A radical and unique understanding of sequence revolves around the pre-birth experience. This idea is one of the tenets of the emerging disciplines of Psychohistory and Prenatal Psychology contained in the theories of people like Lloyd deMause, Stanislov Grof, Francis Mott, Elizabeth Fehr and Gustav Graber. The idea is that consciousness begins before (rather than after) birth and that the major sequential symbolism is contained in the nine month period inside the mother's womb from gestation to birth.
One of the first to suggest a type of pre-birth consciousness and psychology was Otto Rank in his 1923 The Trauma of Birth. But it was a book which was a major cause for Freud cutting himself off from the brilliant young psychologist. Freud's efforts at downgrading Ranks birth trauma theories were effective within the overall psychoanalytic community but the idea was far too important to go away even with the curse of Freud himself. In 1949, a quarter century after Ranks work went out of print, Nando Fodor released a book called The Search for the Beloved. It was a key event in reintroducing the idea of birth trauma into psychoanalytic thought.
Today, some of the most important work in pre-birth psychology is being done by Stanislov Grof. His research is contained in a number of central books, the key ones being Beyond The Brain (1990), Realms of The Human Unconscious (1994) and The Cosmic Game (1998). The basis of Grof's theories was his observation of several thousand psychoanalytic sessions in which subjects combined powerful psychoactive substances like LSD with a number of non-drug therapeutic methods. These served as catalysts to open the unconscious processes. Subjects tended to move farther and farther back in time until they were engaged in the process of biological birth. Grof's subjects reported a distinct archetypal sequence which moved from an initial condition undifferentiated unity with the womb, to an experience of sudden fall and separation from the primal organismic unity, to a highly charged life and death struggle with the contracting uterus and the birth canal, culminating in the experience of complete annihilation. This was followed by an experience of liberation which was perceived not only as physical birth but as spiritual rebirth.
Grof posited four "Basic Perinatal Matrices" which he felt his patients regularly relived under the influence of LSD. The sequence and description of these matrices are:
Primal Union With Mother
In the womb, fantasies of paradise, unity with God or Nature, sacredness, "oceanic" ecstasy.
Antagonism With Mother
Derived from the onset of labor, when the cervix is still closed. A feeling of being trapped and of futility, of crushing pressure, of unbearable suffering and hellish horrors, of being sucked into a whirlpool or swallowed by a terrifying monster, dragon or octopus.
Synergism With Mother
When the cervix opens and propulsion through the birth canal occurs. There are fantasies at this time of titanic fights, explosive discharges of atomic bombs and volcanoes all part of an overwhelmingly violent death- rebirth struggle.
Separation From Mother
Upon the termination of the birth struggle, after the first breath, there are feelings of liberation, salvation, love and forgiveness, along with fantasies of having been cleansed, unburdened and purged.
Again, there is an incredible similarity to the pattern of the other sequences we have found whether they be Erich Neumann's consciousness through history, Joseph Campbell's voyage of the hero in mythology, key dramatic structure in literature or the sequence in the life of Christ.
Groundbreaking work in the application of birth symbolism to a collective context is being done by the Association for Psychohistory and its founder Lloyd deMause. One of the major contributions of psychohistory has been to push the possibility of human consciousness further back in time from birth to the beginning of conception. At the same time, deMause has expanded outward the pre-birth period into popular culture and history showing how culture as a whole may pass through the same sequence involved from inception to birth.
One of the major theories of deMause is based around American group-fantasy cycles with each cycle containing four sequences: innovative, depressed, manic and war. The sequences within each cycle appear in the following order and contain the following events:
A new psychoclass comes of age, and introduced new inventions, new social arrangements and new prosperity, producing a Belle Epoque, with warmer personal relationships and less scapegoating of women and minorities.
The older psychoclasses become depressed by guilt over the prosperity and anxiety from the new social arrangements. The world seems out of control, as childhood traumas press for repetition, and the nation regresses, goes on Purity Crusades and fears of women, and creates an economic depression.
As economic recovery threatens fresh anxiety, group- fantasies of threatening monsters, punitive mothers, polluted bloodstreams, suicidal imagery and poisonous foreigners proliferate. The nation reacts with a manic defense against its depression, engaging in speculative investment, wasteful military buildups, monetary and credit explosions, foreign belligerence and other grandiose attempts to demonstrate omnipotent control of love supplies.
When a cooperative Enemy is found who can provide a guilt-free reason to go to war, the nation sends its youth to be killed in a perverse ritual. Images of restored virility and rebirth of the world predominate, and the nation returns to a new innovative phase after the sacrifice.
