A New Spirit is Growing Up

Welcome to the new re-designed Web site of the Jungian Center! And praises to Rob Mills, the Webmaster responsible for it! Rob has been as patient as he is creative in undertaking this complex task. I hope you like the improvements: the retention of all the citations in the blog essays, the organization of the essays by both date of posting and alphabetically by title, and the much more obvious, easier-to-navigate posting of comments. It will now be possible for readers to have a “threaded” conversation with me.

            And who is “me”? I have been requested to identify the author of these essays: Sue Mehrtens, founder and President of The Jungian Center. My bio can be found elsewhere on this Web site. Several readers of the blog have asked me to indicate my credentials and background here—how am I qualified to write these blog essays? I could list my academic background—Ph.D from Yale in medieval studies (implying background in languages, history, myths, legends, art, symbolism and iconography etc.), and my decades as a college professor (implying background in scholarly research protocols etc.), but anyone familiar with Jung will know that he was underwhelmed by intellectuals and academics. Rather than putting a premium on smarts and theories, Jung trusted his personal experience, and so do I. My real qualification for writing these essays is my 25+ years of analysis with 4 Jungian analysts. With over 1,000 hours of analysis I have come to know the reality of the psyche and the validity of Jung’s ideas, and it is from my lived experience of Jung’s work that I have written the essays that have been posted and those that will be posted in the future.

            I appreciate your interest in the essays. It is amazing to me how many of you there are, all over the world. On the old site I had no idea people were commenting on the essays: I only discovered this several months ago, as various students, Board members and I began to discuss the possibility of upgrading the site. If you have posted comments in the past, only to hear nothing in reply, I apologize. It won’t happen now, thanks to the new system. I look forward to hearing from you.

            And if you see ways we might improve the site even more, I hope you will let us know. Rob will tweak the site for several months in response to your suggestions. So, with this “Welcome,” herewith is our essay for December (be sure to check the previous essay, in case, in the confusion of creating the new site, the November essay “A New Ethics for a New Era” got lost in the shuffle).


“A New Spirit is Growing Up:”

A Jungian Interpretation of the Events of 2011

… a new spirit is growing up, meaning a renewal of mental attitude…. an attitude or frame of mind is by no means always a product of volition; more often it owes its peculiarity to mental contagion, i.e. to example and the influence of environment…. An attitude can also take effect even against the conscious will–… This is particularly evident in mass-suggestion.

                                                                                                Jung (1926)[1]

… souls correspond to the autonomous complexes of the personal unconscious and spirits to those of the collective unconscious. … Spirits are complexes of the collective unconscious which … seek to replace the inadequate attitude of a whole people by a new one….

                                                                                                Jung (1920)[2]


            This essay popped into my awareness as I sat re-reading Jung’s essay on “The Psychological Foundations of Belief in Spirits.”[3] I was intending to write on another topic, but I found myself struck by how relevant Jung’s words were to the global events of 2011. Jung was discussing the parallels between the primitive theory of spirits and his concept of the autonomous complex. When confronted with an autonomous complex, the primitive will say “that some spirit is interfering with him.” Jung then goes on to say:

So far as I can judge, these experiences occur either when something so devastating happens to the individual that his whole previous attitude to life breaks down, or when for some reason the contents of the collective unconscious accumulate so much energy that they start influencing the conscious mind. In my view this happens when the life of a large social group or of a nation undergoes a profound change of a political, social, or religious nature. Such a change always involves an alteration of the psychological attitude. Incisive changes in history are generally attributed exclusively to external causes. It seems to me, however, that external circumstances often serve merely as occasions for a new attitude to life and the world, long prepared in the unconscious, to become manifest. Social, political, and religious conditions affect the collective unconscious in the sense that all those factors which are suppressed by the prevailing views or attitudes in the life of a society gradually accumulate in the collective unconscious and activate its contents. Certain individuals gifted with particularly strong intuition then become aware of the changes going on in it and translate these changes into communicable ideas. The new ideas spread rapidly because parallel changes have been taking place in the unconscious of other people. There is a general readiness to accept the new ideas, although on the other hand they often meet with violent resistance. New ideas are not just the enemies of the old; they also appear as a rule in an extremely unacceptable form.[4]

Although Jung wrote these words in 1919, for a lecture he read in London at the Society for Psychical Research,[5] they seem to me to be speaking to what’s going on in our world now.

            Let’s recap some of the events of 2011, with reference to my earlier blog essay on America’s future, “What’s Coming Down—and When? An Examination of America’s Potential Future in Light of Its Astrological Chart.”[6] In that overview essay I made several predictions that have shown up in the year since I wrote the essay, e.g.

