2004 International Conference
Jungian Society for Scholarly Studies
Newport, Rhode Island, USA
Home, Hearth, and Grave: The Archetypal Symbol of Threshold On the Road to Self
On the lintel above the entrance door to his home at Kusnacht, Jung had carved the message Vocatus atque non vocatus deus aderit, that is, "Called or not called, the god will be present" (Adler & Jaffe, 1975, II, p. 611). Over the fireplace of his retreat at Bollingen, Jung had carved the words Quaero quod impossibile (Heisig, 1979, p. 103; Heisig, personal communication), that is, "Seek that which is not possible." Vocatus atque non vocatus deus aderit reappears, not once, but twice, on the gravestone marking Jung's final resting place. How do we understand these inscriptions? That they held great meaning for Jung is evident since they would not be there - and carved in stone - otherwise. What these two inscriptions mean, however, is not certain, nor should it be. Similar to a Japanese koan, or teaching riddle, e ach sets forth an intentionally confusing riddle, the potential solution of which rests not on any one thing - in other words, not on the linear this or that answer so crucial to science, but irrelevant to psyche. Their solution is to be found instead at the very heart of the koan itself, at the in-between place, where the opposites join together and are experienced at last as one. At this place of possibility, opposition becomes opportunity. The intent of these inscriptions, then, is to confound ego consciousness, to shake it up, as it were, so that another kind of knowing can unfold. This knowing is the knowing of the soul.
One way to unravel the mystery of these ultimately unsolvable inscriptions is to position each within the context of Jung's mature work, such as his alchemical writings, or to revisit the involved and still ongoing debate of Jung's critics as to his belief or non-belief in God. This paper will travel neither of these well-trod routes. Instead it focuses on the symbolic meaning of the placement of these inscriptions at the threshold of home, hearth, and grave.
Home, hearth, and grave. For Jung, home was the Kusnacht house on the Zurichsee that he and his wife Emma had built for them in 1909, and lived in until their respective deaths a half century or so later. Hearth refers to Jung's Bollingen retreat on the upper Zurichsee which grew by Jung's design over a span of thirty plus years. And, finally, grave refers to Jung's place of internment in the Jung family plot at Kusnacht cemetery following his death in 1961.
These three places are linked in a number of key dimensions. First, they are all dwelling places where Jung was rooted in the material world. Second, these three sites were instrumental to the development of Jung's psychological researches. In a very real way, each place embodies a particular developmental stage in his work concerning psyche and psychic processes. Jung's deepening understanding of psyche is mirrored in these three earthly abodes. Third, these sites exist as the physical containers that provided Jung the necessary environment in which to appropriately engage with the psychical world. Specifically, the Kusnacht home functioned as a vas bene clausum, the "well-sealed vessel," of alchemy within which Jung could effectively grapple and make sense of the powerful psychic forces at work within him. In this way, Kusnacht helped give birth to Jung's psychology of the supraordinate, the archetypal ps ychology of The Self (Hayman, 1999). The Bollingen retreat, which really isn't in Bollingen village but near to it, and to which Jung referred as the "Tower," served as a different sort of container for Jung's explorations. Whereas Kusnacht functioned as the stable center of family, friends, colleagues, and clinical practice, Bollingen was the space away from the extraverted activity of Jung's family life, patient care, and the like. Kusnacht situated Jung in the here and now, with all the routines and ordinary activities of the work-a-day world, when Jung needed a dependable structure the most, that is, during the lengthy period when he was first formulating his hypothesis of a collective unconscious. Kusnacht provided Jung the means to journey safely into the uncharted psychic underworld and to return more or less unscathed. Bollingen was different. It was in the natural setting of Bollingen that Jung lived out his introvert ed nature, becoming more truly who he was destined to be. As Jung matured psychically, Bollingen matured physically. Jung's simple retreat gradually developed from its beginnings as a lone tower into a small enclosed compound of three towers with connecting structures. Each and every addition to the original round tower became the materialization in solid form of a psychic content that Jung had worked with, integrated and owned as his. It was as if in order to delve ever deeper into the mystery that is psyche, Jung had actually to replicate his psychic maturation in earth-bound structures of stone and mortar. Jung (1965) writes as much in Memories, Dreams, Reflections, and I quote,
I had to achieve a kind of representation in stone of my innermost thoughts and of the knowledge I had acquired. Or, to put it another way, I had to make a confession of faith in stone [italics added]. That was the beginning of the "Tower" (p. 223)
Bollingen, then, is the manifestation in space and time of Jung's own process of individuation, his opus magnum fashioned from the enduring substance of the earth's maternal womb. By the time Bollingen was completed with the addition of a third tower in 1955, Jung had constructed an impressive oeuvre by which he was known world-wide. Notwithstanding this achievement, Jung considered the different facets of his scholarly work to have been, "but by-products of an ultimate process of individuation" (Jung cited, Serrano, 1971, p. 51). Bollingen was Jung's reflection permanently engraved in quarried stone. The difficult and demanding journey on the road to Self that Jung had embarked upon so many years earlier at Kusnacht reached its maturity at Bollingen, and its fulfillment at his death. The final threshold place, Jung's grave site with its five foot tall headstone (Neff & Delong, n.d.), brings his life and work full circle. Jung's grave will be addressed towards the end of this paper.
