The Unfolding Soul: An Exploration of Soul in Jungian Psychology

If the human soul is anything, it must be of unimaginable complexity and diversity…  I can only gaze with wonder and awe at the depths and heights of our psychic nature.  Its non-spatial universe conceals an untold abundance of images which have accumulated over millions of years of living development and become fixed in the organism.  My consciousness is like an eye that penetrates to the most distant spaces, yet it is the psychic non-ego that fills them with nonspatial images.  And these images are not pale shadows, but tremendously powerful psychic factors…  Beside this picture I would like to place the spectacle of the starry heavens at night, for the only equivalent of the universe within is the universe without; and just as I reach this world through the medium of the body, so I reach that world through the medium of soul. (as cited in Jung, 1989, p. 387)

The soul in Jungian psychology is a complex domain that is a challenge to delineate, yet, by following her trail we are led along a fascinating journey into the depths of human experience.[1] At once the name that points to the totality of the human psyche (psychology is after all, the “logos”, or study, of “psyche”, the soul), the soul in Jung’s personal account and psychological theory is encountered through imaginal figures, or soul images, of a particular nature.  That is, while the “Soul” in the capital letter sense[2] expresses the immeasurable uniqueness of a human being—the incarnation of the vast spiritual Cosmos through the vessel of a human life embedded on Earth—certain faces of the Soul can be experienced directly through attentive inner and outer explorations.  These faces, or personifications, of Soul mediate our contact with the greater mystery of the personal Soul and the even more vast collective unconscious.  C.G. Jung, perhaps unlike any other psychologist, has charted this terrain through his own explorations, leaving those of us who wish to embark on the journey ourselves an invaluable record in his Liber Novus: The Red Book (2009) and subsequent reflections.  While Jung’s personal experience-born map of the psyche bears potent relevance for modern Westerners, we are repeatedly reminded by Jung that the Soul journey is a solitary one that must be approached anew by each of us.  In this spirit, I hope to explore the insights that Jung gathered regarding Soul, while drawing on his contemporaries who continue to place Soul at the center of psychology, as well as my own experiences and intuitions.

Employing Mythic Imagination

“Fear the soul, despise her, love her, just like the Gods.” (Jung, 2009, p. 495)

The beginning of deep inquiry into any dimension of human life requires some demarcation of the terrain we wish to explore.  Even if our intent is openness and discovery, we need to know the direction toward which we yearn.  Positioning the Soul at the center of such an inquiry, thus, proves challenging because its very nature seems to resist definition, requiring a gentler, more imaginative approach.  Jung explained in Memories, Dreams, Reflections that his Liber Novus period[3] was essentially a dialogue with his soul.  As he reflected on the dawning of this awareness, “In putting down all this material for analysis I was in effect writing letters to the anima, that is, to a part of myself with a different viewpoint from my conscious one. I got remarks of an unusual and unexpected character. I was like a patient in analysis with a ghost and woman!” (Jung, 1989, p. 186).  Early in The Red Book: Liber Novus itself, we witness the utter humility and the dissolution of prior understanding that was required to initiate this dialogue:

I still labored misguidedly under the spirit of this time, and thought differently about the human soul. I thought and spoke much of the soul. I knew many learned words for her, I had judged her and turned her into a scientific object.  I did not consider that my soul cannot be the object of my judgment and knowledge; much more are my judgment and knowledge the objects of my soul. Therefore, the spirit of the depths forced me to speak to my soul, to call upon her as a living and self-existing being. I had to become aware that I had lost my soul… I had to accept that what I had previously called my soul was not at all my soul, but a dead system. (Jung, 2009, p. 128-129)

Before Jung could return to his Soul, he had to realize the limits of his ability to intellectually “know” this dimension of himself.  Yet, during this time, Jung also realized the centrality of Soul and “dedicated [himself] to the service of psyche”, knowing it was “the only way [he] could endure [his] existence and live it as fully as possible” (1989, p. 192).

