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Friday, August 8th, 2008, 07:14 PM
Carl Jung and the Philosophy of the Occult

"All the works of man have their origin in creative fantasy. What right have we then to depreciate imagination."

Most of us are aware that the influential icon of Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961), an early disciple of Sigmund Freud, was the founder of modern day analytical psychology. However, sometimes overlooked are Jung’s associations with what we might deem the “occult” and “paranormal”, placing him side by side such popularized purveyors of mysticism as Aleister Crowley, Helena Blavatsky, and Edgar Cayce.

While many of his contemporaries might have seen this as Jung’s finally “going off the deep end”, he was still widely regarded as one of the utmost intellectualists of his day, and his legitimacy in scientific fields greatly helped in bringing much needed validity and seriousness to certain areas of parapsychology and psychic phenomena.

Jung himself was the only son of a Swiss Reformed Church evangelical minister, who was obsessed by religion from early childhood. He reportedly would often fantasize that God required him to think repulsive thoughts as a condition for the bestowal of grace. Jung believed that the origin point for his own intellectual life stemmed from a dream he had at the age of three in which he descended into the ground and witnessed a giant phallic object sitting on a golden throne. In the dream his mother told him, “That’s the man-eater”, and he awoke in the youthful terror of a cold sweat. Jung, who is noted as often playing in churches and cemeteries, came to associate this enthroned phallus as the figure of Jesus Christ, whom he heard invoked each time new bodies were put into the ground. Both elements of this reoccurring dream were aspects of the dark and primordial forces of creation that he pursued for the rest of his life.

A very private and introverted child, Jung was convinced early on that he had two distinct personalities — that of a modern Swiss citizen and another personality which felt more at place in the eighteenth century. "Personality No. 1" was a typical schoolboy living in the era of his time, while No. 2 was a distinguished, respected and influential man from 100 years in the past. Surely upon years of reflection, with the study of esoteric philosophies -Hinduism and world religions- Jung must have considered whether or not these “multiple personalities” as he termed it, was actually glimpses of a previous life from the extended cycle of reincarnation. As with the majority of people, a number of childhood memories made a life-long impression on him, though unlike most of us, he went on to use these early inspirational perspectives in order to establish himself as one of the most highly regarded thinkers of the 20th Century. Another incident which occurred while still boy involved him engraving a tiny “mannequin” into the end of the wooden ruler from his pencil case and placing it back inside. Afterward he added a stone which he painted with two different colors into upper and lower halves and then hid the case in the attic, in essence as his own private confessional booth. Frequently he visited with the wooden man he had created, often bringing tiny notes with messages inscribed on them in his own secret language. He always associated this act with having a calming effect on his young life, and later realized that this ceremonial procedure was not so different from the bizarre totems erected by native tribes all around the world. This innocent element of ritual practice, which he did not know or understand at the time of creating his little wooden friend, would later help open up his mind to the territories of psychological archetypes and collective unconsciousness.

Jung first became primarily interested in psychiatry from an outgrowth of his fascination with religion, mythology, spiritualism and the nature of the soul. He described psychiatry as “a place where the collision of nature and spirit became a reality”. In 1906 he finally met Freud, with whom he struck up a friendship, and was soon heralded the “crown prince of the psychoanalytic movement”. But even early on there were major differences between the two intellectual behemoths which could not be rectified. Freud’s approach to the unconscious mind was strictly non-spiritualist, while Jung believed that Freud was placing far too much emphasis on human sexuality. For Jung, the satisfaction a child took at the mother’s breast was only the normal fulfillment gained from eating and nurturing, which Freud was confusing with a uniquely adult type of sexual instinct. Whereas Freud thought the incestuous oedipal complex – the childhood fantasy of murdering the father and possessing the mother - was a literal (if unconscious) wish to penetrate the mother, Jung saw it as a desire for spiritual rebirth as one returned to the source of his personal creation. Jung became increasingly critical of the all encompassing sexual basis of Freud’s theories, and began to intently study the “esoteric” practices of astrology and parapsychology, always careful to preserve his professional relationship with Freud by continuing to use the proper psychoanalytical terminology when addressing these new areas of investigation. In 1911 he was elected the first president of the International Psychoanalytic Society, while in 1912 he published ‘The Psychology of the Unconscious’ based on his independent research. By 1913, Freud was referring to “that brutal and sanctimonious Jung”, applying a classical Oedipal analysis to their relationship where the jealous Jung wished to kill “his father” Freud, and possess psychoanalysis (“the beautiful mother”) for himself.

After the split with his mentor, Jung became more captivated with the relationship between psychotic fantasies and ancient myths, further developing his theory of the collective unconscious. This theory states that there are universally residual memories (archetypes) which remain buried not just in the individual mind and distinctive human experience, but also in the minds of the whole of humanity as well, stretching back to before the dawn of civilization. Jung saw these archetypes as being representative self-portraits of baser common human instincts; taking the form of totems, symbolism, geometrical shapes and patterns, as well as specific events in history. He believed that the psyche, entwined with spiritual development, strives towards wholeness and equilibrium: to transform into a complete awareness of self. This self is composed of the conscious and the unconscious minds, not so unlike the Taoist Yin and Yang paradigm of which Jung had become exceedingly familiar with. Through dreams, images of pathological disease, the unconscious seeks to compensate for the attitudes of the conscious, to create the proper balance for a healthy life. Jung postulated four separate archetypal figures operating in pairs, one conscious and one unconscious, compensating for the conscious. The ego driven mind, in the sense of purpose and identity, is balanced by a primitive, animal-like shadow. The unique persona, the mask a person presents to society and his peers, is counter-balanced by the soul image. He believed that a man’s soul image is distinctly female (the anima); while a woman’s is male (the animus). The soul image, although an archetype, can be modified by actual experiences, in particular events in youth and parental upbringing, but is seen as a continuous process of self-realization and betterment.

