The Two Trees as Transcendent Function

Carl Jung is one the foremost psychologists of modern times whose contributions in the field of psychotherapy have been of immense benefit in the diagnosis and treatment of psychological disorders. A central tenet in his teachings towards the healing of a fragmented personality involved the use of the Transcendent Function. A good introduction to The Transcendent Function can be found here and there is an audiobook of Jung’s essay on the subject here. The following overview from Jung gives a good insight into the function’s origins and efficacy:

“The cooperation of conscious reasoning with the data of the unconscious is called the ‘transcendent function…. This function progressively unites the opposites. Psychotherapy makes use of it to heal neurotic dissociations, but this function had already served as the basis of Hermetic philosophy for seventeen centuries.” (Collected Works 18,  p. 1554)

Much of this website is dedicated to a new way to explore the wonders of Hermetic philosophy through a system we have called The Two Trees.  This system combines symbolism found in Eastern and Western philosophies to produce a ‘spiral’ system.  The ‘Start Here‘ page will guide you through the fundamentals of The Two Trees which in essence allows a kabbalistic interpretation of the Yin-Yang, thereby combining Eastern ideas of cycles with the Western notion of spiritual ascension. The Two Trees provides a simple and very versatile framework for considering many different philosophical ideas. As Jung has mentioned above, The Transcendent Function was also distilled from Hermetic philosophy and, as I hope to demonstrate, is eminently compatible with The Two Trees. When The Two Trees was revealed from my researches into the nature of hierarchical systems (see here) it very quickly uprooted the foundations of my social conditioning and its associated complexes; these unconscious impulses had heavily influenced my decisions, often in a detrimental fashion. Indeed The Two Trees is, among other things, the gift of The Transcendent Function from the realms of the unconscious to allow the healing of the rift between my own conscious and unconscious worlds. As this is an ongoing process, I beg your indulgence if this article appears incomplete – I will continue to update with developments as healing progresses. While the site mainly uses Hermetic terminology, I will endeavour here to employ Jungian language in order to make it accessible to a wider audience. A glossary of Jungian terms found here will be useful for those unfamiliar with this approach.

A Symbol for theTranscendent Function

The Yin-Yang is a fundamental element of The Two Trees and is a good way to introduce the basic form of the model.

The Yin-Yang as model of The Psyche

In line with the Jungian view, the psyche is understood to consist of conscious and unconscious components constantly interacting with each other. The accompanying Yin-Yang captures the basics of this dynamic binary system with keywords to help to identify the nature of these two halves of the psyche.

The conscious self is the definition of the ‘I’ for our psyche. It represents the person we believe ourselves to be and includes all the thoughts, memories and experiences accessible to the conscious mind at any given moment. It operates as the final mediator before action though is not necessarily the driving force behind action. For example, flight from a wild animal will be directed by the conscious though the underlying unconscious fear will drive this action. This part of the psyche is related to The Tree of Life as it encompasses the existential, experiencing part of ourselves. Importantly, The Tree of Life includes the ‘outside’ world perceived by the individual as this world is ultimately constructed by the individual psyche through its senses. The veil separating inner and outer worlds may not be as solid as modern thought would have us believe.

On the flip side, the unconscious mind is the hidden underlying structure of the psyche not immediately accessible to conscious thought. Here exists an alternative to living, conscious reality driven by instinct, buried memories, social conditioning and fertile imagination. Motivation is rooted in this sphere and the logic of our actions will ultimately find their source in our unconscious drives. This inner world is one of information and so relates to The Tree of Knowledge.

The relationship between The Trees of Knowledge and Life within the psyche is comparable to that uncovered by science in life itself. Actions and behaviours of creatures can be tracked ultimately to the knowledge encoded in their DNA. Thus life generates new knowledge which in turn generates new life. This dynamic cycle of the psyche is analogous:  thoughts generated from knowledge initiate actions that in turn generate new knowledge in the form of memories and experiences. To fully explore the dynamic nature of our model, a few more details of the symbol need to be elaborated.

The Dynamics of the Symbol

Dynamics of The Two Trees

The two points of opposite colour within the Yin-Yang symbol are interpreted as points of intense interaction between the light and dark sides. A powerful interpretation sees each point as the microcosm of one side within the structure of the other side. Following this reasoning, the black point representing the microcosm of the Tree of Knowledge and hence the psyche or Self can easily be identified as the persona from a Jungian perspective. The persona is the projection of the Self into the outside world and hence represents a microcosm of all that is contained therein. The persona is not only a vehicle for the conscious ego but is also the means through which projections from the shadow as well as other instinctual and unconscious behaviour manifests externally.

