Carl Gustav Jung

Jung, Carl Gustav (1875–1961) Swiss psychiatrist and early follower of Sigmund Freud who eventually broke with him partly over the importance of spirituality and psychic phenomena in the formation of the personality. Jung had a variety of psychic experiences throughout his life, and although he preferred to explain these in psychological terms, he always held open the possibility that ghosts and spirits were just what they seemed to be.

Jung was born on July 26, 1875, in Kesswil, Switzerland. Four years later, his family moved to Klein-Huningen, near Basel, where he grew up. During this time period Spiritualism was popular, and several members of his family were drawn to it. Many were psychically gifted. At the age of 20, his grandmother Augusta Preiswerk fell into a three-day trance, during which she communicated with spirits of the dead and gave prophecies. As a child, Jung’s mother, Emilie, was ordered by her father, a minister, to sit behind him while he wrote his sermons so that he would not be disturbed by spirits. She kept a journal of paranormal events that occurred in the house in which Jung was raised.

In 1897, while an undergraduate, Jung discussed the occult in a lecture to a student club. He proclaimed the existence of the soul and the reality of spirits and of spiritualism on the basis of Psychokinesis (PK), messages from the dead, hypnotism, Clairvoyance and precognitive DREAMS. However, he was shortly to change his mind.

Jung was at home one morning in 1898 when he was surprised by a sudden loud crack. Upon investigation, he found that a solid oak table that had been in his family for generations had split right across. Two weeks later, he came home to find that a strong steel knife had broken into pieces for no apparent reason. A short while after the second incident, he learned that some of his relatives had been engaged for some time in a Home Circle centering around a 15-year-old cousin. The group had been considering inviting him to join them. Thinking that his cousin might be in some way connected to the phenomena, he immediately assented and began attending regular Saturday- night meetings.

Séance phenomena consisted mainly of communications through raps on the table. Jung continued going to the Séances and studying the Medium for the next two years, when he caught her trying to cheat and brought the  sessions to an end. He wrote up his observations in his dissertation for his medical degree; it was published in 1902 as “On the Psychology and Pathology of So-Called Occult Phenomena.” He later said that this was the one great experience that had wiped out his former perspective and made it possible to view psychic phenomena from a psychological point of view.

Jung’s adviser for his dissertation was an internist, and this man invited Jung to move to Munich with him when he himself transferred there in 1899. Jung, however, had discovered psychiatry, a field not greatly respected at the time but one in which he saw the possibility of uniting his two core interests, medicine and spirituality. In December 1900, therefore, he took a position at Burghölzi Mental Hospital in Zurich. He began to correspond with Sigmund Freud and soon became an ardent follower.

In 1905, Jung gave a lecture at the University of Basel entitled “On Spiritualistic Phenomena,” in which he surveyed the history of spiritualism, giving special attention to Sir William Crookes and his observations of Levitations by D.D. Home. He also referred to eight mediums he himself had investigated in Zurich. In general, he was unimpressed, in some cases diagnosing hysteria and autohypnosis. He insisted, however, that it was important to be open minded about the possibility of both mental and physical mediumistic phenomena.

In 1909, Jung wrote to Freud about cases in which he had found “first rate spiritualistic phenomena.” The two later met in Vienna and had a chat about parapsychology. At the time a confirmed skeptic (he was later to change his mind about the possibility of ESP), Freud rejected the subject with such a shallow positivism that Jung restrained himself only with effort. As Freud went on, however, Jung began to have a curious sensation in his stomach, as if his diaphragm were growing red-hot, and then suddenly there came a loud report from the bookcase. Jung exclaimed that here was an example of a “catalytic exteriorization phenomenon,” or Psychokinesis. Freud dismissed this as “sheer bosh,” to which Jung replied that not only was it not, he would predict that there would soon be a sequel, whereupon there was another loud report from the same direction.

Freud’s attitude to psychic phenomena was only one aspect of a dogmatism that became clearer and clearer to Jung. By 1913, he openly broke with Freud. In the repercussions, Jung resigned his professorship at the University of Zurich, and in 1914, the presidency of the International Congress of Psycho-Analysis, a position he had held since 1910. The break also precipitated a six-yearlong nervous breakdown during which he had psychotic fantasies. He became immersed in the world of the dead and wrote Seven Sermons to the Dead, published privately in 1916 under the name of the second-century Gnostic writer Basilides.

Following the emergence from his breakdown, Jung worked on developing his own theories. Among the most important was his general theory of psychological types, first published in 1921. He distinguished two basic types—introverts and extroverts—who could be classified according to four basic functions: thinking, feeling, sensation and intuition. Jung also introduced the concepts of anima and animus, psychic images that represent feminine and masculine aspects of the personality; the collective unconscious; and archetypes. Mythology, which had been a growing interest before his breakdown, became especially important, although he did not lose sight of the paranormal.

In “The Psychological Foundations of Belief in Spirits,” a lecture to the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) in 1919, published in 1920, Jung held that there were three sources for the belief in spirits: apparitions, dreams, and “pathological disturbances of psychic life.” He proposed that spirits of the dead are created psychologically upon death: images and ideas remain attached to relatives and are activated to form spirits by intensity of emotion.