Jung’s contemporaries who focus on furthering the Soul project provide a similar message.  Thomas Moore (1992) for example, famous for his work Care of the Soul wrote, “The ‘Soul’ is not a thing, but a quality or a dimension of experiencing life and ourselves.  It has to do with depth, value, relatedness, heart, and personal substance” (p. 5).  And James Hillman, whose Revisioning Psychology (1976) returns Soul to the heart of psychology eloquently elaborated in a related vein that the Soul is:

… a perspective rather than a substance, a viewpoint toward things rather than a thing itself.  This perspective is reflective; it mediates events and makes differences between ourselves and everything that happens.  Between us and events, between the doer and the deed, there is a reflective moment—and soul-making means differentiating this middle ground.  It is as if consciousness rests upon a self-sustaining and imagining substrate—an inner place or deeper person or ongoing presence—that is simply there even when all our subjectivity, ego and consciousness go into eclipse.  Soul appears as a factor independent of the events in which we are immersed.  Though I cannot identify soul with anything else, I also can never grasp it by itself apart from other things, perhaps because it is like a reflection in a flowing mirror, or like the moon which mediates only borrowed light.  But just this peculiar and paradoxical intervening variable gives one the sense of having or being a soul.  However intangible and indefinable it is, soul carries highest importance in hierarchies of human values, frequently being identified with the principle of life and even divinity. (p. xvi)

These accounts inspire us to pursue Soul with an artistic sensibility, the temperament of a lover, seeking to appreciate and experience rather than capture or define.

The Greek myth of Psyche (soul) and Eros (love) lends further insight into the nature of Soul and suggests an approach to her mysteries.  In the myth, the beautiful Psyche is cursed by jealous Aphrodite to fall in love with whatever hideous creature Eros commands (Graves, 1955).  But Psyche is so alluring, that Eros himself falls in love with her and marries her, hiding his own identity.  The passionate love between the two is initially all Psyche needs for her fulfilment, but over time, a mix of curiosity and fear about her lover’s truth compels her one night to look at his face in the oil-lamp light, ready to murder him if he is in fact the serpent monster that her sisters suggested.  In her attempt to see Eros directly, she wakes him and he flees.  Simultaneously, Psyche loses her lover to her faithlessness and falls deeper in love having glimpsed his Godliness.  A seemingly hopeless underworld journey ensues, but eventually, the two are reunited eternally when Zeus elevates Psyche to the stature of a Goddess.

Amplifying this myth, Psyche embodies both the qualities of the human Soul as well as the turbulent path toward Soul discovery.  Psyche as personification of Soul is the most beautiful young woman yet cursed to endure sorrow in love, she is perfect yet fallible, she is the ultimate lover yet commits betrayal at the hands of mistrust and fear.  However, through her passion, commitment, and grief, Psyche fulfills her apotheosis into Goddess, uniting Soul with her eternal consort—Love.[4]  Reflecting this complexity, in an appendix to The Red Book Jung’s soul described her identity:

I, your soul, am your mother, who tenderly and frightfully surrounds you, your nourisher and corruptor; I prepare good things and poison for you… I am your body, your shadow, your effectiveness in this world, your manifestation in the world of the Gods, your effulgence, your breath, your odor, your magical force. (2009, p. 582)

In both the myth and Jung’s account, the Soul necessarily encompasses the light and dark. Through her longings we are ushered into the joys and sorrows of life.

Offering another interesting parallel with the myth, in an encounter with his soul[5] in The Red Book, Jung expresses profound mistrust toward her and accuses her of stealing a precious jewel from the human realm.  After Jung presses her, his soul admited to what she was trying to take: “Alas, that I can neither keep it nor conceal it! It is love, warm human love, blood, warm red blood, the holy source of life, the unification of everything separated and longed for” (2009, p. 502).  Like Psyche’s myth, the cunning behavior of Jung’s soul reflects the eternal dance between soul and love, the imperfect ways that soul may act in the pursuit of love, and intimates the curious relationship between the Soul and the human being.  That is, while Soul may be the “greater” entity, she depends on human life for her expression.  In Jung’s later reflections on his encounters with soul figures—and their stagnation during periods of his disconnection from them—Jung articulates the primacy of consciousness and embodied human life.  He explained, “The figures from the unconscious are uninformed too, and need man, or contact with consciousness, in order to attain to knowledge” (Jung, 1989, p. 306).  From this vantage, the human being bears the responsibility to maintain contact with and incarnate the Soul.

