Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
There are certain books we read when we’re young that ever after possess us in some way. They touch some chord in us and all the notes making up that chord continue to resonate down the years.
In my teens, I was a keen listener to the music of Michael Tippett, whose quirky orchestral soundscapes had enchanted my adolescent need for things that were … well, quirky. I couldn’t settle for anything mainstream. Eventually I read his book of essays, Moving Into Aquarius, where there were repeated references to Jung, implying he was more than just a psychotherapist linked to Freud. I checked out a couple of books by Jung from the library, but found them impenetrable. But then I discovered his memoir Memories Dreams Reflections, which he compiled with his associate Aniela Jaffé in the years before his death. And even though I’ve given away four or five copies to people over the years, I’ve always kept a copy with me ever since.
Being truly and completely human requires embracing the Daemon within – whatever form that takes. We have to be more than a little off, a bit crazy, and not necessarily at all nice, to say at the end that we’ve lived. The most interesting or rewarding experiences I’ve had came from following the promptings of the Daemon, without regard to what others thought or felt I should do. My longest friendships have stemmed from the same tendency. I study Crowley because he was loyal to his own Daemon all his life; and in Memories Dreams Reflections (MDR as its often known), Jung explained and explored how he’d been loyal to his.
Crowley could be a callous clod, and Jung wasn’t necessarily huggable. In MDR, he fudges a lot of things, pretends some critical events weren’t important, and dodges the whole issue of how he was caught up in the fringes of National Socialism and its antisemitic aims in the 1920s and ’30s. And Jung’s adherents have had to redress the balance. Jung himself never said, “I was an idiot to accept the presidency of the General Medical Society for Psychotherapy after Hitler came to power, and I accept that I marred my own reputation through this.” Instead, he selectively quoted his own statements, and glossed over his associations from the time between the two world wars. He examined himself, but not necessarily his actions.
And so on. MDR is often a craftily wrought gloss on his life, made still less honest by his family’s continuing refusal to publish a couple of chapters on his private life. It’s also one of the most extraordinary documents of 20th Century thought.
I mentioned I found the book as a teenager. At the time I was deeply scared that the big, bad God-thing was going to get me (as it did, later), and I was looking for protection, or some means of deflecting It. Jung’s account of his years-long struggle with the Daemon-gods inside himself gave me a sense of how I might construct such a defence. And later, when the God-thing phase was past, it was my handbook in understanding the storm that had broken over me.
More oddly, every few years I find myself reading it again, and it’s as if I don’t know the book. I was checking a reference in it last week, and in half an hour I was launched into it once more. The strangest thing is that with each reading, it’s been a book I find I don’t know. The famous Confrontation with the Unconscious chapter that captivated me in my teens now reads merely like an account of a prolonged psychotic episode; which it is, though one documented by a man with an immensely strong will. This time, I found his chapters on his childhood and school years, and his relationship with his parson-father totally riveting, and full of things I’d just never noticed before, or maybe never been able to understand. For while we think adulthood takes us past and out of our childhood experiences, older adulthood actually brings us back to many of them.
Readings in recent years have brought me to look at other chapters, especially the last two on Life After Death and Late Thoughts, with more understanding than I once had. So strong has been my personal link with MDR that for a long time, I’ve used it for bibliomancy when I feel a need for guidance, the way others use the Thelemic Holy Books or the Bible.
Jung’s presence haunts the occult field. His theories of archetypes and synchronicity, and his views on alchemy, are cited as somehow justifying or rationalising esoteric belief. They don’t, of course: “Success is your proof,” says The Book of the Law (i.e., not others’ opinions), and while Jung’s views mirror Hermetic beliefs, they in no way ‘prove’ them. The man always insisted he was a scientist, yet he did hardly any scientific research (his early word-association work being the main exception), and never really submitted any of his opinions to peer-review. I’m told by psychology professionals that Jungians today are still resistant to such comparative studies.
Yet still …
The man read widely (unlike Freud, apparently), and he thought deeply. While he had a considerable career in worldly terms, and was known to many influential thinkers and writers, as MDR makes plain it was the inner experiences of his life that shaped him most. His own psyche was the wildest terrain he explored. “Jung was a walking asylum himself, as well as its head physician,” his English translator Richard Hull once observed, and anyone who has dived into his work will likely form a similar conclusion.
In speaking of his relations with his father and his own youthful peer group, Jung observes that Nietzsche at that time and place (1890s Basel, Switzerland, where Nietzsche had taught) was dismissed as incorrigible or not worth reading. Nietzsche, for Jung (and for some occult writers, too), became a warning about the ungrounded explorer looking into the unbounded soul.
“Nietzsche had lost the ground under his feet because he possessed nothing more than the inner world of his thoughts – which incidentally possessed him more than he it,” he writes in Confrontation with the Unconscious. “He was uprooted and hovered above the earth, and therefore he succumbed to exaggeration and irreality.” Jung realised he had to stay connected to his family and his patients as he went through his crisis years. The notion of the wounded healer who heals others was one he came up with as a consequence of this phase.
Yet finally it’s the sheer oddity of the man that is his most important characteristic. No-one can bracket him without diminishing his breadth or depth; rejecting some of his ideas doesn’t mean none of them has value.
Much of his work was written under the influence of Freud, and in reaction to him. As a result, MDR’s chapter on Freud is one of the sharpest portraits of the man written, covering both his blind spots and his strengths. Yet by the time of World War II, with Freud and Alfred Adler, the other contender for the psychological crown, both dead, Jung had decisively found his own voice. His stern, dictatorial personality had diminished (one woman friend had previously felt moved to point out how his own children felt wary of him) and he was realising his own aim of ‘individuation.’
In sum, while he wrote nary a word about Thelema, and perhaps never heard of it, he was living according to True Will. MDR is, for me, a Thelemic text precisely because it doesn’t take anyone else’s viewpoint as its basis, but is the summary of one man’s winning his own inner freedom, on terms dictated by what Jung called the Self.
As with Crowley we can mimic, or try to, the man’s own beliefs and lifestyle. But in reading either of them sensibly, we’re inevitably pushed towards one core thesis. The road for us ahead, in an age of considerable fear and desolation, and tumbling signposts, requires us to recall our origins, our roots, and to find our own unique way forward from them. That both these men had the guts to try, and kept on trying with different approaches, is the central message they have for us.
Love is the law, love under will,