Cult Fictions

Richard Noll’s 1992-1994 Letters to Sonu Shamdasani


ABSTRACT: Richard Noll is a historian of psychiatry who wrote two controversial volumes on C.G. Jung in the 1990s: The Jung Cult (1994) and The Aryan Christ (1997). A third volume, Mysteria, was also set for publication by Princeton University Press (1994/1995), but was suppressed at the behest of the Jung family.

Sonu Shamdasani is a historian of psychiatry in the employ of the Jung family, responsible for editing, among other things, Jung’s ‘The Red Book.’

As detailed here, the two are mostly known as rivals, but as documents posited by Noll in the Cummings Center for the History of Psychology in Akron, Ohio make clear, the two were not always enemies.

Noll’s letters to Shamdasani, from the cache in said archives, are reproduced below.

Shamdasani’s answers cannot be reproduced here for copyright reasons, but to the Jung scholar familiar with the Noll/Shamdasani feud, they are nonetheless most interesting as well. – OJJT.

14 May 1992

Dear Sonu Shamdasani,

I’m so sorry it has taken me so long to get back to you, but I wanted to make sure I had a clearer idea of what will be happening with the Jung Center of Philadelphia before I invited you to speak.

As it stands, I would love to schedule and promote a lecture for you as soon a you can give me a firm date.

Our programs are over in May, but we can do a special promotion for your talk if we have enough time.

I am not sure as yet what we can offer as an honorarium, as we are a very small organization, but I think we can come up with something that will be agreeable to you.

Please let me know a tentative date or dates so that we can begin to prepare.

have been leading a seminaron the early career of Jung and made your wonderful article “A Woman Called Frank” required reading, so you will have at least a dozen or so persons in the audience who are familiar with your work.

I will send the revised version of my Mithraism paper under separate cover.

Since I have not heard back from the JAP in more than six months after submitting it, and considering the necessary endnotes, it will probably be published in the next issue of Spring.

James Hillman tells me you have a paper that will be published in that issue, too, and I can assure you that I (and my students) are anxious to see what you’ve come up with next!

I really do look forward to meeting you soon.


Richard Noll, Ph. D.

20 June 1992

Dear Sonu Shamdasani:

We are excited about finally meeting you on 2 July. Enclosed is the flyer for your talk. Our agreement is for a fee of $400 plus a hotel room for one evening.

We have made reservations in your name (prepaid by us) for a room for two persons at the Latham Hotel, which is at the corner of Walnut and 17th street in the heart of Center City Philadelphia.

It is a very short cab ride from the train station at 30th street and Market.

The telephone number of the Latham is (215) 563-7474.

You will be just three city blocks from the place where you are speaking, which is just a half-a-block south (down 20th Street) from the corner of 20th and Walnut.

My office is at this corner, and so perhaps we can meet there informally before your talk as I would enjoy the opportunity to get to know you better.

If you need to reach me when you get to New York, my daytime number from 9 to 4 on 29 and 30 June and 1 July will be [blanked – OJJT], as I am doing some consulting that week at Temple University.

My office machine at the number you have been calling me is good at all times.

Due to all of the problems and wasted time in trying to deal with Rosemary Gordon, my Mithraism paper has still not been revised to my satisfaction, although Spring will publish it in the next issue.

I will attempt to leave a copy for you at the hotel, which you can pick up when you check in and then read at your leisure.

Again, I’m looking forward to meeting you on the 2nd!


Richard Noll, Ph. D.

15 March 1993

Dear Sonu,

I have been meaning to write to you for a very long time now but life keeps getting in the way (note my new capitalist pig address and phone number) and I wanted to finish polishing off a piece I have submitted to Spring.

I really go out on a limb on this one as I take a major shot at the Jungian analytical establishment.

I hope Hillman and Boer publish it.

It has some decent historical scholarship in it, so I think it may get through, but it is clearly an indictment of the “Jung cult” (as I call it) as it has developed along Weberian lines since the beginning.

As soon as it is close to being fine-tuned I will send you a copy too (I am embarrassed to show you my mistakes ….).

Can you send me a copy of your piece in Harvest? And also of Swales’s?

He doesn’t have his copy with him here. Also, anything that you feel you may be willing to show me on the “mediumistic psychology” angle.

I would greatly appreciate it.

Work on the ancient mysteries book is slow, but productive.

I am convinced now that, as you have also noticed, Jung was deliberately setting up a religious cult based on the model of the ancient Greco-Roman mysteries (at least this is what I am arguing at present).

He promised rebirth and an experience of the “godlikeness” within each of us – big stuff!!! – through contact with the impersonal or collective psyche.

This is precisely what the ancient mysteries were about.

For the last two months I have been immersed in reading Nietzsche. Have you read much of Nietzsche?

I am new to him, even though Jung mentions his influence over and over again.

I didn’t realize, though, to what extent Jung’s psychology was so Nietzschean!

