Jerusalem Stone: A Confession of Faith in Stone
by Aviva Lev-David

Jung began to build his house in Bollingen, Switzerland, in 1923, at the age of forty-eight. He continued building this solitary retreat well into his old age. What was the impulse behind this significant endeavor? What inspired Jung to invest this much time and energy in building the tower, as he called it? “Words and paper did not seem real enough to me” he says in his autobiography. He clarifies,

To put my fantasies on solid footing something more was needed. I had to achieve a kind of representation in stone of my innermost thoughts and of the knowledge I had acquired. Put another way, I had to make a confession of faith in stone. That was the beginning of the tower, the house I built for myself at Bollingen. (1963, p. 212, my emphasis)

At first glance, Jung’s drive to build the tower, as described above, appears to be centered on his desire to sculpt psyche into matter; to place his developing knowledge on solid ground; to root the ineffable reality of psyche in the permanence of stone. In reading this, one might get the impression that Jung regarded stone merely as a solid object, a canvas for his unconscious projections involving a unilateral movement from Jung’s psyche to the receptive and neutral ground of stone. This understanding, however, is a very limited and limiting view of a far more complex and rich relationship between Jung and stone. In this paper I will attempt to explore Jung’s confession of faith in stone as a pointer to a relationship with stone full of mystery. Later I will look at this mystery as expressed in legends of and lived experiences in Jerusalem.

A life-long relationship was created between Jung and stone. When Jung was about six, he would often find himself alone playing an imaginary game while sitting down on a stone that he affectionately called ‘my stone.’ The game would go something like this:

I am sitting on top of this stone and it is underneath. But the stone also could say ‘I’ and think: ‘I am lying here on this slope and he is sitting on top of me.’ The question then arose: ‘Am I the one who is sitting on the stone, or am I the stone on which he is sitting?’ This question always perplexed me, and I would stand up, wondering who was what now. The answer remained totally unclear, and my uncertainty was accompanied by a feeling of curious and fascinating darkness. But there was no doubt whatsoever that this stone stood in some secret relationship to me. I could sit on it for hours, fascinated by the puzzle it set me. (1963, p. 33)

From an early age Jung saw in stone something more than a lifeless object, unintelligent and passive. He imagined the stone to have an “I,” an enigmatic identity somehow related to him. As we see above, he had “no doubt whatsoever” that the stone stood in some secret relationship to him and that a mystery was unfolding through their connection. In Jung’s cosmology no element in nature was devoid of numinosity, a divine or spiritual quality inherent in visible objects. He says, ”What I had dimly felt to be my kinship with the stone was the divine nature in both, in the dead and living matter.” When later in life he began to explore the ancient practice of alchemy, the stone received yet a more profound meaning as the ‘Philosopher’s Stone’—the culmination of the alchemical opus. Jung’s fascination and enthrallment with the mystery of stone is unquestionable. In speaking of the alchemical tradition, he argued, “The stone contained and at the same time was the bottomless mystery of being, the embodiment of spirit” (1963, p. 90).

In 1950 Jung received an unexpected visitor to his Bollingen house. It was a square stone instead of the triangular stone ordered. The dimensions of the stone were also much larger than anticipated. It apparently arrived at his house by mistake. When the masons were about to take the stone back Jung insisted, “No, that is my stone. I must have it!” (1963, p. 226). In recognition of his seventy-fifth birthday he carved it as a monument to express what the tower meant to him. When working with the stone, Jung reports that something unexpected occurred. “I began to see on the front face, in the natural structure of the stone, a small circle, a sort of eye, which looked at me…. I chiseled it into the stone, and in the center made a tiny homunculus [corresponding] … to yourself—which you see in the pupil of another’s eye” (p. 226). And later, when working on the third face of the stone, Jung surrendered even further to the unfolding mystery letting “the stone itself speak, as it were” (p. 227).

