Over and over (and over), I get asked where to start with Jung.
Many people pick up Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious or Psychology and Religion or Mysterium Coniunctionis and put it right back down. Because though Jungian psychology is so obviously mysterious and deep, Jung’s own droning pseudo-scientific rhetoric just doesn’t hold the same flair.
Jung is dense. There’s just no way around it.
But that doesn’t mean his psychology is unapproachable. On the contrary, many analysts and theorists have broken down Jungian psychology and presented it in a way that is not only comprehensible, it’s practical.
So I’ve compiled my personal picks of the best (and most readable) Jungian books to bring you into the theory and work of Jungian psychology. I hope you read one, two, or them all!
1. Boundaries of the Soul: The Practice of Jung’s Psychology by June Singer
This is the classic. First published in 1972, this book was the first standard in opening up Jungian psychology for the masses. It is no light read, but it covers everything. It goes into complexes, dreams, archetypes, individuation, psychological types, religion, and more. It is a long haul, but once you’re done you’ve got it.
This was the first book I read to get a full intro into Jungian psychology, and when I first strolled into the C. G. Jung Institute of New York a couple months later, extremely nervous that their workshops would go way above my head, I never missed a beat.
2. Inner Work: Using Dreams and Active Imagination for Personal Growth by Robert Johnson
This may be one of the most well-known books, and for good reason. It’s much shorter than Boundaries of the Soul, and much more manageable to complete with a busy schedule. But it’s also a lot more focused.
Inner Work introduces you to the framework of the psyche, archetypes, and dreams, and then thoughtfully walks you through how to do the inner work. It’s primary focuses are dreamwork and active imagination, offering a step-by-step guide of how to do them and how to alchemize their meanings.
It is a fantastical practical resource, and honestly I always get something new out of it when I return for a refresher!
3. Man and His Symbols by Carl Jung
Okay I caved a little and added this one by Jung himself. It is a little bit more scholarly and dry, but it is also made for the layman. Man and His Symbols walks through the foundations of Jungian psychology, focusing mostly on the unconscious, the archetypes, and the process of individuation. It is about the mythic history, the collective symbols of humanity.
And while it’s a little bit denser, it’s also Jung’s own words, which is very important for a lot of us. We want to read the thinker’s own thoughts, and this is the book to do so.
And if you’re extra lucky, maybe you can grab the illustrated edition, which gives it some oomph!
4. The Pregnant Virgin: A Process of Psychological Transformation by Marion Woodman
This book is certain not an intro-to-Jung, but one of the most profound Jungian reads I’ve ever encountered. Marion Woodman is one of my Jungian heroes, as her work is focused on bridging soma and soul, psychology and body. Much of her writing is oriented toward female psychology, but it goes far beyond it, and The Pregnant Virgin is one of her best.
This book is devoted entirely to the inner work of transformation. It’s not a how-to or a theoretical bore. It’s the vibrant description of the soul in process, a tour of the work of metamorphosis that so many of us come to Jungian Psychology to accomplish.
If you’re deep in the work, please get this book. It may change your life as it did mine.
5. The Undiscovered Self by Carl Jung
I couldn’t help but throw this one in. I’ll admit, it doesn’t totally belong on this list. There’s little Jungian theory in it, and absolutely no practice. But if you haven’t really started with Jung yet, this is where to begin.
This little book was one of Jung’s last, written in those critical years between World War II and the Cold War. Its entire focus is the role of the individual, and the crucial work of individuation. But what makes this text so important is that is examines the individual against the backdrop of society, illuminating our collective desires and shadows, and how we have turned off from the deeper meaning of life.
It’s so compact and interesting, I can’t recommend it enough. Maybe it will fascinate you, maybe it will frustrate you, but it will change you.