Friday, November 29, 2013

The Zeitoun events from the perspective of the MPI (part 6)

This post is the last one of the Zeitoun series. The next posts will look into the 1989-1990 UFO wave over Belgium.

The Zeitoun events from the perspective of the MPI (part 6)

After reviewing the evidence available on the apparitions at Zeitoun in previous posts, this text is proposing an analysis based on the Model of Pragmatic Information (MPI) developed by the parapsychologist Walter von Lucadou [1]. The MPI has been used on this blog at numerous occasions to analyze other large scale paranormal events (or socially relevant anomalies (SRA)), such as the 1952 UFO wave over Washington D.C. Because of these previous presentations of the MPI, only a brief recapitulation of the model will be provided here. For more details, please refer to this particular post and this one.
Introduction: Back to the MPI
The MPI has been originally developed to study poltergeists, better-known as Recurrent Spontaneous Psychokinesis (RSPK) in parapsychology. Von Lucadou, based on his extensive empirical research on RSPK, noted over time that RSPKs tend to unfold according to a general pattern, and therefore it is possible to predict how a RSPK would start, peak and disappear.
Most scientific parapsychologists consider that poltergeists are actually uncontrollable psychokinetic (PK) forces (or energy) produced by someone in a family, or a small and close knit group, who has deep but unexpressed psychological challenges. It is oftentimes a teenager, but not always, and the reasons for such over-representation of teenagers are not well understood at this time [2]. The extension of the MPI to large scale events (such as the Zeitoun apparitions) is based on the assumption that collective psychokinetic is the fundamental element behind the anomaly.
According to the MPI, a RSPK evolves in 4 phases: (1) Surprise, slow start when only a few notice something really strange and unusual; (2) Displacement, ramping up and peaking when many start to notice but start to believe that the phenomenon is caused some sort of non-human entity; (3) Decline, when sceptical observers arrive, as they do not believe in the non-human entity explanation and have a more rigorous look at paranormal events; and (4) Cover-up and Disappearance, when official authorities get involved and declare the phenomenon to be a hoax or a fraud.

In each phase, there is a particular set of people who seem to play a more preponderant role. In the surprise phase, there are a few people who experience something completely unexpected with strong emotions, which are called the “focus person and his/her immediate environment”; (2) during the displacement phase, other people (who are called the “naïve observers”); joined the first experiencers but these new people tend to displace the meaning of what is occurring by fixing the explanation on the activities of some powerful non-human entity; (3) then during the decline, people called the “sceptical observers”, usually made of professionals and well-educated people, enter the fray and challenge directly the supernatural explanation provided by the naïve observers; finally in the cover-up, society through the “authorities” steps in to quell the public disturbance caused by the events.
From the point of view of the MPI, the people around the phenomenon and what they believe to be true are key parts of the RSPK process. It is why the naïve observers are very important in reinforcing the belief in the supernatural origin of the phenomenon, so are the sceptical observers and the authorities in making it disappear.
Phase 1: The very short ambiguous start
The events of Zeitoun started with the surprise of a few non-Christians (the public transit workers) and Christians (women walking in the street at the same moment). These people were afraid that someone would commit suicide, and they were quite worried, enough to call the police. On the other hand, some Christian women were completely excited and rejoiced to see what the construed as the Virgin Mary. In spite of the diverging explanations, for all these people there was no doubt in their mind that there was indeed someone on the Church’s roof. During the surprise phase, like in a typical RSPK, the first few experiencers already hypothesized a supernatural explanation for what was seen without being fully certain about it. Notably, the Church priests were not present to confirm what was seen at the time of the first apparition.
The gathering of people at the Zeitoun site took a few days to become major public event. The word of mouth process brought an increasing number of people from the neighborhood, not too sure what to think. As well, the first witnesses did not report all the other strange phenomena noted later, such as the “birds”, the smoke, the scent, etc. From that point of view, this fits generally well the description proposed by the MPI of an RSPK, where the phenomenon grows in intensity and diversifies itself in the later displacement phase.


