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Carl Jung on the Shattered Knife
c121f knife

Memories, Dreams, Reflections

During the summer holidays, however, something happened that was destined to influence me profoundly. One day I was sitting in my room, studying my textbooks. In the adjoining room, the door to which stood ajar, my mother was knitting.

That was our dining room, where the round walnut dining table stood. The table had come from the dowry of my paternal grandmother, and was at this time about seventy years old. My mother was sitting by the window, about a yard away from the table.

My sister was at school and our maid in the kitchen. Suddenly there sounded a report like a pistol shot. I jumped up and rushed into the room from which the noise of the explosion had come. My mother was sitting flabbergasted in her armchair, the knitting fallen from her hands. She stammered out, “W-w-what’s happened? It was right beside mel” and stared at the table.

Following her eyes, I saw what had happened. The table top had split from the rim to beyond the center, and not along any joint; the split ran right through the solid wood. I was thunderstruck.

How could such a thing happen? A table of solid walnut that had dried out for seventy years–how could it split on a summer day in the relatively high degree of humidity characteristic of our climate? If it had stood next to a heated stove on a cold, dry winter day, then it might have been conceivable.

What in the world could have caused such an explosion? “There certainly are curious accidents,” I thought. My mother nodded darkly. “Yes, yes,” she said in her No. 2 voice, “that means something.” Against my will I was impressed and annoyed with myself for not finding anything to say.

Some two weeks later I came home at six o’clock in the evening and found the household–my mother, my fourteen-year–old sister, and the maid–in a great state of agitation. About an hour earlier there had been another deafening report.

This time it was not the already damaged table; the noise had come from the direction of the sideboard, a heavy piece of furniture dating from the early nineteenth century. They had already looked all over it, but had found no trace of a split. I immediately began examining the sideboard and the entire surrounding area, but just as fruitlessly.

Then I began on the interior of the sideboard. In the cupboard containing the bread basket I found a loaf of bread, and, beside it, the bread knife. The greater part of the blade had snapped off in several pieces. The handle lay in one corner of the rectangular basket, and in each of the other corners lay a piece of the blade.

The knife had been used shortly before, at four-o’clock tea, and afterward put away. Since then no one had gone to the sideboard. The next day I took the shattered knife to one of the best cutlers in the town. He examined the fractures with a magnifying glass, and shook his head. “This knife is perfectly sound,” he said. “There is no fault in the steel. Someone must have deliberately broken it piece by piece.

It could be done, for instance, by sticking the blade into the crack of the drawer and – breaking off a piece at a time. Or else it might have been dropped on stone from a great height. But good steel can’t explode. Someone has been pulling your leg.” I have carefully kept the pieces of the knife to this day. My mother and my sister had been in the room when the sudden report made them jump.

My mother’s No. 2 looked at me meaningfully, but I could find nothing to say. I was completely at a loss and could offer no explanation of what had happened, and this was all the more annoying as I had to admit that I was profoundly impressed. Why and how had the table split and the knife shattered?

The hypothesis that it was just a coincidence went much too far. It seemed highly improbable to me that the Rhine would flow backward just once, by mere chance–and all other possible explanations were automatically ruled out. So what was it?

A few weeks later I heard of certain relatives who had been engaged for some time in table-turning, and also had a medium, a young girl of fifteen and a half. The group had been thinking of having me meet the medium, who produced somnambulistic states and spiritualistic phenomena.

When I heard this, I immediately thought of the strange manifestations in our house, and I conjectured that they might be somehow connected with this medium. I therefore began attending the regular seances which my relatives held every Saturday evening. We had results in the form of communications and tapping noises from the walls and the table.

Movements of the table independently of the medium were questionable, and I soon found out that limiting conditions imposed on the experiment generally had an obstructive effect. I therefore accepted the obvious autonomy of the tapping noises and turned my attention to the content of the communications. I set forth the results of these observations in my doctoral thesis. After about two years of experimentation we all became rather weary of it.

I caught the medium trying to produce phenomena by trickery, and this made me break off the experiments–very much to my regret, for I had learned from this example how a No. 2 personality is formed, how it enters into a child’s consciousness and finally integrates it into itself.

She was one of these precociously matured personalities, and she died of tuberculosis at the age of twenty-six. I saw her once again, when she was twenty-four, and received a lasting impression of the independence and maturity of her personality. After her death I learned from her family that during the last months of her life her character disintegrated bit by bit, and that ultimately she returned to the state of a two-year-old child, in which condition she fell into her last sleep.

All in all, this was the one great experience which wiped out all my earlier philosophy and made it possible for me to achieve a psychological point of view. I had discovered some objective facts about the human psyche. Yet the nature of the experience was such that once again I was unable to speak of it. I knew no one to whom I could have told the whole story. Once more I had to lay aside an unfinished problem. It was not until two years later that my dissertation appeared. ~Carl Jung, Memories Dreams and Reflections.