Reply To: UFO: A Living Myth of Transformation,” with mythologist Norland Têllez”
Jung, UFOs, and the Mundus Imaginalis
I wrote this note a couple of years ago, the content of which I think is relevant to this thread. Recently, there have been more and more stories in the mainstream media about sightings of UFOs by US Navy pilots, some of which have been recorded on the aircrafts’ imaging devices. Unfortunately, the conversation about this subject quickly degrades into the profoundly unhealthy dichotomy of “are they real or not real.” The approach that Jung took with respect to this phenomena constitutes a middle way between real and not real that is ontologically justified.
Jung published Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Skies (in Collected Works, Volume 10) in 1958, one of his last works. In that work, Jung gave three categories of UFO experiences based on all of the data he had reviewed:
- Internal only (unconscious fantasy emerges about the UFO, possibly due to primary perception)
- External only (radar detection only but UFO invisible to the human eye)
- Internal/External (primary perception + radar/photograph corroboration of the UFO)
From this, he concluded in paragraph 591 that “something is seen, but one doesn’t know what.” That these experiences are tremendously important cannot be overstated. In paragraph 608, Jung wrote that the mass sightings and other experiences of UFOs indicates “a psychological situation common to all mankind” where its basis is “an emotional tension having its cause in a situation of collective distress or danger, or in a vital psychic need.” And, in paragraph 789, he writes “The psychic situation of mankind and the UFO phenomenon as a physical reality bear no recognizable causal relationship to one another, but they seem to coincide in a meaningful manner.”
The question is how can one look at the UFO phenomenon in such a way that intelligent and meaningful dialogue can occur. Jung’s work in active imagination, alchemy, synchronicity, and his use of depth psychological amplification and analysis of the UFO experience data gives us a way to do that.
In Psychoid, Psychophysical, P-subtle! Alchemy and a New Worldview by Dr Veronica Goodchild, she describes a psychic realm that lies in between psyche and matter accessible by the imagination, the vehicle used by Jung in his experiments with the unconscious resulting in Red Book and which was used by the alchemists in their opus. This realm goes by a number of different names – the unity of the psychophysical background world, the unus mundus, and the mundus imaginalis (from Dr. Henry Corbin’s Mundus Imaginalis or the Imaginary and the Imaginal) to name a few. This is the realm of the subtle bodies with which Jung interacted in the Red Book. Crucially, this realm is argued to be ontologically real by Dr. Corbin instead of just metaphorical and symbolic.
It’s important to note that Jung himself saw the process of individuation as creating the subtle body, one made of matter and spirit and which overcomes the split between body and psyche. Dr. Goodchild writes “individuation is the creation of this subtle body … here in this life.” This subtle body was “thought to survive physical death, and it would be the body—a kind of psychic body that nevertheless had ‘substance’ and contained your essence, or quintessence … that you would take with you when you sloughed off your earthly form.”
Instead of seeing the UFO phenomenon via the dichotomy of real or not real, we can, instead, see it as a manifestation of this in-between realm. And, instead of expending massive amounts of energy trying to answer this question of real/not-real, we can try to understand what such experiences mean. To do this, we can employ the methods available to us in depth psychology when working with the manifestations of the unconscious. This is what Jung did in his essay on UFOs – he looked at the experiences of UFOs in dreams, art, and real life through a depth psychological lens and tried to find its underlying meaning. This, in my opinion, can be an approach which can lead to intelligent and meaningful dialogue. For, far more important than whether UFOs are real or not real is what these experiences are trying to tell us about the psychic situation of human beings.
An illustration of this last point is in order, but it comes from outside the field of depth psychology. The late Dr. John Mack was head of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School (he later collaborated with Dr. Goodchild in a number of areas including UFOs). He was asked by a friend to look into the experiences of those who claimed to have been repeatedly abducted by aliens. In all, he worked with 200+ such cases, recording their experiences as carefully as he could and then analyzing the complete corpus of information. It should be noted that many of those experiencers were so traumatized by their ordeal that they required hypnosis to aid in their conscious recall of their experiences.
From these records, Dr. Mack was able to piece together a larger pattern which he called the “Alien Abduction Phenomenon.” Though these 200+ experiencers did not know one another, their descriptions in a number of areas were mutually corroborative. But, one part of their experience seems to me to be absolutely critical and may give us clues about the psychic situation of human beings. The experiencers state that one part of their experience was where the aliens show them two images side-by-side. The first image is of Earth as it was very long ago. The second image is of Earth as it is now. The sight of this is so profoundly disturbing to them that some have dedicated their lives toward improving this planet. Perhaps this is part of the psychic situation of human beings we urgently need to become aware of.