As noted before, the focus person in the case of SRA is difficult to find. In a typical family RSPK, the individual who has unexpressed psychological challenges can be identified fairly easily, as the disturbances, usually, only occur in his or her presence. In the case of a collective PK, who might be the focus person is much less clear.
However, there are a few clues available. The MPI proposes that the use of psi effect (PK) is to convey a message (hence the notion of “Pragmatic Information”), which in the case of a typical RSPK would be about the psychological distress of the focus person. Such messages tend be symbolic, comparable to night dream symbolism produce by the unconscious part of the mind.
At this point in the analysis, let’s take note that the very first people who saw the phenomenon were Muslim people, part of the Egyptian broader public service, who were all thinking that they observed someone “near the abyss”. There is an implicit possible symbolic message here; more on this below. Furthermore, in the case of Zeitoun, like in most typical RSPK events, the symbolic message seemed to have been missed completely by the people in the surrounding environment, namely the Muslim workers and Christian women. 
Phase 2: Rise and peak through displacement
In the days that followed the first apparition, the crowd started to gather in greater numbers around the Church. In the MPI language, the naïve observers arrived in mass to the site. If there was any doubt about the Marian nature of the phenomenon, they were quickly set aside by the intense religious fervour and the growing intensity of the apparitions. New phenomena started to be seen such as the “birds”, miraculous healing, smoke, scent, and movements of the apparition beyond the roof. During the first few first weeks, the interpretation was fully displaced towards a supernatural explanation. Even some of the original public transit workers were absorbed into the naïve observer crowd after experiencing what they construed as miraculous healings.

According to the MPI, such “slippage”, from a symbolic message to the belief of having a non-human entity in action is actually a requirement for the phenomenon to continue and grow. As long as the message is not understood, as long as the emotional-symbolic system is not closely observed for what it is, the level of indeterminacy in the psi-related system remains high, and therefore a key condition for non-local (or non-causal) effect (psi) to occur is maintained. 
Phase 3: No immediate decline…?
It is here that the Zeitoun case is particularly interesting from the point of view of the MPI, as it did not follow the usual pattern of a RSPK: the phenomenon continued for a number of months before starting to experience serious decline. What happened?
The decline phase, according to the MPI, is directly linked to the arrival of sceptical observers on the scene, shattering the beliefs that the naïve observers were upholding. What happened at Zeitoun is something rarely seen in a typical RSPK: the authorities stepping in quickly with a sympathetic approach to the phenomenon! Not only they did not try to quell the supernatural events and its explanation, but actually they did everything to institutionalize its supernatural meaning.
When the Coptic Church sent priests to investigate, they quickly agreed about the “genuine nature” of the Marian apparition. The alleged visitation of President Nasser, if true, would have just reinforced the social and emotional dynamic favorable to the Marian explanation created by the swift action of the Coptic Church. Furthermore, by creating a professional medical committee to investigate the miraculous healings, the Church essentially “enlisted” many people who would normally be considered “sceptical observer” to further reinforce the supernatural explanation. This had for effect of neutralizing, at least in Egypt, dissident voices from potential sceptical observers. This approach from the Coptic Church is perfectly understandable and very much to be expected from a religious institution that canonically accepts the notion of miraculous apparitions. By comparison, such sympathy for poltergeist entities does not exist in modern police and health authorities
Phase 4: No cover-up just growing indifference
The disappearance of the phenomenon appears to be in conjunction with the shrinking size of the crowd, which of course had a feedback and self-reinforcing effect of creating a phenomenon less interesting to attend to. In the case of Zeitoun, given that the authorities were fully on side with the supernatural explanation, the quelling effect of formally branding the phenomenon as a fraud or a hoax simply did not happened. Hence, from the MPI perspective it was rather growing indifference that slowly “killed” the phenomenon. In other words, the anomaly ceased to be socially relevant but without the “slandering” interventions of powerful social actors (i.e., the authorities).

