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The Spectrum of Consciousness


The Spectrum of Consciousness

Color Symbolism in the Typology of C. G. Jung

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Kiley Laughlin, October 7, 2015

Spectrum of ConsciousnessJung viewed color as a primary component of human experience and symbolic of psychic processes. Because of their qualitative properties—a type of qualia—colors can say a great deal about the modes of consciousness. By the end of the 1920s, Jung had begun to correlate four primary colors with the four psychic functions—thinking, feeling, sensation, and intuition—described in his theory of types. In Jung’s view, the colors—blue, red, green, and yellow—aptly symbolized the four functions (Figure 1) and comprised a color quaternity. Jung suggested that this color quaternity, alternatively called a rainbow tetrad, was not an arbitrary assertion but rather a formulation founded on the empirical observations derived from alchemical studies, mythology, literature, folklore, religion, and individual case studies (i.e., Mann and Pauli). What did Jung intend to convey with this scheme?

Figure 1It seems that he believed that colors symbolize dynamic psychic factors that evolve in lockstep with consciousness. An analysis of his color studies suggests that the psyche uses color as a way to distinguish different kinds (i.e., functions) of consciousness. Furthermore, the appearance of the four rainbow colors suggests that consciousness aims at a purposeful goal and evokes the alchemical symbol of the cauda pavonis, which announces the completion of the alchemical work. Jung explained the relationship of the cauda pavonis or peacock’s tail with its multitude of colors to individuation as follows:

Psychologically it means that during the assimilation of the unconscious the personality passes through many transformations which show it in different lights and are followed by ever-changing moods. These stages precede the coming birth. (1956/1963, CW 14, para. 430)

Figure 2Jung’s thinking regarding the color quaternity was mainly predicated on two empirical sources. The first source was the array of dreams and visions that Jung initially observed in himself and later in his analysands. The second source was the archive of cross-cultural studies, which included his exploration of Eastern traditions. Jung does not seem to have arrived at a mature understanding of the color quaternity until late 1929, which coincided with the publication of his commentary on The Secret of the Golden Flower, wherein he indirectly suggested a color quaternity. Yet, in this commentary the colors Jung (1929) alluded to are not red, yellow, green, and blue, but black, white, yellow (or gold), and red, which parallel the colors of the four alchemical stages—nigredo, albedo, citrinitas, and rubedo (CW13, para. 220, n. 108) (Figure 2).

In Jung’s commentary on The Secret of the Golden Flower he included one of his own mandalas, which came from Liber Novus, image 105. Jung (1929) provided the following description of the image:

In the centre, the white light, shining in the firmament; in the first circle, protoplasmic life-seeds; in the second, rotating cosmic principles which contain the four primary colours [italics added]; in the third and fourth, creative forces working inward and outward. At the cardinal points, the masculine and feminine souls, both again divided into light and dark. (CW13, p. A6)

Over 20 years later, Jung (1950) provided additional commentary on the same image in his essay “Concerning Mandala Symbolism,” wherein he wrote:

In the center is a star. The blue sky contains golden clouds. … The circle enclosing the sky contains structures or organisms that look like protozoa. The sixteen globes painted in four colors [italics added] just outside the circle derived originally from an eye motif and therefore stand for the observing and discriminating consciousness. (CW 9i, para. 682)

In his second commentary Jung refrained from calling them primary colors. Author John Irwin (1994) has suggested that at some point in Jung’s career his understanding of the color quaternity evolved.

As we noted earlier, one form that the quaternity symbol takes in alchemy is the four colors linked to the stages of alchemical work—black, white, yellow, and red. But Jung points out that there is another quaternity of colors associated with the marriage of the king and queen of heaven—yellow, red, green, and blue. (p. 68)

Irwin’s observations are further elucidated by Jung’s 1933 commentary:

The quaternity in alchemy, incidentally, was usually expressed by the four colours of the old painters, mentioned in a fragment of Heraclitus: red, black, yellow, and white; or in diagrams as the four points of the compass. In modern times the unconscious usually chooses red, blue (instead of black), yellow or gold, and green (instead of white). The quaternity is merely another expression of the totality. These colors embrace the whole of the rainbow. The alchemists said that the appearance of the cauda pavonis, the peacock’s tail, was a sign that the process was coming to a successful conclusion. (1940, p. 48)

