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I know, from long experience of these things, that spontaneous, synchronistic phenomena draw the observer by hook or by crook, into what is happening and occasionally make him an accessory to the deed.

(C.G. Jung)   

Carl Gustav Jung

Carl Gustav Jung

Synchronicity - extracted from 'Jung And Astrology' by Maggie Hyde

The psychology of Carl Jung has been one of the most formative influences on modern astrology. There are few contemporary texts that do not somewhere rely on, quote or misquote a concept that comes directly from Jung. In her widely acclaimed book Jung and Astrology Maggie Hyde opens up the debate concerning the limits of psychological astrology, reviewing which parts of his theories have been adapted, ignored and misunderstood. It explores the development of Jung's theories on symbolism and his lifelong struggle with the theory of astrological synchronicity - illustrated throughout with examples of astrology in action. The following article is extracted from that work.

As above, so below. Early in his studies, Jung came across the ancient macrocosm - microcosm belief with its enduring theme of the organic unity of all things. This mystical Unus Mundus (One World) of the alchemists had a powerful influence on him. In developing a psychology of the archetypes, he experienced many uncanny coincidences and sought to find a model for these experiences in terms of his theory. He was looking for an explanation of how divination operated, believing it must be connected with this Unus Mundus and, in psychoanalytic terms, the projection of unconscious contents in relation to the archetypes.

The summation of this quest for the foundation of 'meaningful coincidence' is the concept of synchronicity. This is frequently invoked to serve as an explanation of how astrology works. However, most astrologers using the concept adopt a simplistic view of Jung's approach, and the implications of the theory of synchronicity for astrology have up to now remained almost entirely unexamined. This is all the more remarkable when we consider that a key element in Jung's exposition of synchronicity is his famous 'marriage experiment', involving the statistical testing of astrological indicators of marriage. No doubt, one reason for this neglect by astrologers is the considerable ambiguity in Jung's argument. He had a tremendous struggle with his editors to clarify the concept for publication against a background of criticism over his use of statistical method. [1]

What does Jung mean by synchronicity? In his 1952 essay, it is helpful to distinguish synchronism, with its adjective synchronous, from the word coined by Jung, synchronicity, with its adjective synchronistic:

synchronicity ... (is) ... a coincidence in time of two or more causally unrelated events which have the same or a similar meaning, in contrast to 'synchronism', which simply means the simultaneous occurrence of two events. [2]

This 'meaningful coincidence in time' can take three forms. The first is:

The coincidence of a certain psychic content with a corresponding objective process which is perceived to take place simultaneously. [3]

This is the commonly recognised experience of coincidence, the book opening at just the right page, the phone call from the friend you were thinking about at that very moment. The second form of synchronicity is:

The coincidence of a subjective psychic state with a phantasm (Dream or vision) which later turns out to be a more or less faithful reflection of a 'synchronistic', but objective event that took place more or less simultaneously, but at a distance. [4]

As an example of this second type, a woman once had a terrible dream of Armageddon while her husband was away on a business trip. Unknown to her, his European schedule had been changed and he was walking in the streets of Hiroshima at the time of her dream.

The third form of synchronicity is similar to the second, except that what is perceived takes place in the future and is represented in the present only by a dream or vision that corresponds to it. This form would apply to predictions seen through a crystal ball, premonitions, precognitive dreams and such- like clairvoyant phenomena. Certain astrological predictions might well be considered to fall into this category.

The second type of meaningful coincidence - like the woman's dream - is more usually understood as telepathy or 'thought transference'. It is significant that Jung specifically wishes to class telepathy as a form of synchronicity. This categorisation has to be seen in the context of the place of telepathy and the occult in psychoanalysis. Of the range of occult manifestations, Freud was prepared to accept only telepathy as part of the analytic concern and tried to reduce various inexplicable occurrences to this category. [5] This allows the phenomena to to be rationalised to some extent as a form of psychic 'energy', without appearing to stray too far from a natural scientific explanation. Freud recoils from any other possibilities - the "dark tide" - but on this account he forecloses on the phenomena so that the question of an objective reality to divination and omens is an impossible one for him to address within the scope of his theories. [6] For Jung, the issue of divination remains open, and he has the intellectual courage to take on its reality. This is a major reason why he is so important for astrology.

Jung's three definitions of synchronicity all involve an affective and psychic component, an uncanny sense of the meaningfulness of an event. There are a number of such experiences which might not fit precisely into these definitions, but which would still be recognised as synchronicities because they carry this meaningful sense of the uncanny. During the events surrounding the writing of this book, I talked to friends at dinner one evening about Jung and Philemon and the dead kingfisher in his garden. I asked if they knew much about the behaviour of kingfishers or of the Fisher King in the Grail.[7] They knew nothing about the former and were unable to remember many details about the latter. A few days later I received this letter,

We very much enjoyed Sunday evening. On Monday afternoon, my mother and I glimpsed a kingfisher over a lake. My mother immediately launched into a story about how she had picked up a dead kingfisher five years ago that had evidently flown into the glass wall of a swimming pool complex. She took it home to show her grand-daughter.

