Jung Discusses The Collective Unconsciousness, Music, Wagner & Perhaps Opeth

Written By The Wagnerian on Monday, 6 May 2019 | 7:16:00 pm

Our editor is wakened from, what seems, a prolonged slumber, due to the combined forces of Jung, Wagner and Doom/Death/Prog Metal band Opeth.

I have been spending much time these past few months with the Ring (nothing especially unusual admittedly) and the entire discography of Death/Doom/Prog Metal band Opeth (again not that unusual). With the latter, I have found myself giving special attention to Opeth's much underappreciated 1999, concept album "Still Life".  I appreciate that to many readers this may be an odd, perhaps even horrifying, juxtaposition of artists and their works, And yet, despite the clear musical, artistic and stylistic differences, I find both works seem to reach into the same, deep parts of what Jung would call the Collective Unconcessnious

Both works consist, on the surface at least, and often like the best narrative art, of a rather simple tale, not out of place in soap opera like "Dallas".

For example, if we strip away everything from the Ring, as people, especially opera directors with varying degrees of success, have done, we are left with the tale of two families destroyed by greed, revenge, the quest for power and the restrictions of social norms.


Given that most readers will be less familiar with Opeth's "Still Life" a more detailed synopsis may be required first, before reducing it further to its basic parts. "Still live is a "concept" album, that describes a man, during an undisclosed "ancient time" returning to his village, drawn by the woman he still loves, "Melinda" He was banished from his village many years ago by a religious group "The Order Of The Cross" for publically announcing the loss of his faith. . He returns incognito and remaining hidden, discovers that Melinda has become a "Nun" of said order. Secret meetings occur and eventually, Melinda describes her own religious doubts, her love for our male protagonist and agrees to leave with him. Sadly, this is discovered by the Order who execute Melinda at a public hanging. The man arrives too late to save her, goes into an uncontrollable rage and kills all of the Orders soldiers present. Coming out of his berzerker state, he succumbs to the order, refuses to repent and is himself publically hanged. The work ends, as he dies, feeling Melinda's hand upon his shoulder and both are joined as one (Traces of Tannhauser and Tristan, I think, are too obvious to discuss in detail - at least here) 


Again, to strip this to its basic parts: boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy comes back for girl, girl eventually admits she loves him and agrees to go away with him, family/society is enraged, boy and girl die because of it.


"Still it came passing by

The pieces weaved together rose the sun

And fooled me with another day

The knocking message called for my life

Cloak-captured sighs of relief

As the primal touch brought me back

And the last sight I did see is still here

Beckoning right behind me"

Opeth: "White Cluster"



Of course, much more is going on in both works, as described in the lyrics in "Still life" and the libretto of the Ring. But, as Wagner intended and described in his own work, much, much more is happening in the musical score. And this is not just in the leitmotifs, as in Wagner's case. The music itself is speaking directly to our unconscious - as Wagner seemed to suggest in his letters, even before such a term had been defined. Exactly what is being touched in those dark depths, I think is impossible to fully clarify, and yet, listening to either work, their reach is unequivocal.  This was something that Jung seemed to understand and referenced on more than one occasion. I was especially reminded of a letter Jung wrote to Serge Moreux in 1950 in which he turned down an offer to write an article on this very subject and yet attempted to apply his theory - if briefly. 


I hope I can be forgiven this rather roundabout way to introduce you this letter, but if it helps to introduce you to the work of Opeth at the same time, well all is not wasted

To Serge Moreux Dear M. Moreux, 20 January 1950

While I thank you for your kind letter, I must tell you that unfortunately I am obliged to limit my activity for reasons of age and health, and so it will not be possible for me to write an article for the projected number of Polyphonie. 

Music certainly has to do with the collective unconscious-as the drama does too; this is evident in Wagner, for example.

Music expresses, in some way, the movement of the feelings (or emotional values) that cling to the unconscious processes. 

The nature of what happens in the collective unconscious is archetypal, and archetypes always have a numinous quality that expresses itself in emotional stress.

Music expresses in sounds what fantasies and visions express in visual images. 

I am not a musician and would not be able to develop these ideas for you in detail.

I can only draw your attention to the fact that music represents the movement, development, and transformation of motifs of the collective unconscious.

In Wagner, this is very clear and also in Beethoven, but one finds it equally in Bach’s “Kunst der Fuge.”

The circular character of the unconscious processes is expressed in the musical form; as for example in the sonata’s four movements, or the perfect circular arrangement of the “Kunst der Fuge,” etc.

 I am with best regards, Yours sincerely, C.G. Jung.

Carl Jung, Letters Vol. 1, Page 542