The Missing Fourth

Jung suggested that sometime within the last 500 years, between the end of the Middle Ages (500 C.E.–1500 C.E.) and the beginning of the Modern Era (1600 C.E.–2000 C.E.), the color symbolism corresponding to the four functions underwent a transformation within the western psyche, which implies a major restructuring of collective psychic contents. Regarding the alchemical quaternity, Jung (1956/1963) further noted that:

Four stages are distinguished, characterized by the original colours mentioned in Heraclitus: melanosis (blackening), leukosis (whitening), xanthosis (yellowing), and iosis (reddening). This division of the process into four was called the quartering of the philosophy. Later, about the fifteenth or sixteenth century, the colours were reduced to three, and the xanthosis, otherwise called the citrinitas, gradually fell into disuse or was but seldom mentioned. … Whereas the original tetrameria corresponded exactly to the quaternity of elements, it was now frequently stressed that although there were four elements (earth, water, fire, and air) and four qualities (hot, cold, dry, and moist), there were only three colours: black, white, and red. (CW 12, para. 333)

The AlchemistIn this way, Jung suggested that not only did the color symbolism change but also the corresponding number symbolism. An analysis of the foregoing passage indicates that the reduction of the colors from four to three corresponds to an omission of the fourth typological function, intuition—perception through the unconscious—which the alchemists rendered as citrinitas or xanthosis—the inner light of the soul. The gradual disappearance of citrinitas in the alchemical system suggests a undervaluing of intuition. Thus, Jung’s (1952) color quaternity, as opposed to a color trinity, highlights the problem of the three and the four, or what is also called the Axiom of Maria—“Out of the third, comes the One as the Fourth” (CW 8, para. 962). One of the central aims of Jung’s psychology was to compensate for the number four’s state of neglect during the Christian Era. The number four is a symbol of wholeness, as suggested by Socrates’ original question: “One, two, three—but where, my dear Timaeus, is the fourth?” (Cornford, 1937, p. 9). Although in Psychological Types Jung (1921/1971) does not mention a color quaternity—a tetrad of rainbow colors—that corresponds to the four functions, he does correlate three of the psychic functions to a Gnostic typology consisting of pneumatikoi (thinking), psychikoi (feeling), and hylikoi (sensation), but the Gnostic’s tripartite system omitted the fourth function or intuition. So the problem of the missing fourth is also present in Gnosticism.

Thus, between 1929 and 1950—when he published “Concerning Mandala Symbolism”—Jung’s thinking on the color quaternity changed. As previously suggested, his re-visioning of the color scheme seems predicated on the symbolism expressed in the dreams and fantasies of individuals on the one hand and Jung’s intense study of Eastern philosophy and religion on the other. Jung’s propensity to connect things together was bolstered by his syncretistic impulse.

Dreams and Visions

Throughout his long career, Jung gathered a plethora of analytic and clinical material which he used to support his theories. He incorporated a good deal of case material into his papers, including “A Study in the Process of Individuation.” Jung originally presented this paper at the 1933 Eranos Conference in Ascona, Switzerland. Therein he first alluded to a color quaternity comprised of red, yellow, green, and blue. The paper dealt with a middle-aged female analysand, Miss X, who had reached an impasse in her life and found herself stuck. Her unconscious compensated for the inadequacies of her conscious attitude by producing elaborate archetypal dreams and fantasies. In addition to this imagery, she had a collection of 24 paintings that Jung viewed as charting the course of her individuation journey. It should be noted that Jung included one picture (i.e., Picture 9) from her collection in his commentary for The Secret of the Golden Flower. Jung encouraged Miss X to document her fantasies in an imagistic and aesthetic way, not unlike what he had done with his own Red Book material. During the span of their analytic sessions, Jung understood that colors could help activate the unconscious and encouraged her to creatively express them in pictures: “I also advised her not to be afraid of bright colours, for I knew from experience that vivid colours seem to attract the unconscious. Thereupon, a new picture arose” (CW 9i, para. 530). Miss X was later identified as one of Jung’s close colleagues, an American woman named Kristine Mann (1873-1945) (Kirsch, 2000, p. 65). Although we cannot say for certain, it seems that Mann began her analysis with Jung around 1928, which turned out to be a pivotal year in the development of Jung’s ideas. Her analysis with Jung apparently concluded in May 1938. Regarding the mandala pictures rendered by Mann, Jung (1934/1959) noted the same color quaternity:

This takes place in stages: a combination first of blue and red, then of yellow and green [italics added]. These four colours symbolize four qualities, as we have seen, which can be interpreted in various ways. Psychologically this quaternity points to the orienting functions of consciousness, of which at least one is unconscious and therefore not available for conscious use. (CW 9i, para. 582)