My friend could not recollect having seen a kingfisher before. This is typical of the kind of incident which happens around reading Jung. Talking of kingfishers, kingfishers appear. For this to be a synchronicity in Jung's terms, it must be meaningful. But does it have a 'meaning'? One imagines it does because the two stories about a dead kingfisher, plus the appearance of a live one, have come together in time in a puzzling way. I am naturally curious to know, as indeed my friend was, why he should hear about a dead kingfisher, see a live one and hear about another dead one in less than twenty-four hours when there had not been a kingfisher in sight before then! There are several differing views which can be brought to bear as an 'explanation', and thought transference is an obvious one. Following on from our conversation, my friend had kingfishers in mind. His mother picked this up subliminally and amidst the myriad surrounding objects on their country walk, her attention alighted upon the kingfisher over the lake because unconsciously she knew it was charged with import for her son. If we followed Freud's line, we might eventually locate the meaning of the incident in the all-too-familiar Oedipal situation between mother and son.

Another analytic approach would not even require to take up the question of thought-transference. The incident is simply part of the arbitrary absurdity of life, and our search for meaning is the only too human wish for some sort of explanation. The 'meaning' could be seen as the expression of a desire for omnipotence. We fear our frailty and isolation and cannot bear our separation from the world. A fortuitous event such as the kingfisher allows the 'wish' for significance to be magically fulfilled. Such a condition is undoubtedly evident in people who 'run along with the unconscious' and anyone involved in the field of astrology and divination will recognise that this can be the driving force for many individuals in their dabblings with the occult. Yet we cannot use this reduction to neurosis as an 'explanation' for the persistent class of phenomena regularly encountered by quite sane, perceptive and well-balanced individuals, quite apart from a good proportion of the philosophers of all ages. To do so is a common but intellectually feeble move, itself a defence against uncomfortable reality. Hence both a physiological rationalisation of thought-transference, and omnipotence theory, when brought to bear on such occurrences, suppress the phenomena in much the same way as Freud's dismissal of the noise in his bookcase as the 'spook complex'. Jung is remarkable and practically unique amongst the leading thinkers of the twentieth century in that he explicitly acknowledges this type of experience which countless human beings are very familiar with. His descriptions allow the experiences themselves in their full integrity, and give voice to them. It is in this sense that he is an outstanding phenomenologist.

To return to our kingfisher. Given that the coincidence arose whilst thinking about Jung and Philemon, the kingfisher's appearance will have a distinctly 'Jungian' touch to it. Its appearance is coupled with classic Jungian metaphors - the "swimming pool complex" is a striking image for the realm of the collective unconscious, the seat of the archetypes where the complexes and our experiences are collective or "pooled". The kingfisher is a bird which pulls fish out of the water - it is the move which seeks to make unconscious contents conscious. We can begin to re-take and re-think the story of this second dead kingfisher as a metaphor for the way in which a certain flight of consciousness (the kingfisher) attempts to bring unconscious contents to light (diving for the fish in the water), and how invisible barriers (glass walls) destroy the kingfisher spirit.

Does this constitute meaning, however? And is there a single meaning which lies inherent back and behind the synchronicity, waiting to be discovered, either in general or for me personally? There may be no one meaning to a coincidence because meaning is assigned by the participants who inevitably have differing contexts which they bring to the experience. The same symbol may mean different things to different people, so the kingfisher might have different meanings for myself and my friend. Given the coincidence, the kingfisher incident sets me off thinking further about kingfishers, Fisher Kings, the Grail and Jung's work. My thinking on Jung then becomes empowered by the symbol as the transcendent function is activated. This is an ongoing process because the kingfisher symbol remains "pregnant with meaning", the carrier of multiple possible meanings. For individuals with a symbolic attitude, the 'meaning' of coincidences does not simply spring into birth. The symbol lingers, it is mulled over in the twilight zone. There is a sense that it might mean something more, and thus for both my friend and I it has set in motion powerful psychic processes. Yet in Jung's terms, the archetype has not yet broken through into consciousness. It may never do so and I may be eternally vexed in my attempt to give birth to some 'deeper meaning'.

At first sight coincidences can appear trivial and insignificant, like the slip of the tongue. The big dream which warns of the disaster or the premonition that saves a life do happen, but they are fairly rare and the vast majority of coincidences are less dramatic and chiefly characterised by their apparent lack of meaning. Yet because they are so bizarre, the symbolic attitude endows them with significance and sets off the transcendent function. When this happens, because there is an emotional affect the coincidence can become meaningful. It becomes a synchronicity as Jung defines it and an archetypal foundation may be found to be in play. Jung was convinced that the archetypes are fundamental to synchronistic events:

By far the greatest number of spontaneous synchronistic phenomena that I have had occasion to observe and analyse can easily be shown to have a direct connection with an archetype. [8]

In practice, this postulated archetypal basis can be difficult to recognise. When I was reading a book by Von Franz, [9] I had been intrigued to read her comment that coincidences often occur when people are travelling because things are in motion then. The very next day, during rush-hour commuter chaos, I squeezed into the only spare seat on a crowded train and dug out Von Franz for the journey. When I looked up, a woman exactly opposite was reading the same book. There was, however, no strong emotional charge in this situation, other than the sense of the bizarre nature of the Unus Mundus, the One World. It seemed a fairly meaningless coincidence, although it might have gained meaning if either the woman or I had made it so by at least striking up a conversation. Neither of us chose to do so, and for me the incident simply shows that Von Franz seems to be right about travelling coincidences. If there is some deeper archetypal foundation, it hasn't yet emerged.

