Jung and the New Agers

Good does not become better by being exaggerated, but worse, and a small evil becomes a big one through being disregarded and repressed. The shadow is very much a part of human nature, and it is only at night that no shadows exist.[1]

                                                                                                Jung (1942)

One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious. The latter procedure, however, is disagreeable and therefore not popular.[2]

                                                                                                Jung (1945)

Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darknesses of other people. It would not help you very much to study books only, thought it is indispensable too. … You may try to find out what I mean in my books and if you have a close friend, try to look behind his screen in order to discover yourself.[3]

                                                                                                Jung (1937)


            Jung is regarded by many as the father of the term “New Age.”[4] Repeatedly in his works[5] he wrote of the “new aeon/aion,” referring to the shift from the “Platonic month” of Pisces to that of Aquarius. With his keen intuition attuned to the collective geist, Jung knew that ours is a transitional time, when many new movements, groups, organizations and activities would arise to both reflect and foster the shift from the old to the new era. Dying in 1961, Jung did not live to see most of these features of the last half of the 20th century, but he did encounter people who manifest an attitude common to many “New Agers.” In this essay I will identify some of the activities and the orientation commonly regarded as “New Age,” and then I will describe some traits of the typical “New Ager” and the qualities that Jung found irritating in that type.


The New Age: Activities and Orientation

            Any era has its pioneers. Jung was a pioneering herald of the Age of Aquarius. Some of his contemporaries were also pioneers of the new era: J.B. Rhine pioneered research in psi and psychic phenomena in his lab at Duke University and corresponded with Jung about it.[6] Edgar Cayce, in over 14,000 trance readings, opened fertile avenues of investigation in an array of areas, including holistic health, Atlantis, and spirituality.[7] His organization, the Association for Research and Enlightenment, has carried on and expanded his work.[8] Rudolf Steiner made many contributions, from biodynamic gardening to insights into reincarnation, as well as founding the Waldorf system of education and the Anthroposophical movement.[9] All of these individuals—as well as other contemporaries of Jung, e.g. G.I. Gurdjieff,[10] Alice A. Bailey,[11] Guy Warren Ballard[12]—prefigured and helped to foster the rise of the New Age movement.

            The New Age really came into its own, as a movement tracked by mainstream media, in the years after Jung died: the late 1960’s and ‘70s.[13] More than just tracking the movement, the media got on board, with journals and publications like New Age Magazine, East-West Journal, Common Boundary and others. One of the most influential publications—a compendium on the movement—was Marilyn Ferguson’s The Aquarian Conspiracy.[14] Even now, more than 30 years after its publication, Ferguson’s book still provides an excellent introduction to the range of activities and the mind-set of the New Age.

            Some of these activities I mentioned above: research into parapsychology and others of the “frontier sciences”[15]—those areas of science that are full of “anomalies” that seem to challenge the conventional paradigm within which scientific research is conducted; holistic health and alternative forms of healing (e.g. homeopathy, naturopathy, herbalism, Traditional Chinese Medicine, iridology, reflexology, sound, light and visualization);[16] biodynamic gardening and other types of ecologically-sound gardening and farming practices; exploration of reincarnation, life after life, Near Death Experiences and Out-of-Body Experiences;[17] investigations into arcane areas like Atlantis, witchcraft, the kabbalah, the Druids, Wicca, Chinese feng shui and geomancy.[18]

            Other New Age activities have drawn upon the interest in spirituality and large systems of thought that is characteristic of a Sagittarian interval, e.g. the rise of shamanic studies, drawing upon the wealth of indigenous cultures’ shamans, sangomas and medicine men/women;[19] the widespread popularity of meditative practices, and the various religious systems, like Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta, that stress meditation;[20] the formation of spiritual communities, like Findhorn and Auroville;[21] the interest in Native American spirituality and rituals;[22] goddess worship and other practices that link spirit and matter, religious and ecological concern, to encourage a planetary consciousness.[23]

            Some New Age activities require students to use discretion and discernment if they get involved, e.g. in channeling or in “human potential” groups that focus around a teacher or guru. Jung would remind us that we must internalize a locus of authority and not look without, to anyone outside ourselves to authorize our own lives.[24] This is a significant problem in our time, as people seek external guidance to navigate through this interval of change and turmoil. I have seen far too many people give over their lives to teachers who fall into power trips or the “guru syndrome.”[25] Jung was quite explicit that living under the power of a guru was not how individuation is achieved.


