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The mysterious Jung: his cult, the lies he told, and the occult

Ivan Tyrrell asks Professor Richard Noll, author of ‘The Jung Cult’, to unravel the lies Carl G Jung told to aggrandise himself and his charismatic psychoanalytic movement.

Ivan Tyrrell: In recent decades a tremendous amount of good work has been done exploring the damage Freudian beliefs did to psychotherapy, recently most notably by Richard Webster in Why Freud was Wrong, so I am most intrigued about your work on the Jung cult. Freud's one great service to the modern world was to publicise the ancient idea that we are driven much of the time by unconscious forces of which we are little aware. But in almost all other respects the crazy ideas he manufactured and promoted did great harm – and still are doing. Can the same be said for Jung?

Richard Noll: I think so. And my book, The Jung Cult, documents why.

Tyrrell: It certainly does! I was astonished at some of the facts you reveal about him – how much he was involved in the occult for example. Cults form easily around any group of people who meet regularly, unless steps are taken to stop it happening, but I was surprised to learn that he deliberately manufactured a cult around himself.

What are the main characteristics that you see in the Jung cult?

Noll: Well. I use that term ‘cult’ to describe the social organisation that Jung gathered around himself after his break with Freud. He was living at the time in Küsnacht, Zurich, in Switzerland. Essentially, at first, he gathered primarily German-speaking Swiss around him, and a few Germans, then people from Britain and the United States. His biggest catch was the daughter of John D. Rockefeller who, in 1916, poured more than a million dollars (in 1997 US dollars) into his enterprises.

Tyrrell: Really! That was a huge sum in those days.

Noll: It certainly was. I'm covering all that in my next book, a sequel to The Jung Cult called The Aryan Christ.

Tyrrell: All this fascinates me. How did he do it?

Jung's techniques took away people's ability to focus their attention and separate out thoughts. He shot their cognitive resources to hell.

Noll: It began with a deification experience in late 1913 while he was inducing visionary states in himself what he was later to interpret as an initiation into an ancient Hellenistic mystery cult. Mithras. You've got these wonderful relics here from the temple of Mithras in the British Museum. Have you seen them?

Tyrrell: Yes. I used to spend a lot of lunch hours in the British Museum when I worked in Great Russell Street. That was when I learnt that in the days of the Roman Empire Mithraism was a major religion as the Christian cult was expanding. Didn't they believe in Heaven and Hell, that there was a day of reckoning - the Last Judgement – and have a mediator figure between Mankind and God, who was born in a cave in midwinter with only shepherds as witnesses just like Jesus?

Noll: They used to think so. Scholarship is going in a different direction now as far as that goes.

Tyrrell: I thought that the success of Christianity was supposed to be partly due to the way it borrowed and absorbed Mithraic ideas into itself to make it more acceptable to people - much as Islam borrowed the early Christian symbol of a crescent moon.

Noll: Well, Jung certainly believed Mithraism was Christianity's great rival religion but, in fact, some of the other cults like Dionysus were more widespread at the time. But anyway, during 1913 and 1914 Jung withdrew from his former bourgeois life-style and lived out a wild, intense, mad fantasy life during which he believed he was initiated. He descended into a cave and had all sorts of strange dreams and fantasies, which he described in his book Memories, Dreams, Reflections, in the chapter ‘Confrontation with the Unconscious’. But that book has in it only the watered-down version of what happened.

What's missing is the culmination of the whole series of visions that I describe in The Jung Cult. That’s when Jung, standing with his arms outstretched like the crucified Christ, a big snake wrapped around his body, suddenly turns into a god. He develops a lion head: becoming the lion-headed god of the ancient Mithraic religion – a mixture of Mithraic Kronos (Aion) and Christ. This ‘initiation’ was particularly significant for Jung.

Tyrrell: Why?

Noll: Because of the German cultural context he was socialised in at the time. Mithraism was thought to be a direct extension from ancient Persia and therefore probably one of the oldest, if not the oldest, of the mystery cults in the Hellenistic world. And, furthermore, it had a direct link with the old Aryan homeland. Iran and India. Jung was steeped in all this and believed he was an initiate in the most Aryan of all the mystery cults, the most ancient Aryan spiritual experience you could have.

