Sunday, February 1, 2009

"Age of Crisis, Cause for Hope: Prophetic Visions of Jung and Native American Traditions:

Paper Presented at The Jungian Society for Scholarly Studies Conference 2009 - Susan Mehrtens, Ph.D.

This Power Point presentation had five components: a few words about my background and how I came to be speaking about this topic; Jung’s intuitions and Native parallels; the “road map” of alchemy; Jung’s final vision and Native parallels; and the reasons for us to be hopeful in this transitional time.

My Background
I began my professional career as an academic. I have a Ph.D. from Yale in medieval studies and for 19 years I taught history, Latin and Greek at Queens College of the City University of New York, and then at College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine. In all that time I was quite unaware of Carl Jung, until my world was “upended” in November of 1983. It was November 25th, the day after Thanksgiving that I had the first of what I have come to call my “voice-over” dreams, which tell me what is going to happen and give me explicit instructions about what I should do. This first “voice-over” dream was like a megaphone went off in my bedroom and it said, “Friends will die. Relatives will die. You will give up everything and your life will be transformed.” I woke up and told my husband about this weird experience and then promptly forgot all about it—until 5 days later, when I was in the local post office and learned that my friend Hazel Crafts had dropped dead. It was my husband who reminded me of the dream’s prediction. I dismissed it as just a “coincidence.” It was to be many years before I came to know with certainty that there’s no such thing as “coincidence.”

Within six months I had lost another friend, two aunts, an uncle and everything in my life was slipping away. In the next two years I got a divorce, left college teaching, and could see that my life was being changed in some fundamental ways. Through this time the “voice-over” dreams kept coming and, given my very left-brained, logical, Cartesian mindset, I thought I was going crazy, as reality was not supposed to be like this!

To allay my anxiety about my sanity (or lack thereof) I consulted every type of mental health professional in eastern Maine. In 1983/84 there weren’t a lot, but I saw them all, with my stack of dreams in hand, and they all told me the same thing: if I wanted to work with dreams I should find a Jungian. It was testimony to just how closed I was to anything psychological that I kept mishearing them, thinking they were telling me to find a union. For months I wondered what sort of union dream interpreters joined, until one day—when the urgency of finding help overcame my pride—I finally asked one of the shrinks what union it was that dealt with dreams. Only then did I come to discover Carl Jung. It took another year or so before a Jungian moved to Maine, and I was able to begin my analysis—an analysis that has led me to work with 4 analysts over these 23+ years, and I’m still at it. Analysis, dream work and the wonderful work of Carl Jung have become my life. And that first dream was right: my life was totally transformed.

Jung’s 1958 Intuition and Native Parallels
Ours is a time of crises: Major forest fires, devastating floods, wild winter storms, terrorism on a global scale, kidnappings, torture, beheadings, people losing their homes, major banks collapsing, the economy seemingly going down the tube. It makes people wonder what is going on. I have students ask me this frequently and I tell them that Carl Jung can provide us with a context for this question and offers us a road map for navigating this uncertain time and the years ahead.
Strong intuitive that he was, Jung often had intuitions. Most focused on his work with patients and his research, but some of his visions and insights were for the collective. In 1958 he sensed an archetype stirring in the collective unconscious and he told Barbara Hannah that this archetype was characteristic of the “end of an era.”
[2] Somehow Jung was aware that we were even then living in the closing years of an epoch and that the world as we knew it would undergo a major transformation.
Native visions parallel Jung’s intuition. Completely independently, and hundreds of years before Jung, the Mayans compiled an elaborate calendar that described the end of time,[3] and the Hopi of the American Southwest described this interval as the closing years of the “Fourth World.”[4] Many other native peoples share the belief that we are now in the end days of a global era, and they give the end time a date: the winter solstice in 2012.[5]
While the Mayan developed one of the most elaborate chronologies, the Hopi are the most articulate about the features of the world that is to follow, what they call the “Fifth World.” They date the emergence of this world (which they believe is to be much more attractive and positive than the “Fourth World” we are living in now) around 2040.[6] Which leaves us with a key question: How can we get through the challenges of the next few decades? Carl Jung provides us with a valuable road map and a context for our experience of the end time/beginning time.
Jung reminds us that “... the collective psyche shows the same pattern of change as the psyche of the individual.”[7] People collectively change in the same basic way that individuals change. It was one of Jung’s great insights—and a major contribution to the discipline of psychology—that this pattern of change is alchemical.
Alchemy. We hear the word and it conjures up images of medieval monks toiling over their flasks and beakers in some deluded endeavor to change lead into gold. The more scientifically-minded might think of alchemy as the precursor of modern chemistry. But when Jung discovered the writings of the medieval and Renaissance alchemists he realized that they were describing the process whereby we transform from unconsciousness (i.e. “lead”) to consciousness as individuated persons living in the fullness of our being (i.e. “gold”). Jung mapped out how the various phases and operations described in detail by the alchemists show up in individual analysis,[8] and he understood that this archetypal process of change applies to the collective as much as to the individual. Using Jung’s insights we can examine what is going on in our world as phases of archetypal transformation.

