Because my academic credentials (and my wife’s) include a wee bit of Jungian depth psychology, I occasionally get asked the question, “What book do you start with if you’re new to C.G. Jung?”
It’s a fair enough question, one that I was asking at the beginning of my graduate studies.
Now, there’s an easy answer to this question, but it’s not the one I’m going with…
Erinnerungen, Träume, Gedanken…
Or, as the English speaking world calls it:
Memories, Dreams, Reflections, known affectionately by Jungians as MDR.
Now, MDR has a lot to say, especially about Jung, as it is semi-autobiographical. If you really want to explore Jung on Jung, it’s a great starting place, bar perhaps his artistic-psychological grimoire/magnum opus, The Red Book.
Still, I think there’s a work that captures Jung better than either MDR or The Red Book, for the following reason:
This text expresses Jung’s disinterest in Truth, capital T intended. Objective, scientific realism; material reductionism; consensus reality; all of these were modernist and scientific keystones that were non-issues for Jung.
What matters, what’s Real for Jung, is what an individual perceives.
A skeptic might counter: Jung must mean what they believe they perceive.
Jung would reply: and the difference is?
To put it in slightly more pesky/academic terms, he held a phenomenological worldview where ontology (the nature of Being) and epistemology (the nature of Truth) were not meaningful independent realities, but were functions of each individual’s Psyche.
In other words, he would lowercase both “Being” and “Truth”; perception not only trumps reality, it is reality.
Or to put it simply, if you experienced it, then it’s Real enough.
Gods and Devils.
Angels and Demons.
Humans and Aliens…
Mythology was central to Jung’s thinking. He gave a lot of thought to Gods and Devils, to Angels and Demons.
Even Men and Monsters…
Therefore, it isn’t surprising that he eventually got around to Humans and Aliens.
So, back to the beginning of this piece, if someone asks me what I think the best introduction to Jung is, it isn’t MDR, or even the Alchemical/Mandala-centric The Red Book. Nope, I’ll go out on a cosmic limb here:
If you want to start with Jung, get a copy of Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Skies, trans. R.F.C. Hull.
Now, there are definitely many things that aren’t addressed headlong in this short book. You need to look elsewhere for detailed discussions of archetypes, synchronicities, animas and animuses (or animi and animae for the more pedantic). In other words, this isn’t a sweeping overview of Jung, but rather a slice, a snapshot of his response to events that were being reported with greater frequency towards the end of his life.
Ancient Aliens, on the History Channel, is replete with medieval paintings that purportedly depict UFOs. Given Jung’s fascination with Western alchemy, it’s not surprising that he compiled his own list of UFO art from the middle ages, which he deals with in the fourth chapter of Flying Saucers, entitled Previous History of the UFO Phenomenon.
Jung provides us with four medieval images (while the third image is dated to the 19th century, it is thought to be a reproduction of a much older woodcut). The first two are interesting in that they represent recordings of witnessed events; they are neither allegorical nor fantasy images. The latter two, on the other hand, represent inspired art; metaphysical imagery that contain what Jung considered signs of UFO-like psychic-phenomenon.
Once again, Jung isn’t advocating for the existence of UFOs per se (not that he’s denying it, either, which is clear from the next chapter, titled UFOs Considered in a Non-Psychological Light). Jung’s interest lies in the psychological dimension of these experiences, “Real” or “Imagined”.
So let’s take a look at them:
Residents of Basel, Switzerland experienced something in the sky at dawn on August 7, 1566. The image above is a representation – here’s a description from the Basel gazette:
At the time when the sun rose, one saw many large black balls which moved at high speed in the air towards the sun, then made half-turns, banging one against the others as if they were fighting a battle out a combat, a great number of them became red and igneous, thereafter they were consumed and died out.
Jung connects this to another, very similar image: the Nuremberg Broadsheet.
Like the Basel broadsheet, this artifact is a news report, in this case recording the events in Nuremberg in the year 1561. Like the Basel event, this encounter happened in the early hours of the morning. However, unlike the Basel recording, individuals present at Nuremberg reported multiple religious objects in the forms of blood-red crosses.
