A Biographical Sketch of Jung

Clickable Contents
[Early Years] [Childhood] [Two Personalities] [Psychiatric Studies] [Freud]


For more information about Jung's life see Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Jung's posthumously published autobiography. This is a book that has rightly been described as auto-mythology. Other sources that are sympathetic to Jung include Peter Homan's Jung in Context and Barbara Hannah's Jung, His Life and Work.

Less sympathetic biographical data can be found in Paul Stern's C.G. Jung: The Haunted Prophet.

As Homans has noted, Jung seems to inspire extreme responses to his work--either unbounded enthusiasm or barley disguised hostility.

BORN: Switzerland July 26, 1875.
His father was a parson in the Swiss reformed church and before that was a student of philology and linguistics (Ph.D.). Jung's grandfather was of German descent and, according to rumor, an illegitimate son of Goethe. C.G. Jung the grandfather came to Switzerland to become a professor of surgery at the University of Basel.

Jung's ancestry has been traced back to a great-grandfather of some sort who was a doctor in a time in which alchemy was still practiced and (died 1654) must have been familiar with the alchemical texts that entered into Jungian consciousness nearly 200 years later. Carl's father Paul, had apparently been forced out of his philological studies by a bad economic situation and took up theology instead. Although he took the profession seriously, he entered into despair, according to his son, as he realized the hollowness of his religious faith.

Jung claims to have felt much closer to his mother, Emilie, who he sometimes called a warmhearted, humorous woman. He also saw an uncanny side of her which was unpredictable and frightening. Jung came to think of her as having two personalities. [Naomi Goldenberg points out that this may be the root of his style of psychology: it's mystical bent; there may have been some child-sexual abuse (re: the story of black-frocked Jesuit); and, his mother may have been schizophrenic, hence Jung's interest in individuation.]


As a youth Jung had many intense experiences of nature, of both its beauty and its danger. The Jesuit story, his experiences of funerals and his mother's teaching him a prayer that a winged Jesus should take his soul lest Satan devour it, all contributed to an early fear of Jesus. When he was three his mother was hospitalized for several months, something that Jung associated with his parents having marital difficulties. This was a traumatic period for the young Jung, as it would have been for any child. About this time he had a dream that was to preoccupy him throughout his life. (Re: Maneater Dream. Wulff 1990:413) This dream involved a vision of a phallus that Jung thought of as an unnamed subterranean God that was associated to Jesus.

The next few years of Jung's life are described as including several other experiences that represent his ambivalence towards his parent's situation and the Catholic church. This included as little mannequin that he made and kept secrete as a sort of anthropomorphized kupie doll--an invisible friend, or an transitional object (D.W. Winnicott)--which provided him comfort and security. At eleven he was sent to school where he quickly became the top of his class, in spite of him dislike for mathematics and physical education. But because of the envy of his school mates and his fear of drawing too much attention to his unusualness, he settled for the second position and thus avoided the competition that he had come to hate.

At 12 he had a fantasy that left him in fear of eternal damnation until he realized that it was God who gave it to him. The vision was of a giant turd falling from under God's throne in the heavens on to the cathedral of Basel, shattering its roof and destroying the walls. The affectual response Jung reported from this vision is one of intense relief and an unutterable bliss. He says he wept with happiness and gratitude for the 'grace of the vision', but remained in fear as it showed him that there is a terrible side to God--an idea that reappeared throughout life. Because those around him had no such experiences and reactions he was convinced that he was either cursed or blessed by the experience.


Somewhere in the fringes of his awareness, Jung writes, he always knew that he had two personalities. One was the parson's son and the other was an old man from another century "skeptical of men but close to nature and the cosmos." The former lived an ordinary, every day existence; the latter dwelled in the boundlessness of "God's World." To Jung the interplay of such dual personalities is part of every person's life although most individual's do not perceive the second figure. For Jung, the second figure was of prime importance. He believed it to have had a more comprehensive personality which came from the dreams and visions, the sense of destiny, and a sense of inner security, of peace, and solitude.

His disappointment in the rites of communion and other sacraments at his father's church and the dissociated theological discussions of his relatives (remember his father's disillusionment of his own faith) caused a even deeper disappointment in the church. Jung felt that the most fundamental aspect of rituals and these theological discussions, God's reality, was excluded.

His search for understanding of this phenomena led him to his father's library. It was in Goethe's Faust that he finally found something that resonated. It was, for Jung, the "living equivalent of Jung's second personality and finally gave him the reassurance that he was not alone in this world." A year later Jung found another equivalent to his "no. 2" in Nietzsche's Thus spoke Zarathustra. But the morbidity and the author's tragic end in the madness of Zarathustra slammed shut the door that Faust had opened.

