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The Origins and History of Consciousness (Bollingen Series, 42)

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The Origins and History of Consciousness (Bollingen Series, 42) [Paperback]

Erich Neumann (Author), R. F. C. Hull (Translator), C. G. Jung (Foreword)
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews) Like (13)

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The first of Erich Neumann's works to be translated into English, this eloquent book draws on a full range of world mythology to show that individual consciousness undergoes the same archetypal stages of development as has human consciousness as a whole. Neumann, one of Jung's most creative students and a renowned practitioner of analytical psychology in his own right, shows how the stages begin and end with the symbol of the Uroboros, or tail-eating serpent. The intermediate stages are projected in the universal myths of the World Creation, Great Mother, Separation of the World Parents, Birth of the Hero, Slaying of the Dragon, Rescue of the Captive, and Transformation and Deification of the Hero. Throughout the sequence the Hero is the evolving ego consciousness.

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Editorial Reviews


A welcome source of information for all those who are touched by the relationship between man and his myths. -- "The New York Times

There can be no doubt that [Neumann] has brought to his task a remarkable . . . knowledge of classical mythology, some considerable acquaintance with the comparative study of religion, and a deep understanding of those psychological views and theories evolved by C. G. Jung. -- "The Times Literary Supplement

No better exposition has come to us of the two Jungian themes: the evolution of consciousness in the history of mankind and the development of personality in the individual. -- "The Personalist

Language Notes

Text: English, German (translation) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 493 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (1970)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691017611
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691017617
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.5 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #321,602 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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4.4 out of 5 stars
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48 of 48 people found the following review helpful
A prominent psychologist, knitting together the elements of Jung's psychological theory and some new elements of his own, shows how the great cycles of world myth depict the hard-won development of ego-consciousness in humanity, and how this development is recapitulated in each individual's life.

Twenty-six years ago, when I first read this book, Jung's ideas were much more popular than they are now. In this era of cognitive science and its focus on the physiological underpinnings of psychology, there doesn't seem to be room for Jung's collective unconscious, its archetypes, and their polymorphous manifestations in myth and symbol. But this, I think, is more a matter of fashion than any reflection on the quality of Jung's thinking, which was vast, deep, and bold.

Neumann, a student of Jung, with erudition comparable to that of his teacher, synthesizes Jung's ideas into a unified theory of psychology around his own new concept of "centroversion", his name for the integrative force of the organism--its survival instinct in the widest sense. He shows how ego-consciousness--the self-aware "I" of the modern human being--is the preeminent organ of centroversion, and that, like other, physical, organs, it has had its own evolutionary history.

This history, reflected in the structure and behavior of the modern ego, forms the deep story underlying world mythology. In Part I of the book, Neumann shows how the birth and emancipation of the ego is reflected in three great cycles of myth: the creation myth, the hero myth, and what he calls the transformation myth, which is the apotheosis of the hero. The primordial mythological image is that of the "uroboros"--the serpent biting its own tail, symbolizing the womblike plenum of the unconscious, in which consciousness exists only as a potential. It flickers in and out of existence, almost like the virtual particles of modern nuclear physics. As the germ of consciousness gains strength, it comes to see the nurturing womb of the unconscious in the symbol of the Great Mother. The moment of the ego's realization of its own autonomous existence is mythologized as the Separation of the World Parents--a universal motif, in which the hero creates the manifest world by pushing his parents apart to form Heaven and Earth.

Next come the hero myths: the birth of the hero and his struggle with the dragon, which represents the negative aspects of both Mother and Father. Neumann shows how the great myth of the dragon, hoarding its treasure and holding a princess captive, has a deep and precise meaning for the development of consciousness.

Then, as though all that were not enough, he moves on to Part II: a discussion of the developmental stages of the inidividual ego in light of its symbolic development in human culture. Each of us, man and woman, undergoes these mythological dramas in our quest for consciousness and identity, with the climaxes of the struggle representing the familiar crises of development at characteristic ages.

Neumann concludes with a shorter examination of the crisis of modern Western man, which he sees as a symptom of the overemphasis of ego-consciousness at the expense of its relationship with the life-giving unconscious, resulting in a split between them. The results, he thinks, can only be disastrous, and we have seen some of them in the world calamities of the 20th century.

It's hard to give a sense of the tremendous reach of this book. In this respect it has few peers. As I read it this time I thought it would make an admirable companion-volume to Joseph Campbell's "The Hero with a Thousand Faces", published in the same year, 1949.

