Quakers & Jung
I saw also that there was an ocean of darkness and death, but an infinite ocean of light and love which flowed over the ocean of darkness. In that also I saw the infinite love of God; and I had great openings.
George Fox
To this day, God is the name by which I designate all things which cross my willful path violently and recklessly, all things which upset my subjective views, plans and intentions and change the course of my life for better or worse.
C.G. Jung

One of the best kept secrets has been the long, fruitful relationship between American Quakers (formally known as the Religious Society of Friends) and analytical psychology. The secrecy was never intentional, having more to do with the Quakers’ characteristically modest, unassuming way of going about doing good. In 1943 a group of about fifty Quakers first met to explore together how the inner life of the Spirit could be strengthened by psychological insight. From this beginning came the annual Friends Conference on Religion and Psychology (FCRP) which this May celebrated its fiftieth anniversary during the conference held at Lebanon Valley, Pennsylvania. The theme was Leaving My Father's House: Finding My Own Voice with keynote speaker Marion Woodman. There were three hundred participants.

Elined Kotschnig was one of the leading figures responsible for the FCRP. She had been drawn to the psychology of C.G. Jung because, as she said, he took religion seriously. While living in Switzerland, she contributed a paper to a Quaker group on the mystical element in Jungian psychology. The interest was so great that other sessions on the subject followed. A few members then spent the next season studying Jung and his relation to Quakerism. A group visit with Jung was arranged by Dr. Tina Keller, Mrs. Kotschnig’s analyst. Mrs. Kotschnig recalled:

He invited us to his home. Three cars full of us drove over. We had tea in the Jung’s garden with strawberries from the garden, and for three or four hours he discussed with us the relationship of Quakerism and Jungian psychology. Jung agreed that the Quaker idea of the Inner Light was real. I remember his saying that if he had had an early choice of Christian communities, he probably would have picked Quakerism.

She later said that the idea for the conference had begun with that experience in Switzerland.

The connection between psychology and religion was not generally accepted by all Quaker groups. “At the time,” she wrote, “one couldn’t mention the word psychology. It was suspect. It would queer the pitch.” When asked whether psychology wasn’t dangerous, she replied, “So is religion.” Twentieth century Quakers, she observed, tended to stress the Light rather than the Dark. They were good people, there was no doubt about that. “The idea of a deeper level of unconscious darkness and badness was something which seemed to them deliberately and completely unnecessary, morbid therefore.” Some, at first, felt that the idea of psychological counseling was an intrusion. But circumstances helped to change this attitude, particularly the devastating world war then underway, the growing concern among Quakers about social issues, and the helplessness some felt when confronted with deep personal problems.

There were few around then who, like Elined Kotschnig, were familiar with both Quakerism and analytical psychology. An exception was Toni Danforth, who participated in that first meeting in 1943. Mrs. Danforth had met her first Jungians in 1928 while she was studying for a master’s degree in philosophy and psychology at Harvard. She remembers:

Henry A. Murray was the professor of my first class. He spoke to us of Jung, as contrasted with Freud. I had heard of Freud, but was much more positively impressed by the report on Jung.…After class I went up to Murray and said “I want to be analyzed by a Jungian.” He introduced me at once to Christiana Morgan, who had been with him during his sojourn with Jung. She had also done a lot work under Jung, and had been newly authorized to start practicing analytical psychology under the supervision of Murray at Harvard. I started my several years of analysis with her the very next day.…Those years with Christiana, who died not many years later, were so enlightening that they inspired me to go in for much more analysis, further study, and later, after my children were almost grown, to become an analyst myself for some thirty years.

Because in those early years Jung was relatively unknown, and given the initial resistance on the part of many Quakers, the annual Conference, in the first years, tended to keep religion and psychology running on parallel tracks with the emphasis rather more on the religious than the psychological understanding of the inner life.

But gradually this, too, changed. Very early on Jungian analysts, psychologists, and religious leaders familiar with Jungian thought, were invited to speak. Among them were Martha Jaeger, Riwkah Scharf, Fritz Kunkel, Gerald Heard, Howard Brinton, Paul Tillich, Sheila Moon, Ira Progoff, Christine Downing, John Yungblut, Edith Wallace, Joseph Campbell, Edith Sullwold, Robert A Johnson, Robert Bly, Linda Leonard, James Hall, and Janet Dallett.

