Archetypes / C.G.Jung / Christian / Gnostic

C.G. Jungs Self in Quaternio Series of Aion – Jesus or Abraxas?

C. G. Jung had shown a pronounced and informed interest in Gnosticism and Alchemy. This is evident in the Quaternio Series of the Self in his book. “Aion”.  In his early works “Seven Sermons to the Dead” (“Die sieben Reden an die Toten ”) and “The Red Book” (recently published) he perceived the outstanding psychological relevance of Gnostic insights. Was Jung really a Gnostic? I seems to me, that “Aion” and another late work The “Answer to Job” give some evidence to the assertion: No, he wasn’t.

Quaternity in religion and psychoanalysis

It is true that C.G. Jung saw in Quaternity a divine concept and welcomed the proclamation by the Pope Pius XII in the year 1950 adding the Catholic Holy Virgin Mary, expanding so the Christian Trinity. Neoplatonic philosophy ( and many other metaphysics e.g. Mayan) contained what Jung has called the element of “fourness,” or quaternity, that seems to be so prominent an aspect of the life of the unconscious collective landscape across various cultures. This quaternity is – as the one of the Christian cross – a (3+1) structure, meaning that three parts are equal and the fourth is the “totally different”. One of the most important ramifications, however, unacceptable to some Christians, of the Jungian quaternal recipe is bringing back the original nature of evil and its personification in the real or mythological being of the evil.

In “Aion” (collected works 9ii) Jung summarizes his researches into the phenomenology of the Self, good and evil seen from Christianity, Alchemy and Gnosis . “Answer to Job” an interpretation of a book in the bible,(“Antwort auf Hiob”)  maybe interpreted as gnostic answer to the Bible  but to me is more a subtile but well-meaning ironic description of the omnipotent god Yahweh of the Old Testament who needs the reflection of the human Job to send his son Jesus to become a just God (again). In this article I want to investigate C.Jung’s starting point and journeys in regards to Jesus. C. G. Jung was a prolific writer and practitioner of psychoanalysis. The reader is invited to consult the C. G. Jung’s Work for expansion on the theme in this essay or to follow the links in this article (indicated in blue).

Small recurs to Gnosticism

Gnosticism is the knowledge of transcendence arrived at by way of interior, intuitive knowing (Gnosis). Gnosticism was primarily defined in Christian context also including pre-Christian religious beliefs common to early Christianity, Hellenistic Judaism, Greco-Roman mystery religions, Zoroastrianism (especially Zurvanism), and Neoplatonism. Gnosticism goes hand in hand with Kabbalah, which is the esoteric or mystic religion of Rabbinic Judaism. These occult teachings deal with magic, hypnotism, sorcery and all sorts of pagan practices collected throughout centuries borrowing from different cultures. The mixing of all these pagan traditions turned into a complicated set of Gnostic teachings with all sorts of perverted doctrines added to “Christian” mingling its pure and simple teaching with theosophy and even magic. Gnostic thought were stamped out by Christianity in a struggle of life and death. The Gnostic teacher Carpocrates, as opposed to the official Christian dogma that salvation is the result of a single, unrepeatable event – the crucifixion of Jesus – postulated this process as continuing through a number of lives of earth.  Abraxas, the summation and ruler of the sevenfold planetary spectrum, is thus the true archetype of man’s potential freedom and independence from unconscious psychological pressures and compulsions.

The Nag Hammadi library, discovered in upper Egypt in 1945 provided a cache of new gnostic documents and its psychological importance was pointed out by C.G. Jung. After his death and the publication of his autobiography, Memories, Dreams and Reflections, and the Red Book, it became also clear that Jung underwent an intense period of spiritual experience between 1912 and 1917. The only fragment of his writings from that period which he permitted to be published was The Seven Sermons to the Dead, using terminology and style of second century Gnosticism. Jung attributes the authorship to Basilides, a Gnostic sage who taught in Alexandria around A.D. 125-140 (see below). It is clear, however, that Jung disagreed with Gnostics (and Buddhism) on the ultimate goal of the individual to return to a supreme, other-worldly re-unification with the Pleroma ( the superior unknown God) as this would be a total identification with the unconscious.

Small recurs to Evil

We can argue then that there are three types of evil. The first is relative, caused by the perception of the human mind which labels things it does not accept as evil. The second arises from imbalance. This evil originates in an action that comes at the wrong time for the wrong reasons and which causes much damage as a result. The evil that thus occurs is neither relative nor absolute but falls someplace in-between. The third type is absolute evil. It arises from imbalance but feeds on evil itself and soon grows like a cancer to spread through the body that gave rise to it. One can only fight this evil by trying to find one’s own balance and relationship to the Self.

