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Nature and the Soul

THE SYMBOLIC LIFE (Winter 2004)


In an essay written near the end of his life entitled “Symbols and the Interpretation of Dreams,” C. G. Jung wrote: "Through scientific understanding, our world has become dehumanized. Man feels himself isolated in the cosmos. He is no longer involved in nature and has lost his emotional participation in natural events, which hitherto had a symbolic meaning for him. Thunder is no longer the voice of a god, nor is lightning his avenging missile. No river contains a spirit, no tree means a man’s life, no snake is the embodiment of wisdom, and no mountain still harbors a great demon. Neither do things speak to him nor can he speak to things, like stones, spring, plants, and animals. He no longer has a bush-soul identifying him with a wild animal. His immediate communication with nature is gone forever, and the emotional energy it generated has sunk into the unconscious. This enormous loss is compensated by the symbols in our dreams. They bring up our original nature, its instincts and its peculiar thinking." (The Symbolic Life, Collected Works, Volume 18, par 585-86) In our last issue of the Newsletter (Winter 2003) we told the Native American story of Leelinau, a young Ojibway girl and a special tree that spoke to her at a critical time in her life. In many ways Jung is describing a Native America approach to nature, one commonly found with most indigenous people. In the language of Native American mythology this is the time “when animals could talk.” Jung believed that by learning the symbolic language of our dreams we could once again learn to let nature speak to us and by doing so come to a better understanding of our connection to all living things. Jungian analyst Neil Russack has written a poignant book, Animal Guides in Life, Myth and Dreams: An Analyst’s Notebook (Inner City Books, 2002), which describes his personal journey from childhood alienation from his natural self, to a more authentic one, largely through the relationship he was able to forge with nature and various animals. "As much as the books, the lectures, the papers, the consultation, and the analysis, my contact with nature was essential to my formation as healer of souls." (p.22) Russack describes how the symbolic language we learn to touch through our dreams can also be discovered through a living relationship with the animal world. Animals speak both to psyche and to life: that is, they have their own emotional vitality apart from the reflected image, and yet each enriches our understanding of the other. The animals, by bringing their body to the union of spirit and soul that their image conveys, complete their healing value for us. The reality of the psyche becomes embodied. (p. 185) Whether one journeys into the wilderness to be surprised by that unexpected wild creature, real or imagined, or one embraces a cat or dog at home, our souls are enriched.

Editor: Steve Galipeau

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