The Sanskrit word 'mandala' means 'circle' in the ordinary sense of the term. In the sphere of religious practices and in psychology it denotes circular images, which are drawn, painted, modelled, or danced. Plastic structures of this kind are to be found, for instance, in Tibetan Buddhism, and as dance figures these circular patterns occur also in Dervish monasteries. As psychological phenomena they appear spontaneously in dreams, in certain states of conflict, and in cases of schizophrenia. Very frequently they contain a quaternity or a multiple of four, in the form of a cross, a star, a square, an octagon, etc. In alchemy we encounter this motif in the form of 'quadratura circula'.
In his 'Memories, Dreams, Reflections,' Jung tells of how he painted the first mandala, in 1916, after writing the 'Seven Sermons to the Dead.' But it was not until 1918-19, when Jung was commandant of a British war prisoners' camp in French Switzerland, that he began to understand mandala drawings. Jung continued to study and to paint mandalas, but he did not publish any of the more present his conclusions about their significance, particularly in connection with the analytical technique he calls 'active imagination,' until 1929, in his commentary of Richard Wilhelm's translation of the 'The Secret of the Golden Flower.'
Mandala forms had fascinated Jung from the beginning of his career, and, indeed, Jung's discovery of the mandala provided the key to his entire system. The present volume contains two important papers on mandala symbolism, with many illustrations. [via]