Sue Mehrtens is the author of this and all the other blog essays on this site. The opinions expressed in these essays are her own and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of other Jungian Center faculty or Board members.
Life at the End of an Aeon and Nature’s Support:
Jung on Navigating the Tumultous Years Ahead
… instead of a brightly colored picture of the real world we have a bleak, shallow rationalism that offers stones instead of bread to the emotional and spiritual hungers of the world…. the picture that unfolds before us is one of universal spiritual distress, comparable to the situation at the beginning of our era or to chaos that followed A.D. 1000,… Jung (1954)
… The saving factor is the symbol, which embraces both conscious and unconscious and unites them both. For while the consciously disposable libido gets gradually used up in the differentiated function and is replenished more and more slowly and with increasing difficulty, the symptoms of inner disunity multiply and there is a growing danger of inundation and destruction by the unconscious contents, but all the time the symbol is developing that is destined to resolve the conflict…. the appearance of the redeeming symbol is closely connected with destruction and devastation. If the old were not ripe for death, nothing new would appear; and if the old were not injuriously blocking the ay for the new, it could not and need not be rooted out. Jung (1920)
In the threatening situation of the world today, when people are beginning to see that everything is at stake, the projection-creating fantasy soars beyond the realm of earthly organizations and powers into the heavens,… nobody knows where a helpful solution is to come from. Even people who would never have thought that a religious problem could be a serious matter that concerned them personally are beginning to ask themselves fundamental questions…. Jung (1958)
… we know the immensities of space better than we know our own depths, where—even though we do not understand it—we can listen directly to the throb of creation itself. Jung (1927)
‘We have conquered nature’ is a mere slogan. In reality we are confronted with anxious questions, the answers to which seem nowhere in sight. The so-called conquest of nature overwhelms us with the natural fact of over-population and makes our troubles more or less unmanageable… Where indeed have we ‘conquered nature’? Jung (1964)
Much as the achievements of science deserve our admiration, the psychic consequences of this greatest of human triumphs are equally terrible. Unfortunately, there is in this world no good thing that does not have to be paid for by an evil at least equally great. People still do not know that the greatest step forward is balanced by an equally great step back. Jung (1945)
They still have no notion of what it means to live in a de-psychized world.They believe, on the contrary, that it is a tremendous advance, which can only be profitable, for man to have conquered Nature.… when science de-psychized Nature, it gave her no other soul, merely subordinating her to human reason…. science considered Nature’s soul not worth a glance…. Jung (1945)
There are no longer any gods whom we can invoke to help us. The great religions of the world suffer from increasing anemia, because the helpful numina have fled from the woods, rivers, mountains, and animals,… while we remain dominated by the great Déesse Raison, who is our overwhelming illusion. …
In the opening quote above Jung referred to the “beginning of our era.” By this he meant the interval in global history when the “Platonic month” shifted from Ares to Pisces. Jung was a pioneer in recognizing the importance of these changes in age—for this he is regarded as the “father of the New Age” concept—and he identified what tends to accompany these momentous aeonic changes: “universal spiritual distress,” as well as political tumult, economic malaise, social upheavals, and breakdowns in major systems that underpin the civilization. All of these features our ancestors witnessed as the Roman Republic gave way to the Empire and its eventual collapse.
Jung is regarded as the father of the New Age concept because he was one of the first students of modern history to understand that we are now moving out of the Age of Pisces into the Age of Aquarius. I wrote about this in an earlier essay archived on this blog site. In this essay I want to describe in more detail just what is in store for us, as we make this transition, and how Jung understood that Nature itself is assisting this process.
What’s In Store: Hints from the Past
Change is never easy. We humans seem to have some constitutional aversion to change, even change for the better. So right off the bat we don’t want to hear about coming changes, particularly momentous changes. But, reluctant though we may be, it helps to ease the process to know something of what’s coming, to be able to make some preparation, even if only in terms of general awareness.
History has witnessed only two shifts of aeon–from Taurus into Ares, c. 2200B.C.E, and from Ares into Pisces, c. 100B.C.E.—because aeons last for over 2,000 years. Before the age of Taurus our records are not historical as much as they are archeological, mythical and geological. But drawing just on the written (i.e. historical) records from the age of Taurus and the beginnings of the age of Pisces Jung had enough information to describe the process as distressing.
