The body of work that comprises modern psychology is synonymous with names such as Freud, Pavlov, Skinner, and a number of other pioneers. There is another who, of course, comes to mind, both for his influence on the study of human thought and the workings of the mind: Carl Gustav Jung.
Jung, in addition to his scholarly work and numerous writings that address the inner workings of the human condition, spent much of his lifetime fascinated with the esoteric as well, and held a number of interests and beliefs that approached the realm of the occult.
Very early in his life, Jung came to believe that his soul was divided into his natural, youthful persona of the present, and that of an “authoritative and influential man from the past.” This bears some similarity to the concept of the Senex, addressed in Jung’s later works, which described an archetypal “wise old man” which persists throughout myth, cultural, and literature. However, Jung more specifically likened this separate aspect of himself to the spirit of an eighteenth century man; seemingly evoking themes of death and the afterlife, and in particular, reincarnation.
There is also a very curious “ritual” Jung wrote of, which he said he created as a young boy. Jung described carving a small figure out of wood and, placing it in a box he hid in the attic of his home, said he would write notes on tiny slips of paper in a “secret language” of his own creation that were placed in the box; later, Jung would recognize this sort of activity as being similar to totem worship by indigenous cultures around the world, thus inspiring aspects of his later theories pertaining to symbolism and psychological archetypes.
Jung’s work with archetypes dealt with primitive mental images, or recurring cultural motifs that are “inherited” from our earlier human ancestors, and supposedly remain present in the collective unconscious of people today. Through this work, Jung would from time to time bring into question a number of unique observations that, when compared with modern phenomenology, appear to bear some decidedly esoteric qualities. For instance, Jung described how grotesque “gnome-like” characters would manifest in the dreams of many of his patients, which Jung took to be representative of some form of archetypal spirit (an aspect of what Jung called the Mana-personality). However, Jung mentioned these odd characters in conjunction with the similar appearances of deceased loved ones in his article “The Phenomenology of the Spirit in Fairytales.” This is significant since, in the last few decades especially, a number of researchers have made comparisons between near-death experiences and alien abduction claims; the former often deals with the appearances of deceased loved ones, the latter with diminutive aliens which, thanks to the probing of researchers like Jacques Vallee and others, have more than once been compared to fairy folk.
On the subject of modern mythologies relating to the UFO subject, Jung, unlike many of his contemporaries, expressed openly his interest in this subject, most eloquently expressed in his classic essay on the subject, Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Skies.
But perhaps of even greater intrigue than Jung’s interest in phenomenon which, today, many would associated with UFOs, involved several incidents with his mother, Emilie. A strange and troubled woman, according to Jung, Emilie spent a good deal of her time alone in her bedroom in the evening, where she claimed that “spirits” would visit her each night. Jung described “frightening influences” that he associated with his mother’s room as a result of this, even claiming on one occasion to have witnessed “a faintly luminous and indefinite figure coming from her room, with a head detached from the neck and floating in the air in front of the body.” So far as what can be made of this strange apparition, no one knows.
With the publication of Jung’s private “Red Book” in 2009, it became apparent that Jung had later suffered an ultimate clash with a few “ghosts” of his own. During his middle years, Jung went through a self-described “confrontation” with his unconscious, during which he began to describe circumstances that almost seemed to suggest a psychotic disorder: Jung heard disembodied voices, and strange “visions” were appearing before him.
Naturally, concern over this this prompted Jung to question whether he were suddenly “menaced by a psychosis,” although he later began to gravitate toward the idea that some of his “visions” might be representative of the various personas present in mankind’s collective consciousness, and thus relinquished himself to learning from them (needless to say, this would not be considered “acceptable” treatment for such a condition by today’s clinical standards, although what Jung describes does resemble at least some of the descriptions of hallucinatory periods described by Nobel Prize winner John Nash, upon whom the film A Beautiful Mind was based).
These experiences not only brought to the forefront of Jung’s research the concept of archetypes, but also formed the basis of his later theories of active imagination. Though Jung’s methods of dealing with what otherwise could have been considered psychotic (or even supernatural) later formed the basis of his psychological methods, we must think back to earlier events, such as the appearance of the “ghost” emerging from his mother’s chamber during his early years. Could the “apparition” Jung had seen as it exited his mother’s bedroom have been a similar archetypal manifestation from within his own young mind, rather than a physical apparition external to his perception?
Could there be any deeper insights one may garner from reading Jung’s explanations for things the likes of the archetypal “grotesque hobgoblins” he mentions, when presented in their original context (and language)? There are indeed times when a concept unique to a specific culture or language, when translation occurs, are found not to have a direct counterpart in another language. It is perhaps worthy of consideration, especially for those of us who have only read Jung’s translated works.
Jung, to be a figure credited with innovating many moden methods of understanding the human mind, also expressed numerous unusual beliefs, attitudes and practices throughout his life which, by today’s standards, we might hasten to classify as insanity. And perhaps today there are similar individuals in our midst, capable of abstract thinking on par with what Jung accomplished during his lifetime, though due to the pressures of modern society, individuals who are less likely to pursue understanding of their oddities as way Jung had done.
Amidst his many personal mysteries, perhaps Jung was one of the few who was willing–and brave enough–to seek to understand the ultimate nature of humanity even within its stranger aspects.