Tyrrell: I can see why your next book is called The Aryan Christ!

Noll: I've based it essentially on this experience he had and the way he dealt with it afterwards. He rather self-consciously gathered his community around him as a religious prophet would. He would lead them as a prophet. You wouldn't get that necessarily from reading his few professional publications during World War I, but if you read private letters or patients’ diaries and other archival materials, you begin to see what’s going on. He deliberately created a charismatic religious group. So I use the word cult that way – to conjure up religious images like many of these small cults that spring up all the time.

But Jung was a bright guy, a professor for a while and a respected doctor and a world famous scientist. So he had a lot to lose if he just went totally over the top and went public as a raving religious fanatic. But in private he certainly behaved that way. Jungians, as you may imagine, absolutely hate this view of their hero. They don't like the word cult, but I can't think of a better one for what was going on.

Tyrrell: Cults have certain characteristics and I think it's important for psychotherapists to know about them because so many “schools” of therapy are really ideologies and, of course, the danger is that they begin to operate in cult-like ways. A typical pattern, following Freud’s example, is that he “defines” or “invents” a condition, proclaims it in books, lectures and workshops, diagnoses people as needing specialist treatment for it, and then “cures” them. It's the same pattern that religious power structures use: invent “sins”, declaim them... and then “forgive” the sins of those who become true believers. It’s a way of gaining power over others. It still goes on. Now we have charismatic figures promoting views such as, for example, that we all have an ‘inner child’, or multiple personalities, repressed memories etc., which need ‘expert’ treatment to ‘heal’ the victim.

So, when did the Jung cult begin to show the characteristics of being a full-blown cult?

Noll: Well, very early on. Certainly by 1916 it was clear, but even in 1912, in Zurich, when he became president of the ‘Society for Psychoanalytic Endeavours’, we have plenty of evidence for a charismatic group centred on his work and personality. And this became the basis of his cult.

Jung's circle of followers were characterised by four types of behaviour, which now we would consider essential elements of cult behaviour. Firstly, they had a shared belief in the psychoanalytic view of human nature and in the liberating or healing or revitalizing effects of psychoanalytic treatment.

Secondly, a high level of social cohesion through a shared identity as analysed individuals. This set them apart from their previous bourgeois-Christian lives.

Thirdly, the influence on the members by the group's behavioural norms, such as acknowledging the authority of the psychoanalyst as an expert and therefore as someone with knowledge and power, and the use of the special charismatic language of psychoanalysis (“libido”, “sublimation”, “complex”, “penis substitute”, and so on) in everyday conversation with fellow group members.

And last, the attribution of charismatic power to the psychoanalytic movement as a whole, and to Jung and the psychoanalysts as particular individuals.

Tyrrell: This group really thought they were special!

Noll: Yes. They thought they were with a man who was a true prophet. And he was a genius in his own way. He certainly had an impact on people. Jung himself told the late Michael Fordham: “I either inflate people or I crush them”. Nobody was neutral when it came to Jung.

So these folks were following a charismatic leader who claimed some sort of contact with transcendent reality, which is really what the collective unconscious is. He came up with that term in 1916, but was playing around with it before then. He sometimes called it “the spirit world” or “the land of the dead”, and, when he talks about “the collective unconscious” he is really getting back to his spiritualist roots. Jungians still keep saying to me: “You're wrong, you don't understand psychological reality”. But if you read Jung, it's pretty clear what his beliefs were. He was saying that gods ruled the collective unconscious. I'm simply saying that Jung was using, or rather hiding behind, psychological jargon to reintroduce the Hellenistic cosmos.

Tyrrell: What do Jungians themselves say about this? Presumably their argument might be along the lines that these gods and spiritual forces are symbolic of psychological states. Is that the kind of argument you hear from them?

