Credit: Martin Gray-Sacred Sites/UNESCO

Death was sacred to some aboriginal people in Colombia. Near the town of San Agustin and Isnos, the journey to death called for a necropolis to be built by unknown indigenous tribes. Approximately more than 2000 years ago, funerary mounds, megalithic, anthropomorphic, anthropozoomorphic, and zoomorphic statues, funerary corridors, and stone slab tombs were constructed beneath the earth! Earth mounds covered stone slab dolmens that contained the dead body of important people who had natural powers or occupied important roles in their tribe (Instituto Colombiano de Antropologia e Historia-ICANH, 2011). We know very little about who these tribes were and why they abandoned this area by the 14th and 15th century. The indigenous people who currently live near this area do not seem to have a direct racial lineage with these Colombian ancestors.

Why do these aboriginal people construct and bury these “death-related” sites underground? What is the meaning of the anthropomorphic, anthrozoomorphic, and zoomophic stone sculptures? This brief article attempts to provide a psychological hypothesis to these questions, from an Analytical (Jungian) Psychology perspective, in order to emphasize “ancestral wisdom” (Leon, 2010) of indigenous for modern times.

First, I would like to briefly provide a general description of this necropolis.

It is located in the Arqueological Park of San Agustin in the municipalities of San Agustin and Isnos in the Department of Huila, Colombia. The initial occupation of this geographical area took place during the Archaic period (before or around the fourth millennium B.C) by hunter-gatherer nomadic groups that were dispersed and small (15 to 25 people) (ICANH, 2011). During the Formative 1 Period (1000 B.C-600 B.C), these groups became more sedentary and buried their dead in deep rectangular burial structures (ICANH, 2011). The construction and burial of the funerary mounds, funerary corridors, stone slab tombs (dolmens), and statuary took place, for the most part, during the Regional Classic Period (1-900 AD). Finally, it is important to emphasize that the native people buried these dolmens and statues, and that most of them were beneath the earth (Dellenback, 2019). Contemporary people, from the 18th, 19th, and 20th century, excavated them.

Credit: Ernesto Guhl-Biblioteca Luis A. Arango


Earth mounds were built to cover funerary dolmens. These dolmens were sepulchral chambers (tombs of important people) whose walls were formed by vertical anthropomorphic and anthrozoomorphic statues and by regular slabs with irregular edges . The dolmens were roofed with several large capstones (Reichel-Dolmatoff, 1972) (See Figure 1). The dimensions of the earth mounds were up to 30 meters (approx. 98 feet) in diameter and up to four meters (approx. 13 feet)in height.

Figure 1. (Credit: Benjamin Oswald CC BY-NC-CA)


There seems to be three different kinds of funerary statues that were created by these aboriginal people:

1) Antrozoomorphic Statues (See Figure 2, below):

Figure 2 (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

2) Zoomorphic Statues (See Figure 3, below):

Figure 3 (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

3) Antropomorphic Statues (Figure 4, below):

Figure 4 (Credit: puebloescultor.org)

These statues were placed around the tombs and nearby the dolmens. One can safely say psychologically that these statues were built to accompany the dead, and that their role was important in the land of the dead -the underground world. These statues were companions and protectors of the dead in their journey to the land of the spirits. The journey to the underground and to the land beneath the earth, when a person is buried after death, has been associated cross-culturally to the land of the dead or the land of the spirits.

What can the living learn psychologically, today, from the statues and the dolmens erected for the dead, by these aboriginal tribes approximately 2000 years ago? What can the symbolic meaning of these statues, from a psychological point of view, teach the living about the journey of living, dying and,possibly, rebirth? What are the similarities and differences between the spontaneous symbols of the human psyche (i.e., dreams, visions, etc.) that Jungian Psychology studies so diligently, and the lithic symbols sculpted in these statues by the indigenous people thousands of years ago? Similar questions were tackled by the Egyptians, 3500 years ago, in the Amduat (see Schweizer, 2010; Abt & Hornung, 2003). The Amduat describes the journey of the Sungod through the netherworld (from the death of the sun-sunset to the birth of the sun-sunrise) that, if analyzed psychologically (Schweizer, 2010; Abt & Hornung, 2003), may provide valuable information for the dead and for the living.