Since the American Revolution, deMause notes there have been four major group-fantasy cycles lasting from 36 years to 53 years in length. The approximate years for these cycles are cycle 1 1780-1830, cycle 2 1830-1866, cycle 3 1866-1919 and cycle 4 from 1920-1966. If this is so, then America is now in cycle 5 which began around the mid-60s. These fantasy cycles have been based around the major wars of American history and a broad cyclic pattern alternating between economic depression and war.
The contentual symbols analyzed by deMause to arrive at his findings are for the most part political cartoons in newspapers and the covers of mass circulation news weeklies. DeMause argues that wars are symbolically linked to the birth trauma and when America is close to going to war images of strangulation appear in various media. The images of strangulation are associated with going through the birth canal and war becomes a type of symbolic rebirth for the nation. Interestingly, deMause also finds a foreign policy "mood curve" cycle alternating between introvert and extrovert with introvert broadly matching the war sequence and extrovert the depression sequence.
Pre-birth symbolism may also help see a number of the unusual hysterias today in new perspectives. For example, one leading psychohistorian finds a startling close symbolism between the sequential steps described by alien abductees and the birth process.
This all may sound far-fetched to some but deMause is a bold and dedicated scholar working outside the traditional academic world with a growing international following. He is also author of the seminal work in psychohistory Foundations of Psychohistory and Reagan's America, one of the most penetrating and unique perspectives ever written on the collective psychology of the Reagan years.
The implications of deMause's ideas for the study of symbolism may be some of the most important ever discovered. For example, the original notion of evil may in fact come from the placenta as the original antagonist in the embryo's struggle for pure blood and space within the mother's womb. As the embryo grows, the placenta has a more and more difficult time purifying the mother's blood. Again, birth and pre-birth psychology from unique researchers like Stanislav Grof and Lloyd deMause hold the promise of providing a true biological basis to the study of symbolism and sequence. It may be the key element needed to link many of the scattered ideas of symbolism. A direct connection between biology and psychology is therefore made accessible by these ideas between biology and psychology.
Perhaps the largest, most all-encompassing view of cycles and sequence is contained in Carl Jung's late work Aion about the two thousand year cycle of the Christian era. The Jungian analyst Violet Staub de Laszo wrote in her Introduction to Psyche and Symbol "The edifice of C.G.Jung's work is reminiscent of a cathedral that has been built in the course of many centuries." If Jung's overall work is compared to an old cathedral then one of his final books Aion: Researches Into The Phenomenology Of The Self needs to be placed close to the altar in the cathedral.
It is one of the strangest books Jung ever wrote and one of his last projects, published when he was seventy-six. Like Mysterium Coniunctionis and all of Jung's late works, Aion was written after his grave illness of 1944 from which he never believed he would recover. When he did survive he felt these years were like a gift, given to accomplish some final purpose in his life. A type of rebirth. He decided he was going to write the way he wanted to and that his readers would have to make the major effort towards understanding.
The book Aion was one of the fruits of this late "rebirth" in Jung's life and for him gave expression to a type of "secret knowledge" he felt he possessed. In a private conversation to Margaret Ostrowski-Sachs, published in Conversations with C.G.Jung, Jung told her:
"Before my illness I had often asked myself if I were permitted to publish or even speak of my secret knowledge. I later set it all down in Aion. I realized it was my duty to communicate these thoughts, yet I doubted whether I was allowed to give expression to them. During my illness I received confirmation and I now knew that everything had meaning and that everything was perfect."
More than Jung writing Aion, the book seemed to write him. Jung remarks in a letter to his good friend Victor White in December of 1947 that he needed to express something but was not sure what it was:
"I simply had to write a new essay I did not know about what...In spite of everything, I felt forced to write on blindly, not seeing at all what I was driving at. Only after I had written about 25 pages in folio, it began to dawn on me that Christ - not the man but the divine being - was my secret goal."
Rather than something planned out like a number of his other works, Jung notes to White that Aion "came to me as a shock" and he felt "utterly unequal to such a task.
If Jung's overall work might be compared to a great cathedral, the "priest" of the cathedral was less concerned with preaching the gospel to others as much as clarifying things in his own mind. After his illness it was therefore a time of deep reflection for Jung. His real life cathedral was his castle on the lake at Bollingen and he left it less and less.
But even for those who chose to make the journey to the Jungian Cathedral, it was still difficult to find the book Aion when they arrived. Rather than command a prominent place near the altar, it was more or less hidden from view. The "bookstore" of the cathedral, that publicity vehicle that parceled out pieces of Jungian thought to the general community, gave prominence to Jung's more accessible books such as Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Psychological Types and Modern Man in Search of a Soul. It left works such as Mysterious Coniunctionis, Answer to Job and Aion for the truly adventuresome to discover on their own terms as they left the main parts of the Jungian cathedral and ventured down into the basement to sift through old brittle, yellowed pages inside dusty boxes.