There were occasions in his eighties when, meeting Carl Gustav Jung on a cold winter day, one encountered a tall, slightly bent man wrapped in a full-length, fur-lined dressing-gown with a dark skull-cap fitting tightly on the white hair, and it was as if the timeless figure of his own
mythological creation – the Old Wise Man – had materialised in the flesh.
There were other occasions when those who visited him at his beautiful house beside the upper lake of Zurich found him – at first sight – disarmingly casual, but frequently came away with the image of a man whose complex personality and powerful intellect had come to terms with ‘natural’ life and whatever mysterious forces lay hidden in the unconscious.
Calling upon Jung at Bollingen, the visitor knocked on a heavy wooden door set in a thick stone wall which seemed literally to grow out of the earth.
The wall, the door and the oddly shaped towers rising beyond it all held hints of the medieval.
As you waited it was not uncommon to hear the ringing sound of an axe falling upon wood, because there was no coal, gas or electricity in this strange house.
According to the time of day, and depending on his mood, you might see Jung wearing a workman’s green apron, busily chopping wood, or a scholarly person deeply immersed in reading a book.
Still a tall, well-built man, it was customary for him to come to his feet with a brilliant, slightly mischievous smile and fall into easy conversation.
‘So you’ve come all this way just to listen to me,’ he said to one American professor from Indiana University.
‘It’s extraordinary what illusions people have about me.’
The broad forehead and powerful chin remained from earlier years, but now he had mellowed, and there was a softness in the face, the white hair and the informality of manner.
To the surprise of one patient who came to the house at Bollingen he rose to greet her with the words, ‘So you are in the soup, too?’
Disconcerted at first, the patient – a young woman – quickly discovered the depth of awareness hidden behind what seemed a frivolous initiation.
At eighty-three Jung was the modern high priest of a psychotherapeutic tradition reaching far back into ancient mythology which diverged widely from Freud’s materialism and the measurable world of science.
A sage – almost an oracle – living out his last years in distinguished isolation, many famous men and women came from all over the world to pay homage as they might to a holy man, or to pose questions which he alone, they believed, was equipped to answer.
A new climate had become apparent in wide areas of intellectual and public life.
A renaissance of the irrational had turned thousands of young people toward psychedelic experience, Indian gurus, and experiments with semi-mystical rituals. Reason as a means of solving some of our biggest problems had proved inadequate, and social institutions become dubious shrines of fossilised values.
Science was suspect, and the ancient cult of astrology in the ascendant once again among more people than would care, openly, to admit it.
In this mental and spiritual climate Jung’s deep roots in myth, symbol, magic, the occult and the religious attitude to life were magnetically attractive.
Many people like]. B. Priestley, H. G. Wells, Sir Montagu Norman and Sir Herbert Read turned to his works, searching for that rejuvenation from wellsprings which, in their view, were deeper than anything reason, politics, Freud, Marx or Marcuse could offer, and his appeal overran many apparently exclusive boundaries.
It was at the 1938 congress of the International General Medical Society for Psychotherapy at Oxford that I first encountered Jung.
He was chairman of the conference, but he also outlined fourteen points upon which he thought there was agreement in all schools of psychological thought.
In his sixty-third year, still tall and commanding, he bore down upon me that hot summer day.
‘I understand’, he said, ‘you are writing a biography of H.G. Wells.’
His manner of speech was staccato, almost explosive. He spoke with a decided accent and placed tremendous emphasis on certain words.
I admitted what somehow seemed a crime, since the outlooks of Carl Gustav Jung and Herbert George Wells were vastly different.
‘Tell me,’ he said, ‘why does he so hate religion?’
His eyes brimming with intelligence through his gold-rimmed spectacles, his manner charming, I was nonetheless aware of the masked scrutiny of the trained analyst, but the first impact of his personality was not as overwhelming as it had once been to the early Freudian circle.
The voice was still deep but warm, the eyes penetrating but alight, every other moment, with puckish humour.
Within a few minutes I felt at ease in the company of what appeared to be one of the most civilised of men.
Analysing the extraordinary contradictions in H. G. Wells’s work, Jung admitted that he found his particular brand of ‘rational scientism’
I have a memory of his referring to the works of Karl Popper with words something like: ‘It’s a pity Wells doesn’t read German, because he might have found enlightenment in Karl Popper’s The Logic of Scientific Discovery. There we saw some of the shortcomings of science properly exposed.’
‘But medical science has played a big part in your own career,’ I said.
‘As a boy I was powerfully attracted to two fields – comparative religion and science. I became the luckiest ef men. I managed to marry
two very disparate subjects.