Why distressing? Because everything comes up for grabs, change is afoot on all fronts, nothing remains the same, and the process of change often becomes very disruptive, even violent. Consider the interval from 100B.C.E to 500C.E. in Western civilization.
Over the course of these 600 years (which Jung felt was about the typical length of time a shift of aeon required) we saw:
in the political realm: the end of the Roman Republic and the institution of the Empire, with multiple assassinations, plots, coups, perversion of the political system, the transfer of the imperium from the senatus populusque Romanus to the person of the princeps (the euphemism the Romans used for the hated word Imperator, or Emperor), massive colonization of territories and integration of these lands into the Empire, with the dilution of citizenship to include all peoples (this last not done out of benevolence but so the central government could extend its tax base). None of these were welcome changes at the time, but seemed necessary for the security and well-being of the people (or so the rhetoric went); and with the barbarian invasion in 476C.E., the political imperium in the West collapsed
in the economic realm: the freezing of the coloni (predecessors of medieval serfs) on the farms they worked, lest the agricultural base of the Empire disappear; the extension of trade routes and commercial connections to include the whole of what we would call Western Europe today, as well as the northern coast of Africa and the Middle East, up to the borders of Iran (then called “Persia,” which was Rome’s major adversary); the development of an infrastructure (roads, bridges, seaports) to support this trade, and the eventual breakdown of many of these structures as the burden of taxes and the ravages of barbarian invasions destroyed municipal governments, sapped and ultimately destroyed Imperial power
in the social realm: repeated slave rebellions; restive colonial populations chaffing for their independence; the weakening of the system of social classes, with the old Roman aristocracy growing more enfeebled and thin in its ranks, due to very low birth rates; the strategic use of panem et circenses (bread and circuses) by Roman Emperors to distract and pacify the urban mobs; the rise of various esoteric and foreign cults, like Christianity, that stirred up the passions of the vulgus and led multiple Emperors to ban them; attempts to restore the old order by Emperors like Julian and Diocletian, efforts which only served to deepen the transformation underway
in the cultural realm: a gradual weakening of the arts, education, learning and numbers of people able to support culture; fewer people able to read, write, or maintain literary standards (seen in the labels we use for “Silver Age” Latin writers versus those of the “Golden Age”); by the time the age of Pisces was fully underway bishops like Gregory of Tours would lament the fact that he was one of the very few people in his diocese who was able to read
in the spiritual realm: tremendous ferment, with the rise, spread and disappearance of multiple cults, religions, spiritual movements and offshoots of orthodoxies; multiple heresies and laments for the loss of the old religions; attempts (e.g. those of the Emperor Julian) to restore the old “pagan” religion of the Roman pantheon; numerous persecutions, e.g. of early Christians, and later, of various groups of Christian heretics—all of this reflective of pervasive spiritual anxiety and loss of meaning
Jung understood the process of aeonic shift as having both outer manifestations, as in the wealth of examples above, and an inner form, occurring in the collective unconscious of the peoples of the world. So, while I cited only examples from Western history above, similar events and experiences were happening all over the planet during the centuries that the shift was underway.
What does this brief review of history suggest for our time?
