The Psyche and the Subtle Body

Chakra picture, William Vroman, 2005, Public Domain
Chakra picture, William Vroman, 2005, Public Domain

Carl Jung appeared to believe that the subtle body was a good metaphor for the human psyche. He said, “I have often felt tempted to advise my patients to conceive of the psyche as a subtle body” (1938, p. 25).

The subtle body is a concept which represents the idea of a non-material body which coexists with the material body. Ideas concerning the subtle body have persisted throughout the ages in many different religions. According to David Tansley “the ancient Egyptians, Chinese and Greeks, the Indians of North America, the Polynesians Kahunas, the Incas, the early Christians, the Vedic seers of India and the medieval alchemists and the mystics of Europe” all had a concept of a non-material body.

The subtle body is often seen as a bridge between the divine world and the human world. David Gordon White calls it a link between the divine macrocosm and the human microcosm (p.15). Knowledge of the subtle body is often known though a hieroglyphic spiritual language, such as in expressed in dreams and imagination.

It is only through spiritual development that we begin to understand the hieroglyphic language of the subtle body. From the Jungian point of view this interaction takes place primarily through the active imaginative and dreaming process. From the Hindu perspective, we make contact with the subtle body through our mindfulness and meditation practice.


  1. Psychology and Religion (Collected Works of C.G. Jung Vol. 12)
  2. The Subtle Energy Body: The Complete Guide – Maureen Lockhart
  3. Subtle Body: Essence and Shadow – David V. Tansley
  4. The Alchemical Body: Siddha Traditions in Medieval India – David Gordon White

2 thoughts on “The Psyche and the Subtle Body

  1. Let’s start out by taking a quick look at two different pictorial models of time/space reality and the human psyche.

    The first model is viewed through the eyes of the traditional, “orthodox” behaviorist theory of personality. This first model is a theory that claims we’re born into this world as “clean slates.” It’s a theory that claims all human behaviors are “programmed” into us by our particular environment (or more recently by some cognitive behaviorist “regenades” – some behaviors are thought to be possibly influenced by genetics.)

    The second model is based on Carl Jung’s vision of the human psyche and the “collective unconscious.” Jung hypothesized that our minds at birth contain “inherent predispositions” to perceive in categories. (In other words, we’re not born as “clean slates.”) Jung called these “inherent predispositions” to perceive in categories: archetypes… “deposits of the constantly repeated experiences of humanity… a kind of readiness to reproduce over and over again the same or similar mythical ideas…”

    Common Model – According to this view, the rectangle is the time/space box we’re all (supposedly) locked up tight in. And the triangle inside this time/space box represents the sum total of the human psyche. Everything outside the box is the “unknown void.” The “unknown void” has no direct effect on the human psyche, since the human psyche is conveniently wrapped up quite neatly (and safely) in the box of time/space reality. Accordingly, then regardless of what this “unknown void” might or (might not) contain – it’s not considered pertinent to human development or growth.

    Jung’s Model – On the right side is the box of time/space reality. Everywhere else is the “collective unconscious.” The split square in the middle represents the human psyche. Half of the psyche resides in the box of time/space reality – and half the psyche resides in the unconscious. Archetypes generally prefer hanging around outside of the time/space Box, and so they directly effect the psyche from the vast “unconscious.” Using this model of the human psyche, the archetypes (and their influence on the human psyche) would obviously be quite profound in human development.

Comments are closed.