The “Road Map” of Alchemy
There are four phases in the alchemical change process: the nigredo (from Latin niger, “black, dark”), the albedo (from Latin alba, “white, bright”), the rubedo (from Latin rubeus, “reddening”) and the citrinitas (from Latin citrus, “lemon”).
[9] These phases often overlap in outer reality and in an individual’s analysis, but we will discuss them in a linear fashion.
When we examine the features of the 4 phases we can see that we as a collective society are now in the nigredo phase. Some of the features of this phase are: confusion, being flooded with affect, disorientation, self-righteousness, greed, inflation, sickness of spirit (or a feeling that life is meaningless), confrontation with the shadow, and unconsciousness. “Operations,” or components of the alchemist’s work during the nigredo phase included the putrefactio (when the alchemist—and, in Jungian analysis, the analysand—has to confront and clear out rotted stuff), the calcinatio (the process of purifying the desire nature through the “refiner’s fire”), the solutio (during which key structures of life often dissolve); and the mortificatio (or a “dying,” when parts of life have no energy left to vivify them).[10]
These operations characteristic of the nigredo show up on the collective level in events we are witnessing now in daily news reports. For example, we hear of widespread fires and floods and the “rot” in the U.S. financial, banking and home mortgage industries. Disorientation shows up as more and more people wonder just what is going on. Greed seems endemic in our culture, from CEO pay scales to spectacular Ponzi schemes like that of Bernard Madoff. We see inflation on the collective level in both material and intangible ways: in the economy’s fluctuating value of the dollar, and in our thinking that we can control Nature (certainly a form of hubris). Spiritual sickness—the widespread sense that life has no meaning—is fueling the epidemic of drug use and abuse, as well as the religious phenomenon of fundamentalism, as people “lust for certitude”[11] and seek comfort in dogmatisms. As a society we Americans confront our shadow in the form of al Queda and the Taliban.[12]
The nigredo is the hardest phase, the most painful phase, for both individuals and collectives. The phase that follows it is easier. We can begin to see elements of this phase, the albedo, underway now too.[13]
In the individual work of analysis, the albedo is often a time of strong passions and bitter hostilities, when warring parts of ourselves come up from the unconscious and demand our attention. We face the challenge of balancing the opposites in the task of redeeming matter and more specifically, our physical system, the body. Part of this process entails integrating the animus or anima, our contrasexual side, and the alchemical operation known as the sublimatio helps in this work. The sublimatio asks us to be objective, to rise above situations and see them from a higher perspective, or to stand back and try to see the circumstances of our lives from a more objective point of view.[14]

On the collective level, we can see the albedo at work now in the passions that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama hurled at each other; at the hostilities between the Shi’ites and Sunnis in Iraq, and the Tibetans and Chinese in Tibet. We are striving to achieve a balance of opposites in all the 12-step programs that tackle addictions (all of which represent problems with imbalance). Anne Wilson Schaef’s work combating workaholism is another effort to restore balance to our collective work life.
[15] Jungian analyst Marion Woodman works to redeem matter and help her clients to gain a better sense of their bodies.[16] The environmental movement is also fostering the reclamation of a more positive regard for the world of matter. Feminists and gender studies programs at many American colleges are helping to integrate the animus and anima. The component of objectivity is showing up in our collective life as more people become conscious of a higher perspective—that they can examine what happens to them in life from a more inclusive or enlightened point of view.

The albedo leads to the third stage, the rubedo.
[17] This stage comes with the achievement of additional consciousness in the individual. The analysand in this stage develops new attitudes and is more able now to hold the tension of the opposites. The person usually experiences a sense of healing or renewal. There is more energy now for living, and the ego becomes conscious of the Self. This is both desirable and disagreeable, as Jung reminded us in his comment that “the experience of the Self is a defeat for the ego.”[18] Used to running the show, the ego does not usually appreciate being put in a subordinate role. Along with these elements, the person often in this rubedo phase comes to realize or sense the presence of an inner divinity.

Although it is only nascent now, we can see occasional signs of the rubedo in our society. For example, we see hints of it in the growing number of people becoming more conscious. We hear about new attitudes: non-violence, reverence for the Earth, respect for indigenous peoples and their perspectives, the growing recognition of how global capitalism is destroying the planet. We also see more people “authorizing their own lives,”
[19] looking within for direction rather than to priests, teachers, parents or other authority figures. We get glimpses even in some TV ads, reminding us “we’re all in this together.”[20] In such modest ways we are beginning to see hints of the rubedo phase.