Nietzsche was a much bigger influence than Freud, Flournoy, or anyone else as far as I can tell at the moment. What do you think?

As you know, the Spring piece on Mithraism is out.

John Beebe called me to tell me how much he liked it, especially the issues I raise in the footnotes. I told him how critical I was of the analytic establishment and that my future work would concern this angle, and he was very encouraging – which was a surprise.

We found that we have a common interest in the work of Max Weber, and he told me to “go ahead and Weberize the Jungian analytic community.”

How about that! Maybe he is more “open” to what we are up to than you had feared the last time I talked to you.

Let me know how you’re doing and how your work is progressing.

I will probably call you in the near future (if not before you get this letter) so I know I will be talking to you soon.



11 March 1994

TO: Sonu Shamdasani (and whoever else will find themselves a recipient of this chain letter)

FROM: Richard Noll


I received John Kerr’s letter to you of 10 March 1994 and, against my better wishes, feel that I too must enter into this snowballing misunderstanding.

I personally feel revulsion that I have been drawn into the nasty, back-biting tragedy of misunderstandings that seem to follow anyone connected with psychoanalytic scholarship (or psychoanalysis itself for that matter, lest we forget the Fliess-Freud-Swoboda-Weiniger mess).

So many of you seem to be attracted to this high drama and, as I now understand it, knives have been flashing in the night between you and Kerr and others for quite some time now.

I have blissfully been kept in the dark about most of this and do not want to know all of the gory details even now.

I do know that (a) I was offended by the insistent, accusational tone of your out-of-the-blue phone call from England the other day and (b) I know it is not the first time you have accused others of “stealing” your “intellectual property” as you put it.

You accused Kerr of such theft in your call and, when I did not immediately acquiesce to your demands for a copy of my manuscript you seemed to hold me responsible as a co-conspirator.

As you know, I got in touch with you and Kerr for the first time in the spring of 1992 after John Beebe told me it would be a valuable thing to do after he read my Leontocephalus paper in an editorial capacity (it was originally submitted to the JAP).

I did not even know the two of you had existed before then and had not read any works by either of you.

I hunted down your publications and invited you and Kerr and others to speak in Philadelphia where I was leading seminars that traced the intellectual roots and historical background of analytical psychology.

At that time I gave you my Leontocephalus paper which, as you know, focuses on Jung’s deification experience and is filled with many references to the mystery-cult nature of the Jungian enterprise.

I began working on a book (mentioned in the notes to the manuscript and the published article) on Jung and the ancient mysteries and had begun investigating the possibility that Jung had deliberately set up a 20th century version of a Hellenistic mystery cult after his break with Freud.

My Spring article contains numerous indications that this was my intention.

It was the refusal to take these cult metaphors out that probably made Rosemary Gordon reject it at the last minute and Spring accept it in early June of that year. Spring the final copy by September 1 and it was published in December of that year.

During this period I felt I was the only one who was exploring the cult-dynamics angle on Jung and the Jungians, and neither you nor Kerr spoke of this in my meetings with the two of you in Philadelphia in July (you) and October (Kerr) 1992.

After meeting you for the first time in Philadelphia in July I spoke to you on the phone after your return to England to ask your advice on what to look for at the Countway as I was planning to go up and do research in the Jung Oral Archives.

It was you, Sonu, who directed my attention to the Katz papers as “worth checking out” and you mentioned her notebooks.

When I spoke to Kerr at about the same time about what I should look into, he (significantly) did not mention the Katz papers at all but gave me detailed advice on which interview transcripts I might want to focus on.

I have you to thank, Sonu, for my independent discovery of the 1916 talk by Jung that was mislabeled there (a fact you obviously did not mention to me.)

I made photocopies and took notes on the material at the Countway during my August 1992 visit there (Eugene Taylor met me at the Countway and thus he can verify my presence there) – including a full transcription of the document in question – and packed it all away for possible inclusion in my book on the mysteries.

In a letter to me in the fall of 1992 (I can’t read the date on my copy due to food stain damage – I’m working on developing the Marlon Brando/Orson Welles look – is it October 1992?) you commented on the reprints of my published work and said I was more right that I realized by focusing on the cult aspect and that you also viewed Jung as forming a cult.

I viewed this statement by you as a careful acknowledgement of the fact you had reached a similar conclusion independently of my work on the mystery cult angle as presented in the manuscript I gave you in early July 1992.

I could easily accuse you of stealing my ideas! However, it would be bad manners to do so.

In early 1993 (February-March) I began intensive research on the Mysteria book and although I had an offer from another publisher, I contacted Princeton University Press about the possibility of a Mythos book of selections of Jung on the mysteries with a detailed scholarly introduction.

My earliest telephone contacts with Princeton date from February of 1992. I also spoke to you, Sonu, at about this time and mentioned the mysteries book with Princeton and my work on Nietzsche and certain Nazi-occult leads I was following (you mentioned the James Webb books to me at that 􀢢me).

