Searching for meaning amidst the COVID 19 Pandemic
Gregory M. Rieke Overland Park, Kansas April 8, 2020
For four months the world has been shaken by an unexpected and unwelcome visitor, something felt but not seen, having entered our lives without asking and rudely disrespecting national, state or local boundaries. It has shut down the world economic activity in an unprecedented way. Reading the economic tea leaves Jamie Dimon of JP Morgan Chase has just declared that we have entered a “bad recession” in the United States, from which it may take years to recover. Billionaire philanthropist, Bill Gates, tells us that a cure is likely a year away and that we must simply survive until a vaccine is produced to eradicate it, as polio was once cured 60 years ago. Hospital workers, worldwide, are facing unprecedented demands for emergency services; doctors and nurses who only months ago were pursuing their daily routines in a normal way are now afraid to go to work, afraid to come home to their worried families as they have now become our front line in a battle against the deadly virus that affects us all. It is estimated that by August the United States will have lost more casualties to this pandemic than the wars of Viet Nam and Korea combined. 2020 will be long remembered in league with the Black death of 1348 and the Great Plague of 1665 that ravaged Europe or the Flu Epidemic of 1918. Our national treasury has already made a two trillion dollar down payment on our national economic dis-ease. What will be the ultimate cost – in treasure and in lives?
Now, in the 21st Century, despite our advanced medical and epidemiological advances, the world is once again challenged an invisible, insidious and silent menace, perhaps introduced to the human family by bats in China. What are we to make of this new threat to mankind? How should be pursuing its eradication and the economic waste and destruction it is causing us? How do we escape the inevitable and partisan blame game now emerging? What lessons can we draw from it all? While I don’t presume to answer all these pertinent questions, I would like to offer some questions and some perspectives on the psychic level of our existence on planet earth with the hope of stimulating a conversation about our collective future and to exploring together the question: what is the meaning of this!?
In 1958, just four years before his death at age 85, the Swiss psychologist C.G Jung felt compelled to comment upon the UFO phenomenon then emerging as a new, unexpected phenomenon. In his book Flying Saucers – Reflecting on the modern myth of things seen in the skies, Jung addressed the emerging, unexpected and ubiquitous reports of people around the world seeing small discs from outer space with skepticism at first. In the book Jung lamented the fact that he had been misinterpreted by some statements he made in a way that made him supportive of the idea of the physical existence of flying saucers. Jung later wrote the book to elaborate more clearly his real thoughts on the issue. But interestingly, if not uncharacteristically, Jung approached the subject of flying saucers from a mythological, historical and psychic point of view, from the vantage point to try to find meaning in what was happening. He declined to weigh in on whether flying saucers existed, on the veracity of the observers of flying saucers or the hard science of whether they might or might not exist. Instead, in the face of the intense worldwide churning over their existence, Jung introduced an unusual question: “why should it be more desirable for the saucers to exist than not?”.
Without going into a synopsis of his book, I do want to share from his Introduction Jung’s focus on what he saw as the most important aspect of the emerging myth of invasion UFO’s from beyond, an intrusion into the relatively calm of human earthly existence, in a new, curious and even terrifying way. He did so by putting the UFOs into an archetypal context, even placing it within the larger, longer arch of the history of aeons.
“These rumors or the possible physical existence of such objects seem to me to be so significant that I feel myself compelled as once before, when events of fateful consequence were brewing for Europe [his Wotan article was written in 1936] , to sound a note of warning. I know that, just as before, my voice is much to weak to reach the ear of the multitude. It is not presumption that drives me, but my conscience as a psychiatrist, that bids me fulfill my duty, and prepare those few who will hear me, for coming events that are in accord with the end of an era. As we know from ancient Egyptian history, they are manifestations of psychic changes which always appear at the end of one Platonic month and the beginning of another. Apparently, they are changes in the constellations of psychic dominants, of the archetypes or “gods” as they used to be called which bring about, or accompany, long-lasting changes in the collective psyche. This transformation started in the historical and left it traces first of the passing of the aeon of Taurus into that of Aries, and then of Aries into Pisces, whose beginning coincides with the rise of Christianity. We are now nearing that great change which may be expected when the spring point enters Aquarius…. Since, so far as I know, no one has yet felt moved to examine and set forth the possible psychic consequences of this foreseeable astrological change, I deem it my duty to do what I can in this respect. I undertake this thankless task in the expectation that my chisel will make no impression on the hard stone it encounters.” Such is the voice of a prophet who laments his task, without shirking from it. Are we now in the midst of both aeonic and mythological change that occasion the shift from one predictable astronomical age to another every 2000 years, as Jung suggested near the end of Pisces?