Jung observed that Mann herself correlated her colors with the four functions:

The inner, undifferentiated quaternity is balanced by an outer, differentiated one, which Miss X equated with the four functions of consciousness. To these she assigned the following colours: yellow = intuition, light blue = thinking, flesh pink = feeling, brown = sensation. (CW 9i, para. 588)

Elsewhere, Jung provided the following correlation in regards to the symbolism contained in Mann’s pictures: “Red means blood and affectivity, the physiological reaction that joins spirit to body, and blue means the spiritual process (mind or nous)” (CW9i, para. 555), and gold “expresses sunlight, value, divinity even” (CW 9i, para. 543). In a footnote on the same page, Jung (1934/1959) observed that, “The colour correlated with sensation in the mandalas of other persons is usually green” (CW 9i, p. 335, n. 134). Jung’s descriptions suggest that the color scheme was not universally applicable and could vary from person to person depending on a range of factors—culture, context, etc. In this way, Jung was not unequivocal about his color scheme, but he did say that, “It happens with some regularity that these colours are correlated with the four orienting functions of consciousness” (1942/1948, CW 11, para. 281). Furthermore, he was prone to insert conditional statements like “usually” when he encountering an exceptional case that deviated from the general scheme.

Another individual case study that played a major role in shaping Jung’s understanding of the color quaternity is found in the dreams, visions, and waking fantasies of the physicist Wolfgang Pauli (1900 -1958), who underwent analysis between February 1932 and October 1934 (Gieser, 2005, p. 147). In 1931, Pauli was suffering from depression and frequently had disturbing dreams (Gieser, 2005, p. 142). Besides drinking heavily and embracing a roguish lifestyle, Pauli’s mother had died abruptly in 1927. In December 1929, he married Käthe Margarethe Deppner. The marriage quickly disintegrated resulting in a divorce less than a year later. One could say then that the late 1920s marked a period of personal upheaval and crisis for Pauli, who finally sought out Jung’s help through correspondence in late 1931. Jung, aware of Pauli’s reputation as a brilliant scientist, wished to avoid inadvertently influencing his analytical material or interfering with what would otherwise be an objective process. Jung initially assigned the task of analysis to one of his pupils, a female doctor named Erna Rosenbaum. Pauli worked with Rosenbaum for about five months until Jung took over his analysis. Jung and Pauli’s relationship eventually evolved into a highly creative intellectual partnership which yielded a number of original ideas, including that of synchronicity.

Jung included Pauli’s fantasy material in two major essays: “Psychology and Religion” and “Dream Symbols of the Process of Individuation,” which was later revised and renamed “Individual Dream Symbols in Relation to Alchemy” and published in Psychology and Alchemy. Jung presented this paper at the 1934 Eranos Conference. Pauli’s fantasy material was comprised of over one thousand dreams and visual impressions, although Jung only included a sampling consisting of 355 for his study (Gieser, 2005, p. 144). Jung selected only the dreams that dealt with what he considered mandala symbolism, which paralleled the Eastern motifs and ideas Jung had earlier encountered in The Secret of the Golden Flower. Jung (1940) added:

I have chosen the term “mandala” because this word denotes the ritualistic or magical circle employed in Lamaism and also in the Tantric yoga as a yantra or aid to contemplation. The Eastern mandalas used in ceremonial are formations fixed by tradition, and are not only drawn or painted, but are even represented bodily in certain ritualistic celebrations. I refer the reader to Zimmer’s exposition in Kunstform und Yoga im indischen Kultbild [Artistic Form and Yoga in the Sacred Images of India], as well as to Wilhelm and Jung, The Secret of the Golden Flower. (p. 127)

That Jung felt it necessary to name Heinrich Zimmer’s work—Artistic Form and Yoga in the Sacred Images of India—alongside The Secret of the Golden Flower underscores its importance to Jung’s study of Eastern Philosophy and religion.

