The Two Faces of Carl Jung — Jung as Janus

Following the introduction, this is the first in a series about the ideas of Carl Jung, mainly about whether they should be considered to be psychology or religion. (Spoiler — I think that they are really religion, or spirituality if that word upsets you.)

In order to understand him, we have to consider two aspects, the figure that he presented to the public, and his other face, the inner Jung. His intended professional appearance was that of a psychologist, therefore a ‘scientist’ in some sense, however others might assess his ideas. Here is Jung, explaining this position in the Terry Lectures of 1937, also known as the book Psychology and Religion:

  • “Notwithstanding the fact that I have often been called a philosopher, I am an empiricist and adhere to the phenomenological viewpoint. I trust that it does not collide with the principles of scientific empiricism if one occasionally makes certain reflections which go beyond a mere accumulation and classification of experience”.
  • “I approach psychological matters from a scientific and not from a philosophical standpoint… I am dealing with (religion) from a purely empirical point of view, that is, I restrict myself to the observation of phenomena and I refrain from any application of metaphysical or philosophical considerations”.
  • My approach is “exclusively phenomenological, that is, it is concerned with occurrences, events, experiences, in a word, with facts”.

He adopted this stance because he perceived that his life’s task was to make his ideas as acceptable as possible to the climate of modern science prevalent at the time. To discover the true Jung, however, a valuable resource is Peter Kingsley’s book Catafalque. He shows that, when everything is known about his private life, he could alternatively be considered a mystic, a Gnostic, a prophet, even the founder of a new religion (or perhaps the revival or renaissance of an old one for modern times). The exploration of this other side is the purpose of this series.

The irony about Jung’s statements above, as Kingsley says, is that the ideas that he was seeking to convey to the modern world were gifted to him by Philemon, his inner teacher discovered in his confrontation with the unconscious (journey into the underworld), as described in his Red Book. “But when he came to face the next challenge of handing on this gift to the world of humans, he realized he would never get very far if he offered it as something given to him by an imaginary being. So he presented it, instead, in a language that was bound to reassure and impress: the language of science” (p157).

The extent to which he wished to keep these two aspects of his life separate can be seen from his determination to keep two of his books away from the public eye. Firstly, the Red Book, which was eventually published as late as 2009, nearly 50 years after his death. Secondly, the Seven Sermons to the Dead, which he only allowed to be circulated among a few close friends and colleagues. The circumstances accompanying the genesis of this book are extraordinary, and it can be considered a personal Gnostic outpouring.

I’ll discuss that book and its genesis in the next article. For the time being, continuing on the current theme of Jung as Janus, when the theologian Martin Buber openly accused him of being a Gnostic, he flatly denied and fought back against this. According to Kingsley, Jung concealed his sources and lied, “all for the sake of concealing as much as possible the vestiges of his unrepentant affiliation with Gnosticism”.

When Buber, who was obviously aware of its existence despite the intended privacy, dared to mention the Seven Sermons in public, “all hell broke loose. Instantly Jung swelled to the sublimest heights of self-righteousness — waving the Seven Sermons away as nothing but a naively artful little poem he once had thrown together, long ago, during the briefest flurry of enthusiasm about some Gnostic writings he just so happened to stumble on way back at that distant point in time” (p158).

According to Kingsley, however, Jung’s true opinion of the Seven Sermons was “something altogether wonderful, embodying a wisdom ‘so much superior to my dull conscious mind’; as a very special gift to him from the unconscious, a unique source of light and hope… the formal beginning of everything that would really matter to him, because through it he managed to express themes which would remain of the gravest importance to him for the rest of his work and the rest of his life” (p159).

Still according to Kingsley, “he would do anything to cover his Gnostic tracks”. Even though he is a devotee of Jung, he says that this amounts to “intellectual fraud”, and calls Jung a liar and “the moral coward he once admitted he was” (p159).

You can perhaps understand why I have described Jung as a Janus-figure, with two faces pointing in opposite directions. Even if all this is true, however, I am personally happy to forgive Jung if, through this denial, he managed to make a few dents in the dominant ‘scientific’ worldview of his time. He was doing what he perceived he needed to do in order to be accepted. Over a hundred years later, now that Jung seems to be a figure way ahead of his time, and his ideas resonate much more with the general public, perhaps we need to be more bold and appreciate him for what he truly was.


Click here for the next article in the series.


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 lists.

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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.