Encountering the I Ching


Michael Graeme

From story writing, to Carl Jung and the I Ching.

An account of the author's introduction to this remarkable, and most ancient of books.

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Encountering the I Ching


Michael Graeme


1) Starting to write.

2) Writing as a form of self exploration.

3) Carl Jung and the Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious.

4) Discovering the archetypes in my own work.

5) Encountering the I Ching.

6) Synchronicity and the Mechanism of the I Ching.

7) Statistical investigation of the I Ching.

8) Dealing with the sceptics and the believers.

9) Author's note regarding translations of the I Ching.

10) Postscript regarding Carl Jung and the Nazis


1) Starting to write

When I began writing, in my early twenties, it was because I wanted to be famous. I thought I wanted to capture in my work the essence of something so profound it would set the world on fire and ensure my name went down in history. Such is the innocence of youth! Well, I'm in my forties now with several novels behind me, all of them unpublished. There are also many short stories, vignettes, sketches, outlines, essays like this one,... stories that began but never progressed, stories that began and just went on too long,... altogether many hundreds of thousands of words, but the situation is by now overwhelmingly obvious: I'm never going to make my living as a writer.

But then I don't need to. I've always been able to make a decent living doing something else, so why bother writing at all? Well, I believe my persistance underlines the real reason most writers write. Quite simply, they write because they are compelled to. It's just that a lucky few get to make a fortune at it as well. The vast majority of us work in relative obscurity.

These days, I rarely ever submit work to the printed press. I still write and I keep a little known web site going for the ten or so people who drop by each week, but for me writing has begun to evolve more into an exploration of ideas, a means of experimenting with the nature of reality through the medium of fantasy, the medium of thought.

The characters who crop up in my stories are like the different sides of me, characters who act, speak or argue with one another, each from their own point of view, so moving forward a notion, or dismissing it as rubbish. The process is a fascination, and occasionally a revelation in it's own right. It's introspective, unmarketable, perhaps even a little self indulgent, but it's also personally satisfying in a way I've only recently begun to appreciate.

2) Writing as a form of self exploration

Writing is nowadays less about naive ambitions of literary stardom, and is instead more of a vehicle for exploring the nature of reality, including that terribly fuzzy idea of the self.

Now, the "self" is a dangerous word, a word much loved by psychobabblers and all sorts of people whose grip on reality seems rather tenuous. Personally, I like to think of the "self" simply as what lies beyond the horizon of our conscious awareness.

It is a strange and exotic land, like in olden times, a place of legend. Its very existence is disputed, and those who claim to have been there don't always appear sane enough to be capable of reliable testimony. So, for the amateur explorer, if he's to make any sense of things, he needs to study the maps left by those who say they've been before, but he must also pick his way carefully because once we pass beyond the bounds of what is known, we can fall prey to all manner of delusion.

Now, anyone who follows this particular route will encounter works of philosophy, psychology and religion. And if one is largely agnostic in matters of religion, yet plagued by a nagging spiritual need that, in spite of our best efforts will simply not go away, one will eventually be drawn to the works of Carl Jung.

3) Carl Jung and the Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious.

Carl Jung (1875-1961)was one of the leading psychoanalysts of his time and so seems eminently qualified to comment on matters of the "self". Perhaps his most defining thesis was the idea that consciousness operates on three levels. Jung believed there is our everyday consciousness, then a personal unconscious that is unique to all of us. But there is also a third level - what he called the collective unconscious,which lies much deeper and consists of archetypal ideas that are inborn - we inherit them, but not in the same way we would inherit for example blonde hair or long fingers from our parents, because the archetypes rely not so much on the psychological nature of our parents but of the whole of mankind regardless of race, creed or culture.

In the collective unconscious we are all the same and have been since the dawn of time. Now, this is a controvertial idea, thus far unproven and one I have to say that is not widely accepted. Critics have even suggested that in orer to come up with such an idea Jung himself must have been delusional.

Proof of the existance of a collective unconscious, said Jung, lies in the fact that the so called archetypes are common across all cultures and manifest themselves as particular characters in literature and folklore, or as particular symbols and patterns of belief. So, stories told in Western Europe for example feature the same basic types of character as stories told in China or the Bolivian jungle, even though these cultures remained isolated from one another until relatively recent times, and so were unable to swap stories.