I have no real criticisms of this book. Some contemporary readers might take exception to Neumann's approach to the masculine and the feminine in psychology, since these terms have become so charged. But the function and role, indeed the very definition and origin of masculine and feminine--which are aspects of everyone's psyche--are not taken for granted here; on the contrary, they are among the phenomena he examines and explains. In a real sense, he is saying that consciousness was born of the great polarity of masculine and feminine, and I find it exciting to imagine what the next turns in that great drama might be.

Neumann also takes some trouble, here and there, to point out what he regards as the errors of Freudian psychology, and shows many Freudian concepts, such as the Oedipus complex, to be special cases of more general principles that he explains. In general he is dismissive of Freudian psychology.

Perhaps the highest praise for Neumann's work comes in Jung's foreword to the book, in which the great psychologist expresses what amounts to envy for Neumann's achievement. For Neumann has taken the ideas developed by Jung over decades of observation and research, and fashioned a single, synthetic whole that illuminates the very core of our inmost being, both as individuals and as a race. He has brought together psychology and mythology more completely and more convincingly than any other writer I've encountered.
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36 of 39 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
There are two books that I recommend without hesitation to anyone who is seriously interested in gaining a deeper understanding of consciousness. This book is one of them. (The other one is "Godel, Escher, Bach" by D. Hofstadter.)

Central to the thesis put forward by this work is the cyclical and recursive patterns evident in the development and history of conscious thought and expression. Developing the idea of 'eternal recurrence' beyond the usual (and superficial) notion of cyclical historic patterns, Neumann puts forward the brilliant (and afterwards self-evident) idea that the collective generative and developmental patterns of the human species (collective psyche) is mirrored recursively (and latently) in each and every individual member of that collective.

An interesting side effect of this view of consciousness is the resultant synthesis of linear and cyclical notions of Time. To Neumann, Time is an open-ended linear progression (development) which is recursively cyclical. The recursion occurring in the subject self's perception of time: That the individual's subjective perception of time in an early part of his development, corresponds with the Human's perception of Time in a corresponding earlier point in history.

For example, using Neumann's framework, one can see the 'mythological' persona and teachings of Jesus (and his semi-contemporary Buddha) as the collective expression of the coming 'personal' transcendence and autonomy of the Ego (as in: "The Kingdom is in You!").

To me, this book represents the Flower of critical 'Jungian' thought: It is lucid, balanced, creative, and deeply insightful. While respectful (and certainly a disciple) of Jung, Neumann clearly did not allow his work to suffer from the usual pattern of hagiographic rehashing of the master's ideas. A fate which is common to the lesser of Jung's followers, greater in number though they may be.

Neumann's is an independent mind. And while Jung himself is - in my opinion - to some exten! t vulnerable to the criticism that he was in essence engaged in canonizing his own complexes and neurosis, Neumann does not seem to allow his personal complexes (if any) to color his psychological thought process. A centrovert, indeed.

But to fully appreciate this work, you must of course suspend disbelief regarding the nature of the relationship between Mind and Matter. Even if one accepts the case presented by Jung in support of the idea of Archetypes, one is still free to speculate regarding the nature of the 'mediation' and genesis of the Archetypal symbolic language: Jung's generative symbolic language.

He elaborates on that brilliantly, but does not question it. In that sense, Neumann never satisfactorily produces the case for having mentioned 'Origin' in the title of this work. The 'genesis' of the dynamic system under consideration, which is the human psyche, is derived from the 'givens' of the symbolic language. Mother, Son, Heaven, etc. The Archetypes. Jung's genius was evident in his cataloguing and elaborating on the 'processes' which motivate and guide the movements and progressions of the psyche. Neumann's genius is evident in his formulating the nature of this movement and the recursive relationship between the subjective Self and Collective 'Unconscious' (or Not I). But neither have provided answers regarding the nature of the transformation of the Uber Void/Womb/Origin, etc. into the Uruborous which is our consciousness. Chances are that it will take more than genius to produce that answer.

Another criticism that can be made about the work is that it may be the "Origin and history of [the Masculine] consciousness". The Journey is that of the Hero, the overcoming of the generative context (parents!), the bridging the chasm (of duality), and in the end becoming One. The origin is the Womb, and the destination is the Center.

Does this mean that women should not read this book? No. Masculine does not mean Male; Feminine does not mean Female. So women too shoul! d read this book. A great and fascinating account is given to Isis and her lamentations and search for Horus; her gathering of the pieces of his dismembered body - curiously missing the phallus - and synthesising him back to Unity through sexual healing. (What does all this mean psychologically? For that you have to read the book.) Horus was no Hero, in this tale. What sets apart Neumann from Jung is precisely his ability (and delight) to project so lucidly into the psychology of Isis. No mean task.

