Swans Commentary » swans.com March 25, 2013  



Carl Jung's Selective Consciousness
(Part I of II)


by Michael Barker



"Communistic or Socialistic democracy is an upheaval of the unfit against attempts at order."
Carl Gustav Jung, 1936. (1)


(Swans - March 25, 2013)   Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961) is a well-known figure, who following other aristocratic gurus much like Madame Blavatsky, demanded cult-like respect by writing what was effectively a bible for his Jungian movement. Titled The Red Book, this esoteric text held his followers in awe for decades, but unlike Blavatsky's own biblical tomes, Isis Unveiled and The Secret Doctrine, which provided a textual means of propagating her Theosophical nonsense, Jung's book has, until very recently, remained locked away to all but the most privileged initiates. However, in 2009 as a direct result of Richard Noll's substantiated attacks on the Jungian movement and the revelation that partial copies of Jung's secret doctrine existed, The Red Book was finally published for all to read -- a move that will no doubt provide yet another boost to the careers of Jungian analysts worldwide.

Yet for all of Jung's attempts to shroud his esoteric work beneath a faux cloak of science his influential ideas were not all that dissimilar to proudly occult practitioners. For example, take the obvious comparison between Jung's theorizing about the "collective unconscious" and Madame Blavatsky's rubbish about "floating reminiscences," which she said "unite the broken links of the chain of time to form with them the mysterious, dream foundation of our collective consciousness." (2) Therefore to illustrate the problematic nature of Jung's legacy this article will reflect upon his more forthright occult intellectual heritage. (3) Primarily this will be done by drawing upon Richard Noll's two scathing books, The Jung Cult: Origins of a Charismatic Movement (Princeton University Press, 1994), and his follow-up, The Aryan Christ: The Secret Life of Carl Jung (Random House, 1997). (4)

With Jung's contact with the collective unconscious stretching back in time for eons, an appropriate starting point for interrogating Jung's selective occult consciousness lies in his actual, not spiritual, family tree. One individual from this real intellectual heritage who definitely influenced Jung's mental development was his grandfather, Karl Gustav Jung, a man who after seeing his own spiritual light had renounced his Catholicism and become "an Evangelical Protestant in the Romantic and nationalist mode." Notably, the Pietist movement to which Karl had turned to in the early nineteenth century was led by Friedrich Schleiermacher, an individual for whom "the highest form of religion was an 'intuition' (Anschauung) of the 'Whole,' an immediate experience of every particular as part of a whole, of every finite thing as a representation of the infinite." (5) Ring any bells, conscious or otherwise?

Later, Karl Jung joined the Freemasons, and in time, became their "supreme leader in Switzerland." But while some Freemasons fostered the rational principles of the Enlightenment, the Masonic Rosicrucians, of which Karl was party to, dwelled upon the untraceable occult secrets of the mythological Rosicrucians. Carl Jung was certainly inspired by this aspect of his familial heritage, and delighted in taking his genetic pedigree one unproven step further by claiming that his grandfather was the bastard son of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: moreover, his delusions were exaggerated towards the end of his life when he came to believe he was Goethe reincarnated. Here it should be observed that although Jung's ideological hero had actually become disillusioned with his brief foray into Freemasonry, Goethe's "humanistic idealism and his earlier hopes for a true Holy Order of the Rose and the Cross that would unite humankind in spiritual brotherhood" did eventually become a feature of an uncompleted book called Die Geheimnisse (The mysteries). No matter if it was uncompleted, the manuscript still served a vital role, and: "Both Jungs, grandfather and grandson, committed it to their hearts." (6)

With respect to more material evidence of an esoteric tradition traceable through Jung's genes, "his mother was also a psychic, and a good one at that." This skill apparently ran in the family, being passed on from grandmother right through to his own daughter (Agathe). Jung, however, took such familial habits one step beyond and attempted to further consolidate his reputation as a spiritual seer by observing that in a past life he was the famous Christian mystic Meister Eckhardt. (7) This was truly a journey into the collective unconscious that only a true spiritual adept would have been able to pull off; with less ambitious, but equally popular, spiritual salesmen like Eckhart Tolle (formerly Ulrich Tolle) merely changing their name to pay homage to this past master of nonsense.

