Since many shy people are attracted to the ideas of psychologist C.G.Jung, I think I should explain something about my different view of him.
Though I’ve been reading Jung’s books all my life, and though I’m still learning from him today, I find many of his self-professed ‘Jungian’ followers offensive.
Some years ago, to get the last credit that would complete a degree at York University, I decided to take a night course called Archetype, Symbol and Myth. It was an exploration of world literature and art from a Jungian perspective.
I wasn’t surprised to find the course full of these Jungians. Most of them young (I was about 45), they trooped in with their copies of Jung’s Man and His Symbols in hand, a book that is a kind of bible for them.
It all started with a discussion of the word ‘numinous’.
Dictionaries aren’t much help with this word, for they just say it refers to religiousness, to the spiritual, to the sense of a presence of a divinity, to the supernatural, to ‘awe-provokingness’, or just to being mysterious. They dance all around it.
Jung used numinous a lot in his writing, but he didn’t define it in any book I’ve read. He wrote in German, but in German the word is the same. A German/English dictionary will tell you that numinous in German means numinous in English.
From my reading of Jung, it was already clear to me that anything can be numinous if it has strong emotional importance to you – the house you grew up in, a tree you played under when you were a child, a special toy, a shell you saved from a magical beach, a photograph of someone or a place you loved, etc. If it generates strong feeling in you when look at it or think about it, it’s numinous.
Well, a debate started. A young woman who I knew to be a perceptive reader of fiction and knowledgeable about the visual arts, proposed that a Robert Bateman painting could be numinous.
No! No! No!, came the refrain from all sides. Bateman was a realist painter, so he could never be numinous. She was obviously taken aback by the number of her opponents, which appeared to include the professor.
Because I’d already thought a lot about numinosity, I stepped in on her behalf and said I had no trouble imagining many Robert Bateman paintings to be numinous.
Before I could finish, the Jungian storm burst upon me, all these experts trying to speak at once, vying with each other for the right to put me down. It ended when a young blonde who sat on my left thrust her copy of Man and His Symbols in my face, open at the page with the Peter Birkhauser painting of a mysterious four-eyed spirit looking threateningly out of darkness and smoke.
“That,” she said emphatically, “is numinous”.
Everyone seconded this. Even the professor nodded her head in agreement.
Though I had high marks in the course to that point, the next morning I went to York’s administration office and withdrew from it. These Jungians and I lived in two different worlds, and I had no desire to spend any more time in theirs.
Jung himself said many times that the last thing he wanted was to create an army of Jungian followers. Unfortunately, that’s what he got.
But I haven’t been alone in my experience. Psychologist James Hillman, who was once a director in the C.G. Jung Institute in Zurich and got kicked out through a coordinated effort of his Jungian colleagues who didn’t like his heretical views, fought a running battle with them for decades. In a future post I’m going to show why Hillman always believed that these Jungians were betrayers of Jung.
PS – to see some numinous art, go here – batemancentre.org/exhibits