Symbolism of Popular Culture
Non-Linear Relationships in Cycles
During the summer of 1898, unusual events happened to Carl Jung in medical school which were destined to influence the course of his life. While sitting in his room at home studying textbooks, there was a sudden sound like a pistol shot in the adjoining room. Investigating, he found the top of a solid round walnut table had split from the rim beyond the center. The split was not along any joint but went right through the solid wood.
"I was thunderstruck," he later recalled. "How could such a thing happen? A table of solid walnut that had dried out for seventy years-how could it split on a summer day in the relatively high degree of humidity characteristic of our climate?" He wondered "What in the world could have caused such an explosion?" and concluded that there are certainly "curious accidents."
A few weeks later he came home to find his mother and sister in a state of agitation. An hour earlier there had been another loud noise which had come from the cupboard in the kitchen. He looked inside the cupboard which contained a breadbasket and loaf of bread. Beside the bread was a bread knife. The greater part of the knife's blade had snapped off in several pieces and the handle laid in a corner of the breadbasket. In each of the other corners were pieces of the knife.
The next day Jung took the shattered knife to the best cutler in his town who examined the fractures with a magnifying glass and concluded there was no fault in the steel of the knife. The cultler told him "Someone must have deliberately broken it piece by piece. Good steel can't explode."
These events greatly troubled him. "Why and how had the table split and the knife shattered? The hypothesis that it was just a coincidence went much too far. It seemed highly improbable to me that the Rhine would flow backward just once, by mere chanceand all other possible explanations were automatically ruled out. So what was it?"
A few weeks later, he heard that some of his relatives were engaged in occult activities with a young girl who was supposedly a medium. The group wanted him to meet the medium. When he heard this, he immediately thought of the strange events in his house and their connection to the medium.
Jung began attending regular seances of the group which were held on Saturday evenings. He recalls "We had results in the form of communications and tapping noises from the walls and the table." The group met for two years but they became weary of the medium. "I caught the medium trying to produce phenomena by trickery," the young man notes, "and this made me break off the experiments."
The medium died of tuberculosis at twenty-six. After her death, the Jung learned from her family that during the last months of her life her character had disintegrated and that ultimately she returned to the state of a two-year-old child and soon died.
The Theory of Synchronicity
The experience started by the table and knife in the summer of 1898 and the meetings with the group for seances were, as Jung recalls, "destined to influence me profoundly." As he later wrote in his biography, "this was the one great experience which wiped out all my earlier philosophy and made it possible for me to achieve a psychological point of view."
The events started in the summer of 1898 and related in Memories, Dreams Reflections led him into his investigations of occultism and acausality. In this way, one life was changed by these chance occurrences at the end of a century.
But were the forces of chance solely responsible for them? It was a question that would occupy Jung for the rest of his life. In the Foreword to the 1st Edition of Collected Papers on Analytical Psychology, Jung writes that "Causality is only one principle and psychology essentially cannot be exhausted by causal methods only, because the mind lives by aims as well." He notes that "Psychic finality rests on a 'pre-existent' meaning which becomes problematical only when it is an unconscious arrangement. In that case we suppose a 'knowledge' prior to all consciousness."
The events with the table, knife and medium from the final years of the nineteenth century would develop into Jung's concept of synchronicity. In 1952 (when he was seventy-seven) Jung gave his most complete expression to the idea started in 1898 in the slim monograph Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle. He talked about it as a theory of "meaningful coincidences" which stood in opposition to the theory of causality. As Jung notes, the causality principle "asserts that the connection between cause and effect is a necessary one" while the synchronicity principle "asserts that the terms of meaningful coincidence are connected by simultaneity and meaning." The concept indicates a coincidence of two or more events where something other than probability of chance is involved. In effect, it was an investigation of how internal psychic states can influence external events.
In it he notes that when he was investigating the phenomena of the collective unconsciousness he "kept on coming across connections which I simply could not explain as chance groupings or 'runs'. What I found were 'coincidences' which were connected so meaningfully that their 'chance' concurrence would represent a degree of improbability that would have to be expressed by an astronomical figure."
