Snakes as Symbols of Transformation by Deborah Bryon Ph.D., Jungian Analyst

References to snakes and serpents as a universal symbol of transformation are found throughout mythology across the world. As a student of Jung, I have found references in his writings to snakes which have also enriched my understanding of this powerful image. Jung has stated that the image of a “serpent in a cave is a common image associated with baptism or beginning[1].” The cave or Underworld represents a layer of the unconscious where there is no discrimination; male and female are no longer distinguishable. Snakes exist in the primordial realm of creation.

In Greek mythology, Asklepios, the god of physicians for healing, wisdom and prophecy is represented by the serpent.[2] In Asia, Kundalini is the snake fire that burns and cleanses the chakras in the body. Nathan Schwartz-Salant described these kinds of snake symbols as Dionysian, involving the lower anthropos, chakras or energy centers in the subtle body and etheric field.

What continues to be most meaningful to me about the snake – beyond providing me entry into my own shadow and dismemberment process – has been the deepening of my “felt” connection to Peruvian cosmology. In Peruvian Shamanism, Uhupacha, the Underworld, is ruled by Amaru the great snake. It is the womb of the Great Mother, Pachamama, and the place of manifestation. This is the primordial realm where a complete “union of opposites” exists.


[1] (C.G. Jung, CW Vol 18 (1989), p.116)

[2](C.G. Jung, CW, Vol 18).

The Subjective Experience of Time by Deborah Bryon Ph.D.

2012-07-28 20.45.36-2  Time is experienced differently depending upon the subjective psychological state of the person having the experience. The use of language can offer the framework to understand time as a linear, sequential cognitive process that defines the way time is experienced in consensual reality. Whenever we talk about time in this reality, space automatically becomes a factor because it provides context. Non-ordinary reality can only be accessed in preverbal, somatic states because it is non-temporal experience that occurs outside of a time/space continuum. The problem with the experience of non-temporal reality is that it is near impossible to understand conceptually as it is occurring – within the context of ego consciousness.

When we have moved outside of “other world” experience and begin describing it we have returned to ordinary reality – and ego consciousness. Based upon my own experience, nonordinary reality is predominately perceived as a formless, energetic state. I have learned that I can only (partially) assimilate the experience consciously as it is occurring if I have experienced the state before and have already laid done the cognitive neural pathways that can map and organize the experience in ego consciousness. Both shamans and analysts say that the can only help others materialize material (heal) if they understand the experience from “the inside out.”

Psychoanalytic theory (Ogden, 1989) offers rich scaffolding to further develop a conceptual framework to hold undifferentiated experience.  At birth, an experience of being a feeling of pleasure, (i.e. anger, fear, etc.) occurs before the ability to identify having a feeling exists. In this phase, we are our feelings because there is no separation between ourselves and the outer world. I have discovered in working with analysands in these kinds of preverbal states that the analytic session can become a fertile, multi-layered microcosm that holds the opportunity to access nonverbal state experiences – parallel to experiential work in Andean shamanism.       

Whatever we experience as time outside of a “time and space” continuum is an energetic state, without space-defined boundaries. Jung described the unconscious as “an extremely fluid state of affairs: everything of which I know, but which I am not at the moment thinking, everything of which I was one conscious but have now forgotten; everything perceived by my senses, but not noted by my conscious mend, everything which, involuntarily without paying attention to it, I feel, think, remember, want, and do: all future things that are taking shape in me and will sometime come to consciousness: all this is the content of the unconscious. (“The Structure of the Psyche,” CW 8, par.342).


Exile and Individuation by Stephen Foster, Ph.D.


 In general, it is the process of forming and specializing the individual nature; in particular, it is the development of the psychological individual as a differentiated being from the general collective psychology. Individuation, therefore, is a process of differentiation, having for its goal the development of the individual personality.   

C.G. Jung, C.W., Vol. 6, para 757

 There are times when I feel like an exile in my own land, not just because I am an immigrant, but also because the individuation process can be a lonely, isolated and difficult road to travel.  The tension between following a collective group, or cutting away to pursue one’s own interests and one own heart creates a strong internal “pulling apart” in the psyche.  Jung said that this tension creates the flow of psychic energy; pulling energy out of the unconscious to fuel new creative acts.  If we are conscious, or courageous and can hold this tension for enough time, Jung reassures us that the transcendent function will be fired up, like a capacitor, ready to discharge a symbol.  When this symbol is encountered by the ego, it will lead to greater consciousness and an expansion of the psyche.  However, it is easy to forget the body in this process.  The tension I have describe is contained within our physical form, and we react to the tension as we might respond to any “complex[1],” with sweaty palms, tingles in our body, a cloudy mind and a churning stomach.

