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Archetypes and Complexes in the Womb

Written by Rainer Maria Kohler

Analyst Rainer Maria Kohler explores current neuroscientific findings that

underscore the critical importance of prenatal development on psychological
growth (using the German-language book The Mystery of the First Nine Months.
Our Earliest Formative Influences by Gerald Hther and Inge Krens) and describes
the emergence of archetypal forces already in the womb.

Archetypes and Complexes in the Womb

by Rainer Maria Kohler
Psychotherapists, including Jungian analysts, are becoming more and more aware
of the critical importance of the childs prenatal development for the structure and
functioning of the human brain and personality. A new book summarizes recent
neurobiological research into the impact of the relationship of the embryo and
fetus to the mother and her world on the development of the human brain and
psyche: Gerald Hther and Inge Krens, Das Geheimnis der ersten neun Monate.
Unsere frhesten Prgungen. (The Mystery of the First Nine Months. Our Earliest
Formative Influences).1
The authors never mention Jung, but I believe that their work and conclusions can
be related to the constellation of the Jungian archetypes and the development of
complexes already in the embryo and fetus. The mother archetype becomes active
within hours of conception, and complexes, such as hyperactivity and depression,
can constellate already in the womb. Learning commences in the womb and
includes the evaluation as good or bad of experiences made since conception. The
emotional lives of the mother and of the people in her world deeply influence the
fetus both through direct physiological connection and through indirect sensory
perception. At birth the child is already a combination of both nature and
nurture, i.e. the result of a unique set of genes and the unique experiences made
in the womb. Later nurture and therapy can undo or modify negative neuronal and
synaptic patterns established in the womb and in early years and bring healing to
the sufferer.

In 1917 Jung described the archetypes, inter alia, as deposits of the constantly
repeated experiences of humanity which are grounded in the peculiarities of the
living organism itself and therefore direct expressions of life whose nature
cannot be further explained.2 As a Jungian analyst I had always accepted this
description of the archetypes, and after reading the book by Gerald Hther and
Inge Krens I understood more clearly how the deposits of the constantly repeated
experiences of humanity are transmitted from generation to generation. More
importantly, I began to understand that the deposits are not immutable and that
they can be positively affected by bringing about healing of even generational or
ancestral complexes.
Hther is a professor for neurobiology at the University of Gttingen in Germany 3
and Krens is a Dutch psychotherapist with a primary focus on prenatal
psychology.4 Although they never mention Jung (or Freud), my reading of their
book suggested to me the possibility of integrating their neurobiological and
emotional research with Jungian ideas. Then, towards the end of their book of 137
pages, on page 121, I came upon this statement:
A child needs all the accumulated knowledge, feelings, experiences, abilities and
aptitudes from his mother, from his father, and from all the people in his culture in
order to select and firm up certain [neuronal] switches and [synaptic] connections
out of the [range of] neuronal switching possibilities and synaptic connection
opportunities which are available in his brain, and in order to anchor and ground
them in the form of inner representations [bold emphasis and italics mine].
It seemed to me that Hther and Krens describe two stages of neuronal and
psychic activity:

Opportunities for neuronal switches and synaptic connections which are

available in the brain (bold language). These are the phylogenetic patterns
available to every human being by virtue of being human.

Selecting and firming up of certain of the available switches and connections

based on all the accumulated knowledge, feelings, experiences, abilities and

aptitudes of the mother, father, and all the people in the childs culture,
followed by anchoring and grounding them in the form of inner
representations (italicized language). These are the archetypal patterns which
become active in each individual human being starting at conception.

The selection and firming up, or stabilizing, of the available neuronal switches and
synaptic connections is not limited to the first nine months and does not end with
the birth of the child. On the contrary, it continues vigorously during the first years
of life into adolescence and probably beyond. It is Hthers and Krens contention,
however, and I believe their merit, to have pointed out that this so-called plasticity
of the brain, i.e. its ability to have available a range of neuronal switches and
synaptic connections for selection and use by the individual human being, does not
start and become effective only with birth but already with conception.
Furthermore, they argue that the hoped-for normal and healthy selection and
firming up by the embryo and fetus can, and often is, already negatively affected
in the womb by the quality of the mothers and fathers lives, and the lives of other
people who relate to the mother and father. Emotional trauma can and does,
therefore, occur in the womb.
The fertilized egg (zygote) with the DNA of the two parents does not contain a
determinative program for the growth and development of the fetus, but only a
range of options of how the development might proceed depending on the
environment of the motherly womb, both physically and emotionally. The
environment of the womb includes the actual physical container, the influences of
the mothers physical and emotional functioning and the outside influences which
are constellated in the mothers life, including the father and other people who
interact with the mother.
The nervous system of the fetus, including its developing central nervous system
and brain, develop a plethora of possible neuronal switching options and of
synaptic connection possibilities. In the adult brain there are about 100 billion
neurons, of which about 30 billion are in the cerebral cortex, the recently evolved
outer mantle of the human brain. The cortex contains about one million billion
synaptic connections. The number of possible neuronal circuits considerably
exceeds the number of particles in the known universe.5 No wonder that Emily
Dickinson could exclaim in the first stanza of her 1862 poem:
The Brain--is wider than the Sky-For--put them side by side-The one the other will contain
With ease--and youbeside--

