Jung’s Prophetic Visions Part 3

Part III: Our Current Situation in an Alchemical Context

The first part of this essay appeared in January, the second, in February. Both parts are still on this Web site.

Part III:  Our Current Situation in an Alchemical Context

            In this part we will examine the 4 alchemical phases with reference to specific events in the daily newspapers that provide us with insights into the phases underway in this transitional time. Then we will consider what the next few years might hold for us,  using alchemy as a guide to the future.

            Pick up the daily newspaper and what do we read about? Major forest fires burning thousands of acres and leaving hundreds of people homeless.[1] Massive hurricanes dissolving beaches, breaking down structures, flooding whole cities.[2] Tens of thousands dying in large earthquakes[3] and terrorist attacks.[4] Currencies losing their value.[5] The revelations of corruption at all levels of business and government, as Governors[6] and Senators[7] are forced from office for malfeasance, bribery, or other “high crimes and misdemeanors;” heads of state castigating other heads of state as “the axis of evil” and refusing to engage them on the world stage;[8] Wall Street tycoons getting huge paychecks, CEOs claiming big bonuses, “golden parachutes” and salaries hundreds of times larger than those of ordinary workers;[9] hot shot “dealmakers” fancying themselves “Masters of the Universe;”[10] confusion, bewilderment, disorientation and melancholy as tens of thousands of people lose their homes in the mortgage crisis; hundreds of young people becoming addicted to drugs or alcohol each year; major banks collapsing,[11] ratcheting up the anxiety level throughout our society.

            Do we need to wonder what is going on? Clearly we are now in the nigredo stage as a society, experiencing the calcinatio (fires), solutio (floods), mortificatio (dying), inflation (both economic and personal), the putrefactio (corruption), confrontation with the shadow (which George Bush projected out in seeing others as “evil”), greed, confusion, sickness of spirit, and anxiety. This is not a good time in our collective reality! Some elements of our society would have us believe it is the beginning of the end, that we will soon witness Armageddon or the Apocalypse.

            But Jung reminds us that the nigredo is not meant to be the end. It is only a phase, the hardest phase, admittedly, but one that we are meant to grow through. Using alchemy as our road map, we can also see signs of the albedo, the phase after the nigredo.

            We see the strong passions and bitter hostilities that are characteristic of the albedo phase in the Obama-Clinton exchanges during the Presidential primaries. Other examples of this are: the hostilities between Sunnis and Shi’ites in Iraq, between Tibetans and Chinese in Tibet, and between the Islamic jihadists and the U.S. military in Afghanistan. There is growing awareness of the need to balance opposites like home and work, work and play, in, for example, the studies of Anne Wilson Schaef and others on the dangers of addictions (e.g. workaholism).[12] In the rise of feminism, gender studies on college campuses, and the women’s rights movement internationally we see growing attempts, on the collective level, to integrate animus and anima. In the rising awareness of holistic health, eating disorders and the value of diet in health maintenance we see the redemption of body and matter. The popularity of the books by Marion Woodman[13] speaks to the growing concern with the body and its connection to soul. Finally, the environmental movement is the modern form of Hildegard’s benedicta viriditas,[14] the blessedness of “greenness” and life on this planet.

            Signs of the rubedo phase are just emerging in our collective experience. Renewal seems to be showing up in the growing number of people who are now working on healing themselves, including becoming conscious of the unconscious. New attitudes are appearing: there is more respect now being given to indigenous peoples and what they can offer us;[15] more people are waking up to how global capitalism is destroying the planet;[16] reverence is being given to Mother Earth in more places and more ways; the push for peace is growing as more people wake up to the reality that violence never solves anything; we are seeing a more conscious holding of the tension of opposites, as more people recognize the “clash of universalisms”[17] and realize that gravity—and the Source of gravity—truly does work for everyone (even those who profess a different religious belief).[18] As more people “authorize their own lives”[19] they look within for direction and recognize the wisdom that their inner Divinity offers. Finally, we are hearing messages (even in media like television that usually pander to the lowest common denominator) reminding us “we’re all in this together,”[20] and in such venues we are seeing nascent visions of unity. “Nascent” because this phase is just beginning to emerge on the collective level.