There is, however, a more fundamental problem at the heart of Jung's description of synchronicity. Jung's concept is his attempt to unite his own irrational and existential experience with theory and as he forged it, he continuously shifted between the twin poles of symbolic perception and theoretical construction. His efforts are full of paradoxes. Although he moves in a world of colourful myth and magical stories, Progoff records Jung's admiration of science and his wish to emulate Einstein with a theory as powerful as relativity.[10] During the course of his development of the synchronicity idea, there evolves what Progoff refers to as a "double conception". This is also pointed out by Marie Louise von Franz:

When Jung put forward his hypothesis of the principle of synchronicity, there was much discussion as to whether one could not still discover a law under which synchronistic events would have a certain regularity, or would follow certain laws ... This it has not been possible to find and Jung, after long reflection and discussion, came to the conclusion that we have to admit, much as it annoys our rational minds, that synchronistic events are just-so stories. [11]

The earliest published statement on synchronicity appears to be the 1930 memorial address to Richard Wilhelm where Jung takes up the question of astrology and posits at its basis an "arbitrary, purely conceptual time system",

In so far as there are any really correct astrological diagnoses, they are not due to the effects of the constellations but to our hypothetical time qualities. In other words, whatever is born or done in this moment of time has the quality of this moment of time. [12]

This is a quote much-loved by astrological authors. It is nearly always taken out of context and invariably used to support a belief in the importance of the objective moment of the birthtime. Indeed, this early view of synchronicity centres on an objective, occult quality to the moment of time which Jung continues to suggest as late as 1949 in the Foreword to the I Ching:

there are even astrologers who can tell you, without any previous knowledge of your nativity, what the position of the Sun and Moon was and what zodiacal sign rose above the horizon in the moment of your birth. In the face of such facts, it must be admitted that moments can leave long-lasting traces. [13]

However, by this stage Jung was beginning to more fully develop his idea of 'hypothetical time' with its hint at imaginal possibility. Five years later, in his 1955 letter to the French astrologer Barbault, Jung makes a crucial statement about synchronicity which we cannot ignore. This statement completely rejects his early idea of a qualitative time moment and differentiates this from his concept of synchronicity:

This is a notion I used formerly but I have replaced it with the idea of synchronicity ... since qualitative time is nothing but the flux of things, and it is moreover just as much "nothing" as space, this hypothesis does not establish anything except the tautology: the flux of things and events is the cause of the flux of things, etc. ...[14]

How and why did Jung arrive at this position? The answer is to be found in his increasing recognition that his earlier understanding had not adequately expressed the subjective psychic component in synchronicity. Often in his definitions, Jung creates an ambiguity about the nature of this psychic component, and leaves open the possibility of "double conception". This is clearly revealed in the Foreword to the I Ching:

Synchronicity takes the coincidence of events in space and time as meaning something more than mere chance, namely, a peculiar interdependence of objective events among themselves as well as with the subjective (psychic) states of the observer or observers. [15]

The ambiguity here lies in the phrase as well as with. The relationship between the objective events and the subjective psychic state of the observer is not clear. This in effect allows two versions of synchronicity which I will designate as Synchronicity I and Synchronicity II. The first emphasises the (meaningful) interdependence of objective events amongst themselves (Synchronicity I). The second version brings to light the subjective participation of the observing psyche (Synchronicity II). Once it is realised that Jung's descriptions contain two different formulations, then many of the complications with the concept become clearer.

The first version (Synchronicity I) suggests that there is a relationship between an objectively observed psyche and objectively observed events. If this was so, these interconnections could be studied objectively, and that was Jung's early hope. Synchronicity I therefore encourages the detached and objective perception of qualitative time and could generate a theory or law. However, the second version (Synchronicity II), acknowledges the subjective participation of the observing psyche, that is, the psyche of the one who seeks to observe this law at work. This produces the lawless, one-off, uncanny, unpredictable, 'just-so' nature of synchronistic events which Jung the diviner was only too aware of. This is Synchronicity II.

In the 1952 essay on synchronicity, Jung is intent on finding a 'law' of correspondences at work, but fails to distinguish between the two versions latent within his definitions. He moves ambiguously between the two, attempting to bridge the very subject-object split which has always been an irreducible divide in western philosophy. He realises that he cannot separate "meaning", the essential ingredient in synchronistic phenomena, from psychic activity, and is therefore bound to postulate a 'psychoid substrate', a priori with respect to human consciousness, which underlies both objective events and the psyche. It is this psychoid level of reality the mystical, unifying ground of the alchemical Unus Mundus, through which the archetypes can objectively manifest in external events. However, only Synchronicity II, with its absolute participation of the observing psyche, allows the realisation of the Unus Mundus. You cannot stand outside looking in on the One World.

