Jung the Mystic
This article is a follow-up to an earlier one on Jung and Synchronicity. I wrote that because three other Medium writers were saying that there is nothing transcendent or metaphysical about Jung’s understanding of the collective unconscious, and therefore the archetypes it contains, that these can be understood exclusively through human evolution, biology, and instincts. I wanted to argue that Jung’s thinking on those topics is primarily metaphysical.
That was intended to be the first in a series, depending on the response of those three writers. James Cussen has responded, agreeing that I have successfully made the case for the metaphysical viewpoint. Four weeks later I haven’t received any response from Zachary Burres or Sender Spike, so I’m assuming that they don’t wish to argue further. There may therefore be no need to continue that series.
I am keen, however, to dispel any suggestion that Jung can be reduced to a mere psychologist or scientist, focussing on human evolution without any metaphysical dimension. Replying to James Cussen reminded me of a book I read some time ago Jung the Mystic by Gary Lachman, the subtitle of which is The Esoteric Dimensions of Carl Jung’s Life and Teachings¹. Here are some excerpts from the jacket notes:
“Although he is often called the ‘founding father of the New Age’, Carl Jung… often took pains to avoid any explicit association with mysticism or the occult. Yet Jung lived a life rich in paranormal experiences — arguing for the existence of poltergeists in a debate with Sigmund Freud, participating in séances, incorporating astrology into his therapeutic work, reporting a near-death experience, and collaborating with the pioneering ESP researcher J. B. Rhine. It is these key experiences — often fleetingly referenced in other biographies or critical studies, and just as frequently used to make a case against Jung and his philosophies — that form the core of this exciting new biography…
Lachman assesses Jung’s life and work from the viewpoint of Western esoteric tradition and helpfully places Jung in the context of other major esoteric thinkers such as Rudolf Steiner, G. I. Gurdjieff, and Emanuel Swedenborg.
Lachman shows how Jung… embodied the Western mystical path. Through his ideas, Jung inspired other intellects, scientists, and philosophers to embrace mythical and spiritual inquiry, thus laying the groundwork for the revival of mysticism in the modern West… (He) examines the central role that mystical ideas, practices, and experiences played in the career of one of the greatest thinkers of the modern era”.
Also interesting is a recent book Decoding Jung’s Metaphysics by Bernardo Kastrup², who believes that Jung was “a metaphysical idealist in the tradition of German Idealism”. Here are some relevant quotes:
- “For Jung the unconscious was an active, creative matrix with a psychic life, will and language of its own, often at odds with our conscious dispositions. It is this aspect of his thinking that led Jung down avenues of empirical investigation and speculation rich with metaphysical significance” (p6, his italics).
- “The conclusions of his lifelong studies point to the continuation of psychic life beyond bodily death, a much more intimate and direct relationship between matter and psyche than most would dare imagine today, and a living universe pregnant with symbolic meaning. For him life is, quite literally, a kind of dream, and interpretable as such” (p7).
- “Much of what Jung had to say about the psyche has unavoidable and rather remarkable philosophical implications, not only concerning the mind-body problem, but also the very nature of reality itself. Moreover, when he was being less guarded — which was often — Jung made overt philosophical statements” (p7).
In his response, referring to the dual evolutionary and metaphysical aspects of the collective unconscious, Cussen said: “Now there is the work of the integration of the two perspectives. Why does he suggest that it’s just an evolutionary aspect of the mind in some corners of his works and then as we see in his later more metaphysical works on alchemy and mythology that it tends the other way?”
Kastrup offers an answer to that question: “If (Jung) claims that the psyche is material, just to turn around and say that it is spiritual, he means that there is a sense in which the psyche is analogous to what we call ‘matter’ and another sense in which it is analogous to what we call ‘spirit’, each sense anchored in its own implicit reference point. It is these radical and sudden flips of perspective — confusing and aggravating for an analytic disposition as they are — that help Jung delineate and express his views in a way that appeals to more than just reason” (p10).
I hope you have enjoyed this article. I have written in the past about other topics, including spirituality, metaphysics, psychology, science, Christianity, politics and astrology. All of those articles are on Medium, but the simplest way to see a guide to them is to visit my website (click here and here). My most recent articles are only on Medium; for those please check out my profile.
- Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, 2010
- iff Books, 2021