These bodily feelings are also present when we are excited or stimulated by something new. Psychologically, leaving the collective evokes fear, and powerful feelings of rejection and alienation.  But it is also the seed or precursor to something new and wonderful.  Edward Edinger[2] cites William James[3], who describes this place of alienation as a forerunner to “numinous experience.”  What Jung might call a numinous experience of the Self: a transcendent or transpersonal experience.  This all sounds very grandiose, but in simple words, making a move away from the collective, and treading one’s own path is fueled by energy from the unconscious, which supports us and provides the energy and inspiration to become an individual, even in the face of criticism and rejection from those in positions of power within the collective.

Often, others misunderstand one’s choices and actions that lead to a new path, especially if they are entrenched within a collective system, hold positions of authority or are invested with power (by self or others).  One often has to endure a hurtful backlash from one’s choices to take a new path.  The key point here is that when one makes the choice to go in a different direction, “the road less traveled” as describe by Frost[4], one is actually not treading a new path alone, but following the unseen new ways created by so many others before.  Like Jung, you may feel compelled to listen to your unconscious, to take a new direction in your life, and to become a more individuated human being.  Like the Hermit card in the Tarot, you may feel alone and alienated; yet the Tarot deck leads to the World card, and Jungian work assures us that these steps away from collective psychology lead us to become more of who we were meant to be.

[1]           Jung defined a complex as an autonomous feeling tone collection of images.

[2]           Edward Edinger, Ego and Archetype, Shambhala Press, Boston, page 52

[3]           William James, Varieties of Religious Experience, Random House, NY, page 150

[4]           The Road Not Taken, Mountain Interval, Robert Frost, 1920

“Integrity and the Pursuit of the Numinous” by Puddi Kullberg


The documentaries Bill Cunningham New York (2010) and Birders: The Central Park Effect (2012) tell the stories of two New Yorkers who epitomize a certain kind of pursuit of the numinous. Bill Cunningham, now in his 80’s, for decades, has taken off on his bicycle each morning (and still does) to photograph New Yorkers for the “Style” section of the New York Times. Starr Saphir, also for decades, has set out most mornings of spring and fall (and still does) to lead birders through Central Park.

For each of them, clearly, their given objects of attention are numinous. And while it’s hard to resist some sort of “plumage” comparison, something much deeper strikes you as you watch these individuals. I was struck by the quality of a certain kind of purity of pursuit, or integrity, that each of them, Bill Cunningham and Starr Saphir exhibits. The Jungian analyst John Beebe has written, in Integrity in Depth (2005), that what individuates is integrity. If you would like an example of this, I highly recommend these two unique documentaries.                         .Birders_ori (1)

Inner Authority and Jung’s Model of Individuation by Kaitryn Wertz


C.G. Jung used the term archetype to describe the innate, universal, unconscious patterns and predispositions that order human psychological experience. Authority is among those archetypal patterns. Throughout history and across cultures, every human society has had some system of authority and communal life is usually organized around it. As individuals, we negotiate with authority daily. We obey authority, resist authority, seek authority and hold authority; we project it, carry it, idealize it, devalue it and search for ways of authoring our own lives.

The word authority first appeared in the English language in the early 13th century, to describe “the book or quotation that settles a question.” Curiously, this 13th century definition gathers many modern meanings of authority into the phrase “that which settles a question”. Authority is that which settles the big and small questions of our lives; it is whatever we trust and depend upon for what neuroscientist Richard Burton calls “the feeling of knowing.”

For much of the past two thousand years of western history, authority was not to be found inside the psyche. Although Jesus had announced that “the kingdom of heaven is within”, cultural consensus located authority in the heavenly Christian God and his exclusive representatives on earth, the hierarchy of the Church. It was not until the Renaissance and Reformation challenged the Church’s exclusive claim to theological and political authority that the idea of interior authority came more into being. That challenge was voiced in Luther’s impassioned words, “To go against my conscience is neither right nor safe.”

