How Did Carl Jung’s Dream Birth “Man and His Symbols”?

The idea for Carl Jung’s iconic and widely accessible publication Man and His Symbols came to him through a dream.

Apr 19, 2024By Maysara Kamal, BA Philosophy & Film

carl jung man and his symbols psychology


Carl Jung’s Man and His Symbols was the last book that he worked on before his death. Unlike all his other works, Jung targeted a general public audience, refraining from using specialized jargon in an attempt to elucidate his views in layman’s terms. With the higher accessibility of his ideas, Jung gained great popularity and his thoughts have remained influential up to today.


The story of how Jung came to write Man and His Symbols is not only fascinating but also represents the fruit of the method that he aims to guide his readers towards. As John Freeman wrote in the introduction of the book, “The origins of this book are sufficiently unusual to be of interest, and they bear a direct relation to its contents and what it sets out to do”. Man and His Symbols is a book about dreams that originated in a dream. 


About the Book

Cover of Carl Jung’s Man and His Symbols. Source:
Cover of Carl Jung’s Man and His Symbols. Source:


Man and His Symbols was first published in 1964. The book explores the world of the unconscious through the study of dream symbolism, making accessible to the common reader a fantastical journey of archetypes, snakes, shadow figures, and mandalas. Jung argued that the unconscious is not just the unique underworld of our individual psyches, but that on a deeper level, we share a collective unconscious. He claims, in accordance with the philosophers who deny the existence of the unconscious despite the extensive psychological proofs available, that this view does indeed imply the existence of two ‘subjects’, as it were, within every human being. According to him, it “is one of the curses of modern man that many people suffer from this divided personality” (Jung, 1964).


“Touch of Love” by Freydoon Rassouli. Source:
“Touch of Love” by Freydoon Rassouli. Source:


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The primary aim of Man and His Symbols is to provide a channel of communication between the reader and his or her unconscious by translating the symbolical language that the unconscious uses to express itself in dreams. The book is divided into five sections, the first of which is written by Carl Jung, titled “Approaching the Unconscious”. The rest of the sections are written by his associates. Joseph L. Henderson wrote “Ancient Myths and Modern Man”, exploring the different ways through which ancient mythology continues to impact our modern psychic life. Marie Louise Von Franz wrote about the process of individuation. In the fourth section, Aniela Jaffé elucidated the ways through which symbols are used in visual art to communicate with the unconscious. Finally, Jolande Jacobi wrote the concluding section of the book titled “Symbols in an Individual Analysis”. Jung approved all sections before his death in 1961.


How It All Started

John Freeman’s BBC interview with Carl Jung. Source: BBC
John Freeman’s BBC interview with Carl Jung. Source: BBC


The story of how Man and His Symbols came to life started in 1959 when John Freeman, a prominent journalist, interviewed Carl Jung at his house in Switzerland for a BBC TV show called Face to Face. The show was a great success, attracting many curious audiences, including Wolfgang Foges, the manager of Aldus Books. According to Freeman, “Foges is, in fact, the creator of Man and His Symbols”, for he is the one who initiated the publication of the book (Jung,1964). Foges was impressed by the ideas of Carl Jung, and found it a pity that his thoughts were not accessible except to specialized academics. So, he tasked Freeman to pay another visit to the psychologist’s house, this time to ask him to write a short book for non-specialized readers. To Foges displeasure, Jung refused, and Freeman returned to London in great disappointment. But it didn’t end there.


Carl Jung’s Dream

carl jung portrait
Carl Jung by Yousuf Karsh, 1958. Source:


Jung’s mailbox was bombarded by a plethora of letters from people who watched his BBC interview. It was the first time that Jung witnessed such an abundant interest from non-specialized individuals who wouldn’t have otherwise contacted him. Although this was a major factor for persuading him to write the book, what changed the fate of Man and His Symbols was a dream. Jung had a dream that he was standing in a public space talking about his thoughts to the general public instead of sitting in his office with academics and psychiatrists. Most importantly, he dreamt that he was understood by his new audience.


One of Carl Jung’s dreamlike illustrations. Source: Art Observed
One of Carl Jung’s dreamlike illustrations. Source: Art Observed


Foges, who was not easily dissuaded, later renewed his offer to Carl Jung, and this time the latter did not turn him down. However, he set two conditions. Firstly, he will co-write the book with a group of his closest followers. Secondly, he insisted that John Freeman should coordinate between them and the publishers, and edit the material. John Freeman represented the common reader to the authors of Man and His Symbols. Whenever he came across any passage that he did not understand, the authors knew that this meant that it wouldn’t be clear to the general public. At the end of this collaboration, Man and His Symbols became the first book introducing Jungian psychology in extraordinarily simple terms, leaving a legacy that allowed Carl Jung to remain a relevant figure in the modern world.

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By Maysara KamalBA Philosophy & Film Maysara is a graduate of Philosophy and Film from the American University in Cairo (AUC). She covered both the BA and MA curriculums in the Philosophy Department and published an academic article in AUC’s Undergraduate Research Journal. Her passion for philosophy fuels her independent research and permeates her poems, short stories, and film projects.