Articles, Carl Jung, Psychology

The Myth of Meaning in the Work of C. G. Jung

Aniela Jaffe was a Jungian analyst who worked as Carl Jung’s personal secretary in the late 1950s and went on to help author his autobiography. The extensive time she spent with Jung made her one of the foremost authorities on Jungian psychology. In her book, The Myth of Meaning in the Work of C. G. Jung, she examines one of the core themes which pervades so much of the Jung’s work – namely the question of the meaning of life. (See our introductory video to Jung here)

According to Jaffe, one of the reasons for Jung’s great interest in life’s meaning was due to his experience as a practicing psychiatrist which made clear to him the dangers of a meaningless life. As Jung explained:

A psychoneurosis must be understood, ultimately, as the suffering of a soul which has not discovered its meaning.” (Carl Jung)

And in a related manner Jung wrote:

about a third of my cases are not suffering from any clinically definable neurosis, but from the senselessness and aimlessness of their lives.” (Carl Jung)

For much of human history the question of meaning was largely satisfied by the existence of myths and religions which provided narratives to explain the world and man’s role in it. In the West, Christianity was for many centuries the dominant meaning giving myth. However, Jung knew that by the 20th century Christianity had been in sharp decline for several centuries and the accompanying rise of science made it ever more difficult for people to adopt myths which told stories of supernatural beings. But with the fall of Christianity no myth rose to take its place, and this according to Jung, was the reason for the increased prevalence of feelings of meaninglessness in the West.

In The Myth of Meaning, Jaffe points out that while Jung was well aware of the problem of meaninglessness, he did not believe that addressing the lack of meaning was a simple task. For Jung there was no objective, or universally valid answer to the question of life’s meaning which if conveyed to someone could turn a meaningless existence into a meaningful one. Rather life meaning was to be discovered at a subjective or personal level, but this “man-made” meaning, so to speak, would prove more than adequate according to Jung.

In discovering subjective meaning for one’s life, what one is doing is creating a myth, as Jaffe explains:

Every statement about meaning, whether it be an hypothesis or a confession of faith, is a myth. . .” (The Myth of Meaning, Aniela Jaffe)

Therefore it is of the utmost importance that one find a myth to live by and Jaffe’s book explores the myth that Jung developed to provide meaning for his own life. This myth Jaffe refers to as the myth of consciousness, as she writes:

“Jung’s myth of meaning is the myth of consciousness. The metaphysical task of man resides in the continual expansion of consciousness at large…” (The Myth of Meaning, Aniela Jaffe)

By reading The Myth of Meaning one will learn the details of Jung’s myth of consciousness and how such a myth can help those in the modern world who are plagued by a lack of meaning and existential uncertainty. In the process the reader will also encounter great explanations of many of Jung’s most important ideas, such as the collective unconscious, archetypes, and the individuation process. For this reason, The Myth of Meaning is valuable to both those familiar with Jung’s ideas and those new to Jungian psychology but interested in the question of life’s meaning.