Symbols of Individuation in Religion and Mythology – The Case of Egypt



Around 1500 B.C. ancient Egypt created an illustrated vision of the hereafter that ranks among the greatest works of humankind. Its initial impact endured for more than a millennium and served as the model for an entire literary genre known as “Books of the Afterlife” or “Books of the Netherworld”. In this 3 hour seminar, Dr. Andreas Schweizer explores the realm of religion and spirituality through the eyes of ancient Egyptian mythology. The oldest of these books on the afterlife is the Amduat, which literally means “that which is in the netherworld”. The Amduat describes the journey of the Sun-god and all the blessed dead traveling with him through the twelve nocturnal hours. It examines both their threatening impact and regenerating powers. No new order of creation can come to life without first encountering the disintegrating forces that are bent on destroying it. At the deepest point of this murky realm of the dead, while at the very edge of primordial darkness, the mystery of rebirth and the renewal of life takes place.

These images from ancient Egypt hold profound psychological wisdom. Marie-Louise von Franz once called the Sungod’s journey through the netherworld an “initial dream of humankind.” Indeed, the Book of Amduat is full of psychological truth, still valid in our day. This deep netherworld forms the foundation of our own psychic world and some of our images of heaven and hell. It contains highly charged energy, and only in this shadowy death are we made truly alive.

Carl Jung wrote many books and papers on symbols in religion and mythology, finding in these sources evidence for his theory of the archetypal level of the psyche, namely the collective unconscious. Using a comparative methodology, he established general human patterns of individuation that are available to all people. He further held the view that modern men and women suffer from the absence of explicit myth and symbol in their lives. This creates an empty space where the core of meaning and the values derived from this core should be located. It was to address this problem of absence of meaning that he sought to recover the symbolic understanding of myth for modernity.

Ancient myth can teach us not only about the symbolic world in which the ancients lived but also something about ourselves, since moderns too hold within their psychic structures patterns with similar shape and process. In his recently published book, The Sungod’s Journey through the Netherworld: Reading the Ancient Egyptian Amduat, Jungian psychoanalyst Andreas Schweizer investigates an ancient Egyptian mythical account of an archetypal process of death and rebirth, a transformation process that still applies to people in our own modern times.

In this seminar, Murray Stein presents a general theory of the archetypal structures underlying the process of individuation, while Andreas Schweizer presents an account of the Egyptian myth of the Sun-god’s journey through the underworld, from descent into death to rebirth through transformation. Dr. Schweizer uses many colorful images of the Egyptian story. These ideas and images are brought into relation with the analytic process as experienced in Jungian analysis today, also a process of transformation.


Murray Stein, PhD is a supervising training analyst at The International School of Analytical Psychology in Zurich, Switzerland (ISAP Zurich). He is the author of The Principle of Individuation and many other books and articles in the field of Jungian Psychoanalysis. From 2001 to 2004 he was president of the International Association for Analytical Psychology. He has lectured internationally and presently makes his home in Switzerland.

Dr. Andreas Schweizer is a practicing Jungian analyst. He studied theology in Zürich and Ghana as well as Egyptology with Prof. Erik Hornung in Basel. He has been a training analyst since 1986, first at the C.G. Jung Institute in Küsnacht and currently with ISAP-Zurich. He has been president of the Eranos conferences for the last 10 years and is also currently president of the Psychology Club, founded 1916 by C.G. Jung. He has published numerous books, including The Sungod’s Journey through the Netherworld, Reading the Ancient Egyptian Amduat, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2010

Learning Objectives:

1. To gain an understanding of Jungian thinking about archetypal patterns of the collective unconscious as these pertain to psychological and spiritual development
2. To learn about the mythic account of individuation and transformation as this is depicted in Egyptian religion
3. To gain a perception of how myth and religion depict psychological structures and processes
4. To become sensitized to the dynamics of transformation in longterm, depth psychotherapy
5. To be introduced to terminology and conceptualizations in analytical psychology that bear on the question of meaning in modern times.Readings:

Reading List:

Jung, C.G. 1911-12/1970. Symbols of Transformation, in Collected Works, Vol. 5. Princeton University Press.
_____. 2009. The Red Book. Ed. Sonu Shamdasani. New York: Norton.
Schweizer, A. 2010. The Sungod’s Journey through the Netherworld: Reading the Ancient Egyptian Amduat. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press
Stein, M. 2006. The Principle of Individuation. Wilmette, IL.: Chiron.


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