Pauli’s dreams and visions were strewn with number and color symbolism, which Jung found to roughly accord with his typological color quaternity. For instance, the following dream describes the same combination of the four colors:

23. Dream: In the square space. The dreamer is sitting opposite the unknown woman whose portrait he is supposed to be drawing. What he draws, however, is not a face but three-leaved clovers or distorted crosses in four different colours: red, yellow, green, and blue. (1944/1970, CW 12, para. 212)

Another one of Pauli’s fantasies presents the same color sequence:

39. Visual Impression: The dreamer is falling into the abyss. At the bottom there is a bear whose eyes gleam alternately in four colours: red, yellow, green, and blue. Actually it has four eyes that change into four lights. The bear disappears and the dreamer goes through a long dark tunnel. Light is shimmering at the far end. A treasure is there, and on top of it the ring with the diamond. It is said that this ring will lead him on a long journey to the east. (1944/1970, CW 12, para. 262)

Jung’s commentary on the foregoing dream is notable for his reliance on Eastern and alchemical amplifications:

This waking dream shows that the dreamer is still preoccupied with the dark centre. The bear stands for the chthonic element that might seize him. But then it becomes clear that the animal is only leading up to the four colours (cf. dream 23, par. 212), which in their turn lead to the lapis, i.e., the diamond whose prism contains all the hues of the rainbow. The way to the east probably points to the unconscious as an antipode. According to the legend the Grail-stone comes from the east and must return there again. In alchemy the bear corresponds to the nigredo of the prima materia, whence comes the colourful cauda pavonis. (1944/1970, CW 12, para. 263)

Thus, one could say that the appearance of the four colors in Pauli’s dreams symbolized the cauda pavonis (i.e., peacock’s tail), which suggests a completion of the alchemical opus and viewed in depth psychological terms is tantamount to knowledge of the self—the archetype of wholeness. Jung subsequently turns to another dream that alludes to the four colors:

51. Dream: There is a feeling of great tension. Many people are circulating around a large central oblong with four smaller oblongs on its sides. The circulation in the larger oblong goes to the left and in the smaller oblongs to the right. In the middle there is an eight-rayed star. A Bowl is placed in the centre of each of the smaller oblongs, containing red, yellow, green, and the colourless water. The water rotates to the left. The disquieting question arises: is there enough water? (1944/1970, CW 12, para. 286)

In Jung’s extended commentary on the dream material, he correlated the four colors to the four functions of consciousness (1944/1970, CW 12, para. 287).

Figure 3Pauli’s fantasy material culminates in the appearance of what he described as a “great vision,” which principally consisted of a “world clock” (Figure 3). The world clock is comprised of a vertical and a horizontal circle carried on the back of a black bird. The horizontal circle is divided by four sections and four colors, which Jung associated with his typological quaternity. It also merits mention that on the same circle stand four little men who hold pendulums (CW 11, para. 307). According to Jung (1938/1969), “The four little men of our vision are dwarfs or Cabiri. They represent the four cardinal points and the four seasons, as well as the four colours [italics added] and the four elements” (CW 11, para. 120). Given the relative regularity of the appearance of such number and color symbols in dreams of people like Kristine Mann and Wolfgang Pauli, Jung felt that the motifs could be best understood as spontaneous products of the objective psyche, which in his mind lent empirical support to his theories.

Parallels in Eastern Culture

As previously indicated, prior to 1933, there is no explicit mention of Jung’s rainbow color quaternity. The first reference of it ostensibly appeared in the 1933 Eranos conference which was followed by Jung’s 1934 presentation of Pauli’s dreams. Jung published both papers in the 1940 book The Integration of Personality. During the late 1920s, Jung’s interests began to shift to areas where he could find broader cross-cultural and archetypal consensus for his psychological theories.

By 1928, Jung’s preoccupation with The Red Book and Black Books was winding down and around the same time he received Wilhelm’s manuscript of The Secret of the Golden Flower, which Jung found profoundly meaningful, even synchronistic. In his autobiography, Jung (1961/1989) indicated that he received Wilhelm’s Taoist-alchemical manuscript in 1928 (p. 204). Jung described this serendipitous encounter in a margin note in The Red Book, Jung (2009) wrote:

1928. When I painted this image, which showed the golden well-fortified castle, Richard Wilhelm sent me from Frankfurt the Chinese, thousand-year-old text of the golden castle, the embryo of the immortal body. Ecclesia catholic et protestantes et seclusi in secreto. Aeon finitus. [The Catholic Church and the Protestants and those secluded in secret. The end of an aeon.]. (p. 163)

According to E.A. Bennet (1985), after Jung wrote “The Relations between the Ego and the Unconscious” in 1928 his interest in Chinese thought intensified, which coincided with his reading of Wilhelm’s manuscript on The Secret of the Golden Flower, for which he would later write a commentary. Jung viewed his typology as a western parallel to the Chinese notion of Tao (p. 71).