            The nigredo, by contrast, is well underway. What does it suggest the next few years are likely to hold for us?

Our Possible Future in an Alchemical Context

            The years ahead are likely to see widespread confusion—times when people really aren’t clear as to what’s happening. Disintegration—where things fall apart—is also likely, in what George Land called the “breakdown” time (which makes possible the “breakthrough” later on).[21] Another likely part of our future is aggression: anger against oneself, as well as with other people. All sorts of base passions are likely to rise up: rage and jealousy, resentment and frustration.

            There is likely to be lots of death. In the mortificatio people experience the death of various aspects of themselves or the death of some important people in their lives, or the death of a phase of life, or the death of a job. Given the current round of layoffs reported daily in the news, we are witnessing lots of mortificatio now. Deaths from fires, earthquakes, typhoons, hurricanes and tornados show up on the evening news with distressing regularity. We might also see widespread deaths from epidemics.

            There are lots of dangers in the collective form of the nigredo, and these dangers are likely to continue until we have moved out of this phase. There are demonic energies at work, energies from our unreconstructed side, energies from those people in the collective who would cause disintegration and disharmony and who would try to break down whatever is whole and healing. This is part of our confronting the shadow in ourselves and in our culture.

            There is, in this time, lots of projection of the shadow. I noted George Bush as a stellar example of this, with all his talk of the “axis of evil” in North Korea, Iran, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, and Osama bin Laden. We are projecting the shadow out on to these people, rather than recognizing it in ourselves. Unless or until we, as a collective become more reflective and introspective, we are likely to continue to see the shadow outside.[22]

            Another quality of the nigredo phase is emotional outbursts, and it is very likely that we will see further expressions of anger and rage as more people become confused, disoriented and anxious. Many are likely to be highly emotional and volatile.

            More and more people will recognize the old ways are inadequate (we have seen some of this already, in the enthusiasm with which people greeted Obama’s call for change). In the nigredo, on the individual level, it does eventually dawn on the person that the old way in which s/he has been living probably isn’t working very well anymore. In many cases people at this point fall into psychological depression. On the collective level it is very likely that we will fall into economic depression. Given the gross materialism of American culture, I think it is going to take something as severe as the Depression of the 1930’s to jog people out of the warped values our culture is mired in.

So, for those very much identified with their stuff, there is likely to be a sickness of spirit, manifested perhaps in acute despair. Many people will feel all is lost, all is gone, there is no hope etc. There may be suicides and homicides. A friend of mine recently lost his daughter when her husband discovered that his many millions of dollars had disappeared in the mortgage crisis. His response to that was to kill her and then jump off the Delaware Memorial Bridge. We are likely to see tragedies like this from people whose entire sense of identity is invested in material stuff.

            Illusions are likely to be shattered. After 8 years of George Bush (with his 20% approval rating), there are not many people who still put their hopes in the federal government. It has become obvious that the federal government wouldn’t be able to find its way out of a paper bag. They’re certainly not going to save us. People looking to government for solutions will be disappointed and this may lead to uprisings and riots, perhaps even rebellion and revolution. Around the world people are likely to be forced by events to recognize that government does not have the solution, and this is not just in the United States. In general, governments are not going to be able to solve our problems. National governments are actually atavisms, that is, at a certain period of history they were appropriate but, as we have evolved collectively, as a global civilization, national governments are no longer appropriate. I think over the next 3 or 4 decades there will be growing recognition that national governments are yet another source of divisiveness and problems, being too big to solve local problems and too small to solve global problems.

            There will be other illusions that have to be shattered as well. For example, Americans tend to think that we have the best country in the world, the best systems and all the answers.[23] That illusion definitely has to be dispelled and years of neglect to our civic infrastructure may help to do this. We’re likely to see the breakdown of the systems that run the country: glitches in the electric grid, problems with transportation—subway systems, roads etc. We are already seeing this in Vermont where major bridges on federal highways (vital arteries, not back roads!) have been closed due to poor maintenance.[24] This (and the enormous rise in the price of petroleum)[25] will lead to widespread disruption in distribution systems and in the transportation of vital resources. In some locales there may be empty food shelves. If you live in an area very near farms and places where people can grow food this may not be as much of a problem. But in many of the major cities there will be problems from disrupted distribution chains.

