Sunday, October 17, 2004

Synchronicity: The House which bursts into Flames

I've always really loved Jung's anecdote of the scarab:

A young woman I was treating had, at a critical moment, a dream in which she was given a golden scarab. While she was telling me his dream I sat with my back to the closed window. Suddenly I heard a noise behind me, like a gentle tapping. I turned round and saw a flying insect knocking against the window-pane from outside. I opened the window and caught the creature in the air as it flew in. It was the nearest analogy to the golden scarab that one finds in our latitudes, a scarabaeid beetle, the common rose-chafer (Cetoaia urata) which contrary to its usual habits had evidently felt an urge to get into a dark room at this particular moment. I must admit that nothing like it ever happened to me before or since, and that the dream of the patient has remained unique in my experience.

Jung was the man who coined the word "Synchronicity" to describe this strange confluence of events. It's not that the beetle emerged from the dream but that the dreamworld is one of several parallel paths in our life, paths which sometimes collide. These parallel events are intertwined and the law of cause and effect runs not only forward in time but also laterally, across worlds. Novalis puts it best:

There are ideal series of events which run parallel with the real ones. They rarely coincide. Men and circumstances generally modify the ideal train of events, so that it seems imperfect, and its consequences are equally imperfect.

Jung was also the author of Synchronicity, an exploration of this collision of worlds or rather how the effects and meaning of the world can emerge fully-formed from its smallest elements: a scarab beetle, a house on fire, the timing of a death, the collisions from which love affairs or catastrophes emerge.

Koestler, an admirer of Jung and author of a book called The Roots of Coincidence (he was also a lover of Simone de Beauvoir), once sponsored a contest asking the public to send him their outrageous coincidences. Letters came in and told of books which opened up to reveal prophetic advice, unfathomable reunions of families or old friends, all kinds of eruptions of the unexpected in everyday life.

Not surprisingly this is where Edgar Allan Poe comes in again.

A man named Nigel Parker wrote in:

In 1838 Edgar Allan Poe published a book "The narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket ". At one point in this novel four men are adrift in a boat and they kill and eat the cabin boy Richard Parker. Some 40 years later four desperate men were adrift in a boat and to survive they killed and ate the cabin boy whose name was Richard Parker.

The man Nigel was related to Richard Parker. This is how the story is told in Charles Fort's Fortean Times. The incident is real and the Poe story is of course well documented.

Charles Fort loved stories like these. Like a metaphysical detective, he kept detailed notes on striking events, hoping that viewed with the proper intuition and imagination they would suddenly arrange themselves into an undeniable order, like a symphony.

This short quote from Fort (from Wild Talents) reveals his passion for these hidden notes:

But always there is present a feeling of unexplained relations of events...

In Hyde Park London, an orator shouts "What we want is no king and no law! How we get it will be, not with ballots, but with bullets!"

Far away in Gloucestershire, a house that dates back to Elizabethean times unaccountably burts into flames.

The Literature of Synchronicity, if there is such a thing, itself has re-ocurring themes. One of them is the house which bursts into flames. I can trace this back to Swedenborg and his sensation that his own house, 300 miles away in Stockholm had just burst into flames. But it might go back farther, like an idea which resurfaces from time to time, caught in the wash and turbulence of history.

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