February 5, 2002
“Not another Phlit!? First he apologizes for the long silence, then he buries me. This has gone on long enough. I never realized how boring an e-newsletter could be. I better unsub. I never read these things, but even so, it’s a pain to receive them, it takes time to download them and delete them. Message. New. Unsub, please. Thanks in advance, a former subscriber.”
Recently, a used bookstore opened in Providence, and I stopped in to have a look. While my daughter eyed the plate of Christmas cookies, I browsed in the Jung section. They had various volumes from Jung’s Collected Works, which were translated by R.F.C. Hull and published by Princeton University Press in 19 volumes. They also had some smaller Jung volumes, also published by Princeton, such as a book called Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle, and a book called Psychology and the East. These books struck me as an interesting alternative to the bulky Collected Works; I thought they would be suitable for our book group. I finally left the store, but not before my daughter had swiped two cookies.
When I got home, I went on the Internet, and browsed through a library catalog. I didn’t find the books I’d seen in the store, but I did find a video called Jung on Film — an interview with Jung, done in 1957 by an American named Richard Evans. Here was a rare chance to see one of my icons on tv. When I borrowed the video, however, I found that the poor sound quality, combined with Jung’s heavy accent, made it barely audible. So I borrowed a book from the library called C.G. Jung Speaking: Interviews and Encounters; this book contains a transcript of the Richard Evans interview. I was immediately captivated by C.G. Jung Speaking. Though I had read it many years ago, I had forgotten how charming and readable it was. It’s a blend of ideas and anecdotes, a record of dozens of “interviews and encounters” with Jung. It reminded me of Gilman’s Conversations with Nietzsche, and Ruitenbeek’s Freud As We Knew Him.
C.G. Jung Speaking begins with a charming memoir by one of Jung’s childhood friends. We learn that Jung’s maternal grandfather was “a visionary who often experienced entire dramatic scenes complete with ghost conversations.”1 Thus, Jung’s interest in, and capacity for, psychic phenomena seems to have been a legacy from his ancestors. As a college student, Jung enjoyed drinking and carousing, and his classmates dubbed him “The Barrel.” He also gave talks at the Zofingia student club, talks which have since been published as “Zofingia Lectures.” At the student club, Jung succeeded in “intellectually dominating an unruly chorus of fifty or sixty students from different branches of learning, and luring them into highly speculative areas of thought.... He had courageously schooled himself, intensively studying occult literature [and] conducting parapsychological experiments.”2
Jung believed that the human spirit is connected to the external world, has some sort of rapport with the world around us. The human spirit evolved from the physical universe, so how can it be completely separate from the universe? The connection between mind and matter, between man and nature, between the inner world and the outer world, is what underlies astrology, which seeks to set forth the connections between man and the stars. Jung had as much respect for astrology as he had for alchemy; both astrology and alchemy were ancient teachings, despised by modern rationalism.
Talking with Miguel Serrano, a Chilean writer, Jung said, “there is a definite connection between the individual psyche and the world. When I find it difficult for me to classify a patient, I always send him off to have a horoscope made.”3 Jung noted that, when Christ was born, Saturn and Jupiter were so close that they appeared to be one star, a star of unusual brightness, which attracted the wise men of the East, the Magi, the star-gazers from Babylon, who believed that this extraordinary constellation portended an extraordinary birth.4 Christ is a symbol of the self, he unites good and evil, he was born at the conjunction of the maleficent god Saturn and the beneficent god Jupiter. When Christ was born, “Mars was in opposition, which means, astrologically, that the planet correlated with the instincts stood in hostile relationship to it, which is peculiarly characteristic of Christianity.”5
Christ is symbolized by a fish, and his birth coincides with the beginning of the age of Pisces, the Fishes. “Being the twelfth sign of the Zodiac, Pisces denotes the end of the astrological year and also a new beginning. This characteristic coincides with the claim of Christianity to be the beginning and end of all things.”6 During the last two thousand years, we’ve moved through the constellation of Pisces. In 1948, Jung was cautiously optimistic about the future of civilization, partly for astrological reasons; he noted that “the line of the ecliptic, at present traversing the second fish of the sign of Pisces, the fish of the Anti-Christ, does not pass through its head but below. This would mean that according to the stars, the sinister forces do not reach their maximum, do not quite ‘come to a head.’”7
Nostradamus, who lived in the 1500s, used astrology to predict the future; Jung believed that Nostradamus predicted the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror, as well as other events. “The course of our religious history,” wrote Jung, “as well as an essential part of our psychic development could have been predicted more or less accurately, both as regards time and content, from the precession of the equinoxes through the constellation of Pisces.”8 Now we have reached another turning point: “We are passing out of the period of the Fishes just now and into the sign of Aquarius, which may well bring some new values with it. Some people... consider that this may be of great significance in the world’s imminent development.”9
By now, you may be wondering whether I myself believe in astrology. I neither believe nor disbelieve, I reserve judgment, I find it highly interesting, and I suspect that there’s “something to it.” Like psychic phenomena, astrology is probably a mixture of crude superstition and deep truth. If it convinces a thinker of the stature of Jung, there’s probably “something to it.” On the other hand, I’m skeptical of the astrologers on my street, and in my newspaper, so I haven’t studied my own horoscope, or urged others to study theirs.