  • that we would soon see the surfacing of pent-up frustrations
  • that events would trigger public unrest
  • that there would be waves of mass demonstrations and protests
  • that the bankers would not be telling us the whole story
  • that “hot” issues would surface
  • that large-scale forces would be operative, affecting the whole of humanity
  • that we would see social discontent and disillusionment
  • that there would be conflicts with authorities
  • that the mood of the American public would be out of harmony with our political leadership
  • that there would be more loss of jobs and more news of obscene CEO pay packages
  • that we would be living in a “sustained interval of financial tension”[7]

In addition to these events in our domestic sphere, we also have seen the uprisings in the Middle East that have come to be called the “Arab Spring,” the European financial crisis involving both nations, like Greece, and the interlinked global banking system, as well as, more recently, a growing global movement protesting economic inequality and corporate dominance.

            Given the extraverted nature of our society, most commentators explain the events of the past year as the result of externals: the mortgage meltdown, the bank bailout, the reports of CEO bonuses amid the continuing decline of the economy, the growing loss of jobs and homes to foreclosure, the public immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian food vendor whose story touched off the uprising in the Middle East, the decades-long profligacy of the Greek government. All these are indeed relevant features of our global landscape, but they are not the whole story, or even the most important part of the story.

            Jung offers us a way of understanding and interpreting these events that gets to the deeper meaning of what’s going on. What we see in outer reality are “occasions for a new attitude… to become manifest.”[8] Jung recognized that protests and conflicts with authority, voter discontent and citizen rebellions don’t just happen but are the result of long-term conditions that form and “gradually accumulate in the collective unconscious…”[9] Eventually, when enough things have accumulated in the collective unconscious, highly intuitive people begin to see how reality is changing and (assuming they have the capacity to write or speak well) they share what they sense is coming.

            For several decades prophets have been sensing the changes that have been percolating in our collective unconscious. I am thinking here of writers, scholars and social analysts like David Korten, Riane Eisler, Anne Wilson Schaef, James Howard Kunstler, Willis Harman, Thom Hartmann, Lynn Twist, and John Perkins.[10] There are many others, all of them prescient in their assessment of what’s gone wrong and what needs to change. They each have their finger on the pulse of the living body of humanity. But, as Jung notes, for their visions to manifest widely in physical reality required “parallel changes [to] having been taking place in the unconscious of other people.”[11]

            I am reminded here of the notion of “critical mass.”[12] It would seem that there has to be a certain number of people achieving these “parallel changes” before the change shows up in outer reality. This is what has happened: in 2011 the “critical mass” was achieved and people all over the world woke up to the truth that their reality was not cast in stone, that things could change, that they could take action to make a better life for themselves and others.


Jung’s Warnings

            Jung had a long life and, empiricist that he was, he observed those events in his day that demonstrated the validity of his ideas about how societies change. He understood that there are dangers inherent in eruptions of contents from the collective unconscious. We would do well to note his warnings.

            First, he speaks of the “mental contagion”[13] that is a part of any widespread societal change of attitude. As the quote opening this essay notes, attitudes are rarely purely rational products of our will. Rather they are strongly influenced by emotions, the example of others, the environment and other unconscious factors, depending on the background and history of the individual person. Ideas, like germs, can spread widely and in ways beyond our control, and may “infect” whole populations with results that cannot be predicted and may not be entirely positive. I’m sure that Muammar Qaddafi, Zine el-Abidine ben Ali, Hosni Mubarak and Bashar Assad surely found the “mental contagion” that spread from Tunis to be unwelcome. Jung himself was very wary of the dangers of “mass-mindedness,”[14] having witnessed the madness that swept over Germany before World War II.

            Jung drew another warning from modern German history. He recognized that often “… the quintessence of an attitude is … a personality who is revered and emulated.”[15] The German people, frustrated, angry and suffering severe economic distress, found such a personality in Adolf Hitler. The appeal of the demagogue—a skillful orator able to stir up the passions of the masses and play upon the grievances they feel—can seize the opportunity inherent in an interval when unconscious contents are erupting. In the transitional time we are living in, we must always be aware of this danger. That some of the columnists in our media are deploring the lackluster nature of the current crop of political candidates[16] makes me wonder if they are wishing for the emergence of a charismatic, compelling figure, i.e. the sort of person who could easily become just the demagogic figure Jung described.

            Connected with the danger of demagoguery is a third warning that Jung saw in the process of collective change. He noted that

… the mental state of the people as a whole might well be compared to a psychosis. If the translation of the unconscious into a communicable language proves successful,… The driving forces locked up in the unconscious are canalized into consciousness and … may,… unleash a dangerous enthusiasm.[17]

Hitler was able to play upon this enthusiasm to attain his position as Führer. We must be mindful of this possibility, lest the collective excitement and energies we are now witnessing in the “Occupy Wall Street” movement don’t result in our society getting caught up in an energy that renders us susceptible to demagoguery.

