Jakob Böhme & the dynamic unity of light and dark

Jacob Boehme, ‘Vierzig Fragen von der Seele’ Forty Questions Concerning the Soul -1620. US Public Domain
Jacob Boehme, ‘Vierzig Fragen von der Seele’ Forty Questions Concerning the Soul -1620. US Public Domain

Jakob Böhme (1575 – 1624) was a German mystic.  He wrote several mystical treatises which influenced G.W.F. Hegel, Carl Jung, and other German thinkers. Carl Jung speaks of Böhme’s work. He says:

“A historical example of the [division into light and dark] is Jakob Böhme’s mandala, in his treatise XL Questions concerning the Soule… It is an image of God and is designated as such.” (CW 91, para. 717)


In the above image, titled Forty Questions Concerning the Soul, we see Böhme’s divine cosmology. For Carl Jung, a divine cosmology is also a human cosmology. In the same paragraph Jung says:

“Individual mandalas make use of a well-nigh unlimited wealth of motifs and symbolic allusions, from which it can easily be seen that they are endeavoring to express either the totality of the individual in his inner or outer experience of the world, or its essential point of reference.” (ibid)

Böhme’s image may be seen as representing “the individual in his inner or outer experience of the world.” Jung continues:

“Their object is the self in contradistinction to the ego which is only the point of reference for consciousness, whereas the self comprises the totality of the psyche altogether, i.e., conscious and unconscious. It is therefore not unusual for individual mandalas to display a division into a light and a dark half, together with their typical symbols.” (ibid)

Böhme’s mandala is divided into the light and the dark shadowy realms. This may reflect the psyche’s primal division into the light of awareness and the shadow of ignorance.

Jung understood that with the integration of the self there is no longer a sharp division between the light and shadow realms. Instead, the conscious and unconscious exist in a dynamic and dialectical relationship in which the light of awareness holds or contains all the shadowy elements. As well, the light of conscious awareness depends upon instincts and shadowy precursors for its life and richness. Wholeness, as Jung sees it, is dynamic and dialectical.

From the perspective of the Self what seemed to be a shadow to the ego, what appears as darkness to the ego, is but the other half of the ego’s light. When the ego gains respect for the depths whence it arises, when the ego enters into relationship with its shadowy other, a new horizon opens. Jung points to this new horizon with his meditations on the mandala. That new horizon is nothing other than one’s very own Self, a dynamic unity.


Carl Jung, 9 Part 1 – The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious– 1934–1954


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