The Beatrice Interview

Richard Noll

"These guys were aware of the dynamics. They were Freud and Jung, right?"

interviewed by Ron Hogan

Considering that Jungian analysts have been dogging him at book signings and on radio call-in shows, Richard Noll is in a pretty good mood when I meet him for lunch at the Fairmont, an ironic sarcasm underlining many of his remarks. For hundreds of believers in Carl Jung, however, Richard Noll's work is no laughing matter. In 1994, Princeton University Press published The Jung Cult, a look at the occultist and spiritualist origins of many of Jung's key theories, including racial memories and the collective unconscious. It placed Jung squarely in the context of a Aryan cultural movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries -- the same cultural context, complete with notions of the superiority of Aryan culture and the inferiority of Jews, that inspired Hitler and the Nazis. In his latest book, The Aryan Christ, Noll continues the critical look at Jung's teachings, building a persuasive argument that Jung is more properly seen not as a psychological pioneer but as the charismatic leader of a religious cult. Elements of Jung's theories lie at the basis of much of contemporary "New Age" thinking; Noll reveals the extent to which Jung himself was an active participant in an earlier New Age that isn't much different than today's version.

RH: OK, imagine a sliding scale. At one end, you have William James and Sigmund Freud. At the other end, you've got L. Ron Hubbard and Jim Jones. Where do you want to put Jung?

RN: Well, I'd move Freud a little bit further away from James, but yeah, Jung's is much closer to L. Ron Hubbard than he is to Freud or James, no question about it, especially after 1916. Jung was a famous research scientist at the age of 31, more famous than Freud when the two of them met, and he just chucked all that for the idea of the collective unconscious. He claimed that you can get racial memories from your ancestors, and that you can enter into visionary states and talk to your ancestors. You can't really look at his psychology or his techniques without looking at occultism and spiritualism.

RH: Some of the stuff that comes up in this book is almost perversely fascinating, like Jung's belief that he was the manifestation of a lion-headed god.

RN: It's wild stuff. That's why I argue that, especially after his break with Freud, Jung was basically setting up his own religious movement. Analysis became an initiation into mysteries, teaching people to speak to the dead and to the gods. And if you look at Jungians today, what are they doing? It's a lot of the same stuff. Many people, including Jungian analysts, are attracted to Jung's thoughts because they want that spiritual big bang.

RH: The break with Freud is interesting in that you present evidence that suggests Jung created the situation himself, seeing Freud as a mentor on whom he had, in his own words, a 'religious crush' he would have to disavow, and that Freud recognized what Jung was doing and told him so.

RN: The relationship between Freud and Jung is one of the great love stories of the 20th century. If you read their letters to one another, there were times they were really obsessed with each other. They would meet someplace, then they'd part, and one of them would write, "Now when I walk the streets, everywhere I think I see you." These guys were aware of the dynamics. They were Freud and Jung, they'd better know what was going on, right? And we all know that true love is an impossible fantasy. It's doomed to fail, and that's what happened to them.

RH: One of the key components of Jung's cult is the notion of polygamy.

RN: That probably attracted a lot of men to the cult in the early days, but to put it in context, there was a lot of experimentation going on in that culture at that time. It was a sexual revolution in which Jung participated and he was able to rationalize his participation by his belief that Judeo-Christian civilization, particularly monotheism, was repressive. It harmed the soul. One way to get back into the instinctual, creative self of our ancestors was to practice polygamy like they did. You find echoes of this today in modern evolutionary psychology, actually, this idea that for the majority of humanity's existence, we didn't live in cities with social codes and laws, but in small polygamous bands. The argument continues, and Jung argued back then, that we're biologically primed for polygamy and that civilization is unnatural.

RH: Did anybody reach the explicit conclusion that it was the Aryan's responsibility to practice polygamy in order to procreate as often as possible?

RN: A lot of literature of that sort exists, written in German -- which is why many Jungians argue against me; they don't know German, they're not scholars, so they claim I'm simply making these documents up. But the Aryan mystical literature talks explicitly about this stuff. The National Socialist took an existing Aryan spiritualist movement and adopted its symbols to their political movement. And look at what the SS did during the Nazi period; they were creating breeding farms where Aryan women were expected to go and be impregnated by as many Aryan men as possible.

RH: I want to get back to the Nazis, but let's stick with polygamy for a second. Obviously, it's a facet of Jung's teachings that attracted men to the cult, but Jung was highly competitive and didn't like having other men around that much. Meanwhile, he cultivated intimate relationships with his female devotees.

RN: His most prominent 'patients' tended to be wealthy Americans. He attracted a lot of women from that crowd who were lonely, who were either unhappy in their marriages or had never been married. They were often frustrated sexually, intellectually, and emotionally. And Jung was a physically striking man who gave off a lot of charismatic energy. He was 'sensitive' with them, in that he knew how to speak spiritual language to them in such a way that it was sexually seductive. That got a lot of women fixated on him.

