So what exactly do coincidences have to do with the wholeness of the universe? From Unus Mundus to Ouroborus, to the Philosophers Stone, everything is connected in some way, it just might not be the way you initially assumed.
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Hello my friend, and welcome to another episode of what I hope is one of your favorite history podcasts, Strange Origins.
As you probably already know, I enjoy throwing in episodes that will keep you alert, awake, and hopefully puzzled as to the mysteries of the universe. So just to preface it all a little more, this episode is a bit more philosophical than my other ones, which usually just delve into the history of monsters from the horror genre, or something akin to that. But I want this podcast to not only be about the origin of the things in our pop culture but the origin of things that you may have never heard of.
And also, it’s my podcast, and I really can do what I want. And I honestly do believe that whatever I’m deeply intrigued by you guys will also be deeply intrigued by.
As I too am learning a lot of this material for the first time, I find that a majority of the history I write about for this podcast is what I find myself stumbling across during research for previous episodes.
I get about fifty new ideas for episodes for every one episode I write, so I really doubt I’ll ever run out of material. While some of them, like the history of werewolves and ghost stories, are relatively easy to write about, I will every so often come across an idea for an episode that seems impossible to put into podcast format.
One of those concepts is that of Synchronicity. While it’s an idea that feels pretty cryptic when you first hear about it, and it’s definitely challenging to write about, it’s actually not too complicated.
The reason I wanted to write about such a philosophical concept was that it actually has a lot to do with my usual episode topics. It feels like everywhere I will look I will see connections in my research that will, at face value, seem completely unconnected. But when I push just a little farther in my reading, or at times get a feeling to open a new link to yet another site full of text, I will inevitably find something that feels like history is synching up. It really doesn’t matter whether I’m talking about cryptids, or past lives, or stairs in the middle of the woods. They all will link up with one another in some unexpected way.
What Is Synchronicity?
In a nutshell, synchronicity is when two or more things in life, whether they have seem to have a reason to or not harmonize in some way. The word synchronicity translates to mean “falling together in time.”
And it’s easy to mistake coincidences and synchronicity. While coincidences happen pretty regularly just due to statistical probability, synchronicities are a bit more meaningful and effectual. Synchronistic occurrences feel more fate-like and will usually have you questioning the purpose of it and making a change in life based on what happened.
The man who coined the term, Carl Jung, was a Swiss psychologist and psychiatrist who worked in the early 1900s and is still considered today to be one of the most influential men in the field. If you’ve been listening to some of my earlier episodes you may remember I did mention a passage of his work in my UFO Sightings episode, where I quoted from some of his lesser-known writings on discussing the psychological relevance of UFO sightings. A personal experience with synchronicity and reading up on Jung because of my research on that episode, I was then thrown into the world of Synchronicity.
Jung came up with the term after an interesting session with a patient one day. That particular patient reported having had a dream where the image of a golden scarab beetle had appeared out of nowhere in the form of a costly piece of jewelry. Just then Jung heard a noise at the window and found a beetle in search of a dark room at that very moment quote “contrary to its usual habits." Jung used that incident in his work with that young woman to create a link between her dreams and reality, and she afterward made great strides in their work together.
In that example, there were two major synchronicities that occurred. The first was that the young woman saw a beetle in her dream, wherein a beetle appeared at the window. The second coincidence was that Jung was desperately searching for a way to bring the young woman out of her psychiatric funk, and at that window, he found the answer.
Essentially, Synchronicity is when the universe participates in the human need and pursuit for meaning. Jung especially put forth the idea that these coincidences pop up in times of crisis in people’s lives, which will push them towards even more growth and development under the belief that the universe has prescribed them meaning, probably in a time where they are not in control of their own existence.
Jung stated that connections made by our minds that don't make sense in their relation, or what he referred to as acausal connections, can be just as, if not more powerful and meaningful to us as those coincidences that have an easy to understand connection.
