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The Jung Cult: Origins Of A Charismatic Movement
by richard c. noll
princeton university press, 387 pages, $24.95

Nothing is possible without love,” C.G. Jung once told Miguel Serrano, “not even the processes of alchemy, for love puts one in a mood to risk everything and not to withhold elements.” Alchemy is the particular variant of occult spiritual doctrine on which Jung settled as closest to his own school of depth psychology. And, as Serrano explained, since Jung “revitalized the work of the Gnostics and the alchemists, he himself had to participate in their mysteries.”

Though not mentioned in Richard Noll’s The Jung Cult—the most scholarly critique to date of the intellectual origins of Jungian ideas—Serrano’s explanation confirms Noll’s painstakingly documented contention that Jung was a willing exponent of the pan-Germanic occult-mindedness that preceded and nurtured the rise of Nazism. Serrano continues,

In philosophic alchemy, there exists the idea of the Soror Mystica who works with the alchemist while he mixes his substances in his retorts. . . . At the end, there occurs a mystic wedding. . . . In the processes of individuation worked out in the Jungian laboratory between the patient and the analyst, the same fusion takes place. . . . It is a forbidden love which can only be fulfilled outside of matrimony. . . . While it is true that this love does not exclude physical love, the physical becomes transformed into ritual.

Consider the Tantric practices of India, in which the Siddha magicians attempted to achieve psychic union. The ritual of the Tantras is complicated and mysterious. The . . . woman would usually be one of the sacred prostitutes. . . . Just as in alchemy lead is converted into gold . . . the act of coitus was really intended to ignite the mystic fire at the base of the vertebral column. . . . The woman is a priestess of magic love, whose function is to . . . awaken the . . . chakras of the Tantric hero. . . . The man does not ejaculate the semen, but impregnates himself; and thus the process of creation is reversed and time is stopped. . . . The product of this forbidden love is the Androgyne, the Total Man, all of whose . . . centers of consciousness are now awakened. . . .

Jung, the magician, had almost alone made it possible for us today to take part in those Mysteries which seem capable of taking us back to that legendary land of the Man-God.

In 1932, Jung conducted a seminar on Tantric (or Kundalini) Yoga, the contents of which remain semisecret to this day. (Only graduates of the Institute may purchase copies, and must sign an agreement not to reproduce their content.) The seminar participants were all current or former patients of Jung, at least one of whom—and probably more—had been Jung’s own soror mystica. The text for the seminar was The Serpent Power, written in 1916 by an English aristocrat and Tantric initiate, Sir John Woodruffe, who published it under the telling, Grail-related pseudonym, “Arthur Avalon.” The book remains for occultists to this day the classic study of Kundalini Yoga. Together with its companion volume, Tantra, it explains in detail, defends—and predicts as the coming religion of the future—sexual initiation into “higher consciousness,” the transcending of good and evil, the divinity of the material world and worship of “the goddess.” Hand-copies of plates from this book hang at the offices of the New York branch of the Psychological Club, founded by a female patient and possible soror mystica of Jung’s, Kristine Mann.

These 1932 seminars were led jointly by Jung and Wilhelm Hauer, founder of the so-called German Faith Movement. This movement sought to replace traditional Christianity with an Aryanized Christ, to replace worship of the Jewish God with worship of a Mother Goddess, and to replace the traditional Eucharist with occult initiation (in the spirit of the Grail legend as interpreted by Wagner). It aimed to resurrect the pagan vitality that, in line with the ideas of Nietzsche and others, purportedly had been all but killed by an all-too-Jewish Christianity. As Hauer put it, “The basic religious feelings are Union, Blessedness, and Holiness. The Christian sentiments of Sin, Guilt, and Repentance are not really religious feelings. They are artificially engendered complexes in man.”

Shortly after the seminar, the German Faith Movement was officially adopted by the ascendant Nazi party as the official religion of Germany. Though Jung then somewhat distanced himself from Hauer’s official position, he continued to urge Hauer that they publish together and hold joint seminars on “comparative religion.”

Do modern Jungian analysts, then, consider themselves the inheritors of this “new” Aryan religion? Noll acknowledges that in spite of the striking congruencies of contemporary Jungianism, modern liberal theologies, “spirituality” movements, and the German Faith Movement, the vast majority of Jungian analysts today see themselves simply as mental health professionals—like any others, though with a keener than average interest in religion and matters spiritual. Few will recognize either themselves or their patients in Noll’s reconstruction (nor, I dare say, in this review). Only a small minority have ever been involved in relationships such as the ones Serrano describes above and which Jung himself apparently indulged in on more than one occasion (Antonio Wolff, his mistress of forty years and another Club and Tantric Yoga participant, was his chief extramarital Soror Mystica); most modern Jungians would not even dream of seeking such a thing. Not a few of those who have tried have been thrown out of practice altogether, by the Jungian institutes themselves.

