The Power of Synchronicity (“Mind-Releasing & Community-Building”)

When Swiss psychiatrist C.G. Jung wrote his 1952 essay “Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle” he provided several examples of the experiences he called synchronicities. Sometimes also referred to as “meaningful coincidence” or “acausal parallelism” synchronicity generally involves three ingredients: a) an individual’s inner psychic state which is then unexpectedly mirrored by, b), an external physical event in such a way that, c), a numinous, i.e. spiritual or religious feeling is produced. In last week’s post, the inner psychic state took the form of a dream symbol which was mirrored by a matching tattoo in the external world. The dreamer’s incredulous reaction and instantaneous need to know more about the tattoo is typical of the numinosity created by synchronistic events.

One of the best known examples of synchronicity which Jung included in his essay and indeed which initially spurred him to the exploration of the phenomenon closely resembles last week’s example in that it, too, was preceded by a dream. (Generally speaking, dreams and synchronicities occur separately from one another with greater frequency than they do as a tandem experience.) Here is Jung’s description of what happened:

“My example concerns a young woman patient who, in spite of efforts made on both sides, proved to be psychologically inaccessible. The difficulty lay in the fact that she always knew better about everything. Her excellent education had provided her with a weapon ideally suited to this purpose, namely a highly polished Cartesian rationalism with an impeccably ‘geometrical’ idea of reality. After several fruitless attempts to sweeten her rationalism with a somewhat more human understanding, I had to confine myself to the hope that something unexpected and irrational would turn up, something that would burst the intellectual retort into which she had sealed herself.”

Now that he has set the scene, Jung continues to the moment when everything changed.

“Well, I was sitting opposite her one day, with my back to the window, listening to her flow of rhetoric. She had had an impressive dream the night before, in which someone had given her a golden scarab – a costly piece of jewelry. While she was telling me this dream, I heard something behind me gently tapping on the window. I turned round and saw that it was a fairly large flying insect that was knocking against the window-pane from outside in the obvious effort to get into the dark room. This seemed to me very strange. I opened the window immediately and caught the insect in the air as it flew in. It was a scarabeid beetle, or common rose-chafer (Cetonia aurata), whose gold-green colour most nearly resembles that of a golden scarab. I handed the beetle to my patient with the words, ‘Here is your scarab.’ This experience punctured the desired hole in her rationalism and broke the ice of her intellectual resistance. The treatment could now be continued with satisfactory results.”[1]

In short, the dream of the scarab was the inner psychic state which was in turn mirrored by an actual scarab flying into the room at just the right moment to effect a needed change in the patient. It may come as little surprise to readers that in Egyptian mythology the scarab was a symbol of rebirth. In Jung’s office the scarab once again served much the same function vis-à-vis his patient’s psychologically deadening “intellectual resistance.”

This last fact brings to mind another synchronicity-related observation from Marie-Louise von Franz, one of Jung’s most renowned colleagues, who commented on the “mind-releasing, community-building effect” synchronistic experiences invariably have on the people involved. The effect generated in last week’s synchronicity arguably leans more toward “community-building.” In contrast, this week’s scarab example suggests the “mind-releasing” possibilities of the phenomenon. [2]

Regardless of whether they foster “community-building,” “mind-releasing,” or a combination of the two, dreams and synchronicities are indeed powerful phenomena which potentially lead to psychological healing or rebirth if recognized, understood, and integrated by the individual dreamer or experiencer.


Next Monday: “The Royal Wedding”

[1] CW 8: 982. Italics added.

[2] Franz, Marie-Louise von. Number and Time: Reflections Leading Toward a Unification of Depth Psychology and Physics. Trans. Andrea Dykes. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern UP, 1974: 302. As a recent Mythfire post noted by way of an Albert Einstein quote, we so often give our intellect, or rationalistic faculty, a god-like preeminence. The above and earlier examples of dreams and synchronistic experiences, however, provide means by which the ego’s fearful and/or pathological grip on the psyche can be released.


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