If we accept this responsibility, Psyche’s story sheds light on the way we might engage the Soul journey.  Like Psyche, turning inward, we are compelled to learn the truth of our Souls, but must assume a posture of humility, unable to steal a direct look without risking loss.  Reminiscent of the moment that Psyche glimpses Eros, Hillman (1975) stated, “The soul is immeasurably deep and can only be illumined by insights, flashes in a great cavern of incomprehension” (p. xvi).  Francis Vaughn (1995) suggested the Soul is even more obscure from daylight vision:

The soul, because it is seer, can never be seen. As the eye cannot see itself, the soul as witness can never be observed.  The subtle realms of the soul are characterized by multiplicity rather than unity, and the soul as witness is never fully satisfied by the shadows or phenomena that these worlds offer. (p. 110)

From this perspective, Psyche’s story may issue a warning about seeking to know the Soul through ordinary, overly direct means. Psyche must be utterly transformed to behold her love again.  Appropriately, Psyche is sometimes depicted as a Goddess with wings and associated with the butterfly—the quintessential symbol of transformation.

It seems then, that the Soul gestalt necessitates an underworld descent.  The Soul pertains to the dimension of depth after all, rendering Psyche’s turbulent fall as an integral component of the Soul journey.  As depth psychologist Elkins (1999) elucidated,

We are not likely to encounter the soul if we move along the horizontal dimension, skimming the surface of life; nor are we likely to find the soul if in spirit fashion, we are always ascending, achieving, and growing up the vertical plane. Rather, the soul is found by going down, down into the depths of our being, down into the depths of our relationships, down into the depths of life itself. (p. 86)

In this sense, it was never an option for Psyche to simply trust Eros without seeking to know him more fully.  Von Franz (1964) discussed this archetypal pattern so common in myth—in which a woman or Goddess must endure an initiation of suffering when she breaks the promise to see only a limited dimension of her lover—in her exploration the animus[6] in the individuation process.  The individual necessarily seeks greater consciousness of her soul figures despite, or even for the sake of, the trials along the way.  Unfolding the human Soul journey, Moore (1992) affirmed, “Soul enters life from below, through the cracks, finding an opening into life at the points where smooth functioning breaks down” (p. 26).  Just as Jung’s soul reminds us that she prepares both the “good things” and the “poisons” (2009, p. 582) for him, Psyche’s fate reflects the depths we must face in the incarnation of Soul.

Drawing on the Psyche myth along with the reflections of Jung and his contemporaries, we can discern some of the qualities of Soul and “soul work,” while avoiding rigid definition.  Like the butterfly, Soul intimates an unfolding process rather than a static entity.  Carrying us through the storms and fires of life, the Soul breathes meaning and vitality into our humblest moments.  As Elkins (1995) described, “Soul is always about falling back to Earth, about coming down, about descending to our depths. Soul is about learning the lessons that triumph and achievement cannot teach” (p. 85).  It seems the Soul is necessarily discovered in the embodied experiences of life rather than in lofty spiritual aspirations.  We can take lesson from the threefold nature Jung (2009) discovered in his Liber Novus encounter: his soul presents as a snake, a bird and a woman—representing the interconnected instinctual, spiritual, and human realms that the Soul spans.  Additionally, we can gather from the insights that Soul delivered Jung that she gives rise to imagination, while at the same time, requiring imagination to be perceived at all.  Keeping this expanded vision of Soul, we can explore the particulars of the soul image, for these personifications can be consciously experienced, opening the door to the Soul journey.

The Soul and Soul Images

To this point, we have been exploring the expansive terrain of the Soul, which necessarily remains shrouded in mystery, too vast to be known fully by the conscious ego-mind.  Yet, Jungian psychology skillfully discriminates between this unknowable “Soul” and the “soul images” that can be encountered directly.  Soul images are multiple and evolve throughout the Jungian individuation process.  In their most essential form they manifest in an unfolding triad: the shadow, anima/us, and wise old (wo)man (Von Franz, 1964).[7]  We can experience them inwardly through dreams and imagination, as well as outwardly through projection in relationships.  Importantly, soul images must be recognized as partial expressions of the Soul, understood as an essential bridge to, but not to be confused with, the greater Soul mystery.  At the same time, consciously engaging with soul images plays an essential role in the path towards psychological wholeness and is our primary means to directly encounter the dimensions of the Soul.