Gnostic and occult ideas are obviously the predominant feature of Jungian thought. Nonetheless, most people remain unaware of the fact that the occult ideas on which Jung worked were hardly original discoveries of his, as Jung leaves the impression they were; such ideas were ubiquitous in the decaying culture centers of Middle Europe in the years prior to World War II. Most people remain equally unaware that occult practices also lie at the heart of Jung’s own theory, clinical practice, and inner experiences. For the most part this is because these ideas have been presented in the Jungian literature, are explained in Jungian training, and when they appear in patients’ dreams will be interpreted almost exclusively in symbolic terms, not literally. So, for example, an alchemical picture of a man and woman coupling in a bath—or a dream of something similar—will be taken solely as a metaphor, of a “union of opposites.”

It can and should be argued that even so, these occult ideas tend to undermine moral standards. The very concept of a “union of opposites,” especially at its supposedly highest level—the reconciliation of good and evil—is the dangerous Nietzschean vision found everywhere in Gnosticism, occultism, and, indeed, outright Satanism. And yet even critics of the Jungian scheme have failed to see that, however decent, sincere, and conventional are many of Jung’s followers, Jung himself had found a way to live out not only symbolically but explicitly the core practices of occultism.

The veil is thick indeed. Miguel Serrano published his book on Hesse and Jung with Schocken, the Jewish house that specializes in Jewish mysticism and in the works of such great Israeli scholars as Gershom Scholem (who was likewise a sometime colleague of Jung). And yet in 1975, Life magazine published a photograph of the Argentine funeral of a former high-ranking Nazi officer, showing Serrano and two compatriots, in long black leather coats, offering their departed colleague the stiff-armed Nazi salute.

Only now, at a time when Jungian and Jungian-related spirituality—with its emphasis on Gnostic “wisdom,” sexual freedom, goddess worship, and accommodation with evil—has infiltrated deeply into the Church (especially in the Anglican and Roman communions) has the veil at long last begun to be lifted. Though Jung has had his critics over the years, none need be taken so seriously as Noll, a clinical psychologist, fellow in the history of science at Harvard, self-described “lapsed Catholic,” and former Jungian enthusiast who, in a recent interview in the Wanderer, now assesses Jung as the greatest threat to the Church since Julian the Apostate.

The Jung Cult provides an encyclopedic survey of the intellectual atmosphere in Middle Europe during the years that Jung formulated his psychological system. He demonstrates that most of Jung’s ideas were not original, but arose elsewhere within the milieu of world-weariness, cynicism toward tradition, and enthusiasm for cultic Eastern mysticisms—mysticisms that were everywhere being hungrily swallowed in place of a Christianity widely believed by the cultural elites to be hopelessly superstitious and moribund.

Jung was a twentieth-century Naturphilosoph, Noll demonstrates, filled with the romance of the soil. (It is de rigueur for Jungian devotees to make a pilgrimage to Jung’s second home at Bollingen, where he lived as a self-described “man of the Middle Ages” and where he could therefore be his “true self.”) He considered himself to have undergone a primordial experience of pagan solar initiation, but on his own, not in the context of a formal occult society or ritual. A prominent influence on Jung, Ernst Haeckl, belonged to the Thule Society, an explicitly occult group that numbered among its members many of Hitler’s intimates, including Julius Streicher and Rudolph Hess. (In time the society came to see in Hitler the “Aryan Messiah” long prophesied by occultists.) But Jung himself would never have dreamed of joining such a society, however many of its ideas he might incorporate into his evolving worldview. What was truly original, and brilliantly successful, was the way in which Jung wedded his own personal experience to the racial occult theories then to be found everywhere, and to syncretize the construction under the aegis of psychoanalysis.

Jung’s relationship to Wilhelm Hauer provides a good example of how Jung related to the occult spirit wherever he found it. Hauer, formerly a Protestant churchman, aimed to debunk once and for all what Goethe called the “fairy tale” of Christianity. But like many in those days, he was no more willing to accept a completely demythologized Freudian psychoanalysis. So he set about to establish an alternative, becoming one of the founders of the Neo-Pagan movement in Germany, a movement whose headquarters was Tubingen, birthplace of the “higher criticism.”