But only those switching options and synaptic possibilities which are activated,
again and again, will lead to established pathways and connections. Which options
and possibilities are activated depends in large measure on the fetus interaction
with its environment, both within itself, i.e. within its own body, and without, i.e.
the womb, the mother and beyond.
Learning by the child does not begin only at birth, but begins immediately after
conception. Quite possibly, a human being learns more in the first nine months
(during pregnancy) than in the entire remainder of life. Furthermore, this learning
does not occur in a vacuum but is embedded in the relationship within and without
the embryo and fetus; within are the ever changing relationships of the various
cells and cell aggregations including organs, and without are the relationships of
the fetus to the mother and the people to whom she relates. This means, most
importantly, that we, the adults be we more or less adult do and can have an
influence on what and how the fetus learns.
According to Hther and Krens we never really learn anything new. Not new in
this context means not without a prior association. Everything we learn is an
addition to or a variation from something that we already know. Hence, when the
child is born, he is born with a vast storehouse of already existing knowledge, plus
the lust and joy of integrating new insights and information with his pre-existing
knowledge base. This, of course, raises the serious question from where comes the
first knowledge or information. The answer is that it exists in the DNA sequences
or genes which the zygote acquires from his two parents, and that DNA is faithfully
passed on by the zygote upon its first and all subsequent divisions into two and
ever more cells. The information or knowledge contained in these genes becomes
available when they are stimulated or activated by signals from the environment.
A wonderful example is the activation which happens a few hours after conception.
The zygote, which has already divided several times, learns, i.e. receives a
chemical signal from the mother that tells it that it is situated in the fallopian tube.
This signal activates a certain gene in the zygote to produce and release a
hormone into the fallopian tube and the mothers body saying, in substance: Hey
Mom, I am here, please get ready to receive me in your womb and prepare to
support my growth for the next nine months. It is, so to speak, the first
incarnation of the mother archetype, where the archetype is the genetically
available pattern of communication between mother and child and child and

mother, i.e. a very old typical pattern in the human race; and the incarnation is the
two signals passing from the mothers fallopian tube to the embryo and then the
hormonal signal from the embryo to the mother.
What has been learned by the embryo in this exchange? Before the receipt of the
mothers message the embryo only knew, on a cellular level, that it was an
embryo. Now it knows, again on a cellular level, that it is an embryo in a
fallopian tube. The memory of being only an embryo has been widened or
integrated with the experience of being an embryo in a fallopian tube. While this
particular embryo never had that experience before, it came prepared with a
general ability to receive the chemical message from the mother. This general
ability would be the archetype and the actual integration of the experience would
be its implementation leading to the new self representation of the embryo in the
fallopian tube.
What has been learned by the mother? It is well known that many mothers know,
consciously, within a few hours of sexual intercourse that they are pregnant. But
even if they do not know it consciously, they know on a hormonal, physical and
cellular level that they have changed from being a woman to being a mother. If the
particular woman has not been pregnant before, she has no individual memory of
a change from woman to mother. But by virtue of being a woman, she has the
general ability, or archetype, to receive the hormonal signal from the embryo and
establish a relationship with it. The actualization of this typically available ability
enables the integration of the self representation as woman with the experience of
becoming pregnant to the new self representation of mother.
Turning now to the subject of the equivalency of the neurobiologicaldescriptions by
Hther and Krens and the Jungian archetype, it seems to me that the
original [neuronal] switches and [synaptic] connections out of the [range of]
neuronal switching possibilities and synaptic connection opportunities which are
available in [the childs] brain are the inherited generic neuronal patterns which
become the archetypes when some of these patterns are select[ed], firm[ed] up,
anchor[ed] and ground[ed] in the form of inner representations when the child is
influenced by and reacting to the accumulated knowledge, feelings, experiences,
abilities and aptitudes from his mother, from his father, and from all the people in
his culture.

