Saturday, January 21, 2012

It is not a matter if indifference whether one calls something a 'mania' or a 'god'. To serve a mania is detestable and undignified, but to serve a god is full of meaning. C.G. Jung

According to Carl Jung emotional states and archetypal images represent two ends of a single affect-image spectrum, and he believed that every mood state is accompanied by a corresponding archetypal image. The human psyche generates unique archetypal images to personify various emotions, and we find examples of this in ancient Greek mythology where, for instance, Eros personified love, Phobos fear, Aglos grief, Phthonus jealousy, Eudaemonia happiness, Kronos depression, and Hermes mania.

When it comes to personifying bipolar disorder it is the last two of these archetypal images that we will here be dealing with– Kronos and Hermes, figures given the more general titles of ‘senex’ and ‘puer’ by Jung. Below we will begin by laying down a brief phenomenological description of the senex and puer archetypes as described by post-Jungian author James Hillman:

The Senex Archetype:

The god Saturn-Kronos is image for both positive and negative senex. His temperament is cold. Coldness can also be expressed as distance; the lonely wanderer set apart, cast out. Coldness is also cold reality, things just as they are; and yet Saturn is at the far-out edge of reality. As lord of the nethermost, he views the world from the outside, from such depths of distance that he sees it, so to speak, all upside down, yet structurally and abstractly. The concern with structure and abstraction makes him the principle of order, whether through time, or hierarchy, or exact science and system, or limits and borders, or power, or inwardness and reflection, or earth and the forms it gives. The cold is also slow, heavy, leaden, and dry or moist, but always the coagulator through denseness, slowness, and weight expressed by the mood of sadness, depression, or melancholia. Psychologically the senex is at the core of any complex or governs any attitude when these psychological processes pass to end-phase. We expect it to correspond to biological senescence, just as many of its images: dryness, night, coldness, winter, harvest, are taken from the processes of time and of nature. But to speak accurately the senex archetype transcends mere biological senescence and is given from the beginning as a potential of order, meaning, and teleological fulfillment –and death- within all the psyche and all its parts. So death which the senex brings is not only bio-physical. It is death that comes through perfection and order. The senex spirit appears most evidently when any function we use, attitude we have, or complex of the psyche begins to coagulate past its prime. It is the Saturn within the complex that makes it hard to shed, dense and slow, and maddeningly depressing –the madness of lead-poison- that feeling of the everlasting indestructibility of the complex. It cuts off the complex from life and the feminine, inhibiting it and introverting it into an isolation. We must further conclude that the negative senex is the senex split from its own puer aspect. He has lost his ‘child’.

The Puer Archetype:
The single archetype tends to merge the following into one: the Hero, the Divine Child, the figures of Eros, the King’s Son, the Son of the Great Mother, the Psychopompos, Mercury-Hermes, Trickster, and the Messiah. In him we see a mercurial range of these ‘personalities’: narcissistic, inspired, effeminate, phallic, inquisitive, inventive, pensive, passive, fiery, and capricious. The puer has a one-sided vertical direction, its Ikaros-Ganymede propensity of flying and falling. Because of this vertical direct access to the spirit, this immediacy where vision of goal and goal itself are one, winged speed, haste –even short cut- are imperative. The puer cannot do with indirection, with timing and patience. It knows little of the seasons and of waiting. And when it must rest or withdraw from the scene, then it seems to be stuck in a timeless state, innocent of the passing years, out of tune with time. Its wandering is as the spirit wanders, without attachment and not as an odyssey of experience. It wanders to spend or to capture, and to ignite, to try its luck, but not with the aim of going home. Like the senex, it cannot hear, does not learn. The puer therefore understands little of what is gained by repetition and consistency, that is, by work, or of the moving back and forth, left and right, in and out, which make for subtlety in proceeding step by step through the labyrinthine complexity of the horizontal world. These teachings but cripple its winged heels, for here, from below and behind, it is particularly vulnerable. It is anyway not meant to walk, but to fly. Instead of soul, of insight, the puer attitude displays an aesthetic point of view: the world as beautiful images or as a vast scenario. Life becomes literature, an adventure of intellect or science, or of religion or action, but always unreflected and unrelated and therefore unpsychological. It is the puer in a complex that ‘unrelates’ it, that volatizes it out of the vessel –that would act it out, call it off and away from the psychological- and thus is the principle that uncoagulates and disintegrates. What is unreflected tends to become compulsive, or greedy. The puer in any complex gives it its drive and drivenness, makes it move too fast, want too much, go too far, not only because of the oral hunger and omnipotence fantasies of the childish, but archetypally because the world can never satisfy the demands of the spirit or match its beauty. Hungering for eternal experience makes one a consumer of profane events. Thus when the puer spirit falls into the public arena it hurries history along. [Hillman, J. ‘Puer Papers’, Spring Publications (1979)]