In his work The Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious Jung restated the message contained in the Second Sermon when he says: “Evil is the necessary opposite of good, without which there would be no good either. It is impossible to even think good out of existence.” Jung was insistent evil to be real, for he felt that western humanity, dwarfed the picture of evil. In Civilization in Transition he wrote that evil “is of gigantic proportions, so that for the Church to talk of original sin and to trace it back to Adam’s relatively innocent slip-up with Eve is almost a euphemism. The case is far graver and is grossly underestimated.”

If you recall my article Can Hitler go to heaven? The evil presented in Mao, Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot. you can only see them as anything but evil, if we take Jung’s point of view seriously. Of course there are many other kinds of what seems to be pure evil in the world. According to Jung, good and evil are not two opposite poles of a linear dimensionality. They resemble a circle wherein going far enough in either direction is likely to associate one with the opposite polarity. He said that there is no good that cannot produce evil and no evil that cannot produce good.

Aion: Phenomenology of the Self

Aion is one of a number of major works that Jung wrote during his seventies that were concerned with the relations between psychology, alchemy and religion. He is particularly concerned in this volume with the rise of Christianity and with the figure of Christ. He explores how Christianity came about when it did, the importance of the figure of Christ and the identification of the figure of Christ with the archetype of the Self. A matter of special importance to Jung in his seventies – the problem of opposites, particularly good and evil – is further discussed and the importance of the symbolism of the fish, which recurs as a symbol of both Christ and the devil, is examined. As a study of the archetype of the self, Aion complements The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious.

Jung does not decodes events in dreams and associated unconscious products as a facade behind which the true meaning lies, but takes those events themselves as important symbols. Hence, “symbols” must not be misunderstood. To Jung the symbol manifests an unconscious product in conscious form. To appreciate why symbols mean so much to Jung, we need to understand symbols are a bridge for religions which are an object with universally projected contents. That is why there are so much symbols in religion and also why Jung spent so much time looking into the meaning behind religious symbols, and symbols in other fields such as alchemy.  Symbols have often an irrational element, as well as a rational part. Within Jung’s Framework the specific process of successfully acknowledging and integrating the meaning behind (formerly) unconscious contents to the consciousness is called “individuation” and results in the individual achieving the realization of the “Self”  and thus finding transcendence, which is the main theme in this book. The story of the self and Jesus in his book resembles closely the story of the human psyche that loses its connection with the collective unconscious and needs to be rescued by the Self.

Jung compares in this book also his concept of “self” with other teachings. Jung had never qualms about reducing religion or magic to a psychological process. However, that is not to say it is then worthless in the practical field, because Jung is dedicated to showing precisely how large a factor the psychic realm is in ordering our lives. It must not be forgotten that for Jung, Buddhism itself was originally a result of projected unconscious contents, and the broad parallels are there. In dualistic Gnostic  teaching, the Self is reached when we have rid ourselves of opposites. Jung’s reflections had long been influenced in the thought of the ancient Gnostics to such an extent that he quotes In Aion Second Book XIV Hipolytes: to him were Gnostics psychiatrists. One may go so far to considered them the virtual roots of his  ‘depth psychology’.

In the light of such recognitions one may ask: “Is Gnosticism a religion or a psychology?” The answer is (in the broad sense) both, just like Jung’s thoughts can be interpreted religiously. Most mythologies found in Gnostic scriptures have psychological relevance and applicability. For instance, the basic Gnostic myth to Aeons, intermediate deific beings who exist between the ultimate, True God and ourselves. They, together with the True God, comprise the realm of Fullness (Pleroma) wherein the potency of divinity operates fully. The Fullness stands in contrast to our existential state, which in comparison may be called emptiness.  The false creator God  bears a close resemblance to the alienated human ego that has lost contact with the  Self. One of the aeonial beings who bears the name Sophia (“Wisdom”), referred to by C.G. Jung many times in his works,  is of great importance to the Gnostic world . Analogies of this sort exist in numbers.

Highly interesting are Jung’s diagrams in Aion (CW 9ii, penultimate chapter) in which Jung summarizes his researches into the phenomenology of the Self. In those diagrams Jung works his way through 2000 Years of Christian (and Gnostic) symbols of the Self. Using four octahedrons (double pyramids, i.e. one the platonic solids), he clearly tries to enhance the trinity of religion (Christianity) and science (space, time, causality) with a fourth dimension (his concept of synchronicity).