My work on the introduction quickly led me to the Völkisch cult hypothesis as a greater cultural context for the Hellenistic mystery cult hypothesis and I talked to Kerr about this at about this time – mentioning the book I was working on Princeton – and this seems to be the call in question mentioned in his letter.

Hence, my work on one book (Mysteria) was quickly transformed into work on two books.

I did begin the writing of my second book until late June or July of 1993 and finished it by early September.

The document in question has mystery cult/völkische elements in it and therefore will be included in both books.

The Jung estate has recently given permission for me to use it.

Now comes the disputed issue: have you been stolen from? By me, absolutely not: I was on record (the Leontocephalus article) for promoting the mystery cult interpretation of Jung’s movement prior to any discussion by you or Kerr on the issue.

Furthermore, it was you who told me to look in the Katz papers in the first place!

If you did not want to risk someone else finding it (and I’m not the only other half-intelligent person who is capable of putting two and two together) then why did you direct me to that source? Why did you take that risk?

Were you so sure that you alone possessed the intelligence to put the story together?

The document was obviously a talk by Jung given at the founding of the Psychology Club (you can call it the founding of the “cult” if you want – I argue that the first formation of the cult was in 1912).

It doesn’t take a genius to see this. Where I am apparently not a genius is in the importance of the document: I still do not find it as important as you and Kerr think it is.

It still sounds to me like the two of you have some other piece of evidence I haven’t uncovered yet.

Yes, Jung sounds David Koresh at times in it but, hey, so what else is new?

The Jung Oral Archives is filled with this sort of stuff. Kerr makes it sound like you both have something else that you see in it, and you are both welcome to write a book with your own interpretation of it.

It will not, of course, be the book the two of you apparently planned to write years ago when you discovered the document.

It is your bad judgment not to have jumped on it and published at that time.

The fact that I am doing so now – after having discovered the document independently of either you or Kerr and recognized, on my own, it was Jung at the founding of the Psychological Club – does not mean that I (or anyone else) should be accused in any way of “stealing” property that rightly belongs to the Jung estate and not your “intellect.”

Regarding Kerr’s account in his letter: there are some fundamental differences of memory and of interpretations of what I “assured” him which I will take up with him privately.

I believe John Kerr to be an absolutely honest individual with a great sensitivity and sense of integrity. But he is as human as the rest of us. He feels that he has made some bad judgments in this affair, and I agree: if the two of you wanted to keep the document secret he should not have confirmed my interpretation of it as Jung and it cultic significance.

Also, after reading my manuscript last fall he should have called you immediately as he said he would.

I offered to call you so that you would not be surprised when you heard of my book but Kerr told me to hold off until he could call you first.

Obviously he never did. It took six or seven months ater I suggested this before the two of you did speak (the other day) and with obvious negative results.

I do not believe this is wilful malice on his part but instead an unwillingness to face a potenaltily emotionally explosive situation.

Knowing what I now know (your accusations that material “stolen” from you appears in his recent book, your insistence that you unnecessarily include persons such as Roy Porter into your dispute with Kerr, etc.) he probably avoided contact with you for fear you would see this as a further betrayal of you – which is exactly how you perceive

  1. His solution to the problem – not mentioned in his letter – is that I agree to just quote from the document and identify it as a “cult member” but not Jung, primarily so that you and he could still write the book and have a “payday.”

Knowing his precarious financial situation, and knowing that the document was not of crucial import to my book, I told him I would strongly consider it but that I always identified it as Jung.

He told me at several points that it was my decision to do what I want but that he would prefer that I did not use the document as I did not need it for my book (indeed, it is only one of many bits of evidence of Jung’s cult-building that I have uncovered).

The document is in no way the centerpiece of the book and the book is not built exclusively around it.

Due to unexpected production schedule pressures I had less 􀢢me to make up my mind definitively on the sticky ethics of the issue and gave the go-ahead to Princeton to consider using the full document and get proper permission for doing so with the (verbal) understanding as author I was responsible for changing the material at a later time if I saw fit as long as the book was not past the final copy editing stage.

Kerr will no doubt feel betrayed because I did not inform him immediately of the solidity of my decision to go with the publication and identification of the whole document. That is a blot on my personal relationship with him that I hope we can overcome.

I knew he would be disappointed and concerned about your reaction and therefore I too, in cowardice, avoided an emotionally charged incident that would threaten my friendship with him.

Obviously it inevitably has, I hope the two of you do go ahead and write your book on the document. It still sounds to me as if the two of you have something else up that I haven’t uncovered, and if so, great.

I am still one of your biggest fans, as I admire your intellect and scholarly sitzfleisch. However, I must say that my part in this document controversy is – and always has been – secondary to its part in your relationship with Kerr and I do not want to be included in your private dispute in the future.

Since this letter will probably be a hot item on the international psychoanalytic fax machine circuit (hello to you, Peter Swales!) I will say, then, in the politest terms possible, that you owe me a major apology before we can have further contact.


Richard Noll