S.W. and C.G. Jung mediumship, psychiatry and serial exemplarity

S.W. redivivus

In 1907, in The Psychology of Dementia Praecox, Jung revisited the case, describing it now as one of hysteria.

It was cited in tandem with Flournoy’s Hélène Smith (also presented here as hysteric).

After studying with Janet, and starting his engagement with Freud’s work, the interest in the psychopathic inferiorities made way for hysteria (Jung, 1907: §10).

Jung noted that in his 1902 study he had based himself on Flournoy (Jung, 1907: §58n).

This pairing was coupled with a wider hermeneutic move, in that Jung was in effect transferring and applying the psychogenic model which he had developed in his analysis of S.W. to dementia praecox.

The dementia praecox patient was modelled on a medium, and delusional systems were interpreted in a similar manner as analogous to S.W.’s spiritualistic romances.

Five years later, in Transformations and Symbols of the Libido (1912), Jung now presented the case of S.W. as an exemplar of his new model of the emergence of the primordial images from the phylogenetic unconscious, which he would later call the collective unconscious.

He noted that it was in his work, ‘at a time when I had not yet understood the nature of psychoanalysis’, that he discovered what unconscious fantasies are like, and how removed they are from what a girl of this age would outwardly show (Jung, 1912: §95).

Jung now wrote that in the seances, she presented far-reaching fantasies of a mythic nature, seeing herself as the racial mother of countless generations.

Jung went on to claim that, if one left aside her poetic cast, there are elements that are probably in common with all girls of her age, since the unconscious is infinitely more common than individual consciousness, since it is the condensation of what was historically the average.

Now, his emphasis was no longer on her personal psychology, but the collective levels revealed in her fantasies.

From 1913 onwards, Jung embarked on an extended period of self-experimentation, in which he attempted to study the collective dimension of his own fantasies.

The main method which he used – provoking fantasies in a waking state, and entering into dialogue with the figures who appeared – directly recall his earlier experiments with Helene Preiswerk, with the difference that now Jung was his own medium (Jung, 2009).

A critical development came in 1916, when he painted a work entitled the ‘Systema munditotius (system of all the worlds)’ (Jung, 2009: 364).

This represented the symbolic cosmology which he elaborated in his contemporaneously written text, the ‘Septem Sermones ad Mortuos (Seven Sermons to the Dead)’, cast in a neo-Gnostic style (Jung, 2009: 364ff.).

The painting has some affinities with S.W.’s depiction of the forces of the universe. In late summer and early autumn 1917, he drew a series of circles in pencil in his army notebook, which he later painted in the calligraphic volume, Liber Novus (Jung, 2009: 361ff.).

He later called these circular depictions ‘mandalas’, borrowing a term from Tibetan Buddhism.

He came to conceive the mandala to be a representation of the ‘self’, which he later defined as the totality of the personality and the central archetype, whose symbols are indistinguishable from those of the Godhead (Jung, 1950: §627ff.).

He considered the realization of the self to be the goal of the process of development, individuation, in which he had been engaged.

For Jung, mandalas occurred throughout the world in various religious traditions.

.They also occurred spontaneously in dreams and in certain states of psychological conflict.

Though not explicitly stated, it is clear that he would have regarded S.W.’s diagram as an example of a mandala and indeed, the first with
which he had been preoccupied.

In 1921, in Psychological Types, he again cited the case of S.W. as a ‘detailed example’ of the prospective tendency of the unconscious which Maeder had spoken about, ‘which playfully anticipates future developments’ (Jung, 1921: §701n).

In 1925 Jung presented his most extended reworking of the case, in the course of an account of his intellectual development. He commenced by stating that his whole interest in psychology began with this case (Jung, 1925/2012: 3).

He noted that in hypnosis she would enter a trance, during which various personalities manifested themselves, and he found that he ‘could call by suggestion one personality or another. In short, found I could have a formative influence on them.’ (p. 3).

The language suggests that Jung was conducting hypnotic experimentation, à la Binet or Janet. He continued: ‘I began to study the literature of spiritualism but could find no satisfaction there.’ (p. 4).

As we have seen, the contemporaneous record suggests that initially, far from being distant, Jung was quite taken by spiritualistic literature.

He then turned to turn to the works of Schopenhauer and von Hartmann for illumination.

He found his first explanation of what was taking place through his reading of Schopenhauer, namely that personifications were the result of the image-forming tendency of the Will, or what Jung would later term the libido.

This led him to the conviction that the unconscious material had a tendency to ‘flow into definite moulds’ (p. 5). He parenthetically added that ‘at this time I thought that after all there might be ghosts’ (p. 5).

In essence, Jung was attributing his later conception of the purposive tendencies of the unconscious to his observation of S.W.

However, he now saw that he had overlooked ‘the most important feature of the situation’, which was that she had fallen in love with him (p. 6).

The implication here is that she had produced the material in an effort to please Jung, providing him with what he was looking for. In effect, this was taking up Flournoy’s observations in his follow-up study on Hélène Smith (Flournoy, 1902: 113).

Jung now proceeded to present a reading of her case in the light of his post-1917 theories of the individuation of the personality, developed after his own extensive self-experimentation.

In effect, this formed his first public ‘clinical’ example of the process of individuation.

He noted that her family had declined from its patrician status, and she now found in Jung all the aspects of life which she craved, and tried to express the best of herself in the trance personage.

