Jung and the Occult

C. G. Jung. Psychology and the Occult. Routledge, 2008.
A welcome reissue of Jung’s papers on spiritualism and ghost stories, from his earlier, rather sceptical clinical pieces to his much more believing later work. The earlier pieces are actually the ones which seem to have stood the test of time rather better, because they are not entangled with his later speculations about the collective unconscious and his forays into Gnosticism.

His earliest piece ‘On the psychology and pathology of so called occult phenomena’ dating from 1902 deals mainly with his investigation of a teenage medium, who (though it is not disclosed in his text) was some sort of cousin. Much of the discussion is in terms of somnambulism, hysteria and the like, and deals with concepts and “symptoms” which are rarely seen in psychiatric literature these days. Miss X came from a family with a range of odd behaviours and experiences, Jung’s use of terms like “bad antecedents” warns us that this was the age which would sport eugenics and much much worse.

Magonia readers may like to draw the parallels with modern stories of cross-generational abductees and the like. The parallels are even more marked, when we find that she, like the notorious Helene Smith  (You can read the text of From India to the Planet Mars HERE) had journeys to Mars and encounters with star people. These star people and Martians are like greys: “they have no godlike souls as men have, they pursue no science, no philosophy, but in the technical arts they are far more advanced than we are. Normally they are nothing like humans, but if they approach too close to the earth, and must take on human bodies ... as human beings they are cold, hard hearted and cruel” (like her mother - PR). She can recognise them by their peculiar expression that lacks the spiritual, and by “their hairless, eyebrowless, sharply cut faces”. Napoleon was a typical star dweller.

So there you are, quite a sizeable chunk of the modern abduction mythos is already present in the mind of an attention seeking 15 year old schoolgirl in about 1899. One can’t help notice the influence of War of the Worlds written in 1898, and contemporary stories of Martians and Martian canals.

The second piece ‘On spiritualistic phenomena’ is a generally agnostic discussion, showing Jung already appreciated the problems of eyewitness testimony and ‘trained witnesses’: “All human beings are bad observers of things that are unfamiliar to them. [The physicist William] Crookes is a human being ... Take a sensitive observer away from his microscope and turn his attention to wind and weather and he his more helpless than any hunter of pheasant. If we plump a good physicist down in deceptive, magical darkness of a spiritualist séance, with hysterical mediums plying their trade with all the incredible refinement, many of them have at their command, his observation will be no more acute than a layman’s”.

Jung later became much less sceptical of séance room phenomena and parapsychology in general, even endorsing, for a time at least, the spiritualistic writings of Stewart White  though Jung tended still to hedge his bets. -- Peter Rogerson.

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