Jung's Shadow: Two Troubling Essays by Jung

Jung was, in 1936, trying to figure out what was happening in Germany. The results of his considerations he put down in an essay called "Wotan", in which he tried to understand the German situation by means of the mythology around the Germanic god Odin, a.k.a. Wotan.

"[In therapies that promise to put a person "back" in touch with an "authentic self,"] The person is enjoined to try to tap these powers, this inside of nature, to dig deeply into the subjectivity of his organism. The theory is that as one progressively peels away the social facade, the character defenses, the unconscious anxieties, he then gets down to his "real self", the source of vitality and creativity behind the neurotic shield of character. In order to make psychology a complete belief system, all the therapist has to do is to borrow words for inner depths of the personality from mystical religions: it can be called, variously, "the great void," the "inner room" of Taoism, the "realm of essence," the source of things, the "It", the "Creative Unconscious," or whatever."

Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death NY: Free Press Paperbacks, 1997 (originally published in 1973), P. 274

Jung was, in 1936, trying to figure out what was happening in Germany. The results of his considerations he put down in an essay called "Wotan", in which he tried to understand the German situation by means of the mythology around the Germanic god Odin, a.k.a. Wotan:

"We have seen him come to life in the German Youth Movement, and right at the beginning the blood of several sheep was shed in honour of his resurrection. Armed with rucksack and lute, blond youth, and sometimes girls as well, were to be seen as restless wanderers on every road from the North Cape to Sicily, faithful votaries of the roving god. Later, towards the end of the Weimar Republic, the wandering role was taken over by thousands of unemployed, who were to be met with everywhere on their aimless journeys. By 1933 they wandered no longer, but marched in their hundreds of thousands. The Hitler movement literally brought the whole of Germany to its feet, from five-year-olds to veterans, and produced the spectacle of a nation migrating from one place to another. Wotan the wanderer was on the move." (2) Who is this Wotan? "He is the god of storm and frenzy, the unleasher of passions and the lust of battle; moreover he is a superlative magician and artist in illusion who is versed in all secrets of an occult nature." (3) "Wotan disappeared when his oaks fell and appeared again when the Christian God proved too weak to save Christendom from fratricidal slaughter." (4) "I venture the heretical suggestion that the unfathomable depths of Wotan's character explain more of National Socialism than" (5) all economic, political and psychological factors put together.

"[T]he gods are without doubt personifications of psychic forces..." (6) And when one is possessed by such a god there is not much one can do about it and in the case of Wotan we're talking about "a fundamental attribute of the German psyche." (7)

"Because the behaviour of a race takes on its specific character from its underlying images we can speak of an archetype "Wotan". As an autonomous psychic factor, Wotan produces effects in the collective life of a people and thereby reveals his own nature." (8) But we must remember, cautions Jung, that, "It has always been terrible to fall into the hands of a living god. Yahweh was no exception to this rule, and the Philistines, Edomites, Amorites, and the rest, who were outside the Yahweh experience, must certainly have found it exceedingly disagreeable. The Semitic experience of Allah was for a long time an extremely painful affair for the whole of Christendom. We who stand outside judge the Germans far too much as if they were responsible agents, but perhaps it would be nearer the truth to regard them also as victims." (9)

It would undoubtedly be "terrible to fall into the hands of a living god," if such a thing were possible, but the equality Jung proposes between Yahweh and Wotan is bizarre. The Germans were not in the process of "receiving" messages of moral and religious law from Wotan, they were in the process of submitting their personal autonomies to Hitler as their Fuhrer. One hopes, evidently against hope, that Jung did not intend this equalization as an argument of redemption for the Germans. Because if he did mean this, he might as well have said outright that Wotan made "them" do it and the Jews are only getting what they gave the Philistines, the Edomites and the Amorites - so what right do they have to complain. A rather chilling statement for Jung to make the year after the Nuremberg Laws had been declared.