It is important to emphasize, as Jung did repeatedly in his Red Book (2009) and later reflections, that these soul figures are not merely symbolic or consciously constructed but are a psychological reality that is independent of the conscious ego.  As Jung explained, “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… It was he who taught me psychic objectivity, the reality of the psyche” (1989, p. 183). Repeatedly, Jung described his surprise at the autonomy that these figures enjoy from his conscious mind.  For example, in Jung’s later discussion of the anima and animus in Aion he wrote, “Many of [the contents of anima/us] appear spontaneously in dreams and so on, and many more can be made conscious through active imagination.  In this way we find that thoughts, feelings, and affects are alive in us which we would never have believed possible” (1971a, p. 158).  He later went on to clearly state that, “[The anima] is not an invention of the conscious but a spontaneous product of the unconscious” (Jung, 1971a, p. 151).  As such, the anima and other figures of Jung’s soul are held in a tension throughout his reflections, sometimes cast in the symbolic-archetypal dimension they intimate (such as Eros, for anima, or Logos, for animus) while maintaining their reality as unique entities or experiences.  Ultimately, Jung (1989) asserted, “It is more meaningful to let the figures be what they were for me at the time—namely, events and experiences” than to reduce them to symbolic interpretations (p. 182).  Jung (1928/1972) similarly cautioned when presenting his theory of the anima and animus that, “Nobody can really understand these things unless he has experienced them himself.  I am therefore much more interested in pointing out the possible ways to such experience than in devising intellectual formulae which, for lack of experience, must necessarily remain an empty web of words” (p. 221 [CW 7, para. 340]).  So, while we can learn of the archetypal qualities of the soul figures in Jung’s personal account, it remains important to hold his theoretical interpretation of them lightly when we are contemplating our own experiences, always privileging their unique expressions as they come through rather than trying to fit them into a particular theoretical mold.

Still, the three archetypal categories of figures that Jungian psychology recognizes to be essential to the individuation process—the shadow, the contrasexual anima/animus and the wisdom figure—have a universal resonance.  At the same time, their particular manifestations are shaped by personal and cultural contexts.  For example, the specific expression of the anima is influenced by a man’s relationship with his mother figure(s) and is, therefore, unique to each individual (Von Franz, 1964).  Also, while the unfolding encounter with these figures is not necessarily a linear process, there is a typical progression through which they become accessible to the conscious ego.  The shadow—the qualities that the conscious-ego suppresses or rejects—is closest to consciousness and therefore first and easiest to access.  Importantly, Von Franz (1964) clarified, “The shadow is not the whole of the unconscious personality” but “…represents unknown or little-known attributes and qualities of the ego—aspects that mostly belong to the personal sphere and that could just as well be conscious” (p. 168).  We encounter the shadow most directly through projection and must recognize the aspects we see and reject in others are actually rejected parts of ourselves.  This work to integrate the disowned shadow typically precedes an encounter with the anima/us.  As Jung explained, “…the integration of the shadow, or the realization of the personal unconscious, marks the first stage in the analytic process and that without it a recognition of anima and animus is impossible” (1971a, p. 161).  And Jung poignantly stated otherwise, the integration of the shadow is the “apprentice-piece” to the “masterpiece” of the encounter with the anima/us (1946/1969, [CW 9, pt. 1]).

While shadow-work can continue indefinitely, after some amount of shadow confrontation, the contrasexual soul figures—the “anima” for a man and the “animus” for a woman—become accessible to the conscious mind as well (Jung, 1989, p. 186).  Jungian scholar Murray Stein (1998) explained, “The anima and animus are subjective personalities that represent a deeper level of the unconscious than the shadow… they reveal the features of the soul and lead into the realm of the collective unconscious” (p. 126).  Similar to the repressed, unconscious nature of the shadow, the anima/us[8] forms a complement to the outward persona of the individual, compensating for the qualities that a person typically presents to the outer world (Jung, 1921/1971b, p. 496 [CW 6]). [9]  Externally, the anima/us is expressed through the unconscious personality of the individual or is constellated as a projection onto a person of the opposite sex.  Internally, the anima/us manifests as a figure—or figures, as the case may be with the animus—that connects us to the greater unconscious.  Stein (1998) provided a helpful summary: “Abstractly, the anima/us is a psychic structure that (a) is complementary to the persona and (b) links the ego to the deepest layer of the psyche, namely to the image and experience of the self” (p. 128).  But like all of the soul images, the anima/us is not only an abstract concept but is psychologically real.  Hence, the anima/us can present as an entity entirely distinct from and capable of interacting autonomously with the conscious ego.  As Jung (1989) described,

It is not too difficult to personify [the figures of the unconscious], as they always possess a certain degree of autonomy, a separate identity of their own.  Their autonomy is a most uncomfortable thing to reconcile oneself to, and yet the very fact that the unconscious presents itself in that way gives us the best means of handling it. (p. 187)

By gradually differentiating and externalizing the anima/us, it becomes possible to integrate its contents and power into the conscious self (Jung, 1928/1972 [CW 7]).