Around the same time Jung started his dream analysis seminar, which took place between November 7, 1928 and June 25, 1930. During this time period, Jung was still working through a stack of fantasy material that originated both from analytic encounters and cross-cultural studies. In the seminar, Jung indicated that he had already read Zimmer’s Artistic Form and Yoga in the Sacred Images of India, which was instrumental to Jung’s psychological understanding of Eastern traditions and likely informed his reading of the Shri-chakra-sambhara Tantra.

In the foreword of Artistic Form and Yoga in the Sacred Images of India, Joseph Campbell (1984) wrote that, “The crucial moment was of Jung’s reading of Indologist Heinrich Zimmer’s Kunstform und Yoga” (p. xvi). Thus, the importance of this work in regards to Jung’s understanding of mandala symbolism should not be understated. Jung indicated that he first read the book after writing his commentary for Richard Wilhelm’s translation of The Secret of the Golden Flower (1929) and before he met Zimmer: “I first met Heinrich Zimmer at the beginning of the thirties. I had read his fascinating book Kunstform und Yoga and long wished to meet him in person” (Jung as cited in Campbell, 1984, p. xix). Jung actually met Zimmer in May 1932. The fact that Jung (1984) mentioned Zimmer in his dream analysis seminar on February 26, 1930 (p. 492) suggests that he read it around January 1930. Based on the contents of Artistic Form and Yoga in the Sacred Images of India, one can infer that the material informed his dream analysis seminar in regards to Jung’s understanding of Eastern philosophy and symbolism.

In a lecture dated February 12, 1930, Jung discussed the parallels between his typology and Tantric Buddhist symbolism, with reference to the architecture of a Buddhist monastery:

Extraversion means going out through the gates of the courtyard. The inside square is divided like this: and each of the triangles is characterized by a different colour and represents particular philosophical conceptions. Red is the north below, the cardinal points of the horizon being all reversed: A most interesting book, the Bardo Thodol, or the Tibetan Book of the Dead, has been translated recently by an American named Evans-Wentz. There the coloured triangles are explained, and one can identify them with the four functions as we know them in our Western Psychology, the basis of our consciousness, the four qualities of our orientation in space, and therefore identical with cardinal points of the horizon. One leaves the gates through the different functions or habitual attitudes. The man who leaves through the south gate will live in the southern world, and the man who goes out through the gate of thinking will live in the thought world. But when they return, the functions do not matter; only as long as they are outside are the functions important. When he enters the courtyard of the monastery, he approaches the place where all the functions meet; in the very centre he goes into the void where there is nothing. We cannot say that it is unconsciousness, it is a consciousness that is not. (1984, p 467)

The foregoing passage is prescient on three points: 1) Jung (1935/1953) would eventually write a commentary for Evans-Wentz’ (1927/2000) translation of the said work which he apparently read between the date it was published and 1930 (1984, p. 467); 2) the color quaternity—red, yellow, green, and blue—would eventually be imported into his typology; and 3) in 1938 and 1939 Jung gave three lectures on the symbolism of Tantric Buddhism that closely paralleled his abovementioned commentary.

In another lecture in the same month as the previous one, on February 19, 1930, Jung discussed a Tibetan mandala, which he described at length, and he further elaborated on the comparisons between his typological system and the four functions:

I have brought you today the picture of which I spoke last week, the reproduction of the Tibetan mandala. It is a yantra, used for the purpose of concentration upon the most philosophical thought of the Tibetan Lamas. It shows in the innermost circle the diamond wedge or thunderbolt, that symbol of potential energy, and the white light symbolizing absolute truth. And here are the four functions, the four fields of colour, and then the four gates to the world. Then comes the gazelle garden, and finally the ring of fire of desirousness outside. (1984, p. 479)

The passage above demonstrates not only Jung’s interest in the East, but that as early as 1930 he recognized definite parallels between the structure of Western and Eastern mandalas such as the Tibetan yantra. At this time, Jung had already written his commentary for Wilhelm’s The Secret of the Golden Flower, and his attention began to drift to other fields and disciplines (i.e., alchemy, Kundalini yoga, Tantric Buddhism, etc.).