So another healthy benefit of this book is that it will clear away - like tumbleweed - pedestrian notions that men are from Mars, and women are from Venus.

There is of course a more authoritative discourse on the 'origin' of human consciousness in the Book of Genesis. But Neumann's does not stand in contradiction to this Book; and it is perhaps an implicit affirmation. One can sense the passion of the Jewish Mystic beneath the calm exterior. So here again, this is a book on the origin and history of Becoming.

In capsule: If Freud was a Jungian (and not a 'Viennese' Jew), he would have written this book; and it would have been his masterpiece. (Unfortunately, great as he is, he was no Mystic.) It would be a good idea to put this book in the Time Capsule. Better yet, put one in your hands, and read.

As I don't read German, I am in no position to render judgment on the faithfulness of R. F. C. Hull's translation. But having read other translations (of others) by Hull, I can here give witness that he does not seem to allow his voice to color that of the author's. The voice is Neumann's throughout. And that is a rare talent.

(I hope I have not done this book an injustice.)

[(c) 1998, <g>]

Shame on you! The author reserves the right to personal access and utility of (this) his work.

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Amazon Verified Purchase
This book is one of the important "building blocks" that gird the large task of understanding what human development is. This understanding, if it is not to result in meaningless opinionation, has to start from the beginning of what being human is all about, in so far as we may even postulate. Having such books readily available through your resources is an appreciated boon to my endeavor. Thanks, Allen Heacock
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
out of date?
Regarding comments of the three-star reviewer highlighted here: If this is out of date, I have to wonder what is up now. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Jackson P Fannon
A Book Needing Study
Neuman's ideas and book need considerable study, I think, not only to understand them but to assess them. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Michael Levenhagen
Probably excellent thinking for it's era
I'm afraid I found this too out of date to be very useful to me.
Published on February 27, 2008 by Janice Johnson
A Classic on the Path of Individuation
I read Neumann's work in the late 70s after an intense spiritual awakening which was first expressed in Christian fundamentalism in the early 70s. Read more
Published on November 26, 2006 by Robert L. Rose
Jungian psychology clearly described.
This book was written by Erich Neumann, not C.G. Jung who wrote the Foreword. Neumann is, in my opinion, perhaps the best writer on Jungian psychology.
Published on September 30, 2005 by C. A. Irvine
Explains the fundamentals of Pagan Psychology
Neumann's expo on the Uroboros as the core of primal human psychology is still the best yet. He is scholarly yet readable and free of the American-type "new age"... Read more
Published on August 4, 2000
dated depth psychology
An exhaustive commentary on the archetype of the Great Mother as it relates to the birth of human awareness and the obstacles to obtaining it. Read more
Published on May 17, 2000 by Craig Chalquist, PhD, author of TERRAPSYCHOLOGY and DEEP CALIFORNIA
An essential reference for studies of consciousness
Neumann continued Jung's work, adding substantially, modifying and clarifying. Went much further into the origin and evolution of consciousness, and the depiction of this in the... Read more
Published on January 15, 1998 by Cash Mundy
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Inside This Book (learn more)
First Sentence:
THE MYTHOLOGICAL STAGES in the evolution of consciousness begin with the stage when the ego is contained in the unconscious, and lead up to a situation in which the ego not only becomes aware of its own position and defends it heroically, but also becomes capable of broadening and relativizing its experiences through the changes effected by its own activity. Read the first page
Key Phrases - Statistically Improbable Phrases (SIPs): (learn more)
secondary personalization, maternal uroboros, archetypal canon, patriarchal castration, uroboric incest, alimentary uroboros, matriarchal incest, uroboric situation, uroboric character, uroboric state, ego germ, uroboric mother, stadial development, old fertility ritual, transpersonal contents, archetypal phases, transpersonal factors, archetypal stages, died pillar, higher masculinity, incest with the mother, fight with the dragon, mythological stages, fertility king, cult phallus
Key Phrases - Capitalized Phrases (CAPs): (learn more)
World Parents, First Parents, Book of the Dead, Earth Mother, Great Individual, Psychological Types, The Golden Bough, Asia Minor, Pyramid Texts, Stone Age, Symbols of Transformation, The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms, Chantepie de la Saussaye, Eternal Feminine, First Dynasty, Holy Ghost, Psychological Aspects of the Mother Archetype, Das Alte Testament, Divine Child, Mother Nature, New Ethic, Queen Astarte, Spirit Father, The Cambridge Ancient History, Weird Sisters
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Front Cover | Table of Contents | First Pages | Index | Back Cover | Surprise Me!
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