Who were the focus persons?
As discussed in a previous post, and in this post, people, symbolism, geography and dates can help us identifying possible candidates for a focus person. As stated above, the first to see the anomaly were Muslim public workers and Christian women. From this point of view, the message, or pragmatic information, might have been directed towards the Muslim people who were closer to the government of the time (socialist, nationalist and not particularly religious), and to the Christian minority of Egypt. The symbolism of being “near the abyss” seems to be a serious warning that people were close to getting into a very serious problem. The location, Cairo, is the seat of Egyptian government, but it is also the largest city in the country, so geography is information more equivocal as to where the focus persons could be.
However, the dates seem to be particularly relevant. The events in Zeitoun started on 2 April 1968. What happened in Egypt, at the same time, that might cause a serious collective upset but that could not be fully expressed by other normal means? This is of course open to interpretation, but later in April 1968 the Egyptian government liberated over one thousand jailed radical Islamists, members of the Muslim Brotherhood [3], including Ayman al-Zawahiri who will become later on the no.2 and now no. 1 leader of Al-Queda [4]. The Brotherhood eventually organized the assassination of Egyptian president Anwer El-Sadat in 1980. More recently, they stole away the original spirit of the Arab Spring of 2010. They got one of them elected as president (Morsi). They are suspected of orchestrating, or at least informally encouraging, repression against the Coptic Christian minority. And they got the Egyptian military worried enough about the future of their country to organize a coup to remove the Islamist president Morsi, and redraft the new constitution against the Islamists.
Could the knowledge, or precognition, about the liberation of over 1,000 members of the Brotherhood in 1968 created a strong collective feeling of throwing Egypt into the abyss? Certainly the notion that these people were dangerous already existed in Egypt in the 1960s. Could there be some people in the Egyptian national security apparatus in 1968, who were aware and extremely anxious of the government’s plan to provide an amnesty to members of the Brotherhood, but unable to speak up? This seems probable. Could they be the focus persons? Impossible to tell for sure, but they seem to be likely candidates. 
There is little doubt that geophysical activities in Egypt in 1968 contributed to create the enabling conditions for very unusual events to be perceived. Many of the phenomena described by the witnesses can be explained through various theories and models found in geology, even if some models remain incomplete, such as the tectonic strain theory. Yet, on its own geological explanations of all the events once they are taken together and looked at from a more granular perspective cannot reasonably account for what happened. To stick to a purely geological explanation, one would need to invoke a long list of geological coincidences never seen before and dismiss condescendingly all the witnesses as unreliable. This is an unreasonable perspective that is based on a belief that a purely naturalistic explanation somehow exists but cannot be proven. The religious explanation is no different from the geological one, as it is based on a theological corpus from which a belief in Marian apparitions can be supported but not proven. It is a matter of belief.
From a parasociological standpoint, the events in Zeitoun were socially relevant anomalies. Some of such anomalies resist naturalistic explanations, and yet there were certain geophysical enabling conditions at play, as well as pre-existing beliefs in Marian apparitions, which contributed to perceiving anomalies. Such context points towards the possibility that collective psi effects occurred in Egypt in 1968 and later on, where geology and religion played an important support role.  
The events in Zeitoun, if there were psi effects involved, could be described as psychokinesis. The selection of the MPI to study the events as a collective form of RSPK was justified. The analysis of the Zeitoun apparitions using the MPI provided a different interpretation to what happened. This explanation is neither religious nor naturalistic, and yet does not require a belief system. The final explanation, or at least an explanation that would satisfy almost everyone, is likely to be never found. But clearly, the choice is wider that just geology or religion.
From a parasociological and parapsychological perspective, the fact that the events did not unfold as a typical RSPK is not an invalidation of the MPI. What happened is rather that the institutional conditions (Church authorities versus regular police or health authorities) were different in the Zeitoun, and can be explained easily in terms sociological differences between different societies. Incorporating such different institutional contexts into the analysis shows in fact that the MPI’s capacity to predict RSPK is preserved and even enhanced. If the authorities jump early in support of a supernatural explanation, this is not without consequences.
One can just wonder if the American military authorities had supported the extra-terrestrial hypothesis (ETH) in the 1940s and 1950s how the UFO phenomenon would have evolved over time. In fact, it might have died earlier because this would have de-energized the combative naïve observers (ETH ufologists), as they would have had no conspiracy to uncover. The naturally occurring growth of indifference, over time, would have done the rest in making the phenomenon disappear.