Jung took these neo-pagan and Eastern ideas and wedded them to the newly emerging, more rational-seeming “science” of psychoanalytic psychiatry. He thereby created a unique vehicle for occult ideas to enter the culture-a vehicle that carried the respectability of a clinical profession and avoided the secret-handshake pomposity of the typical occult circle.

But an important reason for the power of the Jungian movement is precisely how unsecret Jung’s psychiatric reformulations of occult ideas made it possible for Jungianism to be, especially in a world starved for spirituality. A conspiratorial model was and is completely unnecessary to understand Jung; indeed, its absence provides the most obvious defense against the accusation that Jung was an occultist at all. Furthermore, the influence of Jung’s “cult” lies almost wholly in the world of ideas and does not flow from any financial or political power it wields (which is negligible, contrary to claims in the later parts of Noll’s book).

In Noll’s reading, Jung stands in a long-developing line of German-speaking European intellectuals who in the years prior to World War II were actively dismantling the remains of a nearly dead Christianity and rebuilding a “new” religion to take its place. The core “mystery” to be grasped by the devotees of this religion was “identification with the sun-god.” A theistic God was a fairy tale: the true god lies within “the Self.” To experience Her/Him is to have grasped the secret of immortality. Such a “faith” is really no faith at all, but a form of experience-based knowledge, superior because it requires no sacrifice of the intellect, as do superstitious “faiths.”

The Nazis implemented some of these ideas, heretofore known and accepted only by an elite, in the context of a mass political movement. Jung therefore spoke of the movement rather approvingly at first. Eventually he came to see some of its dangers-warning that the Nazis had, as it were, hijacked the spiritual revolution and turned it to dire ends. They took too direct and too severe an approach to solving problems, including the problem universally recognized as crucial among occultists: how the “over-civilized” Jews and their ideas (including Christianity) tend to drain the life-force from the more youthfully mystic Aryans.

Jung’s Psychological Club was more moderate in its approach to this same problem: it merely maintained a secret appendix to its by-laws, known only to Jung himself and to his innermost circle, that capped the percentage of Jews allowed membership.

But the war and the attempted extermination of the Jews for racial/mystic reasons rather poisoned the occult well for everyone. Jung did eventually repudiate the Nazis themselves (he even removed the Jewish quota from the club—although it took him until four years after the extermination camps were revealed to do so). Against accusations of anti-Semitism and Nazi sympathizing, he was able more-or-less successfully to defend himself, largely because he had so many Jewish colleagues and disciples who could testify to his loyalty and assistance. But it remains rue that many of the doctrines the Nazis adopted as their own were indeed central to Jung’s worldview.

In Noll’s opinion, Jung—obliged to distance himself from the more openly Aryan occult theories of which he was most fond prior to the war—found alchemy a more suitable, less tainted form of occult expression. Though Jung had been well aware of alchemy at least since the twenties, he concentrated on it only after the war.

Jung, in other words, was not a true “proto-Nazi,” according to Noll, because he had no political agenda, but he drank deeply at the same Arcadian fountain as they. “The evidence is compelling that Jung’s work arose from the same Central European cauldron of neopagan, Nietzschean, mystical, hereditarian, volkisch utopianism out of which National Socialism arose.”

This is the burden of Noll’s book, and he has done a remarkable job of documenting his case. But for all the dark material he has unearthed and pieced together, I think he fails to draw the most important conclusions. The material cries out for interpretation, and indeed, in the latter parts of the book Noll’s tone changes dramatically and becomes directly hostile.

Yet even the criticism Noll allows himself misses the mark. Jungian psychology has become a psycho-spiritual Amway-style franchise, Noll contends, driven primarily by money. Religious seekers are promised what is tantamount to (but not called) occult initiation, and thereby suckered into lengthy “analysis” at exorbitant cost. Many become trainees themselves, in hopes of recouping their losses by moving up the food chain. The sharpest of these in time become training analysts who have earned the right to feed on the most compliant of prey: new trainees.

There is a certain amount of cynical truth to this take on the official Jungian movement—I have seen it at work myself from within. But the same degree of self-interest is at work in every professional guild: organized clinical psychology (Noll’s profession), psychiatry (my own), social work, law, and so on. The master-apprentice system itself is built upon such a process and is inevitably open to a common set of abuses.

Abuses, of course, tend to grow in proportion to the extent that the criteria for success within any given guild are subjective rather than objective; for all the loud protestations of objectivity, the criteria for success within every mental health profession are notoriously subjective.

