The Journey into the Unconscious — Jung and Shamanism, Introduction

first image pixabay KELLEPICS

This is the latest in a series discussing Carl Jung’s ‘confrontation with the unconscious’. (For what has preceded please see this list.) In the last main article, I suggested that there is a link between Jung and shamanism going back through the ancient Greek philosophers Parmenides and Empedocles. Jung himself would have traced the whole history thus: his own Depth Psychology, mediaeval alchemy, Gnosticism, Parmenides, shamanism and perhaps more.

In the next few articles I’ll be exploring the links between Jung and shamanism in more detail. This is important because it shows that, far from being a new development in psychology which can be rejected in modern times because it is ‘unscientific’, ‘spiritual’, or ‘mystical’, even the product of madness (a schizophrenic episode in Jung’s life), it is actually a genuine, meaningful tradition going back many thousands of years.

I’ll be using material from two books — Shamanism and the Psychology of C. G. Jung by Robert E. Ryan, and Jung and Shamanism in Dialogue by C. Michael Smith. Here to whet your appetite are the jacket notes from Ryan’s book:

“Robert Ryan explores in detail the often uncannily similar patterns of symbolism and transformation of consciousness to be found in the diverse manifestations of shamanic tradition worldwide and in modern depth psychology, and examine them in relationship to C. G. Jung’s theory of the archetypes and the collective unconscious. In so doing he reveals a power so enduring and binding that it must strike a chord deep within the human psyche, encoding things fundamental and universal to human experience.

Shamanism is one of mankind’s oldest and most misunderstood psychotherapeutic and religious systems. Often equally misunderstood, Jungian psychology is one of humanity’s most successful modern attempts to probe the depths of the human mind. Spanning vast distances in time, space and culture, the book sets out the startling parallels in structure and function between these two distinct disciplines. At the same time, the author traces Jung’s deep delvings into his patients’ unconscious, where the Swiss psychologist likewise unearthed a uniformity and universality of images and symbols, echoing the same age-old forms characteristic of the shaman’s practice. In this way, and on a certain level of consciousness, the author is, in Jung’s terms, able ‘to demonstrate the uniformity of psychic events in time and space’.

As we follow this fascinating and thought-provoking discussion, we discover how these ancient structures of consciousness are still vital, not only to our health and psychological well-being, but also to our religious experiences, which they have long guided in large areas of the globe”.

By an interesting coincidence, a friend of mine who has been reading this series, went to Horniman Museum (London) on Monday. There are many exhibits there which celebrate different cultures, amongst which she found this:

“Jomo Drolma is a ritual healer from Bhutan, a country in the Himalayas. For part of her life she was severely mentally ill. For Jomo Drolma this was a time of transformation, changing her from an ordinary person into a powerful healer who became a great asset to her community.

We have represented one of the shrines that Jomo Drolma makes to cure sick people. Using the shrine she summons beings that live in the mountains and valleys around her home. Falling into a trance, she enters their world and persuades them to restore good health to her patients”.

She sounds like a typical shaman, and somewhat like Jung! A paper about her life is available online.

My friend kindly took this photo:

Much more to follow.


I hope you have enjoyed this article. I have written in the past about other topics, including spirituality, metaphysics, psychology, science, Christianity, politics and astrology. All of those articles are on Medium, but the simplest way to see a guide to them is to visit my website (click here and here). My most recent articles, however, are only on Medium; for those please check out my profile, including my lists.



I am a singer/songwriter interested in spirituality, politics, psychology, science, and their interrelationships.

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Graham Pemberton

I am a singer/songwriter interested in spirituality, politics, psychology, science, and their interrelationships.