Synchronicity and Its Meaning for Experiential Faith (Part 2)

The Scarab’s Tale of  Death and Renewal

Here is the story how Jung arrived at this original concept. One of Jung’s patients had a strong rationalistic bent to her personality. Indeed, she challenged and may have even frustrated Jung on many different levels. Jung describes her rationalistic temperament:

My example concerns a young woman patient who, in spite of efforts made on both sides, proved to be psychologically inaccessible. The difficulty lay in the fact that she always knew better about everything. Her excellent education had provided her with a weapon ideally suited to this purpose, namely a highly polished Cartesian rationalism with an impeccably ‘geometrical’ idea of reality.

After several fruitless attempts to sweeten her rationalism with a somewhat more human understanding, I had to confine myself to the hope that something unexpected and irrational would turn up, something that would burst the intellectual retort into which she had sealed herself.

Well, I was sitting opposite her one day, with my back to the window, listening to her flow of rhetoric. She had had an impressive dream the night before, in which someone had given her a golden scarab – a costly piece of jewelery.

While she was still telling me this dream, I heard something behind me gently tapping on the window. I turned round and saw that it was a fairly large flying insect that was knocking against the window-pane in the obvious effort to get into the dark room.

This seemed to me very strange. I opened the window immediately and caught the insect in the air as it flew in. It was a scarabaeid beetle, or common rose-chafer (Cetonia aurata), whose gold-green color most nearly resembles that of a golden scarab.

I handed the beetle to my patient with the words, ‘Here is your scarab.’ This experience punctured the desired hole in her rationalism and broke the ice of her intellectual resistance. The treatment could now be continued with satisfactory results. [1]

Why was Jung so effective in dealing with this type of individual? Maybe because  Jung recognized that modern people have an ontological hunger  for mythic meaning in their lives. Freud would have considered such thinking as an illusion, but Jung believed that the archetypal patterns and symbols reconstellate themselves within the psyche in the form of myths and dreams.

Archetypal Reverberations

The scarab is a good case in point.  In archetypal symbolism, the ancient Egyptians believed that the scarab  symbolized the self-renewal of the sun’s rays upon the earth and also resurrection. Re, then, characterizes the powerful and bright noonday sun, while Atum symbolizes the old and worn-out evening sun. The Egyptian word for this beetle was kheper, a homonym for their word meaning “to come to be” or “to happen,” and the word also became the name of the early-morning sun deity.

The scarab was actually called the dung beetle, because of its peculiar habit of rolling a ball of dung across the ground. This imagery reminded them of the sun orb rolling across the celestial sky, hence the association. Apparently, the Egyptians confused  the balled food source with the egg sack that the female dung beetle laid and buried in the sand. After the eggs hatched, an onlooker might suppose that the dung beetles literally appeared from nowhere, making it a symbol of spontaneous creation, symbolic of sunrise.

In any event, this seemingly fortuitous incident served to help break through the woman’s logical disposition. For her, the scarab symbolized her inner need to embrace personal renewal. Thus, the appearance of the beetle helped her discover an alternative way of viewing the world around her; it also helped Jung formulate his theory of synchronicity.

Are Miracles Synchronicities?

What are some of the implications for religion? It may well be that many of the “miracles” purported in the Tanakh may be explained not in terms of events that violate natural law, but in its timing. The story of the Ten Plagues is a good example, for from Pharaoh’s perspective, each of the plagues are natural events that can easily be explained, but Pharaoh is at a complete loss for why the disasters are occurring exactly as Moses foretells. Simply put, the synchronicity of the plagues is what disturbs Pharaoh and his advisers. It is precisely the meaningful acausal co-ordination of the disastrous events that strains their imagination.

The same point can be made about the splitting of the Sea of Reeds–if the Israelites miss the point of their celestial rendezvous point in time and space, then their history is forever changed–there will be no theophany at Mt. Sinai, no “chosen people” of Israel, the history of the entire world changes because of a meteorological circumstances–now that’s synchronicity!

Jung’s novelty, I believe, captures the psychology of the biblical writers in a manner most biblical critics seem to overlook. On the structural level, the intimate non-causal connection permeating the events that occur in our lives suggests the presence of a mystical unity and inner subjectivity that transcends the separateness that our conscious minds create. the process of synchronicity reveals a whole,  transcendent, spiritual, or possibly a divine aspect of reality. It seems as though consciousness itself functions like a spiritual internet–perhaps all consciousness in the universe is thus mysteriously interrelated as some scientists are now starting to think. [2]



[1] C. G. Jung, ‘On Synchronicity’, in Collected Works, vol. 8, The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche, 2nd edn, (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1969), par. 982.

[2] Physicist Rupert Sheldrake, who once worked with Einstein, developed a theory he terms as “morphogenic fields,” which may help explain the physical science of synchronicity: “Formative causation is the kind of causation responsible for form, structure, and pattern, and the causal influence on this is the morphogenetic field, morphic field, from the Greek word morphi meaning form. Each kind of thing has a field which gives its form, pattern, field or structure. This field is like the plan, the shaping influence has the kind of form it does because of its memory by the morphogenetic fields.  An influence of similar things on subsequent similar things. Fields have a kind of inherent memory within them that is nonmaterial but physical. The gravitational field is physical, it has physical effects, part of nature, but it’s not material in the sense it’s made of matter” Cited in Mark A. Runco, Steven R. Pritzker’s Encyclopedia of Creativity, Volume 1 (Maryland Heights, MO: Academic Press, 1999), 591.


  1. Yochanan Lavie  March 7, 2010

    In the mind of God, YHWH, everything is happening in one eternal present. Maybe synchronicity is a form of prophecy.


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