The emphasis that Jungian Psychology places on understanding the meaning of archetypal symbols in dreams for psychological insight may answer these questions. In other words, images that appear in dreams, which are studied by Analytical Psychology, are very similar to the images that appear in the statues of these indigenous tribes and, thus, we may be able to psychologically understand the symbolism of the funerary statues. A psychological comparison between archetypal dream images and the archetypal images sculpted in the rock may, also, give us some psychological meaning and insight for proper living, dying, and rebirth.

Credit: Benjamin Oswald-Creative Commons

It would be helpful to divide the life-and -death process in three parts: a) the living phase; b) the “dead” phase (disembodied or spirit phase); and c) the reincarnation or rebirth phase. The psychological reason for including reincarnation in this process stems from the research that Von Franz (1986) did on death and dreams. In her book, “On Dreams and Death.” she concluded, like Jung did, the following:

“It is in fact true, as Jung has emphasized, that the unconscious psych pays very little attention to the abrupt end of body life and behaves as if the psychic life of the individual, that is, the individuation process, will simply continue. In this connection, however, there are also dreams which symbolically indicate the end of bodily life and the explicit continuation of psychic life after death. The unconscious ‘believes’ quite obviously in a life after death.”

It seems that the individual psyche will continue and develop through those three phases: the living phase, the dead phase, and the reincarnation phase.

The psychological symbolism of antropomorphic, zoomorphic, and antrozoomorphic images, of burials, and of the journey to the underground from these native people may provide archetypal guidance on a) how to live life more deeply or archetypally, b) what archetypal symbols are essential to psychologically prepare and to accompany the living in the process of individuation towards death, and in the actual process of dying, c) what archetypal images are more relevant after dying and when “living” in the land of the dead (as a disembodied spirit, or simply spirit) and, therefore, how to consciously related to those archetypal images when we are alive, and d) if there is a reincarnation, what archetypal symbols made themselves known to us (sculptures, dolmens, dreams, visions, etc) during our “first” life, which may be relevant in our subsequent life (reincarnation)?

Studying archetypally the psychological meaning of the funerary art and, especifically, of the statues (through the Jungian method of amplification) and its context in relationship to geographically specific dolmens could cross-culturally teach us important psychological information about living, dying and, possibly, reincarnating in a more meaningful way. Furthermore, we may learn about the psychological continuity of our spirit in the land of the ancestors/spirits/dead. Finally, by relating imaginally and symbolically to these statues, they may provide information, in terms of psychological meaning, to each of us, about the archetypal symbols that each person, while alive, has to know, has to relate to, and to befriend in order to prepare him/her for meaningful living, for proper dying and, hopefully, for a more advanced reincarnation. Therefore, the psychological meaning of such symbolic statues could guide our spirit in life, in death, and in reincarnation.

To begin with, let us take a look at the psychological meaning of the following symbols: ‘descending to the underground’, ‘death’, ‘tombs’, and burials, from a Jungian perspective.

San Agustin Archaeological Park/Chris Bell/Culture Trip

In terms of the psychological meaning of ‘descending into the underground’, Jung (CW 12, para 61) talked about the Nekya. Nekyia is the name of “the descent into the land of the dead.” When an individual decides to psychologically look into the unconscious, the individual is willingly entering into the land of the dead -the land within. The land of the unconscious is experienced by the individual as the land of the death because this psychological journey will require that the ego of the individual will have to sacrifice (‘dying”) and let go (‘death”) several aspects of the personality, when confronting his/her unconscious, in order to achieve psychological insight for the purpose of wholeness. In other words, death will be a constant companion and requirement when the individual wants to know himself/herself. In this process, the ego descends into the land of the unconscious in order to transform the personality. Therefore, the descending underground that early native people from Colombia did, in order to construct statues, dolmens, and funerary mounds may provide helpful psychological information, when the statues are analyzed psychologically (symbolically), about the descent into the land of

the unconscious. In other words, the indigenous perspective about traveling to the land of the dead accompanied by their stone statues, may guide us on the present-day-nekya -the psychological journey of looking into the unconscious for personal transformation or, what Jung called, the process of separation and individuation. What current psychological information for “descending into the underground” (the unconscious) has the symbolic meaning of these ancient statues? In order to answer these questions, the symbolic study of some of these statues, from a Jungian perspective, may help, which will be conducted down below.