Our Current Transition
First, it is important to remember that the shift from one aeon to another requires not years but centuries. Jung saw examples of the process underway in his day—the late 19th and the first half of the 20th century. As I noted in the earlier essay, “Jung’s Platonic Month and the Age of Aquarius,” we can see many signs of the shift now. For example:
in the political realm: the fall of Communism in Russia and Eastern Europe and the breakup of the Soviet Union; multiple assassinations, plots, and coups in the Middle East, and the phenomenon of the “Arab Spring;” widespread concern and debate about global immigration and the movements of peoples among different countries; incidents of terrorism all over the globe; the growth of political extremism, with the breakdown of the principle of compromise; the perversion of constitutional principles in the name of “homeland security”
in the economic realm: the globalization movement, as multi-national corporations move their activities to the cheapest labor markets and the Internet fosters global communication and awareness; the breakdown of infrastructure, especially in regions with weak or ineffective political systems (like the politically gridlocked United States, with its sequester scheme); growing economic inequality, as the middle class disappears in many countries and more people fall into poverty or economic distress; the growing vulnerability of economies as money becomes “hollowed out,” and etherealized
in the social realm: draconian population control measures (e.g. China’s enforced one-child policy) with the consequent widespread aborting of female fetuses; widespread demonstrations, confrontations and riots (e.g. the protests at the World Trade Organization meetings, Occupy Wall Street); the development and popular fascination with various modern-day forms of “circuses,” e.g. video games, television, professional sports and their fan followings—all quite successful in distracting the masses; the decline in standards of politeness, e.g. the widespread focus on one’s cell phone, to the exclusion of face-to-face interaction with others
in the cultural realm: the decline in attendance at classical musical performances (e.g. opera, symphonies); the elimination of art and music education in many public schools; the shortfall in American students pursuing majors in science, technology, engineering and mathematics; the recognition that many young people (especially in America) are deficient in basic skills like reading, writing and numeracy; the growing interest in esoterica, from Hermetic wisdom to yoga, channeling, theosophy etc.; scientism (with its focus on Reason and logic) as the knowledge base of our culture
in the spiritual realm: the decline in mainstream religious denominations (especially Christianity, in Western Europe and parts of the United States), with the rise in fundamentalist sects; the rise of various cults (e.g. Jonestown, David Koresh, Scientology); increasing internecine strife within religions, e.g. the Sunni-Shi’ite conflicts in Islam; the growth in interest in spirituality (i.e. spiritual seeking with a focus on the personal experience of the Divine); increasing numbers of people falling into substance abuse, reflecting the personal loss of meaning and purpose in life and a misdirection of the search for Spirit
As Jung noted, in the quotes opening this essay, ours is a time of illusions and empty slogans (like “We can conquer Nature.”), a “de-psychized” time when the great religions are increasingly recognized as “anemic,” and “there are no longer any gods whom we can invoke to help us” deal with the “threatening situation of the world today.” The old reality we have known is “ripe for death,” and we can expect to see in the decades ahead increasing signs of breakdown—in politics, economics, society, culture and religion. What to do? Jung offers us some guidance.
Jung’s Suggestions for Navigating the Aeonic Shift
Jung would have us wake up. Just what “waking up” entails is described at length in an essay archived on this blog site. Simply put, it means getting one’s nose out of the video game or cell phone and doing the inner work of creating more consciousness. Recognize what’s really going on in the world. Wise up to the host of illusions that are pervasive in our contemporary world, e.g. mechanism: the world is not a giant machine but a living organism with manifold complex interdependencies; reductionism: we cannot hope to understand reality if we persist in believing we can isolate the various parts of complex systems, analyze each one and then have the whole figured out; materialism: reality is not fundamentally material but spiritual, and a focus on matter deadens the soul and leads to human beings being regarded as little more than “income-generating biological structures.” These are just a few of the illusions we need to dispel.
Jung would have us ask “fundamental questions…”—the sort of question posed by the little child in Han Christian Andersen’s fairy tale of the “Emperor’s Clothes”—questions that puncture the illusions that dominate our collective consciousness. Such questions, in the context of current American life, would include :
“Why do we call our health care industry a health care system, when it is premised on disease and making money?” There’s no money in keeping people healthy.
“Why do we persist in thinking we have a democracy in the United States—“government of the people, by the people, and for the people”—when in reality we live in a corporatocracy—government of, by and for the fat-cat corporations who own the Senators and Representatives in Congress?”
“Why do we wax so eloquently about “American exceptionalism” in the face of our sorry track record of destroying hundreds of Native cultures and enslaving millions of people?” Where is the “moral exemplar” in all that history?
Until we pose these and similar questions that point up our hypocrisy, illusions and shadow side we will never be able to work toward the breakthroughs required by the Aquarian energy we are moving into.
Jung would have us “reenchant” the world, i.e. recognize the reality of the anima mundi, that the world is ensouled and Nature is full of “helpful numina” in its woods, rivers, mountains, plants, and animals. Jung lived this truth: Every day, first thing in the morning, when he came down for breakfast, he would greet the pots and pans and other kitchen items and thank them for their support. How different would your life be if you recognized the living presence in all the things in your environment? Jung understood that, if each of us believed Nature was alive and ensouled, we would be much less likely to treat the natural world as a “gigantic toolshed,” with exploitive actions and destructive demands on our water tables, rivers and streams, soils and air.