[1] For more on von Lucadou and the MPI, please see this brief biography, and this paper on the MPI.
[2] Once more, and to be clear, the concept of RSPK excludes any notion that the disturbances popularly known as poltergeists are caused by non-human entities of some sort (although the belief in the existence of non-human entities is critical for the phenomenon is continue for a while).
[3] Hiro, Dilip. (1989). Holy Wars: The rise of Islamist fundamentalism. New York: Routledge, p. 69.
[4] Erickson, Marc. (2002). “Islamism, fascism and terrorism (Part 4)”. Asian Times, 5 December, available online at

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Marian Apparitions at El-Zeitoun and Social Psi (part 5)

After a long and overdue return to this case, the qualitative description of the actual apparitions is discussed in this post.

General Description
One obvious aspect about the apparitions is that there was a fairly wide variety of descriptions and “behaviors” reported by the witnesses.

The apparitions seemed to have all occurred near the Church, but not necessarily at the same exact spot. As previously noted, the first one was seen on the roof near the base of the dome. It was also seen in the courtyard between trees [1], while in other occasions it was seen in mid-air above the main dome [2]. It is interesting to note that after a number of days of apparitions, the public utilities cut the power in the neighborhood, at first to deflect a hoax, and then to help having a better view, as well surrounding trees were cut on the third night so people could see better [3].  
The most common colors were blue and white, but some noted also green and pink [4], and others saw a reddish light [5]. These are important elements to define the nature of the apparition, as the traditional colors associated with the Marian worship is blue and white, but also red (although more common in older and Eastern iconography).


Several witnesses underlined that apparition disappeared as if it turns off slowly the dimmer of a lamp [6], while in other situations it rose in the sky to disappear [7]. In some occasions it was perceived as if the wind was blow through it and that her “veil” was moving in the wind [8], while it appeared to be flat and only 2-dimensional in another occasion [9]. At times, the apparition was motionless and described as statue like [10], but it appeared that it was moving more often than not [11] but as if floating without using “its feet” [12]. It was “making gestures” with her “head”, and her “hands” in particular [13].


Picture taken 13 April 1968, and reproduced in
a book written in Arabic by Risk, according to Zaki (p. 14).


Picture by Ali Ibrahim, found in Palmer (p. 54)

The actual shape appeared to have also varied from something like squarish form which was construed as the Virgin sitting and holding the infant Jesus [14], while in most cases it seemed to be closer to either a vertical rectangle or a vertically elongated lozenge with a circle at the top, which sometime seen in full, and other times only in “half-figure” [15]. Many claimed to be able to distinguish a face, eyes, and mouth [16], and even resembling representations seen in religious icons [17]. Yet, others noted that there was a light but they could not distinguish anything particular [18].

Picture found in Palmer without a source (p. 45).
Zaki could not find the source (p. 9).
As one would expect, it is normal to have variations in descriptions provided by eye-witnesses, but in general in tends to be relatively consistent. This certainly adds some degree of confidence about the common and ongoing source of the event. However, one important question remains as to whether the witnesses projected into their experience their own beliefs and interpreted the events as being an apparition of the Virgin Mary. This is a difficult question to assess properly, but there are some elements that could provide a few leads in this regard.

The Crowd

As discussed in a previous post, the crowd became at one point very large, certainly in the thousands of people. Witnesses’ accounts are quite interesting in their comments about other people present. There was a lot of emotional energy displayed during these events. Some noted that people were screaming at the apparition [19], and in Kamell and al.’s survey the crowd was described as either excited or hysterical (45%), and in prayerful devotion (38%) [20].

To add to the very intense atmosphere, some witnesses saw “miracles” such as paralyzed people walking and other people beyond cured on the spot [21]. This is in line with the investigation conducted by medical doctors on the behalf of the Coptic Church which found several unexplainable cases of people being cure of illnesses. About a dozen of them are described in some detail in Palmer [22].  

In such an atmosphere, which mixes religious devotion and amazement, the probabilities that many people projected their belief into what they saw seem quite high. Non-believers like Nelson, as already noted, did saw an intense light, but could not translate what they saw into the “Virgin Mary”. Yet, the original witnessed were Muslim workers, and they thought that a woman was about to commit suicide by jumping from the Church’s roof.

