Prophecy or Prediction 2

As with most of my essays and books this post followed from a dream last night:
I am holding an ornate lantern above a surging tide of oceanic waters as others flow past me into the abyss. I swim towards dry land. It is imperative I do not let the lantern go underwater. All this took place in my room, i.e. visionary space is co-extensive with ordinary space-time.
The dream reference to a lantern jogged a memory of an entry in one of my earlier books, Animal Soul. Here is an excerpt (with some editing)…

The uncertainties of, well, just about everything today, is accompanied by all the prophecies and predictions that our anxieties or hopes about the future could want. With the explosion of so many occult practices today almost no attention is given to any distinction between a prophecy and a prediction—these terms are totally conflated today. This fact led me to write an essay about their necessary distinction, for the sake of our species and perhaps all species at this point. 

C. G. Jung wrote to Sir Herbert Read in 1960, one year before Jung died. He addressed the future and our role in bringing the future into actuality:

The great problem of our time is that we don’t understand what is happening to the world. We are confronted with the darkness of our soul, the unconscious. It sends up its dark and unrecognizable urges. It hollows out and hacks up the shapes of our culture and its historical dominants… Who is the awe-inspiring guest who knocks at our door portentously? Fear precedes him, showing that ultimate values already flow towards him… W e have simply got to listen to what the psyche spontaneously says to us.… It is the great dream which has always spoken through the artist as mouthpiece. All his love and passion (his “values”) flow towards the coming guest to proclaim his arrival… (Jung Letters, vol 2, 590)

This famous quote of Jung’s shows how clearly he distinguished prophecy from prediction. His letter is poetic! Jung is making a prophecy but renders it in the corresponding language of poesis. We don’t hear when the awe-inspiring guest will arrive (i.e. prediction), we hear instead about his imminence, through a felt human experience (fear, love) of the unknown future, which he poeticises as “the awe-inspiring guest”. And we can also see that Jung equates the unconscious psyche with the unknown future—“we must listen to what the psyche spontaneously says” i.e. as hints of the unknown future or the coming guest. Many people now in 2020 share a sense of imminence, felt as anxiety, anticipation, longing, or even dread today. These moods belong to the human soul as she turns towards those “dark and unrecognisable urges” emerging from “within”. They are the human experience of a movement  taking place within, i.e. beyond the human, but very “close” to the human, at the threshold one might say.

A remarkable historical event occurred at the turn of the 20th C. This event is a vivid presentation of what happens when we do collapse the meaning of a prophecy with that of predictions. Let me take you back to 1906, to a Sydney art gallery where an exhibition of pre-Raphaelite paintings is being shown. The central piece on exhibit is a picture by Holman Hunt entitled: The Light of the World:


His art work had been favourably received in Europe, by the public at least. It seemed to resonate with  the dominant mood of anticipation at that time—anticipation of better times to come, even redemptively so. These prophetic moods of anticipation or redemption have been represented in art for centuries and are often accompanied by predictions—a conflation whose consequences can be startling and, now in 2020, devastating.

The Light of the World arrived in Sydney in 1906, as I said. This is what everyone in Sydney was waiting for, with longing anticipation. So what happens when HE actually turns up? The following report is drawn from the Daily Telegraph, 1906:

Before 2 o’clock yesterday afternoon, almost 2000 people were waiting for the doors of the art gallery to open, and before the doors were closed again at 5 0’clock, 23080 people had passed through the turnstiles to see Holman Hunt’s picture, “The Light of the World.”

The crowd was enormous. Once or twice, when the doors were closed against any further invasion of the building until those inside passed out, thousands gathered in solid mass against the entrance door and waited for admittance. Then when the doors were opened there was an extraordinary struggle. Women had their hats broken, blouses deranged, blouse belts and sashes torn or broken. Men pushed forward from the back, and men pushed backward from the front. Out of the struggling came the crying of terrified children Here two mites sobbed a request to be put through a window so they might speed home from a hitherto unknown battle of humans; there two policemen carried to a corner the stiffened figure of a woman who had fainted. Clearing themselves from the contortions of the crowd, many women found out spaces, where they touched up the little damages that had befallen them – hats were straightened out, tousled hair made tidy, and dresses smoothed down – for all the world like an indignant number of hens preening feathers after unexpectedly half-drowned with a deluge of water.

Then came the closing of the doors again, with the police perspiring like firemen in a stokehold in their efforts to cut off the crown that was pouring in. Dozens of younger men clambered up and jumped through open windows. It was a maddened race of modern pilgrims to a new shrine- a riot of curiosity.

Up stairs to the big picture the crowd went in endless clattering procession – old men, young men, boys, women of all ages, and little children holding each other’s hands. In front of “the Light of the World” they stood and wondered if they had found what they had expected – wondered if they were pleased or disappointed. It was impossible to gauge the thoughts of the crowd – to understand what the picture said to the thousands of eyes that flung eagerly upwards to discover its possessions for their keeping, its rewards for their curiosity, its lessons for their remembrance. Always the faces remained unchanged. One felt that the wave that had rushed itself through the doorways and gallery should here have had its climax of enthusiasm at the foot of the picture, but it was not there. Almost within a yard of the great work a girl busied herself in re-arranging a feather in her companion’s hat; and two little lads, bent half over the railing by the weight of the crowd, discussed vehemently business connected with the sale and purchase of a pair of pigeons. In a dozen different places in the crowd, one heard the men who talked of the aims of art; the man who praises or blames the technique of the picture; and the girl who described the picture as “Nice!”

A few minutes in front of the picture sufficed most of those who came, and then they wandered around the galleries. Never before did art receive so much attention in Sydney.

Now in 2020, over one hundred years later on, what can we make of this extraordinary event? Clearly the Sydney art lovers were turning “towards” the awe-inspiring guest with anticipation, love, longing, and enthusiasm, at first anyway! Then it all went wrong! As we saw, the longing was quickly quenched at the moment that one might expect fulfilment. Everyone had misinterpreted a mood of anticipation as an expectation of literal fulfilment. What was meant to be an image of our anticipation in relation to the unknown future became instead the literal object of our fulfilment, with all the consequences that followed. 

Prophecy collapsed into futile prediction. Today predictions are flying thick and fast because we have lost the only linguistic carrier of prophecypoetic language—the only rhetorical form (i.e. art) capable of bringing into existence what was inexistent (i.e. the unknown future). My vision shows the consequence: those without a lantern simply pouring into the abyss.

For a fuller discussion see my essay: Prophecy or Prediction.