The white point is not so straightforwardly defined but can be thought of as analogous to the persona: it is the projection of the external world or life into the Self. I have labelled it the ‘Archetypal Source’ as archetypes form the basis for communication between the conscious mind and the unconscious, especially the collective unconscious extending beyond the individual. This microcosm of the external world and thus life itself can be seen as the source for dreams which have a universal, archetypal content. Interestingly one could also view it as ‘the persona’ of the external world manifesting within the psyche. Could this be a way of understanding the experience of God within? Another way to see it would be as the Divine Spark, the microcosm of all life and hence ‘The Living God’,  illuminating the psyche and providing the energy to drive our creative processes.

These two points act as anchor points of an axis passing through both to give a scale for the division of one’s emphasis between the inner and outer worlds. Moving along the axis towards the persona leads to an increase in the white portion indicative of life and the external world. The increase in ‘white’ is reflective of becoming more extrovert or ‘out there’ in the world. Conversely moving to the Archetypal Source increases the black portion or introspection within the self. The individual thus becomes increasingly introverted and detached from the external world.

The dynamic nature of the Yin-Yang is traditionally viewed as being cyclical, switching between the dark and light parts of the symbol in continuous rotation. One can use this characteristic to formalise metaphors for spiritual discovery and healing. If all is well and the self is well-adapted and thriving in its environment, awareness will dwell mostly in the external world. Inspiration flows from the Archetypal Source to The Persona and out into the world. Feedback comes back through The Archetypal Source to inform future actions. This cycle is represented as the larger, blue cycle in the above diagram and can be seen as the cycle of the extrovert.

If something goes amiss and a person becomes mentally displaced within the external world, the Persona implodes and forms the rabbit hole down which awareness falls. A struggle towards ‘the light’ within the darkness of the interior world then ensues. The Archetypal Source is this light as it is the information flooding in from outside to guide the person towards a new functioning understanding with the surrounding environment. In this sense, The Archetypal Source is a proto-ego, a hazy image of the future conscious self acting as a guiding light to the struggling awareness. If successful the new form of the ego is attained and a new persona is obtained as a vehicle in the outside world. In the diagram above, the inner red cycle informs of this method of progression and can be viewed as the cycle of the introvert.

In a spiritual context, the cycles of the extrovert and the introvert navigate up and down Jacob’s Ladder, allowing the aspirant to move between the different worlds of experience. In general, both cycles will be experienced in contra-rotation. People undergoing internal metamorphoses will still simultaneously be engaged externally in all but extreme cases of introversion or extroversion.

The Psyche in Detail

A more detailed model for both parts of the symbol will help to develop it for use in a transcendent function. Firstly the ‘Yin’ element representing the inner psyche is expanded below in a ‘straightened’ conical format to enhance clarity.

Model for the Self

The widening of the cone from a point at the base indicates the increasing engagement of the mind traversing from The Observer to The Archetypal Source and beyond. The Observer is both the simplest and the most mysterious element of the inner world. As the data gatherer of the Self, dedicated to the pure act of observation with no interpretation or analysis, this is the catatonic state noted among the symptoms in most mental ailments. It lacks any measurable mental activity beyond basic mimicry of the external stimuli. The mysterious side to this part of the psyche derives from the teachings of quantum mechanics – The Observer observes the universe and thereby causes it to exist. The Observer sees the universe as it truly is, free from the warping lenses of the complexes that will feed a very different worldview to the ego. The data of The Observer is presented in the first instance to The Self through The Archetypal Source.

The incoming data and the higher elements of the Self linked to the Collective Unconscious merge in The Archetypal Source to form a persona-like mask of the external world within the psyche. Information from The Archetypal Source is then filtered through the series of complexes before reaching the conscious ego. These complexes are emotionally charged amalgams of ideas and images that form hidden personalities rooted within the unconscious part of the psyche. These personalities ‘inform’ the ego about the external world and what actions to take.  Archetypal complexes are formed through environmental pressures or social engineering and are to be found widespread within a particular society.  Personal complexes are formed by individual experiences and will vary widely between individuals.  To illustrate the nature of the complex, consider a clerk working in a monolithic administration who receives two urgent telephone messages, one to contact his doctor and the other to contact his boss. Due to his job, he is likely to have a large hierarchical content within one or more of his archetypal complexes (see here for a study of how hierarchy may be simply framed in such a complex). This complex will ‘inform’ him that his boss has priority – a more naturally inclined soul may think differently! Many complexes will blur the distinction between archetypal and personal – a ‘Father’ complex will contain elements both from the social sphere concerned with the accepted role of the father as well as the personal experiences of the individual’s parent.

