Jung’s Machine Elves and Yeatsian Synchronicity

These days it is hard to get very far in many discussions of magic and spirit work without hearing the term ‘synchronicity’ bandied about. While that term has some roots outside of Jung’s work, pretty much all of the occult applications go through Jung-town. I was flipping around the excerpt from essay found in Psyche and Symbol this afternoon and a few things stood out. This is in progress, pardon the dust.

First off, Jung’s essay on synchronicity is both better and worse than I remember it. Better, in that his elaboration of the challenges of genuinely thinking acausal linkage is more thoughtful and clear than I recall. It is pretty revolutionary stuff and he is working hard to consider how drastically it changes his conception of psychological archetypes. Worse, because, wow, there are some fascinating dreams that he (wisely) groups together, but which he treats with such shallowness that it boggles me.

Jung is also cautious in this essay. He doesn’t intend this to be the final word, he just realizes that this is a topic that provides some illumination into the archetypal dimensions of experience. It reminds me that one of the reasons we tend to be so hard on Jung is because we try to force him into a dogmatic position that, in most cases, he is just not trying to occupy. We take a few ideas out of context and make them into Jungian strawman that can be easily bandied about.

Anyway, that’s neither here nor there. What I want to talk about are two things. The first are these anomalous dreams that Jung reports on. The second is trying to (briefly) conceive of synchronicity from within the circle drawn by the Yeatsian spirit material.

Jung observes that the existence of synchronicity suggests that there is an order independent of our consciousness, and that what little we do know about is likely the tip of an iceberg, an orderliness that extends in difficult to comprehend fashion all around us. He notes several dreams that have been relayed to him which speak to this (long quotation, sorry; lettered for ease of reference later):

(A) In the garden there was a large sandpit in which layers of rubbish had been deposited. In one of these layers she discovered thin, slaty plates of green serpentine. One of them had black squares on it, arranged concentrically. The black was not painted on, but was ingrained in the stone, like the markings in agate. Similar marks were found on two or three other plates, which Mr. A (a slightt acquaintance) then took away from her.

(B) The dreamer was in a wild mountain region where he found contiguous layers of triassic rock. He loosened the slabs and discovered to his boundless astonishment that they had human heads on them in low relief.

(C)…was traveling through the Siberian tundra and found an animal he had long been looking for. It was a more than lifesize cock, made of what looked like thin, colourless glass. But it was alive and had sprung by chance from a microscopic unicellular organism which had the power to to turn into all sorts of animals…or even into objects of human use…. The next moment each of these chance forms vanished without a trace.

(D)At the top of a steep slope he came to a ridge of rock honeycombed with holes, and there he found a little brown man of the same colour as the iron oxide with which the rock was coated. The little man was busily engaged in hollowing out a cave, at the back of which a cluster of columns could be seen in the living rock. On the top of each column was a dark brown human head with large eyes, carved with great care out of some very hard stone…. The little man freed this formation from the amorphous conglomerate surrounding it…. the columns were continued far back into the living rock and must therefore have come into existence without the help of man…. the rock was at least half a million years old…

Psyche and Symbol, 295–96

There is much going on in the substance of the dream that Jung ignores. Two themes stand out most for me. First, they indicate that there is an alien agency at work. (A) does so by appealing to the archaeological metaphor of the rubbish heap, through which you can descend to find signs of previous occupation. (B) does so somewhat more gently by locating sculptures of people in layers of rock before people existed.  (C) and (D) do so directly, presenting the dreamer with a vision of the agent. Those agents put me in mind of Terence McKenna’s machine elves (which, of course, Jung wouldn’t have known about).

Second, all of them make use of scientific metaphors for deep time. (A), (B), and (D) all make use of geological and archaeological images, while (C) taps into evolutionary conceptions of life. These are causal on a scale that we have great difficulty grasping and do so only by clumsy speculative elision.

The combination of (alien) agency on the one hand and scientific deep time on the other, make me think that they are pointing toward an expanded conception of causality, not toward a principle of acausal sympathy. This feels a lot more like Gordon’s talking algebra to dogs than it does a mystical pre-existent and eternal order to which we direct ourselves.

Thinking in those terms, makes me think about the daemonic manipulation of the body of fate and mask that appears in the Yeatsian material. There, synchronicity is explained as daemonic collusion. The daemons don’t reveal an eternal order but provide us with the opportunity to participate in the production of a coming-to-exist order.

Dreams (B) and (D) both place human heads within the earth, suggesting that this process of coming to be can integrate us into the depths of creation, not just raise us beyond as many traditionally gnostic accounts would have it.

6 thoughts on “Jung’s Machine Elves and Yeatsian Synchronicity

  1. Rose

    I’ve also had dreams of digging; multiple dreams; and of discovering various colored orbs and multi-sided dice buried close to the surface and more deeply. Also of “temples” with pillars (multiple dreams with various designs), tents, forests, deserts, etc. It is incredibly important to understand that dreams work on multiple levels; not simply personal unconscious, but also a collective, as well as a magical embrace.

    Jung seems to be a basis from which to work, but not the end all, be all, though I believe he was close to capturing something wonderfully elusive.

  2. Pingback: [NB] Dream (A) | Disrupt & Repair

  3. Pingback: Mask, Personality, Synchronicity, Work | Disrupt & Repair

  4. Pingback: [NB] Indian Graves, Treasure Hunting, and Mormonism | Disrupt & Repair

  5. Pingback: [NB] Dream (B) | Disrupt & Repair

  6. Pingback: [NB] Dream (C) | Disrupt & Repair

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