In Synchronicity, Jung relates an interesting story of a young woman he was treating had. At a critical moment in her treatment, the woman had a dream in which she was given a golden scarab. "While she was telling me this dream I sat with my back to the closed window. Suddenly I heard a noise behind me, like a gentle tapping. I turned round and saw a flying insect knocking against the window-pane in the air as it flew in. It was the nearest analogy to a golden scarab that one finds in our latitudes, a scarabaeid beetle, the common rose-chafer (Cetonia aurata), which contrary to its usual habits had evidently felt an urge to get into a dark room at this particular moment. I must admit that nothing like it ever happened to me before or since." The dream of the patient remained unique in Jung's experience.
The events described by Jung seem strange but most of us have experienced similar strange events or unusual coincidences in our lives. Of course these events could be said to be products of that elusive goddess called chance pursued so relentlessly in the neon-filled nights of Las Vegas. But the concept of synchronicity, as Jung saw it, occurred when something other than chance was at work. Chance is a statistical concept used to explain certain deviations within certain patterns of probability. Synchronicity, though, elucidates meaningful relationships and coincidences which somehow go beyond the calculations of probability.
The concept of synchronicity found an immediate application to a group of unexplained phenomena such as pre-cognition, clairvoyance and telepathy which congregate around the major heading of occult phenomena. But Jung's increasing interest in synchronicity led him venture beyond the obvious realm of the occult and to explore the historical underpinnings of this acausal principle.
History provided Jung with a rich treasure chest of "forerunners" for the idea of synchronicity. One area was in medieval practice of alchemy. Another was in the ancient science of astrology. But beyond these well-known concepts Jung also found ideas of synchronicity at the heart of the concept of Tao, one of the oldest and most central concepts of Chinese philosophy.
The more Jung investigated synchronicity the more he came to believe it was at the heart of Eastern culture and the concept of causality was at the heart of Western culture. It represented another one of those oppositions so crucial to Jung's thought. Here, it was the opposition between causality and acausality. For Jung, it came to symbolize one of the central oppositions of life. As he notes in Synchronicity, the concept of Tao "pervades the whole philosophical thought of China" while the concept of causality "occupies this paramount position with us."
While causality represented a long historical underpinning of Western philosophy, to Jung it's importance had greatly increased during the past two centuries. Jung attributes this increase to the "leveling influence of the statistical method on the one hand and the unparalleled success of the natural sciences on the other, which brought the metaphysical world into disrepute." For Jung, the last great expression of acausal principles in the Western context were with the Alchemists of the medieval era.
Jung's interest in synchronicity grew throughout his life until it became one of the handful of key ideas which obsessed his final years. Although it garners only the slim monograph Synchronicity:An Acausal Connection Principle in the Jungian library, it was an idea that always seemed to sit on his shoulder like some faithful old parrot. While it was only specifically addressed in the short 1952 monograph, it finds expression in Jung's late letters and throughout an important work like Aion. While Aion is about the evolution of the God image, it is also about the temporal alignment of astrological events and bodies with worldly events. It is astrology seen on a wide-scope "radar" screen. Not the astrology of daily predictions printed in the newspapers across the land but the astrology of aeons of time.
In terms of astrological and world events, the 15th century was extremely important to Jung. He felt the century was crucial in the development of the modern psyche. One confirmation of its importance was the astrolological symbolism of the great conjunction of the planets at this time. The conjunction had the effect of ushering in the Copernican Revolution and a new perspective on the world. It also heralded a new religious view with the teaching of Martin Luther.
But synchronicity operates with a peculiar subtleness. Events in the heavens do not suddenly shake the world to such an extent that headlines are made and the general populace takes notice. There is a subtle quality to the changes. The occurences which happened in the 15th century as a result of the planetary conjunciton may have demonstrated this subtleness. Even to those who were ready for change and were looking for it, they may have been looking in the wrong place and failed to notice that a great change had indded taken place.
This point is interestingly discussed by British astrologer Liz Greene in The Outer Planets & Their Cycles: The Astrology of the Collective.
"In 1524 ... there was a monumental conjunction of planets. Every astrologer went quite hysterical because they only knew of seven heavenly bodies and all seven were in conjunction in the sign of Pisces ... Naturally everyone assumed the world was about to end, and they meant this very literally. No talk of symbols or the collective unconsciousness. Pisces is a water sign, and if everything in the heavens is in Pisces, why, then, the world is obviously going to end by flood ... One astrologer in England built himself an ark, which was rather sensible in terms of all that water. Obviously people in the sixteenth century couldn't think in terms of psychological or inner change. 1524 came and went, and not a lot happened. At least, not a lot on a literal level ... The only odd thing was that a recalcitrant and bad-tempered monk called Martin Luther went around nailing nasty statements about the Church to cathedral doors, and a few people listened ... So the world ended, in the sense that the prevailing and unquestioned view of the world ended. A great crack appeared in the unshakable bastion of the One True Faith which had dominated the Western world for fifteen hundred years. It is hard for us to understand now just how monumental an event this was. Until Luther there was simply no spiritual reality except the Catholic Church."
