Puer Aeternus

Excerpt from the book, Puer Aeternus: A Psychological Study of the Adult Struggle with the Paradise of Childhood, by Jungian analyst Marie-Louise von Franz, Ph.D.

Again, there was an enantiodromia. Von Spät had won out again by taking Melchior in the boat; a hundred years later, Melchior is in the lunatic asylum, because as soon as you are in the kingdom of intellectual reason, anything experienced at the opposite end – in Fo’s realm – seems to be sheer madness. Melchior escapes from the asylum. On the stage, when they stab von Spät, Fo wins again, this time in this world. Fo remains victorious: he finds the kingdom at last, but he leaves his body behind; von Spät gets the body. He himself is a dead old man, which means that the problem is not solved but is again postponed, because if a solution is described as taking place after death, it means that conscious means for realization have not yet been found in this reality. That is why, in Christianity, victory over evil and the union of the opposites are projected into the time after the Day of Judgment. Paradise comes after death. In Faust, Faust finds redemption after death, and in The Kingdom Without Space, the solution is again projected into after death. Here it is clear that the bridge to realization has not been found because the reality of the psyche is not realized in this fight. It is all fought in the projection – intellect against the archaic reality of the unconscious – but having no name for it and not seeing its reality, the author mixes psychic reality with concrete reality. This is also the ominous background of our present-day problem, in connection with which I would like to quote a saying of Rabelais to which Dr. Jung drew my attention: La verite dans sa forme brute est plus fausse que la faux. (Truth in its prima materia, in its first appearance, is falser than falseness itself.) And that is very true for what we have just experienced. In spite of it all, these are attempts to bring forth a new creative, religious attitude and a renewal of cultural creativeness – which can only be a psychological and individual form – but it comes up with such a disgustingly false, political twist that it is falser than wrong itself. In spite of this, however, we must turn towards it and discriminate the seeds in it. Otherwise, we are stuck and are forever building light, ‘rose-colored’ buildings upon burnt-out ruins.

In his life and art, Bruno Goetz himself has gone beyond this unsolved problem. In a poem called The Fool and the Snake, he describes the divine puer as a symbol which first overcomes, then purifies, and finally unites with, the great snake (Saint Exupéry's boa). The destructive aspect is overcome and the opposites unite in a sacred marriage; let us hope that in the collective development this, too, will follow.

If we compare the two puer figures – the little prince and Fo – you see that they have the romantic outlook on life in common, and both are opposed to senex (old man) figures such as the king, the vain man, etc. (in Saint Exupéry) or to von Spät (in Goetz). In both cases, they represent a possibility of an inner creative renewal, of a first realization of the Self, but because of a certain weakness of the ego and an insufficient or lacking differentiation of the anima, these puer figures become a lure into death or madness, or both.

An American version giving form to the puer image would be Richard Bach’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull. But Bach’s book has a positive end: it is the love for his fellow birds which induces Jonathan to return to his flock to teach them to fly. Also, Jonathan is a bird, not a human being, so it is right for him to remain in the air. But there is a dangerous lure for a puer to identify with Jonathan and become a ‘misunderstood genius’ – but it can be also rightly understood and then bring a healing message of love, freedom, and devotion to one’s task.

In the German version of the novel by Bruno Goetz, it becomes very clear that the puer-aeternus problem is not only a personal one, but a problem of our times. The senex, the old man, is characterized as a worn-out image of God and world order, and the puer, Fo, is a new God image, which, in the novel, does not succeed to incarnate in man (in Melchior). If the new God image cannot be born in the soul of man, it remains an archetypal unconscious figure, which has dissolving and destructive effects. We are moving towards a ‘father-less society’ and the ‘son’ is not yet born, i.e., realized consciously in our psyches. This inner birth could only take place with the help of the feminine principle. That is why the collective attention has turned now to the latter. If the bitter and intriguing Sophie could become again what she was – Sophia, Divine Wisdom – this could be achieved. Then the puer could become what he was meant to be: a symbol of renewal and of the total inner man for whom the neurotic pueri aeterni of our days are unknowingly searching.

~Marie-Louise von Franz, Ph.D., Jungian analyst, Puer Aeternus: A Psychological Study of the Adult Struggle with the Paradise of Childhood, pp. 290-292

Inner City Books version: The Problem of the Puer Aeternus


Bruno Goetz, Der Gott und die Schlange (Zürich: Balladen, Bellerive, 1949).

