Interview with Murray Stein for Pacifica Graduate Institute
On April 1, 2020, Dr. Murray Stein, internationally known Jungian analyst and author, was interviewed by Dr. Robert Henderson on the subject of the coronavirus (here). In the interest of exploring further the powerful images and ideas found in this seminal interview, Pacifica will offer a series of new interviews with Murray, designed to address the pandemic from a depth perspective. In this first interview, Murray will be interviewed by Dr. Pat Katsky, a Jungian analyst, Pacifica faculty member, and former Pacifica provost.
PK: In your interview with Robert Henderson, you describe the virus as offering us an experience of Umbra Mundi, “a ‘world shadow’ hovering over us and infecting our psychic lives.” You see it as spreading “over the globe like a solar eclipse,” and having the essential features of “invisibility, universality, and numinosity.” Have you had any further thoughts about the Umbra Mundi?
MS: You ask about Umbra Mundi. It is a shadow that has fallen over the entire world. Where does it come from? Why has it befallen us at this moment in human history? These are important questions to consider.
The Umbra Mundi casts a pall of uncertainty over our easy assumptions. We thought of the future as an extension of the recent past, and now suddenly there is doubt, anxiety, fear of the dark that has descended and surrounded us. The future is obscured. We were in the daylight, as it seemed, and now it’s dark and the way ahead is overshadowed. This is the global condition in this time. It’s not personal, it’s collective, it’s everywhere. The shadow falls equally on everybody. There is no hiding place, even in religion. The churches and holy sites are in lockdown.
We can’t say, though, that theology hasn’t prepared us for this. Biblical testaments and many religions speak of times like this in the lives of individuals and collectives. We also know of the nigredo stage in alchemy, which shows images of black crows, corpses, the eclipse. The black sun of alchemy, of which Jung writes in his late works, is an equivalent of Umbra Mundi: “… there is a Sol niger, a black sun, which coincides with the nigredo and putrefactio, the state of death” (CW 14, par. 113). And of course, many mythologies speak of such states of consciousness. What is remarkable about this present time is that it is universal. It really is an Umbra Mundi. It is not a local phenomenon, a personal mood or a passing feeling. It is an objective reality. We are in darkness, globally.
We ask: Why now? What does this mean? It is more than just a “pause” in the frenetic pace that preceded. It is a forced “full stop.” We must sit in the dark for a while until our eyes adjust to the new condition we are in. I would not want to say what will come out of this or what we will see in this darkness that makes a difference for the future. Mostly this is a time to practice “wu wei” wait and see what comes. This is how we meet the unconscious. What will emerge from the darkness of our minds in this time of Umbra Mundi? Dreams, images, thoughts—welcome them and work with them.
In the dark, you do not know the way forward. You can only take the next and most necessary step, one at a time, as Jung wisely counsels. I think of Dante in the dark wood. Then Virgil appears, and they begin their journey. “Abandon hope all who enter here,” reads the sign over the gateway to the Inferno, and bravely they enter that unknown and forbidding region of the psyche.
This is the condition of the world. We are in the dark woods and uncertainty has infected all. Perhaps a Virgil will appear to accompany us through this night. We have a lot to learn in the Umbra Mundi.
PK: You suggest that “its archetypal nature might be considered to be ‘the dark side of God.’” Using these ideas, it seems that we are collectively entering into an engagement with the dark side of the transpersonal dimension of the Self. For those of us in the West, finding our way forward may require us to address in new ways the long-standing one-sidedness of Western deity images. By contrast, some Hindu deities, such as Shiva and Kali, include in themselves deep opposites of generativity and destruction, as do other deity images present in spiritual traditions found in cultures around the world. And some Eastern spiritual traditions don’t rest at all on direct images of divinity. I wonder how these background spiritual approaches may affect the character of our deep engagement in this moment as the dark side of the Self presents itself globally.