Now, I'm not qualified to comment on psychological theories, but I do know a thing or two about writing stories. Stories are peculiar things. They are a lie. They are the account of an event that did not happen, a tale of characters who were never born, but this is okay because everyone knows and we are happy to participate in the lie because of what we get out of the story. And what we get is emotional engagement,... not with the writer, who merely acts as a sort of conduit, but with the imaginary goings on of the story. These goings on are conceived in the writer's imagination, which has its roots in his unconscious, and if a story is to work it must achieve a certain resonance in the readers' mind, rather like the wind blowing over the neck of a bottle.

But how can the writer bring this about when his readers are complete strangers to him? Well, if Jung is correct then both reader and writer share the same pool of unconscious archetypes, and a good writer is one who plays these archetypes in an effective way, a way that achieves resonance in the reader's mind.

4) Finding Jung's archetypes in my own work

Looking back over my own work, I realised certain types of character were cropping up repeatedly in different stories. There were wise old men, there were well meaning knucklheads who had no idea what was going on. There were mysterious women who I now recognise as the archetype that Jung called the anima (my female alter ego).

Now I'm not saying I play these characters particularly well, only that they do seem to exist, and because I could point to them in my own work I needed less persuading of their existence than perhaps someone who is less familiar with the process of story writing. The archetypes it seems are indeed an unconscious phenomenon and they are not my personal property - others have been feeling their presence ever since men first sat around a fire and told stories.

To me, Jung had hit the nail on the head and because of this I was receptive to other aspects of his work. I began to read more about his ideas, to explore his writings. And anyone who explores the writing of Carl Jung will sooner or later encounter the I Ching.

5) Encountering the I Ching

I came across it in a publisher's clearance bookshop and would not have given it a second glance had it not been for the subtitle: "Foreword by Carl Jung". That one simple link, sparked by my interest in Jung's ideas was to result in a period of intense study of the I Ching - its history, it's methodology and it's astonishing potential. Then followed an attempt to establish at least in my own mind whether or not the claims made for I Ching were actually true.

The I Ching is a very old book. We can trace it's origins back fairly accurately some 3000 years to ancient China. It first came to the attention of the Western world in relatively recent times when a translation of it appeared in the works of James Legge, a 19th century Christian missionary, but perhaps the most famous translation was that made by the 20th century German missionary Richard Wilhelm. Published in English in 1950, it has existed quietly in the background of western life ever since.

Both translations are much respected but the essential difference between their author's is that while Legge was a faithful translator, he did not believe in the I Ching. Wilhelm on the other hand did. And, perhaps more significantly for me, so did Carl Jung, who even used it in his therapies.

The I Ching has been described as an oracle, as a means of telling the future, all things that sounded fairly suspect to me but, as I discovered, to label the I Ching as a means of telling one's fortune, is something of an oversimplification.

We all have it in us to predict some aspects of the future from our understanding of the natural cycles in nature. For example, as I write, the oak tree across the meadow from my house stands bare and black against a winter sky, but I know it will bear leaf again in the spring. It's more or less certain, obviously, because I understand the natural cycle of the seasons. Well, the I Ching works along similar lines. It's just that the cycles it works with are said to be much deeper that we normally perceive.

We use it to assess a situation that may be troubling us and then, based upon a reading of the forces at play, the I Ching will tell us what's likely to happen and how we should position ourselves to the best advantage. But of course, for it to do this, the I Ching has to know what we're thinking, which suggests a link between "it" and the mind of the person who is asking the question.

Now, I've never had much time for this sort of thing, and being a rationally minded chap with some training in the physical sciences, my relationship with the I Ching was never going to be an easy one. Indeed my immediate instinct was to label it as pseudo science, or meaningless mysticism. But then I began to study the Wilhelm translation and to my surprise the I Ching read, not like the pages of a horoscope, nor the glib text of a fortune cookie, but as a philosophy of life. It made sense and in spite of myself, it struck several chords.

