Jung the Mystic: The Esoteric Dimensions of Carl Jung’s Life and Teachings

Jung the Mystic: The Esoteric Dimensions of Carl Jung’s Life and Teachings,” recently out in paperback, is a highly readable, slim biography of the Swiss psychologist, focusing on his interests in the more enigmatic aspects of human existence. The book details the roots of Jung’s experiences with dreams and esoterica as a child, his work and friendship with Sigmund Freud, and his complicated (at times perhaps unprofessional) relationships with patients.

It’s a book Freud would have hated, and writer Gary Lachman (who, by the way, was a founding member of iconic rock band Blondie), gives us the juicy story of why Freud and Jung parted ways. Namely, that Freud thought Jung’s belief in things like “synchronicity,” were nonsense. The idea (roughly) that two seemingly unrelated things, like a thought and a sudden crack in a desk, could have a causal or meaningful relationship became a kind of obsession for Jung. There might be no such thing as a coincidence, but does that mean that there are mystical relationships we don’t know about? Jung thought so, and he wanted to figure it out. Freud wanted no part of it, and thought Jung’s pursuit of these ideas threatened to sabotage the young science of psychotherapy altogether.

Jung himself knew better than to get into all of this stuff publicly. He knew it might sound crazy, and in fact, sometimes worried that he was going crazy. Lachman writes about a practice Jung mentioned little during his life, the act of experiencing “active imagination.” In a series of experiences that he was afraid would either drive him completely crazy or give his ideas great clarity, he willingly hallucinated in order to see what images he would create. Lachman explains not only what Jung was doing, but why it was valuable.

An Illustration by Nathan Gelgud, inspired by "Jung the Mystic." 2012.

An Illustration by Nathan Gelgud, inspired by “Jung the Mystic.” 2012.