Noll: Well, yes, that's always it. They say that I don't understand what Jung was talking about - that his cosmology was just a metaphor for psychological reality and not that he's actually talking about gods. But if you really read Jung, he is. He certainly did believe in gods communicating with humans, spirits and the spirit world, reincarnation and all of that stuff. Of course, it is primarily those Jungian analysts who are trying to present the ideas as respectable and scientific who get upset when you point this out. Everyday Jungians – they know what he is talking about – and it's the cultish beliefs that they are attracted to. For them he was talking about some other reality.

So, getting back to the cult issue, you have a charismatic leader who claims to be in contact with a transcendic reality and, by being in contact with him, you can also, potentially, be in contact with that transcendent reality. Moreover, you can only do it through Jung's form of analysis, which he reframes during World War I as a kind of religious initiation.

Jung saw psychoanalysis as path of redemption, of revitalization, of rebirth. Indeed, he wrote of psychoanalysis becoming a totalising world-view saying: “great is the power of the psychoanalytic truth, and it will prevail”. For him, psychoanalysis was the new salvation of the world, with Jung as the prophet who understood its religious nature. Religion, he believed, could only be replaced by another religion.

Tyrrell: And he studied ancient religions avidly.

If you were actually somebody in need, Jung basically just opened up your head to his crazy ideas and made it fuzzier.

Noll: Yes, and he particularly made an intensive study of the work of the classical scholars of his day on the ancient mystery cults. He clearly began to form his brand of psychoanalysis around the metaphors of mysteria. A letter to Freud in 1912 indicated as much. Jung viewed neurotic symptoms as a form of initiation that could lead to the inner mysteries of the human personality. But what were these deeper mysteries that would arise from within? Jung had to experience them himself first before imparting his vision of them to his tribe of disciples.

Tyrrell: Is this where his knowledge of the occult comes in?

Noll: Yes. His interest in spiritualism had shown him how easy it was to deliberately enter a dissociative trance state. Once in that state automatic writing or alternate personalities can easily be created. Jung had seen this at séances he had attended. His mother's side of the family, including his maternal grandfather, regularly engaged in talking with spirits. Jung's first encounter with the feminine entity that he later called the “anima” began with his use of mediumistic techniques.

Tyrrell: And these trance phenomena really convince people.

Noll: Right. Just like the initiation into ancient mystery cults. The culmination of a period of concentration, in and out of trance, can be an amazing, explosive experience. Jung promised this same extraordinary spiritual experience through his brand of analysis. He is very explicit about this. He makes an unsubstantiated scientific argument for something he calls the “collective unconscious” – but this term is no more than a mask, a persona, a bit of jargon that he devised to make his ideas more generally acceptable to his medical and scientific colleagues. When he introduced this concept in print, in 1916, it was in a scientific paper that actually purported to present a scientific argument for the existence of the collective unconscious, and which presented evidence for this extraordinary claim. Unfortunately, as would be the case for the rest of his life, Jung never bothered to present evidence that would rule out the two most likely sources of the mythological material in dreams, fantasies, and psychotic symptoms that Jung claimed was pristine evidence for the collective unconscious: (1) cryptomnesia – hidden memories that one is not even aware of, and (2) the cultural diffusion of symbols and myths. Why did he never try to refute these alternative hypotheses? Because, for him, his visionary initiation into the most ancient of Aryan mysteries shattered everything he knew about himself and allowed him to experience the “divine within”. Like Madame Blavatsky, he learned to have a dialogue with extra-mundane entities that advised him. And, of course, for one brief, shining moment, in a vision, he became a god.

And this was the promise he held out to people, which sounds pretty amazing and great. You could have major cosmic, psychedelic experiences without the drugs! You just had to pay him!

So his disciples believed, and it's clear from the numerous diaries I've read that they actually did, that, by each individual working on his or herself, they believed they were transforming the soul of the world. They were redeeming the world. And these beliefs had a great cohesive effect on the little band he gathered around him during World War I.