Understanding symbols from dreams, visions, and synchronicities play a fundamental role in Analytical (Jungian) Psychology because symbols provide a psychological map for understanding human motivations, behaviors and emotions. For example, the symbol of “descent”, as previously discussed, is connected to the process of the ego “descending” towards the inner life or the unconscious, which can be psychologically related to the indigenous process of going underground, or digging underground to construct the dolmens and the statues for the dead ancestors. Also, symbols or images psychologically motivate people, including indigenous and aboriginal tribes, in the creation of tombs, funerary sculptures and mounds as well as architectural necropoleis. For example, in the book, Memories, Dreams, and Reflections, Jung recounted a dream that had the symbol of ‘descending to the underground’, which help him understand the layered structure of the human psyche: “...I found myself in the upper story [of my house]...and descending the stairs, I reached the ground floor. There everything was much older….I discovered a stone stairway that led down into the cellar…Descending again, I found myself in a beautiful vaulted room…[On] the floor, [there were] stone slabs, and in one of these, I discovered a ring. When I pulled it, the stone slab lifted and…I saw a stairway of narrow steps leading down into the depths…I entered [descended] a low cave cut into the rock [that had]...scattered bones and broken pottery, like remains of [an indigenous] culture. I discovered two human skulls.”

After studying the dream symbol of descending, Jung concluded that the second story of the house represented the layer of consciousness; the ground floor represented the first level of the unconscious or the “personal unconscious, and the cave represented a deeper layer of the unconscious -the impersonal or collective unconscious.

Therefore, the symbol of “descending underground” may mean psychologically that the individual is ready to “descend into the unconscious” in order to explore the different aspects and layers of his/her psyche. Similarly, when indigenous people descend underground to construct tombs, they are, also, ‘descending into their unconscious’ and, therefore, their funerary sculptures and tombs (stone symbols) can provide psychological information about the process of discovering and exploring the unconscious in our current lives. What is the psychological meaning of those sculptures? What can those sculptures teach us symbolically or psychologically about the process of descending and exploring the unconscious -the process of individuation? We will be taking a close look at those statutes in a moment.

A similar symbol that describes the process of descending underground is Katabasis. Katabasis refers to the mythological journey to the underworld -the descend to the lower world. As we can see in many mythological and religious stories, the hero, who usually lives in the upper world, has the task to ‘descend to the underworld’, or the land of the dead, in order to obtain a magic object, reconnect with a loved one, or obtain greater knowledge, etc. According to Edinger (ARAS), Katabasis means psychologically ‘going down’ towards the unconscious where some of the psychological complexes are located. The entrance to the unconscious can be equated to the entrance to the underworld. Some people use the words ‘Katabasis’ and ‘Nekya’ interchangeably. Similarly, when the indigenous people from Colombia descended to the underground to construct the dolmens for the dead, we may study, extract, and learn, from their statues their psychological knowledge or wisdom (obtained through their Katabasis) that we can apply, today, to living life, dying, and possibly to reincarnating.

Credit: Anfecaro; Creative Commons

But before doing that, let us take a look at another symbol: death.

Death symbols usually appear in dreams. From the point of view of Analytical Psychology, Von Franz (1986) mentioned that the symbols of death that appear in dreams also manifest themselves during the individuation process. In other words, during analysis, when the individual confronts his/her own complexes and lets go of behavioral, intellectual, and emotional patterns that create imbalance and that are overly one- sided, then, symbols of death appear in dreams. That is why Von Franz (1986) stated the following: “In principle, individuation dreams do not differ in their archetypal symbolism from death dreams.” As we become who we are and as we transcend neurotic and destructive patterns of being during the process of individuation, death symbols appear in dreams. Furthermore, while amplifying the symbolism of death with the help of alchemical imagery, Von Franz (1986) concludes that “...death is only a separation of ‘matter’ and ‘psyche.’ Essentially, however, death would then be a psychophysical transformation.”