Given that the focus of this essay is not on Jung's life, but rather on examining some of the occult precedents of his ideas, one should note that according to Noll one of the "most informative biographical material[s] on Jung" can be found in Henri Ellenberger's The Discovery of the Unconscious (Basic Books, 1970). Either way, after parting ways with Freud in 1913 -- when Jung resigned from the chair of the International Psychoanalytical Association after spending six fruitful years collaborating with Freud -- Jung's spiritual interests came to the fore. Consequently, despite their long working relationship, Noll argues that rather than Freud playing the most influential role in Jung's intellectual development, three other lesser known individuals are better placed for such an honour; these being his polygamous friends Otto Gross, Sabina Spielrein, and Antonia ("Toni") Wolff. (8)

Otto Gross, an anarchist and fellow psychoanalyst succeeded where books failed and brought the counterculture directly to Jung's couch, and in 1908 while Gross was being treated by Jung, he spent hours regaling Jung with tales of his bohemian escapades amongst neopagans, Theosophists, and sun-worshippers. Wolff similarly brought esoteric knowledge to life for Jung, with her "religious visions," ability to read astrological charts, and fascination with Theosophy. (9) As Jung would well have recognized, such vacuous esotericism served his cause well; having the magical effect of appealing to the increasing numbers of spiritually bereft individuals who were desperately seeking a new vehicle for individual self-transformation. This was especially the case for those with more money (and time) than sense, and with others of more limited circumstances who were otherwise excluded from establishment organizations (a good example being women).

Building upon such experiences there is no doubt that the spiritualist movement, and its offshoot, the Theosophical Society, were both "influential in very different ways on the life and work of Jung." For instance, in 1911, the year after the Theosophical Publishing Society "began publishing an enormous number of books on astrology," Jung wrote to Freud, informing of his completion of his first study of astrology; and just five years later, Jung would observe that astrological books now outsold the best scientific works. (10) Many factors might help explain this occult trend, but as Noll suggests:

Part of the story of Theosophy's rapid spread throughout the fin-de-siecle world is due to the technological advances in printing that began to bear fruit by the 1880s, just at the time that the Theosophical Society came together as an active, purposeful organization. (p.67)

One Theosophist in particular who exerted an "enormous" influence on Jung was Madame Blavatsky's former secretary G.R.S. Mead -- with Jung's personal library including eighteen of Mead's occult studies, all published courtesy of the Theosophical Publishing Society. Jung thus succeeded where others had failed and repackaged Theosophical doctrines that had described initiates reaching into the ancestors directly through their imagination, by making their ideas "congruent with the psychiatric and scientific terminology of his day." (11)

Noll correctly points out: "Most of the patients who came to Jung after 1913 already had exposure to Theosophy, Anthroposophy, Swedenborgianism, spiritualism, or other nontraditional spiritual paths." So it was that:

The myriad publications of the Theosophical Society provided more than enough material to fill any personal unconscious with the sort of mythological material to fill any personal unconscious with the sort of mythological material that Jung and his associates claim was from a nonpersonal source. (12)

Theosophists had of course prided themselves on their unique synthesis of science and spirituality, and similarly, the volkisch mysticism that also influenced Jung found ready "scientific backing" in the ideas of Ernst Haeckel. Following from a belief in "scientific" monism, Haeckel made the case that sun worship was the "logical" religion of choice for the discontented. Reinvigorating the words of Goethe and Haeckel, Jung likewise set about undermining the authority of orthodox Christianity, which he did by reviving the solar deity Mithras from the dark depths of an ancient Hellenistic mystery cult: a forgotten cult whose very literary renaissance had been led by Franz Cumont and prolific occult publisher Eugen Diederich (a man who will be introduced later). Jung then drew heavily upon Cumont's scholarship to such an extent that "practically all" the "basic elements of Cumontian Mithraism -- which Jung refers to repeatedly throughout Wandlungen and, indeed, throughout his life -- can be found in a single chapter of Cumont's book on The Mysteries of Mithras entitled, 'The Mithraic Liturgy, Clergy and Devotees.'" Ironically, Jung's intuitive journeys into the Mithraic unconscious were based upon the work of a scholar whose work has now been almost entirely repudiated. (13)