Incidentally, I think the 1913-1918 war was a major factor in heightening this cohesion. I mean, this group were in Switzerland; the war was raging to the north and the west of their border. The whole world seemed in turmoil, and then, in peaceful Switzerland, they were gathered around this spiritual leader, absolutely certain that when the war was over, they were the ones who would lead a great spiritual revival.

Tyrrell: Built-in arrogance...

Noll: Sure.

JungTyrrell: But, in a way, many cults are fairly harmless: they don't affect that many people, they provide some people with a meaning for their lives and the certainties they provide are not particularly harmful. Indeed, believing in something greater than yourself is now recognised as a factor in psychological health. Was, or is, the Jung cult actually doing any harm?

Noll: Well, some beliefs are more dangerous than others. I wrote the last chapter of The Jung Cult, in part, in order to draw attention to some of the dangers that the Jungian movement presents.

What are the dangers? First, the devaluation of rational thought and the ability to think, which is coupled with the over-valuation of the irrational. Jungians abhor “thinking” and would much rather rely on “feeling” and “intuition” to guide their lives. This lack of ability for logical, focused, rational thought is quite evident in the literature of the Jungian analysts themselves. The works of analysts like Edward Edinger, Marie-Louise von Franz, Andrew Samuels, Rene Papoudopolis and others are idiosyncratic to the point of being bizarre. For this reason, no one outside of the world of psychoanalysis takes them or their ideas seriously.

Second, among Jungians there is too much of an emphasis on “myth” as a universal force throughout history and a lack of regard for historical facts. Jung himself believed that the factual basis of stories didn't matter; it was only how stories made you “feel” that counted.

Third, there is too much of a Fuhrerprinzip in Jungian circles; analysts become the mediator between the transcendent and the individual life of the patient. This only heightens the dependence of the soul-sick patient. Who says Jungian analysts have “special powers” to contact the gods? Yet, the Jungian literature promotes such a value system. And too many distressed people buy into it.

Fourth, in private the Jungians themselves openly promote the religious nature of their movement, but in public statements they make the unconvincing – indeed deliberately misleading – claim that Jung is only saying that “everything is psychological, everything is symbolic” and is making no metaphysical claims. Many psychoanalysts, in fact, make this assertion and it is a frustrating argument because you can't get around it. It's tautological.

Tyrrell: I am interested in this area because, in fact, we do learn through metaphor – stories and anecdotes and so on. The brain is built to learn through metaphor. Babies learn language through metaphor; we learn to cope with ambiguity through metaphor, which is why we dream in metaphor.

Noll: Oh, absolutely, yes. But, in the Jungian view, all metaphor is just vomit out of the collective unconscious. They believe we are constantly swimming in a sea of projections from the transcendent world. And that's troublesome when people seek therapy from Jungians for their depressions or anxiety states.

Tyrrell: So who were the original Jungian patients?

Noll: In the early days, during World War I, it was mainly rich people that gathered around Jung. He was becoming famous and Edith Rockefeller came to him and then other wealthy American women started showing up and it became “the thing to do” if you had the money.

If you were actually somebody in need (as Edith Rockefeller was, she was on the edge of a breakdown) Jung basically just opened up your head to his crazy ideas and made it fuzzier. His techniques took away people's ability to focus their attention and to separate out thoughts. Their cognitive resources were just shot to hell after a while because all he did was induce visions all the time. His patients were constantly lost in their dreams and visions, looking for mythic symbols, signs of Greek gods and goddesses. From World War I onward Jung, explicitly, would tell people in therapy to keep a visionary diary like he did. His followers actually called his vision book The Bible! And eventually they were all producing their own bibles it was like every person was his own prophet. Some of these “bibles” still exist. There is a beautiful one at Harvard from Christiana Morgan, a wealthy American ex-patient of his. It is leather bound and all her visions and her associations are painted on the pages.

So Jung removed people from the everyday world and from pragmatic problem solving.

Tyrrell: Which is the last thing you should do when helping distressed or disturbed people...

Noll: Exactly. Jung's solution to every mental problem was to encourage the patient to have some sort of religious experience. And that's where some of the danger lies.

