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Category Archives: On the Unknown

Scientist: …I hardly know anymore who and where I am.
Teacher: None of us knows that, as soon as we stop fooling ourselves.
Scholar: And yet we still have our path?
Teacher: To be sure. But by forgetting it too quickly we give up thinking.


– Heidegger (Discourse on Thinking, pg. 62)


The great, to some extent ultimate, task posed here is that of understanding fear in all its forms as an instrument of the Self. Fear of the unknown and of all that is ego-alien turns out to be fear of the unknown aspects of “one-Self” and of “one-Self” as the unknown. In this sense the transformation process of becoming one-Self again and again embraces new unknowns, indeed, ever-new worlds of fear-inspiring unknowns.

In development through the archetypal stages, the individual must overcome fear with each transition from one phase to another, which, of course, always means the new phase of an existence unknown until that time. In this context we cannot take up the various ways in which men and women overcome fear, nor can we address the striking and as yet not well understood fact that the manner in which the ego overcomes fear is symbolically “genital,” i.e., is coordinated with the specific form of the genitals. Thus the male form of overcoming fear is active, intrusive, and pugnaciously heroic just as the typical form of fear appears as “castration” fear. Conversely, women’s fear is the fear of rape, and her way of overcoming fear is not activately heroic but passively heroic, accepting and incorporating it in her surrender to fear.

But always and independently of any of its forms, overcoming fear represents a specific form of integration in which something alien to the ego, some piece of Not-I, is recognized and realized as one’s own. Thus the man experiences the Terrible Feminine in its character of anima and transformation as belonging to his own psyche, just as he experiences the maternal and elementary character as “his own,” and only after assimilating all these aspects of the feminine will a man attain to his own authenticity as a human Self that is male and female simultaneously. Only when the “pure masculinity” of the patriarchy has been overcome through this process of transformation does a man overcome the fear in which his “pure masculinity” screened itself from the otherness that appeared symbolically as feminine. The same holds true for woman and her fear of the Masculine, which she has only concealed by her identification with the animus world demanded by the patriarchy.

In this experience of transformation the human individual becomes conscious of the relentless power of the Self, which recasts all phases of development as well as all ego-conquests of the outer and inner worlds into aspects of Self-realization that manifest from the very beginning as automorphism, as a tendency at work in the psyche. When the personal Self that manifests as a fear-inducing world assaulting the ego from within and from without is integrated, not only the one who fears and the one who overcomes fear but that which arouses fear can be seen as belonging together. Just as the good and evil gods in Bardo Thodol are one and turn out to be only projections of an underlying third thing, here we are led to experience the unity of Self and world. Destiny in its unity of inside and outside that arouses fear from without and from within turns out to belong to humankind and to be the living experience of the personal Self. World events appearing from outside as much as inner, fear-inducing phenomena of the psyche prove to be disguises of the Self. Inner and outer realities that at first appear strange and hence frightening are later experienced and “unmasked” as belonging to one’s very own authentic being, and thereby lose their foreign as well as their fearsome character. In this transformation the ego experiences that it belongs fundamentally to the Self, and that, in the form of the ego-Self axis, this “belongingness” has determined the entire development of personality on a new level. When the ego grasps the degree to which the Self directs fear and uses it as a “tool for transformation,” it also experiences itself embraced by the Self’s demand for transformation. In this way, however, the ego unmasks its own annihilation through fear and recognizes it as a process of negation brought about by something unfamiliar that proves itself to be one’s most essential nature, and one gains a paradoxical security in the Self that creatively forces the ego into continual transformation. As the ego becomes the transparent exponent of the Self, this agent of transformation, the Self, becomes one’s most treasured essence that remains fearlessly creative throughout all transformations. Only in this way does fearlessness arise for the ego that no longer clings to itself but rather in transformation surrenders and devotes itself to the Self as to its “own.” Thus the ego-Self axis becomes humankind’s guarantee of a creative existence, i.e., of an existence of transformation. Despite this ego-Self unity, however, the opposition persists in which the ego, as a smaller part, is subjected to a Self that is existentially superior to and more than a match for the ego. This means that the ego must necessarily continue to experience fear. Fear disappears only when the ego has come to that stage of the conquest of fear in which the human being’s sense of security lies in existing not only as an ego but, in a mysterious and numinous way, also as a Self that guides the personality through all ego-phases and turns all of the ego’s fear-constellations into stages of transformation in which existence reveals itself as an unending metamorphosis of aspects of the creative.