Her cheating forced her back into reality, and she then went to Paris and became a dressmaker.

This transformation was itself ‘an example of the psychological law that in order to advance to a higher level of development, we have to commit a mistake which threatens to ruin us’ (Jung, 1925/2012: 6–7).

Her subsequent development now became seen as exemplifying some of the typical features of the individuation process.

The milieu she lived in was too narrow for her gifts, so as a consequence her unconscious compensated for this by presenting the opposite, in the form of very important personages.

The tension between these two aspects became the basis of the mediatory or transcendent function. The figure of Ivenes was a symbol of this, as a resolution of the conflict of opposites.

In 1933, Jung began a series of lectures at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, which were to last for many years.

In his first semester, he presented a history of psychology.

After starting in a conventional history of ideas approach, he changed tack midway through, commenting:

History, as you know, has always chronicled individual lives and psychologies, particularly of outstanding persons and ‘great men’; and among these, the ‘men of action’ have predominantly attracted the interest of psychological historians.

But there exist also other personalities besides such ‘men of action’ – ‘psychic’ people, people marked by their inner experience.

They stand out much less, and yet we possess authentic historical sources about them, and find them in a place where we would have hardly thought to encounter them: in the lives of the saints, the Acta sanctorum, in the court records of witch trials, and later in the
miraculous accounts of stigmatised individuals and of somnambulistic persons.

By the late eighteenth and
the early nineteenth century, a fairly copious literature had emerged on these strange personalities. (Jung,
1933–4: 24)

Decades before Ellenberger, Jung himself was highlighting the role of patients in the history of
dynamic psychiatry.

He then proceeded to devote six lectures to an analysis of Kerner’s Seeress of Prevost, followed by three lectures on Flournoy’s From India to the Planet Mars.

This attests to the significance these works had for him.

As we have also seen, when considering these books, his own somnambulist, S.W., was never far from his mind.

On three further occasions, Jung returned to the case of S.W. In 1935, in his Foreword to the second edition of his book,

The Relations between the I and the Unconscious, he wrote that the idea of the independence of the unconscious, which distinguished his views so radically from those of Freud, came to him in 1902, when he was studying the psychic history of a young somnambulist, referring to his dissertation (Jung, 1935: 123).

In 1939, in his paper ‘On rebirth’, while discussing the enlargement of the personality, he noted that personality is seldom at the beginning what it will be later on.

The three examples he cited were Nietzsche’s encounter with Zarathustra, Paul at Damascus, and the Islamic legend of the meeting of Moses and Khidr, swiftly adding that there were more trivial cases to be found in case histories and courses of healing of neurotic patients (Jung, 1939: §216ff.).

Of these, he tellingly singled out the case of S.W., noting: ‘I have discussed one such case of a widening of the personality in my inaugural dissertation.’ (Jung, 1939: §219n.).

Four years later, he wrote in conclusion to the fifth edition of his book, On the Psychology of the Unconscious: ‘Just as the Breuer
case … was decisive for Freud, so a decisive experience underlies my own views … For one who knows my scientific production it will not be uninteresting to compare this forty-year-old study with my later ideas.’ (Jung, 1943: §199).

S.W. was refigured here as Jung’s own ‘Anna O.’.

In the late 1950s, Jung undertook a series of biographical conversations with his friend and colleague, the English psychiatrist E.A. Bennet, who recorded the following remarks Jung made about S.W. in 1957:

Ever since his experience with the mediumistic girl he had regarded the psyche as an objective phenomena with its own autonomous laws … Here he got his first glimpse of the fact that there was another world (the unconscious) which had a life of its own quite apart from the life of consciousness. The girl, in her trances, was living ahead of her actual age of fifteen-and-a-half, and from this he concluded (later) that the unconscious was timeless – all her life was there already. (Bennet, 1982: 93)

Some of Jung’s retrospective statements serve to ‘back-date’ his later conceptions, suggesting that he had already empirically observed and come to them then.

They should be taken carefully, as they can also be read as pointing to the significance of Jung’s early theoretical presuppositions on his
later work: be it his mix of spiritualism, vitalism, idealist philosophy and Romantic animal magnetism in the late 1890s, or the synthesis of the subliminal psychology of Flournoy,

Myers and James with the abnormal psychology of Binet and Janet, which framed his analysis in 1902.

At the same time, it is clear that his experience in the seances, which led him to turn first to philosophy, and then to psychiatry and psychology, opened up the possibility of a fruitful connection between ‘clinical’ observation and experimentation and philosophical and psychological speculation, an interface which he was to explore for the rest of his career.

In subsequent decades, Jung continually returned to his seances with S.W., reworking the case as an exemplar of his evolving theories.

It is as if, to establish their worth, these theories had to be continually ‘retested’ on his original case, which continued to haunt him.

However, the psychological reworkings which Jung presented in his scholarly writings may not have been the end of the matter.

At some stage, Jung became convinced of the post-mortem survival of bodily death, and hence of the possibility of communication from beyond the grave, as well as of reincarnation (see Shamdasani, 2008).

One wonders whether this may have led him to ponder anew the question of the veridicality of some of her communications from the ‘dead’, and of their intertwined past lives. ~Sonu Shamdasani,‘S.W.’ and C.G. Jung: mediumship, psychiatry and serial exemplarity, Page 287-299