Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
The last post, on Jung’s Memories Dreams Reflections, touched on his tacit or apparent support of Nazism in the 1930s. This is a difficult topic, most coherently addressed by Jay Sherry in his 2010 book, Carl Gustav Jung – Avant-Garde Conservative. I’ve not read the full published text, but the PhD thesis it’s based on is available openly.
Jung, as Sherry’s title implies and he himself admitted, was conservative to the core. But this was taken to an extreme point where he openly rejected ‘materialistic science.’ He distrusted research based on statistics and empirical enquiries, believing that the rejection of the humanities, in psychology particularly, was causing a tragic crisis in western consciousness. He modeled his thinking on that of the German writer Goethe, and of course was fascinated by spiritual alchemy, which is by no means materialistic or empirical.
Many people felt the same in early Twentieth Century Europe. Two revolutions – the French and the Industrial – had changed the direction of the continent’s history, and out of them had arisen marxism, less drastic forms of socialism, liberal thinking, an unfolding empirical science, and a large bourgeoisie. The working class was seeking – and finding – education and better working conditions. The old order (the definition of which varied according to how far back any social critic’s vision extended) had been swept aside by all this. That much of the change had benefited, and was being driven by, a newly integrated and empowered Jewish community (Marx, Einstein and Freud were all Jewish), was one of the roots of anti-semitism. A core text of Nazism, Rosenberg’s Myth of the Twentieth Century, underlines all this.
World War I swept away monarchies in Germany, Austria-Hungary and Russia, which had all gone into the war as great powers. The British crown also felt itself threatened for a while near the war’s end, and King George V probably did nothing to help his close relative Czar Nicholas escape his doom for fear of bringing a similar fate on his own family. Germany went into a period of violent instability, both politically and economically, with the Nazis being just one nationalist group among many. In Italy, fascist dictator Benito Mussolini came to power, and a sense of chaos and unresolved crises pervaded European affairs.
When Hitler took power in 1933, Jung was caught up in the excitement. It wasn’t just extremists who welcomed the whirlwind, for many people of a conservative bent were cheering. Jung wrote after the war that was to follow: “At that time [1933-34], in Germany as well as in [fascist-run] Italy, there were not a few things that appeared plausible and seemed to speak in favour of the regime … after the stagnation and decay of the post-war years, the refreshing wind that blew through the two countries was a tempting sign of hope.”
Few people today would view the Nazis taking power as a ‘refreshing wind,’ but for Jung it was. And as Sherry documents, he was far, far from alone. But after war engulfed first almost all of Europe, and then Asia and the Pacific, and roughly 60-million people had died, the mainstream view shifted permanently. Jung, already grasping the actual nature of the ‘refreshing wind’ wrote a famous essay in 1936, on the god Wotan, pointing out how this archetypal figure had apparently seized the German nation. Sherry suggests it was actually Loki, the destroyer of Valhalla and the murderer of the sun-god Baldur, but either way, it was a blind and fatal force. Jung finally had to admit:
“I had not realised how much I myself was affected. The innermost identity or participation mystique with events in Germany has caused me to experience afresh how painfully wide is the scope of the psychological concept of collective guilt.” To the end of his days, which were otherwise profoundly fruitful, he could never shift that comment to ‘personal guilt,’ even if he had tried to mitigate the persecution of some Jewish psychotherapists; and also found his own books banned in Germany near the war’s end. He more than most people had the intelligence and discernment to see what might be happening, and his primary response, more or less, was to cross his fingers and hope the initial violence would subside into a benign elitism. And while there are sections of Memories Dreams Reflections reportedly still kept out of sight in a Zurich vault, the published text makes no mention of Nazism or the furore Jung faced after the war.
But the point of this post isn’t a history lesson, though it seems necessary as an opener. For if all this happened in Europe after World War I, grappling with extreme politics (marxism versus fascism, often battling on the streets of major cities of Germany, France and the UK) and wracked by the terrible economic depression that began in 1929, what are we facing now?
