C.G. Jung and the Rhythm of the Heat

The high regard C.G. Jung’s contributions to psychotherapy once enjoyed have fared little better than those of his mentor and future nemesis, Sigmund Freud; many of their ideas on the nature of mind have not withstood psychology’s shift from grand philosophical theorizing to gathering hard, empirical, clinical data.

Yes, for the Skeptic, Freud and Jung are pseudo-science at best – in the case of Jung, however, the charges run deeper: Jung’s zeitgeist bordered on the Occult.

What skeptics deride as woo-woo.

In fact, Freud’s break with Jung was over the latter’s overt interest in the paranormal. Freud wanted Jung to swear allegiance to his psycho-sexual theory, lest psychotherapy be overtaken by “the black tide of mud of occultism’.

Which was the very thing Jung was exploring…

He advocated Spiritual Alchemy as a practical guide to self-discovery, a process which he referred to as Individuation.

Jung attended seances, and even mentioned ghostly Ectoplasm in his book on UFOs…

Yes, his book on UFOs.

Aleister Crowley, the self-styled Great Beast (To Mega Therion, 666), dubbed by the press as the Most Wicked Man in the World, actually had a relatively kind – by Crowley’s standards -assessment of Jung: “However, we should study Jung. His final conclusions are in the main correct, even if his rough work is a bit sketchy”.

One Hell of an endorsement…

[note: the quote above is from a Crowley pamphlet entitled An Improvement on Psycho Analysis – the Psychology of the Unconscious for Dinner-Table Consumption, which first appeared in Vanity Fair (1916) – the full pdf can be viewed by clicking here:  Crowley_Jung_VanityFair].

And then there’s this…it’s from what many of Jung’s follower consider to be his penultimate magnum opus, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, often abbreviated to MDR (most Jungians consider his collection of mandala-like paintings, The Red Book, to be his crowning achievement).

While MDR has it share of strange moments, one of the more intriguing comes from the Travels chapter. Here Jung recollects his experience of a rhythm induced trance ceremony in Africa. Jung’s narrative, in turn, inspired British experimental musician Peter Gabriel to compose a possession/tribal themed song entitled the Rhythm of the Heat (video link).

Peter Gabriel, The Rhythm of the Heat, from the album Security

Looking out the window
I see the red dust clear
High up on the red rock
Stands the shadow with the spear
Looking out the window
I see the red dust clear
High up on the red rock
Stands the shadow with the spear
The land here is strong
Strong beneath my feet
it feeds on the blood
it feeds on the heat
The rhythm is below me
The rhythm of the heat
The rhythm is around me
The rhythm has control
The rhythm is inside me
The rhythm has my soul
Drawn across the plainland
To the place that is higher
Drawn into the circle
That dances round the fire
We spit into our hands
And breathe across the palms
Raising them up high
Held open to the sun
Self-conscious, uncertain
I’m showered with the dust
The spirit enters into me
And I submit to trust
Smash the radio
No outside voices here
Smash the watch
Cannot tear the day to shreds
Smash the camera
Cannot steal away the spirits
C. G. Jung, from MDR, 270-272

Night had fallen and we were all longing for sleep when we heard drum and horn blasts…
…a big fire was kindled, and women and children formed a circle around it. The men formed an outer ring around them…
The women and children tripped around the fire; the man danced toward it…amid savage singing, drumming and trumpeting.
It was a wild and stirring scene, bathed in the glow of the fire and the magical moonlight.
…the whole company stamped, sang, shouted, sweating profusely. Gradually the rhythm of the dance and the drumming accelerated.
In dances such as these, accompanied by such music, the natives easily fall into a state of possession.
…suddenly the whole affair took on a highly curious aspect. The dancers were being turned into a wild horde, and I became worried about how it would end.
…they scattered in all directions and vanished into the night. For a long time we heard their jovial howls and drumming in the distance, At last silence fell, and we dropped into the sleep of exhaustion.

Some modern Jungians have embraced the term “depth psychology”, since it allows them to keep the less controversial elements of Jung’s thoughts, while distancing themselves from the parts that might be deemed too woo-woo.

This is unfortunate, I believe. I enjoy living in a universe brimming with at least 49.9% pure, unadulterated, all (super)natural fair-trade woo-woo.

C.G. Jung held some unorthodox beliefs. This article hasn’t even touched on Synchronicity, the Collective Unconscious, or Psychic Reality…

But at least his universe was alive; a living, breathing cosmos invested in spirit. If you want to sound fancy, you can call it the Anima Mundi[*], the soul of the world.

[* the motto of the graduate school where my wife and I studied mythology (and Jung) is Animae Mundi Colendae Gratia, a charge to tend the spirit of the world]

The naive Skeptic sees the world in black and white. The mature Skeptic sees the world in shades of gray.

Magicians, shamans, poets, priests, witches, warlocks and other artists are given glimpses of Multiverses that shimmer in technicolor shades of the impossible, Realms of the Dead, the Living, and the Yet-borns, Spaces and Times governed by Maybe-logic suggestions as dreamt up by Schrödinger’s cat after a catnip bender.

In other words, [insert woo-woo here].

I think C.G. Jung would approve.

5 thoughts on “C.G. Jung and the Rhythm of the Heat

  1. It’s always nice to see Jung’s work being examined, and for the harsh light of inquiry being soreness a little by sympathetic spiritualism. Regards to you and your wife.

    1. Thank you. Jung, if nothing else, is a thoughful, poignant read on the mysteries of the universe, but many can also find a level of spiritual comfort and guidance.

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