We can see here how senex and puer mirror the behaviors belonging to depression and mania. Jungian analyst Luigi Zoja states his belief that senex and puer mirror the same phenomenology he finds in bipolar states:

“Senex and Puer as key concepts for interpreting a cultural situation have significance as a bi-polarity, between whose poles move the dynamics of the collective psyche. According to Jung, an archetypal demand is not pathological in itself and becomes so only when it overwhelms consciousness, be it individual or collective, and thrusts the opposite pole into unconsciousness so that the psyche suffers an imbalance and requires readjustment. In the situation I have described, the resemblance between the oscillating puer-senex movement and the manic-depressive syndrome is very marked. There is probably a correlation here between hypothesis and empirical observation, the archetypes and the clinical picture, and the connection between senex and melancholy which has already been described by several authors (VITALE 15). My interest lies in the meaning of the bipolarity between which these dynamics manifest themselves: ultimately life is only livable if it is a search for equilibrium between opposing demands, for stability temporarily achieved and lost as the pendulum swings between puer and senex, mania and depression. The idea of alternation derives from Jung’s concept of bipolarity and cannot really be connected with the schemata of Freud, whose sequence of phases is linear and follows a predetermined and irreversible pattern.” [Zoja, L. ‘Analytical psychology and the Metapsychology of feeling’: Journal of Analytical Psychology, Vol 32, Number 1, Jan 1987 (p.50-51) ]

Zoja elsewhere elaborates on the nature of manic states by reference to the Greek mythological figure Icarus, a character most often cited as an example of the puer archetype:

“A psychopathologist could see the images of the legend of Icarus as a description of the manic-depressive states of which every human being is a potential victim. Our moods have the right to fluctuate through the various shadings of sadness and happiness, but an excessively low or depressed emotional tenor can set up a vicious circle that cuts us off from the natural variations of our moods and leaves us imprisoned. Flying too low would have wet the feathers of Icarus’ wings, forcing him to fly still lower and to wet them even further until finally finding himself engulfed by the sea; those who allow themselves too “low” a level of vitality, passively accepting all momentary set-backs, can likewise promote a condition of still greater isolation. The refusal to accept or to live up to commitments promotes a loss of self-esteem and thus still further withdrawal; the whole of the sphere of human relationships will finally collapse, and the psychic structure of the personality quickly follows suit. The warning not to fly too high is open to similar interpretation. The euphoria and hyperactivity that dominate manic states again set up a vicious circle that alters a person’s sense of self-esteem, but in precisely the opposite way. If left unchecked, the fictitious sensations experienced in manic states develop into a progressive loss of contact with reality and an underestimation of risks; and the overestimation of personal capabilities exalts itself in an illusion of ever closer contact with an inexhaustible source of energy. That state of mind is nicely described by the image of flying always higher, directing oneself toward the sun. Depression as symbolized by an approach to water, and manic states as symbolized by the proximity of fire still further coincide, respectively, with feelings of heaviness and lightness and also to the physical sensations – of cold in the first case, and of heat in the second- that frequently accompany this pair of pathologies, and for reasons that are far more symbolic than environmental.” [Zoja, L. ‘Growth and Guilt’ Routledge Press, 1995. (p.130-131) ]

With the phenomenology of the puer and senex behind us we can move on to the question of management strategies for bipolar disorder. Firstly we must ask what is required to interrupt the violent mood oscillations between mania and depression, puer and senex? There are two main answers to this question; (a) medication, and (b) psychological self-management.

Medication: In working with bipolar illness it is essential to consider medications in those cases (ie. the majority) where the individual does not possess effective and sufficient management techniques demonstrated by his/her ability to regulate mood-states and fluctuations - particularly in troubling states such as extreme mania and depression, or in so-called ‘mixed states’ referred to as agitated depression or dysphoric mania. Medications can be helpful in times of affective crisis, or as a maintenance therapy to help reduce the recurrence of extreme moods. To this end there are numerous medications available, including anticonvulsants, atypical antipsychotics, antidepressants, lithium, and more. A psychiatrist can be consulted to recommend the most suitable class of medication to help the individual get control of the worst symptoms. While many bipolar individuals may be wary of mainstream medications it is this author’s belief that these are a far more effective and safer option to self-medicating through use of alcohol, marijuana, and other street drugs.