            The nigredo is a time when there is very little reflection or introspection, because the old mode of orientation to the outer world is still so entrenched. It’s only toward the end of this phase that the individual begins to make a habit of looking within. Then s/he becomes far more reflective and starts to wonder what’s going on at deeper levels. Prior to this the tendency is to try to figure out who can be blamed for the misery the person is experiencing.

            On the collective level the early stage of the nigredo is likely to show up in accusations, of pointing the finger, of fixing blame on somebody or some group or agency of government. A current example is the Food and Drug Administration. We look to the FDA now to protect the safety and purity of our food and pharmaceuticals. So, in the face of e-coli outbreaks, contaminants in food and drugs, salmonella epidemics, etc. we want to find out who can be blamed.

            The nigredo is not a pleasant time and prophecies from many sources warn us that it’s going to get worse before it gets better. As I noted in Part I, the last of Jung’s prophetic visions foretold the destruction of most, but not all, of the world. He felt this was 50 years in the future, which means he anticipated some sort of cataclysm in 2011. This date coincides with ancient Mayan prophecies that identify 2012 as the time of a major shift of perception. Some speak of this as “the end of time,” which might refer to the point at which human beings switch from living mostly out of the left brain (which is time-bound) to right-brain dominance (the right brain operates outside of linear time).[26]

            It will be very important in this nigredo phase, when things are going from bad to worse, that we remember this phase is not the end. It is merely a clearing-out phase. It is a phase meant to prepare us, as a society, for the albedo phase. If you are reading this blog posting you should be aware that you are doing so for a deeper reason than mere interest in the Jungian Center: on some level, whether you are conscious of it or not, you agreed to sign on to share this message with other people so that more and more people come to realize this is not the end. Although there may be mass destruction and global catastrophe, this is not meant to be the end. It is a transitional phase, just one phase (difficult, to be sure) but the necessary breakdown phase. It will clear away what has to be removed so that we can break through to a much better reality.

            The nigredo prepares us for the albedo phase. As I noted earlier, in Part II, the albedo is easier than the nigredo. In the individual it is the time when a person begins to confront and deal very consciously with his or her contrasexual side. On the collective level this is likely to take the form of a re-evaluation and a re-appreciation of the feminine. The feminine, and women, will move much more into positions of equality, true equality with the masculine, with men. The feminine perspective will be integrated into all aspects of life. In doing this we will begin to differentiate our capacity to relate to our fellow human beings. We will resist falling into the herd phenomenon, and we will also have to work at transcending “bi-polar thinking,” i.e. seeing things in dichotomies, or the “us-them” way of thinking. In bi-polar thinking, it’s man versus woman. Rather than this “either-or” mode, we will have to learn to think more inclusively, with a “both-and” approach. As we learn to hold the tension of opposites we will see the emergence of what Jung called “the transcendent function,”[27] the function that reconciles these opposites into the “mystic marriage,” where the animus and anima, the masculine and feminine, are integrated.

            Given our thousands of years of history of bi-polar thinking, this new way will not be easy. It thwarts the will of the ego, which isn’t used to thinking like this. It isn’t used to treating the opposite gender in this way so there will be some struggle (especially for men),[28] but it’s not going to be as difficult as the nigredo phase was. We can also anticipate that with the re-appreciation of the feminine will come a revering of Mother Nature, of planet Earth, and all things associated with The Mother. A real ecological consciousness will arise in people as part of the albedo phase on the collective level.

            The albedo will eventually lead to the rubedo. This will be a breakthrough time. On the individual level it is a time when all the scattered pieces of life are accepted and integrated and we come to sense within the archetype of wholeness that, in the ancient world, was called the Anthropos.[29] This is also the time when the body and matter are spiritualized. In other words, this is the phase when the individual recognizes that matter is not primary.

            In our materialistic culture now we definitely operate under the assumption that matter is what’s real. This is an error, and people will begin to recognize this error in the next few years, during the nigredo phase, as their identification with matter and money and outer things falls away. The point of all the destruction in the nigredo phase is to get us to recognize that it is not matter that is primary: spirit is primary. We are fundamentally spiritual beings. While we are on earth we are having a physical experience. But we are not essentially matter. So, on the collective level in the rubedo phase, spirit will become recognized as primary and we will relinquish possessive attitudes. We won’t be so focused on “our” stuff; we won’t feel things have to be our “own.” Eventually there is likely to be complete sharing.

