Christiana Morgan: Her Invisible Life

This is a beautifully written biography of an extraordinary woman, who, as the author puts it, “remains at most a footnote in other people’s history.” She was a prominent patient of Jung’s, who used her paintings and visions as material for his four-year psychological seminar. Jung called this material “a most beautiful example of the original initiation process.” The years she spent in Küsnacht in intensive therapy with Jung were decisive for her whole life. In a letter to Henry A. Murray she thus summarized her impressions of Jung:

“… he has indeed the true fire. I never dreamed that anyone could talk so directly and so instantly to the spirit or the core. … There is no question that he is the prophet.”

The undeniable gift of Jung was to put his patients in touch with their inner lives. A memorable quote from his own memoirs, Memories, Dreams, Reflections says:

“Outer experiences were never so very essential anyhow, or were so only in that they coincided with phases of my inner development. An enormous part of these “outer’ manifestations of my life has vanished from my memory…”

A prime example of such an inner-life biography is the three-volume masterpiece on Kafka’s life by Reiner Stach. There the author wonders about a possible meaning of a biographical endeavor:

“But what does such a representation mean for a person whose life unfolds in the depths, in an overwhelming inner intensity? Kafka often spent half the day in bed or on a sofa, languid, inaccessible, daydreaming. … We know that millions of people would later be awestruck by some of what he daydreamed.”

Naturally, also Christiana Morgan had an “outer” life. It seems that the kernel of that life involved her lifelong love relationship with the esteemed Harvard psychologist Henry A. Murray, who refused to leave his wife for her. She worked at Harvard Clinic alongside Murray, with whom she co-authored the Thematic Apperception Test in the 1930s, which is still in use today. The central thesis of Douglas’s biography seems to be that Christiana Morgan betrayed her visions by choosing to remain by Murray’s side. In moments of clarity, Christiana described her relationship with Henry as dry and draining, while she craved warmth and earthiness. Douglas appears to blame Jung for pushing Morgan into the limiting anima woman role:

“…he instructed Morgan to live her life in the same way Toni Wolff lived hers – as adjunct to and in the service of her lover. In the analysis, Jung soon started to shift his focus away from Morgan and onto Murray as the center of the relationship; … In moments like these, and there were many, Jung forgot Christiana Morgan while he glorified her role as an anima figure and inspiratrice for a man.”

Jung supposedly told her, “Your function is to create a man.” He encouraged her to record her visions, which she generated between July 1926 and May 1927. He told her that by doing so, she will be feeding her soul by getting in touch with her inferior function, which in her case was feeling (as opposed to her main ego feeding function – thinking). Douglas wrote:

“Christiana Morgan’s visions in their entirety depicted an archetypal representation of women’s psychological development for which neither she nor Jung was ready, one that is coming into consciousness only today. Her visions instructed Morgan that she had to free herself from traditional ideas about women and discover her own, vastly different idea.

Morgan’s visions depicted a way of development that was far ahead of the traditionally feminine one of her era; it was a woman’s heroic quest, a type of quest that Morgan may have been the first to envision. Seen this way, the visions in their entirety become a vital and energizing mystery. They have much to offer women exploring and recovering the darkly potent side of women’s psychology and have much in common with aspects of Inanna, Lilith, Hecate, and Kali – aspects of the powerfully active, dark, and sometimes loathsome feminine archetype.”

Even after her therapy ended, Christiana continued having more visions:

“Powerful feminine images continued to burst up from Christiana’s unconscious at this time, including witches, ancient mothers, dragons, volcano goddesses, sky mothers and earth mothers, harpies, maenads … slowly they replaced the male images on which Jung concentrated.”

Jung was especially impressed with Christiana’s ability to go into mystical trance and afterwards being able to return and relate her findings in a clear, intellectual fashion. He seemed to possess a similar talent himself. As he decided not to publish his own Red Book visions in his lifetime, he chose to run a long series of seminars dedicated to Christiana’s visions. She remained anonymous throughout the process, though towards the end her identity was revealed. Shortly after that the seminars were discontinued.

The richness of Morgan’s visions is astounding. I was particularly struck by Jung’s analysis of the symbolim of the veil. Christiana noted:

“Someone was putting a black veil over my head. It seemed to me that I was meant to wear it always. I said, “This veil will always show,” Someone answered, “No, it is thin, it is worn over the back part of the head, not over the face.”

In response to this vision, Jung and the seminar participants spent a considerable amount of time analyzing the symbolism of Black Madonna. Jung alluded to the symbolism of the black, fertile earth and the analogy of Isis and the Black Madonna. He spoke at length about the mysteries of Eleusis. He brilliantly pointed out that since the veil is not worn over her face, the vision seems to suggest that she is not supposed to withdraw from the world of desires. But she should remain aware of the darkness of the unconscious and the danger it may bring – since the veil covers the back of the head and not the face.

Furthermore, the veil symbolism is connected with revelation. In the Bible the veil separated the holy place from the most holy. In the Penguin Dictionary of Symbols, Jean Chevalier states hat the rending of the veil “shows the abruptness of revelation effected by unveiling and bears a sense of initiation.” Perhaps Christiana’s unveiled face symbolizes her ability to see the light of truth.

Isis as the Veiled Goddess by Auguste Puttemans: “I am all that has been, and is, and shall be; and no mortal has ever lifted my veil.”

Admittedly, the symbolism of the veil seemed to pervade her life. She did not make a name for herself either in the Jungian circle or in the Harvard Clinic, where her role as a lay academic was downplayed while her scandalous involvement with Murray marred hers (but not his, as is usually the case) reputation. While he chased new love interests, she spent her days in the tower, which Murray rented for her and for their meetings. They were both inspired by Jung’s Bollingen tower. Yet unlike for Jung, Christiana’s tower did not bring her bliss. She succumbed to alcoholism and presumably died of suicide by drowning. She left a poem by Conrad Aiken poem to be read at her funeral:

“O sweet clean earth, from whom the green blade cometh!
When we are dead, my blest beloved and I,
Embrace us well, that we may rest forever,
Sending up grass and blossoms to the sky.”

In these four verses the tragedy of her life is revealed. She longed for a fertile life of happiness in the sun, yet she performed her quiet work in darkness and obscurity.

You can look and read about Christiana Morgan’s visions here.


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6 Responses to Christiana Morgan: Her Invisible Life

  1. msjadeli says:

    Interesting in so many ways.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. lampmagician says:

    She was an extraordinary woman indeed! Thank you, dear Monika, for this extensive article. 🙏💖

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Frank Draper says:

    Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

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