It might be helpful here briefly to restate the theory of Jungian archetypes based
on the description of Robert H. Hopcke in his book A Guided Tour of the Collective
Works of C. G. Jung.7 Archetypes are typical modes of apprehension, i.e. patterns
of psychic perception and understanding common to all human beings. The
archetype is neither an inherited idea nor a common image. Rather, it is the
psychic form into which individual experiences are poured and where they take
shape. It then produces the symbols and images which are apprehended by
consciousness. Some archetypes are referred to by their symbolic or imaginal
manifestations, such as the divine child, the great mother, the wise old man, the
trickster, etc.; these are archetypes whose personalization brings the psychological
power of the pattern into consciousness. The content of other archetypes is not as
personalized, such as the archetype of wholeness or the archetype of rebirth;
these are archetypes which symbolize the kind of transformation in question. The
archetypes can be ambivalent, potentially positive and negative. Insofar as the
archetypes themselves are, by definition, outside of conscious awareness, they
function autonomously, almost as forces of nature, organizing human experience
for the individual in particular ways without regard to the constructive or
destructive consequences to the individual life. In Jungs own words, already in

So this idea [of the conservation of energy] has been stamped on the
human brain for aeons. That is why it lies ready to hand in the
unconscious of every man. Only, certain conditions are needed to cause
it to appear. The greatest and best thoughts of man shape themselves
upon these primordial images as upon a blueprint. I have often been
asked where the archetypes or primordial images come from. It seems
to me that their origin can only be explained by assuming them to be
deposits of the constantly repeated experiences of humanity. The
archetype is a kind of readiness to produce over and over again the
same or similar mythical ideas. Hence it seems as though what is
impressed upon the unconscious were exclusively the subjective
fantasy-ideas aroused by the physical process. We may therefore
assume that the archetypes are recurrent impressions made by
subjective reactions. Naturally, this assumption only pushes the problem
further back without solving it. There is nothing to prevent us from

assuming that certain archetypes exist even in animals, that they are
grounded in the peculiarities of the living organism itself and are
therefore direct expressions of life whose nature cannot be further
explained. Not only are the archetypes, apparently, impressions of everrepeated typical experiences, but, at the same time, they behave
empirically like agents that tend towards the repetition of these same
experiences. For when an archetype appears in a dream, in a fantasy, or
in life, it always brings with it a certain influence or power by virtue of
which it either exercises a numinous or a fascinating effect, or impels to
It seems to me that Jung intuited correctly in 1917, nearly three quarters of a
century before the recent findings of neurobiological research that the basic and
typical patterns of human perception, understanding and relating are inherited,
and that they structure these human activities. Furthermore, he intuited correctly
that while there may be a plethora if not unlimited supply of neuronal possibilities,
only those possibilities mature into firm patterns available to the individual being
which are actually used by the fetus, child and growing human being within a
relationship with another human being, most importantly the mother or early
caregiver and the people surrounding that mother and early caregiver. Margaret
Wilkinson, in her book Coming Into Mind says something very similar:

Thus we may think of the individual as a mind-brain-body being that has

emerged from the experience of the earliestand
most fundamental experiences of relating. Both nature and nurture have
had a part to play in the growth and development of the neuronal
connections that go to make up the individual mind [emphasis mine]. 9
I have emphasized earliest and fundamental in this quote from Wilkinson
because Hther and Krens teach us that the intra-uterine experiences are as, if not
more, important than the experiences afterbirth. As they articulate it in their book
nearly ninety years after Jung:

All children are born with similar abilities and aptitudes, not only
because their DNA is largely identical, i.e. typical for humans, but also
because of a uterine experience which istypical for all humans. In this
world [of the uterus] they all found similar conditions and had principally
similar experiences, so that upon birth their brains [i.e. actual neuronal