Jungian psychology attracts people who have experiences like this, or feel they have the potential to have such experiences, and maybe that's fine. Definitely visions happen and there is a place for them in the world. I had enough myself when I was young. Maybe it was puberty, I don't know. But people try to see what's going on, and explore that side of life. But some people get sucked in to the worldview that goes along with what is, after all, just an interpretation of an experience. You don't necessarily need that. You just need to understand a little bit and go on with your life. But Jungians, at least in the States, tend to be fantasy-prone personalities or schizoid individuals, people detached from everyday reality on the margins of society and, instead of working or whatever, they sit at home, reading Jung, trying to have visions.

Tyrrell: When I reread Memories, Dreams, Reflections recently, (a book which excited me like a great adventure story when I was young), it was obvious to me that Jung actually had no understanding of what is necessary for human development. Psychotherapy is not interchangeable with mysticism. One has to deal with first things first. One needs to be reasonably stable, fairly well adjusted, and not need too much emotional excitement before progress can be made. Worldly needs have to be satisfactorily met before moving on to the possibility of more subtle perceptions. People who know about human development would say that having visions all over the place and getting excited about it is a sign that a person is unsuitable for a spiritual life and, furthermore, that they wouldn't make any progress at all until they stopped. This is the exact opposite of what you describe Jung as doing: whipping people up, encouraging emotional excitement and visions.

People often wallow in all that because they feel emotional arousal must be important and meaningful.

Noll: They do wallow in it – over-valuation of mythic thought and the idea that “there are transcendent forces in the universe manifesting through little old me”. It's heady stuff.

You mention Memories, Dreams, Reflections and its effect on you. The book has had a magical effect on many other people as well (including myself). However, most people don't realise that Memories, Dreams, Reflections is not really an autobiography, but instead was largely written by Jung's assistant, Anieta Jaffé. Originally, Jaffe, not Jung, was to be credited as its author, but it was decided that the book would sell better if it was dishonestly marketed as an autobiography.

Jung contributed to the first three chapters and a final section entitled “Late Thoughts”, but even this material was heavily edited by Jung's family and by his disciples. Material concerning Jung's mistress of 40 years, Toni Wolff, was removed along with many of his insults to the Christian Church, which he detested in all its denominations. As biography or autobiography, Memories, Dreams, Reflections is a fraud. As a gospel about a miracle-working magician and visionary, it works quite well.

Tyrrell: I'm interested in what you said about Jung not really caring whether something was historically or factually true.

Noll: Yes, he believed it was just how he felt about things that mattered most. How he felt about a story was more important than the truth behind it. And that's why I don't think he had a problem lying or fudging his evidence.

Tyrrell: Which is interesting because neither did Freud. They both cheated extensively and made up evidence to match their emotional view.

Noll: They sure did.

It's kind of frightening in a way when you work on this material and you realise it's almost all a lie.

Tyrrell: The opposite of what good science is supposed to be about.

Noll: I can't imagine what was going through their minds, other than the fact that there wasn't really a mass media society then and maybe they thought they were never going to get caught. Especially Jung. His cheating is so blatant! You don't even need to go to the archives. You just follow, for example, the famous case history of the solar phallus man. He kept changing the dates in the story.

Jung told the story of the Solar Phallus Man time and time again throughout his life as conclusive evidence of the collective unconscious. The Solar Phallus Man, so Jung and his disciples claimed, had hallucinations and delusions with content that resembled an ancient Hellenistic magical text and therefore this was convincing proof of a collective unconscious. The patient saw the sun with an “upright tail” similar to an erect penis and when he moved his head back and forth, the sun's penis swayed back and forth and he believed this caused the wind to blow around the earth.

Jung said that this strange hallucination was unintelligible for a long time until he became acquainted with Mithraic Liturgy and the patient could not possibly have known this because the Mithraic Liturgy had not been published before the patient had the hallucination.

Jung lied over and over again about this.

Tyrrell: What lies specifically?

