Carl Jung: a `psychic pyramid seller'

A long-delayed book about the founding father of the Collective Unconscious offers a new kind of archetype: Jung as a cult leader and proto-Nazi. Jerome Burne reports
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The Independent Online
Carl Jung's face stares out from covers in every book shop that sells psychology, New Age, mythological or self-improvement titles. Sigmund Freud, fellow founder of the psychoanalytic movement, may have wooed intellectuals with his dark theories of infantile sexuality and the rampant id, but it is Jung who has cornered the middle-of-the-road self-improvement market. He is the Frank Sinatra of psychoanalysis - established, approachable, offering the comfort of myths and meaning in a mechanistic world.

For some time now the iconoclasts' hammers have been hard at work on the Freudian edifice - chipping away with the suggestion that he never cured anyone, that he made up most of his case histories, and that he is largely responsible for our current disastrous confusion over sexual abuse and recovered memories. No one, in the meantime, has laid a glove on Carl Jung - until now, that is.

According to a startling new book, The Jung Cult: Origins of a charismatic movement, Jung's theories are not the work of a brilliant mind exploring long-forgotten myths and returning with insights that can make us all whole. Instead, they were drawn from a well-frequented and rather murky intellectual spring - the "volkisch", or folk, movement that captivated hundreds of thousands of Jung's German contemporaries and formed one of the tributaries that fed into the Nazi ideology of the master race. "The current Jungian movement is, I would argue, completely unconscious of its roots," says the author of the book, Dr Richard Noll.

In his book, Noll concludes that Jung's greatest accomplishment may have been turning what probably amounted to a psychotic episode - he maintained he had been transformed into a lion-headed Greek god - into a technique for personal salvation, at the core of which resided an "Aryan inner Christ". Not only are the underpinnings of the theory dubious, says Noll, but Jung resorted to telling lies about the case history that provided crucial evidence for his theory of the Collective Unconscious, the case of the patient known as the Solar Phallus Man. "Jung is the most influential liar of the 20th century," declares Noll flatly. Not surprisingly, remarks like these have set the feathers flying in academia.

The row started nearly two years ago when, after much heart-searching, Princeton University Press, who have sole rights to Jung's works in English, published Noll's book in the United States. It was obvious the book would cause trouble. It begins by pointing out that the major source about Jung is still his "autobiography", Memories Dreams and Reflections - published in 1962 and still in print - which was largely the work of disciples and bears about as much relationship to the real Jung as the Gospels do to the historical Jesus.

The comparison is not accidental, for one of Noll's striking claims is that Jung set himself up as a cult leader, much in the style of Jesus and that he even identified with Jesus. The book paints a fascinating picture of intellectual life in fin de siecle Germany. Orthodox Christianity had been put under the microscope by theologians who were questioning central doctrines such as the virgin birth or the resurrection - scepticism that still has the power to shock a century later - and the result was a spiritual vacuum. Nietzsche had declared God dead and the intellectual air was thick with talk of the degeneration of the races and the need for some kind of renewal.

Jung was just one of many, Noll shows, who drew on the same Central European cauldron of neo-paganism, and Nietzschean, mystical, Volkisch utopianism that also spawned National Socialism. Noll, a one-time clinical psychologist with links to the Jungian establishment, is careful not to make a direct link between Jung and the rise of the Nazis. But he argues that such Jungian concepts as the need to rely on intuition rather than reason and the importance of an elite group of initiates also fed their poisonous mythology.

The Jungian establishment was outraged. Jung's son Franz declared the book "pure nonsense" and demanded that it be withdrawn. Princeton was in a tricky situation because, as one former employee explained, the Jung estate was a major money-spinner for them. It is a measure of their concern that several executives were dispatched to Switzerland and spent two days trying unsuccessfully to calm the Jung family.

Matters might have cooled and dwindled into an academic debate about evidence had not Noll fanned the flames in October 1994 by writing an article for the New York Times in the wake of the mass suicide of 53 members of the Order of the Solar Temple in Switzerland. "There is another story of a Swiss cult of middle class, sun-worshipping neo-pagans, led by a charismatic man who experienced himself to be Christ," Noll wrote. He went on to paint a picture of Jung's plans for world domination by a spiritual elite trained in Jungian analysis. The fate of the likes of David Koresh and his followers at Waco, Noll concluded, "reminds us all too vividly that sometimes these experiments can go badly wrong".