In Artistic Form and Yoga in the Sacred Images of India Zimmer provided extensive commentary on an obscure tantric text called the Shri-chakra-Sambhara Tantra. Zimmer (1926/1984) described this work as a “product of an era in Buddhism’s development in which the main stream of the Buddha doctrine in its course through time acquired an influx from the tributaries of Hinduism [such] that its content became virtually indistinguishable from Hinduism” (p. 81). The Shri-Chakra-Sambhara Tantra has its roots in the diamond vehicle (Vajrayana) doctrine of Tantric Buddhism and consists of a series of instructional mantras—meditational techniques—informed by Tantric doctrine and teachings. Shri Chakra translates to the “Circle of Bliss” (Zimmer, p. 90) and is visualized as a circular mandala consisting of four gates, which evoke Jung’s four functions. The adept or Yogin focuses on the mandala and visualizes a god. The god (Devata) represents the “guru-essence” which could be interpreted psychologically as emanations or projections originating from the background activity of the psyche. Zimmer suggested that the culminating point of the ritual is the attainment of the vajrasattva (diamond essence), which would be analogous to the alchemical lapis. Zimmer added:

Then the adept develops internally the feeling proper to his awareness of the undifferentiated sameness of all phenomena. In the Emptiness that constitutes their essence … he sends out rays in every direction, colored according to the cardinal points–blue, green, red, and yellow [italics added]. Their colors are a surety that his feeling of Total Compassion (karuna) permeates the entire cosmos. (p. 93)

Understandably, the color symbolism would have garnered Jung’s attention when he read the book early in 1930. Around the same time (1930-1931), Jung prepared a two-page manuscript headed “Tantric Texts” which he evidently used in preparation for his lectures at the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule (ETH), the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (Shamdasani, 1996, p. xxxiv, n. 66). Shamdasani further indicated that the source material for these manuscripts was Artistic Form and Yoga in the Sacred Images of India (pp. 2-87), wherein can be found Zimmer’s exposition of the Shri-Chakra-Sambhara Tantra.

Jung’s study of the Tantric texts culminated in his 1938 and 1939 lectures at ETH, where he presented psychological commentary on the material in its most lucid form. In these ETH lectures, Jung (1958) provided a historical and etymological overview in accordance with his own hermeneutic understanding. In his commentary, Jung (1958) cited the following passage: “From the Mantra ‘Hum’ rays of blue, green, red and yellow light shoot forth through the four heads of the Devata and gradually fill the whole universe” (p. 48). Jung added:

The Yogin is in the centre, saying “Hum,” the first quality of consciousness, the world principle. The four colours emanate from the centre, the four qualities of consciousness, that is the four functions of consciousness, the four possibilities of consciousness. (p. 48)

Thus, Jung tried to correlate the four colors with his four functions of consciousness, and in a syncretistic turn, proceeded to associate the principal skandhas—the basic building blocks of the phenomenal world in Buddhist tradition—mentioned in the text with his four functions: Rupa skandha (thinking), Vedana skandha (sensation), Samjna skandha (feeling), and Sangskara skandha (intuition). The skandhas are reminiscent of the four classical elements—earth, air, fire, and water—found in ancient philosophy. The text also identifies a fifth skandha or function, Vijnana which Jung equated with a kind of centralized knowledge which united all four functions. Jung (1958) wrote: “The aggregate of cognition (knowledge) is the Buddha, the enlightened diamond essence. The highest essence proceeds out of the four functions as the final result” (p. 51). What seems to emerge from the combination of all functions is the quintessence of Buddha consciousness, made available to us through the mediating service of the Buddhist master, or yogi: “The quaternity is dissolved in the essence of the Yogin, and the fourfold image of consciousness disappears” (p. 51). In his analysis, Jung interpreted the phenomenon as follows:

Then he assimilates all beings into the mandala. One could say that the Yogin hangs like a spider in its web, and draws all beings through the rays of light into the mandala of his personality. He establishes himself as the centre of the world. The light, which emanated from the “Hum,” is withdrawn and absorbed by the Self. (1958, p. 55)

Figure 4Just as the Yogin may achieve the diamond body through the fifth skandha, the western adept may realize the self by integrating the four functions into a fifth. Thus, one could say that in vijnana (i.e., wisdom) one reconciles the opposites and the self. Vijnana is the path to the center or the self. As mentioned, one could also compare the idea of the vajrasattva to the alchemical lapis, which Jung also viewed as a symbol of the self. Jung’s commentary in the ETH Lectures demonstrates his most mature understanding of the color quaternity. The breadth of his commentary suggests that it took him nearly a decade to work through his analytic material and cross-cultural studies before he was able to synthesize a symbolic understanding of the four functions which he represented by color (Figure 4). In the same lecture, Jung attributed the discovery of the functions to the Chinese “centuries ago” (1958, p. 105). Elsewhere in the ETH Lectures, Jung provided a primer for his color code:

The four colours attributed to the functions are based on certain feeling values. Feeling is red, this is connected with blood and fire, with passion and love which is supposed to be warm and glowing. Sensation is green, this is connected with the earth and perceiving reality. Thinking is white, or blue, cold like snow and Intuition is gold or yellow because it is felt to shine and radiate. (1958, p. 78)

The fact that Jung uses white interchangeably with blue warrants some explanation. In his book Secret Doctrines of the Tibetan Book of the Dead, author and Buddhist scholar Detlef Ingo Lauf (1977) points out that in Buddhism, blue and white are frequently used interchangeably (p. 129). Furthermore, in his commentary for the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Jung (1935/1953) correlated the color white with thinking:

It gradually becomes clearer that all these deities are organized into mandalas, or circles, containing a cross of the four colours. The colours are co-ordinated with the four aspects of wisdom: (1) White = the light-path of the mirror-like wisdom; (2) Yellow = the light-path of the wisdom of equality; (3) Red = the light-path of the discriminative wisdom; (4) Green = the light-path of the all-performing wisdom. (CW 11, para. 850)

Thus, one could say that what was most essential for Jung was not establishing a universally valid psychological schema predicated on color symbolism but empirically demonstrating a semi-regular chromatic pattern which more or less indicated the same psychological meaning. Jung accepted that there would always be some variation in the way the psyche expressed color symbolism.

The Psychoid Factor

Why in modern times does the unconscious select the colors red, yellow, blue, and green? Although addressing such a question presents a difficult task, Jung left behind a few conceptual clues that may provide at least a partial answer. In On the Nature of the Psyche Jung (1947/1954) introduced the concept of the psychoid factor, which one may define as the part of the psyche that is incapable of consciousness and thus only quasi-psychic in nature. In the same work, he employed the analogy of a color spectrum as an analogy to describe his psychoid concept.

Using the analogy of the spectrum, we could compare the lowering of unconscious contents to a displacement towards the red end of the colour band, a comparison which is especially edifying in that red, the blood colour, has always signified emotion and instinct. (CW 8, para. 384)

Figure 5 - Typological color spectrumWith his introduction of the psychoid concept, Jung seems to have expanded his original color scheme into the deep unconscious. Just as the electromagnetic spectrum extends far beyond the limited range of visible light, a psychophysical continuum would comprise a broader range of psychic and physiological phenomena than does consciousness and its four functions (Figure 5). Jung extended this metaphor as follows: “The dynamism of instinct is lodged as it were in the infra-red part of the spectrum, whereas the instinctual image lies in the ultra-violet part” (CW 8, para. 414). Thus, if we were to read the color symbolism in the appropriate context, we could suppose that the psychoid concept is a natural progression of Jung’s typological system. Accordingly, typology comprises the four functions of consciousness whereas the psychoid concept subsumes the totality of unconscious psychic states. Jung’s psychoid concept is understandably difficult to grasp and merits some further explanation. Jung viewed psychic processes as analogous to the concept of an electromagnetic spectrum (Figure 5) on which consciousness slides to the left and to the right. To the left one finds the instincts grounded in somatic processes whereas to the right one encounters the archetypes found in images and ideas. However, either side of the spectrum eventually reaches a threshold that is inaccessible to both image and instincts. On both ends of the spectrum, instinct and archetype gradually fade into the psychoid domain. In Jung’s later work he opined that the archetypes originated from this psychoid domain, which rests on a transcendental substrate. Jung believed however that although psychoid processes are inaccessible to consciousness, through the image-making faculty of the human mind we could expand our reach into those heretofore untrodden regions of the psychoid domain just as through the advent of the telescope our ancestors learned to extend the reach of the eye.

The color symbolism also seems to parallel the alchemical idea of the cauda pavonis, for Jung (1934/1959) suggested that “we may expect the miracle of the cauda pavonis, the appearance of “all Colours,” the unfolding and realization of wholeness, once the dark dividing wall has broken down” (CW 9i, para. 685). Thus, one could associate the color symbolism of Jung’s typology with the appearance of the cauda pavonis—a symbol of wholeness. The cauda pavonis seems to herald the gradual broadening of the total representable bandwidth accessible to the human species. Because Western consciousness occupies but a narrow sliver of this bandwidth of psychic energy, Jung’s assertion that, “Psychic processes therefore behave like a scale along which consciousness ‘slides’” (CW 8, para. 408), suggests that the ego could be viewed as a pointer that can move freely, left and right, on a sliding scale of consciousness and thus could eventually access all the colors of the spectrum analogy alluded to earlier. Viewed in this way, the colors symbolize different modes of consciousness, which probably exceed a mere number of four.