Carl Jung, who was Wilhelm's friend, was so taken up with it, he wrote the foreword to the original translation. He swore by its effectiveness and encouraged his patients to use it as a psychological tool for exploring their own unconscious. Perhaps inevitably though he often found himself defending the I Ching against the disparaging views of the scientific community, including those of his one time friend and mentor Sigmund Freud, who often despaired at Jung's forays into what he called the "black tide of occultism".

Such criticism once led Jung to advise a correspondent against the setting up of an I Ching Institute, suggesting: "that in order to avoid the disatrous prejudice of the western mind, the matter would have to be introduced under the cloak of science."

If you are a scientist, you have a strictly rational approach to life, you question everything and you rely on the probing narrowness of fact in order to reliably advance your understanding of something. It's a good system and slowly but surely it's brought us out of the dark ages to where we are now, typing missives onto this barely imaginable thing called the internet and launching probes into outer space. If on the other hand you are religious, you take comfort in what is essentially a set of dogmatic axioms and you have faith that something is the way you have been told it is by those who have gone before you. You don't need proof of the existence of a supernatural being or force. You can simply accept it.

Those two views of our world are seemingly irreconcilable. The I Ching, however straddles this divide. It isn't really so much the cornerstone of a faith, like the Bible for example, or the Koran, more the cornerstone of a philosophy, a depiction simply of the way things are. And it goes one stage further than religion or science, in that it calims to grant the user a very tangible link with mysterious forces beyond our underderstanding. By so doing it offends the sensibilities of both science and religion, the latter dismissing it as the work of the devil and the former as superstitious mumbo jumbo. Either way, it cannot possibly work.

To the devotee, however, proof of the I Ching, lies not in the mathematics of science nor the testimony of religion but simply in its application. You have only to use it, they say, to discover that it works.

6) Synchronicity and the Mechanism of the I Ching

I won't go into too much detail about how the I Ching works. If your're reading this you're likely to be aware already of the large number of websites on this subject and if you want more specific detail I suggest you look at some of these. (see later references)

Basically, the I Ching is divided into 64 chapters, each one drawing upon a particular theme, or aspect of life. By various random means such as tossing coins and noting how they fall, or the repeated division of a bunch of yarrow stalks, we are directed to a particular chapter that's supposedly related to our query. Then we sift the words for personal meaning.

Now, by all rational analysis this can be nothing more than a random process, but to the devotee it is a means of gauging the status of events, the changing flux of the energy patterns pertaining to your situation. The chapter you are directed to will, it is said, describe that situation, point out the way things are going, and suggest the wisest course of action so that you can take advantage of the likely outcome.

The language of the I Ching is poetic and a little obscure to the layman, so full translations include an explanatory text which itself draws upon the original commentaries added by the Chinese philosopher Confucius. The idea is that without too much effort, a little reasoning can yield pertinent and specific information that will help you think through any situation.

Now this is supposed to work precisely because of the random nature of the mechanism. Jung coined the term synchronicity which essentially boils down to the notion that some coincidences can be meaningful. It's a bit like thinking of a friend for no apparent reason and then bumping into them a moment later. Jung would have put that down to synchronicity, and in a similar way, by thinking about our query we allegedly have an effect on the outcome of the tossed coins.

This is the hardest part for any rationally minded person to accept, because if you ask the same question twice, you're going to get a different answer each time. Therefore, if you don't like the first answer, or you don't understand it, you can simply keep on asking until you get the one you want, or one that you do understand.

Now so far I've straddled the fence, coming down neither on the side of the skeptics, nor the devotees, but if you were to ask me outright in my own experience does the I Ching work, then I would have to say that more often than not, yes, it does work.

7) Statistical investigation of the I Ching

My early experience with the I Ching yielded some suprisingly pertinant answers but I was still inclined to believe this was due to its language being sufficiently "loose" to enable it be applicable to a wide range of situations, that it was possible to get a good answer regardless of the question, that there were no synchronistic forces at play.

I was also fairly sure I could prove it by a simple statistical analysis but I was wrong and instead my analysis, carried out over a period of four months, pointed in entirely the opposite direction and I'm now convinced something intriguing is going on.