switches and synaptic connections] are similarly structured [emphasis

In other words, although the human DNA and the uterine conditions aresimilar,
i.e. typical for all humans, they are not identical. Each zygote has aunique set of
DNA randomly created from the mothers and fathers genes, and each uterine
experience is unique. Accordingly, the archetypal possibilities resulting from the
combination of the DNA and the uterine experience are old (arch) and typical, i.e.
long established and similar, and, therefore, result in similar processes of
structuring and formulating the experiences of perception, understanding and
The old question of nature versus nurture or of born versus trained is,
therefore, the wrong question, because at the time of the childs birth it is already
a combination of inherited and acquired characteristics and abilities. Or, as Hther
and Krens put it, What is inherited need not always and automatically be
programmed genetically.11
If the selection, firming up and anchoring of the neuronal switches and synaptic
connections do not proceed in a normal and healthy way, the resulting switches
and connections will not establish themselves in such a way as to support the
normal and healthy development of the child. This abnormal and unhealthy
configuration of switches and connections may be described as trauma or traumata
caused by the environment of the embryo in his attempted normal and healthy
development and may be the equivalent of the beginning of a complex, i.e. a
feeling-toned representation which is adverse and harmful to the life of the child
and later adult.
Such traumata in the uterine experience can be caused by problems in the
mothers life resulting from infections, toxins such as medications, nicotine, alcohol
or other drugs, pesticides, hormonal imbalances, stress, malnourishment, etc. If
these traumata cannot be repaired or compensated for by the embryo, it will be
born with these problems, or in extreme cases, find itself miscarried.
In a normal development of the fetus the information, which flows, again and
again, to the developing brain about the conditions and development of all aspects
of its growing body, including muscles, organs, circulatory systems and neuronal
connectors, causes a true representation of the bodily processes and conditions in

the brain, which in turn influences them. This representation becomes more
complete and complex as the fetus becomes more complete and complex.
It is very similar to the way Goethe already in 1810 described the evolution of the
eye as a reflection or representation of sunlight: The eye owes its existence to
light. Light called forth an organ which becomes its image; and thus through
light the eye evolved for the light [translation mine].12 Because of the existence of
sunlight organisms developed suitable organs to process it and create neuronal
representations in the brain of the outer phenomena. The development of the eye
in the fetus occurs, of course, at a later stage of the pregnancy, although even the
fetus already reacts to light.
The earliest selection and stabilization of switches and connections reflects
the inner workings of the embryo, so that the first representation of the world in
the brain is the world of the biological and neuronal functioning of the fetus. As the
fetus develops further there follows a selection and stabilization of neuronal
pathways reflecting the outer world of the embryo, which consists at first of the
uterus and the mother. In the kingdom of the mammalian animals the
development of the brain stops soon after birth, with the result of a fairly firmly
wired brain for the rest of the animals life. When the animal is born, it is ready to
function immediately or soon after birth. It is governed in its inner workings by its
inner control mechanisms and in its outer relationships by its instincts. This is also
true for the human animal, but it has in addition a large part of the brain (the
cortex and neocortex) which continues to remain plastic, i.e. open to establishing
new switches and connections, and in addition, to modify some of the already
established pathways.
How does the brain learn or know when a new pathway is helpful and useful, and
when not, or when a new switching and connecting pattern should be kept and
stabilized, and when not? According to Hther and Krens the circuitry in the limbic
portion of the brain has the function to generate a feeling of this is helpful or
this is harmful depending on whether the new experience, which resulted in the
new pathways, was good for the person or not. It is like a message to ourselves:
The bad feeling tells us that we do not want to repeat this particular experience
and the good feeling tells us that it is okay to do so. The bad feeling can rise all
the way to anxiety and fear and the good feeling can generate joy and enthusiasm,
even happiness. These emotional reactions have the purpose of evaluating

whether our experience was pleasant and positive or nasty and negative. It is the
earliest evidence of Jungs feeling function and is probably the second function to
develop, after sensation. Because children are born with a well-developed limbic
brain it is safe to assume that their feeling function developed during the first nine
months, as, of course, did their sensation function. According to Hther it is
probable that the intuitive and thinking functions as well as intro- and extraversion
also already develop in the fetus.13
The emotional life of the mother deeply influences the life of the fetus which is
connected to the mother with the umbilical cord. Since feelings of the mother have
a physiological basis and counterpart, any change of the mothers feeling state is
immediately and automatically transmitted to the fetus. Changes in feelings result,
among other consequences, in changes of the hormonal levels in the mothers
blood, of the amount of the available oxygen, and of the frequency and strength of
the heart beat. For example, if the mother experiences anxiety or fear, more stress
hormones enter the bloodstream, the heart begins to beat faster and she may
breathe more rapidly; all of these physiological manifestations of the mother are
immediately experienced by the fetus. In this way the fetus has many emotional
experiences which lead to corresponding structures in its brain. It learns to feel
anxiety and fear, joy and happiness.
In addition to the umbilical communication the fetus also learns about feelings
with its organs of perception, especially touch and hearing, but also seeing and
tasting. The mothers feelings will manifest in the way she moves and in the tone
of her voice. If she is she excited, she will move more quickly and suddenly and
speak more loudly. If she is peaceful, she will be more at rest and use a softer
voice. These channels of communicating the mothers feelings to the fetus are less
direct and physiological than the umbilical cord; they are more indirect and require
the fetus ability to sense with her organs of perception.
A very special case of learning by taste and smell is the fetus ability to find and
identify the mothers breast and nipple. Research has shown that the mothers
nipple tastes and smells like her amniotic fluid, so that upon birth the child already
knows who her mother is and where the source of nourishment can be found on
her. The researchers determined this by feeding later stage pregnant mothers a
fair amount of lemon juice which flavored the amniotic fluid. After birth the
researchers placed some lemon fluid on the back of the mother and, lo and behold,

