The Term of the Collective Unconscious (1936), Part 3


The collective unconscious, as we understand it today, was never a matter of “Psychology”, for before the Christian Church existed, there were antique mysteries, and these reach back into the grey mists of Neolithic prehistory. Carl Jung, CW 9i, para 21. (from Carl Jung Depth Psychology, The Image by Craig Nelson)

Leonardo da Vinci, as we know him as a riddle of all time, painted this tableau like his other works and let us puzzle! Indeed, he is a topic for psychoanalysis, and Freud couldn’t stay immune: in his book; A Childhood Memory Of Leonardo da Vinci, he talks about the motherhood or feminine feeling of Leonardo and examples of his painting with the interpretation of a hidden bird (vulture) in Maria’s garment. Although, it seems that Freud made a mistake, as we read here in this article: (You can also read the whole of Freud’s book)

I put a similar image as the last post, but it is not the same; I will explain! (the first part plz, here)

Of high importance for Freud’s argumentation is the vulture, which he regards as a mythical symbol of mother love. He cites a childhood memory of Leonardo, but he mistranslates it. The Italian word “nibbio” does not mean vulture, as Freud mistakenly assumes, but means a kite, a bird of prey.

Furthermore, Freud recognises the vulture as a conundrum in a painting by Leonardo. It is an achievement of Freud at all, that conundrums are accepted in a scientific context and, furthermore, even understood as a window into the soul of the artists. Encouraged not least by this, one of Freud’s admirers, the surrealist painter Salvator Dalí, made offensive use of it within the framework of the method of “critical paranoia” that he himself had devised!

The vulture in white outline discovered by Freud’s student Oskar Pfister bumps with the lower end of its tail against the lips of the baby Jesus

Whatever the bird might be or Freud’s assumption about Leonardo’s sexual orientation, it doesn’t matter to Jung. His main point is to analyse if Leonardo wanted to show any dual maternity in this painting. He goes deeper into the meaning of this figure (vulture or kite) with the old interpretation as Greek Pneuma: Wind and Spirit (Geist)

Now let’s keep reading about his analysis.;

2; The psychological meaning of the collective unconscious. (b)

But it is completely out of the question that all people who believe in dual descent actually always had two mothers, or conversely that the few who share Leonardo’s fate would have infected the rest of humanity with their complex. The fact is that one cannot help but assume that the universal occurrence of the fantasy of double birth, and simultaneously with it the fantasy of the two mothers, corresponds to a pervasive human need, which is reflected in this theme. Now, if Leonardo da Vinci really portrayed his two mothers in Saint Anne and Mary – which I doubt – he was merely expressing what untold millions of people before and after him believed. Likewise, the vulture symbol discussed by Freud in that paper only makes this view more plausible. He rightly cites Horapollo’s>Hieroglyphica< as the source of the symbol (Horus Apollo: Selecta hieroglyphica, sive… 1597; cf. Freud: Einekinderinnerung des Leonardo da Vinci, 1910, p. 24 ff.), a book published in was very common at the time. In it, one reads that vultures are only female and symbolically mean the mother; they are conceived by the wind (Greek: pneuma). This word pneuma, mainly under the influence of Christianity, took on the meaning of ‘spirit’. Even in the Pentecostal account, pneuma still has the dual meaning of wind and spirit.

In my opinion, Virgo, conceived by the pneuma, that is, like a vulture. In addition, according to Horapollo, the vulture is also the symbol of Athena, who sprung directly from the forehead of the highest god, was a virgin, and apparently only knew spiritual motherhood. All of this points clearly to Mary and the motif of rebirth.

Pallas Athena
Jan Styka

There is not a shred of evidence that Leonardo could have meant anything else with this picture. If it is correct to assume that he identifies himself with the Christ Child, he is, in all likelihood depicting the double mythical motherhood, but in no case his own personal story. And what about all the other artists who have depicted the same motif? Indeed they didn’t all have two mothers?

Transferring Leonardo’s case to the realm of neuroses, let us assume that the patient has a mother complex and that he suffers from the delusion that the cause of his neurosis is that he really did have two mothers. The personal interpretation would have to admit that he was right, yet, in reality, it would be completely wrong. Then basically, the cause of his neurosis would be the reawakening of the archetype of the double mother, completely independent of whether he had one or two mothers; for, as we have seen, this archetype functions individually and historically without any connection with the relatively rare occurrence of double motherhood.

It is, of course, tempting to assume such a simple and personal cause, but the hypothesis is not only imprecise but thoroughly wrong. To be sure, it is difficult to understand how a double-mother motif—unknown to a physician trained only in medicine—could have had such a determining power that it had the effect of a traumatic state. But when we consider the enormous powers hidden in the mythic realm of humans, the causal significance of the archetypes seems less fantastic. In fact, there are numerous neuroses which indicate disturbances which are to be derived directly from the fact that the patient’s psychic life is devoid of the cooperation of these driving forces. Nevertheless, purely personal psychology, by reduction to personal causes, tries its best to deny the existence of archetypal motives and even seeks to destroy them in personal analysis. I think this is quite a dangerous undertaking. The nature of the involved forces can be better assessed today than twenty years ago. Aren’t we witnessing how a whole, great nation is reviving an archaic symbol, even archaic forms of religion – and how this new emotion affects the individual in a revolutionary and transformative way? The man of the past is alive in us to the degree that we could not have dreamed of before the war, and ultimately what is the fate of great peoples but the summation of the psychic changes of individuals?

Insofar as neurosis is actually only a private matter, namely has its roots solely in personal causes, archetypes play no role at all. But when it is a matter of general incompatibility or some other harmful condition causing neurosis in a relatively large number of individuals, we must assume the presence of archetypes. Since neuroses are, in most cases, not just private affairs but social phenomena, we must also assume the existence of archetypes in most cases: The sort of archetype appropriate to the situation is revived, and as a result, those explosive, and, therefore so dangerous, drivers latent in the archetype spring into action, often with unpredictable results. Yes, there is no evil to which people under the rule of an archetype cannot fall. If, thirty years ago, someone had dared to predict that psychological developments would point in the direction of a resurgence of medieval persecution of the Jews, that Europe would again tremble before the Roman bands of lictors and the marching legions, that the Roman salute could be reintroduced as it was two thousand years ago, and that instead of the Christian cross, an archaic Swastika would bait millions of wars to death—this man would have been denounced as a mystical fool. And today? As startling as it may seem, all this madness is a dreadful reality. Private lives, private motives and causes, and private neuroses have become almost fictional in today’s world. The man of the past, who lived in a world of archaic representations collectives, has risen back to a very visible and painfully real life, not just in a few unbalanced individuals, but in tens of millions.

There are as many archetypes as there are typical situations in life. Endless repetition has imprinted these experiences on the psychic constitution, not in the form of images filled with content, but at first, almost only as forms without content, representing merely the possibility of a certain type of perception and action. When something happens in life that corresponds to an archetype, this is activated, and a compulsion arises, which, like an instinctive reaction, prevails against reason and will or provokes a conflict that becomes pathological, i.e. neurotic grows.

Next part: The proof method 🤗💖

The image at the top: Anna Selbdritt, Leonardo da Vinci, c. 1502-1519, Musée du Louvre – Paris


On “The concept” of the collective unconscious (1936): Lecture 1936 in the Abernethian Society at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, London, under the title “The Concept of the Collective Unconscious < published in the journal of that hospital, XLIV, London 1936/37, p .46-49 and 64-66. The first edition of the German translation in Collected Works (CW), Volume 9/1, pp. 55-66.

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