While the anima/us is not the end of the road with regards to Soul, s/he remains the most elaborated facet of Soul in Jungian psychology and opens many doors along the Soul journey.  According to Jung, anima/us is the deepest most will go in our travels into the unconscious (Von Franz, 1975, p. 72).  However, for the committed few, the contents of the anima/us can be gradually integrated and the figure no longer becomes necessary as a bridge to the Self.  As Jung (1989) reported from a retrospective vantage in his Memories, Dreams, Reflections,

Today I no longer need these conversations with the anima, for I no longer have such emotions. But if I did have them, I would deal with them in the same way.  Today I am directly conscious of the anima’s ideas because I have learned to accept the contents of the unconscious and to understand them.  I know how I much behave toward the inner images.  I can read their meaning directly from my dreams, and therefore no longer need a mediator to communicate them. (p. 188)

Von Franz (1964) similarly explained the possible progression from the presence of the anima/us to the central archetype of the Self:

If an individual has wrestled seriously enough and long enough with the anima (or animus) problem so that he, or she, is no longer partially identified with it, the unconscious again changes its dominant character and appears in a new symbolic form, representing the Self, the inner most nucleus of the psyche.  In the dreams of a woman this center is usually personified as a superior female figure—a priestess, sorceress, earth mother, or goddess of nature or love.  In the case of a man, it manifests itself as a masculine initiator and guardian (an Indian guru), a wise old man, a spirit of nature, and so forth.  (p. 196)

Both accounts suggest that one can transcend the anima/us entirely, gaining more direct access to the material of the collective unconscious and the personal Soul.

Despite this possibility of integrating the contents of the anima/us to the extent that this figure no longer appears in the psychological landscape, the anima/us remains of especially important in Jungian psychology and is often defined interchangeably with the “soul”.  Perhaps this emphasis remains because the dimension of anima/us is as deep as most are able to go along the individuation journey.  But there seems to be more substantial ground for the affinity between the anima/us and the Soul itself.  We might speculate that this has to do with the particularly attractive and compelling nature of the anima/us, versus the often frightening, repulsive nature of the shadow, or the role of anima/us projection in romantic love (Stein, 1998).  Or maybe the affinity persists because the Soul does, in fact, serve as this intermediary function between the human individual and the greater spiritual whole, and thus, remains tied to the anima/us as the Soul’s closest personification.  In any case, the anima/us seems to hold the key to the greater Soul mystery and deserves further elaboration.

Deepening into the Anima and Animus in Jungian Psychology

Comparing Jung’s later reflections and psychological theory to his soul encounter as presented in The Red Book, we can trace an important evolution in his understanding of the anima/us as well as an enduring connection between the anima/us and the soul.  Shamdasani (2009) described Jung’s contribution to our understanding of the soul as anima/us:

Jung provided a definition of the soul.  He argued that the soul possessed qualities that were complementary to the persona, containing those qualities that the conscious attitude lacked.  This complementary character of the soul also affected its sexual character, so that a man had a feminine soul, or anima, and the woman had a masculine soul, or animus. (p. 59-60)

Although throughout The Red Book, Jung refered to his “soul” in the general sense (while interacting with a soul image that most closely resembles the anima) he later identifies that this figure that he had originally called “soul” had a more specific nature.  In Aion, Jung (1971) clarified, “I have suggested… the term “anima,” as indicating something specific, for which the expression “soul” is to general and too vague” (p. 151).  While the original link between the two remains, this differentiation of the “anima” from the general “soul” is important.  Reflecting on the evolution of his conceptualization of the “soul” Jung (1989) explained,

I was greatly intrigued by the fact that a woman should interfere with me from within.  My conclusion was that she must be the ‘soul’, in the primitive sense, and I began to speculate on the reasons why the name anima was given to the soul.  Why was it thought of as feminine?  Later I came to see that this inner feminine figure plays a typical, or archetypal, role in the unconscious of a man, and I called her the “anima.”  The corresponding figure in the unconscious of woman I called the “animus.” (p. 186)

As if delineating the accessible terrain within the murky territory of the broader “soul,” Jung’s subsequent psychological theory elaborates upon the differentiated anima/us and clarifies her/his essential role in the individuation process.