Such subjectivity is at work within the Jungian domain and within organized psychiatry, in both of which candidates may be accepted or rejected for training more because of ideological compliance than genuine qualification. Psychiatry tends increasingly to seek and enforce political correctness among its members; Jungians do too, nowadays to a greater extent than even psychiatry, in spite of Jung’s superficial conservatism.

The fact is that as a subset of the mental health professions, the Jungians have evolved into a rather typical school of psychotherapy, on balance no better or worse than others. Training is now heavily dependent upon a cross-section of theoretical models and practice schemata, by no means purely Jungian. Neo-Freudians, Kohutian self-psychologists, British object-relations theorists, standard DSMIV psychiatric diagnosticians, and others now have honored and time-consuming places in the typical Jungian curriculum.

The original occult initiation process envisioned and propagated by Jung and perhaps actually experienced by him and by some of his inner core of disciples has for the most part disappeared. This is certainly true of that process as it may have been acted out concretely, and not just symbolically—a rising tide of undue familiarity cases (to which other mental health professions have been similarly subject) has all but eliminated the possibility that “mystic marriages” could be safely consummated in bed. Newly devised ethics codes make taboo even modest self-revelation by analysts. In other words, it is no longer professionally prudent for Jungian analysts to engage in the kind of “mutual individuation” romanticized by Jung, however much Jungian rhetoric may claim that such a process still occurs. In short, the Jungian professional guild has become considerably less rogue than Noll tries to paint it.

The real problem is not the Jungian guild, it is Jungian spirituality, and this touches on Noll’s assessment that Jung was not really a “proto-Nazi.” That may be true, but occult ideas provided the soil in which Nazi—like phenomena flourished, and one may argue that not only can they thus flourish, but that given the sufficient tilling of that particular soil they almost certainly will.

Jung was not himself a major influence in the outburst of occult-mindedness in prewar Europe; he was rather the recipient of this influence from others, as Noll documents. But having absorbed, digested, and resynthesized in brilliant fashion what he received, he has become its major fount in its postwar re-eruption—an eruption no longer confined to Middle Europe and a few English aristocrats and civil servants, but spread out across the globe, especially to America. As Jung himself foretold sixty years ago in his essay on the Norse god Wotan and Nazi Germany:

National Socialism [is] . . . not . . . the last word. Things must be concealed in the background which we cannot imagine at present, but we may expect them to appear in the course of the next few years or decades. Wotan’s reawakening is a stepping back into the past; the stream was dammed up . . . But the obstruction will not last forever . . . the water will overleap the obstacle.

Much of what we now see happening in the domains of religion and spirituality and culture can be laid at Jung’s doorstep—the modern amalgam of goddess worship and polytheism; the replacement of morality-oriented Jewish and Christian worship with ancient pagan initiation rituals; resurgent pantheism in scientific and pseudo-scientific guise; and above all a brutal moral relativism (that is, the reconciliation of good and evil).

In short, in place of his rather feckless attack on the Jungian “guild,” an expanded version of Noll’s off-the-cuff remark concerning Jung and Julian the Apostate belongs in his book. For it is Jung’s spiritual influence that is the real danger, not the rather modest financial success of his followers’ practices. The latter has only followed from the more important spiritual effects, not from the cleverness of its organization and management.

How dangerous are these spiritual effects? Heinrich Heine, the nineteenth-century German-Christian-Jewish poet, peered a century into his nation’s future and saw the result of neo-pagan revisionings of religious tradition. His words should be a caution to us as well:

Should ever that taming talisman break—the Cross—then will come roaring back the wild madness of the ancient warriors, with all their insane, Berserker rage, of whom our Nordic poets speak and sing. That talisman is now already crumbling, and the day is not far off when it shall break apart entirely. On that day, the old stone gods will rise from their long forgotten wreckage and rub from their eyes the dust of a thousand years’ sleep. At long last leaping to life, Thor with his giant hammer will crush the gothic cathedrals. And laugh not at my forebodings, the advice of a dreamer who warns you away from the . . . Naturphilosophen. No, laugh not at the visionary who knows that in the realm of phenomena comes soon the revolution that has already taken place in the realm of spirit. For thought goes before deed as lightning before thunder. There will be played in Germany a play compared to which the French Revolution was but an innocent idyll.

Jeffrey Satinover, past-President of the C.G. Jung Foundation of New York, is a psychiatrist in private practice in Westport, Connecticut.