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The Origins and History of Consciousness

4.36  ·  Rating details ·  828 ratings  ·  45 reviews
The first of Erich Neumann's works to be translated into English, this eloquent book draws on a full range of world mythology to show that individual consciousness undergoes the same archetypal stages of development as has human consciousness as a whole. Neumann, one of Jung's most creative students and a renowned practitioner of analytical psychology in his own right, ...more
Paperback, 552 pages
Published October 8th 1995 by Princeton University Press (first published 1949)
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Erik Graff
Feb 04, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Jungians
Recommended to Erik by: no one
Shelves: psychology
As was commonly believed when Jung and Neumann were being educated, "ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny." This book reverses that equation as an exposition of pscho-phylogeny recapitulating psycho-ontogeny. In other words, Neumann takes Jung's individuation schema, then assembles exemplary myths, lots of them, which are interpreted in terms of the development of ego consciousness in the species. However dubious, the project was ambitious, the result impressive. Few of Jung's followers had the ...more
I love and hate this work. All at the same time and for some of the same reasons simultaneously.

Why? Because it pre-dates a lot of Joseph Campbell's much more interesting and more carefully analyzed use of mythology. The subject matter is the same in a lot of ways, using the analysis of myth to understand what is going on inside us as individuals, but his conclusions are Pure BS.

Look, I know it's easy to sit here and review massively impressive works that feel like a direct-line inheritance from
Peter (Pete) Mcloughlin
Freud and Jung had little knowledge of the mechanisms of neuroanatomy (although Freud did study what was known at the turn of the 20th century). They were flying blind so to speak about the nature of the mind and had no more real knowledge than say Aristotle did in his day. They did however have great literary talents and storytelling abilities. That is why their visions so seduced psychologists in the early twentieth century and made schools of thought that lasted a long time. I am a sucker for ...more
Nov 15, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: psychology
I remember an episode of the Simpsons,where the repressed "Intellectual Homer" is shown unconscious and prostrate, wearing a top hat and monocle,laying by a scroll of paper that reads "Ontogeny recapitulates Phylogeny". This obtuse maxim is the main thesis of this excellent work by Erich Neumann, that individual evolution in consciousness mirrors that of humanities'.
The history of consciousness, its birth from the undifferentiated unconsciousness and the later reintegration of it on a higher
Jun 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I've been interested in reading more on psychology and the hero's journey, so before diving into any Jung I heard this one, by one of his students, came on my radar. It is brilliant and deep. Part 1, which is a straightforward telling of the hero's journey from the creation myth unity with the Great Mother to the separation and fighting the dragon (hero myth, then transformation myth), was much easier to follow than part 2, which is an evaluation of the various stages. As someone not well versed ...more
Sean Murray
Oct 09, 2016 rated it did not like it
I read this book as it is part of the standard required reading of anyone seriously interested in consciousness. An historical piece only, unfortunately, at this point.

Neumann gives a theory of his own regarding the development of consciousness somewhat in the " ontogeny reflects phylogeny" genre. Alas, his time periods understanding of the Paleolithic and Neolithic cultures was rudimentary.

Neumann is an apologist for Jung ( as if he needed one), indeed, much of the book reads like a
Jul 13, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Joseph Campbell owes a great deal to Erich Neumann, apparently. Though it can be quite dense at times, the overall thesis that our collective myths tell the story of growth and development of the individual consciousness is compelling. One of the few books I can say has fundamentally altered my perspective in a major way.
William John Meegan
Jun 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This is one of the most thought provoking books I have ever read. All of Erich Neumann's works are well written. They are not so much entertaining as they allow the reader the freedom of thoughtful meditative expression beyond what was thought possible.
Scriptor Ignotus
Until about half a century ago, it was common among evolutionary biologists to believe in a phenomenon called recapitulation, according to which the entire evolutionary history of a species replayed itself during the gestation of each individual. So when a human was conceived, for example, the zygote would pass through stages representing the phylogenetic history of humanity, from the earliest microbial origins of life to humanity's more recent primate ancestors, before finally becoming a human ...more
Jack Drake
Sep 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
I'm conflicted. I wish this book was double the length it is, but the idea of putting myself through twice the amount of pain and suffering I already experienced while completing it makes me physically ill.

As much as I think this book deserves 5 stars, the sheer effort required to push through and finish it justifies removing half a star. Whether difficulties in translation or just an aspect Neuman's writing style, I found myself consistently lost. While I'm used to this happening in books of a
Tiago Faleiro
An absolutely delightful book, and a true masterpiece of Jungian psychology. Neumann brilliantly captures the stages in the evolution of consciousness expressed mythology, reflecting the basic archetypes. It's based on a fundamental triad, with the creation myth, the hero myth, and the transformation myth. Explaining the origin and interpretation of the "Ouroboros", following the birth of the Ego, and eventually the anima and animus.

