A fantasy is more or less your own invention, and remains on the surface of personal things and conscious expectations. But active Imagination, as the term denotes, means that the images have a life or their own and that the symbolic events develop according to their own logic – that is, of course, if your conscious reason does not interfere.
Active Imagination is one of the most important Jungian techniques. It aims to talk with the personalities that inhabit our unconscious. We already mentioned that the Ego is not the ruler of our psyche. In fact, we have several entities that “live” inside our head. Let’s call them daemons, an ancient Roman word that acquired bad connotation over time.
Referring to our many daemons, I always like to repeat the insightful saying of Joseph Campbell, the great mythologist of the XX century: “My definition of demon is an angel that was not recognized as so. Rather, it is a power, which you denied expression, and you repressed. So, with all of its’ energy repressed, it starts to grow and becomes very dangerous”.
You can choose. Your daemons may be angels or demons. If you give them recognition, they will be your angels.
We could call these daemons our multiple personalities. They do not dominate you all the time, but may do so when the Ego loses control. Some people are more prone to be dominated by these internal personalities. I recommend one interesting book, a fiction based on a real case: “Sybil” by Flora Rheta Schreiber. The book presents an extreme case of a woman with sixteen active personalities.
Be aware of the fact that complexes can take control of our acts from the Ego. When dominated by rage, for instance, we act in ways that we may regret later.
Active imagination is a method to talk to our daemons, to know what they want from us. However, we do not have to accept all their demands. We can, and should, negotiate. To do Active Imagination, we should go into a relaxed state and let some fantasies come to our mind. We may see, or hear, or sense the presence of an animal or person. Relate to it. Don’t start asking questions, but take it easy.
“The Red Book,” by Jung, describes Jung’s active imaginations during a period of several years. It is a fantastic book, and Jung credits all the future development of his psychology – Analytical Psychology – to his interactions with his daemons.
Some psychologists claim that you should not do active imagination without the guidance of an expert. You may risk psychosis. That is the position of Barbara Hannah, one of the first disciples of Jung and author of the book, “Active Imagination” (1981). James Hillman, another important Jungian psychologist, disagrees with her opinion saying she is too worried. He claims that we can stop the process at any time, and be back to Ego control. My opinion is that we do not need to be as cautious as Hannah suggests, but that we should be very careful in case of persons with borderline personalities.
Would you like to talk to your daemons, understand them and turn them into angels? You can, using the method of active imagination developed by Jung, and explained in ‘Inner Work,’ a book by Robert Johnson that I emphatically recommend. Johnson is a Jungian analyst and a prolific writer, capable of turning some of Jung’s complex concepts into a book easy to understand.
Do you prefer a demon on your back or an angel at your side?