What has been covered up to this point will have been familiar ground to most if not all of you. It isn't anything new or anything especially revealing as far as the facts go, and is possibly most interesting in the arrangement of the material. The central idea presented is that Jung's home at Kusnacht and his retreat at Bollingen provided Jung with just the right environment for the development and deepening of his psychology, and for his own growth to wholeness. Both of these, Jung's psychology and his individuation, are inextricably linked and cannot legitimately be separated.
Keeping this in mind, I will now bring the discussion back around to the specific focus of this paper, which is the deciphering of two inscriptions, Vocatus atque non vocatus deus aderit and quaero quod impossible, with which Jung marked his home, hearth, and grave. To discover Jung's intent, we must begin by exploring their placement at the threshold since the archetypal symbol of threshold carries the weight of meaning for these two inscriptions.
Every dwelling has a threshold, and most have two, possibly more. It's likely that upon hearing the word "threshold," you will have conjured up the image of the wood sill or stone slab immediately underlying a doorway. This is the most common understanding of threshold, that of the entry point which marks the place of transition from outside to inside or from one place to another. Unlike a bridge or gate, which serves a similar purpose of allowing access to a different environment, a threshold as material thing is solid and firmly set into or upon the ground; a threshold grounds one to the earth.
Threshold also refers to phenomena other than tangible matter. For example, a psychic threshold refers to the place of transition from one belief to another, or the shift from one state of being to another. Thus threshold is both place and process. As place, it is the point of transition marking the boundary between two opposing regions (Barrie, 1996); as process, threshold holds together the tension inherent in duality and paradox (Eliade, 1987). The entrance, beginning, and opening to a state or action (Onions, 1955), threshold is a powerful place of communication between the opposing worlds that lie on either side of it - the profane temporal world of history, of human affairs and events, on the one side, and the sacred metaphysical world of soul or psyche on the other (Eliade, 1987). Threshold is the in-between zone where passage from one sphere or one way of being to another is made possible. Inside and outside, sacred and profane, psyche and matter, conscio us and unconscious, are among the significant "regions" that the threshold both divides and brings together at its borders. At its essence, threshold is the stable center that mediates between and holds the tension of the opposites; it is a place of possibilities where both sides have the potential to be seen and where energy has the opportunity to flow in either direction.
Jung was a boundary crosser. He possessed the Hermes-like ability to cross the accepted boundaries between the physical world and the psychical world, and, to return with the knowledge he had gained. Every boundary crosser begins and ends the journey at a threshold. The archetypal symbol of threshold held great importance for Jung, and a close reading of his work, especially his alchemical writings, confirms this. When we turn from his writings to his dwelling places, the significance of threshold as symbol is evident in the prominent placement of Latin inscriptions over the physical thresholds of the Kusnacht home, the Tower hearth, and the headstone at his grave. The importance of these inscriptions is evidenced by the fact that they are in Latin, the language of the Church and of alchemy, that is, the language of religion and science. The inscriptions are also carved into the stone and thus intended as permanent and enduring fixtures to their sites. These i nscriptions are specific to these threshold placements. In order to understand what they mean beyond their English translation, one must understand what the threshold symbolizes at each particular dwelling. It is to these inscriptions and their meaning - which is intimately connected to their threshold context - that we now turn.
