Carl Jung’s Process of Individuation and the Archetype of Renewal

In describing the process of individuation as an alchemical process, Jung maintained that the point of individuation was not to become perfect or attempt to overcome or master our personal psychology, but to become familiar with it, thereby coming into relationship with the parts of ourselves that have become repressed, numbed, split off, or disowned (Sharp, 1991). A lack of relationship between the individual and the Self can lead to pathology when the Self is not realized (in the body), often erupting in symptoms (Edinger, 1995). Likewise, contemporary psychologist, John Weir Perry (1976) attributes the psychotic break of schizophrenic patients to a visionary state in which an archetypal renewal process is attempting to manifest. Jung argued that before renewal can occur, we must reconnect our individual lives with our historical rootsundefinedthe deep symbolic and archetypal images of the past (Edinger, 1995). The mytho-historical culture of ancient Egypt provides a powerful opportunity to relate the historical with the personal in a way that can put us in touch with greater wholeness.

Egyptian theology perceived the structure of a man to include far more than his mortal shell, but rather a complex interaction of his physical body with his spiritual body, as well as with his divine intelligence and his heart, the seat of wisdom, knowledge, and understanding (Ellis, 2000). Thus, the worldview of ancient Egypt provides a corollary link between body and spirit, the antithesis to the current western tendency to separate spirit and matter, psyche and body, a theme Jung addressed in many of his writings, saying, “The body is merely the visibility of the soul, the psyche; and the soul is the psychological experience of the body” (in Ryan, 2002, p. 27). Indeed, Jung believed that if one goes deep enough into the rhizome–the root of things, psyche and matter are one (Ryan, 2002). For the ancient Egyptians, the physical and spiritual realms were transparent to each other, and “through the symbolic image and the power of the imaginative perception, the spiritual order was made accessible in and through the physical” (Naydler, 1996, p. 23).

Jung believed the archetype is a unifying factor between the psyche and the material realm (Ryan, 2002). Death as a precursor to rebirth was a common archetypal motif found in ancient Egypt (Perry, 1976). Von Franz pointed out that, though all cultures hold the hope of life after death, ancient Egypt is the only culture that made it so concrete through mummification (Harris, 2001). The elaborate funerary process was tantamount to ensuring eternal life. Pharaohs spent most of their kingship planning for the preservation of their physical body and constructing elaborate tombs replete with all the belongings they would require for an ongoing eternal existence. If the body was not properly preserved from decay, or if the soul was unable to find, recognize, and reunite with the mummified body, it could not continue into the afterlife (Cox & Davies, 2007).

Organs removed during mummification were preserved in four specialized canopic jars topped with heads representing the four sons of Horus and waited in the tomb for the soul’s return (David, 2002). Thus, the boundaries between matter and spirit blurred as mummies were viewed as objects imbued with meaning, a sort of “sacred self” for most Egyptians, endowed with energy and a waiting future (Meskell, 2004). Ultimately, the sacred embalming process of the Egyptians constituted a rebirth into immortality through alchemy, transforming the body into something glorified and indestructible, an eternal fruit (Edinger, 1995).

In the tomb itself, detailed drawings painstakingly etched on the walls provided explicit directions on how to navigate the underworld and to guide the soul back to its waiting body (David, 2002). Edinger (1995) reminds us that the tomb is a symbol of the unconscious as well as an alchemical vessel in which transformation occurred, and that Jung related it to the womb, suggesting the tomb is a place of the past that connects us with our deceased ancestors, a place from which the psyche is born, a connector to our psychic background. The tomb also represents the completion of circle as a place where we will ultimately rejoin the ancestors once more.

Symbolism has long been an archetypal container for understanding human life. The limitations of life—instigated by “death”—can be taken literally or figuratively in the quest to understand all things as temporary but capable of transformation. Regardless of where you find yourself in the ongoing spiral of life, chances are you’ll recognize a pattern in your process and be willing to open to new and different ways of dealing with life’s challenges as you confront similar challenges over an over again.