With mainstream cultural consensus continuing to locate authority outside the psyche, religion’s authority was slowly ceded to science. But now there was also a separate stream of developing awareness of authority as internal and psychological, which gained ground as 19th century Romantics turned inward to understand human experience, arguing that we can best discover what we need to do by listening to an inner voice. In the process, these philosophers discovered the unconscious and laid the foundation for depth psychology

Forms of Authority


In the 1920’s, the influential German sociologist Max Weber (1946) contributed a seminal work on the types of authority, distinguishing between traditional, rational-legal and charismatic forms of authority. Traditional or patriarchal authority derives from long-established customs, habits and social structures, resting on “piety for what actually, allegedly or presumably has always existed”. This is the “sacred and inviolable… authority of the father, the husband… the lord and prince.”

Rational-legal authority rests upon rationally established norms, regulations and laws. Scientific method, the modern state and the legal system are based on this form of authority.

Charismatic authority arises from belief in “the exceptional sanctity, heroism or exemplary character of an individual person, and of the normative patterns or order revealed or ordained by him.” From a Jungian perspective, this form of authority arises from the projection of archetypal contents and thus it is experienced as numinous. Charismatic authority is often revolutionary, sweeping away the stagnant traditional order. But the beliefs of the followers must be continuously supported with evidence of the extraordinary, making this form of authority highly unstable. I believe that charismatic authority, with all its instability, opens the possibility for the withdrawal of projected authority and its discovery within the psyche. In charismatic authority, the archetype of authority is moving toward consciousness.

Unlike earlier historical eras in which one form of authority dominated, in the United States today we have a menu that includes the traditional authority of established religion and patriarchal figures, such as president, general, doctor or priest, as well as impersonal rational-legal structures such as law and scientific method. The mere existence of these multiple and potentially valid forms of authority relativizes all of them.

But most striking is the multiplicity of charismatic forms of authority. From evangelical and New Age religious leaders, to political pundits pontificating on the airwaves, to self-help gurus and celebrities promising secrets that will make us wealthy, healthy, loved and sane, we live in a Babel of competing authorities. If indeed charismatic authority is the movement of the archetype toward consciousness, what is trying to be born out of this cacophony?

Inner Authority


Jungians would answer by positing a fourth form of authority: inner or psychological authority. Unlike the previous forms, this type of authority is found within the individual. It is the ability to value and validate our own thoughts, feelings, intuitions and perceptions, leading to self-trust, confidence and the ability to become the authors of our own lives. Inner authority is a quality that emerges in men and women during what Jung called individuation, the process of psychological differentiation from both social norms and collective psychology that leads toward a more conscious awareness of wholeness.

The development of inner authority occurs throughout the individuation process, which Jung described as the progressive integration of the persona (or social identity), the shadow (rejected, repressed aspects of the personality), the anima/us (the inner contra-sexual image) and the wise old man and woman. This integration occurs repeatedly and cyclically, more comparable to phases or seasons than to linear stages, and it leads toward a conscious relationship between the ego, or center of consciousness, and the Self, the archetype of wholeness and the regulating center of the psyche.

Often imaged as the coniunctio or union of masculine and feminine principles, the Self contains all opposites and is the ultimate source of inner authority. But the processes through which inner authority develops take place during every phase of individuation. Inner authority increases as we differentiate from persona (social) roles and as we face and integrate aspects of the shadow. Just as men must differentiate from the feminine authority carried by the mother, wife, etc., women must integrate the masculine authority that has been excluded from consciousness and projected onto male figures or male-dominated institutions, such as father, husband, church, academia, etc.

We may also deepen our experience of value and validity by integrating aspects of inner authority that Jung imagined as the encounter with the Wise Old Woman and Wise Old Man. Here we find our own source of inner wisdom and learn to be in balanced relationship with it. The energy of Wise Old Woman is grounded in the earth, in embodied consciousness and in relatedness, while the energy of the Wise Old Man brings connection to authentic spirit, intellect and discernment.

Jung regarded the ultimate source of inner authority as the Self, often personified as the union of masculine and feminine figures. Developing access to the Self, through dreams, active imagination, body awareness, etc, enables us to become the authors of our own lives through a continuing dialogue between the ego and the Self.  This is, indeed, the unblazed trail, the path toward an authentic, individual experience of inner validity, value, trustworthiness and agency.