Case in point, a hospital patient had the following dream a day before she died (Von Franz, 1986): “I am standing beside my bed in the hospital room and I feel strong and healthy…The doctor…says, ‘Well, Miss X, you are unexpectedly cured. You may get dressed and leave the hospital.’ At that moment I turn around and see, lying in the bed -my own dead body!” The comforting message from the unconscious, according to Von Franz, is that “death is a cure and that there is an afterlife.” Therefore, death symbols may appear in our lives when we are consciously letting go of our personal complexes, when welcoming and relating to deeper (archetypal) aspects of our personality, and when our physical existence is about to conclude to let us know that psychic life will continue.

In other words, as Von Franz (1986) stated: “It is in fact true, as Jung has emphasized, that the unconscious psyche pays very little attention to the abrupt end of bodily life and behaves as if the psychic life of the individual, that is, the individuation process, will simply continue.” Given that the psychological process of individuation will continue after death, then, we can ‘ask’ the stone statues, created by aboriginal people in Colombia, what psychological information they hold symbolically for a better understanding of the process of individuation of modern people after dying. Their statues for the dead may have important psychological information about the archetypal dimension of the psychological process of individuation during living and after dying.

Furthermore, Stephens (2019) stated the following in his book, “C.G. Jung and the Death”: “Jung notes carefully that the dead are interested in the psychological understandings of a life lived and particularly that part which the recently deceased are able to carry over with them into the unconscious landscape.” The dead and dead ancestors typically appear in dreams, and they can be understood either as a symbol that contains valuable symbolic/psychological for the dreamer or as a valid ontological presence or spirit that wants to talk to us (Taborda, 2010). As Saint Agustine said: “The dead are invisible, they are not absent.” In addition, Stephens (2020) wrote: “...the dead and living work together to heal one another”, which helped Jung to conceive that “...the dead can improve their knowledge by virtue of what the living do with their lives as a result of the information that the dead pass on to them.”

Therefore, the funerary statues from these indigenous people may have valuable psychological information for the living. Then, we can understand how these indigenous statues, which are connected with death, are the “stone library” (Dellenback, 2019) that we need to ‘read’, study and consult for living, dying, and possibly for rebirth.

From a cross-cultural point of view (Vries, 1984), the symbol of death is connected with the Death Dance, with the end of an epoch, with the sacrifice of a Sacred King, with an escape from unbearable tension, with a means to gain immortality, with Saturn, Time, and the Master of Fate (Tarot). The essence of it is the factor of transition, from one state to another and, from a psychological point of view, dream images of death may announce the necessary death of old and worn-out behavioral, emotional, and cognitive patterns that need to die in order to give space to new psychological patterns.

Finally, let us take a look at the psychological meaning of the symbols of “tombs and burials”, from a Jungian perspective. According to Edinger (1995), “...the tomb is a symbol of the unconscious….[Also], the tomb…signifies the world of the dead. It is also closely connected with the womb: it is not only the repository of the dead person but symbolically connotes the birth of the resurrected individual.” Therefore, if the tomb is a symbol of the unconscious, then, the indigenous stone statues that are placed next to the tombs may contain symbolic and psychological information that accompany or protect the individual in his/her psychological journey into the unconscious, both when living and after dying.

As Jung (Vol 5, para 577) stated: “Even the burial of the dead in consecrated ground (“garden of the dead,” cloisters, crypts, etc.) is a rendering back to the mother with the hope of resurrection which such burials presuppose.” Moreover, in alchemy, the tomb was used to describe the alchemical vessel (Edinger, 1995) because it was “...the container of the transformation process, and the basic feature of that process is death and rebirth.” Therefore, the images represented in the indigenous stone statues may hold valuable information about the necessary container for the transformation process of descending into the unconscious.

Furthermore, the psychological background of existence or the archetypal blueprint of each individual life is usually described by the symbol of “tombs”. As Edinger (1995) stated: “The living ego is surrounded by the image of the tomb: on the one hand, the tomb signifies the grave of the ancestors -the womb out of which our psyche has been born -our connection with the past. On the other hand, the tomb signifies that empty hole to which we shall go when we die, thus completing the circle that connects us with the ancestors. So the tomb symbolizes the psychic background and the psychic environment of existence.”