When we experienced the tragic and transformative events of September of 2001, at the advent of the new Millennium according to our Gregorian calendars, many of us were asking what was its meaning from an archetypal point of view, so jolting were its consequences, both then and thereafter. I offer the above prophetic lament by Jung, in view of this new threat to humanity, asking a simple question: If the UFO phenomenon, the wars of the last 100 years and this new threat to humanity from a pandemic, as Jung suggests, signify the end of one aeon, the Platonic month of Pisces, then could the Corona Virus be signaling some clues of the age we have now entered – the new age of Aquarius? I do so, sharing with Dr. Jung, similar trepidation of the sniggering and ill repute of those who either dismiss such predictions out of hand as utter nonsense, or even more sadly, of those who are simply ignore the possibility. Therefore, instead of stating declaratively, as Jung surely did, I merely wish to inspire a discussion among those who wish to consider this time more seriously.
I do so with a few initial questions for consideration, again from the perspective of 30,000 feet, peering down at planet Earth; are there lessons to be learned already?:
- COVID 19 ushered in a profound medical, economic, worldwide jolt for which the world was utterly unprepared, despite the clear and persistent warnings of scientists and world health organizations for decades. What does this say about our willingness to ignore critical warnings to our collective future, not unlike those who are flashing red about the environmental changes just ahead, yet ignored by policy makers and politicians?
- The advent of the internet and technology to keep the human family connected and functioning, despite the requirement of strong mitigation efforts to separate us physically, have made life, during COVID 19 both tolerable and essential. How are these technologies part of the evolving change of ages to come? Unquestionably, we are experiencing only the very early stages of a vast technological revolution worldwide. What are the great advantages and the dangers of such change to our species?
- As human beings gradually squeeze out or escalate, the other species of animals, many of which we have depended upon for food for generations, how are the nutritional requirements of our species shifting to make a carnivorous diet both undesirable and unnecessary?
- As we deal on the mundane level with unavoidable consequences of environmental degradation, overpopulation, deforestation and other consequences of human exploitation and unhealthy lifestyle choices, what is the virus teaching us about these destructive excesses of the human family on the earth and on each other? Suddenly pollution is diminishing in unexpected places, even in after only a few weeks.
- The virus, we are told, will affect the vulnerable populations of human beings of the third world than the wealthy countries. With potentially millions dying in places like India, Africa and Southeast Asia, what lessons will this pose to the wealthier nations whose healthcare systems, while overtaxed, are at least available to millions?
- The excesses of capitalism are now brought into stark contrast. The politics in the United States is now at least addressing, seriously, the issues of enormous wealth disparity between the few who own and control most of our wealth and means of control and production and those at the huge bottom of the economic spectrum who live paycheck to paycheck. Will the effects on this generation be as profound as that of the Great Depression on our grandparents’ generation? If so, how?
- Now that we have discovered the amazing powers of connectedness, only dreamed of in recent generations, how will this change our habits of delivering goods and services, communication with friends and loved ones, delivering a quality education, voting? How can our system of democracy become more responsive, less restrictive, more available to eligible voters who simply want to vote efficiently, on every issue of interest to them?
- If the electoral college have become a relic unworthy of a modern democracy in recent national elections, how will this virus change how we organize ourselves, debate vital issues, deliberate within institutions of state and federal government, configure and participate in democracy? How will having a voice change the formerly voiceless?
- As we become more aware of the insidious and pervasive power of the media, for ill and for good, how can we learn to filter out the essential from the nonsense, the true from the fake, the important from the utterly worthless? How do we learn to take in sources of information that are both beneficial, uniting and truth-based, rather than divisive, plainly false and destructive to our national life?
- As we now view politicians from the perspective of accountability for their actions and deeds, without the influence of enormous and insidious wealth to control and manipulate our electoral processes, how can we demand accountability for free and fair elections?
- Many who live their lives craving a true and deeply meaningful connection to Spirit, feel unfilled and even disgusted by the trappings of religion as it has evolved. How can we take the best of all the worlds’ great religious, sacred and mystery traditions to evolve toward a new vision of sacredness and mutual responsibility and universal love? What stands in the way? What promotes a coming together of the human family in new and creative ways that recognizes both the diversity and the unity of the human family.
- The earth is now connected by a web of virtuality not even dreamed of a few decades ago. It has become our new reality of interconnectedness. How can this absence of old boundaries usher in a new age of “unividualism,” as some are now calling it. We are now disconnected by space, but no longer by time. What might be the implications of this?
- What if planet earth were visited (or attacked by) an invading species from outside our own solar system, of either benign or ill intent? Such an event would surely galvanize the human family as never before in the face of either potential danger or assistance of a type we can barely imagine today.