Later I wanted to divorce science because it appeared to me to be getting ideas above its station. But it did not work out like that.’
We talked on for some time, and I was aware of a curious anomaly.
Instead of the great man talking about his ideas, his books, work or experience, he seemed more interested in finding some ‘frame’ through
which he could suitably view and examine my own psyche.
Continually the exchange came back to my immature ideas and ambitions, and the whole conversation was laced with quips and jokes.
It was at the same congress that Jung received the first D.Sc. offered by Oxford University to a psychotherapist. Dr Michael Fordham
records: ‘his reply of thanks was flowery and unusual to English tastes and I found it embarrassing.
But worse was to follow.
As he came down with the University dignitaries Jung gave his close assistant C. A. Meier an enormous wink which convulsed Meier and several others besides .
. . . It seemed like a calculated insult to the University. I don’t think so, however; it was just Jung unable to resist being a gamin and showing his humorous disrespect for ceremony … ‘ .
Ernest Jones had a very different impression of Jung.
He told me that Jung could ‘easily become a cantankerous and stubborn man incapable of making concessions in argument’.
Freud, of course, on one classic occasion, referred to him as ‘brutal and sanctimonious’, but that phrase occurred as the two men were tearing apart in the late-Freudian battles.
Any such rich and complex character as Jung, of course, would be subject to widely varying moods and involve what can only be described as multiple personalities.
Certainly one of those personalities had ceaseless intellectual curiosity, great humanity, depth of imaginative insight and concern for his patient, but there were many others.
Elizabeth Osterman encountered another incarnation when she visited him for the first time at Bollingen in 1930 while returning from
Greece via Switzerland to the United States.
“As I stood waiting before the door I was somewhat nervous but was reassured by the sounds of wood chopping coming from behind the
wall. I was trying to accustom myself to the fact that I was actually going to meet the man who indirectly had influenced my adult life so profoundly, who, in fact, had changed its entire course.”
Ten years before, a kind of dream-vision had deflected her career from straight medicine into psychological medicine, and the dream had
occurred ‘when working through a deep analysis with one of [Jung’s] students in San Francisco’.
Jung greeted her warmly, and she had an immediate sense of rapport.
‘At the water’s edge we settled into comfortable chairs and through that afternoon the conversation wandered back into the prehistory of the
earth, into the depths of the psyche, into the wonders of nature around us.’
After two hours Elizabeth Osterman looked at her watch for fear that she was keeping Jung too long.
‘Never mind your watch,’ he said, and went on talking.
There was about the statements he made an immediacy and simplicity in total contradiction to his great erudition.
What she described as ‘a remarkable force’ emanated from him.
‘He seemed at once powerful and simple; real the way the sky and rocks and trees and water around him were real. . . . ‘
Miss A. I. Allenby first encountered Jung at the end of the Second World War, and the idea of meeting the great man filled her with
apprehension, but ‘the moment I entered his intimate little study I felt completely at ease.
All the people I know who have met Jung have told me the same.’
In the following years she spent many hours discussing ‘matters of great personal importance with him in his study, and always he gave the
same lively attention to whatever I had come to consult him about.
The man who has left us the fruits of an incredible amount of work … never seemed to be hurried when one was with him.’
Recounting, on one occasion, a dream which she found obscure, [Jung] suddenly broke off to search his bookshelves for correlative documents, resumed his seat, read out the relevant passages and related the available evidence to corresponding experiences of his own.
There was no sense in which the Master displayed special insights to enlighten his patient, but instead he worked with the patient in a co-operative search ‘for the meaning of it all’. ‘It seemed to me as if his capacity to listen and to absorb every detail did not diminish in old age, but on the contrary increased.’
If that conjures up a very solemn, silver-haired sage, Miss Allenby corrected the image with an account of his great gusts of laughter as he
laced his exposition with illustrative anecdote.
One story in particular recurred from a number of witnesses.
Intended to demonstrate the proposition that one should not feel guilty about events which occur ‘on their own account’ and over which one had ‘no control’, it concerned the reaction of a shrewd old Swiss peasant to a stroke of lightning which damaged the village church.
When the pastor moved round the village collecting contributions for repairs, the peasant exclaimed, ‘Are you asking me to pay Him for destroying His own house!’ And Jung with a Homeric laugh commented, ‘That man got it right!’
Miss Allenby finally remarked:
At bottom Jung was … a passionate moralist. His morality is different from that in which most of us have been brought up: it is at the same time more permissive and more exacting. It is above all a morality deeply rooted in faith -faith in the value of the individual and faith in the creative potentiality of the unconscious.
Another view of Jung’s personality was given by the analyst Anneliese Aumiiller.