The Moses Quaternia

The Moses Quaternia

The Moses Quaternia

Lower Adam corresponds to the ordinary mortal man Moses corresponds to the culture hero and lawgiver, personalised ally to the ‘father’ Zipporah corresponds to the ‘higher mother’ as the daughter of a king and priest Moses and Zipporah represent the ‘royal pair’ for the ordinary man (Lower Adam) which for Moses corresponds on the other hand to his ‘higher man’ (Higher Adam) and his anima, Miriam The higher man is synonymous with the ‘spiritual, inner” man, who is represented in the quaternio by Jethro Such is the meaning of the quaternio when seen from the standpoint of Moses. But since Moses is related to Jethro as the lower Adam, or ordinary man, is to Moses, the quaternio cannot be understood merely as the structure of Moses’ personality, but must be looked at from the standpoint of the lower Adam as well.

The extended (shadow) Moses Quaternia

The Extended Moses Quaternia

The Extended Moses Quaternia

Extensions of the ordinary man’s psychic structure downwards, towards the subhuman, the dark and evil side represented by the shadow – the extended Mose. Homo carnalis refers here to the human Mose as opposite of the spiritual lead. The black woman is his wife. The negative anima is represented by Miriam who was the sister of two powerful biblical figures, Moses and Aaron. Her name derives from the root Mary, Mariamne, or Maria, meaning “bitterness.” She remained steadfast in her determination to free the Hebrew people from the pharaoh’s oppression. But Miriam was human, and not perfect. For her pride and insubordination to the power of God working through Moses, she became afflicted with a disfiguring skin disease (leprous’).  Miriam ‘spoke against’ Moses and even stirred up his brother Aaron against him. because of the black(Ethiopian) woman whom he had married.

The paradise Quaternia.

The Paradise Quaternia

The Paradise Quaternia

The snake symbol brings us to the images of Paradise, trees and earth. This amounts to an evolutionary regression from the animal Kingdom back to plants and inorganic nature, epitomized in alchemy by the secret of matter, the lapis. Here lapis is not to be understood as the end product of the opus but rather as its initial material. This arcane substance was also called lapis by the alchemists.”  Lapis–a unity, often stands for the prima materia in general, consists of four elements or has to be put together from them.
prima materia–a bit of the original chaos (increatum of Paracelsus) which was believed to be hidden somewhere in metals, particularly in mercury, or in other substances. Not in itself a simple thing (massa confusa). Elements are not united but merely coexistent in chaos, they are hostile to one another and will not unite of their own accord–must be combined through the alchemical procedure. Represents and original state of conflict and mutual repulsion. Splitting up or unfolding of the original unity into the multiplicity of the visible world.

The Lapis Quaternio

The Lapis (Alchemy) Quaternia

The Lapis (Alchemy) Quaternia

This primary substance is round (masa globosa, rotundum) like the world and the world soul; it is the ‘stone that has spirit’, in modern parlance the most elementary building-stone in the architecture of matter, the atom, which is an intellectual model. The alchemists describe the ’round element’ now as a primal water, now as a primal fire, or as pneuma, primal earth, or ‘corpusculum nostrae sapientiae’, the little body of our wisdom. As water or fire it is the universal solvent, as stone and metal it is something that has to be dissolved and changed into air (pneuma, spirit).
Zosimos calls the rotundum the omega element, which probably signifies the head. The skull is mentioned as the vessel of transformation in the Sabaen treatise…the vas is often synonymous with the lapis, so that there is no difference between the vessel and its content; in other words, it is the same arcanum.

In the hierarchical series of those four, Good and evil are clearly shown to arise from a deintegration of the central Serpens node, “the point of maximal tension in the psyche.” In the Serpens node itself, these extreme opposites presumably coexist without contradictions. In these Aion diagrams, Jung shows two distinct forms of the archetypal Self. Evil (Diabolos) and Good (Christos) arise only in the first hierarchical form of the Self. They do not occur at all in the circular forms of the Self—the ouroboric, rotational.

Quaternio series: Moses - Shadow - Paradise - Lapis Quaternio

Quaternio series: Moses – Shadow – Paradise – Lapis Quaternio

Quaternio series; Man culminates in the of a good God, but rests below on a dark and evil principle (Devil or serpent). The serpent has its compliment in the Paradise Quaternio which leads into the world of plants and animals. Indeed, this serpent actually dwells in the interior of the earth and is the pneuma that lies hidden in the stone. The symmetrical compliment of the serpent, then, is the stone (earth) or in symbolism, the alchemical stage, whose central idea is the lapis which compliments the serpent. The stone is, however, not a human ego but a collective entity, a collective soul an hermaphrodite.The point of greatest tension between the opposites…(is)…the double significance of the serpent, which occupies the center of the system. Being an allegory of Christ as well as of the devil, it contains and symbolizes the strongest polarity into which the Anthropos falls when he descends into Physis. The ordinary man has not reached this point of tension: he has it merely in the unconscious, i.e., in the serpent.The Round is the primary substance (rotundum) like the world and the world soul; it is the ‘stone that has spirit’, in modern parlance the most elementary building-stone in the architecture of matter. The alchemists describe the rotundum the omega element.