Jung would have us look within, to come to know “our own depths, where… we can listen directly to the throb of creation itself.” Jung understood that we are part of Nature. Our bodies are matter, composed of the same stuff as the rest of creation, and when we turn inward and explore our inner reality, we connect with the larger scheme of things. Not only will this make us more likely to respect Nature, it can also foster our creating more consciousness in the world, and this task of creating consciousness was Jung’s main concern. By striving to become more conscious, we “become the change we wish to see” in the outer world. Real change starts with us, within us, in our personal transformation.
Finally, Jung would have us understand that, while we must each and severally put our shoulder to the task of navigating the aeonic shift, we are not having to do so alone. Nature is helping in this endeavor. The vix mediatrix Naturae—the healing force of Nature—is at work in the world, clearing out the old so as to make room for the new. Jung would not have us lament the many mortificationes we are likely to see in the years ahead: There will be many forms of death—of people, of systems, of institutions, of beliefs and attitudes, of governments, of ways of living—that will show up as we move through the tumultuous years to come. We need to understand that, while “… the symptoms of inner disunity multiply and there is a growing danger of inundation and destruction by the unconscious contents, … all the time the symbol is developing that is destined to resolve the conflict….”
Jung knew that we would not know where the “helpful solution” will come from—not with our logical, rational ego minds. The ego mind cannot “figure” out this global problematique. It is too complex, too holistic, too immense for our puny human logic. Rather, we must approach the future with humility and an attitude of wonder and gratitude that we are alive in this most momentous of times. The resolving symbol is aborning and we can choose to watch for it as we work inwardly and outwardly to create a world that works for everyone.
Andersen, Hans Christian (1942), Andersen’s Fairy Tales. New York: The Heritage Press.
Bair, Deirdre (2003), Jung: A Biography. New York: Little, Brown & Co.
Berman, Morris (1981), The Reenchantment of the World. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
Boak, Arthur (1963), “Manpower Shortage and the Fall of Rome,” The Fall of Rome: Can It Be Explained?, ed. Mortimer Chambers. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.
Boynton, Robert (2004), “In the Jung Archives,” The New York Times Book Review (January 11, 2004), 8.
Brinton, Crane, John Christopher & Robert Wolff (1960), A History of Civilization, I. Englewood Cliffs NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Ehrenfeld, David (1981), The Arrogance of Humanism. New York: Oxford University Press.
Finley, Moses (1963), “The Question of Population,” The Fall of Rome: Can It Be Explained?, ed. Mortimer Chambers. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.
Gibbon, Edward (1952), The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. New York: Viking Press.
Grant, Michael (1960), The World of Rome. New York: Mentor Books.
Gregory of Tours (1962), “Historia Francorum,” Medieval Latin, ed. K.P. Harrington. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Harman, Willis (1988), Global Mind Change. Indianapolis: Knowledge Systems.
Hartmann, Thom (2004), What Would Jefferson Do? New York: Harmony Books.
Jones, A.H.M. (1966), The Decline of the Ancient World. New York: Longman.
Jung, C.G. (1971), “Psychological Types,” Collected Works, 6. Princeton: Princeton University Press
________ (1960), ”The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche,” CW 8. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
________ (1959), ”The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious,” CW 9i. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
________ (1970), “Civilization in Transition,” CW 10. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
________ (1976), ”The Symbolic Life,” CW 18. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
________ (1975), Letters, ed. Gerhard Adler & Aniela Jaffé. 2 vols. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Mehrtens, Susan ed. (1996), Revisioning Science. Waterbury VT: Potlatch Press.
Morton, Brian (2011), “Falser Words Were Never Spoken,” The New York Times (August 29, 2011).
 Collected Works 18, ¶1442. Hereafter Collected Works will be abbreviated CW.
 CW 6, ¶446.
 CW 10, ¶610.
 CW 8, ¶737.
 CW 18, ¶598.
 CW 18, ¶1366.
 CW 18, ¶1366 & 1368.
 CW 18, ¶597.