Between 16-19 years of age, Jung's first personality become more distinct as he emerged from the depressions of his earlier youth. He began to do systematic studies in philosophy and found Plato, Heraclitus, Pythagoras, and Empedocles to be analogous to his many intuitions. Schoupenhauer and Kant, however, provided greater illumination. His study of philosophy radically altered his attitude towards the world and life, and he found himself becoming more communicative and confident. The effort to mend the split within himself, however, remained a powerful frustration; he frequently found himself forced back into "God's world."


The division of Jung's personality, Wulff notes, reflected a corresponding dichotomy of interests. He was attracted by both the empirical world of natural science and his humane studies which provided him with meaning. Although he really wanted to study philosophy, he decided at the last moment to enter university as a student of science, and later decided to specialize in medicine. It was psychiatry that he finally opted for as it provided him a chance to study both the empirical and the spiritual sides of the world.

After completing his studies in 1900 he accepted a position as assistant at the Burghölzli, the psychiatric clinic attached to the university of Zürich. He threw himself into studying the disturbed minds of the patient's at the sanitarium and found himself just as interested in the minds of his colleagues, who he felt to be strange and reductionistic. He was not convinced, in fact, as they seemed to be, that delusions and hallucinations are devoid of human meaning or that the individuality of the patient may be ignored.


Jung first met Freud in 1907, in Vienna. From the beginning of his career Jung had found the writings of Freud, Buerer, and Janet an important stimulus for his own thinking. Jung's experiments in word associations corroborated Freud's concept of repression when Freudian ideas were still unwelcome in psychiatric and academic circles. Jung championed Freud's cause at the risk of his own career and finally became a member of Freud's inner circle. They began an eight year association with considerable correspondence (Freud-Jung letters) and in 1909 they were invited by Stanley Hall to come to lecture in America at Clark University.

In spite of Jung's admiration of Freud he felt a growing frustration over the differences between their attitudes. Freud's dogmatic and positivist attitude, especially in regard to the theory of sexuality, became increasingly disturbing to Jung. That is, whenever confronted by an expression of the higher reaches of the human spirit, Freud seemed to immediately suspect underlying repressed sexuality. To Jung, Freud had substituted God with a dogmatic creed of sexuality.

The turning point in their relationship appeared during their trip to America in 1909. The two were analyzing each other's dreams. Jung at one point, as he himself reports in Memories, Dreams, Relfections, suggested to Freud that he could do a better job interpretating the dreams, if Freud would provide some additional details of his private life. Freud is said to have given him a look of suspicion and said that he could not so risk his authority. To Jung this meant that Freud had place personal locality above truth and a year later he discontinued their association. (Freud's version is that Jung had a death wish focused on his mentor). In 1914 Jung resigned as the president of the International Psychoanalytic Society and shortly thereafter withdrew as a member.

The period between 1912 and 1917 was a particularly disturbing time for Jung. It has been called his creative illness. He was overwhelmed by fantasies and dreams and found it difficult to go on with the aspects of his daily life. He determined to confront these intrusions from his unconscious and thus gave up his public appearances and his academic career. During this period he, like Freud, had a confidant with whom he was able to keep a thread to the external world. This person was Toni Wolf, a long time associate and lover.

This period was the most essential time of his life in terms of the creation of his psychological system. This is when he began to study the Gnostic writers, draw mandalas and postulate on the goal of psychic development.

The 1920's were outwardly uneventful for Jung, but not without significance for his inner quest. In 1920 he traveled to Northern Africa in an effort to find a part of himself that had been covered over by European influences. Later he visited the Pueblo Indians of New Mexico and then made a second trip to Africa. During this time his mother died, and he purchased and built the tower at Bollington which was described as a "confession of faith in stone."

He began reading the Golden Flower an Taoist alchemical text which provided for Jung a breakthrough as it confirmed his ideas about the mandala and shed light on the nature of alchemy. He continued his research in alchemical studies, but it was not until the 1930's and 1940's that his writings in alchemy began to appear. Form this research he came to understand that the unconscious was a process through which the psyche undergoes transformation or development in a manner symbolized by the alchemist's obtuse ideas and images. Out of the study of symbolism and the process of transformation emerged the central concept of his psychology--INDIVIDUATION.

In the 1930's he received a number of Honors including doctorates from Harvard, Oxford and two universities in Switzerland and three in India. He began lecturing again, but in 1944 he had a heart attack which forced him to retire after only a year. During this period of convalescence he experienced numerous visions which are said to have caused him to under take many new formulations--thus he entered another period of creative work. This lasted for a while, but after a brief illness, he died on June 6, 1961 shortly before his 86th birthday.

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Copyright © 1996 Marc Fonda. All Rights Reserved.
Last updated: December 8, 1996.