Norse mythology is filled with stories about people being possessed by animals, about people going berserk. Hitler enjoyed being a wolf - Adolf being a derivative of the old German word for wolf - and the whole German nation seemingly just went berserk. But if this kind of possession is so autonomous, so out of everyone's control, so sweepingly racial, then how does one explain all those people who didn't join in, who weren't swept away in a tidal wave of Germanic frenzy? A lot of Germanic countries did not get into the craze. Perhaps the only explanation would be that they were not really Germanic and with this the Nazis, and maybe the Swiss-German Jung, would agree. Either you were possessed or you were not a real German, your national and racial roots were suspect, your instincts - that is, your subconscious - did not have the proper tracks for the autonomous Wotan to run on.

The limitations of this view of human psychology seem glaring. Even so I would like, before pointing out its equally glaring dangers, to quote Otto Rank's observations on Jung's fundamental mistake:

His early experiences with psychotic types, whose main characteristic is their complete withdrawal from reality and the building up of an inner world of their own, led him to believe that the individual's fundamental problem lies in the feeling of isolation, regardless of what his environment may be. Consequently, he did not look for the individual's salvation in his relation to reality either through rebellion or submission but in a sublimation of those inner forces which were frustrated. In this psychological process of sublimation, the individual, according to Jung, makes use of the symbolism in his racial unconscious, thus achieving as it were a kind of collectivity within its own self. Such a striving towards an almost mystical union between the self and its racial background is supposed to link the isolated individual with a bigger whole of which he can feel an essential part. (10)

In other words, as far as Otto Rank is concerned, the process of being an individuated person in Jung's psychology undervalues the person's choice in relationship to the world in favour of sublimating frustration; i.e. Jung put the world into the person's unconscious (whereas Freud had put it in the person's super-ego), for him/her to make peace with it, as it were, solipsistically.

Jung was not, of course, alone in considering the racial well springs of the human personality (for further evidence of the Volkish roots of Jung's philosophy, see Richard Noll's The Jung Cult. NY: The Free Press Paperbacks, 1997) and in particular the figure of Wotan. Alfred Rosenberg, Hitler's chief ideologist, seemed to be in agreement with Jung in the following quotes.

"Soul means race viewed from within. And, vice-versa race is the externalization of the soul." (11)

"A life-feeling, both young and yet known in ancient times, is pressing towards articulation..." (12)

"The life of a race does not represent a logically developed philosophy nor even the unfolding of a pattern according to natural law, but rather the development of a mystical synthesis, an activity of soul, which cannot be explained rationally, nor can it be conceived through a study of cause and effect." (13)

"...once again there dawned an age when the Fenris wolf broke his chains, when Hel, exuding the odour of decay, moved over the earth and the Midgaard Serpent stirred the oceans of the world." (14)

Wagner understood, "That the Nordic soul is not contemplative and that it does not lose itself in individual psychology, but that it wilfully experiences cosmic-spiritual laws and is architectonically constructed. [...] This inner beauty idea is developed in Wotan..." (15)

Thus, on the matter of the Germanic psyche, Rosenberg and Jung both mystify, in the same manner, the notion of the self by attaching it to mythologies which somehow express a race-based will through individuals that happen to have a certain ancestry. In other words, the people of this ancestry have a race-will that inevitably will over-ride possible individual choices. Such a construction of the self differs substantially from the existential experience of an individual sensing the strange dizziness, or the angst as Kierkegaard put it, associated with the realization that the "I" of the self is radically unstable. This was an insight Kierkegaard may well have learned to frame from reading his neighbour and idol Poul Martin Møller's novella, "En dansk Students Eventyr" [The Adventures of a Danish Student] (1824) (16). In this novella appears a philosophically minded student who becomes utterly paralyzed from the vertigo entailed in keeping track of all his "I"s. This existential experience may lead to the conclusion that there is no solid self of any kind in the human psyche. That there is an ego, a will that negotiates and chooses under given circumstances to promote the survival of the organism from a singular and relative perspective, is clear, or experience would not be possible. What is in question is how much is included in the given circumstances and the manner in which they delimit the ego's progress, as it were. It seems to me that Jung is willing to extend these circumstances far back into some nebulously conceived human Ur-situation and, furthermore, he is willing to make them so determinant (by some Larmarckian bioogical process I suppose?) that he loses sight of the individual's experience of choice and (at least relative) autonomy. To my mind he undermines the very process of ego-creation, the coming to terms (or not) between world and singular will. In 1946, Jung wrote another essay called "After the Catastrophe."

