Active Imagination, Scrying, Creative Visualization, Guided Meditation

Trying to get a good handle on what the Jungians mean by “active imagination,” I have been reading Robert A. Johnson’s Inner Work: Using Dreams and Active Imagination for Personal Growth this past month.  And I am learning some things. One is that active imagination, while a good technique, is definitely a product of the modern era. For starters, it requires a room of one’s own, quiet time, and literacy, even if done without an analyst.

My professor side started thinking of this as analytical topic for a paper — which I do not intend to write, but maybe someone else can. Take active imagination, scrying, creative visualization, and guided meditation.

Could you do a four-cell diagram with two axes, such as ego — unconscious or guided — unguided?

Johnson himself says this, after stressing that active imagination deals with the surprising and unexpected:

We need to grasp this clearly because there are no so many systems around that can be confused with Active Imagination but are completely distinct from it. The main difference is that they work with a prepared script; everything is determined in advance. These systems are sometimes called “guided imagery,” “creative imagery,” or by something else. What they have in common is that everything is predetermined. You decided in advance what is going to happen in your imagination. The ego decides what it is trying to get out of the unconscious and prepares a script. The idea is to “program” the unconscious so that it will do what the ego wants it to do. In one system, the whole avowed purpose of using the imagery is to get what you want.” (Italics in the original.)

Coincidentally (“there are no coincidences,” my old teacher said) Christina Hoff Kraemer posted recently on similar topic.

Often people use the terms visualisation, meditation and pathworking interchangeably, but they are different techniques, with different purposes and histories of development.

That would be part of my hypothetical paper too: what are the intellectual roots of these practices? Some go back (in the written record) to the Middle Ages, at least — think of the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuit order, who prescribed a guided imagery (or meditation) exercise where you place yourself as an observer of Jesus’ crucifixion and other significant events of his life, attempting to experience them through all your senses (there is more, of course).

15 thoughts on “Active Imagination, Scrying, Creative Visualization, Guided Meditation

  1. Robert Mathiesen

    Empirically, active imagination and scrying seem to me to be somewhat different things, though I think that they are related.

    I can do non-verbal active imagination easily, but almost never can I scry on my own. This is probably because I tend to experience self and life neither in images nor (without making a special effort) in words, but in abstract patterns of motion and relationship, much like what takes shape on a loom as cloth is woven, or as cords are knotted into a fishnet, or as a mathematician doing various kinds of higher mathematics where the symbolism does not correspond directly and simply to anything in ordinary reality. I can create and tell stories to others on the fly, and I think I am good at it, but when I am by myself my own mind is almost always empty of words as I think about various things.

    I value the results of good scrying highly, and I have used it as a reliable guide for several of the most important decisions in my own academic career. However, when I want to use scrying, I always have to work with someone else as my scryer, someone whose internal world is full of images. The scryer scries for me without knowing my question, and I then use what she describes to work out an answer to the question for myself while she and I discuss what she has seen. It works best if the scryer doesn’t try to interpret what she has seen at all, but merely describes her vision more and more completely as I ask for more details of it. When the question is particularly important, I use several scryers over a year or two. Each scries without knowing anything at all about the others or what they saw, or even that I used other scriers: when the things they see contain the same details or landscape, as if each is independently telling me a new chapter of the same story that has been set in the same imaginal world, then the results of the sequence of scryings have turned out to be particularly trustworthy.

    The best scryers I have ever worked with have all been visual artists, playwrights, actors or LARPers — skill-sets which are almost beyond my gut-level comprehension, and far outside my own abilities.

    Because my thought-processes are not visual at all, and verbal only by making a special effort, I also have had no success with either creative visualization, guided meditation or pathworking for myself. As a skillful story-teller, however, I have been able to assist others in pathworking at times. It’s not easy for me, but it’s possible.

    I hope this gives you some useful data as you think about these things. The question you raise is, I dare say, a very important one for all magic.

  2. Fascinating — and timely — as I’m scheduled to give a talk on Pathworking for Richmond League of Occult Research and Education next Thursday.

    True pathworking, which is a Kabbalistic (is that a word?) process, can’t predate the Kabbala, which emerged in Medieval times. And Jungian processes can’t predate Jung, so that’s cut and dried.