 This term Jung created; it did not originate with Plato; http://www.reocities.com/astrologyages/jungsplatonicmonth.htm
 In a previous essay posted to this blog site, “Jung’s Platonic Month and the Age of Aquarius,” I included a definition of “aeon,” and what is meant by a “Platonic month:” The phenomenon of aeons is due to the astronomical phenomenon of the precession of the equinoxes, which is “the earlier occurrence of the equinoxes in each successive sidereal year… the result of a slow westward movement of the equinoxes along the ecliptic caused by a gradual change in the direction of the earth’s axis because of the combined action of the sun, moon, and planets on the mass of matter accumulated about the earth’s equator.” World Book Encyclopedia Dictionary, II, p. 1529. Precession results in the shift from one astrological sign to the previous sign over the passage of thousands of years. Just how many years is a question Jung wrestled with. See the previous essay for more discussion of Jung’s sense of the length of an aeon.
 Boynton (2004), 8.
 CW 18, ¶1442.
 For a detailed examination of the history of the Roman Republic and Empire, cf. Jones (1966 and Gibbon (1952).
 “Jung’s Platonic Month and the Age of Aquarius”
 It surprises many people to learn that aeons come in reverse order from the normal astrological sequence as used in natal or mundane charts. So where Taurus would normally come after Ares, in the case of the shift of ages, it preceded Ares, just as Pisces preceded our coming age of Aquarius.
 CW 18, ¶1442.
 For a good overview of Western civilization in this interval, see Brinton, Christopher & Wolff (1960), I, 95-172.
 Grant (1960), 41.
 This has become known as the “fall of the Roman Empire,” but it “fell” only in its Western half; the Eastern half, known as Byzantium, remained viable until 1453, when its capital, Constantinople, finally fell to the Ottoman Turks; Gibbon (1952), 619-630.
 On the economy of the late Republic and Empire, see Jones (1966), 299-319.
 Finley (1963), 30; cf. Boak (1963), 21-28.
 Juvenal, Satires, X, 79.
 Diocletian’s attempts to turn back the clock were especially destructive of the old mores and institutions; Jones (1966), 28-38.
 Grant (1960), 253-254.
 Gregory of Tours (1962), 26.
 Jones (1966), 59-60.
 CW 9i, ¶551.
 “Letter to Adolf Keller,” 25 February 1955;” Letters, II, 229-230.
 CW 18, ¶1320.
 Our money is “etherealized” now in the sense of being photons in cyberspace; for example, in electronic funds transfers, credit and debit card transactions, PayPal payments etc.
 For an account of this go to www.depts.washington.edu/wtohist/
 My family had a startling example of this when we entertained some visitors who came ostensibly to see us but spent the whole weekend texting or playing games on their cell phones!
 This problem has sparked the development of “STEM” programs, to encourage students to take up science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
 For more on scientism—the perversion of true science—as the knowledge base of our culture, see Harman (1988) and Mehrtens (1996).
 Jung recognized that problems like alcoholism were manifestations of a spiritual problem, with the individual substituting spirits (liquor) for Spirit; “Letter to William G. Wilson,” 30 January 1961; Letters, II, 624.
 CW 18, ¶598.
 CW 18, ¶1366.
 CW 18, ¶598.
 CW 10, ¶610.
 CW 6, ¶446.
 See the essay “Waking Up,” archived on this blog site.
 I read this vivid (if horrifying) definition of the human being years ago, in some article or essay but cannot now trace its origin.
 CW 10, ¶610.
 Andersen (1942), 79-83.
 Hartmann (2004), 207-208.
 For more on American Exceptionalism, see the essay “American Exceptionalism from a Jungian Perspective,” archived on this blog site.
 The United States government systematically destroyed over 400 Native American tribes and enslaved or discriminated against several million blacks from the 17th to the 20th centuries.
 See Berman (1981) for more on what it would mean to “reenchant” the world.
 CW 18, ¶597.
 Bair (2003), 568.
 This term is Clarence Glacken’s, quoted in Ehrenfeld (1981), 177.
 CW 8, ¶737.
 This phrase is a bumper sticker riff on Mohandas Gandhi’s statement: “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him… We need not wait to see what others do.” Quoted in Morton (2011).
 CW 6, ¶446.
 CW 10, ¶610.