From the beginning, Conferences focused on themes which, in many cases, only later would be taken up generally in the Jungian community, such as, The Child Within (1949), Creation Through Conflict (1951), Sex and Wholeness (1956), Roots and Fruits of Hostility (1957), Psychological Aspects of the Negro-White Revolution (1965), Male and Female—Journey to Self Through Meeting, Myth and Dream (1967), Anger and Personal Growth (1969), Separating and Connecting (1974), Engaging the Feminine (1982), The Wounding and Healing of Men (1987), Addiction and Transformation (1989).

The Quaker stress on religion as experience also led to the establishment of small interest groups involving body work, art, sandplay, journal writing, dance, drumming, and dream-sharing. These became a regular feature of the Conference.

In a 1942 issue of The Inward Light, a Quaker journal, Mrs. Kotschnig compared the idea of introversion as it was practiced in Jungian analysis with meditation and prayer as the Quakers understood it. Both methods require, she noted, “an attitude of alert passivity, an opening of the whole being in stillness and waiting, without pre-deciding what is to emerge.” Both involve awareness of an autonomous Reality which Jung called the Self, but which Friends call the Inner Light, the Seed, the Christ Within. Both agree that what stirs and rises as a result of this awareness leads to a new integration and transformation of the personality.

But there were differences, she acknowledged. Among the Quakers, attention is focused on the central autonomous Principle, while, “in analytic introversion the attention is more upon streams of consciousness, their variation and their growth—the appearance of a centering Principle being one of the evolutions that takes place.” The result is that while introversion is common to both and brings about change, Friends are less able to give an account of what goes on than are those in analysis who are trained to observe and report on the inner process. A second difference is that Quakerism is a dynamic movement of Christianity, of the Spirit. But for most Jungians, she noted, introversion is a discovery of dynamic elements which have been undervalued or denied in traditional Western Christianity. Hence, it “dons oftentimes non-Christian garb.” The third, and very important difference, is that while Jungian analytic introversion (as she termed it) is a more or less solitary affair aided by the analyst, the Friends introversion process takes place in the group. “But,” Mrs. Kotschnig concluded, “each method completes and enhances the other.”

The Quakers are known for having a “highly developed capacity for relatedness.” This makes them sensitive to everything which interferes with this, in their own lives and in the larger community. Does this keen group consciousness, Mrs. Kotschnig asked, mean that Quakers have sunken into participation mystique, an unconscious group identity? She thought not:

I believe that the contrary is the truth, and that in the measure that the group attains its true end, in that same measure its members are helped to individual growth. And vice versa. There can be no vital group experience unless the members have a vital experience of their own, cultivated by each in solitude.

According to Dorothy Reichardt, a board member and Librarian of the FCRP’s Dora Willson Library, Quakerism and the psychology of C.G. Jung are very compatible with each other. Friends, she says, don’t depend on the written word for truth, believing that it is continually revealed. They are open to new truths, therefore, especially those revealed through experience. Early Friends used to write, “This I knew experimentally.” You could say that they took the scientific approach. In fact, many have been and are scientists. As a corollary to Elined Kotschnig’s comment, she notes that although modern Friends came to concentrate on the light and tend to avoid looking at the dark, this is not in the tradition of Friends. George Fox, the founder, clearly saw the darkness within. In fact, the light revealed the darkness. This corresponds to Jung’s concept of the Shadow, the theme of the 1992 Conference at which Jungian analyst Janet Dallett was the presenter.

Dorothy Reichardt also observes that the early Friends read the Bible daily, were steeped in its stories and images, and were inwardly nurtured by them. She says:

Few modern Friends have this rich store of symbols. Analytic psychology values and works with myths, fairy tales, poetry, and images in dreams. This puts us in touch with our symbolic life and even can lead back to the symbolic truths in the Bible which are more profound than literal history. And Friends’ belief in “that of God in everyone” and their practice of “holding each other in the light” provides a safe container in which to address the Shadow.

Because of their democratic, antihierarchical organization, as well as their long experience in group meditation, in “entering into silence” before their Meetings and at times of crisis within the group, and in coming to decisions by consensus or a “sense of the Meeting,” Quakers have developed skills for creating a safe environment in which group tensions and conflicts can be resolved and individual growth take place. Jungian groups could, with profit, look to the Quakers for ideas, if not a model, in their own efforts to create a similar environment for themselves.


© 1993 The Round Table Review November/December 1993
PO Box 475, Southeastern PA 19399
Reproduced with permission