A combination of factors can be invoked to reinforce what was discussed on this blog in previous posts about “prior plausibility structure”. Zeitoun is known in the Coptic tradition as a place where the Virgin rested during the escape to Egypt, and there is an old tree associated with this tradition in Zeitoun. Then, the apparitions were centered on a Church, dedicated to Saint Mary. There were “miracles” seen by witnesses, and there is no doubt that the word about such event spread very quickly. The main colors were blue and white, and sometimes red, the traditional colors associated with the Marian iconography. Finally, the shape of the apparition was construed even by no believers as the one of a woman.


One could also think that it is an example of one seeing what one wants to see (also known as pareidolia). The social context combined with the key characteristics of the apparition could lead to make such a conclusion about pareidolia. However, if the context is certainly social in nature, pareidolia is an explanation that remains firmly in the world of individual psychology. Given the widespread assessment by witnesses that the apparition had a human shape, the pareidolia explanation is relatively weak.

However, this does not mean that no pareidolia occurred during the Zeitoun events. One case that was reported only by a few witnesses is a light construed as being the Virgin with the infant Jesus. The picture below is described as being “Real photo of the Virgin kneeling and praying, while carrying the Child Jesus Christ in Her lap. […] Photographed by Mr. Wagih Rizk at 3:15 am on Saturday, May 25, 1968” [23]. Although the picture is somewhat blurry, it seems to be a stretch of imagination to describe this as being anything specific.

Photographic controversies

Could the “physical evidence” help us here? Like with most UFO and paranormal-related pictures, they actually tend to murk the water more than they help, as they create controversies about what they are. The fault, unfortunately, is usually on the believers, who do not care to provide the rest of the information necessary to assess the source of the photography. A picture is not a fact; it is an artefact that has a complete social and technical context, which cannot be severed from the actual image; otherwise it becomes meaningless colors on a piece of paper. The story of Zeitoun is no different in this regard.

There is a famous picture where the “Virgin” is seen in great detail, but it is actually an enhanced picture with drawing done over it by an Egyptian doctor who witnessed of the event. This was not intended to be a hoax, but rather a “better” representation of what he saw, as noted in picture caption seen below (unfortunately I could not find the actual source of book where the picture and caption are taken from).

 Picture found at

This brought some sceptic websites to declare the picture a fraud, but in fact the original is actually genuine. The same picture is found in Palmer [24], published in 1969, so it was taken either in 1968 or 1969, by Ali Ibrahim, and one can observe that the picture is much more blurry, as noted in Kamell et al.’s photographic analysis [25].

From Kamell et al., p. 231

The other picture that has created some controversies is the one taken by Fawzy Mansur sometime in 1968 [26], and was analyzed in detail by Kamell et al. They found no particular fault with the picture that would betray its authenticity, but double exposure could not be ruled out either [27]. However, its semi-transparent nature is in direct contradiction with the opaque look found in other pictures, as well as the description given by almost all eye witnesses. “Too good to be true” is probably a more sensible attitude regarding this particular picture.

From Kamell et al, p. 224.

In the end, it remains difficult to assess what people saw from the point of view of the “physical evidence”. The fact that some pictures were “improved” like the “doves”, as discussed in a previous post, and some of the apparitions does not invalidate the case. As Fodor Nandor noted many years ago about studying poltergeists, there is often a mixture of genuine anomalies and make belief, as the anomaly can awake some powerful and uncontrollable feelings inside people [28].

One other useful source of information is through comparison to similar event. The more recent event of December 2009 in Warraq, also near Cairo can help us to have a better sense of what happen.

Apparition in Warraq

The apparition in Warraq was much shorter in duration when compared to the ones in Zeitoun. It was covered by the Egyptian press, and there are many phonecam videos available on Youtube. The case is not without controversies either, but it was declared to be a genuine supernatural phenomenon by the Coptic Church. Without assessing whether there was any socially relevant anomaly that occurred in Warraq, what is interesting is that it provides some points of comparison to visualize what people in Zeitoun saw more than 40 years ago, as well as what kind of atmosphere was happening then.