            During the rubedo phase people will come more and more to recognize their inner divinity, the divine spark within them. In this stage of enlightenment matter will come to be sanctified. The Earth will be seen as sacred and we will begin to give respect to indigenous peoples’ sacred places and spaces. There will much more of a push for global peace and unity—the recognition that all peoples are in this world together.

            In the final phase, the citrinitas, there will be no conflict. Peace will be the norm. The Hopi prophesy[30] that everyone will be able to communicate telepathically, with animals as well as other humans. All limiting thought will be gone. Everyone will understand the cosmic plan and everyone will recognize our divinity as human beings. We will not believe in separation between humans and the world, or between people and their Creator. In other words, the current idea in Western civilization that humans are somehow separate from and superior to Nature—that they have “dominion” over Nature—will be recognized as an extremely destructive way of thinking and will be gone. Life will be directed by the Self (with a capital S).[31] Life will not be ego-driven. The technologies that we use will serve the cosmos and the living Earth, and will not be driven by greedy corporations that have to constantly push stuff on to us to continue to expand their bottom line.[32] Technologies will be very Earth-friendly. Love and joy will be experienced all the time. There will be no governments because there will be no need for governments. As Locke and Hobbes remind us,[33] governments derive from a certain attitude or vision about the nature of human nature, and that, of course, will be seen in a very different way in the citrinitas phase, when the adaptation to a cosmic consciousness will be complete.




            Why should we be hopeful as we look ahead? For several reasons: first, we must recognize that despair is disempowering, and the only thing that despair produces is more despair. The nigredo is likely to be a difficult time, but we must not fall into despair. The nigredo is just one phase and the others will be easier.

            We should also remember that we have choices. John Perkins, the author of The World Is As You Dream It,[34] reminds us that by the visions we set for reality we determine the kind of reality we have. We can choose to dream a positive dream or a positive vision for the future and the dream will make it so. If we choose to dream a negative dream, or if we choose to fall into despair, it’s going to worsen the conditions around us, and we could possibly put an end to the planet. This is a choice and it’s our choice to make. Each person counts here.

            In The Undiscovered Self, which is one of the books Jung wrote for a lay audience, he said that each individual has to recognize that he or she could very well be the “makeweight,” that is, the crucial figure that tips us into a whole new mindset.[35] Many decades later this was what Malcolm Gladwell called the “tipping point.”[36] None of us knows who this crucial figure might be: it could very well be any one of us. If you are reading this blog posting, you are hereby put on notice that you count and you could be the crucial figure who tips us into a new reality.

            I am often asked “How do you think we’re going to get there?” In response I go back to 1989. There are a lot of people that don’t remember that period. A lot of my students weren’t even born in 1989. But in 1989 there was a massive transformation of Europe and not a single shot was fired. There was no violence at all, but at some point the countries of Eastern Europe recognized that they were no longer under subjugation. They could leave the Soviet bloc and the Soviet Union fell apart. Now how did that happen? It happened because there was a fundamental shift of attitude on the part of most of the people. I think that, in time, people are going to wake up—they will make a major shift in attitude—and will recognize that the reality we have now is fundamentally unsustainable, extremely unjust and ecologically destructive. And in this recognition, our current reality will loose its legitimacy.

            There are a whole series of indigenous cultures, in addition to medieval alchemy, that provide us with descriptions of what we are going through now. They describe the lay of the land in this phase of our journey. These cultures and alchemy, like ancient maps, note “Here be dragons.” “This is a danger spot.” “This is going to be a difficult interval.” They lay out forks in the road. These forks are choice that we must make. As Yogi Berra said, “When you get to the fork in the road, take it!” But there are a lot of people in our culture now, and certainly in the years ahead, who will take that fork but then they’ll wander around looking for the knife and the spoon as well. In other words, they’re not going to make a choice. They’re going to be dithering. They will be very reluctant to move on to a new, more viable reality.