– Neumann (The Fear of the Feminine, p.278-281)

But the earliest dawn is still prior to the birth of light out of the darkness, and a wealth of symbols surrounds it.

The form of representation peculiar to the unconscious is not that of the conscious mind. It neither attempts nor is able to seize hold of and define its object in a series of discursive explanations, and reduce them to clarity by logical analysis. The way of ┬áthe unconscious is different. Symbols gather round the thing to be explained, understood, interpreted. The act of becoming conscious consists in the concentric grouping of symbols around the object, all circumscribing and describing the unknown from many sides. Each symbol lays bare another essential side of the object to be grasped, points to another facet of meaning. Only the canon of these symbols congregating about the center in question, the coherent symbol group, can lead to an understanding of what the symbols point to and of what they are trying to express. The symbolic story of the beginning, which speaks to us from the mythology of all ages, is the attempt made by man’s childlike, prescientific consciousness to master problems and enigmas which are mostly beyond the grasp of even our developed modern consciousness. If our consciousness, with epistemological resignation, is constrained to regard the question of the beginning as unanswerable and therefore unscientific, it may be right; but the psyche, which can neither be taught nor led astray by the self-criticism of the conscious mind, always poses this question afresh as one that is essential to it.

The question of the beginning is also the question “Whence?” It is the original and fateful question to which cosmology and the creation myths have ever tried to give new and different answers. This original question about the origin of the world is at the same time the question about the origin of man, the origin of consciousness and of the ego; it is the fateful question “Where did I come from?” that faces every human being as soon a he arrives upon the threshold of self-consciousness.

The mythological answers to these questions are symbolical, like all answers that come from the depths of the psyche, the unconscious. The metaphorical nature of the symbol says: this is this, that is that. The statement of identity and the logic of consciousness erected upon it have no value for the psyche and the unconscious. The psyche blends, as does the dream; it spins and weaves together, combining each with each. The symbol is therefore an analogy, more an equivalence than an equation, and therein lies its wealth of meanings, but also its elusiveness. Only the symbol group, compact of partly contradictory analogies, can make something unknown, and beyond the grasp of consciousness, more intelligible and more capable of becoming conscious.

-Erich Neumann
(The Origin and History of Consciousness p.7-8)

Is not all that’s alive close and akin to you,
Does the Fate not herself keep you to serve her ends?
Well, then, travel defenceless
On through life, and fear nothing there!

All that happens there be welcome, be blessed to you,
Be an adept in joy, or is there anything
That could harm you there, heart, that
Could offend you, where you must go?

For, as quiet near shores, or in the silvery
Flood resounding afar, or over silent deep
Water travels the flimsy
Swimmer, likewise we love to be

Where around us there breathe, teem those alive, our kin,
We, their poets; and glad, friendly to every man,
Trusting all. And how else for
Each of them could we sing his god?

Though the wave will at times, flattering, drag below
One such brave man where, true, trusting he makes his way,
And the voice of that singer
Now falls mute as the hall turns blue;

Glad he died there, and still lonely his groves lament
Him whom most they had loved, lost, though with joy he drowned;
Often a virgin will hear his
Kindly song in the distant boughs.

When at nightfall a man like him, of our kind, comes
Past the place where he sank, many a thought he’ll give
To the site and the warning,
Then in silence, more armed, walk on.


To be aware of something that is not the projection of the known, there must be the elimination, through the understanding, of the process of the known. Why is it that the mind clings always to the known? Is it not because the mind is constantly seeking certainty, security? Its very nature is fixed in the known, in time; how can such a mind, whose very foundation is based on the past, on time, experience the timeless? It may conceive, formulate, picture the unknown, but that is all absurd. The unknown can come into being only when the known is understood, dissolved, put aside. That is extremely difficult, because the moment you have an experience of anything, the mind translates it into the terms of the known and reduces it to the past. I do not know if you have noticed that every experience is immediately translated into the known, given a name, tabulated and recorded. So the movement of the known is knowledge, and obviously such knowledge, learning, is a hindrance.

– Krishnamurti (The First and Last Freedom)