As a young student spending a few weeks in Zurich, a friend invited her to a party, and there, marked out among the assembled company, was Jung.
Some twenty people were in the room.
He talked about his experiences in Africa, his encounters with natives of practically every part of the world …. His voice seemed to belong to an ancient Chinese story-teller. I found myself walking through the jungle with many new eyes open …. I could suddenly perceive the world with senses of whose existence I had never known before.
It was her first encounter with Jung, and it opened doors which ‘never closed again’.
Many years passed before she saw Jung again, and in those years catastrophe overtook Europe.
The Nazis rose to dominate Germany, the Second World War broke out, refugees multiplied, the horror of the concentration camps was revealed and chaos overtook European civilisation.
Once more she returned to Zurich to consult Jung, brimful of problems, dreams, complexities, but to her dismay Jung did not seem to
appreciate ‘how desperately I wanted to talk to him.
He just glanced at me, and then looked out of the window into his garden and started to tell me quiet little stories: about the long preparation the bushmen took the evening before a hunt; how many years of learning it took a disciple of Zen Buddhism before he dared to try to hit the target.’
His soliloquy became preoccupied with exploring ‘the pitch black darkness of a tower where there was no chance of any light’, and
Anneliese Aumiiller’s impatience approached despair.
The following morning Jung greeted her with a smile which conveyed elements of the sarcastic.
‘You were quite unhappy last night and thought me a nasty, un-understanding man, didn’t you?’
She admitted as much, and at once Jung began a swift exposition of one flaw in Western civilisation, which would never, as he put it, ‘let things happen’.
He analysed the Chinese concept of Wu-Wei, which meant achieving a balance between activity and passivity.
One of his most appreciated authors translated Wu-Wei as ‘Doing nothing, but also not doing nothing.’
Anneliese Aumiiller commented:
When I went back to war-terror and fear I had learnt not to jump immediately in medias res. I no longer wanted to solve the problem or complex but was able to smell out the climate a little more and to let things happen … even to let the patient leave in despair in order to give the unconscious a chance to say what it thought to be good.
In other words, some problems were not immediately soluble, and it was better to let them develop their own inner resolution in collaboration
with the unconscious.
Joseph L. Henderson was successively a patient, a student, a colleague and a friend over many years.
He first saw in Jung the image of the philosopher or man .
‘It was hard to realise how at an earlier time he had been so much more exclusively the psychologist and psychiatrist in the scientific sense.’
These two images, the scientist and the philosopher, clashed on first acquaintance, and then, meeting him a second time, they suddenly fused into a ‘humanist in the old Renaissance style, in whom an authentic scientist and artist met in a man of philosophic temperament and training’.
Unlike most philosophers, Jung was also a man who put his theories into practice on such a scale and with such wide-ranging influence that Dr Henderson was deeply impressed.
On perhaps his tenth meeting, yet another embodiment of his chameleon personality emerged- that of the European Christian Protestant – to modify his reverence.
‘This I did not envy and it …provoked the same rebellious anti-father feelings from which I had expected Jung to cure me … in him I thought I detected a far more deeply moral critic than my own father had been.’
Yet another image then arose to challenge the austerity of the father-figure – that of a Swiss peasant in faded blue denims and sandals,
‘drinking wine and throwing meat to his dogs with gargantuan generosity.
There was nothing gross or self-conscious about this; it was all an expression of true Homeric piety.’
As if to flaunt the complexity of Jung’s personality, yet another of the multiple selves within his overtly integrated persona would come riding up from a tradition apparently different from all the others which made Jung, at times, into the modern equivalent of the old shaman, a person of uncanny perception and frightening unpredictability of behaviour.
‘This was the side of him which could never endure boredom and managed to keep him in hot water with someone all his life.’
It could cause an abrupt breaking away from a person – where communication between them had run dry – in a manner which was rude. Indeed, one witness testifies to a Swiss-German bluntness approaching and sometimes realising rudeness.
Jung himself enlarged on this, but before quoting irrefutable evidence from the Shaman himself let Dr Henderson describe a lighter aspect of Jung’s nature.
I remember a party at his house in which we were held to a relentless game, with everyone sitting in a circle throwing a ball from one to the other to frustrate the unfortunate victim who had
to stand in the centre and try to intercept the ball.
This seemed to go on for hours, with Jung as the evil genius who kept it going.
Various mishaps occurred during the evening.
I fell down and broke my glasses, a very proper Bostonian lady lost her pearls, and just as the party seemed destined to fall to pieces by this shattering of personas, the unbounded pleasure of our host asserted itself, baptising us all to harmony again.