The final phase, the citrinitas, lies in the future. Before we move into this phase we will have to face the end of our old world and old ways of living and working.

Jung’s Final Vision and Native Parallels
Jung had a vision of the end, in his deathbed vision in May of 1961. He was just a few days away from death but remained concerned about the world and its welfare, and told his daughter of a vision he had, which he asked her to relate to his student Marie-Louise von Franz. In this vision he said, “I see enormous stretches devastated, enormous stretches of the earth. But thank God, not the whole planet.” He sensed this devastation would occur 50 years in the future, i.e. in 2011.

As in Jung’s 1958 sense of the approaching end time, this deathbed vision has striking parallels in native visions. The Hopi, for example, speak in their prophecies of a war of retaliation against terrorists, with World War III causing radiation contamination and the destruction of the U.S. government. They foresee a competitive war of greed, major climate changes, the depletion of natural resources, empty supermarket shelves and shortages of fuel. They predict that our currency will become worthless as the economy falls apart and multitudes of people in cities perish from uprisings and civil unrest. While the world experiences revolts against corrupt and ineffectual governments common people will band together, the Hopi envision, to make peace and work out practical solutions in their immediate locale.[22]

The Hopi are not the only indigenous people to look ahead. The Peruvian Incas speak of our “meeting ourselves again.”
[23] The Senecas foresee the earth purging itself until 2012. The Zulus speak of a world upheaval in 2012 and the Maoris of New Zealand describe a “veil dissolving” in 2012. For Sufis 2012 is the “end time,” and the Aztecs, Guatemalans, the Dogon of West Africa and Sri Bhagavan and Sri Yukteswar all share Jung’s sense of crisis coming in 2011-2012.[24]

Many native images are sobering. This is how the nigredo usually is: not a pleasant time. But alchemy reminds us that it is not the final phase. We can take comfort in that fact and look forward to the multitude of positive features that mark the citrinitas, including: unity, the subordination of the ego, the integration of consciousness and unconsciousness in the creation of personal wholeness. On the collective level we can anticipate a world of peace, as sources of conflict are gone. People will recognize themselves as filii macrocosmi, children of the Universe. There will be unity among all people, just as the individual gets his act together and enjoys personal integration on the individual level.
The Hopi vision for the Fifth World is very similar: peace everywhere; life directed by the Creator; everyone understanding the cosmic plan; everyone able to communicate telepathically with everyone and everything else; all 4 races (black, yellow, red and white) bound together in unity; no government; a single currency; and love and joy being experienced all the time.[25]

In Jung’s vision of the end he did not foresee complete destruction. Like the Hopi, Jung held out the possibility that the worst would not have to occur. And like the Hopi, Jung recognized that the future is plastic. If enough people change and become more conscious, the transition can be much easier and less tumultuous.

Jung felt the key to a smoother transition was individuals working on themselves, to become conscious and encouraging others to do the same. Jung stressed this point in a book he wrote late in his life for lay readers, The Undiscovered Self. In that short book he reminded us that anyone of us could be “the makeweight that tips the scales”
[26] and shifts the planet into a whole new reality. It could be you, me, any one of us that, by working on ourselves to create more consciousness in the world, saves the planet from major devastation.

Conclusion: Reasons for Hope
We are facing challenging times ahead, times made more challenging by the tremendous hopes we have pinned on our new president. It is unrealistic to lay such heavy expectations on one person. We have to realize that Obama cannot save our country: we each have a role to play and we have to pitch in and do our share in many different ways. As we work through the challenges we face we have to remember that what may seem like the end is only a phase. 2012 is not the end: it is a new beginning. Jung provides us with the context of alchemy within which we can set daily events. The road map of alchemy is a proven method to know what is really going on and how we can do our share. Jung reminds us that how each of us chooses to respond in the future is consequential: the choice we make now and in the immediate years ahead—the choice to become conscious—could save the world.