Astrology appeared to be the ideal medium to demonstrate the "interdependence of objective events among themselves". In astrology, one set of objects - the planetary line-up - is equated with another set - objective events. In the case of an event such as the Chernobyl disaster, its occurrence near an eclipse on the day of the Sun opposite to Pluto, apparently independent of any participating psyche, seems undoubtedly meaningful in retrospect. Similarly, in earlier chapters, I have linked the planetary placings in Jung's chart with events in his life and work. This is what is meant by an "interdependence of objective events amongst themselves". Since there is no conceivable causal relation between the planets and the events, astrology is therefore ripe for synchronistic occurrences. Jung was hoping, through his marriage experiment, to demonstrate synchronicity and to find an "acausal connecting principle" which would be "equal in rank to causality as a principle of explanation".[16]

It is a significant indication of Jung's ambivalence with respect to divination that even at this stage of his life, in his seventies, after decades of contact with the realm of the symbolic and the occult, he could still start off with the assumption that he can adopt the scientific method. He begins,

No belief in astrology is needed to carry out such an investigation, only the birth-dates, an astronomical almanac, and a table of logarithms for working out the horoscope.[17]

This is clearly Synchronicity I, an interdependence of objective events amongst themselves. Here is the divide between the scientist and the diviner. How can the scientist discover the underlying principle which will explain coincidences and the bizarre 'just-so' qualities of chance happenings? Or find scientific evidence for the way in which symbols such as those used in astrology make sense to the participating astrologer? Jung is like Father Juniper, seeking to know the mystery of the Bridge of San Luis Rey. [18] Koestler says of Jung and Kammerer, with his similar work on a 'law of seriality',

Like theologians who start from the premise that the mind of God is beyond human understanding and then proceed to explain how the mind of God works, they postulated an acausal principle, and proceeded to explain it in pseudo-causal terms. [19]

Jung's initial assumption comes from his earlier supposition that there is an objective quality to the moment of time (Synchronicity I), the same position he had held in 1930. He is convinced that

The meaningful coincidence we are looking for is immediately apparent in astrology, since the astronomical data are said by astrologers to correspond to individual traits of character.[20]

It is striking that Jung does not give more weight to his own definition of a symbol. The fact that he does not may in part reflect the extraordinary power of astrology to appear 'objective', thus entirely disguising its symbolic, divinatory foundation. Even Jung is marked by astrology's objectivist stance, derived from its whole classical tradition. From his Synchronicity I perspective, Jung makes the mistake of confusing a piece of astronomical data with a symbol, so that astronomy is matched up with character traits and the subjective interpretation of the astrologer who derives meaning from the symbol is not part of the equation.

The difficulty of agreement on individual character assessment led Jung to an investigation of marriage because this is a specific event and he studied the synastry between the birthcharts of married couples. Out of various possible astrological combinations for love or relationship, he selected three traditional factors from Ptolemy said to indicate marriage: Sun conjunct Moon, Moon conjunct Moon and Ascendant conjunct Moon. He was so keen to analyse the results that he could not wait until all the data had been collected. Impatiently, he asked his co-worker, Lilian Frey-Rhon, to analyse the first batch of material which had been collected. The result appeared to be an extraordinary validation for astrology because the married couples showed a high contact of Sun conjunct Moon. Jung was aware that this would not be justified as statistically valid unless the rest of the material replicated the result. However, Von Franz recalls that Jung was sitting in his garden musing over the results when suddenly he saw

... a mischievous face laughing at him from the masonry of the wall .. The thought struck him: Had Mercurius, the spirit of nature, played a trick on him? [21]

His instinct to distrust the result was confirmed by the ensuing joke with the remainder of the material. The second batch failed to confirm the result of the first one, but instead produced a high proportion of Moon conjunct Moon. The third batch came up with a high contact of Ascendant conjunct Moon and this finally washed away the significance of the first result. Taken overall, therefore, the combined results of the three batches showed no statistical significance for any single configuration. Yet for Jung, there was a significance here of a quite different order. The statistics had taken a funny turn. The three contacts he was originally looking for had emerged singularly in the three separate batches: Sun conjunct Moon, Moon conjunct Moon, and Ascendant conjunct Moon.

Jung had failed to establish an objective correspondence between the heavens at birth and marriage partners. This was, therefore, a failure to demonstrate a meaningful "interdependence of objective events amongst themselves" (Synchronicity I). Instead, his own subjective state as an observer seemed to be involved, since the results curiously mimicked what he was looking for (Synchronicity II). He then took a step which is far more like an act of divination than science. He decided to play around with the material and give the synchronicity trickster a run for its money. If his own subjective state had been involved with the first experiment, what would happen if he changed the observers? He selected three people "whose psychological status was accurately known". [22] Each individual was asked to draw by lot twenty married pairs from a pile of horoscopes of married couples. The synastry between the married pairs was then examined. The first selection was made by a woman who was "in an intense state of emotional excitement". In the married couples she selected,

As compared with our general results there is a predominance of the Mars aspects, which fully agree with the psychic state of the subject.[23]

In the second example, the subject choosing the horoscopes was a woman "unable to realise and assert her personality in the face of self-suppressive tendencies". She selected married couples with an emphasis on the Ascendant/Descendant and Moon relationship. Jung comments that "this result, astrologically considered, was in full agreement with the subject's actual problems." Finally, the third woman subject had "strong inner oppositions whose union and reconciliation constituted her main problem". She selected couples who had Sun and Moon conjunctions, clearly emphasising the union of opposites.

Jung's game is almost certainly statistically unsound and bears no resemblance to the relatively careful design of the main experiment, but it has remarkable implications for astrology. His discussion of synchronicity takes place alongside his study of ESP phenomena and in Rhine's ESP experiments, the subjects' psychic involvement is evident. Jung compares himself in the astrology experiment to the ESP subjects, enthusiastic at first but producing less significant results the more bored he became. Far more important, however, is that by involving other subjects, results emerged which reflect the subjects themselves. The meaningful coincidence no longer seems to be between the fact of the marriage and the astronomical constellation (Synchronicity I). Rather, the synastry between the married couples appears to reflect the psychic state of the individual making the selection (Synchronicity II). The whole conduct of this 'scientific experiment' has by now broken down into divination, yet Jung still attempts to hold on to a scientific stand and remain a detached observer. He talks of the "danger" inherent in parapsychology experiments:

I know, from long experience of these things that spontaneous, synchronistic phenomena draw the observer by hook or by crook, into what is happening and occasionally make him an accessory to the deed. [24]

As a scientist seeking the underlying principle in an objective moment of time, Jung feels 'drawn in' to the astrology, but as a diviner, he suspects that he might never have been out of it in the first place. He comes to realise that astrology, and the astrologers of old,

... rested on a precarious foundation. But I imagine that in their case, too, as with me, a secret, mutual connivance existed between the material and the psychic state of the astrologer. This correspondence is simply there like any other agreeable or annoying accident, and it seems to me doubtful whether it can be proved scientifically to be anything more than that.[25]

This agreeable or annoying correspondence, charged as it is with emotional affect, is the synchronistic phenomenon. Astrological synchronicity may not be wholly understood as a correspondence between an astronomical constellation and a fact in the world, or even between an astronomical constellation and an individual's character. Synchronicity II involves the astrologer and his or her emotional psychic state and participation in a symbolic language. Throughout the astrological literature, astrologers who otherwise happily plunder ideas from Jung studiously fail to quote him on this conclusion to his marriage experiment!

The 'secret mutual connivance' is not an idea that either astrologers or Jung the scientist finds easy to see or illumine. In the marriage experiment, the subjects produced astrology in an image of themselves. As with the ESP experiments, as with alchemy, projection is in play:

the psyche observes not external bodies but itself.[26]

Is this the old magical causality of the ancients? Jung thinks not. He retains his certainty that the archetypes are fundamental to synchronistic experiences, but they are contingent to causal processes rather than causal themselves. They manifest by emotional affect and are indicative of " an irrepresentable psychoid factor of the collective unconscious ". Thus the emotionally excited woman produced Mars synastry couples, the woman who sought union selected Sun-Moon pairings and so on. Moreover, the emotionality of the participating observer is not simply confined to a personal unconscious component - it is not simply all down to him or her. Rather, in some peculiar way it keys in with the apparently objective factors so that it matches the astronomical data and the married couples. Thus the participating observer, the married couples and the physical fact of the astronomy are all underpinned by an archetype in the collective unconscious which is acting autonomously. As Jung begins to talk of archetypes and the collective unconscious, he moves towards 'transcendental meaning', which does not directly include the psyche of the observer. He slides back to Synchronicity I, and ends up with an "equal significance of parallel events", independent of man:

Synchronicity postulates a meaning which is a priori in relation to human consciousness and apparently exists outside of man. Such an assumption is found above all in the philosophy of Plato, which takes for granted the existence of transcendental images or models of empirical things. [27]

Meaning a priori to human consciousness allows Synchronicity I, an inter-dependence of objective events amongst themselves, but as Progoff realises, part of the problem with the synchronicity idea is that of the context in which it can be understood,

Is synchronicity a principle of interpretation that is specifically related to the experience of human beings? .. in that case, it is a field that is definite and limited to the presence of human life. The other possibility is that Synchronicity is a general principle of understanding that is applicable to all the phenomenon of nature.[28]

Jung's final statements do not resolve for us the two versions of synchronicity. He looks for both the underlying principle, the objective pattern, and yet knows from his experience that when synchronicities occur, they do so at random, in an impossible, unpredictable, lawless manner. He concludes with poetic ring:

these forms of psychic orderedness are acts of creation in time ... we must regard them as creative acts, as the continuous creation of a pattern that exists from all eternity, repeats itself sporadically, and is not derivable from any known antecedents. [29]

Acts of creation in time they may be, but who is the creator here? Let us look again at one of Jung's own synchronicities which took place while he was working on the synchronicity idea. The Synchronicity Trickster had a few more jokes to play. This work on synchronicity was taking place in the same six year period (1946 - 1952) that he was writing Aion. He was also studying the history of fish symbolism in relation to Christ and the Age of Pisces, and he recalls a 'run' or series of incidents to do with fish which he considers "food for thought":

I noticed the following on April 1, 1949: Today is Friday. We have fish for lunch. Somebody happens to mention the custom of making an "April Fish" of someone. That same morning I made a note of an inscription which read: "Est homo totus medius piscis ab imo." In the afternoon a former patient of mine, whom I had not seen in months, showed me some extremely impressive pictures of fish which she had painted in the meantime. In the evening I was shown a piece of embroidery with fish-like sea monsters in it. On the morning of April 2 another patient, whom I had not seen for many years, told me a dream in which she stood on the shore of a lake and saw a large fish that swam straight towards her and landed at her feet. I was at this time engaged on a study of the fish symbolism in history. Only one of the persons mentioned here knew anything about it.

There follows a most interesting footnote:

As a pendant to what I have said above, I should like to mention that I wrote these lines sitting by the lake. Just as I had finished this sentence, I walked over to the sea-wall and there lay a dead fish, about a foot long, apparently uninjured. No fish had been there the previous evening. (Presumably it had been pulled out of the water by a bird of prey or a cat.) The fish was the seventh in the series. [30]

These incidents made a deep and numinous impression on Jung. Fish begin to happen around him as he is engaged in a study of fish. What does it mean? He connects the series to his interest in the history of fish symbolism. In Aion, he concludes that the astrological fish is a symbol of the archetype of the Self. The irony here, however, is that Jung immediately understands the meaning theoretically and impersonally, locating it away from himself, onto the archetype of the Self.

The last fish appears to him later as he is writing about synchronicity. Could the entire series of fish be about the synchronicity concept? The first fish appears on April Fool's Day, a day of practical jokes on which people are sent on fool's errands. Some sources suggest the day has a Christian derivation from the sending to and fro of Christ before the crucifixion. April Fool's Day is also related to the Spring Equinox Point. This is remarkable in that Jung was studying the Great Ages and the movement of the Spring Equinox Point in connection with the birth of Christ and the Age of Pisces.

Yet to move directly to an objective and universal meaning may be one-sided. It is at least as important to pose the question: has Jung set out on a Fool's errand with his concept of synchronicity? Is he trying to do the impossible? Is the Trickster around again? Jung views the first six fish as if they are indicative of the underlying law he is hoping to discover. The sixth fish, the Dream Fish, swims towards the woman and lands at her feet as she stands on the shore of the lake. Jung, sitting by the lake, sees where it has landed but is puzzled how it got there and does not know how it died. Is synchronicity like a dead fish? Pulled out of the water and out of the dream world, the fish cannot survive in air and earth. It needs its own watery element. Synchronistic phenomena are unknowable in causal terms and are not supported by rational analysis. They do not follow a perceptible law. The seventh fish appears mysteriously and seven is a mystical number. Jung knows of this mystery, he is moved by it, it makes a deep impression on him and yet - even in the telling of the fish, he half proffers a rational explanation:

No fish had been there the previous evening. (Presumably it had been pulled out of the water by a bird of prey or a cat).

By a kingfisher, perhaps? He tries to explain how the fish got there, in an unconvincing manner. It is an explanation in brackets. He does not want to allow a rational explanation in, and yet he cannot leave it out. This is through and through the problem with the synchronicity concept. The Fool's Errand he started out on was to pull the fish out of water and let it live. It is an impossibility which reflects Jung's struggle and ambiguity with synchronicity. As he is searching for the underlying principles involved in synchronicity (Synchronicity I), the experiences which happen around him point also to his participation and involvement, to a secret, mutual connivance. Yet because he is so busy looking for the law at work, he ends up with a dead fish. Although he knows no fish had been there previously, he continues his search for an a priori meaning, and persists in his notion that the incidents are about the archetype of the Self. But are they not equally about Jung, himself?. Jung himself is the bird of prey, the kingfisher diving for the fish, the Fisher King.

The fishy symbolism "vexes intellect by being no one thing". The seventh fish may be interpreted another way, too. In the same way as he had 'embodied' the kingfisher spirit all those years earlier, he now embodies the seventh fish in the very work he is doing on synchronicity, as he is doing it. And can I stand back and objectively watch him doing so? Hardly. As a Piscean, I swim amongst the 'double conceptions' and the fishy stories in the footnotes.

Like the fish of Pisces swimming in opposite directions, Jung's struggle with the 'double conception' of synchronicity is one which reflects two aspects of himself, the Scientist and the Diviner. The fish are also the two fish of spirit and matter. The union of the two is found at the Spring Equinox Point, the perfect union of ecliptic and equator, the meeting point of Plato's circles of the Same and the Different, the Eye of God in Dante's great vision. In "Aion", in his inimitable way, Jung creates a wonderful mythical conception of the Age of Pisces which is some of the most impressive astrology of our time. It is a projection on the grandest possible scale, a magnificent act of human ordering, an act of "creation in time". To think, however, that this pattern has an a-priori existence may make April Fools of us all. In Scotland, the fooled person was sometimes sent off to hunt for a square circle. Did Jung think he had found one, in the Cross and in the Mandala?

