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Gordon, R. (1967). Symbols: Content and Process. J. Anal. Psychol., 12(1):23-34.

(1967). Journal of Analytical Psychology, 12(1):23-34

Symbols: Content and Process

Rosemary Gordon


The Ideas that I want to explore in this paper have been prepared, so I feel, by two papers published in this Journal which, at first sight, may not seem to be in any way connected. I am referring to the paper by Jackson on ‘Symbol formation and the delusional transference’, and to Edinger's paper, ‘Trinity and quaternity’.

Jackson dealt specifically with problems concerning the symbolic process, with its development and its pathology. Edinger in his paper argued persuasively that an archetype of trinity exists as an independent psychic theme, that it symbolizes process and growth and that it is juxtaposed, but complementary, to the archetype of the quaternity, the latter expressing content, structure and wholeness. Edinger contended that any genuine insight into psychic reality requires the representation not only of the ‘four’, but also of the ‘three’, and he demanded, rightfully I think, that we be more alert and more respectful to trinitarian symbolism. His argument seems to me valid not only for the psyche as a whole, but also for any of its particular functions.

Is it really just a coincidence that the figure ‘four’ should, in the past, have been emphasized by Jungians at the expense of the figure ‘three’, while the study of symbolism has been confined, almost exclusively, to a concern with symbolic content rather than symbolic process?

You may now understand why I have coupled Jackson's and Edinger's papers. Both, it seems to me, have given shape, and therewith further impetus, to a development in analytical psychology which is taking place as a compensation to an earlier and too one-sided interest in structures and contents.

In this paper I hope to discuss some of the features of the symbolic process, a process which Jung ([1916]) named the transcendent function; and later he referred to the uniting function of the symbol or simply ‘uniting symbols’ (Jung, 1941 and 1951).

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