            Native cultures and alchemy describe the destination that Nature intends us to reach. In other words, the fork that we are meant to choose is toward a better world, a world of peace, a world of environmental reclamation, a world of harmony, a world of wholeness. This is the fork that we’re meant to choose. As Jung would remind us, our role as individuals is to become more conscious of our responsibility, to come to recognize who we are, what we are meant to be, how we are meant to serve, and how we individually can work for a world that works for everyone.

            The culture today would keep us disempowered. It wants you to be locked down into fear—fear of terrorists, fear of illegal aliens, fear of losing your job, fear of losing your house—all sorts of fears. You can choose to go down that path but I guarantee you your reality and your future will not be nice. You can also choose to recognize what the authorities are trying to do: people that are fearful are very much easier to control. Then you can say to yourself, “I’m not going to buy that! I’m not going to allow the powers that be to disempower me! I am going to claim my choice, as an individual, to begin to serve the new, better reality which is coming.” Armed with the road map of alchemy and Jung’s prophetic visions, you can be prepared for the challenges and exciting future that is in store for us.


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[1] Such fires have been especially prevalent in recent years in the West and most destructive, in terms of homes lost, in California.

[2] E.g. New Orleans (hurricane Katrina, 2005), Galveston (hurricane Ike, 2008).

[3] As in China in 2007.

[4] As in New York City in 2001, Bali and Madrid in 2005, and Mumbai in 2008.

[5] Ever since Richard Nixon’s executive order of 15 August 1971 (declaring that U.S. currency could no longer be redeemed for gold), the currencies of the world have “floated” in relation to each other, backed by nothing more than the consensus of opinion of some 10,000 international currency arbitrageurs. Any currency’s value is essentially equivalent to the faith these traders have in the economy and policy of the issuing government. Given this fiduciary nature of the world’s currencies, we are likely to see major dislocations in currency values in the future.

[6] E.g. Eliot Spitzer of New York (forced from office for frequenting prostitutes) and Rod Blagojevich of Illinois (arrested for trying to sell the Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama).

[7] E.g. Ted Stevens of Alaska, convicted of bribery.

[8] E.g. George W. Bush.

[9] For a study of CEO pay scales, see Choate, Rowzee and Tinsley (2005) at www.cab.latech.edu/~mkroll/510_papers/fall_05

[10] The phrase “Masters of the Universe” was popularized by Tom Wolfe in his 1987 novel The Bonfire of the Vanities, later made into a movie starring Tom Hanks; cf. McGeehan (2004), 3.

[11] E.g. Lehman Brothers.

[12] Cf. Schaef (1985), Schaef & Fassel (1988), Fassel (1990), and Woodman (1980) (1982) (1985) (1990) and (1993).

[13] Cf. the 5 books by Woodman cited in the previous note.

[14] Viriditas might best be translated in English as “verdancy,” as in Brussat & Brussat (1996), 246. Eve Jackson refers to viriditas as “greenness;” Jackson (1996), 40.

[15] As seen in the United Nations allowing native peoples to speak and be present as observers at UN functions.

[16] As seen in the street protests at meetings of the World Trade Organization.

[17] This phrase refers to the claims made by both Christianity and Islam to be the sole correct or true religion and path to salvation, accompanied by a tradition of proselytizing to win converts. As a result, both religions have a global presence with aspirations to be the universal religion. The most vocal proponents of Christian universalism are the Papacy and evangelical fundamentalists. The most vocal proponents of Islamic universalism are the jihadists: Osama bin Laden’s first demand to the United States after the 9/11 attacks was to convert to Islam; Lewis (2003), 157.

[18] It was in Africa in 1999, when I was speaking to a group of people from very diverse religious backgrounds, that this thought came to me. I happened to be speaking about spiritual issues and used the word “God.” A sea of hands went up and people asked me if I was referring to Jesus, Jehovah, Allah, Shiva or Buddha. I was nonplussed. Clearly the audience did not understand that “spirit” is non-denominational. So I asked the group to name a religion, denomination, sect or cult for whom gravity does not work. People looked around, some with puzzled expressions on their faces, some with smiles slowly forming—they were getting my drift. No one raised a hand to identify a group for whom gravity does not work. For our science-oriented society Newton worked out the Laws of Attraction. The 13th century Italian poet Dante Aligheri described gravity far more poetically in the last verse of his masterwork La Commedia Divina: “L’amore che move … le stelle” (the love that moves… the stars); Paradiso, canto XXXIII, l. 145.