Noll: First, he deliberately hid the fact that the Solar Phallus Man was a patient of another man, Honegger. In early work Jung made two explicit references to Honegger. In the later works he cuts those out and claims the Solar Phallus Man was his patient and makes no mention of any role by Honegger.

Second, Jung's claim throughout his life was that this institutionalized patient could not have had prior access to such mythological ideas and that therefore this was indisputable evidence of the collective unconscious. In fact Jung found out that the magical Hellenistic text had been translated and published in 1903. And at least two editions were in circulation before Honegger came across the patient. And you have to know there was a wide interest in this magical, historical material at that time in Europe... as I detail in my book. Theosophy was all the rage. Hundreds of thousands of people were involved in puzzling over such material; it was “in the air”, so to speak.

Thirdly, in later writings, lectures and interviews, he claimed the patient's delusions were observed in 1906, although Honegger's clinical work began only in 1909, which would have been the earliest time Honegger could have “discovered” the Solar Phallus Man's hallucination.

Tyrrell: So Jung changes the dates over the years to support his theory.

Noll: Yes. He lied continually. There is logic to the date changes that Jung made. It's clear what he was up to.

And then, if you examine the few case histories he has over the years, most of them are from the '30s and '40s, after he comes up with the collective unconscious idea. He uses a lot of visual evidence to supplement his argument. He gives almost no personal data about his patients and he always has a statement in there – it's in every case something like: “this patient came to me with no knowledge of alchemy or these matters...” or, “this patient was uneducated, did not have a university education and therefore could not be expected to know these mythological figures or anything about alchemical symbolism...” And then, when you dig into the archives and find out who the patients actually were, it turns out they were people in his circle! He lied about who they were. It's kind of frightening in a way when you work on this material and you realize it's almost all a lie.

Tyrrell: Freud was doing very similar things completely distorting the truth and retelling it and changing it throughout his life. Was it a self-delusion? Or were they both deliberately constructing cults like Ron Hubbard did with Scientology?

Noll: I think the Freud and Jung cases are similar. Jung absolutely believed in his collective unconscious theory. He was obsessed and would only see patients in his practice that had fantastic dreams. If they were just depressed or had personal problems he would shove them off to one of his associates. He called it “baby work”. He only wanted people who had magnificent dreams and visions so he could reinforce this collective unconscious idea.

Tyrrell: His reputation grew because of his big idea.

Noll: Yes. On the one hand he was obsessed with it, on the other he knew at times he wasn't being honest about it – but he didn't care. He justified his dishonesty by saying that people had to believe in something and they wanted to be deceived and it could be therapeutic to deceive them. He said: “The world wants to be deceived.”

Tyrrell: Hundreds of people in this country describe themselves as Jungian therapists, and I'm sure there are thousands in America. What impact are they having and why do you find them so disturbing?

Noll: What's happening (and I think it's been going on in Europe for quite a while longer, but now in the States it is really evident), is that the old organised Western religions – Protestant, Catholic, Jewish – are collapsing. We're rapidly turning into a secular society but people are still looking for some sort of spiritual guidance – something to believe in that makes the world magical and makes sense in some way. In America they tend to turn to psychology, at first for help but later, people can be caught by the various psychotherapeutic worldviews that are out there.

Tyrrell: And, of course, psychotherapists – and I've seen this happen – get seduced themselves into fulfilling that need, don't they? It's a great temptation. They start to mention spiritual development, Buddhism, or some other esoteric sounding things in their leaflets. And, before you know where you are, they're slipping over into the “human development” movement and becoming “spiritual” guides on the guru circuit.

Jungians betray a lack of integrity because they are duping the public with material they know is bogus.

Noll: Yes. And especially in the Jungian world which is so blatantly religious. That's the thing that attracts people to Jungian analysis; they are expecting a religious experience. It's like going to a spiritual advisor. That's what the whole thing is about. And the analysts play that role to the hilt, even the ones who claim in private that they don't really follow Jung and don't like a lot of things that he said and did.