The hierarchical Quaternio series shows the highest central node, the Anthropos, evolving in four deintegrations  and reintegrations from the lowest central node, the rotundum. In doing so, it passes through four quaternios. A quaternio is a structure composed of two pyramids sharing a common base. If the apex of one pyramid points upward, the apex of the other necessarily points downward. It might be possible to construct a fifth quaternio above the Anthropos. It might deintegrate into God-Shekinah and Jesus-Mary, his mother. The reintegration would occur in the next higher central node which could be named simply “God.” But here the upward progression seems to end. What is beyond God? Jung addresses this particular problem by asking, rhetorically, what his diagram would be if its hierarchical nature were destroyed by bending it around so that the lowest node, rotundum, lay next to the highest node, Anthropos?

In the circular Quaternio series

Quaternio series circular

Quaternio series circular

the lowest node moves “upward” toward increasingly more comprehensive integrations.Can this upward movement continue indefinitely? Obviously it cannot. Much more can be said about the cricular one. For the present discussion of evil it is only necessary to point out that Evil belongs only to first quaterino. There is no place for Evil in the structure of second. Again, both good and evil arise from disintegration of the Serpens node, the “point of maximal tension in the psyche.

Jung’s View on Jesus “Answer to Job”

Jung agrees with all modern scholars of antiquity and biblical scholar that Jesus existed. He also does not question his metaphysical importance. His thoughts of Jesus must be seen from his framework and are strictly restricted strictly to psychoanalytic dimensions. He writes extensively in Aion about Jesus as a symbol (manifest and visible) of the archetype Self. But not the full Self. Since Jesus is all good, he feels that is missing his Shadow. The shadow is of course the devil (which was in Answer to Job als God son and Jesus brother). That Jesus was crucified by the order of the Roman Prefect Pontius Pilate is given great significance in the Quaternio series of his book Aion: The serpent is the central node and mediator between Jesus and Lucifer. In his book Aion Jung consistently opposes this summum bonum view of God. Jung, in his psychological works puts a strong emphasis on this (see also my article C. G. Jung’s “Antwort auf Hiob” und das “Johannes Evangelium”).  According to his theory of wholeness being the conjunction of opposites, Jung always affirmed conscious existence after death and, since one opposite is not possible without the other, neither is “good” or “bad” in itself as single entity.   As long as many, if not the majority of us, expect all problems to be solved outside of ourselves, they will be beset by “inhumanity upon inhumanity, holocaust upon holocaust”. To him Christianity of the old Testament has not solved the problem of evil. It flirts with two great metaphysical forces, Good and Evil (or God and the Devil), but always opts for the final supremacy of God. Lucifer is only a “fallen angel” whose true place is in the heavenly court.

The story of Job, as seen by Jung in his Book Answer to Job (1952), is therefore  the culmination of the Old Testament leading to the Gospel: Job sees that “You (Yahweh) are not a man” (Job 9:32). When Yahweh finally appears to him, Job hopes for an explanation of why he, an honest and just man, had been sent such undeserved afflictions. Yahweh seems unaware of any ethical dimension whatsoever. He overwhelms Job by recounting his creative acts. Job does not so much see evil in Yahweh as he sees a mass of unbalanced forces (as in the Kabbalah and Taoism). Job accepts that he cannot expect justice from God as long as God is primarily identified with His power, His omnipotence. Job realizes that God himself is evolving. Thus Job is able to say, “I know that my redeemer liveth” (Job 19:25). That is, Job intuitively knows that God will evolve in himself the ethical sense that Job already has: to distinguish Right/Wrong and Good/Evil. Another move that Christianity makes is to assert that all good comes from God and all evil comes from man.

Jungs View on Abraxas  “Seven Sermons to the Dead”

With Abraxas (Greek Ἀβρασάξ, Ἀβράξας) Jung described Egyptian Gnostics of Basilides in Alexandria around the 2nd century the symbol of the highest Nikolaos, from which emerged the five primal forces Geist(nous), Word (logos), Providence (Phronesis), Weisheit(Sophia) and power as well as moral perfection and inner peace.The name Abraxas is presented on amulets with the head of a cock, dragon’s feet and a whip in his hand. Later, he is recorded as having the head of a king and demon’s feet. He was seen by the Basilidians (after Basilides), a group of twelfth century heretics) as the supreme god which claimed that Abraxas sent Jesus Christ to earth in the form of a benevolent spirit

Basilides integrated various Christian Jewish, Persian, and neo platonic traditions to a dualistic view of the world. The early Christianity was heavily Gnostic-influenced. Gnostic directions also in Judaism and even Islam has its Gnostics (the Sufis). The gnostics believe that the core of every human is a “divine spark”. The spark of the divine is immortal, he exists outside of time and space. As long as the man but has not recognized its true state, he remains trapped in this world and must reincarnate again and again in a new body. Every once an envoy from the world of light comes but (Christ plays this role in the Gnostic Christians) at the material level in order to connect the souls that have become ripe with the light power of God, and to enable them to escape the access of the false God, the demiurge.

The Abrahamic God (which describes Jung in “Answer to Job” is this demiurge. Therefore, early Gnostic Christians have roundly rejected the old testament.The Gnostics see Abraxas as Supreme God, good and evil in an entity “Whole”, who sent Jesus as God’s (Yahweh) son in the world.

Followers of Basilides believed that the body of Jesus Christ was an illusion, visited while here on Earth. From this supreme deity which the followers of Basilides worshipped, emanated seven divine powers (according to the number of planets), the first realm from the gradually decreasing clarity 364 more ghost kingdoms, each with seven “eons”. If one summarizes the entire realms of spirits in the secret word Abraxas or Abrasax,  it contained the seven Greek letters which correspond numerically calculatedto  the number 365. Abraxas is classified under the Egyptian gods. He was depicted on amulets with a whip in his hand. been. The Mystic Word Abracadabra was derived from his name. These Gnostic symbols were adopted by many companies, operated the magic and Alchemy.

C.G. Jung  wrote in “The seven Sermons of the dead” under the pen name Basilides about Abraxas. According to C.G. Jung Abraxas – man cannot be redeemed without that Satan is understood and integrated . But how will Satan, who represents evil, will be integrated? Jung asserts, only by a way to lift the evil (the shadow) in the consciousness. Before we are not fully aware of our our deeper spiritual needs we will not achieve the individuation, which creates a more and more mature personality.  The “Seven Sermons to the Dead”  was privately printed, without copyright or date, sometime between 1920 and 1925, and distributed only to a select group of friends.  The text is available for the interested in the internet.  But there is a significant translation of Stephan A. Hoeller in his book “The Gnostic Jung” in which Hoeller not only interprets “The Seven Sermons as a Gnostic document, but also claims that Jung himself was a modern Gnostic. The Gnostic Jung is essentially an attempt – and a very interesting one at that – to interpret the Seven Sermons. Along the way, Hoeller, an almost worshipful admirer of the “Wise Man of Küsnacht” as he calls him, gives us a clear, skillful elucidation of some of Jung’s essential ideas. But the question is: Was Jung really a Gnostic is answered with the late work.


Gnosticism may possess both a psychological and a religious authenticity. Gnostic psychology and Gnostic religion need not be exclusive of one another but may complement each other within an implicit order of wholeness. Gnostics have always held that divinity is immanent within the human spirit, although it is not limited to it. The convergence of Gnostic religious teaching with psychological insight is thus quite understandable. The Red Book reveals the experiential, Gnostic roots of Jung’s psychology and certainly Jung studied Gnostic thought and his works are liberally sprinkled with references to them. But he never called himself a Gnostic. Without doubt Jung’s kind of psychoanalysis was different. Mental illness was considered to be a divided or incomplete condition and health as a state of spiritual wholeness – or near wholeness which could be reached through a process Jung called individuation. Jung always insisted that his writings were based upon empirical evidence and personal experience – it seems he was be worried to be accused of mystical or metaphysical theories but he connected them very often explicit to (catholic) Christianity.

This essay has delineated some of the main ways in which Jung can help us to understand the real meaning behind Christianity and Gnostics. It is not comprehensive and exhaustive, but shows how we as humans have a tendency to neglect our unconscious side, and the pressing need to recognize and integrate its contents (achieve individuation).  In plain English, Jung shows us, particularly in Aion  the salutary and prospective character of Religion.


CW9(i) = Jung, C.G. The Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Vol.9, Part I, The Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious  Zürich 1951, Rascher

CW9(ii) = Jung, C.G. The Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Vol.9, Part II, Aion Zürich 1951, Rascher

Jacobi, J. The Psychology of C.G. Jung.  Zürich 1961

Jung, C.G. Memories, Dreams, Reflections, London: Harper Collins, 1995, PG213.