[19] This phrase is Sam Keen’s; Keen (1992).

[20] Ads with similar messages have appeared for CVS pharmacies and the United Way.

[21] Cf. Land (1986) and Land & Jarman (1992).

[22] Given the extraverted emphasis of the American character (Keirsey & Bates claim 75% of Americans type as “extraverts;” Keirsey & Bates [1984], 25), such introspection will not come easily.

[23] This attitude is one component of “American exceptionalism,” which is the subject of another essay in this collection of 2009 blog essays. For a scathing critique of contemporary America, see Bacevich (2008).

[24] This was the bridge over the Winooski River on U.S. Route 2, the main route linking Vermont’s capital, Montpelier, with its satellite state office complex in Waterbury. The collapse of the bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis, Interstate 35W, was a more newsworthy event. Both are examples of a widespread situation. Obama’s planned initiative to rebuild America’s infrastructure reflects his recognition of the need in this regard.

[25] The wild gyrations in the price of gasoline make many people think the rise in the price of gas is due merely to speculation, but the reality is that petroleum is a finite resource; we are consuming more of it every year; and as the cost of extracting it increases we will have to pay more for it.

[26] Calleman (2004), 216.

[27] Cf. Jung, CW 6, ¶184 and note 86,,205, 427 and note 165 and 827-828, which provides a definition: “If the mediatory product remains intact, it forms the raw material for a process not of dissolution but of construction, in which thesis and antithesis both play their part. In this way it becomes a new content that governs the whole attitude, putting an end to the division and forcing the energy of the opposites into a common channel. The standstill is overcome and life can flow on with renewed power towards new goals.

            “I have called this process in its totality the transcendent function, “function” being here understood not as a basic function but as a complex function made up of other functions, and “transcendent” not as denoting a metaphysical quality but merely the fact that this function facilitates a transition from one attitude to another.” (¶s 827 and 828).

Jung also discusses the transcendent function in CW 11, ¶780,784,802-813; CW 7, 121,160,184-188,196,216 and note 1, 360-371. Sharp offers a succinct definition and discussion in his primer on Jungian concepts; Sharp (1991), 136-139.

[28] This is due to the patriarchal bias of contemporary society, which puts stress on manliness, virility, potency and “being a man.” For a woman to take on and integrate masculine qualities is therefore a positive. For men to become “womanish” is not regarded as a positive. What Jung meant by integrating the anima is not to become womanish but most men do not recognize this distinction: anima integration fosters a man’s emotional intelligence, relational abilities and psychological wholeness, but since feelings, the realm of relationships and things interpersonal have traditionally been regarded as the purview of women, many men are leery of them.

[29] This word is Greek for “human being,” but the term capitalized refers to the archetype of humanness, with the range of powers and abilities seen in the atavars of the human race: Buddha, Jesus, Sri Yukteswar, Meher Baba, Sai Baba et al.

[30] For a fuller discussion of the Hopi prophecies, cf. Waters (1963) and Mails (1997).

[31] Jung did not capitalize “self” in his work but it has become a convention in later works by Jungians so as to distinguish the “archetype of wholeness and the regulating center of the psyche; a transpersonal power that transcends the ego” [Sharp (1991), 119] from our usual word “self,” which we use to refer to one’s own person. A life lived directed by the Self is the very antithesis of selfish, since persons living this way have evolved to recognize the unity of all life.

[32] For an incisive critique of modern corporate capitalism see Jerry Mander’s In the Absence of the Sacred (Mander [1991], 12-193).

[33] Cf. John Locke, “Of Civil Government” (1690) and Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (1651), which contains the famous description of life lived outside the protections provided by government being “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” (chapter 13). Both Hobbes and Locke regard government as essential because they view human nature as fundamentally flawed (Hobbes) or in need of training into sociability (Locke) before humans might live together cooperatively.

[34] Perkins (1994), especially 99-121.

[35] Jung (1958), 124. Cf. Kristof (2008), 14.

[36] See his book of that title; Gladwell (2003).