Thursday, September 23, 2010

Mellon Seminar Reflection 4: Was Jung a Mystic?

In seminar this week we discussed Religion and Psychology, the Psychology of Religion, and Psychology in Dialogue with Religion. And of course Jung was prominent. One of the readings was his book Aion, which is an unbelievable ride through Jung's mind and ancient Gnostic sources (quoted from the original Latin and Greek patristic sources). Unlike Freud, Jung thought that the human psyche is by nature religious and that the journey of the transformation of the self (a process he calls individuation) is at the "mystical heart of all religions." He felt that life has a spiritual purpose, a meaning beyond material gain and goals. He writes, "Our main task is to discover and fulfill our deep innate potential, much as the acorn contains the potential to become the oak."

This transformative process involves the integration of the person's consciousness with the unconscious in order to stave off unhealthy psychic tendencies such as repression, projection, etc. Jung talked about this process in terms of the union of opposites, including the ego-personality with its shadow. He was particularly fond of the Gnostic mythology which proved to him the accuracy of his theories, for erupting in their mythology was the religious equivalent of his psychological descriptions. For instance, the Gnostic myth of a Father without quality of being who is unknowable, is the unconsciousness. He quotes Epiphanius: "In the beginning the Autopater contained in himself everything that is, in a state of unconsciousness." This manifests or becomes conscious through the generation of the Christ who represents for Jung the perfect human self.

The book reads as a set of psychological sermons filled with esoteric references from ancient sources. Although Jung tries again and again to suggest that "psychology is not metaphysics", it is hard to believe him when faced with a volume this saturated with Christian ideas that are attempting to explain a three-year period when Jung believed he encountered the unconsciousness and lived to tell about it.

I am not sure that psychological models are going to assist me in my own historical work, except that Jung may be a very interesting figure to investigate as a mystic in his own right...as someone who took his personal experiences and the ancient Gnostic mythology and rewrote them as a modern psychological theory. Especially now that The Red Book is published.

11 comments:

David said...

Surely.

Jung gets his Ph.D. at the University of Zurich with a doctoral dissertation On the Psychology and Pathology of So-Called Occult Phenomena. Focused on mediums and trance phenomena.

Masarie said...

I am a bit out of my depth here however I have been following the postings and as a reader of Joseph Campbell I come back to the thought that religion/myth, culture, psychology, and traditions all deal with the human transformation in one form or another. The perspectives of viewing this transformation are as varied as there are viewers. Jung's use of ancient text to support his view doesn't equate to role of mystic, but his connection to one of the many views hidden from society.

pascal said...

I find myself saddened by the fact that Jung did not live to see the pictures taken by the Hubble telescope; they are so very beautiful, and they are so very awesome, that he would have delightened in them...

pascal said...

That would be delighted, not delightened...

soma said...

I believe Jung was a mystic because mysticism explains how our actions and thoughts within and without resolve themselves in the simplicity of the whole experience, when we focus on our simple unity in God's pure consciousness and have become acquainted with God's unity. Jung does this for me.buddha77

Robert said...

Jung was, I think, as much a practicing occultist as he was a mystic, albeit one in search of scientific and psychological explanations for occult phenomena.

His publications on astrology, alchemy and divination make this amply clear.

His special method of "active imagination" is a sanitized form of the methods of visualization and scrying that were used by magicians and occultists for centuries, and are still used by them today.

Jung's family background, as it bears on these interests of his, was elucidated by F. X. Charet in _Spiritualism and the Foundations of Jung's Psychology_ (1993). It is an excellent work of scholarship.

Ed Jones said...

The book Quantum Questions: Mystical Writings of the World's Greatest Physicists - Edited by Ken Wilber is a collection of virtually every major statement made on the relation between modern physics and transcendental mysticism by "the founders and grand theorists of modern (quantum and relativity) physics. A must read".
A must read

Ed Jones said...

On the chance that someone has the interest, I have posted a number of extracts from the book as comments 6, 7 and 8 to the New Oxonian - Quodlibet: Atheist Attitudes. Howevr incongurant the location its there. Begin with comment 7, then to 8.

Ed Jones said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
R.Eagle said...

Nice topic and explanation, Dr. D.!

According to the Gary Lachman's work Jung the Mystic, he states in the introduction...

Was Jung a mystic? Jung didn't think so and he thought little of those who did. In a filmed interview in 1957 with Richard Evans, professor of psychology at the University of Houston, Jung, then in his eighties, remarked that "Everyone who say that I am a mystic is just an idiot."

José Solano said...

Jung abhorred the label "mystic" as he thought of himself as a thorough empiricist bringing to light arcane matters, mythical and mystical expressions, so as to clarify the workings of the unconscious mind.

Though he was immersed in studies of alchemy, gnosticism, mythology, dream analysis, etc., it was a study to better understand the expressions of his neurotic and psychotic patients so that he could serve them better. He believed he was a scientist laying the foundations for objectively analyzing the psyche. He developed a school of analytical psychology that continues in this effort.

Unfortunately, too many people have become confounded by what he was analyzing rather than gaining an understanding of what he was elucidating. They cannot follow his lengthy and elaborate analogies and come to an understanding of what he is actually concluding and realizing. They become sort of intoxicated by the plethora of symbolism he was examining and fail to cut through all of this to a clean, clear realization of what lies in the swamps he explored.

The mystic experiences and expresses things he cannot fully explain. When not mad he is often a poet or musician or other artist. The analytic psychologist attempts to provide an explanation of these expressions for others to understand and not get lost. He is a cartographer mapping out an obscure, labyrinthian terrain for others to safely travel through.