The Night-Sea Voyage of Coleridge's Ancient Mariner:
The Circuitous Journey of Individuation
Thomas Elsner, J.D. M.A.
Friday, 8:00 PM, May 18th, 2007
Samuel Taylor Coleridge, one of England's great romantic poets, wrote "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" at the age of 25, before he had ever set foot on a ship. Inspiried by a dream in which a spectre-ship sailed out of the setting sun, the poem is itself a vision and a projected symbolic self-portrait of the poet's deepest psychological make up. Yet, because it reaches down into the depths of the psyche, it is also a vivid description of the collective unconscious, and one which we can understand today as descriptive of the process of individuation. Somewhat like Goethe's Faust, which was a huge influence on Jung, The Ancient Mariner is a myth of the modern West, describing its problems and hinting at solutions to those problems, problems which concern all of us today—the destruction of the symbolic life, encounter with the shadow, and the re-emergence of the archetypal Feminine. The tension between the individual and the collective is also an important theme: how can we integrate the individual truths of the heart into the traditions and collective structures in which we live? Coleridge's poem, "one of the few great symbolic poems" according to British Poet Laureate Ted Hughes, has much to say to those of us who are living through such themes and questions in our own lives.
Thomas Elsner, J.D. M.A. is a certified Jungian Analyst who trained in Switzerland at the Centre for Depth Psychology according to C.G. Jung and Marie-Louise von Franz. He is currently a faculty member at the C.G. Jung Study Center of Southern California and a certified Psychoanalyst with the California Med. Board. He has a private practice in Santa Barbara.