The deep recession of 2008-9 has passed off temporarily, but nobody pretends the issues were resolved. Democracy is widely seen as sliding into irrelevance, in the US especially, where the rich aren’t shy about their dominance of the electoral process. We’ve watched for decades as species are exterminated, habitat is lost and polluted oceans become less able to support populations of fish. And so on.
While in the 1920s and ’30s people went out to break heads in street battles, we have reached boredom as much as anything else. Which might be a reaction to despair, since agitation and protests have had minimal effect; thought boredom is often, psychologically speaking, a mask for repressed anger. Political radicalism in western society is seen as passé, and only as something dangerous when people take off to fight in the Middle East, where there is no democracy, and violent groups are trying to take matters back to their own idea of an old order that existed before an alien liberalism was foisted on them.
I despise ISIL, Boko Haram and their friends as much as anyone, but I refuse to pretend there is something fundamentally bizarre about those who go to fight for them. Their actions are as understandable as those of the people who marched in torchlight parades before their Führer, even if their accomplishments will be no more worthy.
The Book of the Law, and Crowley as its commentator, made no bones about the violent birth this Aeon will produce. This isn’t necessarily comforting, but it at least makes us realise that what is constellating, the arising of a war-god archetype, is a continuing process. The Age of Aquarius, at least as predicted, is officially on hold.
This is no easy topic, because like Jung with Wotan, we’re all caught up in it. We don’t have an empirical point outside of the process. That, however, is no excuse for remaining unaware. And with any archetype, there are positive aspects to pursue as well as shadow ones.
As a Thelemic Qabalist, I’m well familiar with what Jung called: “the fund of unconscious images which fatally confuse the mental patient. But it is also the matrix of a mythopoeic imagination which has vanished from our rational age. Though such imagination is present everywhere, it is both tabooed and dreaded so that it even appears to be a risky experiment or a questionable adventure to entrust oneself to the uncertain path that leads into the depths of the unconscious. It is considered the path of error, of equivocation and misunderstanding…” And the problem we face, at root, is that our society has no functional myth to live by any more. Christianity, demonstrably, loses adherents every year; and while material progress is popular in mass consciousness, but is intellectually unfashionable because it’s empty of meaning.
Thelema’s answers might seem romantic, but given that its core text, especially the Third Chapter, both predicts out current state and insists there is a way through it, it offers a myth to live by that’s credible and requires neither self-delusions or blindness. It insists we can remake ourselves in the company of others of like mind, and that at the end of the day there will be a renewal of consciousness, past the murky night that most people feel is closing in.
I happen to believe that mystery schools, those wacky assemblages of dreamers and cautious optimists, have a role to play, for encoded in their rituals and practices is a template for such consciousness renewal. Contrary to the fantasies of conspiracy buffs, the true (inner-plane contacted) schools have no role in politics as some crew of Illuminati, for to do that they’d make the same error that caused Jung to stumble. But they guard, as sanctuaries of servitors, the essential Light. At the right moment some of their members, perhaps without being fully aware themselves what they’re doing, will have things to say, just as the significant publication of Golden Dawn rituals and teachings shortly after the Nazis took power opened the doors for many seekers – some clueless, and some inspired.
Occultism today places great stress on groundedness, psychological self-awareness and remaining connected to the mundane world. In doing this, it might have lost some of its power to enchant and to reach the starriest realms, while establishing better ‘colleges.’ But at the heart of such schools, maybe just for a few years in some and for generations in others, there is something worthwhile and wholesome and wise, and if no one member possesses all of it, there’s still much of worth to be found in our time of fear and confusion.
They offer no escape routes, but they do have an inner beacon. They don’t have a myth, but rather are each founded on and out of one that has recurred and revitalised itself over immense amounts of time. Further, whether they’re ostensibly Thelemic or not, they’re all being conformed by their inner-plane tutors to the parameters of the New Aeon, and that is what grants them their Light for their season.
Love is the law, love under will,