Perhaps most importantly, the anima/us enables communication between the conscious ego and the strata of the unconscious.  As Jung (1989) described, “The animus and the anima should function as a bridge, or a door, leading to the images of the collective unconscious, as the persona should be a sort of bridge into the world” (p. 380).  Repeatedly in his Red Book experiences Jung relied on this mediating function of his anima to illuminate the images of the unconscious.  At times, the anima was inaccessible and her absence was potently felt.  As Jung (1989) described, “… I had written down a fantasy of my soul having flown away from me.  This was a significant event: the soul, the anima, establishes the relationship to the unconscious” (p. 191).  Jung (1989) elaborated the primary value his interactions with the anima offered him:

It is she who communicates the images of the unconscious to the conscious mind, and that is what I chiefly valued her for.  For decades I always turned to the anima when I felt that my emotional behavior was disturbed, and that something had been constellated in the unconscious.  I would then ask the anima: “Now what are you up to? What do you see? I should like to know.” After some resistance she regularly produced an image.  As soon as the image was there, the unrest or the sense of oppression vanished. (p. 187-188)

Not only did the anima provide insights from the unconscious, but Jung reported a relief in the images she revealed.  In this sense, the anima/us has a restorative or healing faculty.

Although Jung’s personal accounts emphasized the experience of the anima in the inner imaginal landscape, the anima/us is also constellated in the external world of relationship.  This occurs when the anima/us archetypal image is projected onto a well-matched other in the physical world.  In fact, this is likely the most common way in which the anima/us is encountered.  Projection is inherently unconscious, and hence, typically goes unnoticed by the participating partners.  Jung (1921/1971b) described the prevalence of this dynamic: “Wherever an impassioned, almost magical, relationship exists between the sexes, it is invariably a question of a projected soul-image.  Since these relationships are very common, the soul must be unconscious just as frequently—that is, vast numbers of people must be quite unaware of the way they are related to their inner psychic processes” (p. 471, [CW 6]).  When operating unconsciously, this cycle can go on repeatedly, motivating a lifelong search to fulfill the anima/us encounter—the longing for one’s own Soul—through romantic relationship (Hollis, 1998).

For the anima/us to regain his/her productive and growth-inspiring role, however, the projection onto the other must be withdrawn.  In The Red Book, Jung (2009) cautioned, “For if you do not see your soul, you see her in fellow men and this will drive you mad, since this devilish mystery and hellish spook can hardly be seen through” (p. 496).  In the grips of projection, we are as though possessed, no longer the agents of our actions or perceptions.  Jung (1946/1966) described the two poles of this condition:

The withdrawal of projections makes the anima what she originally was: an archetypal image which, in its right place, functions to the advantage of the individual.  Interposed between the ego and the world, she acts like an ever-changing Shakti, who weaves the veil of Maya and dances the illusion of existence. But, functioning between the ego and the unconscious, the anima becomes the matrix of all the divine and semi-divine figures, from the pagan goddess to the Virgin, from the messenger of the Holy Grail to the saint. (p. 133 [CW 16])

When we hold the tension between projection and inner realization a triad forms between the participating ego, the physical relationship partner, and the transcendent soul figure of the inner world (Jung, 1971a).  Then, Jung explained, “The missing fourth element that would make the triad a quaternity is, in a man the archetype of the Wise Old Man… and in a woman the Chthonic Mother” (Jung, 1971a, p. 161).  The anima/us, thus, draws out the Self.  Stein (1998) elaborates, “In the presence of this quaternary, we find the numinous experience of the self, as a relationship.  Provided that enough consciousness prevails to see the differences between human and archetypal features in this situation of love and attraction there is the opportunity here for a full experience of the self” (p. 145).  As such, the anima/us presents his/her multidimensionality and essential function in arguably the two richest dimensions of human life, the inner world of imagination and the outer manifestation of romantic love.