As mentioned earlier, Jung's exposure to the charismatic sun-worshipping anarchist Otto Gross certainly impinged on the evolution of his bourgeois consciousness. And Gross's advocacy of Asconian nature philosophy, combined with his attachment to Johann Jakob Bachofen's problematic theory of matriarchal origins, seem to have seeped into Jung's very open and highly absorbent mind. Unfortunately, but not too surprisingly, Jung's ensuing regurgitation of Bachofen's questionable scholarship has to this day leant critical sustenance to feminist matriarchalists, especially within the diverse field of feminist spirituality. (14) Jung however clearly realized that to refer to Bachofen's work directly would be to commit intellectual suicide (in scientific circles anyway), and so he cited Bachofen's work "once in all twenty volumes of his Collected Works, and only in an essay written much later in his career." As Noll notes: "To use a modern analogy, Bachofen was the Erik von Daniken of his age." (15)

One should recognize that after 1916 many of Jung's professional colleagues had departed from Jung's more magical obsessions, turning away from the fin-de-siècle movements such as Lebensphilosophie, and embracing materialism instead. This explained Jung's ongoing need to cloak his work in at least a thin patina of rationalism. In this way he would occasionally (in his ostensibly scientific writings anyway) attempt to "distance himself from explicit support of vitalism" despite the fact that "vitalistic metaphors and ideas remained a significant part of his work." (16)


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1.  Carl Jung, "Psychology of dictatorship: an interview with Dr. C.G. Jung," Living Age, December 1936, p.341. Jung adds: "The dictatorships of Germany, Russia, and Italy may not be the best form of government, but they are the only possible form of government at the moment." He concludes: "A decent oligarchy -- call it aristocracy if you like -- is the most ideal form of government." (p.341)  (back)

2.  For a related discussion of this phenomenon, see Gerhard Wehr, Jung and Steiner: The Birth of A New Psychology (Anthroposophic Press, 2002).  (back)

3.  Leading Jung scholar and publisher of The Red Book, Sonu Shamdasani, published a short book critiquing Noll as Cult Fictions: C. G. Jung and the Founding of Analytical Psychology (Routledge, 1998). Although Noll, perhaps correctly, has not responded in print to Cult Fictions, it is worth recognizing that in a later highly public attempt by Shamdasani to police Jungian scholarship, his target Deirdre Bair (author of Jung: A Biography) penned an open letter addressing his misrepresentations of her work. Shamdasani's criticisms of Bair were included in his book Jung Stripped Bare (Karnac Books, 2004): unfortunately this controversy led Jungian disciples to interfere with the publication of the German-language edition of Bair's biography, a serious intrusion which forced her to write a new foreword for that edition.  (back)

4.  For an excellent overview of The Jung Cult see Janet Biehl, "Jungian Mysteries," Left Green Perspectives, No.35, 1996. For an alternative summary of Noll's book, authored by a Unitarian-Universalist professor of philosophy, see Jan Garrett "The Enigmatic Origins of the Jung Cult(?)" (1999). Garrett however failed to acknowledge Noll's criticism of Jung's uncritical adoption of Bachofen's myth of matricatchal prehistory, as in a separate essay published by Garrett in 2010 ("The Chalice and the Blade: A Discussion of the Ideas of Riane Eisler") Garrett provides a celebration of the work of Riane Eisler. For more on the sizable shortcomings of Eisler, see Janet Biehl, Rethinking Ecofeminist Politics (South End Press, 1991), especially Chapter 2 "The Neolithic Mystique."  (back)

5.  Noll, The Aryan Christ, p.9. Kopel Pinson, Pietism as a Factor in the Rise of German Nationalism (Columbia University Press, 1934); Liah Greenfeld, Nationalism: Five Roads to Modernity (Harvard University Press, 1993), pp.314-22.  (back)