Although Jung had made no racially charged comments to date, and had many Jewish colleagues whom he regarded in high esteem, during WWII there were allegations that he was a Nazi sympathizer. This was likely due to the fact that among his other illustrious accomplishments, Jung was also the editor of the ‘Zentralblatt für Psychotherapie’, a publication that ultimately endorse Hitler’s ‘Mein Kampf’ as required reading for all practitioners of psychoanalysis. Jung defended the endorsement stating that it was done in order to preserve the study of psychoanalysis during the war, believing that practice could not survive unless the Nazi’s were appeased, as it was considered to be a “Jewish science”. It was his claim that many of his Jewish friends and colleagues also agreed to this temporary appeasement of Hitler in order to maintain the framework for psychiatry in the occupied territories. While the element of Nazi sympathy has been hotly contested over the decades since his death, Jung bravely fought for the rights of Jewish doctors in Germany during the war, and later voiced his opinions that Hitler’s “crazy passion was becoming dangerous”. In 1943 he even aided the U.S. Office of Strategic Services by analyzing the psychology of the Nazi party and its leaders.

Separating himself from the atrocious nonsense of the war in order to get back to his main passion, according to Jung, empirical science had numbed the part of the imagination which dealt in the world of myth, with the result being that Western society could no longer relate to our ancestors nor tune ourselves to the mysterious dimensions of allegory and metaphor which surrounded us at all times. In the latter part of his life, the scope of his research became more wide reaching, encompassing, among other areas, the significance of dreams, drawings, philosophy, mythology, alchemy, astrology, sociology, music, literature, and the symbolism of religions and myths. Jung became immersed in the study of medieval alchemy in order to provide a model for his own psychological theories, publishing ‘Psychology and Alchemy’ in 1944. His work is credited with directly leading to a revival of interest in this area of occult knowledge. He often emphasized the importance of the alchemist’s quest for the “philosopher’s stone”, which could transmute base metals into gold; a metaphor for the spiritual transformation of the self. In alchemy, the philosopher’s stone resulted from the androgynous union of divine opposites (dark and light), and for Jung, like a cocoon and butterfly, was a symbol for the metamorphosis of higher self. Psychiatric analysis was a form of alchemy, he claimed, and each of the alchemist’s ingredients had a psychological equivalent. In this regard, iron was courageous and passionate, while tin was truthful and lofty. The element of Mercury, seen as the toxic, deceptive, transformative element which made the union of opposites possible, was by Jung’s definition, representative of the collective unconscious.

Though addressing age old traditions and conditions of the psyche, Jung was largely credited as a trailblazing figurehead of “the new” approach to science and metaphysics. As this article is meant to display the connections of Jung the psychoanalyst to that of Jung the occultist (perhaps a direct offshoot of the 2 distinct personalities he claimed from his youth), we must address his coining of the term “synchronicity” in order to explain the otherwise unexplainable (and sometimes baffling) process of heightened awareness to coincidental events in a person’s life. After years of careful and astonishing note-keeping beginning on April, 1st, 1949, Jung gave a lecture at the 1951 Eranos conference in Ascona, Switzerland, explaining various examples of what he considered to be the phenomenon of classical synchronicity. He presented this as evidence that psychic ability, which occurred both in dream states and the waking world, not only influence but are influenced by the collective unconscious on concurrent planes of symbolic and physical manifestation, often superseding our fixed notions of time, space, and the likelihood of statistical probability. His respected work on the controversial area of synchronicity is arguably the most important supplement that legitimate parapsychology has ever received. While Jung is primarily known for his theories on the nature of the unconscious mind, he maintained a wide reaching fascination with the paranormal in his later years which can perhaps best be summed up in his book ’Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Skies’ written in the late 1950’s shortly before his death. As we might expect, Jung applies his keen analytical skills to the UFO phenomenon, and rather than assuming that the modern UFO sightings are literally due to beings from other worlds, Jung reserves judgment on their origin and instead associates UFOs with ancient archetypal imagery, concluding that our collective imagination has brought forth a "living myth."

Jung took the basics of classical psychology and figured out a way, in natural progression, to incorporate elements of ancient traditions such as alchemy and astrology, bringing exciting new terminology and definitions into the mix which has since captured the imagination of millions. His career ventured where most psychiatrist wouldn’t dare. While there are too many adherents of Jung’s work to name them all here, needless to say he is one of the most significant figures of the 20th century. Seventy years later, celebrating what would have been his 133rd birthday (July 26th), as we still struggle to interpret the concepts he brought forth, one can only wonder if the world is yet ready, or worthy, of the predecessor who’ll take these teachings to the next logical step of rationality and understanding. A man ahead of his time, in the Jungian understanding of the collective unconscious, the essence and desire for spiritual meaning will always remain.