MS: From Christianity we have inherited a rather one-sided God-image, one of pure love and light. As you know, Jung objected to the doctrine of evil as privatio boni (evil as the absence of good) and saw evil as a potent force in its own right but at the same time contained within an unio oppositorum, a complex unity. His concept was a more inclusive God-image that would contain light and dark, good and evil, within a single Godhead. So Umbra Mundi is an aspect of Unus Mundus (Unity), as is Anima Mundi.
In Jungian psychology, we speak of the Self as an unio oppositorum. Jung was adamant on this point. The reason is clear: Human beings are complex and have a shadow, and the shadow is grounded in the Self, that is in our nature. No one can work in psychology for any length of time without experiencing this feature of the personality, either in projection and transference or in fantasies and dreams. And our biblical religion teaches us that we are made in the image of God (imago Dei), so this means that the God-image also has a shadow. In biblical theology, this is called Satan or the Devil. Human beings and God mirror one another according to this doctrine. The Umbra Mundi is the shadow side of God (i.e., Unus Mundus) which is now manifest in the world.
The question is: What does this mean? Why are we being given this “revelation” (if I may use that word) at this specific time in our history as a human species? I think we have to take this pandemic as a revelation, and therefore, it must have meaning. It is incumbent on us to interpret this phenomenon or it will not help us to avoid an even more grievous future.
PK: Exploring the possibility of shifts in Western deity images brings to mind two images from the medieval alchemical text the Splendor Solis, images that suggest an awareness beyond duality. They are Image 19, The Darkness of the Putrified Sun, and Image 22, The Red Sun. Does it seem to you that these images might offer glimpses of an experience of consciousness that holds Anima Mundi and Umbra Mundi in more shared awareness?
MS: Awareness beyond duality would certainly have to embrace the opposites, dark and light. These images from alchemy suggest such a state of mind. The dark sun is a symbol of energy in regression, in decline; the red sun is energy in progression, streaming brilliantly outward. This is a rhythm. And we must tune in to these energy rhythms. The ancient Egyptians knew of this as the journey of the sun across the sky in the day and through the dark underworld at night. The dangers of the night sea journey are recorded in detail in the tomb paintings. The Amduat, the funerary text that our colleague Andreas Schweizer has commented on so beautifully in his book, The Sungod’s Journey Through the Netherworld, spells out what happens at each of the hours of the journey through the underworld. We can learn from texts like the Amduat what must be faced in the Umbra Mundi and how to make this passage to a new day. This rhythm is fundamental to the Unus Mundus, and it will repeat itself to the end of time.
Many people are asking what will the future be like after this dark period of the pandemic is past. Will the revelation of Umbra Mundi change the attitude of humans significantly on a global scale? Is this a beginning of transformation of consciousness? Almost everyone I speak to or read agrees that there will be “new normal.” But what will that be? One would hope that it would feature a clearer understanding of our limits as a human species on this planet and a greater sense of our interconnectedness with other species and with nature. We are one substance—human beings, other species, nature, cosmos, God. The whole is made up of interconnected pieces, and everything is in a dynamic relation to everything else. This one substance is energy, fundamentally, as we have learned from quantum physics, and the energy of the sun is the source of life energy on this earth. The sun itself is a piece of the cosmos, which is made up of energy fluctuations. Humans are not in charge of how the energy is distributed and directed. We have learned this once again from coronavirus. The whole has its own way of regulating the parts, and in this moment humans are begin regulated by a power that is greater than our total and combined will.
PK: The image of the abduction of Persephone from Greek mythology comes to mind— for many of us it feels as though we have been abducted out of our previous life and plunged into this new dark reality.
MS: That’s a good metaphor for this sudden, unwanted and unexpected, and rather brutal enantiodromia. From innocent maidenhood to the silence of the underworld in such a short period of time—yes, it’s a shock. But we have to remember that Persephone was transformed by this descent into darkness, into the Queen of the Underworld. She adapted. Her eyes had to adjust to the dark in order to function in her new situation.
