for what does the world matter if the endogenous impulse to grasp it and manipulate it is lacking? [My emphasis. — Ed.] In the long run, no conscious will can ever replace the life instinct. This instinct comes to us from within as a compulsion or will or command, and if — as has more or less been done from time immemorial — we give it the name of a personal daimon, we are at least aptly expressing the psychological situation. And if, by employing the concept of the archetype, we attempt to define a little more closely the point at which the daimon grips us, we have not abolished anything but only consciously approached closer to the source of life.

Health and Wholeness

It is only natural that I as a psychiatrist (doctor of the soul) should espouse such a view, for I am primarily interested in how I can help my patients find their healthy base again.

To do that, a great variety of knowledge is needed, as I have learned. Medicine in general has, after all, proceeded in like manner. It has not made its advances through the discovery of some single trick of healing, thus phenomenally simplifying its methods. On the contrary, it has evolved into a science of enormous complexity — not the least of the reasons being that it has made borrowings from all possible fields.

Hence I am not concerned with proving anything to other disciplines; I am merely attempting to put their knowledge to good use in my own field. Naturally, it is incumbent upon me to report on such applications and their consequences. For certain new things come to light when one transfers the knowledge of one field to another and applies it in practice. Had X-rays remained the exclusive property of the physicist and not been applied in medicine, we would know far less. Then again, if radiation therapy has in some circumstances dangerous consequences, that is interesting to the physician; but it is not necessarily of interest to the physicist who uses radiation in an altogether different manner and for other purposes. Nor will he think that the physician has poached upon his territory when the latter points out certain harmful or salutary properties of the invisible rays.

If I, for example, apply historical or theological insights in psychotherapy, they naturally appear in a different light and lead to conclusions other than those to which they lead when restricted to their proper fields, where they serve other purposes.

The fact, therefore, that a polarity underlies the dynamics of the psyche means that the whole problem of opposites in its broadest sense, with all its concomitant religious and philosophical aspects, is drawn into the psychological discussion. [My emphasis. — Ed.] These aspects lose the autonomous character they have in their own field — inevitably so, since they are approached in terms of psychological questions; that is, they are no longer viewed from the angle of religious or philosophical truth, but are examined for their psychological validity and significance. Leaving aside their claim to be independent truths, the fact remains that regarded empirically — which is to say, scientifically — they are primarily psychic phenomena. This fact seems to me incontestible. That they claim a justification for themselves is in keeping with the psychological approach which does not brand such a claim unjustified but on the contrary treats it with special consideration. Psychology has no room for judgments like "only religious" or "only philosophical", despite the fact that we too often hear the charge of something's being "only psychological" — especially from theologians.

The Psyche

All conceivable statements are made by the psyche. Among other things, the psyche appears as a dynamic process which rests on a foundation of antithesis, on a flow of energy between two poles. It is a general rule of logic that "principles are not to be multiplied beyond the necessary". [This is usually referred to as Occam's razor: c.f., e.g., The Principle of Minimum Assumption — Ed.] Therefore, since interpretation in terms of energy has proved a generally valid principle of explanation in the natural sciences, we must limit ourselves to it in psychology also. No firm facts are available which would recommend some other view; moreover, the antithetical or polaristic nature of the psyche and its contents is verified by psychological experience.

Now if the dynamic conception of the psyche is correct, all statements which seek to overstep the limits of the psyche's polarity — statements about a metaphysical reality, for example — must be paradoxical if they are to lay claim to any sort of validity.

The psyche cannot leap beyond itself. It cannot set up any absolute truths, for its own polarity determines the relativity of its statements. Wherever the psyche does announce absolute truths — such as, for example, "God is motion", or "God is One" — it necessarily falls into one or other of its own antitheses. For the two statements might equally be: "God is rest", or "God is All". Through one-sidedness, the psyche disintegrates and loses its capacity for cognition. It becomes an unreflective (because unreflectable) succession of psychic states, each of which fancies its own justification because it does not, or does not yet, see any other state.

In saying this we are not expressing a value judgment but only pointing out that the limit is very frequently over-stepped. Indeed, this is inevitable for, as Heraclitus says, "Everything is flux". Thesis is followed by antithesis, and between the two is generated a third factor which was not perceptible before. In this the psyche once again merely demonstrates its antithetical nature and at no point has really got outside itself.

Scientifically Speaking

In my effort to depict the limitations of the psyche I do not mean to imply that only the psyche exists. It is merely that, so far as perception and cognition are concerned, we cannot see beyond the psyche. Science is tacitly convinced that a non-psychic, transcendental, object exists. But science also knows how difficult it is to grasp the real nature of the object, especially when the organ of perception fails or is lacking and when the appropriate modes of thought do not exist or have still to be created.

In cases where neither our sense organs nor their artificial aids can attest the presence of a real object, the difficulties mount enormously, so that one feels tempted to assert that there is simply no real object present. I have never drawn this over-hasty conclusion, for I have never been inclined to think that our senses were capable of perceiving all forms of being. I have, therefore, even hazarded the postulate that the phenomenon of archetypal configurations — which are psychic events par excellence — may be founded upon a psychoid base, that is, upon an only partially psychic and possibly altogether different form of being.