Jung’s confession of faith in stone could be seen as a bold, pantheistic statement moving us beyond the limiting views of a narrow modern rational paradigm, arguing on behalf of an experience of stone as ensouled with divine, expressive intelligence. Jung’s cosmology expands from the stone to include the world at large. He says, “Nothing could persuade me that the saying ‘in the image of God’ applied only to man. In fact, it seemed to me that the high mountains, the rivers, lakes, trees, flowers and animals far better exemplified the essence of God than men… ” (1963, p. 45). Jung laments the loss of this understanding and our loss of experiencing the world this way,

No voices now speak to man from stones . . . nor does he speak to them believing they can hear. His contact with nature has gone, and with it has gone the profound emotional energy that this symbolic connection supplied.  (1968, p. 85)

Jung continued to brood on this “symbolic connection” throughout his life. According to Jung, a symbol always “hint[s] at a hidden, vague or unknown meaning”  (1976, ¶416), so that when it becomes fully known and explained, it is no longer a symbol but a sign. A symbolic connection dies when it is no longer a signpost for “the bottomless mystery of being,” and all that remains is merely the object, the signpost.

A connection between people and stone has been alive in the imaginal and physical life of Jerusalem for centuries. As a modern Jewish woman who grew up in Jerusalem I wondered: how might Jung’s understanding of a symbolic connection between people and stone illuminate certain underlying dynamics in Jerusalem today?

The British government, who ruled Jerusalem from 1917 to 1947, made a powerful gesture when they put into law that all buildings had to be faced with Jerusalem stone, a local form of limestone with an exceptionally warm, golden hue. The rule remains in effect to this day. The stone is an extraordinary material, rich and textured and almost magical in the glow of dawn and dusk. It can transform even the most mediocre architecture into a striking place of harmony with the whole city. Jerusalem and stone seem to go hand in hand, not only because of the abundance of stone in Jerusalem, but also because of the meaningful connections between people and stone in Jerusalem since its foundation.

One of the most profound illustrations of the symbolic connection between people and stone in Jerusalem can be located in a place known in Hebrew as the Temple Mount and in Arabic, Noble Sanctuary, at the heart of the old city. In the center of this large area is a rock, which has been covered with a dome since the 7th century, hence its popular name, The Dome of the Rock. The rock carries an impressive biography in both Jewish and Muslim traditions. According to ancient Jewish myths the world was woven out from this point, The Foundation Stone, the navel of the world. On this stone, it is said, Abraham sacrificed his son, Isaac, according to the Torah, and Ishmael, according to the Quran. A Jewish legend also claims this to be the place where Jacob rested his head and dreamed of the angels going up and down a ladder. Furthermore, Jewish tradition holds to this day, that this rock was the site of the Holy of Holies at the center of the Hebrew Temple where the Ark of the Covenant was placed.

Many Muslim traditions acknowledge the extraordinary legacy of the rock in the heart of Jerusalem. According to a legend recorded in 1887,

when Muhammad… rode to Jerusalem astride his marvelous mare [in his dream,] he perceived the Foundation Stone in the [Hebrew] Temple, and recalled all that had befallen it… The sight of the Rock roused his emotions and he cried out with fervor: ‘Salem Aleik Ya Sakhrat Allah’—peace be unto you, Rock of Allah! Upon seeing Muhammad and hearing his benediction, the Rock, too, was seized with emotion; it put forth from itself a tongue and said: ‘Salam Aleik Ya Rassul Allah’—Peace be unto you, messenger of Allah! (Vilnai, 1973, p. 20-21)

Another beautiful Muslim legend, written in 1866, speaks of the amicable relationship between the foundation stone and the Ka’aba, a black rock found in Mecca, considered the most sacred place to Islam. According to this legend,

The rock of the [Hebrew] Temple is one of the stones of the Garden of Eden. At resurrection day, the Ka’aba stone, which is in holy Mecca, will go to the Foundation Stone in holy Jerusalem, bringing with it the inhabitants of Mecca, and it shall become joined to the Foundation Stone. When the Foundation Stone shall see the Ka’aba stone approaching, it shall cry out: ‘Peace be to the great guest!’ (Vilnai, 1973, p. 18-19)