Jung didn’t divide the world between soul and body, spirit and matter. Jung wasn’t a dualist (as Plato, Descartes and other philosophers were), Jung was a monist. He believed that the world is one and indivisible, that man is connected to the external world. In this respect, Jung is close to Eastern thought, close to Zen.
The Chinese have long believed in a connection between events that occur at the same time, but are seemingly unrelated — for example, an earthquake and the death of an emperor. (Doubtless many Chinese noted that in the year of Mao’s death, 1976, a major earthquake occurred in China, in which over 240,000 people died.) This ancient Chinese belief is what Jung called synchronicity, “an acausal connecting principle.” Jung believed that everything that happens at a given moment is related — including what happens among the stars, hence synchronicity and astrology are related.
One of Jung’s disciples, Marie-Louise von Franz, wrote, “As soon as we notice that certain types of event ‘like’ to cluster together at certain times, we begin to understand the attitude of the Chinese, whose theories of medicine, philosophy, and even building are based on a ‘science’ of meaningful coincidences. The classical Chinese texts did not ask what causes what, but rather what ‘likes’ to occur with what. One can see much the same underlying theme in astrology, and in the way various civilizations have depended on consulting oracles and paying attention to omens. All of these are attempts to provide an explanation of coincidence that is different from one that depends on straightforward cause and effect.”10 (The idea of “meaningful coincidence,” or synchronicity, is probably discussed in Joseph Needham’s Science and Civilization in China, a major work in the field of Chinese intellectual history.)
Jung once asked Freud what he thought about psychic phenomena. Freud dismissed the whole subject as sheer nonsense. Jung wanted to respond with some sharp words, but restrained himself. He said that his throat felt like red-hot iron, and then a nearby bookcase emitted a loud, cracking noise. Jung and Freud jumped, fearing the bookcase might crash to the ground. ‘See that?!’ said Jung (who believed that such things didn’t happen just by chance), ‘that’s an example of a so-called catalytic exteriorization phenomenon.’ When Freud looked dubious, Jung predicted a second loud noise, and sure enough, the bookcase emitted a second noise. Freud stared at Jung, aghast.11 This incident foreshadows the later rupture between Jung and Freud. It also illustrates Jung’s belief in a connection between man and the world, between psyche and matter.
Similar incidents occurred when Jung was still a student. One evening, when he was at home with his mother and sister, he heard a loud noise, and found that a walnut table had cracked, for no apparent reason. Two weeks later, when he happened to be out, his mother and sister heard another loud noise, but couldn’t find the cause. When Jung came home, he found that a steel knife had cracked into pieces. (He kept the pieces for the rest of his life.) Jung later learned that a medium was working in the neighborhood, and he conjectured that the events at home were related to the work of the medium. For two years, he observed the medium, and took notes on what he saw. Eventually, the medium’s powers ebbed, and she started to cheat.12 Here again, we see that blend of fact and fraud that one often finds in the field of psychic phenomena.
|1.|| C.G. Jung Speaking: Interviews and Encounters, Princeton University Press, 1977, p. 6 back|
|2.|| ibid, p. 8 back|
|3.|| ibid, p. 462 back|
|4.|| ibid, p. 160; see also Jung’s Aion (Collected Works, volume 9, part 2), ¶146 back|
|5.|| Aion, ¶130 back|
|6.|| ibid, ¶177 back|
|7.|| C.G. Jung Speaking, p. 174 back|
|8.|| Aion, ¶150. Even if we assume that a deep knowledge of astrology allows us to predict the future, that doesn’t mean that astrology is the only means, the best means, or the most common means, of foreknowledge. Nostradamus’ ability to predict the future may have been due to contact with the unconscious, as well as knowledge of astrology. Nietzsche and others were able to predict the future without knowing astrology. back|
|9.|| C.G. Jung Speaking, p. 444 back|
|10.|| see Jung’s Man and His Symbols, Anchor Books/Doubleday, 1964, hardcover version, Part 3, p. 211 back|
|11.|| see Joseph Campbell’s introduction to The Portable Jung, Penguin Books/The Viking Press, 1971 back|