Jung borrowed the term coniunctio from the medieval alchemists, because he believed they were picturing the same individuation process Jung was outlining in his work. Jung understood that the alchemists literalized and externalized the inner opus, which he took to be a spiritual and psychological reality. We will discuss the coniunctio in action in our everyday lives.
Jung utilized many alchemical terms, but the one I focus on here is the coniunctio.
The mystery of the coniunctio is that it is the joining of two into one, a holy marriage. According to Jung, “The coniunctio is an a priori image that occupies a prominent place in the history of man’s mental development. If we trace this idea back we find it has two sources in alchemy, one Christian, the other pagan. The Christian source is unmistakably the doctrine of Christ and the Church, sponsus and sponsa, where Christ takes the role of Sol and the Church that of Luna. The pagan source is on the one hand the hieros-gamos, on the other the marital union of the mystic with God. “The Psychology of the Transference,” (Jung, CW 16, pa. 355.)
We see then, that the coniunctio is not a physical union but rather a mental, internal state of being, a union of opposites, and in particular, the union of the conscious and unconscious. Jung described “a gradual transformation of the archetype into a psychological process which, in theory, we can call a combination of conscious and unconscious processes. (Carl Jung, CW 9i, para. 295, emphasis added)
Both Jung and the alchemists used images of the hermaphrodite to illustrate the coniunctio.
A passage from the Gospel of Thomas in the Nag Hammadi Library reads:
Jesus said to them, “When you make the two one, and when you make the inside like the outside and the outside like the inside, and the above like the below, and when you make the male and the female one and the same, so that the male not be male nor the female female.”
In a discussing of the coniunctio in relationship to hermaphrodite images, Carl Jung speaks of an obscure quotation from the Gospel of the second Clement. It is quite similar to the passage from the Gospel of Thomas. It reads:
“When the two shall be one, the outside as the inside, and the male with the female neither male nor female.” (cited by Carl Jung, CW 9i, para. 295)
I want to highlight Carl Jung’s notion of the coniunctio as representing the ‘combination of conscious and unconscious processes.’ Note the coniunctio themes appearing in the above religious passages, as well as in the following Gnostic engraving. Here we see a representation of the coniunctio as the alchemical androgyne.
An engraving from Michael Maier’s Symbola Aureae Mensae (1617) In the image Albertus Magnus points to an alchemical androgyne holding the letter Y. From wikimedia. US Public Domian.