Jung famously experimented with Chinese Taoism in the 1920s which set the groundwork for his setting forth the idea of Synchronicity. So really, it was a concept that had been around since 500 BCE. Taoism is both a religion and a philosophy that promotes humility and religious piety, to give you a quick background. One of its main teachings was also the idea that we must strive for balance in all things, as we are spiritually immortal and would one day join the universe after death.
While Jung referred to synchronicity as an “acausal parallelism” Taoism is a bit more religious in their belief that coincidences like it are simply the world balancing itself out.
A great way to recognize synchronicity in your life is by paying attention to patterns. As Jung also put forth, dreams are a fantastic way for your psyche to communicate with you. This will often come in the form of symbols that we can interpret our own personal way. As dreams are subjective, so are the symbols that allow us to comprehend moments of synchronicity. So while a certain place or object may have no meaning to someone else, it could be a deeply embedded message for you to follow.
A great example of this happened to a writer for Psychology Today, whose article I will list in the show notes. This man had been a writer for a large publication for many years but had always felt the need deep down to quit and become a freelance writer, despite the fact that it was an extremely risky move financially.
On the way home from work one day he listened to the song Desperado by The Eagles. As he got home the last verse he heard was the quote “Don't you draw the queen of diamonds, she’ll beat you if she’s able. The Queen of Hearts is always your best bet.”
When he stepped out of his car at the side of his foot was a playing card. The Queen of Hearts. Over the next two years, while considering quitting his full-time job, he found five more playing cards, all of them queens, and all in extremely different places like a sidewalk, the woods, the beach, and a meeting room.
After that, he decided that the universe was trying to tell him to live more based on his intuition, and focus less on thinking completely rationally. Instead of striving for money, it was time for him to strive for passion in his work too.
The idea that the universe strives to create balance within all things is a concept that has a lot of symbology behind it.
Firstly, you have the idea of Yin and Yang, which you’re probably familiar with. Usually, it’s a circle, but sometimes it’s drawn as two koi fish, one black and one white, that swim in a circle, creating a balance of both light and dark. They are opposite, yet they compliment each other. How this relates to synchronicity, is that our psyche and the material world around are opposites in nature. One is something you can touch, while the other is as intangible as our dreams, and that is sometimes impossible to put into words. According to Jung, it’s when there is a connection between those two, whether that connection makes rational sense or not, that we tend to perk up and listen because we can then sense the world trying to balance itself.
Another example of this type of symbolism is a Mandala, (Men-dal-uh) which is Sanskrit for circle. It’s popular in Hinduism and Buddhism and essentially represents the universe. Its circular shape symbolizes that life is never-ending and that everything in the universe is connected in some way. It’s also a reminder that each individual has a responsibility of finding their own place within the united cosmos.
Unus Mundus is another idea wherein everything, in reality, is unified. Latin for “one world,” Unus Mundus also describes everything in the universe as having come from one place and having a purpose as returning to that same place. Jung was also interested in this concept, as he was sympathetic to the ideas of a Belgian alchemist who had lived in the sixteenth century named Gerhard Dorn.
As an alchemist, Dorn’s practices were a mixture of religion, science, and what would usually be called magic. Instead of the usual Christian belief system that humanity was sent to Earth to learn of repentance, it was instead God who needed redemption. Part of us humans method in helping God towards salvation was the use of alchemy in creating the Philosopher's Stone, and also in teaching all humans how to become one with the Anima Mundi, which is the belief that we are connected to the universe the same way our souls are connected to our bodies.
My favorite symbol for the concept of Anima Mundi is called the Ouroboros. It is the image of a snake, or sometimes a dragon, curling into a circle and eating its own tail. This imagery is symbolic of life, death, and rebirth, and the idea that existence is cyclical.
This image has popped up in ancient Egypt, most notably in the tomb of Tutankhamen, and even in Norse Mythology, where shows up as one of the children of Loki and a giantess, named Jörmungandr. It even has similarities to both the snake from the Garden of Eden in the Old Testament and also the Leviathan in Judaism, who is a primordial sea serpent.
