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Synchronicity: Meaningful Coincidence or Chance?

Jupier & Io

Myth and Meaning

Because synchronicity is characterized by a sense of meaning, it can be seen as a bridge between the inner world of the psyche and the outer world of reality. Within a synchronicity, patterns of external events mirror an inner experience; likewise dreams and fantasies may seem to flood over into the external world. (Peat, 2006) But how do we apply meaning? What exactly do we mean when we say the word?

Meaning for C. G. Jung was an exploration away from causal paradigms. Not looking for a rational explanation for an event, Jung looked instead for 'meaning' or purpose. He did not ask what caused something to happen; he asked 'what happened?' This reorientation away from cause and effect is reflected in modern physicists who are looking more for connections than explanations based on 'natural laws'. (Jung, 1964) It also highlights the potential of synchronistic events to be markers of the future-- where causation has ties with the past. As markers of time, synchronicities happen in chairos or when 'the time is right'. (Peat, 2006) Another marker of chairos is found in myth.

“Myths evoke feelings and imagination and touch on themes that are part of the human collective inheritance.  The myths…remain current and personally relevant because there is a ring of truth in them about shared human experience.”  --Jean Shinoda Bolen, MD

Both synchronicity and mythology form a bridge between psyche and soma, mind and matter. This concept can be explored through the language of myth and fairy tale. (Combs & Holland, 2000 )

In the mythologies of many people, the mythic figure who is the embodiment of the unexpected (synchronicity) is the Trickster, who steps godlike through the cracks and flaws in the ordered world of ordinary reality, bringing good luck and bad, profit and loss.(Combs & Holland, 2000)

This is an archetypal figure known to Native Americans as 'Coyote' and 'Maui' to the Polynesians. He is also known as Loki, Krishna and Hermes. These archetypes of the Trickster command the boundaries between conscious and unconscious, life and death. As Psychopomp, Hermes is a guide of souls to the underworld as well as the patron of travelers and thieves. These images of transition warn us that when the Trickster shows up an experience of synchronicity is at hand. (Combs & Holland, 2000 ) Another powerful Trickster figure is seen in the archetype of the uninvited guest as depicted by the 13th Fairy and the goddess of strife, Eris.

ParisThe Uninvited Guest

“I am the Fairy Uglyane!  Pray where are your King’s manners, that I have not been invited?”

Thanks to Walt Disney, almost everyone is familiar with the story of Sleeping Beauty.  Although the highlights may be on Prince Charming, love’s first kiss, and happy ever after, the action of the tale, the event that really gets things started, comes from the curse of the uninvited guest--the 13th fairy.  It is this neglected enchantress, disgruntled by being ignored, that causes the entire kingdom to fall into unconsciousness.  What an interesting metaphor!

There is another tale that comes to us from Homer’s Iliad.  Here it is the tempestuous goddess of strife, Eris, who has also been overlooked.  When she fails to receive an invitation for the event that all the gods and goddesses are attending, she crashes the party.  Eris then stirs things up by tossing a golden apple down the banquet table.  Bouncing and crashing through the crystal and fine china, it ultimately falls to rest midway between Hera, Queen of the gods, Athena, goddess of wisdom, and Aphrodite, goddess of love and beauty.  Around the golden apple is inscribed “for the fairest” and of course, each of the three deities reach for it. 

Zeus, sensing trouble, quickly calls upon the young mortal Paris to decide which of the three goddesses deserves the apple--which is most fair.  Paris may or may not have realized the dubious nature of this honor.  In any case, it seems he had no choice.  Each goddess paraded in front of him, as seen in the Rubens above, offering reward after her own fashion—Hera offered power, Athena offered strategy and Aphrodite offered the most beautiful woman in the world, Helen.  Paris chose Helen and thus began the Trojan war.

The result of this event was the destruction of Troy (a synchronicity foretold by his mother's dream) and enormous loss of lives all round.  Helen and Paris had a very hard time, as did her Greek husband, Menelaus, and all because nobody thought to include the goddess Eris to dinner.  In the words of Richard Idemon, 'There is a message here.' (Idemon, 1996)

The message has to do with the results of neglect and the kinds of synchronicities that may be evoked by the 'Trickster'.  This is not a reference to neglecting health, diet or exercise and then suffering the physical consequences.  This is about neglecting the needs of our own innate energy, our inner world, and the results that oversight may bring. 

If inner needs are ignored, we only have to look to fairy tales and myths to find out what can happen.  In human nature, the worst punishment is ostracism and the outcome of such an exclusion, even self inflicted, is often self-destructive.  The inner life of the psyche has its way of being felt, for better or for worse. One way an uninvited element of the unconscious may manifest in life is through dis-ease (strife) of a physical or emotional nature.  This can be experienced as a synchronicity, especially if the illness prevents forward movement, changing a job, relationship or location and forces one into self-reflection. Synchronicities may come at times when inner reflection is most needed.  

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