For lack of empirical data I have neither knowledge nor understanding of such forms of being, which are commonly called "spiritual". From the point of view of science, it is immaterial what I may believe on that score, and I must accept my ignorance. But in so far as the archetypes act upon me, they are real and actual to me, even though I do not know what their real nature is. This applies, of course, not only to the archetypes but to the nature of the psyche in general. Whatever it may state about itself, it will never get beyond itself. All comprehension and all that is comprehended is in itself psychic, and to that extent we are hopelessly cooped up in an exclusively psychic world. Nevertheless, we have good reason to suppose that behind this veil there exists the uncomprehended absolute object which affects and influences us — and to suppose it even, or particularly, in the case of psychic phenomena about which no verifiable statements can be made. Statements concerning possibility or impossibility are valid only in specialised fields; outside these fields they are merely arrogant presumptions.

Psychological Objectivity

Prohibited though it may be from an objective point of view to make statements out of the blue — that is, without sufficient reason — there are nevertheless some statements which apparently have to be made without objective reasons. The justification here is a psychodynamic one, of the sort usually termed subjective and regarded as a purely personal matter. But that is to commit the mistake of failing to distinguish whether the statement really proceeds only from an isolated subject and is prompted by exclusively personal motives, or whether it occurs generally and springs from a collectively present dynamic pattern. In that case it should not be classed as subjective, but as psychologically objective, since an indefinite number of individuals find themselves prompted by an inner impulse to make an identical statement, or feel a certain view to be a vital necessity.

Since an archetype is not just an inactive form, it may very well be regarded as the causa efficiens of such statements and be understood as the subject of them. In other words, it is not the personal human being who is making the statement, but the archetype speaking through him. If these statements are stifled or disregarded, both medical experience and common knowledge demonstrate that psychic troubles are in store. These will appear either as neurotic symptoms or, in the case of persons who are incapable of neurosis, as collective delusions.

Archetypal statements are based upon instinctive preconditions and have nothing to do with reason; they are neither rationally grounded nor can they be banished by rational arguments. They have always been part of the world scene — reprιsentations collectives, as Lιvy-Bruhl rightly calls them. Certainly the ego and its will have a great part to play in life; but what the ego wills is subject in the highest degree to the interference, in ways of which the ego is usually unaware, of the autonomy and numinosity of archetypal processes. Practical consideration of these processes is the essence of religion, in so far as religion can be approached from a psychological point of view.


At this point the fact forces itself on my attention that beside the field of reflection, there is another equally broad or even broader area in which rational understanding and rational modes of representation find scarcely anything they are able to grasp. This is the realm of Eros.

In classical times, when such things were properly understood, Eros was considered a god whose divinity transcended our human limits and who therefore could neither be comprehended nor represented in any way. I might, as many before me have attempted to do, venture an approach to this daimon, whose range of activity extends from the endless spaces of the heavens to the dark abysses of hell; but I falter before the task of finding the language which might adequately express the incalculable paradoxes of love. Eros is a kosmogonos, a creator and father-mother of all higher consciousness.

I sometimes feel that Paul's words — "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels and have not love" — might well be the first condition of all cognition and the quintessence of divinity itself. Whatever may be the learned interpretation of the sentence "God is love", the words affirm the complexio oppositorum of the Godhead.

In my medical experience as well as in my own life I have again and again been faced with the mystery of love, and have never been able to explain what it is. Like Job, I had to "lay my hand on my mouth. I have spoken once and I will not answer". [Job 40:4 f.] Here is the greatest and smallest, the remotest and nearest, the highest and lowest, and we cannot discuss one side of it without also discussing the other. No language is adequate to this paradox. Whatever one can say, no words express the whole. To speak of partial aspects is always too much or too little, for only the whole is meaningful.

Love "bears all things" and "endures all things" [1 Cor. 13:7]. These words say all there is to be said; nothing can be added to them. For we are in the deepest sense the victims and the instruments of cosmogonic "love". I put the word in quotation marks to indicate that I do not use it in its connotations of desiring, preferring, favouring, wishing, and similar feelings, but as something superior to the individual, a unified and undivided whole.

Being a part, man cannot grasp the whole. He is at its mercy. He may assent to it or rebel against it; but he is always caught up by it and enclosed within it. He is dependent upon it and is sustained by it. Love is his light and his darkness, whose end he cannot see. "Love ceases not" — whether he speaks with the "tongues of angels" or with scientific exactitude traces the life of the cell down to its uttermost source. Man can try to name love, showering upon it all the names at his command, and still he will involve himself in endless self-deceptions. If he possesses a grain of wisdom, he will lay down his arms and name the unknown by the more unknown, ignotum per ignotius — that is, by the name of God. This is a confession of his subjection, his imperfection, and his dependence; but at the same time a testimony to his freedom to choose between truth and error.