Swiss psychologist Carl Jung saw the ouroboros as an archetype and the basic mandala of alchemy. Jung defined the relationship of the ouroboros to alchemy:
The alchemists, who in their own way knew more about the nature of the individuation process than we modems do, expressed this paradox through the symbol of the ouroboros, the snake that eats its own tail. In the age-old image of the ouroboros lies the thought of devouring oneself and turning oneself into a circulatory process, for it was clear to the more astute alchemists that the prima materia of the art was man himself. The ouroboros is a dramatic symbol for the integration and assimilation of the opposite, i.e. of the shadow. This ‘feed-back’ process is at the same time a symbol of immortality, since it is said of the UfO boros that he slays himself and brings himself to life, fertilises himself and gives birth to himself. He symbolises the One, who proceeds from the clash of opposites, and he therefore constitutes the secret of the prima materia which unquestionably stems from man’s unconscious’. (Collected Works, Vol. 14 para.513)
Are archetypal symbols spontaneous manifestations of the unconscious? Is it difficult to find them? How is it possible to discriminate or separate these symbols from those others which may have a merely personal dimension? The problem becomes complicated by Jung’s pessimistic observation and repeated opinion, that “Medical investigation discovers an unconscious that is in full revolt against the conscious values, and that therefore cannot possibly be assimilated to consciousness. “
Eliade takes the warning seriously and reacts with ideas of his own:
The psychologist, C.G. Jung among others of the first rank, have shown us how much the drama of the modern world proceeds from the profound disequilibrium of the psyche, individual as well as collective, brought about largely by a progressive sterilization of the imagination… To “have imagination” is to be able to see the world in its totality, for the mission of the Images is to show all that remains refractory to the concept: hence the failure of the man “without imagination”; he is cut off from the deeper reality of life and from his own soul.
This serious warning is shared by other psychologists of the first rank. Joseph Campbell, for example, in his well-known book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, explains how the timeless universe of symbols has collapsed, and how the human heritage of ritual, morality, and art is in full decay. “The Gods are dead, and the lines of communication between the conscious and the unconscious zones of the human psyche have been cut, and we have been split in two.”
Thus, the modem psyche is in rebellion; consciousness suffers from the sterilization of the imagination and from the repression of spiritual values. Where can we search to discover the symbols whose magic heals, giving a sense of solidarity with nature, and with humanity as a whole? This is a part of the efforts of ecumenism and depth psychology. Jung searched these symbols in myth, literature, art, and music, fully aware of the thorny problem of discrimination. For Eliade, the solution lies in history: he proposed to get back to the history of religions to find in its treasures the authentic archetypal symbols:
The problem cannot be resolved by depth-psychology alone, for the symbolisms which decipher the latter are for the most part made up of scattered fragments and of the manifestations of a psyche in crisis, if not in a state of pathological regression. To grasp the authentic structures, and functions of symbols, one must turn to the inexhaustible indices of the history of religions; and yet even there one must know how to choose
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