the newborn crawled to the mothers back and began to suck, totally ignoring her
breast and the nipple.
Hther and Krens conclude, correctly I believe, that

The manifold stimulants, which result from the relationship between the
mother and the unborn child, provide a steady stream of learning
opportunities which the child experiences and confronts by comparing
the neuronal patterns already existing in his brain with the new pattern
which is created in the brain by the stimulants, and by trying to
integrate the new pattern with the old.14
Unfortunately, it can and does happen that the new neuronal pattern is so different
or overwhelming that it cannot be integrated with an already existing
pattern and that it cannot be turned off. In that case the brain tends to adapt itself
to the continuing and repetitive different and overwhelming pattern with the result
that this interfering and perhaps disturbing pattern becomes the normal one. For
example, in the event of a continuous and repetitive overstimulation the brain will
try to compensate by delaying neuronal messages and using fewer synaptic
connections in order to diminish the impact of the overstimulation. While this may
appear desirable, a problem develops as soon as the outer overstimulation stops
perhaps because the mother experiences less stress or, for example, stops
smoking because now the reduction of the stimulation is experienced as a new
overwhelming experience for which the brain may try to compensate by initiating a
search for stimulating events. If this pattern lasts long enough and becomes
deeply established, the child may be born as a so-called restless child. Such a
child may find it extremely difficult to dissolve this pre-birth pattern of a search for
unrest and constant stimulation.
Contrary to popular perception and perhaps the promotional representations of the
makers of drugs like Ritalin the restless or hyperactive child with some attention
difficulties is not a new or recent phenomenon. I was called a restless boy in the
1940s and my father, born in the 1890s, was a restless man. The story of
Zappelphilipp, or Fidgety Phil, goes back to the middle of the 19th century. Fidgety
Phil could not sit still at dinner. He fidgeted and wiggled, and as he overbalanced
his chair on its hind legs, he grabbed the table cloth and crashed to the floor,
pulling the familys dinner on top of him.

The original story of Fidgety Phil was included in a book published by the German
physician Heinrich Hoffmann in 1845.15 Some of the other stories in this book are
Slovenly Peter, Cruel Frederick, Little Suck-a-Thumb, and other misbehaving
children. Hther and Krens do not mention Zappelphilipp or Fidgety Phil, perhaps
because Hther has a separate book16 about Fidgety Phil and attention deficit
disorder as well as attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder. In any event,
fidgety children have been with us for a long, long time. Perhaps the cause of the
fidgeting is to be sought not so much in the genes but in the circumstances
surrounding a pregnancy, and perhaps the cure is not medication for these children
but research into, and a determination of, the nature of the circumstances of the
pregnant mother which contribute to the making of fidgety children.
Another example of adverse neuronal patterns can be observed in children of
depressed mothers. Just like their mothers they show the physiological changes in
their hormonal levels typical for depressed adults. Due to being the child of a
depressed mother, their physiological functions at birth are already fixed in a
depressed pattern. Although it may be possible to modify this pattern later in life
through healing experiences because the mother works through her depression
or the child, now adult, seeks therapy the fact remains that at birth such a child
is, on a deep physiological level, already acquainted with, one might even say had
to place his trust and faith in, depression.
The extent and depth of the adaptive processes in the womb can be observed in a
cross fostering experiment done with rats. During cross fostering embryos of one
mother are removed and implanted in another mother, and vice versa. The
embryos of rats which were especially competent and careful where cross fostered
with embryos of rats which were rather incompetent and careless. The result was
that the young rats born of competent mothers were quite competent and careful
although their genetic ancestors were incompetent and careless, and vice versa. In
other words, the existence by an embryo in the womb of a competent and careful
mother was more important than the fact that its genetic inheritance might have
predetermined it to be rather incompetent and careless.
The experience of cross fostering reminds me of similar experiences often
encountered in therapy. In cross fostering the foster child does not fit with the
chosen mother; for example, the careless child is saddled with a careful mother,
and vice versa. In therapy we frequently meet clients who appear not to fit with

