Carl Jung the Black Books Volume 6: The Pleroma

General Introduction

The Black Books consist of 7 volumes written by Carl Jung between 1913 and 1932. They were not available to the general public until the end of 2020, when Sonu Shamdasani published an edited edition, including an introduction to the Black Books. As Sonu Shamdasani indicated at the back of the book-set, they were the most important unpublished work written by Carl Jung.

            In this series of 7 articles, I analyse, summarize, and discuss each volume separately. In this article I will discuss the sixth volume of the Black Books, the discussion of the first volume can be found here: Introduction to the Black Books: Volume 1, the second volume here: Carl Jung – the Black Books Volume 2: Challenges Inherent to the Exploration of the Unconscious., the third volume here: The Black Books Volume 3: Look where you least want to Look, the fourth volume here: Carl Jung the Black Books Volume 4: The Librarian and the Shepherd. And the fifth volume here: Carl Jung the Black Books Volume 5: The Shadow.

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Introduction to the Black Books Volume 6 and Summary of Volume 5

Throughout the fifth volume of the Black Books Carl Jung explored the idea of the shadow. Carl Jung discussed the meaning of his idea of the shadow and how an integration of one’s shadow can be beneficial. Carl Jung indicated that the shadow entails the darker side of one’s personality, which one is reluctant to show to the world. However, as long as the shadow remains in the dark, it’s power can grow: “Whoever looks into the mirror of the water will see first of all his own image. Whoever goes to himself risks a confrontation with himself. The mirror does not flatter, it faithfully shows whatever looks into it; namely the face we never show to the world because we cover it with the persona, the mask of the actor. But the mirror lies behind the mask and shows the true face.” (On the Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious, p.43)

               So far, the volumes of the Black Books can all be characterized by the exploration of opposites: Unconsciousness and consciousness, shadow and light, good and evil etc… In the sixth volume Carl Jung is, through the exploration of his own unconscious world, attempting to unite these opposites. In this regard the idea of the Pleroma is important as an overarching principle.  As you will see, however, the idea of the Pleroma is not introduced in order to attempt to reduce the differences between opposites, instead, unification can be achieved through further differentiation.

The first Rule of the Pleroma; you cannot talk about the Pleroma

The idea of the Pleroma is a Christian concept, however, when Carl Jung refers to the Pleroma he refers to the definition of the Gnostics. (You can read more about Gnosticism here: what is Gnosticism?) Translated literally the term Pleroma means “fullness”.

               In the way that Carl Jung defines the term, I believe that the Pleroma can be seen as the supreme essence of everything that is, has ever been, and will ever be. As soon as an object or organism comes into existence, it is, however differentiated from the Pleroma, because it will have developed an identity, which the Pleroma has not: “That which is endless and eternal has no qualities, since it has all qualities. We call this nothingness or fullness the Pleroma. Therein both thinking and being cease, since the eternal and endless possess no qualities. No one is in it, for he would then be distinct from the Pleroma, and would possess qualities that would distinguish him as something distinct from the Pleroma.” (p.285)

               Depending on how one believes the universe was created, one might be able to compare the Pleroma to God, Mother Nature, or any other creating entity. However, as Carl Jung indicated, defining the Pleroma is impossible, simply because it is everything, but also nothing: “In the Pleroma there is nothing and everything. It is fruitless to think about the Pleroma, for this would mean self-dissolution.” (Ibid) At the same time, however, Carl Jung indicated that we are ultimately connected to the Pleroma: “But we are the Pleroma, for we are enclosed in and part of the eternal and the endless. But we have no share therein, as we are infinitely removed from the Pleroma; not spatially or temporally, but essentially, since we are distinguished from the Pleroma in our essence as creation, which is confined within time and space.” (Ibid) The Pleroma is not confined to this time and space.

What is the use of the Pleroma?

One might wonder why the term Pleroma can be useful if it cannot be properly defined. However, it is exactly because it cannot be defined that it is a useful term. Carl Jung argued that, because we are a part of the Pleroma (although we are infinitely removed from it), the Pleroma is also a part of us: “We are also the Pleroma itself; hence I say that we are not in the Pleroma, but we are it. Figuratively, the Pleroma is the smallest point in us and the boundless firmament about us. (P.207)

               In this way the term can also be used to indicate how everything; past, present, and future, is connected to eachother, everything exists as a part of the Pleroma. However, Carl Jung comes with an extremely interesting explanation as to why the idea of the Pleroma is important. According to Jung, a creature exists because it can differentiate; he or she can differentiate him or herself from other objects and organisms, and therefore he or she is. Since we, from our state of being, cannot define the Pleroma, we, through our differentiation, exist: “When we distinguish the qualities of the Pleroma, we are speaking from the ground of our own differentiated state and about our own differentiation, but have affectively said nothing about the Pleroma. Yet we need to speak about our own differentiation, so that we may sufficiently differentiate ourselves.” (p.208)

               Carl Jung attached great value to this differentiation, he argued that we, if we do not differentiate, cease to be: “If we do not differentiate, we move beyond our essence, beyond creation, and we fall into nondifferentiation […] We fall into the Pleroma itself and cease to be created being. We lapse into dissolution in eternity and endlessness. This is the death of the creature. Therefore we die to the same extent that we do not differentiate. Hence the creature’s essence strives toward differentiation. This is called the principium indviduationis.” (Ibid)

The Spell of the Pleroma

As you can see the idea of the Pleroma is quite complicated, however, after this initial discussion on the definition, or the lack of a definition of the Pleroma, we can see how Carl Jung attempted to apply this term in a more practical sense.

               Jung observed that the Pleroma consists of many pairs of opposites; good and evil, dead and alive, beauty and ugliness etc… As indicated in the introduction, Jung explored many of these opposites throughout the Black Books. However, in light of the idea of the Pleroma, Jung explained that, as soon as one attempts to pursue one of these opposites, good, for example, one falls pray to the spell of the Pleroma, because the good cannot be without its opposite; evil: “When we strive for the good or the beautiful, we forget our essence, which is differentiation, and we fall subject to the spell of the qualities of the Pleroma, which are the pairs of opposites. We endeavour to attain the good and the beautiful, yet at the same time we also seize the evil and the ugly, since in the Pleroma these are one with the good and the beautiful.” (p.209)

               If we, however, remain true to our own essence, and do not fall pray to the Pleroma, we can move beyond these pairs of opposites according to Jung: “But if we do the same in the name and under the sign of our essence, which is differentiation, we differentiate ourselves from the good and the beautiful, and hence from the evil and ugly. And thus we do not fall under the spell of the Pleroma.” (p.209)

               I believe that a lot of Jung’s work is dedicated to this idea of the principium indviduationis; the way in which one is differentiated from others. Carl Jung believed it to be extremely important to pursue the true essence within oneself, especially before one attempts to define the qualities of the world: “At bottom, therefore, there is only one striving, namely the striving for the essence in you. If you had this striving, you would not need to know anything about the Pleroma and its qualities, and yet you would attain the right goal by virtue of your own essence. Since, however, thought alienates us from our essence, I must teach you that knowledge with which you can bridle your thoughts.” (p.210)


The idea of the Pleroma is rather complicated, however, as we have seen, it can be used to explain how important it is to pursue our own true essence. In simpler terms, the Pleroma can be used to explain why it is important to pursue who one really is. If one does not do so, one can fall under the spell of the Pleroma and therefore, cease to be.

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