Steven B. Herrmann, PhD, MFT
Author of "Walt Whitman: Shamanism, Spiritual Democracy, and the World Soul"
This book is a masterpiece! When I first read it in 1998, I was so impressed with it I couldn't put it down. I have since used it in my teaching at the C. G. Jung Institute in San Francisco, in my clinical work and in my writing. In Ellenberger's view, Freud and Jung succeeded shamans in the discovery of the unconscious. (9). It was Ellenberger's "hypothesis that Freud's and Jung's systems originated mostly from their respective creative illness (of which their self-analysis was but one aspect)" (889). "Both of them," Ellenberger says, "underwent a creative illness in a spontaneous and original form, and both of them made it a model to be followed by their disciples under the name of training analysis" (890). Jungians, according to Ellenberger, were the first psychologists to consider the training analysis that Jung promoted and which Freudians accepted "as being a kind of initiatory malady comparable to that of the shaman" (890). Freud and Jung unleashed an explosion of psychic energy from the core of the shamanic archetype that would lead them through an "intense preoccupation with an idea" to "a permanent transformation" of their personalities and to "the conviction" that they "have discovered a great truth or a new spiritual world" (447, 448). Ellenberger tells us that throughout the period of creative illness, "the subject never looses the thread of his dominating preoccupation... he is almost entirely absorbed with himself. He suffers from feelings of utter isolation, even when he has a mentor who guides him through the ordeal (like the shaman apprentice with his master.)" (448). After he "emancipated himself from the influence" of Charcot, Ellenberger tells us that Freud began to identify "himself" primarily with the figure of "Goethe" (447). A remarkable transformation of consciousness took place in him that may have been attributable to the influence of the poet archetype. Freud was not only looking for a new system of psychological analysis, he was looking for a style of speech; a mythopoetic language through which the technique of psychoanalysis could be made available for all people. His vehicle for this was not to be found in identification with the founders of the first dynamic psychiatry alone, but in his identification with the poets who had preceded psychologists in the discovery of the unconscious. In order to write his great Traumdeutung in 1899, Freud was led to make an historic break with all of his early "masters" who were not also poets. As Freud pointed out, it was really "the great poets and writers who" had "preceded psychologists in the exploration of the human mind." Ellenberger says: "He [Freud] often quoted the Greek tragedians, Shakespeare, Goethe, Schiller, Heine, and many other writers. No doubt," Ellenberger continues, "Freud could have been one of the world's foremost writers, but instead of using his deep, intuitive knowledge of the human soul for the creation of literary works, he attempted to formulate it and systematize it." When the playwright Lenormand went to visit Freud at his office in Vienna, moreover, Freud is reported to have pointed to the works of Shakespeare and the Greek tragedians as his source, saying: "Here are my masters." "He maintained" Ellenberger concluded, "that the essential themes of his theories were based on the intuitions of the poets" (466, 467, 460). The "creative illness" culminates when a great artistic, religious, scientific, or philosophic truth is discovered and revealed for the benefit humanity (447).