their families or indeed in this world. I have read that introverted intuitive feeling
types make up only about 5% of the US population and so frequently feel
themselves at odds with the world. The notion of the black sheep in a family
describes the syndrome of the child who does not seem to fit, and worse yet, on
whom, maybe because of it, the familys shadow is projected. Why does this
happen, even when there is no cross fostering? Presumably because the lottery of
the parental genes does not and cannot assure the zygote, embryo, fetus and child
that its personality traits will be a fit with the personalities of either or both
parents. Clarissa Pinkola Ests calls this lottery of the genes the mistaken zygote,
i.e. when the Zygote Fairy was flying over town one night, [the zygote] fell out
of the basket over the wrong house into a family that was not meant for [it].17
The encouraging insight by Hther and Krens is that even if the genetic potential
of the zygote is not a good fit for its parents, the experience in the womb can
begin to prepare it for the challenge of an unwelcoming environment. In this way
nurture can indeed modify nature.
The establishment of abnormal neuronal patterns, already in the fetus, is the
equivalent of the development of complexes. At this point it may be useful to recall
the Jungian articulation of the complex. As before (concerning the archetype) I am
following Robert H. Hopckes description in his book A Guided Tour of the
Collective Works of C. G. Jung.18 A feeling toned complex consists of a psychic
representation and the distinctive feeling attached to it. Complexes are usually
unconscious, either repressed because of the painfulness of the related affect or
because of the unacceptability of the representation. A complex has elements of
both the personal as well as the collective unconscious. An archetype can magnify,
distort, or modify both the feeling tone and the representational aspect of the
complex. Like the archetypes, complexes are potentially both positive and
negative. In Jungs own words:

What then, scientifically speaking, is a feeling-toned complex? It is

the image of a certain psychic situation which is strongly accentuated
emotionally and is, moreover, incompatible with the habitual attitude of
consciousness. This image has a powerful inner coherence, it has its
own wholeness and, in addition, a relatively high degree of autonomy,
so that it is subject to the control of the conscious mind to only a limited
extent, and therefore behaves like an animated foreign body in the

sphere of consciousness.19 Today we can take it as moderately certain

that complexes are in fact splinter psyches. The aetiology of their
origin is frequently a so-called trauma, an emotional shock or some such
thing, that splits off a bit of the psyche. As a rule there is a marked
unconsciousness of any complexes, and this naturally guarantees them
all the more freedom of action. In such cases their powers of
assimilation become especially pronounced, since unconsciousness helps
the complex to assimilate even the ego, the result being a momentary
and unconscious alteration of personality known as identification with
the complex. In the Middle Ages it went by another name: it was called


In the Jungian perspective, therefore, the essence of the complex includes its
autonomous psychic existence separate from consciousness and a feeling charge
which exerts influence on consciousness. It seems to me that this description is
indistinguishable from the abnormal neuronal pattern (for example hyperactivity,
depression, etc.) described by Hther and Krens, because that pattern also
developed unconsciously, is autonomous and different from the hoped-for normal
pattern, and exerts negative emotional influence in the life of the person and on
his consciousness once that develops.
It seems quite apparent that there is a psychic development of the child already in
utero. This casts the question of the beginning of human life in a new light: Is
there psychic (and spiritual) life only when there is consciousness? Does it depend
on a functioning nervous system? When is there a functioning nervous system in
the fetus? Is there psychic (and spiritual) life already in the zygote or the embryo?
This leads to the broader question whether body and soul (or spirit) are two
separate entities or two manifestations of one underlying reality, two sides of the
same coin so to speak. Personally, I tend to lean to the second view in that soma
and psyche are inextricably combined in one being. According to Hther and
Krens, and I agree, the human being does not come about by first some cells
forming a physical body, to which at a later time a soul (or psyche or spirit) is
somehow added. As the zygote begins to differentiate, both physical and psychic
components begin to unfold. As we saw before, already hours after fertilization the
zygote sends a message, albeit in hormonal (chemical) form, to the mother. But
then all intra-psychic messages rely on chemical, electrochemical and
electromagnetic transmissions. The mother, we know, frequently knows right away,