I'm slightly disappointed that his theory rests on a
Feb 14, 2016 rated it liked it
...and a half. Lots of eyebrow raising, but I found myself thinking about the core concepts daily and applying them to almost everything.
Jimmy Jr
Aug 20, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Recognizes the role consciousness has played in our evolution, how it emerged in our ancestors and how the unconscious would have reacted side by side. The opposition of conscious and unconscious.
Gregory Walter
Dec 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Best book I've read all year!
Wesley Schantz
Jul 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
Much as his teacher Carl Jung assimilated medieval alchemy into fodder for depth psychology, so in The Origins and History of Consciousness Erich Neumann consolidates and clarifies the massive and slightly kooky early 20th C psychology, mythology, and anthropology produced by the likes of Jung, Freud, Mead, Frazer, and many, many others into a coherent and compelling picture. The bibliography of The Origins and History of Consciousness, like McGilchrist's in The Master and His Emissary, is an ...more
Maggi Horseman
Apr 14, 2019 rated it it was ok
while this may be a classic for psychology, the arm-chair style anthropology that the theories are based on have been at this point widely disproven. I believe that Neumann seems afraid of women and suffering from death anxiety. It's been recommended to me that Jean Gebser does a lot of the same work, without the misogynistic language.
Alford Wayman
May 07, 2011 rated it it was amazing
An excellent overview of the Origins of Consciousness in a Jungian perspective from one of his students. The hero's journey is clearly mapped out from a psychological perspective and has brought to light some major issues in the mind of modern man. It also discusses the battles of the formation of ego, the conscience and unconscious struggles, and the impact of archetypes, and the battle with the dragons. It has opened many new possibilities for me personally as I read mythology and religious ...more
Nov 08, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I guess the most interesting thing learned from this book was that it is possible to objectively view the development of consciousness as a kind of evolution. I believe that Neumann made an excellent argument in this very, very difficult to read book.
Jovan Hudson
Oct 10, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: ascend
Best read that describes the evolution of human or even more simply pure consciousnesses from the dawn of time, until now and where it is taking us. Must read if you want a jump in your ascension process or Obligatory Apotheosis.
Soren Kerk
Oct 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: all-time-favs
One can drop in to Jung, finally, clearly, all around.
Dec 05, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: mine
Grossly speculative and imaginary
Jun 25, 2008 rated it it was amazing
this book is incredibly enlightning in the struggle and story of man's quest to be conscious.
Nov 02, 2009 rated it really liked it
Over 5 years in the reading. . .deep, profound, at times exacerbating, but worth every page.
Jeff Northrup
Jul 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is a great book which elaborates on Jung's ideas by showing connections between new perspectives and new roles for individuals in the evolution of civilization. If you are familiar with Joseph Campbell or Jung or Jordan Peterson's Maps of Meaning, then this will probably not add much to your understanding but it is still worth reading in my opinion because the little it does add is depth and perspective worth having.

I see these views as a bridge between naivete and awareness, built one step
Aug 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book sunk in deep and stirred within me, doing its work when I slept, when I daydreamed, shifting my worldview in subtle and significant ways. At times I had to stop reading and look up from my book as connections were firing off on all cylinders.

A paradigm shifting book.

One of the most haunting aspects of the book was that it had predictive power in my life. It explained my psychological condition perfectly based on the mythological work I was doing in my own creative writing. It gave me
Masatoshi Nishimura
Oct 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: psychology, history
I am a complete beginner in symbolic literature. It just wasn't part of my family history of educational experience. I did read a book from Carl Jung (Unconscious Self), but this book was more comprehensive and easier to follow. I particularly liked his approach to look at history from a symbolic literature. I didn't even know what Ouroboros was.

Eric Neumann also explains the concept of Nietzschean superman concept really well, from the perspective of symbolic representation. You need to become
Noah Steckley
Jan 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book is nearly incomprehensible without either a strong background in the more odd end of Jungian writing, or a very extensive knowledge of European and near Eastern mythology. Thorough references are made to specific myths, but the myths are never “told” to you (it’s expected thar you know them). All in all it does a fantastic job of presenting the frightening Jungian story of the birth of conscious experience out of animal dream-state. There are plenty of very interesting and useful ...more
Sanjay Varma
Jan 09, 2019 rated it liked it
It was an early error for psychologists to position their field as a science of the same order as physics, optics, and chemistry. Freud pushed the idea that psychological laws were testable and, once verified by his method, were fixed and immutable. Alas, this puritan-ism led to the early fragmentation of psychology, with separate schools of Jungians and Adlerians all dismissing each other’s ideas.

I think it is unfortunate that psychoanalysts split into so many different camps, each claiming to
Jul 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
Sometimes gets really thick, especially in the second part of the book. Some parts (especially the thick ones) make bold claims, which under thorough examination are based on shaky grounds. Nonetheless, an invigorating and absorbing book, providing a thesis on how the human and collective mind develops and works, which is startlingly predictive in analysing various modern cultural and political phenomena.
Kyle R
Oct 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Good introduction to archetypal thinking and Jungian psychology. I tried to read a few books by Jung before but was unable to understand the ideas. Neumann walks you through the archetypal stages and the process of individuation and gives a good overview of mythological thinking and action by giving examples from primitive to modern culture.
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Erich Neumann was a psychologist, writer, and one of Carl Jung's most gifted students.
Neumann received his Ph.D. from the University of Berlin in 1927. He practiced analytical psychology in Tel Aviv from 1934 until his death in 1960. For many years, he regularly returned to Zürich, Switzerland to give lectures at the C. G. Jung Institute. He also lectured frequently in England, France and the
“Personality is built up largely by acts of introjection: contents that were before experienced outside are taken inside.” 10 likes
“The average ego, the average individual, remains fixed in the group, although in the course of development he is compelled to give up the original security of the unconscious, to evolve a conscious system, and to take upon himself all the complications and sufferings which such development entails.” 4 likes
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