If one looks at the videos on Youtube, the images are blurry but one can easily construe what is being seen as an apparition of the Virgin. As well, the atmosphere was also intense, people shouting, singing, cars horning, etc. It was definitely a social event, even if this might be a hoax. From this perspective, it reinforces the notion that UFO and paranormal events cannot be studied solely from the point of view of individual psychology, or solely from the individual level by parapsychologists.
In light of all the factual information available on Zeitoun, it is not possible to determine the nature of the events. The geomagnetism has certainly played a role as enabling forces, but when one looks at the detail level of the apparitions there too many things lining up for geo-physics to explain everything. Those who claim that geo-physics can explain all the Zeitoun events have not enough facts to support such explanation, and it comes down to be a matter of belief. Those who see a form of divine intervention are obviously making this assessment based on their beliefs, but to stay there is to stay beyond the realm of a reasoned discussion. In order to go beyond the belief systems of the both the sceptics and the believers, a reasoned explanation needs to be attempted to shed, hopefully, some more light on this intriguing case.  
Having now looked at the Zeitoun case and the available facts and information, the next post will be proposing to look at the events using the Model of Pragmatic Information developed by the parapsychologist Walter von Lucadou, which is one of the rare parapsychological analytical tools integrating the sociological dimension.  

[1] Palmer, p. 13.
[2] Palmer, pp. 21-23.
[3] Nil, p. 49.
[4] Nil, p. 62.
[5] Palmer, p.32.
[6] Palmer, pp. 21-23; Nil, p. 50.
[7] Palmer, pp. 13-14; Nil, p. 54.
[8] Palmer, p. 15;
[9] Palmer, pp. 13-14.
[10] Nil, p. 43 and 62.
[11] Palmer, p. 13.
[12] Palmer, p. 15.
[13] Nil, pp. 50, 68-70, 72.
[14] Nil, p. 43-44.
[15] Nil, pp. 41, 63.
[16] Palmer, pp. 21-23; Nil, pp. 53-54, 57.
[17] Nil, pp. 43-44.
[18] Nil, p. 42; Zaki, p. 12; Nelson, Cynthia. (1973). "The Virgin of Zeitoun". Worldview 16(9): 5-11.
[19] Nil, pp. 41, 43, 50, 53.
[20] Kamell et al., p. 284.
[21] Nil, pp. 41, 43, 68-70.
[22] Palmer, pp. 44-50.
[23] From
[23] Palmer, p. 14.
[24] Kamell et al., p. 231.
[26] Kamell et al., p. 225.
[27] Kamell et al., p. 230.
[28] Fodor, Nandor. (1959). The Haunted Mind. New York: Helix Press.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

New perspectives on the notion of collective unconscious

Dear all,

I am re-wrapping my head around the Zeitoun case, but here is something new.

Thank you for your patience.

The sociologist Susan Greenwood (1990) noted twenty years ago that Émile Durkheim’s concept of “collective consciousness” and Carl Jung’s notion of “collective unconscious” are very similar in their explanatory structure, and draw from a common origin in the writings of the early 20th century French anthropologist Lévy-Bruhl. The psychologist Harry Hunt (2012) came to the same conclusion in a recently published article (without referencing Greenwood’s paper in any shape or form).

What makes Hunt’s paper particularly interesting is that his paper was based on the recently discovered Jung’s Red Book, a journal where Jung wrote his most inner thought about various aspects of his research and therapeutic practice. This additional confirmation that the notions of collective consciousness and collective unconscious are closely related constitutes an important argument in support of the parasociological project.

Most parapsychologists agree that psi-related phenomena are somehow linked to unconscious processes. By extension, a fundamental premise of parasociology is that social psi phenomena should be linked to collective unconscious processes. For this reason, Jung’s research on what he termed the “collective unconscious” is of primary interest in parasociology. Yet, Jung was less than clear on what he meant by collective unconscious. This was, in many ways, because he was addressing a topic that could easily be turned into ridicule by the scientific establishment of his time. Having now the benefit of his inner thoughts from the Red Book, many ambiguities in his writings can be resolved.