PK: Do you imagine that a transcendent third might emerge into our awareness if we can hold the tension between the archetypal energy fields of Anima Mundi and Umbra Mundi?
MS: This is what we learned from Jung. By holding the tension of the opposites—in this case the threatening darkness of the Umbra Mundi and the life-giving light of Anima Mundi—a “third” will appear. I think we can do this if we stay close to our dreams. A new synthesis of the opposites will emerge that blends their features but also transcends their limits. We should be on the lookout for symbols. The symbols will appear to individuals and probably also to the collective mind. The crucial thing is to live with these symbols correctly. They offer hope and the beginning of understanding.
Murray Stein is a graduate of Yale University (B.A. 1965), Yale Divinity School (M.Div. 1969), and the University of Chicago (Ph.D. 1985). He received his Diploma in Analytical Psychology from the C. G. Jung Institute in Zurich in 1973. He had a private practice in Wilmette, Illinois from 1980 to 2003 and was a training analyst with the C. G. Jung Institute of Chicago. Since 2003, he has lived in Switzerland and is a Training and Supervising Analyst with the International School of Analytical Psychology/Zurich. He currently has a private practice in Zurich, Switzerland. He is a founding member of the Inter-Regional Society of Jungian Analysts and the Chicago Society of Jungian Analysts, and he was the first president of the Chicago Society of Jungian Analysts (1980–1985). He is a former president of the International Association for Analytical Psychology (2001–2004) and a former president of ISAP Zurich (2008-2012), and has presented at Pacifica Graduate Institute programs. He is the author of In MidLife, Jung’s Treatment of Christianity, Transformation: Emergence of the Self, Jung’s Map of the Soul, Minding the Self, The Bible as Dream and other books, and he is the editor of Jungian Psychoanalysis.
Pat Katsky is a graduate of UC Berkeley (B.A.) and UCLA (M.A. and Ph.D.). She was trained as a Jungian analyst at the Los Angeles Jung Institute and certified in 1991. She has maintained a private practice as an analyst since then. She was president of the Los Angeles Jung Institute (1997-1999) and serves regularly on the reviewing and certifying boards of the San Francisco and Los Angeles Jung Institutes. She has been a core faculty member at Pacifica Graduate Institute for 20 years. She is currently a core faculty member in the Ph.D. program in Depth Psychology specializing in Integrative Therapy and Healing Practices, and sits on the management council for the institute. She was formerly provost and the chair of the institute’s Depth Psychotherapy Ph.D. program. Her research interests include the religious function of the psyche, the process of becoming a psychotherapist, and the world of dreams. She has published and lectured on these topics in the United States and abroad. In 1976, she co-founded a non-profit counseling center in Los Angeles, Counseling West, which serves individuals, couples, and families seeking a depth psychotherapeutic approach in charting a path in their lives. She continues to participate as a member of the center’s board of directors.
An Interview with Murray Stein, Ph.D by Rev. Dr. Robert S Henderson
RH: We have entered a strange time. Covid-19 has turned the world upside down. In the many interviews you and I have done, we have always had a lot to say. Is there something about this pandemic that has left us speechless?
MS: Yes, it has left almost everyone speechless. It is such a surprising development in the global community that “black swan” is almost not sufficient to name it. But even if left speechless for a moment, we can think about it. It has been called a “pandemic,” which means it affects everyone on the planet.
The sense of “pan” (“all,” across the board!) is strong, and it underscores the connectedness of everyone. Usually, we think of the “anima mundi” as a loving presence, like a mother, that connects people, but in this case, it is the shadow that is connecting us. This is a big surprise! Still, the pandemic is bringing a sense of community to many people, and they are feeling, in addition to anxiety, a sense of mutuality and responsibility for one another. What I do has an effect on my neighbor, and so we must become more conscious of our everyday decisions and actions. All the individuals on earth are being called to responsibility.