I keep a journal in which I record questions that I put to the I Ching, and the corresponding answers. After some 200 entries, I began to study the results. First of all, I looked at how often particular anwers were repeated. Some answers came up as many as 11 times, while others only came up only once. On the face of it, this might seem curious, but the distribution of frequencies (the number of times each answer came up) was in fact quite normal. It was easy to confirm this by generating 200 numbers between 1 and 64 randomly by a computer program, and comparing the statistics. The mean values and the standard deviations for each group were almost identical

At a first glance then, there didn't appear to be anything odd, but this wasn't a very good test for trying to establish evidence of "intelligence" or some other force influencing the responses of the I Ching. If the questions you ask are fairly random in their nature, then the responses will be correspondingly random.

It proved nothing either way.

What was intriguing though was not so much the frequency of the repeating hexagrams, but the chronological pattern of the answers I was getting.

I have to be honest here: the I Ching dosen't work every time. From my experience with it I know I can expect, on average, between 5 and 6 out of every 10 oracles to be meaningful. The rest will be meaningless, no matter how hard I try to twist the language.

This can mean one of two things:

1) The I ching is written in a sufficiently vague way to yield a meaningful result 50 to 60% of the time.


2) I am only sufficiently receptive to "connect" with the I Ching 50 - 60% of the time. (ie you have to be in the right frame of mind for it to work properly)

Option (1) would indicate no "supernatural" or "psychological" influences are at work. But option (2), if it could be proven, would indeed establish some sort of link between the User and the Oracle.

Taking the first 100 oracles as a sample, it struck me that the meaningful answers seemed to come in good patches, as if on a particular day I was in a better frame of mind. Then there would follow a run of bad or confusing oracles.

If the run of answers were indeed being influenced by such psychological conditions, then I reasoned it should be easy to establish through a fairly simple statistical analysis of the frequencies of good and bad answers. As an example of what I mean, if we let the number "1" represent a good answer and "0" represent a bad, or confused answer then, taken over a period of time, a string of responses recorded like this:


would tell us that we're probably drawing good and bad answers on a fairly random and probably meaningless basis.

But a string of answers recorded like this:


reveals an obvious pattern and suggests that more is going on than can easily be explained by chance.

A study of my journal indeed revealed such a pattern. It was not as clear cut as in the above example, and required some analysis to establish that there was only a 1 in 160 chance that the sequence of the first 100 responses I got was random in nature.

It was unlikely, but within the bounds of probability - just about.

Then I repeated the analysis with the second 100 responses. A similar pattern emerged, even more striking this time and analysis showed only a 1 in 225 chance that it had been randomly generated.

To my mind this was fairly convincing evidence in favour of the I Ching. But then I realised there was one weakness in the argument:

Certainly something was influencing the pattern of good and bad answers, but was it psychological in the Jungian, Syncronistic sense, or did my periods of waxing and waning receptiveness amount to little more than a varying degree of willingness or patience to wrestle with the language, or to spot the metaphors. This would still count as a psychological "effect", but it would be entirely of my own making, and certainly not evidence of an unconcious syncronistic connection.

Could such a thing explain the patterns I'd seen?

I looked again at those first 100 responses. I took each answer and added 10 to the number of the hexagram I'd been given in response. So if for example I'd been given hexagram 8 as a response, I turned this into hexagram 18. 51 became 61. When we got to 55, the period 10 "shift" wrapped around to the beginning and we got hexagram 1. 56 became 2, 64 became 10 etc.

In dong this I changed all the answers to truly arbitrary ones, eliminating the possibility of any syncronistic forces coming into play and influencing the answers. Thus, by all rational analysis if the answers had been truly intelligent in the first place, this "effect" should have been destroyed. Then, by studying the "fake" hexagrams I could generate a further pattern of anwers which would either have a random sequence, or a non random sequence.

But what would this tell me?

Well, a random sequence would confirm there had indeed initially been an intelligent pattern to the answers, and that by an arbitrary shift, I had removed the synchronistic effect, and destroyed the pattern. This would provide fairly convincing evidence in favour of the I Ching.

Another non-random sequence would tell me that my attention, or my patience, had been waxing and waning again, producing patterns of good and bad answers from what were in fact arbitrary responses. This would not provide convincing evidence in favour of the I Ching and, after putting so much effort into studying it, I would probably have slung my copy in the bin.

But there was no pattern.