One prominent English Jungian analyst told me: “Yes, you're right, there's no such thing as the collective unconscious, it's like a religion.” But such people won't come out in public with statements like that, which I think betrays a lack of integrity on their part because they are duping the public with material they know is bogus.

What Jungians should do is come out with a policy, or position paper at one of their major conferences that they have every five years. You know, something like, “What is the scientific status of Jung's ideas today?” “What is the evidence for 'collective unconscious' pro and con?”, and just sort of spell these things out. But they won't do that because even the therapists that aren't so caught up in the spiritual role nonetheless know that their business depends on patients looking up to them as a spiritual guru because they've been reading Jung and want to get close to that kind of religious experience.

Tyrrell: And the whole New Age movement has fed off Jungian ideas, and that's rather made some people almost despise more scientific approaches. They are not nearly so interested in what works, they prefer getting excited about magical, cult beliefs.

Noll: When I began doing this research a few years ago, I was originally just going to do a book on the whole Jungian phenomena, a present day sociological thing, and then I thought, well no, let's trace it to its roots and see how it got this way. And I found it got this way because Jung designed it so. He was explicitly religious. He formed a charismatic religious cult and it just blossomed – with the help of some wealthy American women.

I then planned to do an expose of this and was utterly amazed to find out just how widespread this is. It's not just fringe New Age spiritual groups in California that are into Jung. In the United States, what's left of the major Christian denominations, including the Catholic Church and certainly most of the Protestant denominations, are almost totally Jungianised. Especially among certain Protestant sects. Some of these ministers, both male and female, are all speaking Jungian jargon and attending Jungian workshops. Jungian ideas are almost totally absorbed into orthodox religious life. It's seeped in everywhere.

Tyrrell: But does it matter? For most people the words “spiritual”, “religious” and “emotional” are interchangeable. It's a bit like a poll about what Christians believe was carried out here a few years ago. They found a majority of Christians thought Buddhism was a better religion than Christianity!

Noll: That's pretty amazing!

Tyrrell: So it's a similar sort of thing. People are disappearing into this Jungian world of mystery and archetypes because it's more exciting than Christianity. People always go for the excitement, the emotional arousal. These religions are not about spirituality, are they? The word “religion” comes from a root word meaning “to bind”. Yoga, the Indian word for religion, means, “to yoke”. Institutional religion was the means used to bring some measure of Civilization to barbarians – to “bind” them to civilized practices so that cultures could stabilise and develop. The more religions muddle up this civilizing process with spirituality, the more they degenerate. That seems to be what you've observed.

Jung was trying to take people back to a time before monotheistic religions. But there were no archetypes then, were there?

Noll: Jung invented the collective unconscious and archetypes basically as a way of reintroducing Hellenistic cosmology, based on what he was reading at the time. This was so he could claim to uncover, like an archaeologist, all these images from the archaic unconscious. They are, by the way, almost all religious images. There are no mundane images that come out of the collective unconscious.

What Jung did was unique. He took these terms from German romantic biology. Even Goethe had used terms like “primordial image” and “archetype”. In fact, throughout the nineteenth century, biologists and zoologists used this term ‘archetype’. Goethe used it very much like in Jung's sense – that there were organising forces in the world. You can see it directly in the way plants and animals and the natural world are organised. And these forces were not in the brain or in the mind, but were in the world. It was a pantheistic idea. Actually it's almost like the gala hypothesis.

It's fairly well known in Germany. It's called Naturphilosophie – a Natural Philosophy – and it's the old German romantic biology. Jung's grandfather was trained in medicine in that kind of thinking and certainly these ideas were still around when Jung was in medical school in the 1890s. It was kept alive in the work of Ernest Heckel, a famous German biologist. He was bigger than Darwin in Germany.

Tyrrell: But Goethe was very much a scientist, wasn't he? His work was incredibly meticulous and he stressed direct observation. But he maintained that experiment should not be separated from experience.

