28 Jun / Active Imagination: The Interior Vision
Active imagination is a technique or method devised by C.G. Jung, to engage, interpret, and integrate fantasy-images and other subliminal contents that arise from the unconscious. Jung originally referred to the method as spontaneous fantasy or non-directed thinking. Jung (1928) suggested that the method was “a question of releasing unconscious processes and letting them come into the conscious mind in the form of fantasies” (CW7, para. 342). In late 1913, Jung began to experiment with this process through visualization techniques. He imagined digging a hole and described this process of visualization in his Seminar on Analytical Psychology Given in 1925.
And that is exactly what happened. Jung’s initial attempt to bore his way into the unconscious led him down a rabbit hole of psychic images. In his autobiography, Jung (1961/1989) wrote that he let himself drop:
What followed was a lengthy encounter with personified fantasy-images that would span the next three years. As he explored his own imagination he was met by two fantasy figures that themselves Elijah and Salome. They were accompanied by a third figure in the form of a large black snake that Jung described as a typical motif commonly found in hero myths. One can read in detail about Jung’s account of these figures in The Red Book. Jung (1961/1989) further wrote of those fantasies:
Another figure eventually arose from the unconscious that Jung called Philemon (Fig. 1). Jung wrote that Philemon symbolized superior insight and demonstrated psychic objectivity. Jung’s description above marked his first attempt at articulating the method he would later formulate into active imagination. However, as early as childhood, Jung had lucid hypnagogic experiences that were consistent with the characteristics of active imagination (1961/1989, p. 181). He first described his method of active imagination in his essay “The Transcendent Function,” which was not published until 1957. When he first wrote the essay Jung was still referring to active imagination as spontaneous fantasy. Jung (1916/1957) suggested that
Thus, Jung was putting active imaginations on par with dreams. The central difference between active imaginations and dreams is that the individual has greater control with the former because they are exercised during a waking state. Although often undervalued, active imagination is an effective tool that anybody can use to further assimilate and understand his or her own unconscious contents. Jung further pointed out that there were a number of ways that one could do active imagination depending on the individual and his or her own psychic constitution. For some people painting may serve as an adequate way to engage their unconscious whereas for others writing may work best. It really just depends on the person. Lastly, one of the most important features of active imaginations is the way they apparently demonstrate that psychic images can have a life of their own, which accords with Jung’s hypothesis of psychic objectivity.
Active imagination was first introduced by Jung as alternatively non-directed thinking and spontaneous fantasy.
The purpose of active imagination is to engage, interpret, and integrate fantasy-images and other subliminal contents that arise from the unconscious.
Jung first extensively employed his active imagination technique to engage inner fantasy figures in 1913, which is described at length in The Red Book.
Another term for fantasy-images are libido analogues.
In some cases, fantasy images could be thought to have a life, albeit a provisional one, of their own.
Jung, C.G. (1928). The technique of differentiation between the ego and figures of the unconscious. In: R. F. C. Hull (Trans.) & H. Read, M. Fordham, G. Adler, W. McGuire (Eds.), The collected works of C. G. Jung (Vol. 7). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Jung, C.G. (1957). The transcendent function. In: R. F. C. Hull (Trans.) & H. Read, M. Fordham, G. Adler, W. McGuire (Eds.), The collected works of C. G. Jung (Vol. 8). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. (Original work published 1916)
Jung, C.G. (1989). Memories, dreams, reflections. Aniela Jaffe. (ed.) Richard and Clara Winston. (Trans.) New York: NY: Vintage Book. (Original work published 1961)
Jung, C.G. (2012). Introduction to Jungian psychology: Notes on the seminar on analytical psychology given in 1925. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. (Original work published 1989)