RH: If you feel “black swan” is not sufficient, has another image come to you?
MS: The image that comes to my mind is an Umbra Mundi, a “world shadow” hovering over us and infecting our psychic lives. I see this shadow spreading over the globe like a solar eclipse. The alchemical term for it is nigredo. The sun is covered by the shadow of death. It is the familiar stage that signifies the beginning of a significant transformation. We are being asked to walk through the valley of the shadow of death. It is biblical. The question is: will we be able to use this experience for individuation? Or will it just pass like a bad dream of the night that when we awake we are happy to be free from?
RH: What is the first step like of this walk?
MS: Typically the first step means to enter fully into a state of “confusion,” with the intention to explore the question, “where am I?” Individuals find themselves in something like a dark wood like Dante at the beginning of his journey into the Inferno. They are searching for a way back or out, for something solid, for something they can count on to give them light and hope and a sense of direction. There is anxiety here in this dark place, sometimes bordering on panic, and there is often a sense of impending catastrophe if the way back is not found, and quickly. This is our time.
People are wondering: Is this the end of the world as we have known it? Is this the Apocalypse? No one knows the answer. We are all in the dark, groping, searching. But the important thing is to look around within this space. There are no answers “out there.” No one knows the future. Perhaps a guide will appear, someone like Virgil or Philemon.
We might ask, too: What does the unconscious say? what is its response to this crisis situation? I have seen a number of dreams that indicate “death.” Death means the end of the story as it has been told. So we step into the valley of the shadow of death and proceed from there. There is no other way out.
RH: We are asked to stay at home which can be a huge challenge for many people, especially with so many cancellations of work, school, concerts, sporting events. What are we to do with so much time at home?
MS: Usually people have complained about not having enough time to record their dreams, to do active imagination, to read Jung’s Red Book, and so on. Now with time at our disposal, why not make good use of the opportunity? This crisis will pass sooner or later. 18 months is the outside guess right now until a vaccine can be developed and distributed. Then the pace of activity will quickly accelerate and return to high speed. Put this period of time into perspective and use it creatively.
The challenge will be to learn from this experience and to carry the learning forward afterwards. What can we extract from this slowdown and enforced period of isolation that will help us to find a wiser pace and balance in life for when the doors are opened and we can walk and run freely again? I suggest we consider this time a precious moment in our lives for looking inward, for introversion, and for practicing centroversion, the mindful circumambulation of the greater self.
RH: What is Umbra Mundi and what are we learning from it?
MS: Umbra Mundi is a companion to Anima Mundi. Anima Mundi is the soul of the world, the divine within material cosmos. Umbra Mundi is its shadow. You could say it is the dark side of God, as Jung and many of his students have written about this unpleasant topic. Because it is archetypal it infects everyone.
Its most essential features are invisibility, universality, and numinosity. Because Coronavirus moves among us invisibly, is found on all continents, and strikes us as awesome and powerful, it represents the Umbra Mundi. We don’t know who has it or if we have it ourselves. It is everywhere, in all parts of the world, and it instills fear in the collective psyche, which we all feel. Moreover, as Rudolf Otto says about the numinous experience, it is awesome. The perception of Umbra Mundi makes us shudder. It is a mysterium tremendum et fascinans, and it infects us with a mysterious terror and sense of vulnerability. We are not in control, and it is cold and relentless.
We are living in what seems like a sci-fi world at the moment, and the challenge is to accept this as a reality and not brush it aside and dismiss it as fantasy. It has happened so fast. The Umbra Mundi invaded our unstable world unannounced and silently, and it threatens to undo the delicate fabric of our collective life on a global level.
What are we learning from it? This remains to be seen. I have no doubt that we have been handed an opportunity for a vast transformation of consciousness on a general collective level. Many people are talking about that possibility. On a deeper level, there may be a transformation afoot in the collective unconscious. I take this appearance of Umbra Mundi as synchronistic. It was predicted by astrologers. It is timely, and we have to discover it’s meaning. This will emerge over a long period of time.