All these new challenges are of a different character and type which the human family has not taken as seriously as we are challenged to do so at this change of aeons. Will it inspire us to great good and creativity. Or on the contrary, will it make us withdraw into our tribal or gated communities, caring little for our brothers and sisters of differing social strata or far off lands. It seems that both may be happening simultaneously.
Viewed symbolically, the UFO’s shape – that of a disc – was remarkable to Jung, as was its origin from “out there,” from the outer world. As is characteristic of Dr. Jung, he made much of the shape of the UFO, being circular and drawing our attention the symbolism of the circle in all aspects of our lives. “Anyone with the requisite historical and psychological knowledge knows that circular symbols have played in important role in every age. In our own sphere of culture, they are not only soul symbols but “God images.” There is an old saying: ‘God is an old circle is everywhere and the circumference nowhere.” God in his omniscience, omnipotence and omnipresence is a totality presence, par excellence, something round, complete and perfect.” The circular image is found throughout nature, as an archetype of both our very solar system and in the path of protons circumnavigating the nucleus of every atom of every cell, a primordial, universal symbol of totality, completeness and wholeness. It is a ubiquitous symbol found throughout the universe, from the outer galaxies to the corpuscles in blood stream of every species. Jung repeatedly heard reference to this primordial image from patients from many countries whose thousands of dreams he heard in his study overlooking Lake Zurich. It seemed be baked into the human psychic structure.
And now, ironically, we have been invaded by a new circular image, in the shape of a corona, one depicted in news reports as a rather beautiful shape, appearing benign, yet possessing deadly capacity. Unlike the UFO flying disc, which came from without into our outer world (albeit with psychic effects) , COVID 19 works its terrible mischief within the human body, embedding itself in our lungs circulating within our respiratory tracts until it finds its home in our lungs, embedding itself to them and starting its deadly and destructive mission of depriving us of the vital oxygen we need to sustain life. While doing its dastardly work within, the virus quietly, surreptitiously, destroying families, healthcare systems and economies, while we 21st century inhabitants of mother earth look on in dismay and merely cope, while we search to invent antibodies to fend of the attack. What does its spherical image suggest to us, symbolically speaking?
- What other evils in our lives must be dealt with by “going within?”
- How is our coping with its harsh effects on human life teaching us about our interdependence, our vulnerability, the adequacy of our faith and spirituality in light of it?
- Does the origin of the virus from “out there” suggest anything potentially profound about our Imago Dei (God image) as being “out there?” Is this a limiting symbolic view which needs rethinking?
- If this scourge is interpreted, as some inevitably try to do at times like this, as a sign of God’s wrath on the human family, what kind of God does this envisage? Can God be meaning something entirely different?
- While the UFO is an attack from without, symbolically, this new dire threat comes from without but kills from within. Does this suggest something about the age we have now entered?
- If psychic wounding and lack of wholeness occurs by ignoring the Shadow elements lurking within, suppressed into the Unconscious life. What might COVID 19 suggest to us about the need for healing in the human family, individually and collectively?
- If we are being challenged by a new and deadly outside threat, that affects us internally, what might it be suggesting about the direction of our focus and thinking at this turning of age?
- Every change of era is both a going and a coming. What have been the lessons of the late Piscean Platonic month; what is just ahead in the new Aquarian? We have 2000 years go find out!
While my small treatise here offers far more questions than answers at this pivotal time, betwixt and between ages, on the cusp so to say, I can only hint at the meaning of COVID 19 at this time. It is certainly not our friend (as some have wrongly, albeit well-intentioned) have suggested. But can some of its effects be ultimately beneficial to the human family at this particular juncture? Can it call up the best within us, even as we band together to curse it and work toward its eradication? Are we being called up to look within, to seriously ponder the symbolic potency of this horrible thing now in our midst. Perhaps it will eventually seem more clear and significance in coming months and years than it is now.
Until that time I will offer the following to invite your loving contemplation and prayerful meditation during this trying period. In the immortal and mysterious words of the founder of the ancient and perineal Hermetic tradition, written thousands of years ago on the Emerald Tablet, one to which Jung and other like-minded prophetic avatars eluded on many occasions:
“That which is Below corresponds to that which is Above, and that which is Above corresponds to that which is Below, to accomplish the miracle of the One Thing”
During his decades-long interest in the life and work of C.G. Jung, Greg Rieke, MBA, devoted many years to a thorough study of Jung. He is President Emeritus of the Kansas City Friend of Jung, on whose board of directors he served for twelve years. Greg is a “life-purpose” coach, incorporating concepts of Jungian depth psychology into his practice. He has dedicated many years to interfaith dialogue, education and encouragement of youth, and cultural understanding.