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The Myth of the Last Day: C.G. Jung’s Apocalyptic Visions By Steven Walker with ellipses editorial staffGo Back to Table of Contents
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As in the case of the Christian/Islamic Alliance against the Mongols, the fear of Apocalypse, ironically, can have a temporarily unifying and paradoxically fraternal effect on would-be enemies. Even the early Christians, who had been so zealously fraternal during the time of the Roman persecution of their church, may have held together with such strong bonds because they believed that literally “the time of the end” was at hand. Such common faith in inevitable and universal doom can forge incredibly strong bonds of fidelity. Yet the danger of the archetype of Apocalypse as the foundation for brotherhood is its power to be translated into an historical, as well as behavioral, cataclysm--even (if Jonestown and Waco be remembered) this results in mass collective suicide.

This negative aspect of the Apocalyptic vision became more pronounced as the Christian calendar turned into the Third Millennium. Thousand-year periods and, particularly periods of judgement, are vital to Christian thought--as well as, coincidentally, to the Socratic Philosophy of ancient Greece. Socrates himself, in the Phaedo, predicted a period in the after-life in which Good and Evil were put on hold as the world, in its transformation from the physical to the metaphysical, lapsed into a twilight zone where souls were to be gathered and sorted. Perhaps this is why Socrates is thought, by some scholars, remarkably similar to some of the interpretations of Judaic prophets who seemed to be predicting Apocalypse as the necessary precondition for the emergence of a new order. Perhaps this is why, as well, Isaac Newton wrote more works interpreting the Book of Daniel, the Hebrew prophetic scripture often interpreted in the image of the Apocalypse, than he did the laws of physics.

If Newton had stuck exclusively to physics, however, he still might have drawn the same Apocalyptic conclusions. Catastrophic events take place in the cosmos every nano-second. Devastation in the universe--from the death of stars, the eradication of stellar and solar systems, the collision of galaxies, the encounter of matter with antimatter on sub-atomic levels, and even the absorption of matter into Black Holes--is a common event. Wherever we observe the universe, destruction and creation seem to be sharing in some phenomenal interaction.

Each one of us, as well, must face an Apocalypse of our own, either through our own death or the death of someone we love, and therefore identify with life. And although imagining a universal Apocalypse is frightening, psychic Apocalyptic assaults upon individuals take place every day under the name of stress, grief, anxiety - and in their radical forms, nervous breakdowns.

Thus the archetype of the Apocalypse is both universal and individual at the same time.

It is widely shared angst amongst cultures, has predicated historical events and interpretations, and is inevitable in scientific understanding of the universe. But how important is the manner in which we interpret these archetypes to the outcome of our own future? If Jung’s Apocalyptic visions serve as an example, important indeed.

Jung was to have Apocalyptic visions again near the end of his life. Shortly before his death in 1961, he told his close associate, Marie-Louise von Franz, that he had seen a revelation of the destruction of the world--but, he added in relief, “Thank God, not all of it”; part of the world had been spared destruction. Jung’s last recorded dream (which, according to Barbara Hannah, was written down by Jung’s secretary, Ruth Bailey) was more peaceful; it included “a round block of stone in a high bare place,” on which was chiseled the inscription, “This shall be a sign unto you of wholeness and oneness.”

Most assuredly, it is this “wholeness and oneness” that we should be searching for in the new millennium--not for signs of our own demise; for the vision of the Apocalypse may contain a secret code of both renewal and wholeness rather than devastation. If nothing else, the twentieth century made clear that each historical conflict could become a rehearsal for Apocalypse as devastation only; and that, in turn, each conflict only gave birth to some other form of conflict--until the domino effect resulted in cluster bombs, the nuclear network, and a world poised on the edge of its seat for the big boom. The new world order emerging at the dawn of the Third Millenium therefore demands at least a new reading of an old myth. Part of our dilemma in trying to re-read the myth of Apocalypse, however, is that we may psychologically, and persistently, believe that trashing the universe--or ourselves--can be the precondition for creating a new and better world.

Making “a clean sweep of it” may seem a logical strategy for renewal. Still, I contend, in its simplistic form this model for renewal leads to a profoundly misleading paradigm. If we total our cars, we can get new ones; there is always insurance to help get us on the road again. But if we total our planet, we cannot get a new one; there is no cosmic insurance plan, and planetary replacements are not available. Our planet is more like our bodies than our cars: If we injure our bodies, we must spend time and money repairing the damage. The same is true of our planet. As anyone who has attempted it knows, destruction is easy; it is caring, and creating with care, that are difficult.

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