Jung’s typology then, with its emphasis on four functions and four colors should not be viewed as a complete system for it seems possible, even probable, that the human species has the potential to extend the boundaries of consciousness into the psychoid domain and thereby develop heretofore latent functions within the psyche, whose distinct features can only be imagined. Toward the end of his long life, Jung (1956/1963) intimated that more colors, up to seven, could be included into his color scheme: “Consequently the synthesis of the four or seven colours would mean nothing less than the integration of the personality, the union of the four basic functions, which are customarily represented by the colour quaternio blue-red-yellow-green” (CW 14, para. 390).


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Hee Choung Yi, “In the Mountains,” (2010), Courtesy: Korean Art Museum Assoc.

Pietro Longhi, “The Alchemist,” (c. 1757). Courtesy: The Yorck Project.

Figure 3: W. Byers-Brown, “World Clock,” (1887). Appeared originally in Synchronicity: The Bridge Between Matter and Mind, (London, 1987), p. 19.

Figure 4: Reconstruction of Jung’s drawing, p. 104, ETH Lectures (1958).


Kiley Laughlin

Kiley Laughlin

Kiley Q. Laughlin, Ph.D., is writer, coach, and a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves based in Northern California. He has supported operations in Bolivia, 1995, Bosnia, 2003-2004, Iraq, 2004-2008, Nigeria, 2014, and Kosovo, 2009 and 2016. During his multiple deployments, he has liaised with various federal agencies, including the FBI and the U.S. State Department. He has also taught military science at UC-Davis in California and has worked in Veteran Affairs. Learn more about Kiley at his website.

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Comments (6)

I have only skimmed over a bit of this essay and already it helped me with what I was looking for and gave me insight on something profound in my life which I have wondered about for years. Thank you!

Oh, by the way, I will be in Pacifica for the alchemy seminar coming up the end of August. Love to say hello and shake hands.


As a painter/writer, I do appreciate your insightful scholarly article. Thank you for sharing.
As you know the color qualities are flexible things–not written in stone; we choose them to represent our feelings, thoughts, intuitions, and perceptions.
My preferred way of looking at intuition is the fire that cooks all the previous functions. I must admit my bias. I am an introvert intuitive type with the inferior function as a sensate.

Here is how I see it: Green: sensation/manifestation, Blue: feeling/formation, Yellow/creation, and finally Red of our being as emanation–the numinous–Spirit. The ultimate lightning that hits us from the blue yonder of consciousness

is Red of spirit and not yellow of thinking.

I am curious as to your informed thoughts.
Thanks again for sharing, that is what life is all about. We stand on each other’s shoulder and take a peek into the darkness of unconscious just like the trail blazer wise Jung that we all love.

I absolutely love this! So much information and patterns to trace. Thank you for providing such an article.

I was wondering if the image of the color spectrum with the functions labeled has an error. Is the red band “feeling” or sensation?

There is the image link for you.
And here is a nice resource that I am conferring as I read this:

Best, IAN!

Erik, thank you for the comment. Jung was very interested in atomic theory and quantum physics. He really didn’t get the mathematics but had a solid grasp of the philosophical implications. I think your thinking is headed in the right direction and thus, is on the mark. In Jung’s essay “On the Nature of the Psyche,” Jung uses the EM spectrum as an analogy to consciousness, which descends, as it were, into the psychoid domain. Jung recognized that what we view as unconscious may, from a different vantage point, actually be conscious. Consciousness after all suggests that somebody or something is conscious “of something.” Your question is highly relevant to the importance of models (and metaphors) in constructing our picture of reality. It’s always changing. Jung viewed analytical psychology as tantamount to a bridge from one weltanschauung to another. Again, thanks for taking the time to read the article. – Kiley

Might Jung being alive today arrive to an even more evolved conclusion as to the comparison of heightened energy states of atoms emitting of photons at defined wave-lengths may also correlate to heighten states of consciousness in the “psychoid domain”? With differing photon wavelengths equaling the spectrum of visible color, might the mind’s energy level also equate to different levels of consciousness?

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