The first ambiguities that Hunt attacks is whether the collective unconscious is something based in our biology (genetically hard wired) or something based in common human experience (and thus being collectively shared through culture and language). Jung tended to propose a biological explanation but it was mainly because biological reductionism was very much the dominant flavor in academic circles in his days, but he could see also a cultural version of it too. In light of modern advances in neuroscience, it appears that it is a bit of both, and Jung’s ambivalence was actually warranted. The human brain is hard wired to grasp the surrounding environment by using some fundamental mental structures. As Hunt notes, “in cognitive psychology, Lakoff and Johnson (1999) have similarly identified cross-modal ‘image schemas’ (container, path, centre, force, etc.) that not only underlie all thought, but seem necessary as the inner form of fully adult feeling – as differentiated senses of anger as ‘heated’, ‘streamed’, ‘boiling’, ‘exploding’ (see also Knox, 2004). These metaphors, already exteriorized in nature, will also be broadly cross-cultural, but independent of any specifically phylogenetic or ancestral mind” (2012, 79). And later he adds that “Jung’s collective unconscious most directly defines a kind of symbolic cognition” (Hunt 2012, 80).


In other words, the collective unconscious is collective because, on one hand the human brain is wired to think in certain ways, while on the other hand there a number basic common human experience (hot and cold, wet and dry, male and female, etc.) that provide fundamental metaphors for our thinking. Culture, then, builds on those basic wiring and common experience to deal with the particular situation of a given community (hence explaining the great degree of variation between cultures).

As Hunt underlines, “in socio-cultural terms it is comparable to Durkheim’s (1912) concept of ‘collective consciousness’, which he understands as most apparent in the ‘collective representations’ of myth, ritual, and religion. This idea of a ‘collective consciousness’ takes on a cross-cultural component once we add in the largely unconscious roots of archetypical imagination in Lakoff and Johnson’s ‘image schemas’ – as also embedded within the expressive patterns of physical and animate nature, and so continuously available as exteriorized sources of metaphor” (2012, 80).


The sociological concept of collective consciousness can be easily re-defined as the external (or observable) dimension of the collective unconscious. For instance, in most cultures major aspects of reality are gendered, but not in the same way—in patriarchal societies the moon is oftentimes construed as feminine because it is the reflection of the sun (the male principle), yet in a few societies the moon is represented as a male concept because it is at night that warriors get ready for battle and having moonlight is critical. Either way, the moon is assigned a gender, as a common and deeply wired way of relating to reality.

This brings us to the Jungian notion of archetype, the fundamental building blocks of the collective unconscious, according to Jung. Archetypes are deeply internalized in the unconscious, and they are “idea-and-feeling forms” (i.e. ways of thinking with an emotional value) that become strongly associated with a natural form or object; e.g. light is good because this allows us to live; we tend to have special positive rituals about the sun and sunlight--like going in vacation to sunny places in the middle of winter...). To put it differently, archetypes are special nodes of the human mind that we all share in way or another, thus making the collective unconscious that will be seen in various myths and social practices. To take another example, one well-known archetype is the magician (also known as the wise man). It is this idea-feeling we have when we meet someone more knowledgeable than us. It is based on our brain wiring of quantity thinking (i.e. more or less knowledge) and on a common childhood experience of meeting an adult who by definition is more knowledgeable (well, one hopes so!).


One can see the direct link between archetypes and common recurrent themes found in collective representations such as myths and rituals (e.g. god is often represented as an older man in the Western world). Once again, the psychologist Jung and the sociologist Durkheim are treading on the same waters. As Hunt put it, “as with Jung, fully developed mythological thinking is not a simple handover from childhood animism, but is itself metacognitive. It is an expressive cognition of underlying cognitive processes, but here on the grounds of cognitive psychology and sociology” (2012, 84). In other words, our collective imagination and representations are the visible expressions of our collective notions deeply buried in the unconscious.  

Archetypes, even if they are lived at the individual level, are in fact showing us that we tend to thinking and feel in very similar ways at the unconscious level. As Hunt wrote, “in the modern West, with our extreme individualism, inevitably shared by Jung himself, we tend to miss the socially collective nature of ostensibly individual states of high imaginative absorption and numinous imagery” (2012, 88). As an interesting empirical support for this notion, Hunt (2012, 90) notes Beradt research on ordinary German night dreams during the mid-1930, which were pointing towards impending disasters on Nazism and the Second World War. One could go further and say that the entire field of anthropology is based on the notion of understanding how myths are constructed, shared, and how the regulate the life of pre-modern societies. Similarly, research in marketing is very much based on seeking the archetype that would support the sales of a particular product. The empirical evidence to support the collective nature of archetypes is overwhelming, and one could say that without the collective unconscious and archetypes, society and especially large complex modern societies would simply not be possible.