Alexander Mitscherlich, Society Without the Father: A Contribution to Social Psychology, trans. Eric Mosbacher (New York: Schucken Book, Inc., n.d.).

C.G. Jung, Psychology and Religion, “Answer to Job,” pars. 609ff.

Trickster, Shaman, Healer

An excerpt from the book, Mercury Rising: Women, Evil, and the Trickster Gods, by Jungian analyst Deldon Anne McNeely, Ph.D.

Dr. McNeely was our guest in Episode 13.

Some maintain that Hermes is the god of shamanistic medicine, although one authority on shamanism, Mircea Eliade, attributes the role to Apollo and says that the figure of Hermes Psychopompos ‘is far too complex to be reduced to a ‘shamanic’ guide to the underworld.’ [Shamanism, p. 392] In African mythologies the Trickster mimics and satirizes even the seriousness of the shaman. He does so, not to overthrow the priesthood, but to show the underbelly of everything, including himself. Even though a shaman may serve the high god rather than the trickster god, both gods are intimately involved in healing, and both carry responsibility for disease, according to the story of Ananse above. In the case of Greek mythology, both Trickster-Hermes and High God-Apollo carry the caduceus. Homer tells us that Hermes’s caduceus, the golden wand, was acquired by Hermes from Apollo in exchange for the tortoise-lyre; later the caduceus changed hands again from Hermes to Apollo’s son, Asclepius. Ginette Paris notes that the passing of the wand from Hermes to Asclepius signified the bridging between the ancient ways of healing through magic, represented by Hermes, to the new scientific attitude and consequently the secularization of medicine, represented by Asclepius.

For both healers the caduceus, with entwined serpents around the staff of life, symbolized the union of opposites, the creation of order out of chaos. Apollo and Hermes share those symbols, Apollo underlying order and Hermes underlying chaos. But for a journey which has no clear destination – the journey of life, the journey to death, and the journey of psychotherapy, for example – Hermes, the non-authoritarian god who enjoys equally the company of the good and the wicked, is our guide.

In the healing arts, the worlds of Hermes, Apollo, Dionysus, and Poseidon overlap and merge at times, bringing common elements to what first seemed to be distinct entities. Magical, shamanic, and healing aspects endow all these shape-shifting gods, and though, strictly speaking, magicians are not shamans are not healers are not psychopomps are not visionaries, the terms are not mutually exclusive, but nebulous. Misty boundaries in these areas do lead to confusion, especially if we try to categorize, pin them down logically, or analyze the efficacy of any one archetype in the matter of healing.

Consider, for example, how suggestion, placebo, transference phenomena, and psychic healing blend medicine and shamanism. How often it happens that we can’t say what agent was crucial in a recovery from illness! An example of ambiguity in medicine is the field of body therapy today; therapists whose focus is on identifying unconscious complexes in the body posture and muscle tension, and those who consider themselves psychic healers, manipulating energy fields which may or may not be tangible, both call themselves body therapists. For the former, the patient actively participates in the therapy in an effort to alter aspects of her physiological expressions of psyche; for the latter the patient is passive, in fact, need not even be physically present, as the healer exercises power over the patient’s energy distribution. No clear identities have been defined by the profession – and what a task it would be to attempt to create such definition when body therapists may combine both methods, and many other methods that fall somewhere between the two I have described.

Most psychotherapists would agree that their work falls under the influence of different archetypes at different times, but, as Jung proposed, the Trickster guides the total process, for the reasons we have been examining here. He is the guide of the therapist who considers therapy an adventure. An experienced therapist once told me that he was burnt out from seeing people hour after hour, day after day. He said he could place every patient into one of six categories and could predict what would happen in each case on the basis of previous experience with the categories. No wonder he was bored! He was not welcoming Mercurius into his office, much less amplifying the mercurial energy when he saw it in patients’ lives. He was missing the spirit of adventure that gives each patient’s story its meaning and uniqueness.

For bored therapists, [Rafael] López-Pedraza’s writing should be required reading. He calls Hermes the therapist’s inner companion in the solitude of his daily practice; through Hermes, therapy is turned into a psychic creative work, where the therapist can begin to love his practice in the same way an artist loves his art [Hermes and His Children, p. 9].

