by Ray Grasse
December 24, 2015
The following is
excerpted from 'Under
A Sacred Sky - Essays on the Philosophy and
Practice of Astrology', recently
published by The Wessex Astrologer.
"Those who believe
that the world of being is
by luck or chance and that it
depends upon material causes
are far removed from the divine
and from the notion of the
Plotinus, Ennead VI.9
While preparing for his role in the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz,
Frank Morgan decided against
using the costume offered him by the studio for his role as the
traveling salesman Professor Marvel, opting instead to select his
own wardrobe for the part.
Searching through the racks of
second-hand clothes assembled over the years by the MGM wardrobe
department, he finally settled on an old frock coat that eventually
served as his costume during the movie's filming.
Passing the time one day, Morgan idly
turned out the inside of the coat's pocket only to discover the name
"L. Frank Baum" sewn into the jacket's lining.
As later investigation confirmed, the
jacket had originally been designed for the creator of the Oz story,
L. Frank Baum, and made its way through the years into the
collection of clothing on the MGM backlot.
Most of us have, at some point or another, experienced certain
unusual coincidences so startling they compel us to wonder
about their possible significance or purpose.
Do these strange occurrences
hold some deeper meaning for our lives?
Or are they simply chance
events, explainable through ordinary laws of probability, as
most scientists claim?
Among those who wrestled with these
questions was the famed Swiss psychologist Carl Jung.
Having experienced many such uncanny
events himself, he coined the term
synchronicity to describe the
Whereas some coincidences were indeed
without significance, he wrote, every so often there occurred
confluences of circumstance so improbable they hinted at a deeper
purpose or design in their unfolding. 1
To explain such phenomena, he theorized the existence of a principle
in nature very different from that normally described by
Whereas most visible phenomena in the
world seem to be related in a cause-and-effect manner, like billiard
balls bouncing into one another, synchronistic events appear to be "acausally"
related, as though linked by an underlying pattern rather
than by direct, linear forces.
For instance, the presence of Baum's coat on the film wasn't caused
by the making of the film, nor did the appearance of the coat
somehow cause the making of the film.
They simply were dual expressions of
the same unfolding matrix of meaning.
Jung went on to postulate two primary
kinds of acausal relationships:
Since it was first published in 1952,
Jung's concept has increasingly filtered into popular culture,
having found its way into the plot lines of TV shows, works of
pop-fiction like The Celestine Prophecy, and the lyrics of
rock groups like The Police.
In more scholarly quarters, there have
been attempts to shed light on this theory through classifying
various types of coincidence, scrutinizing it in terms of
statistical studies, or even explaining it through quantum physics.
The search continues.
In a letter to the late Victor
Mansfield, Jungian disciple Marie-Louise von Franz wrote
towards the end of her life:
The work which has now to be done is
to work out the concept of synchronicity. I don't know the
people who will continue it. They must exist, but I don't know
where they are. 2
So what, ultimately, is the message of
synchronicity, and how shall we best unlock its significance?
What I'd like to suggest here is the possibility that understanding
synchronicity may require nothing less than a radically different
cosmology than we're accustomed to, one with roots in a very ancient
way of thinking - and one in which Jung's "meaningful coincidence"
actually plays only a small part.
Let me explain.
Most of us are familiar with the well-known parable of the blind
men and the elephant.
According to the story, a group of
sightless men come across a great elephant, and each one tries
to determine its nature from their own limited perspective. For
the man grasping only its trunk, it seems to be a large snake,
while for another, feeling only its leg, it's more like the
trunk of a tree, and so on.
Because of their partial and limited
vantage points, none is able to grasp the true nature of the
creature, since that can properly be understood only from a
larger, more global perspective.
In much the same way, I'd suggest that
by focusing our attention primarily on isolated coincidences
we are only witnessing one small facet of a much larger reality, one
with many different expressions and dimensions.
Unlocking the true significance of
Jung's theory thus requires that we step back and attempt to grasp
the broader perspective of which synchronistic events are only a
What, then, is that "broader perspective"?
It's what I'll here call the symbolist worldview - a perennial
perspective espoused through the centuries by such diverse figures
Ralph Waldo Emerson
...to name just a few.
For these and other figures, the world
was seen as infused with meaning, as "saying" something.
As the Swedish scientist and mystic
Emmanuel Swedenborg wrote in Heaven and Hell,
"There is a correspondence of all
things of heaven with all things of man." 3
The universe is a reflection of an
underlying spiritual reality; all phenomena express the deeper ideas
and principles of which they are a "signature," and can therefore be
deciphered for their subtler significance.
For the symbolist, all events and phenomena are seen as elements of
a supremely ordered whole.