However, in his/her least differentiated or developed form, the anima/us expresses through the unconscious personality of the individual as a compensation for the outward persona of the individual.  Classically, in the problematic form, it would be said that a man with “anima issues” might withdraw into moodiness and over-emotionality, while a woman possessed by her animus tends to attack, criticize, and seek power (Stein, 1998).  Jung (1921/1971b) described this compensatory function of the anima/us and the influences of the unconscious on the character of the anima/us:

As to its common human qualities, the character of the anima can be deduced from that of the persona.  Everything that should normally be in the outer attitude… will invariably be found in the inner attitude… In the same way as the persona, the instrument of adaptation to the environment, is strongly influenced by environmental conditions, the anima is shaped by the unconscious and its qualities. (p. 469-470 [CW 6])

Yet, given the inextricable opposition of the externally influenced persona and the internally influenced anima/us, we can extend that the environmental factors that shape the persona, affect the anima/us as well.  In this sense, as the anima/us becomes conscious s/he abides in a dynamic feedback loop with the environment and the semi-conscious persona.[10]  Thus, at once very personal, the anima/us is highly influenced by the historical and current collective context within which the individual is embedded.

This perspective sheds a telling light on Jung’s explicitly gendered and contrasexual understanding of the anima/us.  Although this topic cannot be adequately addressed in this brief discussion, it should be acknowledged.  If we recognize the anima and animus as living, culturally influenced personifications of soul, it would hold that rather than remaining static their presentations would evolve along with culture.  While Jung clearly articulated his perspective on the foundational differences between men and women—and therefore, the anima and the animus—I think a more dynamic understanding aligns with Jung’s perspective on the necessary evolution of mythology and the Gods, as well as his personal experience of the unfolding relationship with his own anima (1989, 2009).  Certainly our current time—yearning toward post-patriarchal society—warrants a critique of the classical Jungian assumption that men are emotionally and relationally underdeveloped while women carry this insufficiency regarding assertiveness and logic.  Likewise, taking a more fluid stance on sexuality and gender invites a revision of the contrasexual dimension of the anima/us.  Vaughan (1995) suggested that a sexed, gendered figure as a personification of the soul needs to be transcended altogether and that Soul is rather, “…an androgynous subtle body existing in the imaginal realm,” mediating “…between formless Spirit and material substance” (p. 150).  Exploring alternatives to the classical Jungian theory of the anima and animus begs attention beyond the scope of this discussion and presents fertile ground for future research and revision.

Concluding Thoughts: The Contemporary Soul Journey

“To be that which you are is the bath of rebirth.  In the depths, being is not an unconditional persistence but an endlessly slow growth. You think you are standing still like swamp water, but slowly you flow into the sea that covers the earth’s greats deeps, and is so vast that firm land seems only an island imbedded in the womb of the immeasurable sea. (Jung, 2009, p. 238)

As we have explored, a Jungian perspective affords gentle guidance within the fecund, mysterious waters of the Soul.  Like a lighthouse in the stormy sea, Jung left us with a direction toward which to steer.  But while his theory of the anima/us and the other images of soul certainly provides helpful signposts along the journey, I believe Jung would invite us to enter the landscape of our own Souls with fresh eyes and curiosity about whatever we might find.  As he repeatedly conveyed, “What is to come will be created in you and from you.  Hence look into yourself.  Do not compare, do not measure.  No other way is like yours.  All other ways deceive and tempt you.  You must fulfill the way that is in you” (Jung, 2009, p. 384).  The invitation is always to return to unique unfolding of ourselves with appreciation for the inner world that can be so easily missed in constant activity of modern life.  As Moore (1992) cautioned, “Soul cannot thrive in a fast-paced life because being affected, taking things in and chewing on them, requires time… The vessel in which soul-making takes place is an inner container scooped out by reflection and wonder” (p. 286).  I think beyond what the theory can convey, Jungian psychology draws us deeper in to reclaim our natural wonder regarding the psyche, our Soul.