The string of responses from the bogus answers was as near as possible the average of what you would expect to get had the sequence been generated randomly. The arbitrary shift had removed the "intelligent" effect, therefore it seemed the answers had been intelligent in the first place!

Now, after the statistical work on those binary strings, I was fairly convinced in my own mind that something unusual was going on with the I Ching. For a time afterwards, I forgot about trying to experiment with it, posted the results on this page, and simply began using it. Then, some months later, I looked back through my journal and I noticed something very striking indeed had happened. Something even more convincing.

Between the 18th of June and the 7th of July 2003, I had carried on a fairly persistant line of inquiry, using the I Ching as a guide. I was interested in exploring man's spirituality, how this tied in with Carl Jung's ideas on the collective unconscious and also how this could be reconciled with the various religious beliefs on the subject of an afterlife or rebirth,... that sort of thing.

I did not repeatedly ask the same question. My own experience and the experience of others seems to be that the I Ching's answers to questions become increasingly opaque the more times a specific question is asked. What I was trying to do was to formulate questions in a direct response to the previous answer the I Ching gave. So it was more of an exploratory conversation on a partiular theme. In this way my impressions of the spiritual dimension - if there is one - grew in a partiular direction depending on whether or not the responses to my questions indicated I was getting "warmer" or "colder".

If I was completely wrong about something - say I suggested the universe was a balloon being blown out of the end of a giant elephant's trunk, then I might expect the I Ching to give me a negative response - I didn't actually ask this question of course because it's flippant and trivial and I would not have expected a decent answer. But I did ask other, more serious questions and recieved a number of negative rebuffs, which I took to indicate I was thinking about things the wrong way.

Now, there are a couple of hexagrams that might be used to suggest I was barking up the wrong tree, namely hexagram 12 which talks about things being out of accord with the real nature of things, or hexagram 38 which speaks of confronting opposition. There are others of course, but these are the main ones that spring to mind.

Looking back over that period between June 18 and July 7th , I counted a total of 55 questions and corresponding responses. Among those 55 responses, hexagram 12 appeared a total of 7 times.

Now, statisically speaking, the probability of getting hexagram 12 should be the same as getting any other hexagram, to be precise: 127 in 4032, which is very nearly 1 in 32. Why not 1 in 64? Well, each time we draw a hexagram, we often get what is called a changing line which gives us a second hexagram and this could be any one of the remining sixty three (because a hexagram cannot change into itself). So, at each consultation we in effect draw 2 hexagrams. Therefore the chances of getting a specific hexagram, say hexagram 12, are doubled to around 1 in 32. This is a best chance scenario, and assumes we get a changing line each time.

Now, if those are the natural odds then what are the chances of getting the same hexagram 7 times in 55 consultations? Well on average one would expect 55x1/32= 1.72 or in practical terms 1 or 2 occurences in 55. But 7? This was significantly above average and therefore an unlikely occurence. But how unlikely?

To analyse it statistically and to put a figure on it required a different approach to the one I'd used with the binary strings. I needed to dust off my old maths text books and look up a thing called the Poisson distribution.

The Poisson distribution is used for calculating the probabilities that an event is going to occur. More specifically if the mathematical probability of an event occuring is known, then the Poisson distribution can tell us how many times we might reasonably expect that event to occur in a certain sample size or over a certain number of trials.

Question: If there are sixty four marbles in a bag, one black and the remainder white, and we draw marbles out, one at a time, (putting them back after each go) and we do this 55 times, what are the chances of us drawing out the black marble seven times? - not seven times in a row but just seven times.

This is the sort of question the Poisson distribution can help us to answer.

The Poisson is actually an approximation of another distribution - the Binomial, but this can be a little unwieldy to work with. Provided we can meet certain conditions in our experiment, the Poisson is accurate for all practical purposes.

First, the probability, "p" of the event occuring has to be less than 0.1. In our case the probability is 1/32 = 0.0312 so this is okay. Second, the sample size, "n", or the number of hexagrams we draw has to be greater than 30. In our case it's 55 so again we're okay. Third, the expected average number of occurences, given by np, must be less than 5 and must remain contant throughout the experiment. In our case np= 0.031255 = 1.72, so again we meet the conditions.