"Before the work of reconstruction can begin," he wrote, " there is a good deal of clearing up to be done, and this calls above all for reflection." (17) Now reflection could take place a task that had been impeded while being possessed by an archetype.

"While I was working on this article I noticed how churned up one still is in one's own psyche, and how difficult it is to reach anything approaching a moderate and relatively calm point of view in the midst of one's emotions. No doubt we should be cold-blooded and superior; but we are, on the whole, much more deeply involved in the recent events in Germany than we like to admit." (18) Who is that we? A good many intellectuals who had fought against the Nazis had no reason to admit anything of the kind. Why did Jung?

Before encountering these two essay I was puzzled by my inability to find some evidence of vociferous protest from Jung against the rise of the Nazis in Germany. I was puzzled because I had admired a good deal of his work and the work of many who were and are his followers and so I had expected to find his wholehearted protest recorded somewhere. Upon encountering the first essay, I had to accept that Jung's basic outlook in someway prevented him from objecting because he was too fascinated with watching the possession he had invented. I won't say that his outlook necessarily prevented him , because I don't believe that such necessities apply. After all, in his choice of archetypes he could as easily have emphasized the manner in which the Germanic people in overvaluing Wotan's warrior-features had, say, undervalued the feminine qualities of Frigg and Freya, as well as Wotan's own more creative aspects, and whence had became unbalanced as a nation. If using one god as metaphor for possession, then why not in the context of the rest of the pantheon of Nordic gods?

Is this second essay an attempt at contrition on Jung's part? He does say that he found himself steering his ship between Scylla and Charybdis, stopping his ears to one side of his being and lashing the other to the mast - thus mixing up two different stories. Steering between Scylla and Charybdis has nothing to do with tying yourself up to the mast and blocking your ears to the song of the sirens. But it is an interesting image of Jung steering his ship yet being tied up. He admits that he was affected by the sirens, "This inner identity or participation mystique with the events in Germany has caused me to experience afresh how painfully wide is the scope of the psychological concept of collective guilt." (19) But Jung's guilt is not personal it is collective. Was this not what they all said in various ways at Nuremberg. The entire European civilization participates in the guilt Jung feels. "Even a saint would have to pray unceasingly for the souls of Hitler and Himmler, the Gestapo and the S.S., in order to repair the damage to his own soul. The sight of evil kindles evil in the soul... [...] The victim is not the only sufferer..." (20)

From explaining Nazism as a mystical collective possession of Wotan, in 1936, Jung, in 1946, moved on to proposing the need for a mystical possession of guilt. In one possession the victims got what was coming to them and in the next the perpetrators suffered as well as the victims. This all sounds as so much obfuscation, explanations that produce even greater challenges to understanding, while curiously absolving individuals involved in horrendous crimes because of a mass hysteria. Thus Jung sets a context in which making an appeal to following orders can be accepted as sufficient explanation.

Jung's philosophy, his outlook, his insights, his brilliance did not immunize him from proto-fascist thinking. (Even in the view of the Jungian analyst and scholar Andrew Samuels, Jung was, at the very least, misguided when he published on various racial psychologies "containing generalizations about Jewish culture and psychology." (21)). Indeed, they may have caused his misguided inaction. Immunization against this particular form of oblivion may depend on a philosophy which includes individual agency and responsibility in its purview; that is on a psychology which resists a deterministic view of human behavior.

In fact, one could ague from the historical record, that even though under his presidency of the General Medical Society for Psychotherapy he did make it possible for Jewish analysts to continue their work by establishing an individual membership category, Jung was so intent on keeping his form of psychotherapy alive over that of Freud's that he talked of Freud's as a Jewish psychology - and he must have known what that implied at the time - and by allowing well-known Nazi psychotherapists to use his name and his ideas because they were, after all, members of the largest and most powerful contingent in that Society. When Jung became president of the Society, June 21, 1933, he selected the declared Nazi-sympathizer Gustav Richard Heyer as his vice-president. (22)

So when it mattered for people - and especially for intellectual leaders - to take a stand 1933-1939, his voice was not heard among the protests. (Which I suppose is marginally better than Heidegger who joined the party and imposed the first fuhrer-rule on a German university).