Jung quotes excerpts from the broadsheet; here is a lengthier extract, written by the plate’s designer, Hanns Glaser:
In the morning of April 14, 1561, at daybreak, between 4 and 5 a.m., a dreadful apparition occurred on the sun, and then this was seen in Nuremberg in the city, before the gates and in the country – by many men and women. At first there appeared in the middle of the sun two blood-red semi-circular arcs, just like the moon in its last quarter. And in the sun, above and below and on both sides, the color was blood, there stood a round ball of partly dull, partly black ferrous color. Likewise there stood on both sides and as a torus about the sun such blood-red ones and other balls in large number, about three in a line and four in a square, also some alone. In between these globes there were visible a few blood-red crosses, between which there were blood-red strips, becoming thicker to the rear and in the front malleable like the rods of reed-grass, which were intermingled, among them two big rods, one on the right, the other to the left, and within the small and big rods there were three, also four and more globes. These all started to fight among themselves, so that the globes, which were first in the sun, flew out to the ones standing on both sides, thereafter, the globes standing outside the sun, in the small and large rods, flew into the sun. Besides the globes flew back and forth among themselves and fought vehemently with each other for over an hour. And when the conflict in and again out of the sun was most intense, they became fatigued to such an extent that they all, as said above, fell from the sun down upon the earth ‘as if they all burned’ and they then wasted away on the earth with immense smoke. After all this there was something like a black spear, very long and thick, sighted; the shaft pointed to the east, the point pointed west. Whatever such signs mean, God alone knows.
Unlike the Basel broadsheet, Jung goes to town “amplifying” the symbolism of the image (amplification is a Jungian technique for forming meaningful associations). I’ll leave out the details; intrepid psychonauts can hunt down the book for Jung’s interpretations. However, his conclusion on both of the broadsheet images is worth considering (pg. 97):
Both reports have clear analogies not only with one another but also with modern saucer stories and with individual products of the unconscious today.
The Spiritual Pilgrim Discovering Another World
Jung isn’t certain as to the origin of the woodcut deemed the The Spiritual Pilgrim Discovering Another World. He sees in it a Rosicrucian element, perhaps pointing to the Vision of Ezekiel, which has became a recurring meme among ancient astronaut researchers. In the end, Jung considers this more of a psychological vision than a UFO encounter, stating:
In these symbols we have a prototype of the UFO vision…They cannot be heavenly bodies belonging to our empirical world, but are projected “rotunda” from the inner, four -dimensional world.
The Quickening of the Child in the Womb
Hildegard of Bengin was a devout Benedictine abbess who received multiple visions which she perceived as being divine in origin. She was also a gifted composer, one of the most prolific of the 12th century.
In her forties, she felt compelled by God to record her visions, visions she had privately guarded to all but her inner circle. This compulsion led to the illuminated manuscript called the Scivias, Latin for “Know the Ways (of the Lord)”. Over six hundred modern pages long, with 35 images overseen by Hildegard, it is an exceptional piece of religious art (Hildegard followed it up with two more books of visions).
So, did Hildegard dream of little green men?
Well, Jung thinks she did.
Just like Ezekiel; for Jung, UFOs represent something latent in the human subconscious, which Jung conceived as being universal.
In other words, any of us might find ourselves being visited by psychic forces that we deem divine – or alien.
For Jung, these patterns have an existence of their own. He called them Archetypes, and they are the denizens of the Collective Unconscious, the Ur-DreamTime that every human being is exposed to, even though most of us remain unaware of it.
The Archetypes express themselves, be it through dreams, visions or art.
And so, despite the Hildegard’s obvious piety – there’s no hint of “alien” contact in her theology – Jung finds UFOs a plenty – most evidently in the image of the The Quickening of the Child in the Womb.
While acknowledging that the square in the heavens that is tethered to the unborn child represents the Christian Trinity, he still see’s the Archetypal imprint of the UFO phenomenon stamped on the image.
In fact, this is where he digs his teeth in, spending more time on this image than the other three combined, all on a work which is by definition religious.
In fact, as far as Jung is concerned, it proves his point: UFOs are part of our mental makeup, as surely as angels and demons, and always have been. In an increasingly secular world, it makes sense that these archetypal forces would don new clothes.
To put it another way, the Gods of old flew through the heavens on Chariots.
By the middle of the twentieth century, They had upgraded to Starships.
So, did Jung think the whole UFO thing was just in people’s heads?
Well, yes, but then again, he thought every thing was just in people’s heads, and the fact they even existed in the collective unconscious made them important.
Still, Jung hedges his bets: he certainly wouldn’t have been surprised if UFOs were shown to have physical reality.
However, for Jung, that wouldn’t change his line of inquiry:
To Be, or Not To Be, that is NOT The Question.
To Dream or Not To Dream, now THAT’s The Question.