The realm of the ego is that which is within the reach of the conscious mind at any given time. The ego is the driver within the self, and is, in general, the final arbiter before action in the external world is initiated. An exception to this rule comes in the form of projections from the unconscious onto others through the persona. The persona is thus not completely under conscious control. Strong emotional responses may also be channeled through the unconscious. Such responses arise through the shadow, the realm of thoughts, ideas and experiences beyond conscious recall. Generally the contents of the shadow develop from repression of undesirable experiences that would disrupt the ego’s equilibrium as well as discarded material no longer of use within present circumstances. Information arising from The Archetypal Source may be redirected by complexes to be processed within the shadow. The ego may receive the outcomes of this cognition as subliminal hopes and fears. For example signals of impending failure coming from a teacher to a pupil may be re-interpreted by the pupil into feelings of irrational hope: this allows the pupil to keep going and even sit the examination even though probability of success is in reality low.

Any part of the diagram of the Self shown above not labelled belongs to fully autonomous parts of the unconscious not amenable to communication with the ego through the medium of hidden personalities. The collective unconscious largely falls into this category as no single personality can express universal concepts contained therein.

Life – The Great Outdoors

The very general model of existence given in the diagram below is  similar in form to the very familiar ‘eye in the triangle’ symbol on the back of the dollar bill. This is perhaps unsurprising as many aspects of our life in the external world are heavily influenced by  the hidden hand of the Elites. The main difference with the standard hierarchical design resides in the cyclical nature of the Two Trees: there is no definition of ‘up’ in a cycle. How the cycle can be hidden inside the illusion of hierarchy is dealt with in the ‘Eye in the Triangle’ article. Here we will deal with a general form that will include interaction with the Psyche.

Model for Life

As with the model of the psyche, the breadth of the ‘straightened’ cone gives some idea of the diversity of experience. At the base are the material basis of the Universe that includes both the realm of human experience and that which lies beyond. From the material base arises human physiology which houses The Persona, the interface to the realm of Knowledge. The Persona is the means by which an individual interacts with others and so it is to be found in the midst of society. As well as communication, The Persona acts as the foundation upon which social status and reputation is built. The first tier accessible from this platform is an individual’s role within family and the local community.

Elevation into the realm of ‘The Lovers’ allows someone to build their own family and even community through the gifts of their biology. This layer is also named after the Tarot Trump card whose basic meaning is doing The Great Work. Thus here one will undertake other creative work to advance the knowledge and extent of the human domain.

Progressing towards the ‘Command & Control’ layer leaves behind the more natural social and creative aspects of life and enters into the more isolated role occupied by those who manage others. This layer would be the ‘gap’ between the floating Eye of Providence and the lower section of the pyramid on the dollar bill. It is the invisible ‘hidden hand’ by which the elites control society.  Though there is interaction between individuals in this layer, actions are Machiavellian and tend towards maintaining the hierarchy. In contemporary society, corporatism and banking are found here.

Isolation continues to increase until the middle management gives way to the realm of their overlords, the Elite. Here there exists a society similar in some ways to that well below but this one is but an extension and completion of the Machiavellian layer upon which it sits . Here more than anywhere else is the sense of moving in a ‘progressive’ trajectory upwards apparent and any idea of cycling back to a lower level is anathema. From these lofty heights change is perceived as failure and hence there is a strong urge to maintain the status quo. The only progression beyond this level is towards increasing isolation and taking on the role of The Hermit. The tendency for the rich and famous to barricade themselves behind high walls is a clear indicator of this tendency. At this point diversity of experience, measured by the width of the cone, has shrunk while the equivalent realm of the inner world of the psyche is hugely expanded. The individual thus sinks more and more into the realm of imagination and thus transitions from the living world into the world of Knowledge, cycling back through this inner world. The Fool is representative of the individual completely absorbed into their own private inner world and is the fate of any who resist the cycling process or who control their outer world so completely that The Archetypal Source becomes their own face. They end up trapped entirely within their own self-created worlds. The Fool is the complement in Life to The Observer in Knowledge . In the latter case, if the individual refuses to transition into being active in the external world, they are doomed to becoming a passive participant of that world with all self-awareness lost.

Other Interpretations

The interpretations here are but one of many available to begin to explore the inscrutable wisdoms of Taoist philosophy. For example one could take a macro-perspective on the Yin-Yang symbol. The Persona would then become representative of society itself while the Archetypal Source would become in effect The Living God, guiding society towards a harmonious future within its womb.

Another viewpoint would be to begin life with a baby as The Fool. Each layer brings the juvenile towards realisation of the Persona and a place within society. This view produces some interesting insights! What is important above all is to use The Two Trees as a tool to make some sense of this very complex and often confusing world we live in.