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Jung's Premonitions of World War I

Dreamed 1913-1914 by Carl Jung
SOURCE: Jung's autobiography Memories, Dreams, Reflections.

In October [1913], while I was alone on a journey, I was suddenly seized by an overpowering vision: I saw a monstrous flood covering all the northern and low-lying lands between the North Sea and the Alps. When it came up to Switzerland I saw that the mountains grew higher and higher to protect our country. I realized that a frightful catastrophe was in progress. I saw the mighty yellow waves, the floating rubble of civilization, and the drowned bodies of uncounted thousands. Then the whole sea turned to blood. This vision last about one hour. I was perplexed and nauseated, and ashamed of my weakness.

Two weeks passed; then the vision recurred, under the same conditions, even more vividly than before, and the blood was more emphasized. An inner voice spoke. "Look at it well; it is wholly real and it will be so. You cannot doubt it." That winter someone asked me what I thought were the political prospects of the world in the near future. I replied that I had no thoughts on the matter, but that I saw rivers of blood.

I asked myself whether these visions pointed to a revolution, but could not really imagine anything of the sort. And so I drew the conclusion that they had to do with me myself, and decided that I was menaced by a psychosis. The idea of war did not occur to me at all.

Soon afterward, in the spring and early summer of 1914, I had a thrice-repeated dream that in the middle of summer an Arctic cold wave descended and froze the land to ice. I saw, for example, the whole of Lorraine and its canals frozen and the entire region totally deserted by human beings. All living green things were killed by frost. This dream came in April and May, and for the last time in June, 1914.

In the third dream frightful cold had again descended from out of the cosmos. This dream, however, had an unexpected end. There stood a leaf-bearing tree, but without fruit (my tree of life, I thought), whose leaves had been transformed by the effects of the frost into sweet grapes full of healing juices. I plucked the grapes and gave them to a large, waiting crowd...

On August 1 the world war broke out.


I included this excerpt both for the intense, prophetic tone of the visions and dreams, but also for Jung's reaction--or rather, inaction. Despite a voice telling him "it is wholly real" he can't believe it. "I drew the conclusion that they had to do with me myself, and decided that I was menaced by a psychosis. The idea of war did not occur to me at all."

Of course he was still influenced by Freud's thinking; had he been a traditional shaman, such repeated warnings would likely have been taken as a straightforward warning to his tribe. Or would it? Historians all remark on how Europeans seemed oblivious of the coming war, though their system of interlocking alliances looks (in hindsight, admittedly) like a tight mass of uranium just waiting for a stray neutron to set off a cascade.

But maybe it's unfair to blame Freud for it--Jung's not the only experienced dreamworker to think dreams warning of public crises are merely personal! Interpreting dreams that don't need interpreting, that even warn you they're literal, is something I've done over and over myself.

By the way, the apocalyptic imagery was familiar to Jung; these were not mysterious symbols. Jung grew up on the upper Rhine River; he saw both killer freezes and muddy yellow floods leaving drowned bodies. The dreams borrowed his vividest childhood memories of public catastrophe. He knew EXACTLY what they meant--or should have.

The point? Don't over-interpret your own dreams! If a dream says it's literal, well, it ought to know, right? Even if they don't say so, recurring dreams of disaster may not be signs of internal distress but simple warnings.

How do you know? Well, you could ask. Just before sleeping, ask for a repeat or a clarification. Nightmares are notorious for recurring anyway, even without an invitation! Getting an answer's not the problem.

The problem, as Jung found out, is hearing, really hearing, the answer. Especially when it's news you'd rather not face.

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