At a time when people were expecting a flood, a "flood" in fact did come but it was not the type of flood that floated boats and arks. During the 1500s, there was little inner world so the synchronicities were looked for in the outside world in catastrophic events such as great floods. The real flood, though, was an inner flood. The focus was on the outside world when the change was really taking place in the inside world.
As Greene remarks, "If it's time for something to end, the level on which the ending manifests itself may vary. This depends also on what is existent in the world which is going to be affected by the emerging new energies. I think it depends very much on the structures existent within society, how flexible or rigid they might be, and how able they are to accommodate change."
Synchronicities Of The Modern World
The tragic death of Princess Diana has led to some speculation of synchronicity. Whether this is absurd or may have some validity will be left for the reader to judge. Again, like the religious events of the 15th century centering around the teachings of Martin Luther, there is a subtlety in the synchronicity. Is it in fact synchronistic subtlety or simply absurd specultation?
Nelson Thall, Project McLuhan Director of Research in Toronto, Canada, is former Chief McLuhan Archivist for the University of Toronto, and former president of the Marshall McLuhan Center for Global Communications. Thall's speculation concerns the possible synchronicity between Elton John's tribute song to Princess Diana "Candle in the Wind" and a legendary English stone recognized as "The Stone of Destiny." He provides some background to relevant English history.
"The College of Heralds (London) has traced Queen Elizabeth II to be the 144th direct descendant of King David. It was the Throne of David which was brought to the British Isles by Jeremiah, the famous prophet of the Bible. Jeremiah came to the colony of the Milesians in a ship of the Iberians bringing a scribe named Baruch and Princess Tea Tephi, the daughter of Kind Zedekiah as well as 'a mysterious rock.' This princess married King Eber Herremon of ancient Ireland. He was a descendant of the ancient King Herremon. Initially this young man had been confused with his much earlier ancestor Gede of Herremon by earlier historians. The son of this later young king and the princess Tea Tephi continued on the throne of Ireland. All the kings of Ireland and Scotland, beginning with Fergus More, the Scottish monarchs, descended from this marriage of Herremon and Tea Tephi. This same dynasty continued unbroken through all the kings of Ireland, Scotland and England."
This dynasty continues today with the reign of Queen Elizabeth II. The rock which Jeremiah brought was recognized as the "Stone of Destiny." The Irish used it at the coronation of their chieftains and more than a thousand years later (about 850AD.) the stone reached Scotland. There, at Scone, two miles north of Perth, it was enclosed in a wooden chair which served at the coronation of Scottish kings. Edward I took this very Stone of Scone and the coronation chair and placed it in Westminister Abbey where the kings of England are crowned over it even to this day.
In 1953, notes Thall, the present Queen was crowned in that same chair on top of The Stone of Scone. Visitors to the Abbey can read about this history in the Westminister Abbey guidebook. A sign labelled the rock as "Jacob's pillar stone." In order to commemorate the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, a special medal was struck clearly depicting the arrival of the throne at the British Isles.
In the Spring of 1997, the "Stone of Scone" was moved from England to Scotland after more than 700 years. Thall observes that scholars and historians say that "as the Stone goes so goes the throne."
Between the years 1450-1485, there occurred a series of civil wars, known as "Wars of the Roses," between the rival Houses of York and Lancaster. At the end of the struggle a partly-Welsh adventurer named Henry Tudor became King, and claimed to unify in his person the two rival sides. The symbol of Henry Tudor was a red and white rose which became known as the "Tudor Rose." The symbol of the rose became synonymous with the Throne. As mentioned above, the Throne of David, of which Elizabeth II is the present occupant, was physically moved from England to Scotland.
Nelson Thall speculates, "In the wake of that move has come the death of the ex-princess. Is there a cause/effect relationship between these two events -- the moving of the Stone of Scone and the death of Princess Diana? The Throne left England in April 1997. In other words, England said 'good-bye' to the rose when the Stone of Scone was sent to Scotland."
And of course, the first words to Elton John's song "Candle in the Wind" are "Goodbye England's rose."