A Modern Myth
That a doctor and psychotherapist could not stop with merely pointing out the psychosomatic conditions of the individual is nowhere clearer in Jung’s output than in his late work.
Strictly speaking, analogous motifs emerged in visions and dreams around the middle of his life, when for example immediately before World War I Jung saw Central Europe inundated with blood, or the continent covered by an ice age, while he was charged with distilling a healing medicine for others.
And although he did not remain entirely free of the illusions of his · time during the early years of National Socialism, he did at least pay attention to the rumors of “Wotan” and the raging of the “blond beast,” as the masses of the intelligentsia in university and church were not yet able to be clearly aware of the depth and the scope of what was happening.
In any case his notes before the First World War and during the thirties can be taken as a depth psychologist’s contribution to the diagnosis of his time, even if the actors and especially their sacrifice might sometimes have required a more precise and urgent presentation of their psychic predicament.
After the catastrophe had run its course in 1945, the Swiss doctor was not satisfied with the then lengthy and much debated “mastery of the past,” not even from the viewpoint of a “neutral” who had been little affected by the events, but turned his attention anew to present and future.
(There is no need to refute Ernst Bloch’s ignorant imputation that Jung of all people reduced “the libido and its unconscious contents entirely to the primitive.”
No one familiar with the theory and practice of analytical psychology is in any doubt about the leading role it assigns to prospective, future-oriented factors in the psychic life.)
So the question was to interpret the phenomena of the time as symptoms for deeper-lying states of affairs, and in view of more far-reaching processes.
The psychotherapist became the interpreter of an age, or more precisely, referring to the premillennial years, he became the diagnostician of a change in consciousness.
Jung was conscious of the hazards involved if he commented from his own point of view on the contemporary phenomenon of “things seen in the skies,” to shed light on processes in the field of the human psyche.
In the Preface to his article on UFOs, “A Modern Myth,” he noted:
“Of course I know that as in the past my voice is much too weak to reach the ears of the many. It is not arrogance which drives me, but my conscience as a doctor that counsels me to fulfill my duty in order to warn those few to whom I can make myself heard that events are in store for mankind which signal the end of an eon.”
Jung had nothing to add to the popular rumors of a possible end of the world.
Rather he referred to the ancient idea of the Platonic year, in which the earth’s axis revolves around an imaginary point in the course of more than 25,000 years.
This means that at intervals of some 2100 years a shift in the vernal equinox takes place.
Where the equinox in the third and fourth millennia of the pre-Christian era stood in the sign of Taurus, and until around the turn of the millennium in the sign of Aries, the Christian era began with a shift to the constellation of Pisces.
Around the year 2000 C.E.-at best only approximate and not entirely consistent dates can be given comes the transition to the age of Aquarius, the water-carrier.
Even if one does not wish to adhere to this ancient time reckoning, astonishingly it does signal a change that applies primarily to human and humanistic consciousness.
And it is in this context that Jung’s statements are to be seen, as he continued:
“There are, it would seem, alterations in the constellation of the psychic dominants, the archetypes, the “gods,” which cause or accompany long-term transformations of the collective psyche. This transformation began within historical tradition and left its traces, first in the passing of the age of
Taurus into that of Aries, then from Aries to Pisces, the beginning of which coincides with the rise of Christianity. Now we are approaching the great change to be expected with the entering of the vernal equinox into Aquarius.”
Discussion of this line of thinking is not without its problems.
Jung knew only too well that he was risking the reputation as a scientist, which he had fought hard for and had occasionally been called into question, since “astrologers” of doubtful shadiness had also been taking up this topic.
His resolve stood firm to deal with such questions nonetheless; he gave explicit assurances that this did not happen lightly.
“I am, to be honest, troubled by the lot of those who have been unprepared for the events and surprised by them and surrendered unsuspectingly to their incomprehensibility.”
There was also an external impulse to write this book on UFOs; it came from his son-in-law, the architect Walther Niehus, the husband of Marianne Jung, who died only four years after her father in 1965. The book is dedicated to Niehus.
As far as the so-called UFOs were concerned, a flood of literature had been produced at various intellectual levels: eyewitness accounts of single and multiple observers and attempts to assign the phenomena seen in the sky to human experience and ultimately arrive at plausible explanations.
As for the explanation itself, the door was open to speculations of every kind.
In many cases the problems began already with the process of observation.
Over and over it was said how difficult it was, if not impossible, to get a clear idea of these unidentified flying objects, because they did not behave like solid bodies, although in many respects they gave this impression.
Rather, they appeared weightless and fleeting, like thoughts.
These characteristics matched the supposition that they were intelligently controlled by a quasi-human pilot.
Jung had expressed his opinion in this sense four years before the book appeared, in an article he published-at the urging of the science journalist Georg Gerster-in the Zurcher Weltwoche of 9 July 1954.
While sightings of UFOs were known from all over the world, Jung for his part had to say that he himself had never seen any such thing.
Nevertheless the fact remained:
“Something is being seen. What is seen may be in individual cases a subjective, in the case of several or even many simultaneous observers a collective vision ( or rather hallucination). Much like a rumor, such a psychic phenomenon would have a compensatory significance; it would be a spontaneous response from the unconscious to the present conscious state, or to anxiety over the apparently hopeless world political situation, which at any time may lead to a universal catastrophe.”
In times of distress and uncertainty, men’s gaze turns for help toward the heavens.
It is from there that signs are expected.