~Deldon Anne McNeely, Mercury Rising: Women, Evil, and the Trickster Gods, pp. 85-87

Video Courses

The Jung Society of Washington has served the D.C. metropolitan area with educational programming and publications for over 70 years. They are dedicated to providing the highest quality educational content to cultivate and nourish the quest individuation. Executive Director James Hollis has been a frequent guest of this podcast.

In 2018, the Society launched their Jungian Studies Masterclass Series: online video courses you can begin anytime, proceed at your own pace, and enjoy lifetime access to the material.

Current Offerings

Living an Examined Life: 21 Strategies for a Richer Journey
with Jungian analyst James Hollis, Ph.D.

The first decades of our life are mostly spent in making adaptations to the world and its demands upon us. The central project of mid-life and beyond is the recovery of a deeper sense of identity, rediscovery of purpose, and the development of a more mature sensibility. This course based both on personal experience, and forty-plus years of analysis/therapy clients, identifies and explores twenty-one tasks that await each of us. These issues transpire in our lives whether or not we are conscious of them; getting more conscious and more intentional in addressing them brings a greater measure of depth, purpose, and dignity to our Journey.

What you will learn: The role our history plays in our present choices, the driving engines in our patterns, and how we may go about gaining a greater measure of consciousness and sovereignty in our lives. We will also explore the development of a deeper accountability for how our lives are turning out.

Tracking the Gods: The Movement of Archetypal Powers in Our Time
with Jungian analyst James Hollis, Ph.D.

When Jung asked the question, “Where did the gods go when they left Olympus,” he answered, they left Olympus and entered the unconscious of the modern and became “disturbances.” When Jung talks of “the gods” he sees them as the personification of archetypal energies. Those forces are timeless and course through all of us, so when a god “dies” it means the energy has left the concept, practice, ritual, dogma, gone underground, and, incognito, appears elsewhere. How do we, then, track those energies, and where do they reappear in such contemporary forms as consumerism, seduction by electronics, sociopathies, and personal symptoms? This online course will explore how today’s culture copes with, or finds surrogates for the primal powers of nature, however disguised they are in contemporary cultural expressions.

What you will learn: New ways of thinking about history, eras, change, and loss of meaning; how meaning systems evolve at both the personal and societal levels; the twin tasks of living one’s journey and serving the mystery.

Journaling to the Soul: Keeping Your Own Red Books
with Susan M. Tiberghien

“I should advise you to put it all down as beautifully as you can, in some beautifully bound book.” These were C.G. Jung’s words to Christiana Morgan in 1926. They are his words to us today. He urges us to look at the images in our dreams and in our memories, to let them open doorways to the soul, and to write it all down in our journals.

In this course we will look at how Jung did this in The Red Book as he searched for his lost soul. We will ask ourselves how we perceive the soul. We will look at journaling as a way to enter into dialogue with our own soul. Working with images in our journal entries, we will practice active imagination. We will read more excerpts from C.G. Jung, along with excerpts from Etty Hillesum, and Thomas Merton, each of whom journaled toward wholeness, uncovering the oneness of all creation. Our journals will become our own red books, the silent places where we find renewal.

What you will learn: What is journaling; how we perceive the soul; how Jung journaled, from his Black Books to The Red Book; how Jung saw journaling as writing to the soul; the practice of journaling; the practice of active imagination; appreciation of excerpts from C.G. Jung, Etty Hillesum, and Thomas Merton.

The Interpretation of Dreams: Dreams as a Path to Personal Authority
with Jungian analyst James Hollis, Ph.D.

We spend up to a third of our lives in the underworld of sleep, and we average six dreams per night. While many psychologists find such autonomous psychic production the random firing of neurons, careful observers, equipped with a knowledge of metaphor and symbol, discern that careful tracking of these phenomena leads us to perspectives on our lives far different from that observed by the ego. In this course we will learn dream theory, methods of interpretation, and actual practice working together on dream material.

What you will learn: What makes human dreams so remarkable; how did Freud and Jung view dreams differently; how you can gain more personal authority by paying attention at your dreams; what are the four main types of dreams; what are the most useful techniques for interpreting your dreams.

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