Questions on Jung’s Mandalas

Richard Barwell

Jung saw mandalas as images of wholeness. He himself drew some striking and beautiful illustrations, and thought of them as an images of the state of The Self at one moment. In the appendix in the Red Book there are reproductions of his sketches made at the time in a Black Book (diary). These are simple, clearly rough, and it was from these he created his finished versions published in the Red Book mainly after his death. They are intricate and numinous drawings: but how directly do those we see now actually reproduce the original mental dream-like images?

It seems there were several stages he undertook before he came to the final images we see now in all their complex beauty. He appears to suggest that there was little influence by the ego along the way, and that what we actually see is almost the unconscious image itself - almost as if his brain had taken a photograph, and we are seeing the Self at that instant.

I am rather sceptical about this. It seems to me there are two possible scenarios here. 1. The sketch in his notebook and his memory of the image are enough to allow him, almost in a trance state, to reproduce the ‘Self photograph’ after years, or 2. He recalls it roughly years later and then works it up to his subsequent satisfaction, but this would mean it is no longer a ‘photograph’ of The Self but the combined work of memory by reference to the immediate sketch, aided by the ego, to produce his final published result.


It is an analogous process to reproducing a dream image which most people find hard to do accurately even on waking.


These Red Book images are by any standards astonishing. But in CW 12 para 249 Jung states: “the mandala portrays an autonomous psychic fact” and “seems to be a sort of atomic nucleus”.


So either Jung’s memory was utterly amazing and the Red Book images are reproductions of the Self images or they are proximate attempts. Jung was human, and in both scenarios however there has to be some critical interplay between ego and Self. Perhaps in almost all mandalas, ancient or modern, this is true. Do we then mistake the image on the page for a genuine mandala when it is, however enticing, actually a pale reproduction of the Self’s own self-picture? Indian sand paintings and other trance induced work might be genuine Self images, It is important to think about what we are looking at. Might he have been doubly entranced? 

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