consciously or psychically, that she is now pregnant. Can we say any less about
the zygote when it changes from a zygote to a zygote in a fallopian tube, even if
such a change is not consciously experienced?
The fact that soul and body, spirit and matter are inextricably intertwined was
already recognized by Jung when he said in 1917 that [t]here is nothing to
prevent us from assuming that certain archetypes exist even in animals, that they
are grounded in the peculiarities of the living organism itself and are therefore
direct expressions of life.21 Or again in 1940, when he observed that the human
body, too, is built of the stuff of the world, the very stuff wherein fantasies become
visible; indeed, without it they could not be experienced at all. 22 The symbols of the
self arise in the depth of the body and they express its materiality every bit as
much as the structure of the perceiving consciousness.23 What we are observing
here, I believe, at the time of the very earliest development of the human person,
when both physical and psychic components (or two sides of the same coin) begin
to unfold, is what Ken Wilber calls Spirit-in-action, where Spirit unfolds itself at
every stage of development, an infinite process that is completely present at
every finite stage, but becomes more available to itself [i.e. consciousness] with
every evolutionary opening [insertion mine].24 Or, in Emily Dickinsons poetic
language of the third and final stanza of her already quoted 1862 poem:

The Brain is just the weight of God-For--Heft them--Pound for Pound-And they will differ--if they do-As Syllable from Sound--


This view of the physical and psychic or spiritual nature of the zygote obviously
raises serious questions for pro-choicers who, it seems to me, cannot
argue for abortion on the basis of the embryo not being a human being. The
discussion has to shift to the different perhaps more slippery ground of the value
of one life against another. Value may include, for example, the balancing of the
pain experienced by the mother and family of an unwanted child and indeed by the
unwanted child himself against the pain of being aborted. On that question, i.e. the
ability of the embryo and fetus to feel pain, the new prenatal research is also
Hther and Krens tell us, for example, that an eight week old fetus, barely one
inch long, reacts when touched on its lips. At fourteen weeks the fetus will register

touch all over its body. Between eight and fourteen weeks the sensibility to touch
will first develop in those areas which later in life are also most sensitive to touch:
the lips, the face and the genital area.
The skin is the first organ of perception to develop. Through its sensation function
the fetus builds a neuronal picture of the surface and boundaries of its own body.
This enables a sense or feeling of physical integrity and continuity, which in turn is
a condition for the development of a personal identity which as an I distinguishes
itself from others, including on this basic uterine level from the mother and her
womb and, when present, a twin. In a way this experience can be described as a
rudimentary form of self-perception, a precursor to self-consciousness.
When does the fetus begin to register pain? We have already seen that it registers
touch at eight weeks. If pain includes unpleasant touch, then pain might be
registered already at eight weeks. This is an assertion quite contrary to the belief
until only a few decades ago when newborns were subjected to surgery without
anesthesia because, so it was argued, newborns cannot experience pain due to the
immaturity of their brains. While it is extremely difficult to know just when a fetus
begins to experience pain because we cannot talk to it and have only its external
reactions, it is possible to observe physical reactions of the fetus to painful
interventions, such as amniocentesis, intra-uterine surgery, etc, at nineteen weeks
because the fetus reacts with an increased stress hormone level in its blood. It has
also been reported that it is possible to hear a fetus cry when it is aborted between
the 21st and 23rd week of the pregnancy. Because of the possibility that the fetus
experiences pain during an abortion, some British scientists are now demanding
anesthesia for a fetus aborted after the 16th week of pregnancy. In this context it
is important to realize that the physiological damping filter of the fetus which
inhibits pain becomes effective only towards the end of a pregnancy, so that it is
realistic to assume that a fetus in its thirteenth week and later will experience
more pain than the newborn whose pain inhibiting filter is more developed.
By now it should be relatively obvious that our brain and psyche are
asocial construct which begins very early in our uterine existence. Its formation,
i.e. the number and nature of neuronal switches and synaptic connections, will
depend in the first place on the experiences in the womb, and then after birth on
its outside relationships. And the quality of the experiences is in turn a function of
the kind of family and culture into which we are born. But equally important as the