Vocatus atque non vocatus deus aderit, "Called or not called, the god will be present." Everyone who walked down the front path to Jung's Kusnacht home saw this enigmatic message as they approached the building's threshold. Everyone who stood at the Baroque entrance door, waiting to be admitted, waited under the lintel bearing this weighty message. The question is, what does it mean? Why would Jung select this long-remembered and puzzling phrase from the humanist writings of Erasmus, and insert it here, boldly chiseled into his entrance way for all to behold and ponder? Jung gives us some understanding as to its intent when he writes that:
It is a Delphic oracle....It says: yes, the god will be on the spot, but in what form
and to what purpose? (Adler & Jaffe, 1975, II, p. 611).
Jung is saying that god, The Self archetype, or whatever we choose to name the power that animates all creation, is ever available to us. We don't have to do anything, and we also can't control it. For as long as we are alive, this ultimately unfathomable psychic force is active within us, guiding and directing us in a process of psychic growth and maturation, a process Jung named individuation. The form taken by and the purpose of this individual journey to wholeness is as unique to the person experiencing the dictates of The Self as individuals are unique, one from the other. Jung emphasizes this all-important point by placing this inscription on the entrance door lintel. The lintel is the weight-discharging horizontal piece above the door and directly over the threshold. In name, purpose, and function, lintel mirrors the threshold beneath it. In name, lintel is derived from the Old French linteau for threshold (Onions, 1955, p. 1149). In partnership with the grounded threshold, the lintel above creates the opening between two places. This doubling reinforces the entrance place as a power place; it is both the potent symbol and powerful vehicle of passage from one world to another and must be crossed with care.
Jung took seriously the threshold's dual function of creating the space between while at the same time both uniting and separating the different realms. Hence the placement of the Vocatus inscription at exactly this spot. Jung wrote:
It is a remind[er] to my patients and myself: Timor dei initium sapientiae [The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom]. Here another not less important road begins...to God himself and this seems to be the ultimate question (Adler & Jaffe, 1975, II, p. 611).
Vocatus atque non vocatus deus aderit is the guardian of the entry way to this road. The Vocatus inscription invokes the power of The Self archetype, while also stating that no invocation is needed. This is the paradox of the archetype of Self and of the individuation process: The Self leads and directs us in the on-going innate process to wholeness - we help it along by working with it, or we do nothing. At the most basic level it doesn't really matter: It happens whether we want it to or not.
In keeping with the duality inherent in all things psychical, this threshold message offers both an invitation, and a precautionary note. It warns all who are about to enter - do not cross the threshold unprepared and in ignorance of what you will meet here inside this house, inside yourself, on your road to Self. The god who resides here is malevolent as well as benevolent. Such is the nature of psyche. This warning is necessary, for to stand at the threshold
is to indicate one's readiness to obey the rules by which the place is governed. But this readiness...requires acceptance.... To stand at the threshold is also to place oneself under the protection of the [one who governs there] (Chevalier & Gheerbrant, 1996, p. 997).
Jung is saying, in effect, that crossing his threshold into therapy is serious business and is not to be undertaken lightly or by the fainthearted; it requires a strong ego, one strong enough to surrender to the dictates of The Self. To encounter The Self is to deal with issues of life and death, fate and destiny, so the threshold must be crossed consciously, mindful of the dangers that await within the depths of the psychic sphere. Crossing the threshold to Self is transformative. The encounter may be positive or negative; it may entail risk or reward, loss or gain, but in all cases the crossing marks the cross-er of thresholds in some way.
