Carl Jung’s 1957 Letter on the Fascinating “Modern Myth” of UFOs

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Deities, conspiracies, politics, space aliens: you don’t actually have to believe in these to find them interesting. Just focus your attention not on the things themselves, but in how other people regard them, what they say when they talk about them, and why they think about them the way they do. Psychotherapist and onetime Freud protégé Carl Gustav Jung treated UFOs this way when he wrote his book Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Skies, which examines “not the reality or unreality” of the titular phenomena, but their “psychic aspect,” and “what it may signify that these phenomena, whether real or imagined, are seen in such numbers just at a time” — the Cold War — “when humankind is menaced as never before in history.” As what Jung called a “modern myth,” UFOs qualify as real indeed.

In 1957, with Flying Saucers to appear the following year, New Republic editor Gilbert A. Harrison wanted to get this Jungian perspective on UFOs in his magazine. At the top of this post, you can see (via The Awl) a scan of Jung’s response to Harrison’s query, the text of which follows:

the problem of the Ufos is, as you rightly say, a very fascinating one, but it is as puzzling as it is fascinating; since, in spite of all observations I know of, there is no certainty about their very nature. On the other side, there is an overwhelming material pointing to their legendary or mythological aspect. As a matter of fact the psychological aspect is so impressive, that one almost must regret that the Ufos seem to be real after all. I have followed up the literature as much as possible and it looks to me as if something were seen and even confirmed by radar, but nobody knows exactly what is seen. In consideration of the psychological aspect of the phenomenon I have written a booklet about it, which is soon to appear. It is also in the process of being translated into English. Unfortunately being occupied with other tasks I am unable to meet your proposition. Being rather old, I have to economize my energies.

Jung, as you can see, doubled his own interest in the subject by not only considering flying saucers a social phenomenon, but as a real physical phenomenon as well. Serious enthusiasts of both Jung and UFOs might consider bidding on the original letter, now up for auction. Estimated sale price: $2,000 to 3,000.

Related Content:

Face to Face with Carl Jung: ‘Man Cannot Stand a Meaningless Life’

Carl Gustav Jung Explains His Groundbreaking Theories About Psychology in Rare Interview (1957)

Carl Gustav Jung Ponders Death

Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on literature, film, cities, Asia, and aesthetics. He’s at work on a book about Los AngelesA Los Angeles PrimerFollow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.



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  1. Prof J Paul De Vierville says . . . | May 31, 2013 / 11:51 am

    I wonder what Jung would think about the Crop Circle Field Formations now appearing in the USA. http://www.earthfiles.com.

  2. Nemo says . . . | May 31, 2013 / 1:47 pm

    According to Mircea Eliade’s “Im Mittelpunkt” after having come to believe that UFOs were real Jung got very disappointed, almost inconsolable and lost all interest in the phenomenon.

  3. Gregory Wonderwheel says . . . | June 1, 2013 / 11:04 am

    The testament to our collective ignorance is that so few people in the “smart class” of the universities and psychiatric medicine could ever appreciate Jung’s PSYCHOLOGICAL perspective. The science lovers throw out psychology as “just myth” and the doctors throw out psychological phenomena as “just imagining.” Neither materialist science nor materialist medicine can understand that Jung is not a materialist but a psychologist who says that the science of mind must start with mind, that is, a world view based on the psyche, not with a material world view. UFOs is a good example of this so that the UFO people were disappointed with Jung for not going all the way to assert “there are UFOs” and the science people were quick to call him a quack even for considering that a UFO event, as a reported phenomenon, at the very least must be accepted as a psychological event. Science people can’t seem to see that the word “myth” doesn’t mean “false”; it means “psychologically orientating world view.”

  4. Andrew says . . . | September 9, 2013 / 7:29 am

    Jung clearly believed in UFOs. Everyone references him without ever reading him. Here is a quote from the book mentoned “So far as I know it remains an established fact, supported by numerous observations, that Ufos have notnonly been seen visually but have also been picked up on the radar screen and have left traces on the photographic plate.” He also recommends people read Keyhoe’s books on the topic. Yes, he gave a psychological interpretation of them, after all he WAS a psychologist. But he also admits after studying the topic for 10 years they DO exist and they DO come from other planets.

  5. Larry Hoover Jr says . . . | November 2, 2013 / 10:34 pm

    No, he does not say they come from other planets.

  6. Andrew says . . . | January 17, 2014 / 5:38 am

    @Larry Hoover Jr
    By endorsing Keyhoe’s books he is endorsing Keyhoe’s central argument: That UFOs are real and are of ET origin. If he only accepted the first part of the argument and not the second he would have said so. Referencing wasn’t exactly his weak point.

    More importantly why has this article been so drastically changed?? The original article said Jung believed UFOs had psychological roots and nothing more which is blatantly incorrect (that’s why I commented in the first place). Here you’ve completely changed the article and are now admitting he acknowledged their physical existence but ultimately preferred the psychological explanations instead. This is misleading. Jung was a great writer and often introduced his more compelling theories in an “under the radar” manner. It’s an effective technique (and not untypical for the period) for getting the reader to accept an otherwise controversial idea without them noticing too much. He admitted to using this technique and I believe he is using it here: “As a matter of fact the psychological aspect is so impressive, that one almost must regret that the Ufos seem to be real after all.” How regretful, Dear Reader, it turns out UFOs are in fact REAL.

  7. Andrew says . . . | January 17, 2014 / 4:52 pm

    BTW in my first post I mention the book where Jung speaks about UFOs being real physical objects: ‘Civilization in Transition’ page 413. Whoever runs this site has since REMOVED that part of my post altogether! They have also completely removed their own original article and replaced it with this one which seems to be in response to my pointing out the article’s obvious errors. Previously this site used Disqus to host the comments but now they’ve reverted to this more generic format which makes editing comments a lot less more noticeable. Let me give you guys some advice: next time one of your readers takes the time to comment on your site don’t do a hatchet job on what they say and even on what YOU said in order to cover up your lack of knowledge on the subject – Go back and do your homework and THANK that reader for pointing you in the right direction. There’s nothing wrong with being wrong, in fact people will admire you for it. But doing hack editing in order to conceal your lack of knowledge makes you look even more ignorant and will turn people against your site.

  8. Paul says . . . | February 15, 2014 / 4:01 am

    This is information is outdated. In 1959 Jung met with the famous aviator Lindbergh where they discussed UFOs amongst other things. Jung flatly told Lindbergh he was no longer interested in the psychological interpretation of UFOs as he was convinced they were real objects and the US Air Force was keeping this fact a secret from the public.

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