Remember that we are at only the beginning of the Aquarian Age. Jung thought it would take 600 years for the new God-image to come fully into view. This passage through the valley of the shadow of death is a transit and it will take time. We aren’t used to thinking in such a long term perspective. We want a fix and we want it now. Maybe the first lesson to learn is patience. A new humanity is being born. Its brain cells have not yet been fully formed and interconnected. It’s just barely creeping into sight.
RH: As you said, this is a time now for introversion. After all your years of clinical work, teaching, and study how do you understand introversion?
MS: Introversion is defined by Jung as libido (i.e., interest, attention) directed to the subject rather than to objects. It is self-reflection, looking in the mirror. When we reflect on our feelings, our thoughts, our presuppositions, in other words on our subjectivity, we are operating in the introverted mode. When we direct our attention to objects, people, events around us, we are in the extroverted mode. What isolation does to people generally is to get them to pay attention to how they are reacting to things, how they are feeling about what is going on around them, to become aware of what they are thinking – their emotions, thoughts, fantasies – and by introverting they become more aware of themselves as subjects.
In Jungian style “inner work,” we use the mode of introversion also to gain access to the unconscious, which is a huge part of the inner world, in fact, the larger part by far of the two domains, consciousness, and the unconscious. Ego consciousness is small by comparison with the unconscious. In fact, the unconscious is immeasurable and includes personal, cultural, and collective (i.e., universally human and perhaps even cosmic) dimensions.
Reflecting on our dreams as images of the unconscious and not as representations of the object world leads us to consider the factors underlying our conscious subjectivity, factors that we call complexes and archetypes. We also use active imagination to explore the “inner world” of the psyche.
The benefit of intensive introversion along these lines and using these methods is that we can establish a connection to the inner world of the psyche that is as strong as our connection to the world of objects that are available to the senses. Extroversion leads to knowledge of the outer world, introversion to knowledge of the inner world. What we try to create is an equivalence, or a balance, between our relation to the inner world on the one hand and to the outer world on the other.
This achievement is highly unusual in our basically extroverted cultures today. People are much more trained and habituated to attending to the surrounding world – using all the media available to us especially in our presently isolated condition – and tend to fear and avoid taking a look inward at who and what they are. In fact, this is one of the causes of the panic that is running through the world today, especially in Western societies. The inner world is the unknown and the unexplored.
People from Asian cultures who have grown up with Buddhism are much more adept at introversion than most Western people are. Meditation is a form of introversion. It withdraws attention from the outer world and lets go of thoughts that tend in that direction (i.e., our daily obsessions and ruminations). The West is catching on, and meditation centers are quite popular nowadays.
Another form of introversion is prayer. If one prays to an invisible power like God or the Saints, one is for that period of time withdrawing attention from the sensate world of objects and directing it to an archetypal image or presence. In Jungian work, we encourage our clients to work with their symbolic images in a similar way – to attend to them, to speak with them, to listen to them. Active imagination can be compared to meditation and to prayer even though there are some differences.
RH: Jung said, “a man should be able to say he has done his best to form a conception of life after death, or to create some image of it— even if he must confess his failure.” During this crisis, I imagine a lot of people are thinking about death. What is your view of death and life after?
MS: My view is that after death we continue to exist in the form of a subtle body, in a symbol realm. We become symbols, which are real in that realm and impact this one in certain ways. There is some interaction with the material realm, for instance in the form of dreams or visions and synchronistic events.
From this side, we have glimpses and hints. From that side, it seems there is something similar. The windows are somewhat open between these two dimensions. Both exist in the same unified reality.
This is ancient wisdom shared by humans in many cultures old and new. Only our standard modern world view does not include this other aspect of total reality. Jung, of course, knew very well of this reality, and that is why he could say he did not believe (in God), he knew – this is the total reality that he experienced personally and writes about in Memories, Dreams, and Reflections and other texts. We will experience it too if we pay attention to dreams and visions and take note of synchronicity, especially around death.