Noll: Right. But Goethe was also a pantheist in the broadest sense. He believed that Truth/God was revealed continually in nature and that eternal truths, these organising transcendent forces, could be directly experienced. That's the line of thought Jung picks up with archetypes. The term archetype comes partly from German romantic biology and German romanticism mixed in with classical scholarship about the ancient mystery cults of the Hellenistic period.

He fused those things together – and this is where the genius comes in – by fusing them with the French dissociationists psychology, which he was so steeped in. This was the idea that the mind is multiple, that it is made up of, as Jung said, many complexes, and that the ego is just one of many such complexes. This leads to the idea that the experience of the ego is one of not being a master in its own house and the idea that there are other forces we experience working within us that seem beyond our voluntary control.

Tyrrell: Well, when people talk about the mind in that sort of way it does resonate. Perhaps that's why, throughout the ages, these belief systems take off because in one way they resonate metaphorically. The limbic system – our emotional life – is something that we experience as taking us over or leaving us out of control. When we are angry, or in love, or anxious or depressed we seem to be possessed. Although of course we now know they are only focused emotional trance states.

Noll: Absolutely. There are so many different levels of parallel processing in the brain and the way the whole nervous system works... you can see how it happens.

Tyrrell: It's in the language. We say: “I'm not myself today”, “I don't know what came over me”, and “I'll soon be my old self again”. The individual mind can feel like a crowd of different people. We wheel out different aspects of ourselves to deal with different circumstances. The tough company boss can also be a gentle father, a dutiful son, a lover, a practical gardener, a crybaby, and one of the lads – all in the same person. And it can seem to outsiders as if the person is quite different in each role, and we feel different in each role. I'm sure this is why MPD, multiple personality disorder, is such an attractive fad to many people. Therapists latch on to how easy it is to create as many personalities as you want in a patient with a bit of suggestion, and then emphasise them. Very dangerous.


Noll: Right! This is the model of the mind that Jung was using before he worked with Freud, and he kept using it while he was with Freud and took it up more intensely after he split with Freud, endlessly embellishing it. He took this theory that the mind is made up of a multiplicity of complexes, like stars in a constellation, and, basically, with his ideas of collective unconscious and archetypes, he just grandiosely blew it up to cosmic proportions. He claimed these forces were no longer just within but were transcendent; they were connecting all of us like magnetic fluids. These were forces that were not only working between people in a sort of field-like way but also were in the landscape, the place where you lived, the very earth.

Tyrrell: Which certainly takes you right back to primitive religious beliefs and the idea that every stream and tree is sacred.

Noll: That's right – everything is connected to everything else.

Tyrrell: Which, again, resonates, because it's true too.

Noll: I know. This fragment of the truth is what hooks people in, because we all feel this. But then, in the Jung cult you have to buy, with your money and your freedom, the theoretical dogma that goes along with it.

Tyrrell: And also the power structure and how much money you've got to pay them and the dogmatism.

Noll: So this was where Jung's genius came in, I think. He took the psychiatry of his day, the dissociationists model, hooked it up with German romanticism, this idea of the archetypes, these organising forces in the world, and merged that with Hellenistic cosmology which was also polytheistic. He blended these things together. His psychology is a synthesis, with a little bit of everything in, and it attracts people one way or another. It just rings true with some of our personal experience and so, if something feels a little bit true, many people are willing to bite off the rest of it – hook, line and sinker. Especially from this vibrant, charismatic genius doctor. He must have been just irresistible.

Tyrrell: Oh yes, well, he obviously was for many. But therapy must move on if he was wrong.


PROFESSOR RICHARD NOLL is a clinical psychologist and historian of medicine. He is best known for his publications in the history of psychiatry, including two critical volumes on the life and work of Carl Gustav Jung and his books and articles on the history of dementia praecox and schizophrenia. He is also known for his publications in anthropology on shamanism.

IVAN TYRRELL is an experienced psychotherapist. He a director of Human Givens College, was a founding member of the European Therapy Studies Institute (ETSI) and co-developer of the human givens approach. He is a Fellow of the Human Givens Institute.


Originally published in "The Therapist" Volume 4 - No. 2, 1997

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