Stone and Jerusalem are linked in a powerful bond. Yehudah Amichai, one of Israel’s national poets, whose intimate connection to Jerusalem is well known, says in a poem: “Jerusalem stone is the only stone that can feel pain. It has a network of nerves” (1992, p. 51). This connection also comes to life when reading Israeli Geographer Zeev Vilnai’s (1973) “Legends of Jerusalem,” one of the best collections of legends about the city. It is astounding that more than half of the legends in the book relate to stone. The Western Wall, for instance, a stone wall supporting the platform on which the second Hebrew Temple was built, appears in many old and newer legends. The wall and the stones comprising it are frequently perceived in the stories as active participants in an ensouled world. The stones often have a voice, emotions and purpose. One event, recorded in 1920, was well known among the Jews of Jerusalem at the time.

The Wailing Wall is also called The Wall of Weeping or The Wall of Tears, for in front of this last remnant of the Great Temple, Jews from all parts of the world came to lament and shed tears over their past glory and present desolation. On the night [that commemorates] the destruction of the Temple, the ninth day of the month of Ab, as on most summer evenings, the stones of the wall are covered with small drops of dew. The simple folk say that the wall participates in the sorrow of the people, and cries bitter tears with them. One particular night in 1840 stands out. It is told that when the worshipers stood in front of the wall pouring out their sorrowful hearts, they suddenly discovered small rushes of water oozing out between the cracks. They cried out: ‘The wall is weeping. The wall is crying’ (Vilnai, 1973, p. 169).

One can hear in the way the legend is recorded a modern attitude attempting to rationally explain a phenomenon that was experienced by the people, called here ‘simple folk,’ as a mysterious relationship with stone. Was the wall crying? Was there dew dripping from the stones? Synchronicity allows for opposite dimensions, physical phenomena and psychic experience, to correspond in an a-causal way. We can rest with the legend and with the mysterious symbolic connection between people and stone, right where our inner life meets the outer world. The word symbol, from the Greek syn+bole, points to its purpose: the weaving of things thrown together. A symbol is bipolar. It has a peculiar nature that connects and integrates polarities such as inner and outer fields of experience, or that which can be represented and that which is irrepresentable. A symbol serves as a mediator between the physical and psychological, the conscious and the unconscious, the personal and the cultural.

One of the areas containing rich symbolic meaning in Jewish heritage concerns the priesthood and their rituals. The priests were a direct patrilineal descent from Aaron, Moses’ brother, who performed various rituals in the Jerusalem Temple. For many centuries, every generation chose a priest to carry the holy task of being the high priest. The High priest would wear very unique vestments described in exceptional detail in the Torah. Two of the three pieces he wore involved stones. The Choshen Mishpat was a breastplate with 12 stones imprinted with the names of the 12 tribes of Israel. These stones are described as alive and possessing a direct connection with the Divine. When a decision had to be made, the high priest would consult the stones, which would ‘speak’ to him. Since all the letters of the alphabet were inscribed on the stones, the response would unfold by letters being lit through a mysterious source of light and, together, the letters would form words and sentences. The breastplate also included two more stones called, Urim Vetumim. These stones also served as part of the oracle. Their use and meaning is covered with secrecy and not much is known about them. The Breastplate of Justice, as it was fully called, was worn by the high priest above the heart, on top of the ephod. The ephod was an elaborate garment worn by the high priest. There were two engraved stones over the shoulder straps, possibly made from Malachite. These stones were called “memorial stones”. The ephod together with the memorial stones combined to activate the oracle of the Breastplate of Justice (Exodus 28).

The priestly work in the Hebrew Temple ceased after the exile of the Jews and the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 CE. The Temple is no longer standing and no high priest wears the ephod or the breastplate. The oracle stones don’t speak to us any more. It is worth repeating Jung’s words, “No voices now speak to man from stones nor does he speak to them, believing they can hear. His contact with nature has gone, and with it has gone the profound emotional energy that this symbolic connection supplied“ (1968, p. 85). A symbol is alive “only as long as it is pregnant with meaning” (in Jacobi, p. 97), related to an unknown and hidden dimension of experience. When a symbol is fully explained, that is, flattened out, rationalized, and understood, we no longer speak of a symbol but of a sign or dogma. With the loss of this emotional energy we also lost some kind of guidance and wisdom.