While Kusnacht is the threshold place that marks Jung's struggle with psyche, Bollingen is Jung's realization in stone of that hard-won psychic wholeness. Acting as an axis mundi, the tower at Bollingen connected Jung concretely with the three realms of earth, heaven, and the underworld, that is, with his total self. Within the squat round tower, whose shape represents the enclosing embrace of the maternal womb, Jung nurtured his instinctual nature and began living into his introverted personality to a degree not possible at Kusnacht. It was here in the "smoke-smudged kitchen" (Wehr, 1988, p. 226) Jung was most at home: the open hearth, cooking utensils arrayed on the rough stone walls, simple peasant furnishings, and carefully stacked wood ready to hand, to heat water for cooking, washing up, or for warmth and company in the evenings.
The first tower is a psychic center point of Bollingen containing as it does the kitchen with its hearth - the most physically alive part of the household because of the vital functions carried out there. Jung indicates the significance of the hearth by carving into the stone above it the inscription, Quaero quod impossible, that is, "seek that which is not possible" As one would expect, this inscription, like the one at Kusnacht, makes no sense if taken at face value but when considered in relation to its placement, its meaning takes shape. Quaero quod impossibile, alludes directly to the alchemical process of transformation. By placing this inscription at the hearth, the heart and focus point of home, and a powerful threshold place, Jung acknowledges the crucial role that alchemy played in his understanding of individuation. The placement over the fireplace highlights the psychological and alchemical analogy between the tra nsformation of the individual and that of firewood to heat. Understanding and engaging with this transformational process was Jung's life-long pursuit By placing this inscription at the vital center of his most private dwelling, Jung reminded himself daily of his greatest work and greatest joy. At every meal time, and whenever he sat reflecting or relaxing in front of his fire-warmed hearth, Jung was reminded of his greatest discovery, the means by which one comes "to terms with that indefinable Being we call God" (Jaffe, 1979, p. 207), Jung's greatest desire.
Jung's quest for wholeness, his road to Self, ends at his death. Or does it? At this third and final threshold place, Jung publicly professes something about which he had chosen to be silent during his lifetime - his own belief in God and life after death. Jung's grave is his last word and testament to both his most publicly asserted belief, the lifelong process of individuation, and his most private belief, the transformation of the spirit after death. Whereas Bollingen was Jung's "confession of faith in stone" of this psychic process active in his life, his grave is his proclamation and affirmation of his faith in the transformation of the spirit after death. Once again, Jung has carved his beliefs into stone, into the four borders of his headstone. Vocatus atque non vocatus, deus aderit frames the margins above and below, similar in placement to lintel and threshold. A passage from St. Paul uote s Resurrection epistle to the Corinthians [I Corinthians 15:47/King James] (Pregeant, 1995) appears on the upright or vertical margins. Its English translation reads: The first man is of the earth and is earthly [facing left] and the second man is of heaven and is heavenly [facing right] (Wehr, 1988, p. 457). By the doubling of the Vocatus inscription at the top and bottom, mirroring threshold and lintel, and by the placement of the Resurrection scripture at both vertical edges, mirroring doorposts, Jung has clearly marked his grave as threshold, as point of passage. With these inscriptions, Jung asserts his rock-solid belief in the guiding presence, influence, and power of the archetype of The Self, in life and in death.
Of these three threshold places, Jung's grave site holds the greatest symbolic significance. Much could be said about the symbolism, but time permits only a few brief words. The headstone is the height and breadth of a small man. It is meant to be seen, to be noticed. It both marks and guards the burial place. As marker, the headstone not only serves the purpose of identifying the one interred, but also marks the burial site as a threshold place, an axis mundi or sacred site of convergence where the three worlds meet: that of the gods, the living and the dead. As guardian, the headstone invokes the power of Hermes in his dual role as god of both the crossroad and the journey, directing the dead on their journey to the next life and providing safe passage along the way.
The difficult and demanding journey to The Self, upon which Jung embarked so many years earlier at Kusnacht, and by which he was transformed in his private world at Bollingen, had reached its fulfillment. And at this final guidepost, and once again in stone, Jung had carved his most deeply-held beliefs. In stone, as he had in his life's work, Jung created an enduring legacy to his unshakeable knowledge of the power of the archetype of The Self.
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Paper Presented: The Jungian Society Conference, Salve Regina College, Newport, RI, August 6, 2004
Stephanie M. Buck, Ph.D. - Analytical Psychology
172 S. Prospect St., Burlington, VT 05401