Like the intricately arranged threads of
a great novel or myth, the elements of daily experience are viewed
as intimately interrelated, with no event out of place, no situation
Consequently even a seemingly trivial
occurrence can serve as an important key toward unlocking a greater
pattern of meaning: the passage of a bird through the sky, the
appearance of lightning at a critical moment, or the overhearing of
a chance remark - such events are deemed significant because they're
perceived as interwoven within a greater tapestry of relationship.
Pervading the warp and weft of creation is a web of subtle
connections sometimes known as correspondences.
The American essayist Ralph Waldo
Emerson once said:
Secret analogies tie together the
remotest parts of Nature, as the atmosphere of a summer morning
is filled with innumerable gossamer threads running in every
direction, revealed by the beams of the rising sun. 4
Using more contemporary terms, these
correspondences could well be described as "acausal" connections,
since they're not based on mechanistic forces of cause-and-effect,
like our proverbial billiard balls on the pool table, but on
principles of analogy, metaphor, and symbolism.
For example, whereas scientists view
the Moon as a material body with
certain measurable properties, such as size, mineral composition,
and orbital motion, among others, for the esotericist the Moon may
also be related to such things as water, women, the home, food, and
emotions, since these all linked through an underlying "lunar"
archetype, or what might be called the principle of receptivity.
Understanding the language of
correspondences thus provides the esotericist with a skeleton key
toward unlocking the hidden connections which unite the outer and
inner worlds of our experience.
Since the advent of scientific rationality in the 17th
and 18th centuries, the concept of correspondences
has been dismissed by scientists as nothing more than an outmoded
metaphysical fiction, comparable to a child's belief in Santa Claus
or the tooth fairy.
Yet as soon becomes obvious to anyone
studying astrology for any length of time, such correspondences are
actually quite real and not merely the stuff of overactive
Consequently, when the Moon is stressfully activated in a person's
horoscope, they may experience a rash of problems in their dealings
with women, say; or when Jupiter crosses over their Venus, they
might suddenly experience a run of good luck in matters involving
romance or money - and so on.
Ultimately, the horoscope provides a
complex map of the symbolic correspondences that weave their way
throughout a person's life, in ways that are both testable and
Implications for Jung's Synchronicity
So how does the symbolist perspective force us to rethink
Jung's synchronicity theory?
For one, in his formal writings on the subject Jung claimed that
synchronicity was a "relatively rare" phenomenon. 5
But for the symbolist, coincidence is
just the tip of a far greater iceberg of meaning, the most visible
feature of a pervasive framework of design and relationships that
undergirds all experience.
In a sense, the entire world is a vast
matrix of "acausal connections" extending to every aspect of one's
experience, from one's body and thoughts to every event and object
in the environment. Said another way, everything is a "coincidence,"
insofar as everything co-incides!
Jung regarded the synchronistic event as an important "eruption of
meaning" in our lives.
But as divinatory systems like astrology
demonstrate (and as I explore more fully in The Waking Dream),
6 there are actually many eruptions of meaning in our
lives besides the occasional and remarkable coincidence, many of
them equally important - marriages, births, deaths, graduations, job
changes, chance encounters, accidents, nightly dreams, and many
All these and more are "synchronistic"
insofar as they correspond in acausal and meaningful ways to other
unfolding patterns in one's life. 7
To borrow a phrase from William Irwin
Thompson, we are like flies crawling across the ceiling of
the Sistine Chapel, unaware of the complex archetypal drama spread
out before us; what the infrequent and dramatic coincidence does
is pull back the curtain for us on one small portion of that vast
tableau of meaning.
For that reason, uncovering the truth of synchronicity won't be had
through scientific methodologies or by carefully studying individual
coincidences, but only through a broader philosophical inquiry into
the symbolic nature of existence itself.
As a result, unlocking Jung's
"meaningful coincidence" may ultimately require a "unified field"
theory of meaning that incorporates such diverse disciplines as,
...to name just a few.
Only within the broad framework offered
by just such a Sacred Science can we hope to truly grasp the "whole
elephant" of synchronicity, and not simply one of its appendages, as
exemplified by the rare and dramatic 'coincidence'.
And it's against this broader backdrop that we begin to glimpse some
of the broader questions raised by synchronistic phenomena, such as:
What could possibly organize the
phenomena of our world in so profound and meaningful a way as
In his book
A Sense of the Cosmos, author
Jacob Needleman offers a possible clue to that question with
this comment about the uncanny symmetry displayed throughout
nature's ecological web:
Whenever we have looked to a part
for the sake of understanding the whole, we have eventually
found that the part is a living component of the whole. In a
universe without a visible center, biology presents a reality in
which the existence of a center is everywhere implied. 8
Needleman's comments here could be read
as a useful analogy for understanding synchronicity, too.