Jung pointed out in particular the round shape of the UFOs, and thus the mandalalike structure of these flying bodies.
At the same time he advised against any speculation, feeling rather that the scientific institutions and governmental or military agencies which had access to the results of more precise investigations should make their information available to the public.
What had become increasingly probable to him-besides a possible psycho-physical basis-was “an essentially momentous psychic component,” inasmuch as objects such as UFOs represent call upon conscious and unconscious fantasy.
Jung expressly declined to give an opinion on the possible physical reality of UFOs.
But on the other hand he admitted that even with sound-minded observers with all their faculties, things can be perceived that do not exist.
One prerequisite for this Jung spoke of a “visionary rumor”-was an unusual emotion, in contrast to the ordinary rumor, for whose propagation and
development the curiosity and sensationalism present everywhere ·are sufficient.
“But its elevation [From Rumor] to the status of vision and hallucination stems from a stronger agitation and therefore a deeper source.”
This deeper source-actually it is a far-reaching underground spring-undoubtedly stands for the world of the archetypes.
For just as Jung, at the time of the menacing unleashing of National Socialism, had seen in the march step of the brown-shirted columns, the verbiage of the Nazi officials, and the mass applause of (nearly) an entire people the workings of the storm god Wotan as the manifestation of a powerful archetype, so it was here too.
For the circular and spherical shape which the UFOs as a rule were said to have indicates a symbol of wholeness or the Self.
With regard to skeptical contemporaries, the overwhelming majority of whom look for the perilous and the hopeful alike rather in external factors, the phenomenon of UFOs should demand attention.
Of course, he said, it was essentially a question of withdrawing the projections-like any-that were directed toward the heavens, that is of taking into consideration the possibility of a symbolic significance for people at the moment of crossing the threshold of consciousness.
But for Jung such a projection was still no foregone conclusion.
Rather he once recommended (in late 1957) that a competent psychiatrist should investigate the conscious and unconscious mentality of UFO witnesses in order to determine whether UFOs were to be traced to the projection of unconscious contents.
Projection or not, Jung occasionally pointed out that every new experience had two points of view, one the fact as such, and the other the way in which it is understood.
Obviously, as a psychiatrist he was primarily concerned with the question of understanding, of witnessing and reacting.
As his secretary Aniela Jaffe reported, even in the last years of his life Jung established a special UFO archive, in which he collected books, professional journals, and newspaper clippings with sightings from all over the world, as well as letters, dream accounts, and his own notes on the problem.
Some of this material was included in “Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth.”
On the whole, the author was able to state, on the basis of present-day and notable historical evidence, “that the unconscious makes use of certain fantasy elements in presenting its contents which can be compared with the UFO phenomenon. ”
Notwithstanding his main interest in the psychic side of the phenomenon, Jung did not cease to take into account also the arguments of those who devoted themselves mainly or exclusively to the investigation of the possible technical aspects of UFOs.
He had familiarized himself regarding radar observations through the physicist Max Knoll, professor of electronics at Princeton University.
There was a certain amount of collaboration between Jung and the Aerial Phenomena Research Organization (APRO) in the United States, which
named the psychologist an honorary member regardless of his differing approach.
In the summer of 1959 Charles A. Lindbergh (1902-1974), accompanied by his wife Anne and the German-American publisher Kurt Wolff, was Jung’s
guest in Bollingen.
The elderly host was informed of the official research in the United States, but made Lindbergh clearly aware that a whole multitude of things were happening around the world of which the famous aviator and the aviation experts had no idea.
Technical data and attempts at physical explanation are just insufficient to do justice to phenomena which in times of crisis stir the emotions so strongly and incite them to the most unusual, fantastic conceptions.
And though it was not possible for Jung to solve the UFO problem with ultimate certainty, his contributions and reflections· were aimed at making known the one-sidedness of a strictly technical view of the world.
These were the years in which mankind was about to prepare for the first moon landing-another fact whose effect on the psychic disposition of a great part of humankind is not to be underestimated.
Jung also spoke from this perspective in his Memories:
There is the general feeling, to be sure, that we have reached a significant turning point in the ages, but people imagine that the great change has to do with nuclear fission and fusion, or with space rockets. What is concurrently taking place in the human psyche is usually overlooked.
The decisive factor in this context is what is meant here by the human psyche.
For only a psychology which reckons with the dimensions and the workings of the unconscious is able to develop the necessary sensitivity to extraordinary phenomena of the time.
For example, where previous psychology had typically traced the accomplishment of psychologically induced symptoms at best to suggestive, or auto-suggestive, tendencies, Jung’s archetypal psychology made reference to factors in the collective unconscious, which he had explored in the course
of decades and documented by means of a remarkable wealth of empirical material.
Their collective character was underscored by the very fact that UFOs could appear everywhere.
As “spontaneously appearing circular images of unity, which represent a synthesis of the opposites within the psyche,” they seemed to indicate an instance of psychic compensation.
Indeed, such a compensation is called for by a world marked by powerful divisions, in West and East, in North and South, in “blocs” and systems, in the exploitation and destruction of the planet ….
Such a statement by the depth psychologist is certainly not the last word on the subject, especially if one takes seriously Jung’s intimations of the end of an era and the onset of a new age, and if-and here lies the crucial point-one wishes to be sure of the spiritual significance of what is seen as signs in
the heavens. ~Gerhard Wehr, Jung: A Biography, Pages 409-415