Mandalas: Symbols of the Self

Mandalas: Symbols of the Self

(This was my very first post for the Jung Society of Utah blog. Soon after I submitted it for publication, I had the most lovely dream about meeting Jung, chatting with him, and giving him a hug.)

“I sketched every morning in a notebook a small circular drawing, a mandala, which seemed to correspond to my inner situation at the time… Only gradually did I discover what the mandala really is: … the Self, the wholeness of the personality, which if all goes well, is harmonious.”
– C.G. Jung

Carl Jung used the Sanskrit word mandala, meaning “magic circle,” to describe the circular drawings he and his patients created. While mandalas have been used throughout many ancient traditions, including Buddhism and Hinduism, Jung is credited with introducing these images to the Western world. Jung studied mandalas extensively, finding a great deal of potential symbolic meaning in them. He intimately associated them with psychological and spiritual health.

Mandalas are beautiful images that have strong symbolic meaning. Image by
Mandalas are beautiful images that have strong symbolic meaning. Image by

An Archetype of Wholeness

Jung created his first mandala in 1916, before learning about the Eastern tradition. And he used mandalas as an important component of his work with patients, as well as in his own personal development. Believing that mandalas were archetypal  forms representing the Self, or total personality, he referred to them as “archetypes of wholeness.” Jung discovered that dreaming of or creating mandalas is a natural part of the individuation process, and he encouraged his patients to create them spontaneously. When a mandala image appeared in a patient’s artwork or dreams, he found it usually indicated progress toward new self-knowledge.

“The severe pattern imposed by a circular image of this kind compensates the disorder of the psychic state–namely through the construction of a central point to which everything is related,” Jung stated. He believed that the circle invites conflicting parts of our nature to appear and allows for the unification of opposites in order to represent the sum of who we are. He found this sense of wholeness was reflected in the lives of his patients, as he was able to trace the progression of an individual’s psychological recovery by correlating it with the coherence of the mandalas they drew.


Carl Jung found that patients' mandalas intuitively expressed their need for wholeness. Image courtesy of Clinical Psych Reading.
Carl Jung found that patients’ mandalas intuitively expressed their need for wholeness. Image courtesy of Clinical Psych Reading.

Jung’s patients created mandalas intuitively, and he observed that patients with no prior knowledge of mandalas repeatedly created very similar images throughout the course of their progress. This enabled him to identify emotional disorders and work towards wholeness in personality.

Some of the common symbols Jung encountered as he interpreted mandalas included circular or egg-shaped formations, flowers or wheels, circles within a square or the reverse, which Jung was particularly interested in. He frequently saw the number four or its multiples in mandalas, which was often represented by squares, crosses or suns or stars with four or eight rays. Discovering what these symbols meant to patients gave Jung insight into their personalities, challenges and more.

A Sacred Space for the Self

Jung believed that creating mandalas offered a “safe refuge of inner reconciliation and wholeness”, providing a sacred space into which we can invite the Self. He also noticed that creating mandalas had a calming, focusing effect on his patients’ psychological states. I’ve personally observed this to be true as I’ve drawn and colored my own mandalas.

When we create mandalas, we are making a personal symbol that represents who we are at the moment. Would you like to see a reflection of your Self? You can color a mandala or try drawing one of your own. Then, check out how to interpret your mandala by visiting this site!