At a much deeper level Dr Henderson remarks that ‘when I have gone all over my memories of Jung’s personality and character, sifted and simplified the images they evoke, there is left a sense that he was not just a mixture of them all but something separate and whole …. He
was the most deeply rooted man I ever met, whether in his actual life or in his philosophic and religious commitment. .. .’
On my own second and last meeting with Jung, I encountered a man who emanated a kind of certainty.
Given his high cheek-bones and fresh complexion, he could easily be mistaken for a countryman, and the ‘excellent brain was so unexpected in the peasant’s frame’ .
Certainly, for ail his erudition, Jung had a gift for communicating with people in many walks of life when he put himself out to do so. H.F. Ellenberger claims that in the gatherings which followed the meetings of the Medical Association for Psychotherapy he would strip off his jacket and dance and yodel far into the night, but Jung’s son Franz denies this.
Jung believed that a good psychiatrist must sometimes get away from the consulting-room to explore the taverns, prisons, stock exchanges
A contradiction arose between the man firmly anchored in reality who enjoyed good food, sailing, pipe-smoking and mountaineering,
and the metaphysician who w.as fascinated by the occult.
He could move with disconcerting speed from the loftiest speculation to an analysis of good coffee-making, cook an excellent meal, swear eloquently and face a threatening mob of Africans with immense courage.
Modern art, modern music and women in trousers he abhorred.
Conversationally brilliant, wit was not something he prized, but he sometimes practised it with skill.
On one occasion, asked if simple ignorance were not the root of most of the troubles in the world, he replied: ‘No, it’s not ignorance – it is that so many people know things which are simply not so.’
Yet another side of his character came through at a meeting of the Eranos Society.
The full flood of delivering a paper, Herbert Read became aware of a growling voice which erupted from the body of the hall like occasional rolls of thunder.
The voice repeated – at intervals – two phrases explosively: ‘That’s mine!’ and ‘That’s yours!’ As Herbert Read plunged deeper into his subject the interruptions became louder.
Suddenly, the powerful figure of Jung stood up, made his way ruthlessly along the row of disciples and stormed out of the hall.
Within minutes there came from the floor above the hail the sound of a man clumping about, his footsteps expressing his fury more violently than his words.
Dr Michael Fordham arrived late for the lecture and encountered the same figure storming down the stairs again, swearing with an unexpected range of four-letter invective.
Jung told Fordham that his wife had stolen ( ! ) the key to his flat above the lecture-hail and that he could not get in.
Certainly, Jung was a man capable of great rages, sometimes the result of a long accumulation of repressed aggression, but he rarely held
He could, as we have seen, be rude to those who bored him.
He could literally eject a visitor who had become intolerable, and his invective against his enemies included phrases like ‘slimy bastard’,
’empty gasbag’, ‘a pisspot of unconscious devils’, and might even mount to the point of physical threats – ‘I would have softened up his
guttersnipe complex with a sound Swiss thrashing.’
In total contradiction, he was the sensitive scholar who carried intelligence into the high places of intellect, and his erudition in many
languages was redeemed from pedantry.
Capable of creating a new model of the human psyche, half his life was spent speculating about the nature of Man.
Suffering himself at one stage to the point of near madness, he understood the suffering of others and sometimes converted pain into an Elizabethan zest for living.
That, at least, was how his disciples saw him.
One fundamental key to his rich and complex psyche only became apparent very late in life.
‘There was adaimon in me and in the end its presence proved decisive. It overpowered me and if I was at times ruthless it was because I was in the grip of the daimon.’
He offended some people because the daimon insisted that if they did not understand him, then that was the end of the matter.
He had no toleration of alien people unless they happened to be patients in treatment.
‘I had to obey an inner law which was imposed on me and left me no choice.’
Although he was able to become intensely interested in people for a time, ‘once I had seen through them the magic was gone’.
He made a number of enemies because of the daimon. ‘A creative person has little power over his own life. He is not free. He is
captive … .’
This lack of freedom in his inner life was a great sorrow to him, and he found himself forced to say on occasion, ‘I am fond of you, indeed I love you, but I cannot stay … .’
In the end he regarded himself as literally the victim of these forces.
As we shall see, the flattery of his disciples was subject to severe qualification and the picture drawn in this prologue had less pleasant
aspects which will be examined in detail.
We have so far touched in an outline of the myth. Behind it we shall eventually confront the actual man.
When all this is said, what were the influences which combined to produce a person so rich in contradictions, what beginnings gave birth
to such a multiplicity of personas, and how did he achieve the smiling serenity of the Old Wise Man so often presented in his last days? ~Vincent Brome, Jung: A Biography, Pages 13-20