Though the ephod is no longer connected to the work of the Temple, the use of the word did not disappear. It lives in the shadows. When you ask any Israeli today to identify an ephod they will point you to the army uniform: in Modern Hebrew ephod refers to a soldier’s vest. What once was connected with life and vision is now connected with death and division. The garment that used to store life-giving knowledge now stores lethal ammunition. Stones turned into weapon. Symbol turned into symptom. Stones in the hands of Palestinian children, men and women, as they throw them at Israeli soldiers who are shooting back became an emblem of the conflict in the area. In this context, stones, like their modern counterpart, bullets, are no longer symbolic of connection but have become a sign, a symptom of a bloody conflict, an endless cycle of violence.

I find a disturbing yet poetic relationship between the act of throwing stones and the word, symbol. When we omit the prefix ‘syn’ meaning ‘together’ from the word, symbol, we are left with the Greek root ‘bole’, which means to throw, to throw so as to hit. The Latin ‘ballista’, the ancient military machine for hurling stones comes from the same root, as well as ballistics, the study of the firing, flight, and effects of ammunition. The loss of ‘syn’ in a symbol reveals the loss of the understanding of our interdependence with everyone and everything around us; it is the loss of the connective tissue that binds self-other-world. The symbol and the symbolic perception as a mediating field that can hold the tension of opposites, has been in exile for a long time. I do think, however, that we are gradually beginning to re-member our world.

I would like to finish this article with a dream I had while working on it. In the dream I stand in a low place with my back against a very big rock, maybe 15-20 feet high. There are others with me. Around us extends a desert, which reminds me of the Judean desert surrounding Jerusalem. A caravan comes through and a man steps down from his horse and comes down towards me. He touches the rock lightly, with exceptional care and gentleness. He seems to be caressing it. I wonder what might he be trying to achieve. I think to myself, “With such little effort on his part, surely nothing will happen.” Suddenly I see a small silver knob that was not there before, coming out of the rock. In that moment everyone panics and starts running frantically up the road and up the hill. They shout at me, “The flood is coming, the flood is coming.”

Without thinking much, I follow everyone and begin to escape, but I find it increasingly difficult to walk, every step feeling heavier than the one before. While walking up the hill I stop and ask myself, “Where is the flood? Are we really threatened by a flood?” Then I wake up. In the morning I worked with the dream and realized that the small silver knob looked like a radio dial. I wondered: Was the rock trying to communicate something with us? Was I being shown a dial so I can find an appropriate frequency to hear it?

In my active imagination I dreamed the dream forward. Back in the dream, to the dismay of the people around me, who are still running away from a flood, I turn around, and I walk down and sit by the rock. I sit there in attentive silence for a long time. I don’t know where this connection with the stone will lead but I feel compelled to stay there. And I trust that something will emerge out of this pregnant, meaningful moment. It’s an enigma, a riddle, a mysterious relationship. It’s a confession of faith in stone.


Amichai, Y. (1996). The selected poetry of Yehudah Amichai. Ch. Bloch & S. Mitchell

(Eds.     & Trans). Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Jung, C. G. (1963). Memories, Dreams, Reflections. New York, NY: Vintage Books

Jung, C. G. (1976). The Symbolic Life: Miscellaneous Writings. In G. Adler (Ed.). The   Collected Works of C. G. Jung (R. F. C. Hull, Trans.) (Vol. 18). Princeton, NJ:                   Princeton University Press. (Original work published 1950

Jung, C. G. (1978). Man and His Symbols. New York: Dell Publishing Co

Vilnay, Z. (1973). Legends of Jerusalem. New York, NY: Jewish Publication Society.

Aviva Lev-David is a doctorate candidate in Depth Psychology at Pacifica Graduate Institute. Her dissertation titled “Hidden Sides of Jerusalem” centers on a reconciliation project that explores women’s experience of home in Jerusalem as a personal and a cultural place. Learn more about the research:

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