Along with several other religious icons, it’s even featured in the seal of the Theosophical Society. While I did lightly touch upon the subject of Theosophy in my episode about Mediums, all you really need to know about them is that they are pretty inclusionary of all religions but have a strong belief in karma and reincarnation.
Instead of synchronicity being a personal matter wherein coincidences influenced growth, the Ouroboros symbolize the way the entire universe is interconnected. It also was a great way of explaining how the seasons melted into one another, much like the mythology of Persephone and Hades.
Today you can also see icons of snakes circling around to bite their tails in cemeteries where plots from the 17th and 18th centuries still exist. Headstones with images depicting the ouroboros were just as common as skulls or religious iconographies like crosses or angels.
Carl Jung was also interested in the Ouroborus as a symbol for psychology. In some versions of the Ouroboros, the snake is sometimes even depicted as half white and half black, which echoes the yin and yang of the Chinese mythology that he was so interested in.
And the snake eating itself, only to bring itself back to life, was a great analogy for how his work with his psychiatric patients helped them to become new again. The concept also brought people closer to accepting the idea that the universe works in tandem with your development and rebirth, even in the form of meaningful, acausal coincidences like synchronicities/
The Philosophers Stone
Something I found interesting was the fact that the Ouroboros was also prominently featured in the illustrations of alchemists, who, as I mentioned, were famous for trying to create the Philosopher's stone. The stone was supposed to be able to turn things into gold, which was, when drunk, thought to make one immune to illness and aging.
Jung said about the Ouroboros that it was “a dramatic symbol for the integration and assimilation of the opposite, i.e. of the shadow. This ‘feedback’ process is at the same time a symbol of immortality since it is said of the Ouroboros that he slays himself and brings himself to life, fertilizes himself, and gives birth to himself. He symbolizes the One, who proceeds from the clash of opposites, and he, therefore, constitutes the secret of the prima materia which […] unquestionably stems from man’s unconscious.”
In this quote, Prima Materia is a reference to the Philosopher's Stone or that which makes man immortal. To make a long statement, Jung was alluding to the idea that eternal life doesn’t lie in some magical stone that can make us live forever. But instead, it was somewhere deep inside ourselves. Our rebirth and growth led to eternal life. And sometimes that knowledge would lie deep inside our unconscious (or what he called the Shadow self) only to be awakened by the occurrence of synchronicity caused by a universe that benefited from our becoming whole again. In that instance, both the universe and you are one, working together to create a more whole and unfractured world.
At the end of the day, synchronicity has pushed me through hour after hour of researching topics for this podcast. Everytime I think I have run out of topics that interest me, my current project will bring me to another one, and another one, and another one. And all of them have had a deep, meaningful impact on my perception of the world. Just like the concept of Unus Mundis, it’s started to show me that everything is connected.
Something I want to point out is that Jung’s belief in the theory of synchronicity also deeply strengthened his belief in the existence of the paranormal.. One of the reasons I believed it would be appropriate to write about such a philosophical and intangible concept was because I believed that future episodes could benefit from it. It would be nice to be able to reference synchronicities when I find them.
So is there really meaning to be given to coincidences, or are they simply just concurrences that are devoid of meaning? Well, I guess it just depends on if you believe in a higher power, whether that be a God or a Universe that is working to bring balance to our lives.
Honestly, try not to think about it too hard because I did end up realizing that this was definitely one of the most difficult episodes I’ve ever written. Not only because of the terminology and history of the subject but because I spent way too long pondering the implications of these theories and now my brain hurts. So to end this episode, I would like to throw in a quote by Joseph Campbell, a professor at Sarah Lawrence College who was deeply influenced by Jung. He once wrote that quote "Life is not a problem to be solved, but a mystery to be experienced.
Thank you so much for taking the time to listen to my ramblings, my friends. Be sure to always stay open to the possibilities of life. Oh, and don’t forget to keep it strange.