RH: I loved the way you phrased your description of Jung's relationship to anti-Semitism, saying that some of his statements "weren't entirely inconsistent" with anti-Semitic rhetoric.

RN: It's not a black and white issue. All you can do is gather evidence and see what picture emerges. The best I can do is document his statements. And the definition of "anti-Semitism" isn't the same for everybody. To some people, it applies to anybody who expresses a bigoted opinion about Jews. OK, Jung's on record several times. But for some people, you also have to act on those opinions. The only evidence I can find that Jung did so is that for years he kept Jews out of his inner circle, and when he finally did admit them in the late 1920s, they were not observant. Also, in 1989, it was revealed that a secret Jewish quota existed in his pyschological society in Zurich. That certainly doesn't look good. And when Jews were leaving Germany for England and other locations, Jung advised his followers in England to keep up their "negative feelings" about Jews and resist allowing Jews into their groups.

You could argue that he was simply psychologizing the situation and warning his followers to beware of their 'shadow selves.' Jung would psychologize everything, including political situations, and one of the ways he viewed the rise of the Nazis is that "after the darkness comes the light." He felt that things needed to be shaken up before rebirth could occur. Well, that's great for some people, but not for others. Apparently that never crossed his mind.

RH: Another thing that never crossed his mind is 'cryptomnesia,' or 'hidden memories.' He never seems to have considered the possibility that his visions of being a lion-headed Christ might have something to do with the books he'd read.

RN: And I know what he was reading then. For nine years, Jung built his career as an experimental psychologist on examining the human memory. He proved to himself in experiment time and again that we continually distort our memories, that we unconsciously plagiarize at times. He showed repeatedly that people could forget that they had been exposed to materials, then have elements of those materials appear in their consciousness or dreams and feel 'new.' It happens all the time, like when George Harrison didn't realize that the melody to "My Sweet Lord" was the same as "He's So Fine."

So Jung, who's read extensively in spiritualist and occultist texts, documents this memory process at length, and then in December 1913 he has an experience in which he becomes a lion-headed god. That was such a transformative experience for him that within months he's developed a theory about cosmic and archetypal forces that influence everyone. Then he surrounded himself with patients who had been steeped in spiritualism, Theosophy, and other forms of occultism. They're drawn to Jung because they know he's into occultism as well. And when they have dreams with occultist imagery in them, Jung thinks this is direct evidence of a collective unconscious outside the realm of their personal experiences. He was participating with these people in a shared delusion; it's such a massive error in his logic.

RH: It's amazing to me how little Jungians know or are willing to know about the origins of Jungian teachings, and how much of a personal affront they consider it when people like you so much as raise the issues.

RN: That's disturbing. I once thought that the whole Jungian, psychoanalytic thing was about consciousness, you know, facing up to stuff that might be disturbing. So when I bring stuff up, and Jungians respond by ignoring it, refusing to read it, or claiming that it's untrue, it's kind of sad to see that kind of irrational response, but it's also telling.

RH: And you're not even saying that polygamous occultism is necessarily a bad thing.

RN: No, I'm not, but that's what they're hearing. I just want them to accept that that's the foundation of their beliefs. I'm open to all sorts of things as long as we're all clear about what those things are. There is no scientific evidence to support the collective unconscious, yet analysts with medical degrees claim to help their patients to tap into it. As a society, do we want medical insurance to cover that sort of thing? Where's the line between religion and medicine? Sometimes I feel like the Ralph Nader of the Jungian world, but I've seen so many people who have been harmed by this, people who need to have their screws tightened rather than loosened. And in Jungian circles, critical thinking is looked down upon. It's devalued in favor of emotion or intuition. That bothers me, as does the idea that myth and the emotional response to myth is more important to historical facts. To Jung, it didn't matter whether or not a story was true. What mattered was the effect on the listener, how it makes him or her feel.

RH: We've seen that attitude gain in popularity in the last decade or so, and I believe we can pin it down to a very specific moment: Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers on PBS.

RN: You're absolutely right. That did more to promote Jungian thought than anything during that period. Campbell was charismatic, he was great on TV, and what he was spouting was pure Jung.

RH: And Moyers has run with that ball ever since. In 1996, it was "Let's do a series about Genesis, and our need for origin myths!"

RN: I'd like to see somebody do a series on the need for critical thinking and skepticism. Carl Sagan nailed it pretty well in The Demon-Haunted World, and although he could be too smug at times, he addressed the issues straight on and his 'baloney detection kit,' a guide to critical thinking, is something I'm going to use in my classes when these issues come up. People forget that it's okay to think, to analyze situations, and they need to be reminded more often.

BEATRICE Suggested further reading
Bram Dijkstra | Margaret Wertheim

All materials copyright © 1997 Ron Hogan