            A final warning Jung offers us is the response we will get from the “powers that be:” resistance. He noted that “There is a general readiness to accept the new ideas, although on the other hand they often meet with violent resistance. New ideas are not just the enemies of the old; they also appear as a rule in an extremely unacceptable form.”[18]

Resistance is only to be expected, given the “law of the retarding lead.”[19] Leaders, by their very success in rising to the top, are reluctant to see changes to the status quo. They don’t want people to rock the boat. They will not welcome the 99%’s demand for change to the system that serves them so well. The big banks and corporations surely find the demands for economic justice and reform of the financial system to be “extremely unacceptable,” and they are not going to relinquish their control willingly or easily. As I noted in the essay on America’s future, given the entrenched nature of the “corpotocracy,”[20] I think it will require a wholesale breakdown of our current system before we will see a breakthrough into something more equitable and responsive to the needs of ordinary people.


The Positive Rewards of Responding to the Energies of 2011

            Jung’s warnings should not deter us from responding positively to what the collective unconscious is offering up to us now. Not only are the demands from the 99% both just and reasonable, they have the merit of offering us redemption. This is because, Jung explains, “If the translation of the unconscious into a communicable language proves successful, it has a redeeming effect.”[21] and “The driving forces locked up in the unconscious… form a new source of power,…”[22]

            Years ago, the former Governor of Vermont, Howard Dean, tried to energize the 99% by reminding them “You have the power.”[23] Few listened. The critical mass had not formed at that time. But now it has. Perhaps the occupiers of Zuccotti Park, and all the other city sites around the globe will recognize this fact. They—we—are the “new source of power…” We do have the power. We can take back our country–all the countries–from the rich, the corporations, the lobbyists, the do-nothing obstructionist members of Congress, the corrupt politicians and Middle Eastern despots. And as the powerful people we are, we can redeem our political life, our societies, our environment, and our children’s future. Jung was not a politician, but he offers us inspiration to both understand and respond positively to what is going on in our world today.



Bai, Matt (2011), “You’re Nuts!,” The New York Times Magazine (October 16, 2011), 44-51,103,105.

Dean, Howard (2004), You Have the Power. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Douthat, Ross (2011), “Missing The Populist Moment,” The New York Times (October 2, 2011), SR2.

Eisler, Riane (2007), The Real Wealth of Nations: Creating a Caring Economy. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.

Harman, Willis (1979), An Incomplete Guide to the Future. New York: W.W. Norton.

________ (1988), Global Mind Change. Indianapolis: Knowledge Systems.

Hartmann, Thom (2004), What Would Jefferson Do? A Return to Democracy. New York: Harmony Books.

Jung, C.G. (1960), ”The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche,” CW 8. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1970), “Civilization in Transition,” CW 10. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Korten, David (2009), Agenda for a New Economy. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.

Kunstler, James Howard (2005), The Long Emergency. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press.

Perkins, John (1994), The World Is As You Dream It. Rochester VT: Destiny Books.

Sakoian, Frances & Louis Acker (1977), Predictive Astrology. New York: Harper & Row.

Schaef, Anne Wilson (1985), Women’s Reality. San Francisco: Harper & Row.

Twist, Lynn (2003), The Soul of Money. New York: W.W. Norton.


[1] Jung, Collected Works 8, ¶s629-630. Hereafter Collected Works will be abbreviated CW.

[2] CW 8, ¶s 591, 594.

[3] Ibid. ¶s 570-600.

[4] Ibid., ¶594.

[5] Ibid. ¶570, note 1.

[6] This essay is archived on this blog site and is easily accessible from the list of essays arranged in alphabetical order.

[7] Sakoian (1977), 268.

[8] CW 8, ¶594.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Cf. Korten (2009), Eisler (2007), Schaef (1985), Kunstler (2005), Harman (1979) & (1988), Hartmann (2004), Twist (2003), and Perkins (1994).

[11] CW 8, ¶594.

[12] This term came initially from physics, to refer to the minimum amount of fissile material needed to maintain a nuclear chain reaction; more generally, it can refer to the minimum required to start or maintain a venture, e.g. “a critical mass of users.” World Book Encyclopedia, I, 472.

[13] CW 8, ¶594.

[14] CW 10, ¶723. For further discussion of Jung’s attitude toward crowds, the masses and the nature of our time, see the essay “Jung’s Timeliness and Thoughts on Our Current Reality,” archived on this blog site.

[15] CW 8, ¶631.

[16] Cf. Bai (2011) and Douthat (2011).

[17] CW 8, ¶595.

[18] Ibid. ¶594.

[19] I first heard of the Law of the Retarding Lead in a discussion with Hazel Henderson in March 1989, in Jacksonville, Florida. A written definition of the term, in the context of history, can be found at the Web site of California State University, Santa Barbara: http://history.csusb.edu/facultyStaff/history144/hist144-8.htm

[20] I have now forgotten the person from whom I heard this term but it is a good coinage, to refer to rule by corporations (Greek krator 5 “ruler” + Latin corporis 5 “corporation”). Check out the Web site www.thrivemovement.com for more about the “corpotocracy” and its designs for our future.

[21] CW 8, ¶595.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Dean (2004).

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