Jung's struggle with the synchronicity concept is that, despite knowing of the influence of the subjective participation of the observer (Synchronicity II), Jung frequently attempts to understand it as Synchronicity I, having nothing to do with the subject. In such instances, Synchronicity II then pops up to reveal a subjective involvement. During his work with the marriage experiments, the Synchronicity Trickster played Jung another hand which he records in another footnote. He tells us that one of his co-workers had to make a table arrangement for a number of people invited to dinner. At the last moment, an unexpected and 'esteemed' male guest "had to be accommodated at all costs" and the arrangement was hastily revised. Jung recalls,

As we sat down to table, the following astrological picture manifested itself in the immediate vicinity of the guest:

Four Sun - Moon marriages had arisen. My colleague, of course, had a thorough knowledge of astrological marriage aspects, and she was also acquainted with the horoscopes of the people in question. But the speed with which the new table arrangement had to be made left no opportunity for reflection, so that the unconscious had a free hand in secretly arranging the 'marriages'. [31]

The exaltation of Jung's Moon in Taurus might well reflect the strength of the feminine in his life and the delight of sitting down to dinner with six women. The incident is certainly bizarre; what does it mean? Jung would have us believe that the synchronicity rests in the relationship between the astrological factors and the table arrangement, and we search in vain for the meaning to the individuals involved, other than its connection to the marriage experiment. Jung offers the beginning of an explanation - the unconscious has had a free hand in creating it - but such an explanation does not reveal an archetypal basis and, in addition, it takes away from any focus on the human situation Jung is describing. We might ask, whose unconscious has had a free hand here? The co-worker setting the table turns out to be Lilian Frey-Rohn, and we note that it was she whom Jung had instructed to analyse the first batch of horoscopes in the original marriage experiment. That batch was the one which produced the Sun - Moon synastry and here is Lilian Frey-Rohn again, serving up the same cosmic marriage! [32]

The dinner table incident shows us Synchronicity II at work again. In the midst of searching for an understanding of synchronicity as an underlying principle at work between married couples and astrological configurations, Jung finds himself and everyone around him paired off into a cosmic marriage. Six ladies, six fish, a seventh who comes late and completes - plus Jung. What are these stories about? In the context of the whole of Jung's life and work we are drawn back to the human element, the personal story. We are reminded again of the relationship of Jung and Freud and their cosmic marriage, the union of Freud's Sun with Jung's Moon. Is this mirrored in the appearance of the "esteemed male guest" who must be accommodated at all costs? Freud had been dead many years by the time of this incident (like the seventh fish), but who knows how long the divorce affected Jung? Was he unconsciously still seeking that failed union while he was studying astrological marriages and the Mysterium Coniunctionis?

Jung's 'marriage' is in Taurus and he is identified as the lunar half. He is surrounded by women, he knows the language of the feminine. His lunar nature, like his symbolic attitude, requires to be completed and fertilised by the bright male Sun. Cock and Hen, Scientist and Diviner, subject and object, No. 1 and No. 2. There can be no 'definitive' interpretation. Symbols move on. So here, the Sun also embodies both Sol and Luna in the alchemical sign of Taurus which unites in its glyph the circle of the Sun with the crescent of the Moon. The Sun in Taurus is the true Gold, in Jung's terminology a symbol of the Self, discovered in synchronistic experiences and like the Taurean guest, these experiences turn up at the dinner table as food for thought, when you least expect them.

Jung's experiment is a microcosm of his adventure through symbolic language with the mystery of interpretation. This is the realm of the hermetic-hermeneutic god. Jung approaches astrology as Synchronicity I, interpreted in the objective, qualitative moment of time. Yet his experience through and through takes him up in the psychic play of the secret, mutual connivance and he is obliged by the Trickster to sup with the unexpected dinner guest, to accommodate him "at all costs" if he is to perform his last great work, the Mysterium Coniunctionis.

Since Jung's work on the synchronicity theory, the "new physics" has supposedly overturned the scientific world. Physics has become popularised and mythologised and serves as a source of inspiration and metaphor for novelists and New Age practitioners. The old Newtonian physics with its cause and effect determinism has been called into question as we race towards the twenty-first century on the brink of a whole new perception of time, space and being. In the meantime, life in my part of the woods still revolves around some basic Cartesian principles. Although this word processor can have a mind of its own and create chaos all by itself, for the most part the high tech world of the west rolls on in a determinedly cause and effect manner. The influence of the new physics still remains to be realised in the world around us. Excitement with it as an idea has created a smudgy mix of its theories with new age thinking and, in particular, with Jung's concept of synchronicity, as if synchronicity were some kind of fore-runner.

This returns us to the themes which Jung encountered in the two fish of Pisces, the fish of Christ and Antichrist, spirit and matter. The second fish with its emphasis on objectivity, rationality and science symbolises the split between the subject and the object which has arisen particularly since the 'Age of Enlightenment'. The mysterious crossing of the subject- object divide has presented western mind with a dilemma and this is revealed for astrologers at every step in their astrology. Is astrology science (objective) or poetry (subjective)? Is what we 'see' in the horoscope objectively true, or is it a product of subjective imagination? With the Age of Pisces material, Jung's outline of the development of religious and philosophical ideas in the west is dated objectively against the movement of the Spring Equinox Point through the two fishes of Pisces. The mysterious way in which astrology crosses the subject-object divide is found in every bit of astrology we touch. We cast horoscopes and interpret symbols within an accepted symbol system and - often to our own surprise - find that people's lives, characters and actions appear to be, quite independently and objectively, just as the symbols have described them. It is easy to assume, because symbols have this extraordinary capacity, that if there is no causal connection then there must still be a transcendental order or a universal truth which is being revealed. Ironically, Jung's work in "Aion" reminds us that, although he was studying such a vast and objective matter, this is all in relation to the psychic image of the Self. The two fishes, the subject-object split, are the irreconcilable opposites in play in whatever project we are engaged in. We frequently think that we are dealing with objective matter, but find to our surprise, as Jung did in his astrological marriage experiments, that we are not as separate as we had believed.

