The Twenty Woodcuts Of The Rosarium Philosophorum And Their Implications For Psychotherapy (1 Of 4)[2012}
This paper is inextricably tied with a talk I presented to the Bath Analytic Network. The talk was to be based on my paper “Clarifying and Re-Mystifying Transference, Counter-Transference and Co-transference: A Guide to to avoiding Procrustean Psychotherapy”, however I wanted to include what I was in the middle of researching and writing, i.e. this paper.
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This paper is inextricably tied with a talk I presented to the Bath Analytic Network. The talk was to be based on my paper “Clarifying and Re-Mystifying Transference, Counter-Transference and Co-transference: A Guide to to avoiding Procrustean Psychotherapy”, however I wanted to include what I was in the middle of researching and writing, i.e. this paper. My interest had for some time been on the Rosarium Philosophorum woodcuts Jung omitted in his seminal work, The Psychology of the Transference, and the implications this has for psychotherapy.

Prior to the talk I had a dream. In the dream, I had turned up to give my talk, however I was informed that I only had ten minutes to give the talk, rather than the agreed hour. I was a bit put out, but made a start only for most of the audience to get up and walk into the adjacent room after only five minutes. I asked where they were going and was told they were going to a seminar on “Wilting”. This dream proved to be a fantastic affirmation as to the course of this paper. Wilting is a brilliant description of what happens during the citrinitas, a crucial and neglected phase in the alchemical opus, relegated in importance by the alchemists in the sixteenth century and (consciously) ignored by Jung in his own psychological writings. The citrinitas phase correlates with seven of the ten woodcuts Jung omitted from his analysis of the transference.

At the talk itself, I did not want to read out a dead paper I had written some time ago. Instead I let the projected images be my guide. During the talk I made a Freudian slip - I meant to say “if Jung said the Gods are in our diseases then surely the archetypal is personal” but what I actually said was “if God says, Jung is in our diseases...” at which point the audience realising my error, laughed, albeit kindly. The classic analytic response to this would be to look at my unconscious idealisation of Jung. Fair enough you may think, however anyone who knows me and as this paper will demonstrate, I have a critical attitude towards Jung. So how about we take the words I said at face value, what if “God says Jung is on our diseases?” Have our diseases been taken over by Jung? Are our illnesses now just more material to reflect on, rather than suffered. In the analytic consulting room, they are no longer allowed to be simple illnesses, they are interpreted and reduced to signs of unconscious psychological symptoms. This approach buys into an idealistic/perfectionist transcendent paradigm and whilst it may appear to honour the body or the somatic unconscious, it betrays an exploitative colonial attitude of the ego to the unconscious, i.e. everything that is not “I”. Rather than living from the unconscious, one lives in remote relation to it. One lives life in the consulting room, dragging the world inside rather than living in the world. This is the prevailing Jungian analytic attitude. I think Jung was identified to his thinking function and was unable, except perhaps very late in life, to truly let go of this identification. In his defence, concerned about credibility for his psychology, his writings were deliberately scientific, and it is his writings that have formed Analytic psychology. Whilst there are real gems in his work, Edinger, von Franz and other Jungian writers seem to have perpetuated, if not exacerbated his errors. No greater error is this colonial attitude to the unconscious. As Diederik van Rossum, a very wise man, once said to me, “the highest form of speech is, to speak in order to hear what I have to say”. It is not what I intend to say but what I actually say that is important. The variance between what I intended and what actually happened is where Hermes slips through and the gold is to be found. The unconscious is part of who we are, it is not to be demonised, made wrong. The Freudian slip betrays the truth (or a truth) the Ego would rather banish. Another example of this colonial attitude, would be in how I see people "interpret" dreams. For me, rather than dreams being something to be interpreted, associated to, or worked for greater consciousness, dreams show how things are. The sense of dreams being pre-cognitive, is simply that the ego has caught up with how things are. The ego is always behind, trying to make it's perspective reality. If we accept the dream as the truth, not something to be exploited for greater consciousness, a new attitude arises. 

This is what I want to get across in this paper, psycho-analysis lacks blood, lacks passion and, as Hillman says, has become an endless exercise of polishing the mirror (of simply reflecting back, not creating anything new). He gave up private practice, to concentrate on bringing the state of Analytic Psychology to public attention. Most analysts and psychotherapists seem to partake in nothing beyond simply polishing the mirror, albeit in ever increasingly elaborate and refined ways. The personal challenge of admitting their vulnerability, truly opening to meeting, or truly being with another, challenges all they have learnt and the very identities they have acquired as therapists of particular schools. To step out from behind their reserved, professionalised, polished, income generating, personas is a risk too far for many. The process of accreditation and professionalisation as I have described in “The Fallacy of Accreditation” only serves to lock these therapists deeper into this rigid stance, encumbering them further, giving them more to maintain and more to have to hold on to. These restrictions and encumbrances severely hinder, rather than enable, therapists to freely meet their clients how they need to be met.