    But techniques of this general kind could be pretty old though, right? Can’t you easily imagine a prehistoric shaman sitting down with a student whose eyes are closed and reciting the words, drumming, etc., describing a scene for the student to explore? Kind of like a low-tech version of those guided meditation cassettes they used to sell by mail-order.

  3. Robert Mathiesen

    There certainly can be non-kabbalistic analogues of kabbalistic pathworking, where you move along the paths of some other primal or basic model of existence, different from the kabbalistic tree of life. No one model of the universe suits everyone’s experience of the universe, though two or more people may turn out to have a lot in common in their models.

    I prefer to use the term “pathworking” in a general sense, for example, taking oneself and/or others along fixed paths in the landscape of an imaginal world. One builds such a world slowly and carefully, moving out from the well-mapped areas near the entrance and extending one’s map in terms of what presents itself in the trackless forests, the vast prairies and grassy planes, the rivers, lakes and deep seas, and so forth. One finds that such a landscape in rich in inhabitants, most of which are other-than-human persons — some not well known in any mythology.

  4. Robert Johnson may not be the best example of Jungian practice. What I have read about active imagination is quite the opposite:

    Jung writes about active imagination: “The initial question … would be: ‘Who or What has come alive? .. Who or what has entered my psychic life and created disturbances and wants to be heard?’ To this you should add: ‘Let it speak!” Then switch off your noisy consciousness and listen quietly inward and look at he images that appear before your inner eye…Don’t criticize anything away!…The important thing is to let the unconscious take the lead.”

    That last line seems to contradict Johnson’s statement that everything is “predetermined”.

    1. That quote, by the way was from one of Jung’s letters to Count Keyserling. Here’s another, from his Tavistock Lectures:

      “A fantasy is more or less your own invention, and remains on the surface of personal things and conscious expectations. But active imagination, as the term denotes, means that the images have a life of their own and that the symbolic events develop according to their own logic – that is, of course, if your conscious reason does not interfere.”

    2. Johnson does not say that active imagination has a predetermined goal–quite the opposite! He faults the “creative visualization” practitioners for having ego-driven, predetermined goals.

  5. Robert Mathiesen

    Brief historical footnote:

    Ignatius of Loyola’s “Spiritual Exercises” don’t belong to the Middle Ages, really, but to the Renaissance, as they date from 1522-1524. They don’t stand alone, and they are not a radical break with the past, either. Ignatius drew on a similar sets of exercises that had already been published by another Spanish monk, Garcia(s) de Cisneros, under a similar title, “Exercises for the Spiritual Life” (1500). There is an English translation of the latter, which can be read on line by way of google books.

    The imaginative method used in these exercises derives, I think, in part from the visualization techniques used in the so-called Art of Memory (Ars Memoriae), which was popular st the same time.

    1. When the Middle Ages end? Perhaps they ended around 1400 in a few select northern Italian locales. One might argue that they did not end in Spain until the 17th century, at least. It’s all rather arbitrary, wouldn’t you say?

      I did not imply, I hope, that Loyola’s exercises represented any kind of radical break with the past, rather that they were a sort of type specimen and one notable waypoint in the intellectual history of creative visualization.

      1. Robert Mathiesen

        It’s rather fluid, of course, but not wholly arbitrary. [My wife, who is half Catalan and spent a full academic year studying in Spain (1964/5), thinks that Spain remained essentially in the Middle Ages until the death of Generalissimo Franco. 🙂 ]

        And no, you didn’t imply that, Chas, but others have (especially in Catholic circles), so it should be said. best aimed at the blog’s readers in general, instead of being a conversation with the blogger. If that’s not your take on it, than I apologize.

        An excellent case can be made for the 1400s as the period of greatest transformation as one moves from the Middle Ages into Early Modernity, despite the existence of striking harbingers of Modernity here and there during the previous few centuries. (Of course, the Middle Ages were never all that static as one moves from one century to the next.) But it’s only a debate for academics like us, really . . .

      2. Robert Mathiesen

        Oops, something fell out in the posting (2nd paragraph):

        “. . . so it should be said. I have always assumed that comments on a blog are best aimed at the blog’s readers in general, . . .”

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