The notion of a collective unconscious may well be useful as a metaphor for hinting at some of the common experiences we share by the simple fact that we are all human; I do recognize that humans at times conform to patterns of behavior as if to some cultural default setting. As well, human descriptions of those patterns may themselves follow certain culturally based patterns such as the shaping of stories into beginnings, middles and ends. But collective, racial, possession?

Jung's basic mistake, if I can put it like that, may have been that he tended to see individuation as a kind of merging with and raising of the collective unconscious, casting, as it were, the human personality in the terms of a demigod. By so doing he arguably overlooked the existential dimension of experience from which people strive to make meaning through choices related to, as Rank would have it, the ontological positioning of the human; being at one and the same time propelled by the desire to merge with something larger to overcome isolation, and the urge for individuation through the creation of a unique personality. Fascism is one way, among many, of seeming to overcome this ontological tension by luring the individual into merging with the unique state, the unique heritage, or simply unique interests. But it is in the struggle with the ontological contradiction that people may discover an even larger and more dynamic playing-field. Archetypes as metaphors may be useful as educational tools in the recognition of, say, literary patterns. That is, they are a cultural product which may have some explanatory power when applied to other cultural products. As a framing devise, in other words. But this does not mean that they carry some biological determination in themselves for our selves. For in the end, there may not be a self in the sense of a storied "me." There may "only" be a choosing self-awareness, a relative perspective, organized in an organism it helps to keep alive, in the widest sense of the term. This choosing self-awareness needs tools with which to navigate in the world of which it is part and one such tool is the notion of archetypes. Another tool is the existential psychology which I have used to frame the present reading of Jung. This psychology, of course has its own limitations, which will not be addressed here. Suffice it to say that I clearly chose it for two reasons that I'm aware of, and several others, I'm sure, of which I'm unaware. The first is that it suits my intellectual temperament and the second is that it throws a glaring light on the limitations of Jung's explanations of Nazism as the fateful rising of an archetype.

However limiting, or expansive, a psychology may be, in order to promote the greatest spectrum of psychological health for the largest number of individuals, it must at some basic level see individuals as persons, persons who are responsible and who have rights and as such they are accountable and they must be sustained in their individual bodies and souls. This basic level must not be overlooked in any talk of collectivity, whether conscious or unconscious, especially when the language of mythology is evoked to suggest individual or common experiences. A line must drawn before individual choice is explained away and personhood is drowned in a rising tide of archetypal fate.


1. This essay owes a large part of its existence to the constant poignant questioning which Dr. Mark Fortier, Department of English, The University of Winnipeg, subjected me to during its development. For this he has my deepest gratitude.

2. C.W. 10: 373

3. Ibid. 375

4. Ibid. 384

5. Ibid. 385

6. Ibid. 387

7. Ibid. 389

8. Ibid. 391

9. Ibid. 398 (original emphasis)

10. Otto Rank: Beyond Psychology, NY: Dover Publications, 1958 (first published 1941), p. 36.

11. Race and History and other essays by Alfred Rosenberg edited and introduced by Robert Pois. NY: Harper & Row, 1970. P 34 (original emphasis)

12. Ibid. P. 35

13. Ibid. P. 84 (original emphasis)

14. Ibid. P. 96

15. Ibid. Pp. 138-139 (original emphasis)

16. See Paul Martin Møller En dansk Students Eventyr og Lægdsgaarden i ølsebye-Magle ed. By Erling Nielsen, Copenhagen, Gyldendal, 1980. Especially Pp. 40-43.

17. C.W. 10: 401 (original emphasis)

18. Ibid. 402

19. Ibid. 402

20. Ibid. 410

21. Foreword to C.G. Jung Essays on Contemporary Events: The Psychology of Nazism, Princeton UP, 1989. P. vii.

22. See Svend Aage Madsen "Psykoterapi under Nazismen" in C.G. Jung, Nazisme og Psykologi ed. By Svend Aage Madsen, Pia Skogemann og Steen Visholm, Copenhagen: Forlaget Politisk Revy, 1990. P.17. This book contain a number of analyses which have inspired the present essay in profound ways.

© Per Brask 2000. All rights reserved.

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