Qualities of the “New Ager”

            Which brings us to the crux of this essay: the orientation of the New Age movement and the type of person who typifies the New Age mind-set. In the last few years one of the most popular New Age phenomena has been the spate of books, CDs, DVDs, and TV shows touting “prosperity consciousness.”[26] “The Secret”[27] is just one of this genre. In this phenomenon stress is put on declarations and affirmations designed, I suppose, to shift one’s consciousness from lack to abundance. Again, I find no problem with this, up to a point. I encourage my students who experience financial limitations to do practices that can increase abundance. The problem I have—and I think Jung would have too—with “prosperity consciousness” is two-fold.     

            First, I sense tremendous ego in this approach, in that it seems to suggest that simply by stating the ego’s intention, by declaring what one wants, it can be manifested. When I encounter people operating this way I find myself wondering if they have any awareness of the reality of the Self, if they have given any thought to the possibility that perhaps there is something larger than their ego that might warrant being included in their lives. Rather than operating out of ego, I have found it far more effective to put my efforts into aligning my ego with the will of the Self, so I am sure I am doing what I am supposed to be doing. When I do this then I find that all that I need—whether it is money, information, expert advice, people to help me, other resources—appears in effortless manifestation.

            The second problem I have with the New Age path to prosperity is the unacknowledged belief many New Agers seem to have that the shifting of consciousness is something simple, straightforward and ego-driven. To be sure, the ego can help the process along, hence my suggestion to students to undertake an abundance program. But that the ego can shift consciousness in any major way is not something Jung would countenance. Consciousness is a very small part of our overall being. In the diagram Jung and his students use to discuss the structure of the psyche, the conscious part of us sits at the apex of a pyramid—a very small part of something much larger.[28] For the ego to make a major change in our consciousness would be like expecting a very small tail to wag a very large dog. So often I see people commit to all sorts of New Age activities designed to get them the new car, the fur coat, the big house, the million-dollar stock portfolio—all of it without the slightest awareness that their unconscious is back in the “Little Match Girl” mentality,[29] feeling unworthy, undeserving, inadequate and fearful. Until, unless they tackle the beliefs and self-image buried in the unconscious their reality will not change.

            I don’t hold my breath waiting for such change, because, given the Sagittarian energy of the movement, most New Agers, as a type, tend to be optimists. They hope for and anticipate a better world. They seek the good and try to see the good in others. They look forward to making the world a better place. All this is fine. But, like all good things, this “positive thinking”[30] can be—and often is—overdone. Jung reminds us that everything in life has polarity,[31] so the more one is an optimist, the more the pessimist lies in the unconscious. The more one hopes for a better world, the more one unconsciously represses worries about the future. Seeing the good in others sends our capacity for evil into the unconscious. Setting the intention to make the world a better place leads to perdition (the old adage–“The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.”—holds profound truth). I have found far too many New Agers quite strenuously reluctant to hold the two poles—good and evil, optimism and pessimism—consciously. They don’t believe that the main work of life is to hold the tension of opposites. They really do not want to face the reality of evil and the fact that they and their friends contain both positive and negative qualities. They don’t want to face their shadow.

            The result? Many New Agers often fail to develop their inferior function (one of the major ways we can foster our individuation). They refuse to look within (where the shadow lives) and thus they live superficial lives. Most problematic, they fall into denial when life events throw a spotlight on their inferior function. The strong ENFP,[32] for example, is completely unable to admit that she was not able to notice a crucial detail in an important business agreement. The strong ISTJ[33] cannot get his head out of his spreadsheets to see his business in the larger context of the times and thus sets up his company to buck popular trends. The strong Thinking type, unaware of his own inner darkness, becomes a very poor judge of others and thus falls prey to all sorts of interpersonal problems.

            As Jung noted, “One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light,…”.[34] Such imaginings are a very popular activity among New Agers, with their fascination with enlightenment and higher consciousness, but it is one doomed to failure. Rather, we achieve enlightenment by “making the darkness conscious.”[35] But, as Jung realized, looking within to spot our own darkness is not popular. It requires work, hard work, painful exploration of our weaknesses and frailties. But along such paths our wholeness lies. Being true to Jung’s philosophy requires us to temper the New Age mentality with realism, humility and discernment, and to undertake the challenging personal inner work that individuation requires.



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[1] Collected Works, 11, ¶286. Hereafter Collected Works will be abbreviated CW.

[2] CW 13, ¶335.

[3] Letter to Kendig Cully, 25 September 1937, Letters I, 237.

[4] Boynton (2004), 8.

[5] CW 5, ¶423n, 662; 9i, ¶533,551,576n; 9ii; 11, ¶216,359,373,722-725,743; 12, fig. 7; 13, ¶198; 14, ¶14,160,353,587; 18, ¶266

[6] See Jung, Letters, I, 180-182,190,321-322, 378-379, 393-395, 495; II, 106-107, 126-127, 180-181.

