jung art symbols

Who knew Psychologist Carl Jung was an artist?

While Jung remains one of the most well-known psychologists, he also found time to sculpt, paint and create mandalas.

Loki / Hephaestus wood carving by C G Jung

In fact, he used them as devices to better explain concepts that words were limited in doing.

Whoever speaks in primordial images speaks with a thousand voices; he enthralls and overpowers, while at the same time he lifts the idea he is seeking to express out of the occasional and the transitory into the realm of the ever-enduring.“


When Jung was thirty eight years old, he suffered what would now be referred to as psychosis (technically, the psychosis was not so severe as to render Jung incapable of social interaction, and would be more akin to a mid-life crisis), and for the next sixteen years, he would embark on a very personal journey into his own mind, recording daily hallucinations into his journal. 

He considered this journal to be central to all his other works and he called it the Liber Novus (The New Book, also known as The Red Book).

The Red Book

This now legendary book contains over 200 illustrations crafted by Jung himself.

Jung said of the book, that to the “superficial observer it will appear like madness”. But to the one interested in a deeper confrontation of the unconscious, it is a spiritual adventure through the mind and eyes of Jung.

During the years Jung engaged with his “nocturnal work” on Liber Novus, he continued to function in his daytime activities without evident impairment. He maintained a busy professional practice, still seeing on average five patients a day. He continued to lecture, write and remained active in professional associations. Throughout this period he also served as an officer in the Swiss army and was on active duty over several extended periods between 1914 and 1918 during World War I.

Carl Jung believed in the Archetype (also known as Collective Unconscious). It consisted of recurring images or motifs that are used by the mind as building blocks for reality, which could also be the function of myth.

3 + 1 = The Ultimate Symbol

To Jung, the symbolism of the UFO was the modern day enigma of a timeless symbol; 3 + 1. The gnostics named a divine figure after the same principal; Barbelo, meaning ‘God is four’. This symbol had taken different forms throughout human history and had evolved with the psyche as culture evolved. It was the trinity and the devil; the four-faced cherubim of Ezekiel enclosed in wheels within wheels; the mandala.

In his other works, Jung often refers to UFOs appearing with cross symbolism, segmenting the UFO or ‘disk’ into four, or a quincunx. He even believed that this symbol was referred to in the structure of the new testament; there were three ‘synoptic’ gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark and Luke) and one ‘gnostic’ account (John).

This is the ‘Quinta essentia’ as C.G.J puts it. It is also the philosophers’ stone. It is the circle divided into four with the centre, divinity (the quintessence) extended in four directions. Jung explains that these are the “four functions of consciousness with their unitary substrate, the self”. To Jung, the self was not an individual, but the underlying being that existed as every individual. To him, it was synonymous with Christ in the west and Atman, Tao, or the Buddha in the east. He also believed it was the underlying structure of all religious symbolism. Even the long cross, which developed from the natural division of the circle’s wholeness in the alchemical cross of the elements, formed the 3 + 1 structure with its longer downward element.  

To C.G.J, there was only one truth that speaks in many tongues, and if we still cannot see this it is simply due to lack of understanding. “No one is so godlike that he alone knows the true word.”

This symbol of the archetype appears throughout his illustrations. See below: 

Jung god mandala
3 + 1: Trinity and the Devil

C.G. Jung believed that the UFO was just the latest manifestation of this symbol or archetype.

He believed our culture influenced the form the archetype took.  Perhaps it was actually some kind of projection of the current cultural psyche. In this case, the symbol had manifested into a form that fit with our technology driven world.

“It is characteristic of our time that the archetype, in contrast to its previous manifestations, should now take the form of an object, a technological construction, in order to avoid the odiousness of mythological personification. Anything that looks technological goes down without difficulty with modern man.”

Philemon is another figure that appears regularly in Jung’s art.

jung Philemon
Philemon as painted by C.G. Jung (perhaps his most famous painting)

Philemon is a figure that appeared to Jung in a dream in 1913. In Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Jung recounted the dream in which this figure first appeared to him. Jung saw a sea-blue sky covered by brown clouds of earth that appeared to be breaking apart. Out of the blue, he saw an old man with kingfisher wings and the horns of a bull flying across the sky, carrying a bunch of keys. After the dream, he painted the image, because he did not understand it. During this intense period, Jung was struck by the synchronicity of finding a dead kingfisher, a bird rarely seen around Zürich, in his garden by the lakeshore. Thereafter, Philemon played an important role in Jung’s fantasies. To Jung, he represented superior insight and functioned like a guru to him.

To Jung, [Philemon] was the embodiment of a superior knowledge.

“He taught me psychological objectivity and the actuality of the soul. He formulated and expressed everything which I had never thought.”

While this figure appeared to Jung, he remained firm that these ‘hallucinations’ were manifestations of pure concepts. For example, Philemon was pure knowledge, embodying a form that could convey information to him in a way acceptable to the human capacity. It was, in some capacity, Jung himself; a ‘higher’ self communicating through familiar themes.

I would highly recommend contemplating the fantastic artwork of the Liber Novus. Here is a link to view a high quality online version of the book. Be aware that it is a large file and will take a while to load (English Translation begins on Page 194):


If you appreciate the book, give stillness speaks, who made this online version available, some love!

References and Links

C.G. Jung, The Collected Works, Vol.10, Princeton University Press, 2014, ISBN: 978-1-400-85097-6

C.G. Jung, The Red Book (Liber Novus), W.W. Norton & Company, 2009, ISBN: 978-0-393-06567-1




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