Notes & References:

  1] Jung-Fordham, editorial correspondence.
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  2] Jung, C.G., (1952), Synchronicity - An Acausal Connecting Principle (London: RKP 1972 English edition, p.36). Also in CW8.
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  3] Ibid, p.145
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  4] Ibid, p.145
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  5] Jones, E., (1957), Sigmund Freud: Life and Work, Vol. III (London: Hogarth), p.402
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  6] Freud, S., Introductory Lectures on Pyschoanalysis (London: Penguin - The Pelican Freud Library). See Lecture 2, Parapraxes (1916), p.39
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  7] Exploration of 'the Fisher King' runs throughout the book Jung and Astrology from which this work is extracted. Chapter 3 relates how Jung had dreamt that he was a medieval knight searching for the Grail, a legend which includes an encounter with an ailing Fisher King. Another dream tells of an encounter with a being who held four keys, and bore the wings of a kingfisher. As Jung was musing on the meaning of the dream he was startled to find a dead kingfisher in his garden.
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  8] Synchronicity, op.cit., p.89.
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  9] Von Franz, M., (1972), C.G. Jung - His Myth In Our Time, (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1975, English edition).
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  10] Progoff, I. (1973), Jung, Synchronicty and Human Destiny (New York: Julian Press), p.152
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  11] Von Franz, M. (1980), On Divination and Synchronicity (Toronto: Inner City Books).
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  12] Jung, C.G., (1930), In Memory of Richard Wilhelm, memorial address delivered in Munich, 10 May 1930. Wilhelm's The Secret of the Golden Flower was published in 1931, but Jung's memorial address was not included amongst Jung's Foreword and Commentary until the 5th edition in 1957.
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  13] Jung, C.G., (1949), Foreword to the I Ching, (London: RKP 1951 edition).
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  14] Jung, C.G., (1954), Letters (London: RKP) Letter to Andre Barbault, 26 May 1954, p.175-177.
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  15] Foreword to the I Ching, op.cit. Note: This was originally written in English.
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  16] Progoff, I., Jung, Synchronicity and Human Destiny, op.cit., p.152
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  17] Synchronicity, op.cit., p.56
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  18] Wilder, T., (1927), The Bridge of San Luis Rey, (London: Penguin edition).
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  19] Koestler, A., (1972), The Roots of Coincidence, (London: Picador), p.98. See also the helpful distinction which Michael Shallis makes between descriptive and explanatory science in relation to synchronicity in On Time, (1982, Burnett Books).
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  20] Synchronicity, op.cit., p.53.
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  21] Von Franz, M., C.G. Jung: His Myth In Our Time, op.cit., p.238
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  22] Presumably, the pyschological status of these individuals was 'accurately known' only to Jung!
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  23] Synchronicity, op.cit., p.79.
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  24] Synchronicity, op.cit., p.86.
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  25] Synchronicity, op.cit., p.85.
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  26] Synchronicity, op.cit., p.89.
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  27] Synchronicity, op.cit., p.118.
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  28] Progoff, I., Jung, Synchronicity and Human Destiny, op.cit., p.7.
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  29] Synchronicity, op.cit., p.142
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  30] Synchronicity, op.cit., p.14
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  31] Synchronicity, op.cit.
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  32] Jung, C.G., (1958), 'An Astrological Experiment', in The Secret Life, CW18 (London: RKP 1977 edition), para.1177, p.495. Hence, even the first batch in this 'scientific experiment' seems to have reflected the psyche of the participant!
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Maggie HydeMaggie Hyde read English at the University of Ulster and worked in Adult Education in London where she was responsible for developing a range of New Age subjects including complementary medicine, astrology, Buddhism and the I Ching. In 1984, she co-founded the Company of Astrologers, a London based teaching body, and acted as its director from 1983 to 1999.

Her consultancy work led to an interest in psychoanalytic thought. She was influenced mainly by the existential psychology of the Philadelphia Association and became an associate member in 1999. Her interest in Jung culminated in the publication of two books published in 1992: Jung and Astrology, where she explores his work on synchronicity and Jung For Beginners, which has been published in 10 languages.

Maggie is also well known for writing astrology columns for the media and has been the astrologer for Cosmopolitan, The Media Guardian and the business section of the Sunday Observer, specialising in business astrology and property. She is currently the astrologer for Woman's Own and continues to run a London based consultancy.

© Maggie Hyde

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Company of Astrologers
Maggie Hyde is a founder and one time Director of the Company of Astrologers.
The Company of Astrologers was founded in 1983 and promotes the practice of traditional astrology as a way of insight and self-knowledge. It offers a full program from beginners to professional level, including a horary course which incorporates studies in psychological horary.

For details of courses and events visit the Company website.

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