[7] For a good biography of Cayce and his work, see Sugrue (1973). For an overview of Cayce’s teachings, see Puryear (1982).

[8] For information on the Association for Research and Enlightenment, check out their Web site: www.edgarcayce.org

[9] Steiner wrote an autobiography, The Course of My Life; Steiner (1951). For an overview of Steiner’s philosophy, see Steiner (1984). For information on the Anthroposophical Society, go to: www.anthroposophy.org. For information on Steiner Books, the publishing house that keeps Steiner’s books in print, and issues new ones related to his endeavors, see: steinerbooks.org

[10] Cf. Gurdjieff (1974) and Ouspensky (1971).

[11] The 23 volumes of Bailey’s works are kept in print by the Lucis Trust, which she set up before she died for the express purpose of keeping her works accessible. Their Web site is: www.lucistrust.org/

[12] Ballard was the founder of the “I AM” movement in the early 20th century, which was a key forerunner of the later New Age movement; Melton (1991), 12.

[13] Not coincidentally, the late 1960’s through the 1970’s is the interval when Neptune moved through Sagittarius. Neptune is regarded by some astrologers as the planet that times shifts in the collective consciousness. The mind-expansive, adventurous, optimistic quality of the late ‘60s and ‘70s stands in great contrast to the Scorpionic suspiciousness of the 1950’s and the conservatism of the 1980’s, when Neptune moved into Capricorn. For more on Neptune as a timer of shifts in the collective consciousness, see Barker (1984).

[14] Ferguson (1980).

[15] For more on the “frontier sciences,” cf. Gleick (1987), McTaggart (2003), Rubik (1996), and White (1977), as well as the Noetic Sciences Review, the publication of the Institute of Noetic Sciences, one of the few organizations dedicated to research on scientific anomalies.

[16] On holistic health and alternative healing modalities, cf. Brennan (1987) & (1993); Bailey (1995); Dechar (2006); Sui (1990); Allen et al. (1980); Chopra (1989) & (1990); Castleman (1991); Pelletier (1979); Rick (1986); Gawain (1978); Gaynor (2002); and Leeds (2010).

[17] On reincarnation, NDEs and OOBEs, cf. Steiner (1968); Carter (2010); Ritchie (1978); Malz (1978); Moody (1975); and White (1940).

[18] On arcana, kaballah, Atlantis and other forms of esoterica, see Luck (1985); Cayce (1968); Scholem (1949) & (1960).

[19] On shamanism and Native American spirituality, see: Neihardt (1972); Brown (1982); Kalweit (1988); Noel (1997); Bear Heart (1996); and Prechtel (1998), (1999) & (2002).

[20] On meditation, see Kabat-Zinn (1994) and Mipham (2003).

[21] Melton (1991), 366-367,370,372-375,401-402.

[22] Brown ha s a cogent critique of New Agers who venture into Native American spiritual practices—a critique that Jung would agree with; Brown (1982), 29-46.

[23] On the revival of goddess worship, see Nicholson (1989); on the evolution of planetary consciousness, see Lovelace (1979), Allaby (1989); Gore (1992); and Melton (1991), 425-429.

[24] CW 7, ¶263-264. See also the blog essay “Componnents of Individuation,” a four-part series archived on this blog site.

[25] I use the term “guru syndrome” to refer to teachers or group leaders who succumb to the temptations of power, sex or money (or all three), at the sacrifice of their students’ empowerment and personal growth. Unfortunately, this is all too common.

[26] Melton (1991), 429-433.

[27] For information on “The Secret,” go to: thesecret.tv/. The movie of the same name is available from Netflix, and Rhonda Byrne also put out a book, available from most major booksellers.

[28] For a diagram of Jung’s sense of the structure of the psyche, see Robertson (1992), 38.

[29] For a Jungian interpretation of this Hans Christian Andersen tale, see Estes (1992), 319-327.

[30] One of the early proponents of “positive thinking” was the Protestant minister (and Jung’s contemporary) Norman Vincent Peale; see Peale (1952) & (1961).

[31] This is the Heraclitean principle of enantiodromia; see CW 6, ¶708.

[32] I.e. Extravert, iNtuitive, Feeling, Perceiving type in the Myers-Briggs system, based on Jung’s delineation of psychological types; see Keirsey & Bates (1984) and Giannini (2004).

[33] I.e. Introvert, Sensate, Thinking, Judging type; see ibid., for more detailed descriptions.

[34] CW 13, ¶335.

[35] Ibid.