Two Encounters with Carl G. Jung by Baldwin Sawyer
It was summer 1948 when we first met C. G. Jung.
Mother had been living in Zurich, and studying Jungian psychology since 1930.
She was known as Carol Baumann, from her second marriage.
She introduced us to her circle of friends by giving a colorful costumed party for us in her apartment. The psychology club was not mentioned as I recall, but I believe her friends were members.
Years later when reading Marie Louise von Franz’s description of that club, I recognized the odd group who felt free to enjoy acting out repressed parts of themselves, and playing charades.
It was later in July that we were invited to the Jung’s home in Kusnacht for a Sunday afternoon tea.
I have a photograph to help me recall him dressed in lederhosen shorts looking relaxed and hearty, very much living up to his name-a splendid senex to me, I was to think much later, after I met the term.
There were swans on the lake beside the patio where we sat.
It was Jung who told us then that swans could be mean-tempered and formidable assailants, quite capable of drowning a dog or even a man.
I asked Jung about Nazism, wanting to hear some words directly from him on the subject.
He spoke of the direct evidence he had heard through the dreams of hundreds of German people, of a shift in the energies flowing in the German unconscious, reverting like a
river to its old bed, toward the old Teutonic gods and their violent ways.
I sensed no “apology for the Nazis” as was being charged in America, but rather a delineation of a tragic pathology in a national psyche.
He went on to deplore what had happened to Europe following the rise in nationalism.
When he was a boy if he wanted to wander through the many countries of Europe he merely hoisted his pack on his back and hiked on his way. No passports, no visas, no border checkpoints!
What a monstrous growth of restrictions and separations has come to threaten us all following the rise in nationalism.
Suddenly, I felt, Jung was addressing me directly, a changed tone in his voice. “I understand you worked on the atomic bomb project?”
“Yes that’s right, I did.”
“There’s a question I’ve been wanting to ask.”
“I’llII do my best to answer.” said I.
“What I want to know is, is it now possible to destroy the whole earth with one bomb?”
For me, the teacups poised silently; the swans on Zurichsee paused.
“I will answer in two parts,” I said. “If you mean, ‘Could a bomb ignite chain reactions of fission that might spread, and lead to the explosion of all the earth?’ the answer is no!
Scientists studied and tested that question very carefully before beginning their first chain reaction experiments.
“But if you mean, ‘Can a bomb be made capable of destroying all life on the surface of this earth?’ the answer can only be yes!
As only one example, I read recently of a Cobalt bomb concept, capable of releasing a large amount of radioactive Co60 into our atmosphere at high altitude.
Winds could be expected to spread this material, eventually over the entire surface of the earth, covering it with a lethal layer of radioactivity.”
Most of the teacups were still poised.
Jung sat focused, having listened closely to each word, absorbing.
Suddenly he lifted his hands, and smote his left palm with his right fist, saying, “Good!” with finality.
Somehow the subject was settled , and we never had any further explanation of what he may have meant.
Of course I have often reflected on Jung’s question, my answers to it, and his response, which usually seems at first strange and enigmatic to people as they hear this story.
Now I feel sure that it was a serious question, and he was seeking its answer to illuminate the potential meaning of the bomb that had exploded upon the world’s consciousness two years before.
I believe he was weighing an inner question something like this: “Could the atomic bomb present at last such a superior threat to all nations-all people-that we will have to pay it a different kind of attention from the old national power politics to which we had become so accustomed?
Could this new kind of threat be sufficient stimulus that we might manage different kinds of responses from the various forms of collective madness that weigh so heavily on our minds?”
It was in early December of 1957 that I saw C. G Jung again.
The purpose of my trip again was to visit Mother, but this time she was at Klinik Hirslanden, suffering the terminal effects of a heart attack.
Most of that week I bad been on a fairly busy schedule, tending to a number of Mother’s business details, and visiting her each day.
She had covered most of the things I would need to know to act effectively for her as executor of her will.
Now the week was over, it was a grey December Saturday afternoon, and I felt at odds with myself, with nothing left to do, alone in Mother’s beautiful new house in Erlenbach.
As the early winter evening approached, abruptly, church bells began ringing, as they do on Saturday evenings in Zurich.
More and more joined the chorus, until they were raising quite a din-not a cacophony; they were tuned to harmonize-but they made a loud sound together, many bells tolling at random rates, and at widely differing pitches, some quite high and others very deep indeed.
The noise broke my funky mood, and I strode out of the house, down the mountainside, and off for a walk.
Approaching the Lake of Zurich I turned right, walked through the village and into Kusnacht, coming presently to the entrance of Dr. Jung’s house, which was entirely dark in the freshly darkened evening.
I hesitated, then knocked on the door, thinking there must be a reason I bad come this way.
Presently the housekeeper answered, and I enquired if Prof. Jung was in, saying who I was, and that I was not quite sure just why I was there.
She looked somewhat doubtful, but said she would ask if he would see me, and soon returned to ask me into his office.
He invited me to the chair across his desk from him, and gave me a forty-five-minute interview.
Our conversation went so easily and naturally that much of its significance to me passed me by, then.
I knew full well that Carl Jung was very kind indeed to respond so readily with his time to my impulsive visit unannounced, and I felt no surprise when Mother told me so during my next visit with her.
We discussed Mother’s present situation, naturally enough, and Jung reviewed it as he saw it, in the manner of a European physician speaking to the next of kin of someone in terminal illness.
He was frank and honest.
I knew of many of Mother’s considerable achievements in several areas of Jungian study interest, and had reprints of several papers she wrote, so I knew her Jungian interest was strong.
Now Jung told me that with her time running out at age fifty-nine, her progress was stopped before some goals were attained.
The meaning to me of the interview that Carl Jung granted me has grown through the years, partly no doubt, because in recent years I have become engrossed in Jungian studies myself, following the interest to which my mother exposed me years ago.
But, more than that, I still feel moved by the choice Jung made to see me.
He could easily, and quite appropriately, have turned me away without prejudice.
Yet he chose to ask me in with simple acceptance and have a talk as one human being talks to another.
I can only recognize now that I was a Telemachus, looking for a father’s approval, and Carl Jung gave it to me in a simple direct way one December evening in 1957.
To me he is a splendid senex figure with no Godlike pretensions, and the honesty and genuineness to let his humanity show. ~ C. G. Jung, Emma Jung and Toni Wolff – A Collection of Remembrances; Pages 76-79
Image: Carol Sawyer