In order for the diverse events of our
lives to be interwoven as intricately and artfully as synchronicity
implies, and as systems like astrology empirically demonstrate,
there would seem to be a regulating intelligence underlying our
world, a central principle that organizes all of its elements like
notes in a grand symphony of meaning.
One needn't think of this as involving a
bearded, anthropomorphic deity on a heavenly throne somewhere, of
As we saw at the opening of this
article, the Neoplatonist writer Plotinus referred to this
transcendent principle as simply "the One," while the Buddhists
speak of "Big Mind," and the mystic geometers of old described a
"center was everywhere but whose
circumference was nowhere."
Whatever labels or terms one chooses,
the phenomenon of synchronicity hints at a coordinating agency of
unimaginable scope and subtlety whereby all the coincidences and
correspondences of the world coalesce as if threads in a grand
design, and within which our lives are holoscopically nested.
Seen in this way, the synchronistic
event can be seen as affording us a passing sideways glance, as if
through a glass darkly, into the mind of 'God'.
Jung, Carl. "Synchronicity: An
Acausal Connecting Principle," in The Structure and Dynamics
of the Psyche, Vol. 8, Collected Works. Princeton, NJ:
Bollingen Series, Princeton University Press.
Quoted by Richard Tarnas, in
Cosmos and Psyche. New York, Penquin Group, 2006, pp. 50-60.
Swedenborg, Emmanuel. Heaven and
Its Wonders and Hell. New York: Swedenborg Foundation
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. The
Complete Writings, Vol. II. New York: William H. Wise, 1929,
The question as to the true
frequency of synchronistic phenomena was a matter of debate
even during Jung's lifetime, and at one point became a bone
of contention between Jung and his colleague, the Swiss
analyst C.A. Meier.
Meier pointed out that if
synchronicity is indeed a phenomenon at "right angles" to
causality, as Jung claimed, then by definition it must
manifest as commonly in our lives as does causality, not
simply as an occasional feature. Conceding that point, Jung
added a footnote in his book's second edition to that effect
- failing, however, to credit Meier for clarifying that
point for him.
On being angrily confronted by
Meier for this oversight, Jung modified the footnote (number
70) to include Meier's contribution, which in subsequent
editions has read, "I must again stress the possibility that
the relationship between body and soul may yet be understood
as a synchronistic one. Should this conjecture ever be
proved, my present view that synchronicity is a relatively
rare phenomenon would have to be corrected."
Grasse, Ray. The Waking Dream:
Unlocking the Symbolic Language of Our Lives. Wheaton, IL:
Quest Books, 1996.
The frequency of synchronistic
phenomena is just one of several ways the symbolist
perspective forces a revision of Jung's theory, but there
are others. For example, Jung regarded synchronicities as
fundamentally personal phenomena, as arising out of the
psycho-spiritual dynamics of a person's relationship with
their world; yet the sheer pervasiveness of correspondences
in our world, as demonstrated by astrology, for example,
implies that synchronicity extends to the collective and
universal levels as well.
For example, one finds
meaningful correspondences operating through history on a
socio-cultural level as well, involving situations which
extend far beyond the personal sphere - and indeed, the
universe itself seems founded on the principle of
correspondences, upon acausal connections of many types.
Also, Jung emphasized the element of simultaneity as a
distinguishing feature of synchronistic events - i.e.,
coincidences occurring within the same moment in time, such
as getting a phone call from an old friend just as you
stumble across an old photo of them in your attic.
Yet as both the symbolist
perspective and Jung's predecessor in the study of
coincidence, the Austrian biologist Paul Kammerer, argued,
synchronistic phenomena can also involve sequential
coincidences - e.g., such as coming across the same obscure
literary reference several times over the course of a day.
In short, synchronicity operates across all directions of
time - forward, backward, and simultaneous.
Thirdly, Jung stated emphatically that synchronistic (and
archetypal) events cannot be predicted beforehand. While
that may be true in terms of their specific forms, astrology
clearly shows it's possible to predict archetypal patterns
of meaning in more general ways, far in advance of their
For example, we might look at
someone's horoscope and see that Jupiter will soon be coming
up to align with their Uranus, which strongly suggests they
could experience lucky connections, coincidences, or
opportunities at that point. While we can't say precisely
how those events will manifest, the underlying archetypal
energy itself is foreseeable.
Needleman, Jacob. A Sense of the
Cosmos: The Encounter of Modern Science and Ancient Truth.
E.P. Dutton & Co., Inc., 1975, p. 64.