Exploring the Self in C.G. Jung’s Aion

A review by Walter Logeman

In Edward Edinger’s preface to The Aion Lectures, Exploring the Self in C. G. Jung’s Aion (Inner City Books, 1996), he outlines some principles for reading Aion. Number three principle he calls the fruitcake principle, “by this I mean that you must read Aion like you would eat a fruitcake-very slowly.” I am following his principle. Indeed, Edinger’s words give me the confidence to write this review while only in the middle of my reading !Edinger provides the sort of reassurance which helps enormously when one faces the more obscure and overwhelming parts of Aion. From the first page we have the sense of being with a guide who is both experienced, knowledgeable, trustworthy, and at the same time humble in the face of the material we study together. The editor of the book, Deborah A. Wesley, says in the opening paragraph of her foreword: “More than a few readers have picked up C. G. Jung’s Aion and then put it down again overwhelmed by his flood of material from classical, Christian, Gnostic and alchemical writers.”

In the Author’s Note, Edinger says of Aion : “It is an awesome work that makes great demands on the reader.” These warnings are helpful, more so his unwavering belief in the value and importance of the book. From the same opening note: “Jung’s Aion laid the foundation for a whole new department of human knowledge, a scholarly discipline that one might call archetypal psychohistory. It is based on the application of the insights of depth psychology to the data of cultural history.”

Jung, in his foreword to Aion, is quite clear about what he aims to do in this book: “. . . to throw light on the change of psychic situation within the ‘Christian aeon’.” Even with this sentence as an anchor point, it is likely that any reader would come adrift in Aion. A phrase from Edinger has offered me some stability in my efforts: “Jung is discussing the cultural history of the human race as though it were the case history of a single patient.” In this case, it makes sense, then, that we do not follow a linear path, but that we work to make connections only dimly perceived.

Thus, Edinger is a good motivator and guide, and like any good guide he does more than offer encouragement. He knows where he is going. Edinger’s lectures are a marvel in elegance and scholarship. He amplifies and edifies every chapter almost paragraph by paragraph. Jung makes references that all readers would need to research in order to grasp the text, and Edinger encourages us to do that research, “I urge you to work with a dictionary and encyclopedia at your side.”

His commentary can be entertaining as well. Jung, in the chapter on the “Historical Significance of the Fish,” condenses the story of Tobit and the healing fish into a couple of sentences, but Edinger, the storyteller, comes to the fore here. “The story is so relevant to the analytic process that it needs to be expanded . . . Old man Tobit lived in Nineveh. He was blind persecuted and neglected and prayed to die. On that same day the young woman Sarah . . . ” I was enraptured by the story that followed, especially listening to it on tape. Jung does not do this sort of amplification for us in his book; as Edinger points out, Jung is writing primarily for himself. The comment that this story is relevant to the analytic process is typical of Edinger’s style-there are the small reminders that this is still material related to analytical work-easy to forget while reading about obscure sects in the first few centuries after Christ. Jung speaks in depth about virgin births, ordinary births, and Messiahs in various religious traditions and makes it clear that these religious stories, whatever else they may be, are “a product of the unconscious.” Edinger amplifies this by linking it to the individuation process at this time in history: “an image of the Self which is to be realized through the efforts of the ordinary person at the end of the Christian aeon.”

With Edinger’s help it becomes possible to see Aion as a stepping stone into both the psychohistory of the last 2000 years and the philosophy underlying of Jung’s methods. In the hands of Edinger, Jung’s Aion, for all its difficulty, becomes a doorway to Jung’s other works. There are many cross references and these often give an overview of the themes of the other works. Edinger provides enough quotes to satisfy those who do not own the Collected Works.

With Edinger we are in the presence of a scholar; he corrects occasional errors in the text and footnotes, and clarifies translation problems. We are also in the presence of a master analyst, and we can gain insight into our psychological work. Happily, we meet also Edinger the man. Without ever drawing too much attention to his personal life, there are many places where Edinger shares his dreams and visions. I found it a pleasure to learn how as a child he was interested in chemistry and physical changes, a precursor to his interest in psychological transformation. We also get a glimpse of a man dedicated to Jung, almost a believer in a Jungian religion, not just an academic producing another paper. This came home to me when I began to grasp the way the centuries are structured, or analysed psychologically in this study. According to Jung, “Christ . . . was born as the first fish of the Pisces era, and was doomed to die as the last ram . . . of the declining Aries era.” Edinger develops this further: “We are about to enter the aeon of Aquarius the water carrier, leave the aeon of Pisces, so in a sense Jung is the last fish and the first water carrier.” This makes Jung and the Aion text significant indeed! I am pleased that Edinger declares his own perspective here, and while we may not share his views, at least they appear with enough regularity for us to know we have a human teacher.

Having listened to the tapes on which Edinger’s book is based, I wondered how the book would add value to my experience of the lectures. The tapes have a warmth and immediacy that I value, but with the book I can look up a passage instantly because there is an index, a table of contents, and a bibliography- these are absent from the tapes. Perhaps we need to wait for the CD-ROM before we can have the benefits of both. The diagrams and plates in the book are excellent and noticeably absent when references to charts are made on the tapes. One graphic that comes to mind shows how a jelly fish looks like a mandala when viewed from above- a classically executed diagram. An unexpected benefit from the book was seeing some of the words in print, for example “The Ante-Nicene Fathers,” a phrase which rolls of Edinger’s tongue without the spelling registering on my brain (not being in the least familiar with theology). For anyone whose learning style is like mine, I would recommend you have: a copy of Jung’s book, Edinger’s tapes and book, a connection with others reading the book, and some time to devote to it- even if that time is spread fittingly to the end of this century.

Jung, C. G.
Aion, Researches into the Phenomenology of the Self.
Second Edition, Bollingen 1978.

The Round Table Review, May/June 1996


Created 29 March, 1996 Updated: Friday, November 15, 1996