The Hermaphrodite: creative union of opposites

Il Rebis Androgino Rosarium Philosophorum XV sec. US Public Domain, Wikimedia

The above image is an alchemical drawings of the Rebis Hermaphrodite from the The Rosary of the Philosophers, published in 1550. We see the Rebis, as a winged hermaphrodite. The rebis has a male head on its right and a female head on its left, and holds a coiled snake in the right hand and a cup containing three snakes in the left. The Rebis appears to stands on serpents. Notice that the flowers have faces and a bird feeds its young.

According to Carl Jung, rebis hermaphrodite symbolism represents the union of opposites. (CW 9i, para. 292) In the Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious, Carl Jung discusses hermaphrodite symbolism:

“The hermaphrodite means nothing less than a union of the strongest and most striking opposites… The primordial idea has become a symbol of the creative union of opposites, “uniting symbol” in the literal sense.” (CW 9i, para. 292-4)

Jung saw that when the hermaphrodite appears in dreams or active imagination it may signify healing:

“Notwithstanding its monstrosity, the hermaphrodite has gradually turned into a subduer of conflicts and a bringer of healing, ….its power to unite opposites, mediates between the unconscious substratum and the conscious mind. It throws a bridge between present-day consciousness, always in danger of losing its roots, and the natural, unconscious, instinctive wholeness of primeval times.” (ibid)

Jung realized the hermaphrodite as an image of the Self:

“…a symbol of the unity of personality, a symbol of the self, where the war of opposites finds peace. In this way the primordial being becomes the distant goal of man’s self-development.” (ibid)


John Rylands University Library Collection, Alchemy, Image Number: JRL020888tr

Jung, C. G., The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious – CW 9i  (1934–1954) (1981 2nd ed. Collected Works Vol.9 Part 1), Princeton, N.J.: Bollingen.


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