Through his book, The Psychology of the Transference, Jung first brought to wider public attention the series of alchemical woodcut images contained in the Rosarium Philosophorum, an alchemical manuscript from the 16th Century (1550). The Rosarium Philosophorum (which means the Philosophers Rose Garden) according to Schwartz-Salant, was originally designed solely as a set of images to be meditated upon, like a rosary, and the commentaries were added later by a German fraternity. Only a few of the original collections survive. In some of these copies the form of the images vary slightly. Additionally, some sets remain in black and white whilst others have been coloured.

Jung believed that ten of these woodcut images illustrated the mutually unconscious process occurring between therapist and client commonly known as Transference and Counter-Transference. At the same time, when viewed as an intra-psychic process, rather than an inter-psychic process, the woodcuts can be seen to depict the process of individuation.

In my paper, “Clarifying and Re-Mystifying Transference, Counter-Transference and Co-transference”, I described the historical development of Transference theory from Freud's discovery through Jung's additions and its relationship to Field Theory which has developed since. Also in that paper I highlighted how Jung's work has been misunderstood and misapplied and I introduced the term Co-Transference to reduce linguistic confusion and bring some clarification of terminology. I tentatively touched on the possible implications of his omission of a further ten woodcuts in the series and it is this that I am going to address in more detail in this paper.

Shown below is the full set of woodcut images. Jung's analysis in The Psychotherapy of the Transference stopped at woodcut 10. Woodcuts 11-20 are those omitted by Jung and complete the whole series.


From my researches it appears surprisingly few authors have explored the full set of woodcuts, many having simply continued Jung's error. Consequently there is a paucity of literature addressing the psychological and therapeutic implications of the full set.

Carl Jung explores in some detail the first ten woodcuts in his book the Psychology of the Transference (1946), amplifying his interpretations with a wealth of psychological, mystical and theological knowledge. He did refer to woodcut 11 in the Psychology of the Transference but only to use it to dismiss woodcuts 11-17 (or 11-20) as a concession to female psychology. In other works he used some of the later woodcuts to expand or illustrate his theoretical writings. His use of these showed an understanding of their alchemical and psychological implications but as far as I am aware he never reconciled them with his earlier work on Transference.

Edward Edinger in The Mystery of the Coniunctio as late as 1994 manages to perpetuate Jung's error of omission, even whilst managing to include woodcuts 18, 19 and 20 in his psychological interpretation of the Rosarium pictures.

Johannes Fabricius's book Alchemy (1976) is a thorough exploration of several series of alchemical images, including the Rosarium Philosophorum, and their relevance to depth psychology. Other alchemical images are added to illustrate and expand the text and provide a useful alternative alchemical and psychological perspective on the Rosarium woodcuts. Interestingly he develops a very plausible theory of psycho-biological regression, illustrated with a series of microbiological photographs, that runs parallel to the unfolding alchemical individuation process.

Adam Mclean, a renowned alchemical authority and writer, whilst remaining unfortunately reticent of writing psychologically about alchemy, has written an article “A Commentary on the Rosarium Philosphorum” (1980). This is an exacting and concise work, describing the woodcuts and I have drawn on it heavily. It is available on his vast website which contains a wealth of alchemical images and works.

Nathan Schwartz-Salant has an extensive knowledge of Jung's writings and his work, Jung on Alchemy (1995) is a valuable read. He has written extensively on the full set of woodcuts in his book the Mystery of Human Relationship (1998) where he uses the woodcuts to illustrate the concept and use of the interactive field in psychotherapeutic transformation. He too draws heavily on the writing of Johannes Fabricius and Adam Mclean's short paper mentioned above. His writing is dense and difficult to grasp, however, with the use of case examples, it does convey a thorough knowledge and experience of the subject. Displaying incredible honesty and openness he describes the personal challenges of the therapeutic process and the difficulties of being with the mad parts of the psyche. His writing truly promotes, honours and respects the importance of the mystery of human relationship.

James Hillman's Alchemical Psychology (2010), number 5 in his Uniform Edition series, is a phenomenal book. The book is a collection of papers presented as talks over the years addressing from his unique perspective the various elements, processes and phases of the alchemical work. Openly critical of the psychoanalytic movement, this work is an essential read for anyone interested in alchemical psychology provided they are pre-armed with a basic knowledge of the subject. I make no apology for quoting extensively his work on the Yellowing, in the section on the citrinitas later in this paper.

Finally, I would like to include a novel, Mercurius (1990) by Patrick Harpur. For anyone new to alchemy this novel offers a gentle introduction to the practical aspect of the art and includes Jung's views all wrapped up in an intriguing story.

The following descriptions and interpretations of the images in the Rosarium Philosophorum are not meant to be definitive. My intention is to stick to the image, and where appropriate expand my interpretations with those of Jung, McLean, Fabricius and Schwartz-Salant among others. It should be noted that each of these authors make their own interpretations and have their own views of the woodcuts, and consequently they are sometimes at variance with one another. I have done my best to combine these, highlighting differences where appropriate without hopefully complicating the explanation.

Part 2 of 4 (Woodcuts 1 to 10)
Part 3 of 4 (Woodcuts 11 to 20)
Part 4 of 4 (Synthesis, Citrinitas, Psychotherapy And Conclusion.)

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