Moreover, further archetypal amplifications (Vries, 1984) about tombs and burials reveal that the tomb is, also, associated with a) “the body and its fleshy desires, inhabited by the soul,” and therefore, could the stone statues reveal information about the most important bodily desires associated with the process of descending into the unconscious while the individual is alive and after dying? b) “transformation…involution with the hope of regeneration”, given the relationship between womb and tomb. Again, could the stone sculptures for the dead reveal to people key archetypal images that each of us needs to relate to, while being alive and after death?

In addition, Vries (1984) provides further cross-cultural information about burials that could help to clarify the psychological meaning of “burials.” For example, de Vries writes about burials symbolizing the rite of “...initiation [into] manhood, or any new phase in life (e.g., the Night of the Soul)”. Consequently, could the stone statues, with their archetypal engraved images, teach the living and the dead important archetypal lessons about the psychological process of transformation while the individual is alive and, also, after death? Moreover de Vries (1984) briefly discussed burial mounds; according to him, in Nordic traditions, burial mounds are “seats of inspiration,” and therefore, it is worth wondering, if our indigenous ancestors visited these burial sacred grounds for the dead to pray and, unbeknownst to them, unconsciously seeking “inspiration” for the process of human transformation while living and after dying?

Furthermore, according to Edinger (1985) in his book, Anatomy of the Psyche, corpses are associated with the alchemical process of Mortificatio/Putrefactio. This alchemical process describes the transformation of matter into “darkness, defeat, torture, mutilation, death, an rotting.” Therefore, dreams of burials and tombs, from a Jungian perspective, may be related to unconscious aspects of the personality that the ego needs to ‘bury’ or to dissociate from in order to individuate. Consequently, is it possible that the symbols engraved in the indigenous stone statues for the dead may contain valuable psychological information about one’s own shadow or about the archetypal background of the personal unconscious?

The hypothesis that the dead can teach the living valuable psychological information about the process of individuation is, therefore, worth exploring, especially through the Jungian understanding of the symbols engraved in the stone statues for the dead. I am not implying that these indigenous people created these stone statues for a psychological purpose; yet, their sepulchral statues for the dead may offer some psychological wisdom for the living and the dead.

In the next written installment, a psychological analysis of some statues from the “stone library” (Dellenback, 2019) that these indigenous people left behind will be provided, and it may prove to be meaningful and helpful for proper living, dying and, possibly, reincarnation.


Abt, T., & Hornung, E. (2003). Knowledge for the Afterlife: the Egyptian Amduat- A quest

for immortality. Zürich: Living Human Heritage Publications.

Dellenback, D. (2019). Las estatuas del pueblo escultor. eLibros Editorial.

Edinger, E. F. (1985). Anatomy of the psyche: Alchemical symbolism in psychotherapy.

ICANH. (2011). San Agustin. National Arqueological Park. Guidebook.

Jung, C.(1968). Volume 12: Psychology and Alchemy. Princeton: Bollingen.

Volume 5: Symbols of Transformation. Princeton: Bollingen

León, L. (2010). Chamanismo ancestral indígena en el encuentro del sí mismo. Bogota: UCC

Reichel-Dolmatoff, G. (1972). San Agustín: a culture of Colombia. New York: Praeger.

Schweizer, A. (2010). The Sungod’s Journey through the Netherworld:

Reading the Ancient Amduat. Cornell University Press.

Stephens, S. L. (2019). CG Jung and the dead: Visions, active imagination and

the unconscious . Routledge.

Taborda, F.. (2010). Spirits and Images in Dreams: A Comparative Analysis between

Archetypal Psychology and Healing Practices (Dissertation).

Von Franz, M. L.. (1986). On dreams and death. Boston, MA: Shambhala.

Vries, A. D. (1984). Dictionary of symbols and imagery. London: North-Holland.

Featured Posts
Recent Posts
Search By Tags
No tags yet.
Follow Us
  • Facebook Basic Square
  • Twitter Basic Square
  • Google+ Basic Square