This was too much for the Jung estate, who refused to give their approval - as they were legally entitled to do - to the publication of a book of Jung's collected writings edited by Noll. That book was pulled and the rights to The Jung Cult were returned to the author. Noll had become too hot to handle.

A mark of the bitterness of the dispute came when the Jung estate took the extraordinary step of forbidding Noll access to a collection of papers held in the Library of Congress - again actually within their rights but totally against the spirit of the library. This related to the case history that Noll claimed Jung has lied about. Noll found that the case had actually been handled by another analyst and disciple, JJ Honegger, whose papers were held by the library.

The case is vitally important to the Jung edifice because the patient, known as the Solar Phallus Man, reported a vision of the sun with a phallus, supposedly a feature of the ancient pagan cult of Mithras. Since the patient couldn't have known about Mithras, Jung concluded, the image must have come from the collective unconscious, a sort of shared memory of the human race. Noll's claim, however, is that books and pamphlets on Mithras were widely available in Germany and that Jung in his writings changed their publication dates to show Solar Man couldn't have seen them. "The whole Jungian belief system will collapse if the collective unconscious is a fallacy," says Noll "If it is proved that Jung knowingly lied."

The Jung establishment has come out fighting. "Jung never claimed to be a god," declares Olivier Bernier, vice president of the CG Jung Foundation. "He made a plea for reintegration in the psychic structure of a recognition of the divine; the two are hardly the same." Aryeh Maidenbaum, director of the New York Centre for Jungian Studies is equally dismissive: "Accusing Jung, a man who was by nature extremely introverted, and strongly suspicious of groups - he was even opposed to group therapy - of being the leader of a cult is vicious and untrue."

Noll is sticking to his guns, however, and calls Jungian analysis a form of psychic pyramid selling - after six years' training and $100,000 you are ready to initiate others. And he has attracted some influential supporters. Someone who is even more suspicious of Jung and psychoanalysis as a whole is Frederick Crews, professor of English at University of California, Berkeley. Having penned several devastating attacks on Freud for the part he played in muddying the water over recovered memories, he makes an impressive case in a recent issue of the New York Review of Books for regarding Jung as an occultist on a par with Madam Blavatsky, founder of the Theosophical Society.

At first sight they couldn't be more different. Blavatsky was a Russian emigre, uneducated but with enormous chutzpah who, between 1873, when she arrived in New York, and her death in 1891, dominated the fin de siecle New Age scene. Her Theosophical Society, still flourishing today, had a dash of almost every ingredient in the mystical cupboard - magic, alchemy, Neo-Platonism, the Kabbalah, the Tarot and communication with incarnate deities living in Tibet. Despite well-founded allegations of fraud and cheating, she attracted all sorts of prominent figures from Kandinsky and Mondrian to Nehru and Huxley.

Jung, on the other hand, was and is very much part of the medical psychiatric establishment. Yet as Crews shows, they fished in the same water and he concludes: "Jung was a far more committed occultist than Blavatsky herself. She slapped together her claims from published sources and faked her mediumistic feats. But Jung cultivated private visionary experiences and was inclined to believe that he had temporarily occupied the being of Jesus Christ himself. By comparison Theosophy's transcendental claims seems fairly modest."

Noll's book is part of a much larger debate about the very nature of psychotherapy and the reliability of the dreams and visions that it taps into. The Freudian brand, many believe, has led therapists to ignore the power of suggestion, leading to the scandal of unsupported allegations of incest against innocent parents. In the case of the Jungian approach the question is whether the far more baroque images those patients produce are anything more than a tribute to the richness of the human imagination.

Freud once wrote "I have not the courage to rise up before my fellow members as a prophet and I bow to the reproach that I can offer no consolation." It is Noll's charge that Jung did rise up as a prophet and that his popular success is precisely that he does offer consolation. Not that such solace is any longer available to Noll. "From now on I'm confining my researches to people without any living relatives" he declares.

`The Jung Cult: Origins of a charismatic movement' is published by Fontana Press on 7 October, price pounds 7.99.

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