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Richard Noll


Origins of a charismatic movement

Book review by Anthony Campbell. The review is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Richard Noll is a clinical psychologist turned academic. His book is a sustained attack on what he sees as the illegitimate claims of C.G. Jung and his disciples to have founded a genuine system of psychotherapy. In reality, he thinks, Jung was a magus, a purveyor of religious mysticism based in occultism, neo-paganism (including sun-worship), and völkisch movements similar to those that were later adopted by the Nazis (anti-semitism comes in here as well). Analytical psychology, the system of treatment founded by Jung, is a cult, not a scientifically based therapy.

It is of course well known that Jung was influenced by alchemy (about which Noll says surprisingly little), gnosticism, and other esoteric ideas, and that much of his later thinking emerged from a period of near-psychosis which he underwent as a young man before the first world war. But Noll has taken his study of these influences further than most commentators and has used them as a basis for discrediting his whole approach. And he is particularly scornful of the way that numerous New Age movements have adopted Jung as a mascot and have incorporated his ideas into their outlook.

Noll has done a great deal of research in some of the arcane subjects he writes about and he presents them in considerable detail. This does not make for easy reading but it certainly sheds new light on the provenance of some of Jung's ideas, including Goethe and even Blavatsky. Whether this invalidates everything Jung said, however, is a different question.

Towards the end of the book it emerges that one of the main reasons for Noll's dislike of Jung is what he perceives as Jung's "anti-Christian" bias. Although his own position is nowhere declared, it is difficult not to think that Noll himself is writing as a Christian. If we leave this aside, does Jung's interest in religious issues as they affect the modern psyche disqualify him as a psychotherapist?

There is no doubt that Jung, as he aged, took on the mantle of what he would call the archetype of the Wise Old Man. (It could be said that this exemplified the correctness of his theory!) Jung was undoubtedly a guru for many of his followers and there are many risks in attaching oneself to a guru—any guru. In this Jung was no different from many other founders of unconventional medical and psychological systems, including Freud. Becoming a guru is an occupational hazard for such people. Noll's book makes it clear that this did happen to Jung, if one was in any doubt of it, but his presentation of his case is so strongly biased as to be unreliable. It is worth mining for facts but his interpretations should be treated with great caution.

All gurus are flawed, but this does not mean that all their insights are to be condemned out of hand. If you say they are, you are adopting an unscientific ad homimem style of argument yourself. This is what Noll has done here.

%T The Jung Cult
%S Origins of a charismatic movement
%A Noll, Richard
%I Princeton University Press
%C Princeton
%D 1994
%G ISBN 0-691-03274-8
%P xii + 387pp
%K psychology

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