Saturday, July 1, 2017

When Jung and Ancient Egypt Made Freud Swoon

The psychic field between Freud and Jung was always highly charged, producing both paranormal and all-too-human phenomena. It was never more charged, perhaps than when Egyptian elements were also at play. Here is the story of how Freud fainted twice in public during conversations with Jung that involved Egyptian themes - mummification and the psychology of Akhenaten.

Bremen, August, 1909

The young Jung takes Freud and Sandor Ferenczi, who will sail with them to New York, to visit Bremen cathedral. The lead cellar and crypt are a grisly chamber of curiosities. Centuries earlier, a workman fell from the roof and when his body was discovered years later in the cellar, it had been preserved like a mummy. Corpses of birds were in the same condition. It became a strange fashion for wealthy burghers of Bremen to have themselves buried in the lead cellar, wishing for the same effect.
     After inspecting the mummies of Bremen, the three psychologists lunch at one of the best restaurants in the city. Jung compares the Bremen mummies to the bodies found in peat bogs in northern Europe that were similarly preserved. Wine flows. Freud becomes noticeably tetchy. Finally he yells at Jung, repeatedly, "Why do you keep talking about these corpses?" Then he faints at the table. Jung picks him up and carries him to another room.
     Freud later told Jung that "all this chatter about corpses" meant that Jung harbored "death wishes" towards him. The incident is still very curious indeed, since Freud was generally an enthusiast for mummies. He took pains to acquire painted Egyptian mummy bandages and mummy cases for his immense private collection of ancient sacred art, much of which came (via dealers and patrons) from tomb robbers.

Munich, November 1912. 

Freud and Jung are at a conference. Tension between them has been running high. Freud resents the younger man's entry into the field of the psychology of religion, where he would like to reign supreme. Jung has been less and less inclined to yield authority to Freud as the father figure he formerly declared him to be. He is steadily chipping away at Freud's most important theories.
    They leave the conference crowd to take a long walk. Maybe their relationship can be repaired. It started out with such a deep sense of affinity that on their first meeting, they talked for thirteen hours. Until recently, Freud regarded Jung as his heir and successor. During the walk, Jung apologizes to Freud for various "mistakes" that hurt his mentor's feelings. They go in to lunch apparently reconciled.      

      The conferees discuss a paper by Karl Abraham on Akhenaten, the pharaoh who tried to abolish the worship of the many gods of Egypt in favor of a single, abstract God represented by the Aten, or sun disk. Abraham's argument, very much in line with Freud's way of thinking, proposed that it was Akhenaten's "father complex" that gave rise to his monotheism. He founded a religion in order to bring down his father, the luxury-loving polytheist Amenophis III. He took pleasure in effacing the images of the god Amon from inscriptions because this was part of his father's name. 
    This approach profoundly dissatisfied Jung, who had recently written in
 Symbols of Transformation that Akhenaten was "a profoundly religious person whose acts could not be explained by personal resistance to his father." Freud is deeply disturbed by the gathering debate about a pharaoh and the origins of religion. Suddenly he swoons at the table, in front of all the analysts. Once again, Jung catches him up in his arms and carries him to a private space to recover.

    Perhaps there was an element of presentiment in Freud's swoon at the Munich conference. His last major work, the brilliant but deeply flawed Moses and Monotheism, was an attempt to attribute the rise of monotheism to Akhenaten, and analyze the founder. This book caused him immense frustration and self-doubt and he took to referring to it as his "historical novel."

    Both Freud and Jung knew that fainting can be a defensive mechanism. Though I do not know of any record of Jung swooning in front of others as a man, he did this as a boy in order to get out of going to school in a period when he was being bullied.
    Freud's fainting acts bring into clear focus the tremendous energy generated between the aging master and the increasingly reluctant acolyte. The emotional and psychic field between them was always highly charged. This came to a head in a different way on the night when they were discussing the occult in Freud's study. Freud kept rejecting Jung's examples of paranormal phenomena, indicating that he regarded them as mere "spookery". Jung tried to withhold an angry response. As he held himself in, he felt odd sensations in his body, "as if my diaphragm were made of iron and becoming red hot". The next moment, there was the sound of a loud crash from Freud's bookcase. Freud jumped up to examine it. Jung told him to wait a moment, there would be a second crash. And there was.
    Jung suggested that the crashes were the work of a poltergeist. Freud suspected that Jung may have tried to conjure such a force to prove his theories of the occult. After Jung left, he tried to summon the poltergeist himself, without success. 

It is hard to overstate the importance of the Egyptian current in the fainting spells, especially when conscious that Egyptian images were dominant in Freud's vast collection of "ancient and grubby gods" (as he once called them). He kept a bronze head of Osiris on his desk, and rubbed it from time to time. He told H.D. that he called it the Answerer, because it gave him answers, even lacking the jeweled eyes that tomb robbers had removed from the sockets.

Image: Akhenaten, the "heretic pharaoh" Freud depicted in his book Moses and Monotheism as the founder of monotheism.

We'll learn from Jung in my new online training The Dreamer's School of Soul. Then in December at magical Mosswood Hollow we'll spend a whole weekend "Dreaming with Jung."

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