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A Brief Account Of The Similarities Between Jungian Psychology And Freemasonry

Article by
Alan Hamilton

The underlying principles of analytical (Jungian) Psychoanalysis are similar to those of Freemasonry.

This spring, I was invited to participate in a golf foursome which included Grand Commander C. Fred Kleinknecht, 33°, his brother Ill. Kenneth S. Kleinknecht, 33°, and my father, Ill. Dwight A. Hamilton, 33°, S.G.I.G. in Colorado. On this occasion, the usual banter that accompanies golf was interwoven with more serious conversations concerning Freemasonry and, given my profession, psychology. The discussions between the Grand Commander and myself began to reveal that we share a similar commitment to the world and to humanity, even though the venues through which we have chosen to pursue these commitments are different. I am not a member of a Masonic Lodge but rather a psychologist who specializes in Jungian psychoanalysis. Although my understanding of Freemasonry is limited, in this article I will give a brief account of how I understand the underlying principles of analytical (Jungian) psychoanalysis to be similar to those of Freemasonry.

Around the turn of the century, Sigmund Freud, the famous Viennese psychologist, developed the field of psychoanalysis on the premise that the primary motivations of all organisms, including human beings, are focused on maintaining a state of satisfaction or homeostasis, i.e., a relatively stable state of equilibrium. Based on this reasoning, Freud arrived at the conclusion that the images and mythologies of all creeds and philosophies are essentially disguised wishes for eventual biological satisfaction or well-being that protect from the frustrations resulting from social and moral restraints. The equally famous Swiss psychologist, Carl Jung (pictured at right), however, took issue with this agnostic perspective of Freud’s, recognizing instead the implicit order that is manifest within the images and mythologies of formal faiths, past and present. In other words, Jung believed that most cultural forms of human expression (religion, architecture, art, literature, folklore, etc.) are manifestations of organizing principles, what he termed archetypes.

Jung believed that these primary patterns or principles, these archetypes, collectively represent the human psyche. These archetypal patterns underlie the processes that constitute individual and social development. Consequently, Jung believed that we are all governed by an intrinsic desire for wholeness or completeness that represents an inherent human aspiration that he considered to be spiritual in nature.

Jung’s break from the empirical tenets established by Freud redefined psychology as the art of recognizing and facilitating fundamental changes throughout life—changes that are usually instigated first on a psychic level within the unconscious. It is often the case that the unconscious stirrings are at first felt consciously as feelings of dissatisfaction, depression, or anxiety. Yet sometimes these symptoms can be traced to an unconscious desire for further development, or what Jung termed "individuation." The "collective unconscious" is Jung’s term for what underlies and informs personal experience and leads one towards wholeness through experiences of transformation.

Implicit to Jung’s psychology is the trust that life is not merely a random biological phenomenon but, rather, an ordered and meaningful process. On this basis, the many difficult challenges we are confronted with throughout life (trauma, loss, anxiety, depression, despair, disease, etc.) are integral, though difficult, aspects of the transformative operations of the human psyche.

Oftentimes, we mistakenly perceive ourselves as victims of our symptoms and our suffering. Yet the same personal travail is central to most archetypal motifs and mythic patterns. The recognition of the mythic dimensions underlying our own personal experiences breaks down our narcissistic claims to the joys and suffering of life and unites us more genuinely within the process of being human. When we can learn to focus on the shared dynamics of being, rather than the differentiating aspects of personality, empathy is truly possible.

In this respect, I believe the philanthropic goals of Jungian analytical psychology and Freemasonry are alike, insofar as the communal bonds of brotherhood are the consequence of a commitment to our shared human destiny rather than the narcissistic goal of perfecting and maintaining the individual personality.

Analytical psychology and Masonry both require a religious sensibility without being religions themselves. This is a most difficult enterprise, and I imagine the Masonic Lodge is sometimes accused of being a pseudo-religion or cult. For many persons, a spiritual commitment can only exist within the dogmatic structure of a religion. Jungian psychoanalysis, like Masonry, is compatible with all religions because it recognizes that being is itself a phenomenon with spiritual dimensions in which we all participate. Carl Jung sometimes suggested that his patients find appropriate religious participation. In fact, Alcoholics Anonymous developed out of one instance in which Jung prescribed religious participation to an alcoholic patient, recognizing his problem as a spiritual crisis that required the support and containment of a religious structure.

Analytical psychology draws on many different cultural and faith traditions which illustrate the same transformative process of the human being. One of the most important archetypal motifs consistently found in all such mythologies and traditions is the archetype of the "hero" who represents humankind’s trials and transformative potential. These heroes teach us that development and transformation must involve death as well as rebirth. In my work, a familiarity with myths is important because myths offer a reference to the suffering of patients that may otherwise seem arbitrary. The same motifs that appear throughout world literature can be recognized in the personal accounts heard in the consulting room. Consequently, the goal of analysis is not merely towards the restructuring of destructive behavior, or the alleviation of debilitating disorders; rather, the function of analysis is to become more consciously aware of the initiatory processes that may underlie our symptoms. In other words, a symptom is not to be gotten rid of but understood, and myths form a context for this type of understanding.

As we approach the new millennium, one of the cultural symptoms we are experiencing is the breakdown of the sacred; the traditional forms of devotion that have served as the moral foundation of our culture are becoming pulled apart into the extreme positions of different forms of agnosticism and religious fundamentalism. During this difficult period in human history, it is especially important to avoid the tendency towards religious and secular polarization by maintaining an awareness that the sacred is implicit to all human experience. By living we participate in a sacred process that requires, above all else, recognition of it as such.

True philanthropy and true therapy exist within the recognition that we are all participants in a collective process that often transcends our own limited understanding and beliefs. In this respect, I believe Masonry represents an outstanding model of philanthropy because the gifts that Masons offer the world in the form of charities and donations are not gifted from a position of superiority but, rather, from a position of humility and brotherhood—the result, perhaps, of working through the many Masonic Degrees.

The therapeutic process is also an initiatory process; there are many stages or degrees through which the analyst and analysand (patient) must travel together. Ultimately, I imagine that Jungian analysis and Freemasonry aspire towards the same goal, of claiming the joys and sorrows of life and death as meaningful processes of being a whole human being—a claim from which true compassion springs.

Dr. Alan Hamilton
is a psychotherapist in private practice in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he lives with his wife and two daughters. He is presently training to become a certified Jungian Analyst and is working toward his licensure as a Clinical Psychologist.