This brings us to the interesting notion that archetypes can be activated also at the collective level, not just at the individual one. For Jung, when an archetype is activated (it becomes present in our consciousness through dreams, visions, or just ideas popping-up in one’s mind) , it means that something unconscious is bothering us and the archetype can be used as a clue for the clinical psychologist to help the patient.

But Jung ventured a bit further, and this where his research become particularly useful for the parasociological project, in stating that in some situation an archetype can activated in an externalized way through synchronicities (meaningful coincidences) or paranormal phenomena. This essentially means that one’s unconscious is using external means to get attention about a problem. This was explored by parapsychologists at the individual level (and it is one of the main explanations proposed for poltergeists events or RSPKs). With respect to the usefulness of Jung’s notions, now better understood through his insights described in the Red Book, there is no logical reason to reject the possibility of collectively activated archetypes being also exteriorized through collective synchronicities and paranormal phenomena.

One important dimension of collective archetypal activation is the issue of time. For spontaneous paranormal (or psi) cases, the same unconscious problem would require to bother many people at the same time. In this regard, I found an interesting article by Tim Edensor (2006) that speaks to both deeply held and shared beliefs (archetypes) and time. Here is a somewhat long quote that sums up well the gist of his argument.


“Part of the way in which rituals and habits cited above ‘enable the nation to be thinkable, inhabitable, communicable and therefore governable’ (Mercer, 1992: 27), is through synchronization, the simultaneous participation of millions of people in timetabled routines. Zeruvabel (1981) asserts that synchronization is a fundamental principle of social organization which usually eludes analysis, overlooked because of its familiarity. Repetition is surely essential to identity, for without recurrent experiences there would be no consistency given to experience, no temporal framework within which to make sense of the world. As I have already mentioned, the state synchronizes much nation-wide practices, regulating the time spent at school, work and the release of exam results, governing drinking hours, and so on. But in addition to this official temporal framework for everyday living, national synchronicity is achieved through temporal customs about when and where specific social practices should occur.” (Edensor 2006, 534)

As well, if modern societies are more complex than pre-modern ones, this does not mean that they not have means to share myths at the same time, and thus allow archetypes to be activated. As Edensor notes from other researchers: “Moores describes this mediatized timetabling as the ‘domestication of national standard time (1988: 67), and Silverstone highlights how television schedules organize household routines through which time ‘is felt, lived and secured’, producing repetitive viewing experiences embedded in the times of biography and the life-cycle, and in the time of institutions and societies themselves’ (1994:20). In this way, television links ‘the national public into the private lives of its citizens, through the creation of both sacred and quotidian moments of national communion’ (Morley, 2000: 107)” (Edensor 2006, 535).

Now, with the advent of the Internet and satellite television, time is spent in a less homogeneous way, as a greater amount of content can be viewed on a wider timeframe. But standard time routines have not changed that much (Edensor 2006, 541-542). This idea supports my argument that the UFO phenomenon might be in declined because we are less synchronized as societies (post-modern) than during the "television era", mostly occurring in North American from the late 1940s to late 1990s.

Nevertheless, this issue of temporality of collective action, combined with the greater similarity of thought and feeling found in what has been termed the collective unconscious create the necessary conditions for social psi to be possible.


Edensor, Tim. (2006). “Reconsidering national temporalities: Institutional times, everyday routines, serial spaces and synchronicities”. European Journal of Social Theory 9(4): 525-545.

Greenwood, Susan F. (1990). “Émile Durkheim and C.G. Jung: Structuring a transpersonal sociology of religion.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 29(4): 482-495.

Hunt, Harry T. (2012). “A collective unconscious reconsidered: Jung’s archetypal imagination in the light of contemporary psychology and social science”. Journal of Analytical Psychology 57(1): 76-98.

Jung, Carl G. (2009). The Red Book. (Edited by S. Shamdasani). New York: W.W. Norton.

Owen, Iris M. and M. Sparrow. (1976). Conjuring up Philip: An Adventure In Psychokinesis. Harper & Row.

Storm, Lance. (1999). “Synchronicity, causality, and acausality”. Journal of Parapsychology 63(3): 247-269.