In times like these we are living through right now, people frequently experience revelations in their dreams that tell them about this reality, which extends beyond this life, and not only after but beyond in an encompassing sense.
A big dream, as Jung calls it, offers gnosis, knowledge of a symbolic world that underlies, surrounds, and is infused within the one we know in the physical body and with our senses. We are held and contained in this larger reality. That’s why the Psalm writer says what he does as he walks through the valley of the shadow of death. He knows that he is in secure hands.
My views are based on experiences I’ve had in my personal life and ones I’ve walked through with analysands.
RH: It is near the end of March (2020) and the number of people infected by the coronavirus and who have died around the world have skyrocketed and we have not yet hit the worst. And yet about half of our country feel Covid-19 is a hoax. What is it about the shadow that invites such denial?
MS: Denial is a defense against painful thoughts and feelings and is a sign of underlying anxiety. The shadow of optimism is fear of imminent catastrophe. Most of us want to look on the bright side, to look forward to growth and health and prosperity.
Americans are known for their optimism, which can be a strength and a virtue or a refusal to acknowledge the tragic aspects of life, which are repressed and then become shadow. The pandemic is a test of the collective ego’s capacity to accept reality and to act accordingly.
To my limited knowledge, every country in the world has failed this test so far, with the possible exception of Taiwan. I live in Switzerland, a country famous for its good order and effectiveness, but the authorities here failed to register the threat of coronavirus, which was in unobstructed view right across the border in Italy. They were slow to act in accordance with that available knowledge, so now this “safe country” has the highest percentage of infected residents in the world. America is on the verge of a tsunami of desperately ill patients flooding the hospitals, and the president is promising it will all be over by Easter. This is immoral because he and everyone around him knows this is a false assurance.
But people will believe it because it plays into their defenses against overwhelming anxiety about the shadow of death hovering over the land. In addition, the shadow of a Great Depression looms and threatens the foundations of the country’s economic well being. Denial causes one to act too little and too late. The virus doesn’t hesitate to exploit this psychological weakness.
Murray Stein is a graduate of Yale University (B.A. 1965), Yale Divinity School (M.Div.1969), and the University of Chicago (Ph.D. 1985). He received his Diploma in Analytical Psychology from the C. G. Jung Institute in Zurich in 1973.He had a private practice in Wilmette, Illinois from 1980 to 2003 and was a training analyst with the C. G. Jung Institute of Chicago. Since 2003, he has lived in Switzerland and is a Training and Supervising Analyst with the International School of Analytical Psychology/Zurich. He currently has a private practice in Zurich, Switzerland.He is a founding member of the Inter-Regional Society of Jungian Analysts and the Chicago Society of Jungian Analysts, and he was the first president of the Chicago Society of Jungian Analysts (1980–1985).He is a former president of the International Association for Analytical Psychology (2001–2004) and a former president of ISAP Zurich (2008-2012). He is the author of In MidLife, Jung’s Treatment of Christianity, Transformation: Emergence of the Self, Jung’s Map of the Soul, Minding the Self, The Bible as Dream and other books, and he is the editor of Jungian Psychoanalysis. Murray and his wife, Jan, have three children, Hal, Sarah and Christopher, and four grandchildren.
Rev. Dr. Robert S. Henderson is a Poet, Jungian Psychotherapist and ordained Protestant Minister in Glastonbury, Connecticut. He and his wife, Janis, a psychotherapist, are the authors of the three-volume book, Living with Jung: “Enterviews” with Jungian Analysts. Many of their enterviews have been published in Quadrant, Spring Journal, Psychological Perspectives, Jung Journal, and Harvest. Correspondence:244 Wood Pond Road, Glastonbury, CT 06033. E-mail: Rob444@cox.