Letter from Carl Jung in reply to Bill Wilson, founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, dated 30 January 1961, Kusnacht, Switzerland. Bill Wilson wrote a letter of appreciation to Carl Jung. “Very many thoughtful A.A.’s are students of your writings. Because of your conviction that man is something more than intellect, emotion, and two dollars’s worth of chemicals, you have especially endeared yourself to us . . . “
Dear Mr. Wilson,
Your letter has been very welcome indeed.
I had no news from Rowland H. anymore and often wondered what had been his fate. Our conversation which he has adequately reported to you had an aspect of which he did not know. The reason I could not tell him everything was that those days I had to be exceedingly careful of what I said. I found out that I was misunderstood in every possible way. Thus I was very careful when I talked to Rowland H. But what I really thought about was the result of many experiences with men of his kind.
His craving for alcohol was the equivalent on a low level of the spiritual thirst of our being for wholeness, expressed in medieval language: the union with God.*
How could one formulate such an insight in a language that is not misunderstood in our days?
The only right and legitimate way to such an experience is that it happens to you in reality, and it can only happen to you when you walk on a path which leads you to higher understanding. You might be led to that goal by an act of grace or through a personal and honest contact with friends, or through a higher education of the mind beyond the confines of mere rationalism. I see from your letter that Rowland H. has chosen the second way, which was, under the circumstances, obviously the best one.
I am strongly convinced that the evil principle prevailing in this world leads the unrecognized spiritual need into perdition, if it is not counteracted either by a real religious insight or by the protective wall of human community. An ordinary man, not protected by an action from above and isolated in society, cannot resist the power of evil, which is called very aptly the Devil. But the use of such words arouse(s) so many mistakes that one can only keep aloof from them as much as possible.
These are the reasons why I could not give a full and sufficient explanation to Rowland H., but (I) am risking it with you because I conclude from your very decent and honest letter that you have acquired a point of view about the misleading platitudes one usually hears about alcoholism.
Alcohol in Latin in spiritus, and you use the same word for the highest religious experience as well as for the most depraving poison. The helpful formula therefore is: spiritus contra spiritum.
Thanking you again for your kind letter, I remain yours sincerely, C.G. Jung.
“* ‘As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God.’ Psalm 42,1”
Letter reprinted in ‘PASS IT ON’ The story of Bill Wilson and how the A.A. message reached the world, Alcoholics Anonymous World Service, Inc. 1984, pg. 383-385.