For our purposes, the Poisson distribution boils down to an equation:

The probability "P" of getting precisely "x" number of hexagrams over "n" number of trials or consultations is: P = e^-l[(l^x)(x!)]

Where e is the base of natural logarithms (2.718)

l = np, or in our case 1.72. This is the average number of occurrences we might expect in our sample.

x is the actual number of occurences, in our case 7.

So the probability of getting 7 hexagram 12's out of 55 consultations is:

P = 2.718^-1.72(1.72^7/7!)

P = 0.179(44.53/5040) = 0.0016

A probability of 0.0016, or 0.16%, or around 1 in 625.

That's the same thing as having a bag of 625 marbles, one black the rest white and hoping to pick out the black marble on the first try, an event which, in all reasonable expectation, I'd say is unlikely. Except it happened,... and it happened I believe, because when consulting the I Ching, chance doesn't really come into it at all.

This was a significant conclusion for me, a practicing engineer, schooled in the unchanging and deterministic world of Newtonian mechanics. Quite a shattering view, because time and again the statistics were pointing to the validity of what in polite scientific circles is known as an "anomolous phenomenon" or in Freud's more direct, though rather more poetic language, "the black tide of occultism". But then even Newton, the father of all that is deterministic, was a bit of an alchemist on the quiet - perhaps there was more to this than a mere eccentric pastime.

Whichever way I look at it now, I know the I Ching works, just as people have been saying it works for thousands of years. I don't know how it works, but then as Jung said, the less we think about how the I Ching works, the more soundly we sleep.

8) Dealing with the sceptics and the believers

As one might expect there are a lot of Internet sites expounding the validity of the I Ching. If you study them you will find a lot of floaty, flowery, "spiritual guru" language which for the uninitiated is a little hard to grapple with, and prone to abuse by unscrupulous or merely ignorant people. Then there are hard headed secular sites that say it's a load of old rubbish, and there are fundamentalist religious sites that will condemn it as the work of the devil. But no one offers anything in the way of hard evidence to support their claims.

As for me, I've tried to walk the middle path here, keeping an open mind, and trying to use my rational abilities to identify the danger zones. But to skeptics, I have to say the devotees of the I Ching are right: it either works or it doesn't, and even my own most cursory of studies has thrown up some fairly convincing results, when to be perfectly honest, I hadn't expected to find anything.

Now, I'm not making any extravagant claims here. For my results to be valid the experiments would have to be repeated and the results verified by others. You'd also want to take a closer look at my interpretations of those hexagrams and I'm afraid I won't let you because some of the questions were very personal, and I'd be embarassed. In short, I could have made it all up.

So, as if to demonstrate the underlying principles of the I Ching, opinion is typically polarised - some people claiming one thing, others claiming the exact opposite. At such times, if a man is curious enough, then, like me, he really has no choice but to experience a thing at first hand, and draw conclusions based upon his own observations. There is no danger in this. You can forget your grandmother's warnings about dabbling with the occult and summoning up demons - the I Ching contains no demons, imagined or otherwise, and it makes no disturbing predictions of untimely death, nasty accident nor, unfortunately, lottery jackpots either - it simply isn't that sort of book.

If, after all this, you're curious about the I Ching, my only advice is to suspend disbelief for a moment, toss the coins and read what the book has to say. You may find it instructive, or you may find it unintelligible. Sometimes you'll get an answer that's so pertinent it will make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck. At other times you'll have to think about it,... but since when has thinking on a problem been such a bad thing anyway?

M. Graeme

January 2003


9 ) Author's note regarding translations of the I Ching

If you'd like to investigate the I Ching for yourself, I advise against any version other than a complete translation, such as the one by Richard Wilhelm and Cary F. Baines. Many slimmed down, cheaper versions have so trivialised the original as to render it about as glib and informative as reading one's horoscope from the daily paper. Also some popular versions, for the sake of economy, eliminate the essential commentaries, leaving the reader to grapple with the enigmatic language of the I Ching, and I suspect even someone who is adept at the Times Crossword would find it obscure.

Cary Baines' version is a direct translation of Richard Wilhem's book, which was a German translation from the original Chinese. Among devotees, Wilhelm is universally regarded as an honourable, reliable and authentic interface with pre-revolutionary China. His work also has the considerable advantage of Carl Jung's foreword, which serves as an excellent introduction to the book's use.