Management: The topic of management is a broad one, including such issues as emotion regulation techniques, supportive psychotherapy, social support, cognitive skills, and healthy management of sleep patterns, diet and relationships. I do not intend to tackle these subjects here, and instead suggest the reader access the vast self-help literature available online and in books, and/or investigate professional assistance from a therapist familiar with the vicissitudes of bipolar disorder. The only ‘psychological’ issue I wish touch upon here is that of an archetypal idea that offers a guiding orientation and balance in the context of bipolar disorder: the transcendent function.

The transcendent function is described by Jung as a psychic function arising from the tension between consciousness and the unconscious factors, creating a union between them. In the case of bipolar disorder the union would be between puer and senex. Jung describes the transcendent function as follows;

'When there is full parity of the opposites, attested by the ego’s absolute participation in both, this necessarily leads to a suspension of the will, for the will can no longer operate when every motive has an equally strong countermotive. Since life cannot tolerate a standstill, a damming up of vital energy results, and this would lead to an insupportable condition did not the tension of opposites produce a new, uniting function that transcends them. This function arises quite naturally from the regression of libido caused by the blockage.[Ibid., par. 824.]

The tendencies of the conscious and the unconscious are the two factors that together make up the transcendent function. It is called "transcendent" because it makes the transition from one attitude to another organically possible.["The Transcendent Function," CW 8, par. 145.]
From the activity of the unconscious there now emerges a new content, constellated by thesis and antithesis in equal measure and standing in a compensatory relation to both. It thus forms the middle ground on which the opposites can be united. If, for instance, we conceive the opposition to be sensuality versus spirituality, then the mediatory content born out of the unconscious provides a welcome means of expression for the spiritual thesis, because of its rich spiritual associations, and also for the sensual antithesis, because of its sensuous imagery. The ego, however, torn between thesis and antithesis, finds in the middle ground its own counterpart, its sole and unique means of expression, and it eagerly seizes on this in order to be delivered from its division.["Definitions," CW 6, par. 825.]
The transcendent function is essentially an aspect of the self-regulation of the psyche. It typically manifests symbolically and is experienced as a new attitude toward oneself and life.

If the mediatory product remains intact, it forms the raw material for a process not of dissolution but of construction, in which thesis and antithesis both play their part. In this way it becomes a new content that governs the whole attitude, putting an end to the division and forcing the energy of the opposites into a common channel. The standstill is overcome and life can flow on with renewed power towards new goals.[Ibid., par. 827.]

Following Jung’s lead, Luigi Zoja reminds us that, “ultimately life is only livable if it is a search for equilibrium between opposing demands, for stability temporarily achieved and lost as the pendulum swings between puer and senex, mania and depression.” With this ‘search for equilibrium’ in mind we will finish this article with a quote from James Hillman on the puer and senex entitled ‘Union of Sames’:

Union of sames:

With the description of the senex and puer behind us, we now see that we have actually been describing a secret identity of two halves – two halves of a single archetype. This secret identity of both faces that are actually one face with only some differences of feature should not astonish us, since a corresponding feminine union of sames (the Mother-Daughter mysteries) has been placed at the center of feminine personality. Archetypal representations of this single figure with double aspects are: Tages, the Etruscan God who was a grey-haired boy appearing out of the furrows of a plowed field; the Islamic Chidr, a beauteous youth with a white beard; and Lao Tzu, whose name means senex-puer, ie., “Lao” = “old” and “Tzu” = “child.” (Other literary and hagiographic descriptions of the puer-senex polarity in the same figure are given in detail by Curtus). Notions of ‘typically puer’ or ‘typically senex’ therefore means a possession through one face only. Again, because of the secret identity, it does not matter by which face one is possessed since they are the same. ‘Typical’ therefore means ‘only,’ and the typical puer is identical with the typical senex; each is only puer or senex, not puer-et-senex. They are the same in a negative identification because they have lost the ambivalent consciousness of the union of sames. That tragedy of changelessness, of being ‘stuck,’ of being ‘unmoved’, is also accounted for by this negative identification. If the senex will not change and the puer cannot change (change requires listening, feeling, and going step-by-step), it is because the alpha-omega polarity has been negatively identified and thus obliterated. Without this polarity, which is at the essence of the archetype and holds its meaning together, there is perfection but no process, no movement from here to there, from past to future. A tension of ambivalent opposites is the structural pre-condition for change.