nature and quality of these experiences are the order in which they occur. Before
we can write a paper, we have to learn to read, and before we can walk we have to
learn to be upright. Most importantly, before we can communicate about ourselves,
we need to know what is going on in and with us and we need to have had the
experience that there is somebody who can and will listen to us and react
appropriately. The experience of this kind of communication starts within a few
hours of conception, when zygote and Mom communicate about their relationship.
That is the first of many interactions within the pattern of the mother archetype.
What have I learned from The Mystery of the First Nine Months? The first thing I
learned is that according to Hther and Krens I never learned anything new, that
everything I learned is a variation from or an addition to something I already
knew, not necessarily and only in the cognitive sense, but in the broad spectrum
of my being, starting on the molecular level and proceeding all the way up via
the level of the cells, the organs, the nervous system and brain, the mind and the
psyche to the whole organism which is me. And most importantly, I started this
learning, and every human starts this learning, within hours of conception.
Secondly, although I always knew, or perhaps more accurately believed, that
the archetypes were grounded in the peculiarities of the living organism itself and
therefore direct expressions of life,26 I now have learned and understand that
from the enormous but not infinite number of neuronal switches and synaptic
connections made available to the human being, only certain patterns are
established in the brain-mind because of the relationship of the zygote, embryo,
fetus and child with the mother and primary care givers, resulting in
the typical patterns of apprehension which we call the archetypes. The finite
number of neuronal switches and synaptic connections are the archetypal patterns
which have been phylogenetically selected over the eons of human evolution and
the further selection and activation in each individual human being are their
incarnation. Because of this relationship of the incarnated archetypes to their
phylogenetic ancestors the former present themselves to us with such numinous
Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, my therapeutic work has been affected. I
had read before that in some cultures the age of a person is not counted from
birth but from conception. In other words, the first nine months count. I now pay
more conscious attention to the family relationships and their dynamic during the

nine months before birth. And I am encouraged that since nurture can effect and
modify nature in the broad sense of the entirety of the human being as it exists
at any given time or put differently, since the quality of later relationships can
affect and modify the results of earlier experiences, therapy, being a form of
intentional nurture, can help clients change. During the analytic encounter new
emotional experiences can modify existing neuronal connections and thus help the
client heal.
1. Dsseldorf, Walter Verlag (2005). Translations of the title and of all quotes from
the book were made by me. Also, I would like to acknowledge the very helpful
research assistance of George C. Brown, Assistant Director of the Public Library in
Shrewsbury, Massachusetts.
2. C. G. Jung, On the Psychology of the Unconscious, CW 7, 109.
3. Hther is the author or co-author of several other books in the field of
neurobiology, among them Neues vom Zappelphilipp (News from Fidgety Phil), to
which I will refer later in this essay, and, perhaps of particular interest to Jungians
and others working with symbolic material, Die Macht der inneren Bilder (The
Power of the Inner Images), Gttingen, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2004.
4. Krens is the author of two other books in the field of prenatal psychology. Her
book Risikofaktor Mutterleib (The Mothers Womb as a Risk Factor), Gttingen,
Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2006, examines the importance of prenatal psychology
for therapeutic approaches.
5. Gerald M. Edelman and Giulio Tononi, A Universe of Consciousness, Basic Books,
a Member of the Perseus Books Group, 2000, 38.
6. Emily Dickinson, The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson (ed. Thomas H.
Johnson), Boston, Little, Brown & Co., 1960, No. 632, 312.
7. Boston and Shaftesbury, Shambhala, 1989, 13-16.
8. C. G. Jung, On the Psychology of the Unconscious, CW 7, 109.

9. Coming Into Mind. The mind-brain relationship: a Jungian clinical perspective,

London and New York, Routledge, 2006, 36.
10. 21.
11. 107.
12. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Zur Farbenlehre (Theory of Colors, trans.
Charles Lock Eastlake; Introd. Deane B. Judd), Cambridge, MA, MIT Press, 1970,
13. Gerald Hther, Personal communication, August 16, 2006.
14. 99.
15. One of the translators of Hoffmanns book was Mark Twain when he was in
Berlin in 1891. Although Twain wanted his translation published right away, it did
not see the light of day until 1935 as: Mark Twain [Samuel Langhorn
Clemens], Slovenly Peter, New York, Harper & Brothers, 1935. See Justin
Kaplan, Mr. Clemens and Mark Twain: A Biography, New York, Simon & Schuster,
1966, 315.
16. Neues vom Zappelphilipp (News from Fidgety Phil), Dsseldorf, Walter Verlag,
17. Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman
Archetype, New York, Ballantine Books, 1992, 194.
18. 18-19
19. C. G. Jung, A Review of the Complex Theory, CW 8, 201.
20. 204.
21. C. G. Jung, On the Psychology of the Unconscious, CW 7, 109.
22. C. G.