6.  Noll, The Aryan Christ, p.13, p.14, p.18, pp.16-7. Noll writes that the "best work on Rosicrucianism" (p.289) is Frances Yates, The Rosicrucian Enlightenment (Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1972).  (back)

7.  Noll, The Aryan Christ, p.21, p.25, p.25.  (back)

8.  Noll, The Jung Cult, p.19; Noll, The Aryan Christ, p.70. For more on Gross, see Jennifer Michaels, Anarchy and Eros: Otto Gross' Impact on German Expressionist Writers (Peter Lang, 1983); Martin Burgess Green, Mountain of Truth: The Counterculture Begins -- Ascona, 1900-1920 (University Press of New England, 1986).  (back)

9.  Noll, The Aryan Christ, p.84, p.94. Sabina Spielrein, another of Jung's patients -- whom he first treated in 1904 -- provided him with his "'first success' as a psychoanalyst" and during their affair she dreamt of having a Jewish-Aryan child with Jung. (p.89).  (back)

10.  Noll, The Jung Cult, p.59, p.68.  (back)

11.  Noll, The Jung Cult, p.69, p.179. "Jung's post-Freudian work (after 1912), especially his theories of the collective unconscious and the archetypes, could not have been constructed without the works of Mead on Gnosticism, Hermeticism, and the Mithraic Liturgy. ... Near the end of his life Mead made several trip to Kusnacht-Zurich to visit with Jung. However, documents concerning the nature of their personal relationship have not yet come to light." (p.69)

"Because of Jung's obvious adoption of spiritualistic methods and his insistence that his patients could contact the 'gods' or the 'dead' directly in their visions, it must be emphasized that from 1916 onwards, in practice, Jung probably had far more in common with figures such as Blavatsky, List, and Steiner than he did with Freud, Adler, or even Gross." (p.230)  (back)

12.  Noll, The Aryan Christ, p.270.  (back)

13.  Noll, The Jung Cult, p.90, p.91, p.123, p.124. See Luther Martin, Hellenistic Religions: An Introduction (Oxford University Press, 1987). For more on Ernst Haeckel, see Daniel Gasman, The Scientific Origins of National Socialism (Transaction Publishers, 2004).  (back)

14.  Noll, The Jung Cult, p.161. Noll notes that Bachofen's matriarchal origins thesis has been cogently challenged from a sociobiological perspective in Helen Fisher, Anatomy of Love: A Natural History of Mating, Marriage, and Why We Stray (Quill, 1993), pp.281-4. For more recent additions to this literature see Cynthia Eller's excellent The Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory: Why an Invented Past Will Not Give Women a Future (Beacon Press, 2001), and her most recent book Gentlemen and Amazons: The Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory, 1861-1900 (University of California Press, 2011). Eller writes in the latter book that:

"Unlike nineteenth-century anthropologists, however, feminist matriachalists are influenced by Bachofen, having adopted many of his assumptions into their own reasoning. How was such a miracle accomplished? The feminist partnership with Bachofen is thanks primarily to the offices of Carl Jung, whose work is read -- and much admired -- in the most powerful branch of contemporary matriarchal theory: feminist spirituality. If there is anyone who has come close to taking on Bachofen's entire program, complete with its tensions, contradictions, philosophical orientation, and political agenda, it is Jung and his followers." (p.63)  (back)

15.  Noll, The Jung Cult, p.164. Jung apparently "dare not cite" Bachofen's works. "However, beginning with the chapter entitled 'The Unconscious Origin of the Hero' in part 2 of Wandlungen, it is Bachofen's theory of human development that Jung uses as his basis for identifying the strata of transformations of the libido that he has excavated in his study of the phylogenetic unconscious. Indeed, this chapter in particular is pure Bachofen and sets the stage for Jung's discussion of hero myths and their relation to the mother complex in the remainder of the book." (p.169)  (back)

16.  Noll, The Jung Cult, p.24.  (back)


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Published March 25, 2013