What might this union of sames feel like? How would it be were the polarity healed? We have only hints: some in concepts, some in images. A primary image of the union of sames is given in that “most widely cherished Renaissance maxim” festina lente (make haste slowly)… The dynamus of one would be combined with the order of the other. The bi-polar spirit would be ambivalent, logically incoherent but symbolically cohesive, as we see in the paradoxes of mysticism. There would be a curious intermingling of time and eternity (senex and puer), as in nature. Temporal continuity, that causal chain of history, the basis of order and the basis of ego, is broken up or broken through by the eternal. The world of Saturn is pierced through with Mercury; the silver-quick flow coagulated into solid moments: quantum jumps, spontaneous events, forgetting and foolishness, uselessness in the world of power yet full knowledge –“discontinuity,” as Erich Neumann called it.

These are the hints of our healing. To get there where the spirit is whole, where meaning holds together, we have begun on a way of mythical images. There is an advantage in going this way towards archetypal healing, for myth is the language of ambivalence; nothing is only this or that; the Gods and dancers will not stand still. They allow no sharp pictures of themselves, only visions. Besides, as Kluckholn has paraphrased Levi-Strauss: “…mythical thought always works from awareness of binary oppositions toward their progressive mediation. That is, the contribution of mythology is that of providing a logical model capable of over-coming contradictions…” Do we really have a choice of ways? The binary oppositions, the polar co-ordinates, cannot be healed through an ego effort of exercising mind and will, since the ego is itself the splitting instrument. We are incapable, as Hoyle said, of solving the problems of the day with even the simplest logical processes. This is so because any solution originating from the present ego would be one-sided; it would be a solution imposed by either the senex or puer components of the ego. In the absence of ego and into its emptiness an imaginal stream can flow, providing mythical solutions for the psychic connection or “progressive mediation” between the puer/senex contradictions. [Hillman, J. ‘Puer Papers’, Spring Publications (1979)]

*For a lengthy and provocative discussion on the union of sames read James Hillman’s entire book Senex and Puer (Uniform Edition) . Hillman states, "The power of myth, its reality, resides precisely in its power to seize and influence psychic life. The Greeks knew this so well, and so they had no depth psychology and psychopathology such as we have. They had myths. And we have no myths as such -instead, depth psychology and psychopathology. Therefore... psychology (with it's 'case stories') shows myths in modern dress and myths show our depth psychology in ancient dress."


The above material is an extract from the longer 
monograph that you can read for free HERE

Product Details  
by Jason Thompson Edition - 2012


  1. This is awesome, its a radically different way of understanding bipolar from the way I was shown.

  2. I am more interested in understanding BD if it is done through vivid imagery like above. Like Jung said above, “It is not a matter if indifference whether one calls something a 'mania' or a 'god'. To serve a mania is detestable and undignified, but to serve a god is full of meaning.”

    That’s the benefit of these archetypal images- it allows us to get totally engaged and thats what we love. Jung writes that all moods and emotions appear in tandem with all kinds of images, and that the images are ‘the face’ of the mood. Jung felt that in working with imaginal material, and actively playing with mental imagery, moods are potentially altered, biochemistry changed.

    Here’s a nice little quote of Jung from his autobiography. It concerns his early-life breakdown and gives us a hint of where he came up with his affect-image spectrum:
    “To the extent that I managed to translate the emotions into images –that is to say, to find the images which were concealed in the emotions– I was inwardly calmed and reassured. Had I left those images hidden in the emotions, I might have been torn to pieces by them. There is a chance that I might have succeeded in splitting them off; but in that case I would inexorably have fallen into a neurosis and so been ultimately destroyed by them anyhow. As a result of my experiment I learned how helpful it can be, from the therapeutic point of view, to find the particular images which lie behind emotions." [Memories, dreams, Reflections]

    There’s a book by James Hillman completely devoted to the ‘Puer’ and ‘Senex’ archetypes which, if you have time to read it, will blow your mind. Is title is PUER PAPERS by Spring Publications.

  3. I just received your ebook. I am very excited to read it. I notice it is not on yet. I don't know if that is something you would like to pursue, but it might be a good idea.

  4. Hi leoeris, the book (an essay actually) is not much longer than the material posted on the blog above, but the additional parts in the Amazon version are valuable. Hope you enjoy.

  5. EXCELLENT!! thank you!

  6. maggie.danhakl@healthline.comJuly 23, 2014 at 9:42 AM


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    Healthline • The Power of Intelligent Health
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