He was soon to have an experience that confirmed this view for him. In 1920, on a visit to London to give a series of lectures, he spent some nights in a haunted house. During the first several nights, he smelled something odd and heard strange sounds, including water dripping, for which he could locate no source. The phenomena gradually became more dramatic, the last night he spent in the room being the worst. It was a beautiful moonlit night, yet he heard rustling, creaking and banging inside the room and blows against the walls outside. He had the feeling that there was something near him and opened his eyes to see an old woman’s head lying beside him on the pillow. Her right eye was wide open, staring at him. The left half of her face was missing below the eye. The sight was so unexpected and disturbing that he leapt out of bed, lit a candle and spent the rest of the night in an armchair. The next night he moved into an adjacent room, where he slept peacefully from then on.

Jung interpreted this experience as having been prompted by the SMELL in the room, which reminded him of a patient he had once had and who became the model for his hallucination. He believed that the rustling noises were in fact sounds in his ear that became exaggerated in his hypnogogic state. Likewise, the knocking sounds could have been the sounds of his own heartbeats. However, he had no explanation for the dripping water he had heard the first night, since he was fully awake at the time and could not account for it.

Following a heart attack in 1944, Jung had a NEARDEATH EXPERIENCE (NDE). As he lay in bed, a nurse saw him surrounded by a bright halo of light, something she had observed around patients who were dying. Jung,
however, recovered and later recounted what had happened to him. Characteristically, his experience was laden with mythic imagery. He felt himself to be floating high above Earth, became aware that he was leaving it and then saw near him a huge block of stone, which had been hollowed out to form a temple. He knew that he was expected inside the temple, and as he drew closer to it, his earthly desires and attitudes fell away and awareness dawned that inside he would come to understand the meaning of his life. At that moment, however, his earthly doctor appeared in the form of the Basileus of Kos, the healer at the temple of Aesculapius, the Roman god of healing, telling him he must return to Earth. Jung did so, though reluctantly, and with great resentment toward the doctor.

In the last decade of his life, Jung reworked many earlier papers and developed further his ideas on many topics that are now of intense interest, including mandala symbolism, the I-Ching, alchemy and the phenomenology of the self.

An important work of this period was Synchronicity (1952), the culmination of thinking and research he had conducted over some 20 years. Jung had never had doubts about Extrasensory Perception (ESP) and psychokinesis (PK) on the scale that he had had about spirits and was greatly impressed by the research of J.B. Rhine (with whom he corresponded regularly from 1937 on). The concept of synchronicity, or meaningful coincidence, was intended in part as a theory of psi functioning, but Jung applied it as well to a variety of other phenomena, including alchemy, the I Ching, and an experiment he conducted in astrology. Synchronicity was originally published with a companion essay by physicist and professor Wolfgang Pauli, who drew parallels with the world of quantum physics.

In the 1920s, Jung had acquired property in Bollingen, outside Zurich, and began to build a house there. The house had the shape of a tower. A first section was started in 1923, two months after his mother’s death, and after the death of his wife of 52 years in 1955, he added a final central portion. With this last section, which for Jung represented his own ego, he felt that the house was complete. He carved numerous alchemical and mystical symbols into the stone. The completion of his tower signified for him an extension of consciousness achieved in old age. The tower and its symbolic role in his life is a leitmotiv in Jung’s writings.

Jung believed in Reincarnation on the basis of dreams, though his ideas about it were influenced by the Tibetan Book of the Dead (BARDO THÖDOL). He believed his own present incarnation was not due to karma but to “a passionate drive for understanding in order to piece together mythic conceptions from the slender hints of the unknowable.” He feared greatly for the future of humankind. Our only salvation, he believed, lay in becoming more conscious of ourselves. He believed that his work proved the essence of God exists in everyone.

Three days before he died, Jung had the last of several visionary dreams, a portent of his own impending death. He dreamed that he had become whole. A significant symbol of wholeness, the alchemical symbol of completion, is tree roots interlaced with gold. When he died in Bollingen on June 6, 1961, a great storm arose in Lake Geneva and lightning struck his favourite tree.

Jungian principles have been found applicable not only to psychoanalysis but to academic disciplines from literature to religion to quantum physics, and to nearly all aspects of modern life. Jung’s prolific writings have been collected into 20 volumes plus a supplement. Selections have been published in a series of separate books, including Synchronicity (1973); Psychology and the Occult (1977); and Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Skies (1978).



  • Campbell, Joseph, ed. The Portable Jung. New York: Penguin, 1971.
  • Fodor, Nandor. Freud, Jung and the Occult. Secaucus, N.J.: University Books, 1971.
  • Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. Harper’s Encyclopedia of Mystical and Paranormal Experience. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991.
  • Jung, C. G. Memories, Dreams, Reflections. Recorded and edited by Aniela Jaffé. New York: Random House, 1961.
  • Jung, C. G. Psychology and the Occult. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1977.


The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits– Written by Rosemary Ellen Guiley – September 1, 2007

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