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Ardagh, Arjuna et al., The Mystery of 2012: Predictions, Prophecies & Possibilities. Boulder CO: Sounds True, 2007.
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Calleman, Carl Johan, The Mayan Calendar and the Transformation of Consciousness. Rochester VT: Bear & Co., 2004.
Davis, Charles, The Temptations of Religion. New York: Harper & Row, 1974.
Dourley, John, The Illness That We Are: A Jungian Critique of Christianity. Toronto: Inner City Books, 1984.
________, The Psyche as Sacrament: C.G. Jung and Paul Tillich. Toronto: Inner City Books, 1981.
Edinger, Edward, Anatomy of the Psyche: Alchemical Symbolism in Psychotherapy. Chicago: Open Court Press, 1985.
________, The Bible and the Psyche. Toronto: Inner City Books, 1986.
________, The Christian Archetype: A Jungian Commentary. Toronto: Inner City Books, 1987.
________, The Creation of Consciousness. Toronto: Inner City Books, 1984.
________, Melville’s Moby-Dick: An American Nekyia. Toronto: Inner City Books, 1995.
________, The Mysterium Lectures. Toronto: Inner City Books, 1995.
Gilbert, Adrian & Maurice Cotterell, The Mayan Prophecies. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1995.
Guiley, Rosemary Ellen, Dreamwork for the Soul. New York: Berkley Books, 1998.
Hannah, Barbara, Jung: His Life and Work, A Biographical Memoir. New York: G.P. Putnam, 1976.
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Harvey, Charles, Anima Mundi: The Astrology of the Individual and the Collective. London: Centre for Astrological Psychology Press, 2002.
Jacoby, Mario, The Analytic Encounter: Transference and Human Relationship. Toronto: Inner City Books, 1984.
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________, “Aion,” Collected Works, 9ii. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1959.
________, “Civilization in Transition,” Collected Works, 10. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1970.
________, “Psychology and Religion: West and East,” Collected Works, 11. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969.
________, “Mysterium Coniunctionis,” Collected Works, 14. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1963.
________, “Psychology and Alchemy,” Collected Works, 12. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1953.
________, “The Undiscovered Self,” Collected Works, 10. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1970.
Keen, Sam, “Dying Gods and Borning Spirits,” Noetic Sciences Review (Winter 1992).
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Mehrtens, Susan, Dreaming to Wake to Life. Waterbury VT: The Potlatch Press, 1996.
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[1] A full account of the first 10 years of these dreams can be found in Mehrtens (1996).
[2] Hannah (1976), 337.
[3] For in-depth discussions of the Mayan calendar, cf. Stray (2005), Gilbert & Cotterrell (1995), Argüelles (1987) and Calleman (2004).
[4] For a detailed description of the Fourth World, see Waters (1963), 21-22.
[5] Cf. Ardagh (2007), Argüelles (1987), Pinchbeck (2006) and Stray (2005).
[6] Guiley (1998), 339.
[7] CW, 10, ¶160.
[8] The bulk of Jung’s study of alchemy is contained in CW, 9ii,12,13 and 14. More accessible for lay readers (i.e. those not formally trained as analysts) are the works by Jung’s students, Edward Edinger and Marie-Louise von Franz; cf. Edinger (1985) and von Franz (1980)(1998) and (2000).
[9] von Franz (1998), 222.
[10] Cf. von Franz (1998), 222-229; von Franz (1980), 147,208,220-227,241,267; von Franz (2000), 4, 215-224, 233, 249, 352, 363, 378; and Edinger (1985), 148, 152, 169, 171-179. Edinger provides one of the most succinct, as well as readable studies of the various alchemical operations.
[11] The “lust for certitude” is one of the 4 “temptations of religion” identified by Charles Davis; see Davis (1974).
[12] For a detailed analysis of America’s shadow from a Jungian perspective, see the essay “America’s Shadow” on the Jungian Center for the Spiritual Sciences blog, to be posted in May 2009.
[13] von Franz (1998), 223-229.
[14] Edinger describes the sublimatio in detail in Edinger (1985), 117-120.
[15] Schaef & Fassel (1988).
[16] Woodman (1980) (1982) (1985) (1990) and (1993).
[17] von Franz (1998), 227-233; von Franz (1980), 196, 268; von Franz (2000), 206, 229, 231, 305, 352.
[18] CW 14, ¶778.
[19] Keen (1992).
[20] E.g. the current (January 2009) ads on TV for the United Way (which is not surprising) and for Hyundai automobiles (which is surprising).
[21] Quoted in Wagner (1998), 25.
[22] Cf. Waters (1963), 333-337; and Mails (1997), 194-219.
[23] Stray (2005), 253.
[24] Ibid., 220, 66, 28, 52, 34 and 40, respectively.
[25] Waters (1963), 334.
[26] CW 10, ¶586.

1 comment:

  1. The final conclusions about "acausal
    reality" are discussed by Jung and
    his friend, Professor W. Pauli, the
    physicist. The letters between them
    published under title, "atom and
    archetype." 1932-1958.

    Jung has appeared to me a few times
    in dreams, and I've paid close attention to his remarks. He knew
    what my problems were with the symbols
    presented, and indicated what to read, etc.
    I accept his theory about synchronicities, and the nature of
    number as the most primal archetype
    of order in the human mind, i.e., pre-existent to consciousness.

    As Jung said, "man has need of the
    word, but in essence number is sacred."

    For those interested, I've some
    articles in google search, under: