Dreamer's Refuge

A Student of Sense and Nonsense

Coincidentia oppositorum

I found an interesting difference between Jung and Corbin – though maybe I have not read enough to see all of the differences yet between them – is the idea of Coincidentia oppositorum.

From Jung’s point of view, as a psychologist who was trying for psychological wholeness, opposites did not seem to be discerned between complementary and contradictory in regards to integration.

An example of complementary opposites (also called Relational antonyms) would be masculine and feminine; their conjunction would be androgyny. (Other examples include: husband : wife, doctor : patient, predator : prey, teach : learn, servant : master, come : go, parent : child, worshipper : worshiped.)

An example of contradictory opposites (also called Contradictory antonyms) would be truth and lie; their conjunction would be an annihilation of both. (Other examples include: mortal : immortal, exit : entrance, exhale : inhale, occupied : vacant.)

I think to Jung, integration of the psychological opposites would be important, but for Corbin, recognizing the opposites/contradictions within yourself is different from thinking they can be “integrated” into a “sum total” of someone who is taking the ascent towards the midnight sun.

Jung was mainly concerned with wholeness, Corbin with reaching “true” north.

Reaching the north above the north… Hyperboria. Corbin brings this up in “The Man of Light in Iranian Sufism” on page 47:

The man of light’s ascent causes the shades of the well where he was held captive to fall back into themselves. Hermes does not carry his shadow with him; he discards it; for he rises up, and correspondingly the “cities of the oppressors” sink down into the abyss. And it is difficult, we must confess, to read with equanimity certain interpretations of the coincidentia oppositorum where complementaries and contradictories are apparently indiscriminately lumped together under the head of opposita. To deplore that Christianity is centered on a figure of goodness and light and entirely overlooks the dark side of the soul would be no less valid an evaluation if applied to Zoroastrianism. But how could reintegration consist in a complicity between, a “totalization” of Christ and Satan, Ohrmazd and Ahriman? Even to suggest such a possibility is to overlook the fact that even under the reign of a figure of light the Satanic forces remain in operation — those for example who tried to prevent Hermes’ escape from the depths of the well and his ascent to the battlements of the Throne. And it is exactly for this reason that one has to affirm that the relationship of Christ to Satan, Ohrmazd to Ahriman, is not complementary but contradictory. Complementary elements can be integrated, but not contradictory ones.

and Page 48:

Faust, renovatus in novam infantiam, is reborn “in Heaven,” where the Sophia aeterna appears; the redemption of Faust is not a “sum total” of Faust and Mephistopheles. The counterfeiter, the Antimimon, is not Phos’s guide of light; it brings contradiction; it is not complementary.

Using the Tolkien Elf Myth; The Elves being the “Perfect Man” (the beings in touch with their soul/khidr) are made of matter that is tainted by Morgoth. They are immortal, but their bodies, due to the taint, will eventually fade, and their souls will go back to the “Undying Lands”. But they will not take the “shadow” (the taint) with them.

So Jung is right to say you should be “conscious” of your shadow, and “integrate” (assimilate) it in your conscious personality… that is, recognize that you may be jealous, or greedy for money, etc, and then “catch it”. Or recognize as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn put it in The Gulag Archipelago:

If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?

From Corbin’s perspective, you cannot “integrate it” into your psyche from a religious perspective because the shadow is shed like the skin of a snake, or transcended if you are trying to take the vertical path to the “true” north, and he uses the Sufis way of seeing it from The Hymn of the Pearl and the equivalent archetypal story by Suhrawardi of Hermes being stuck in a well in the city with the oppressors.

Jung does actually allude to this when talking about the contradictory opposites of Elijah (Forethought/Insight) and Salome (Pleasure) in one of his Active Imagination visions in the “Red Book”:

It is always the serpent that causes man to become enslaved now to one, now to the other principle, so that it becomes error. One cannot live with forethinking alone, or with pleasure alone. You need both. But you cannot be in forethinking and in pleasure at the same time, you must take turns being in forethinking and pleasure, obeying the prevailing law, unfaithful to the other so to speak. But men prefer one or the other. Some love thinking and establish the art of life on it. They practice their thinking and their circumspection, so they lose their pleasure. Therefore they are old and have a sharp face. The others love pleasure, they practice their feeling and living. Thus they forget thinking. Therefore they are young and blind. Those who think base the world on thought, those who feel, on feeling. You find truth and error in both. The way of life writhes like the serpent from right to left and from left to right, from thinking to pleasure and from pleasure to thinking. Thus the serpent is an adversary and a symbol of enmity, but also a wise bridge that connects right and left through longing, much needed by our life.

Carl Jung – Red Book – P181

The serpent unites them, but they do not make a “sum total”, instead, like a serpent moves left and right, first comes one, than the other. They do not exist together as one, but instead alternate between each other.  Forethought giving direction to pleasure (for pleasure is desiring of everything it touches), pleasure giving forethought something to act on (energy, libido), its impetus.

Jung speaks more about this in Mysterium p. 497:

…confrontation with the shadow produces at first a dead balance, a stand-still that hampers moral decisions and makes convictions ineffective…tenebrositas, chaos, melancholia.


in this time of descent—one, three, seven years, more or less—genuine courage and strength are required.


no one should deny the danger of the descent … every descent is followed by an ascent, an enantiodromia.

This might have been a difference between the Eastern and Western way of thinking however.  From Jung’s perspective through an enantiodromia you could reach the pole by first descending to its opposite. Only reaching Heaven once you have reached Hell, because you then have the capacity for one, you also have it for the other.

Joseph Campbell had an interesting interpretation that I think fits both mindsets:

The grail becomes symbolic of an authentic life that has lived in terms of its own volition, in terms of its own impulse system, which carries it between the pairs of opposites, of good and evil, light and dark. Wolfram starts his epic with a short poem saying, “Every act has both good and evil results.” Every act in life yields pairs of opposites in its results. The best we can do is lean toward the light, that is to say, intend the light, and what the light is, is that of the harmonious relationships that come from compassion, with suffering, understanding of the other person. This is what the Grail is about.

Understanding “evil”, suffering through it, showing grace in the face of it, but ultimately leaning toward the “good”. Or toward harmony as best we can.

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