For myself, engaging with Jungian psychology and Jung’s (2009) Liber Novus in particular, has felt more like a catalyst than a map, watering my depths toward the flourishing of yet unseen fruits.  As I attend to the figures arising in my own dreams and the dynamics present in my relationships, I find my life enriched with the possibility of incarnating my Soul more fully.  While at times I have been tempted to pin the messages of my Soul in place—longing to receive clear directions for my life—I have been accompanied by deeper message of surrender inherent in Jung’s teachings.  I appreciate Moore’s (1992) reminder that, “The human soul is not meant to be understood.  Rather, you might take a more relaxed position and reflect on the way your life has taken shape” (p. xix).  Reflecting back and visioning forward, I know my capacity to dialogue with my Soul has deepened in my sustained encounter with the Jungian perspective.  Against my proclivity to lean into the future, I am inspired to pause.  And with humility, I accept the task of psychology that Hillman (1976) articulated: “…psychology is conceived as a necessary activity of the psyche, which constructs vessels and breaks them in order to deepen and intensify experiences” (p. xviii).  Certainly, in the final days of pregnancy, feel myself expanding to bring forth and contain greater life.  I trust the resources I have gained in my encounter with Jungian thought will provide both strength and flexibility to support my “endlessly slow growth” forward.


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[1] Written originally at the California Institute of Integral Studies in the graduate course Jungian Psychology and East West Spirituality with Dr. Stephen Julich, 2016

[2] Hereafter, I will capitalize Soul in reference to the greater dimension beyond soul figures or images.

[3] Beginning in 1913, C. G. Jung embarked on a “self-experiment” that became known as his “confrontation with the unconscious” (Hoerni, 2009, p. xi). This process unfolded for Jung over phases of direct encounter with the figures of his soul through dreams and active imagination captured in journals and paintings, followed by layers of elaboration on these encounters, and eventually, revisions and meticulous calligraphic rewriting in a leather-bound book entitled Liber Novus (Shamdasani, 2009).  Although Jung did not complete this book, the experiences that it contained arguably formed the foundation for all of his future psychological theory.  In his own words, this exploration of his “inner images…was the prima materia for a lifetime’s work” (Jung, 1989, p. 199).

[4] And the two give birth to a daughter named Hedone, the Greek root for pleasure, enjoyment and delight (Graves, 1955).

[5] Here, I am referring to the soul image that Jung encounters as his anima in an active imagination.  The following section will unfold the difference between soul images and the greater Soul, and will explore the anima/animus in Jungian psychology.

[6] The masculine soul image for women, to be discussed in greater depth in the following section.

[7] To this we could add the trickster, and perhaps other archetypal entities, but for the sake of this discussion, I will hold to the three most essential figures that are recognized in Jungian psychology. The anima/us bears particular relevance to the soul while the wisdom figures can be seen as personifications of the Self (Von Franz, 1964).  Still, because the triad is essentially inextricable, I think it is fruitful to recognize them all as figures of the soul.

[8] While the anima and animus bear important differences—especially, the Latin meaning of anima actually being “soul” and animus being “spirit” and the singularity of the anima versus the multiplicity of the animus—for the sake of clarity, I will discuss them together as the constrasexual soul figure(s) that a man or a woman may encounter on the Soul journey (Stein, 1998).  In so doing, I largely defer a discussion of the problematic nature of ascribing contrasexual and gender-specific qualities to anima and animus for later project (see a brief discussion of this issue below).

[9] The common example given by Jungian psychologists is that a highly rational, logical man will have a sentimental, emotional, and/or dramatic anima.

[10] While the persona is outwardly visible, Jung maintains that it is not entirely conscious to the ego (e.g. 1921/1971b [CW 6]).

2 thoughts on “The Unfolding Soul: An Exploration of Soul in Jungian Psychology”

  1. Synchronus visitation.

    Hi Olga, hope all is well with you and yours
    I’ve been studying my dreams from a Jungian perspective for over 30 years now. And I have reached a point in inner development where I required a more substantial description of my soul. Thankfully I have found it in your writings above.
    Recently, I dreamt that my soul is waiting for me. For what I wondered? I later read the quote from Jung that it is waiting for us to unite and reconcile. I am humbled by this possibility.
    Coincidently, as you were formulating the article above I made my way on a personal pilgrimage to Kusnacht. There I unexpectantly got to meet Frau Jung, the wife of the great man’s son. She gave me permission to tour the grounds of his house and I saw first hand the jetty from where Jung launched his small boat onto Lake Zurich. It was a great day for me to experience.

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