Other respected versions I have studied are those by Alfred Huang, (a fairly recent and direct translation from the Chinese into English) and Stephen Karcher who also provides a very comprehensive translation and interpretation. Depending on where you live, you may struggle to find copies in the shops but all these books are available from Amazon.

As for proving that it works, you have only your own experience to go by, but I recommend keeping a journal and noting down both the questions you put, and the answers you get.

I would be interested to hear what you discover.


11) Post script regarding Carl Jung and the Nazis

In studying the I Ching I was greatly influenced by the fact that a man as eminent as Carl Jung thought there was something in it. I'd previously read Jung's theories on the subconscious and was attracted to them. However, being merely a curious layman, I have only recently begun to appreciate the fundamental rift between Jung and his one time friend and mentor Sigmund Freud.

At the risk of oversimplifying things, this rift came about as a consequence of their differing views on the nature of the unconscious mind and why it can sometimes break down. Freud's view of the human psyche was essentially mechanistic - we are a biological machine and the brain operates on principles that can be explained in terms of chemistry and biology, both respectable avenues of scientific endeavour. He also believed that most of the problems one encounters are due the repression of unpleasant childhood memories, memories concerning some form of sexual trauma.

Jung's approach was more metaphysical. His ideas about synchronicity and levels of unconscious thought that exist independantly of our bodies, defy explanation in any known scientific terms. He believed Freud's emphasis on the sexual nature of repressed memories was too simplistic, and as his own ideas grew in stature, there came about an inevitable estrangement.

People have questioned the ideas of both men, indeed the whole field of psychoanalysis has its critics, but the move to discredit Jung seems particularly vehement and personally disparaging. A favourite approach of his most ardent critics, rather than argue against his work directly and constructively, is to describe him as a Nazi sympathiser and an anti Semite, so seeking, as if in some seedy courtroom manner, to disqualify his testimony by calling his character into question.

I first became aware of these views on a late night arts programme on TV towards the end of January 2003, while I was working on the above essay. On the programme, a very self assured and arty gentleman dismissed Jung in a single sentence by demonising him as, essentially, a Nazi stooge.

For a while my own faith in Jung was duly shattered, as was my respect for his ideas. Consequently my fascination with the I Ching was similarly soured. Jung was a Nazi? The Nazis had strange ideas! Surely anyone associated with Nazism could not be relied upon to provide sound counsel.


I've since read sufficiently to reassure myself that none of this is actually true, or at least it has been misinterpreted. Indeed such was Jung's affinity with the ideals of Nazism, his name was on their blacklist and they burned his books.

As for anti Semitism, this label does not fit well either with a man whose ideas were so open and wide ranging. The opinion of more learned Jungians and Jewish scholars is that his criticism of Freud's ideas was either misinterpreted or deliberately twisted to imply anti Semitism (Sigmund Freud was Jewish).

And, perhaps strangely, not all of Jung's ideas are rejected. Psychometric testing is very popular in the western business community as a means of picking people for particular roles, yet it is based entirely on Jung's theories of character types. So, the critics it seems are being somewhat selective in what aspects of his work they dismiss.

But this is a personal view and its not for me to argue the case between the ideas of Freud and Jung. Intuitively, however, I'm drawn to Jung, not only because of what I've observed in my own work as a writer of fiction, but also because for all of us as human beings, his is a view that seems, ultimately, the more optimistic. And if that sounds sentimental, I'm sorry but that's the way I am. As for the I Ching, I shall always be intrigued by its paradox, on the one hand unable to quite accept the mechanism by which it works, while on the other unable to dismiss the startling accuracy of the answers it gives.

M Graeme

May 2003


The I Ching: Wilhelm/Baynes.

The I Ching: Stephen Karcher.

The I Ching: Alfred Huang.

Introducing Jung: Maggie Hyde and Michael McGuinness.

The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious: C.G. Jung

Syncronicity - An Acausal Connecting Principle: C G. Jung

The Essential Jung: Anthony Storr

C.G Jung. - Memories, Dreams, Reflections: Aniela Jaff

Level III Engineering Mathematics - Greer and Taylor



Copyright M Graeme 2003