On Divination and Synchronicity: The Psychology of Meaningful Chance - Marie-Louise Von Franz

This book is a transcript of five lectures given by Von Franz, a student and colleague of Carl Jung. Von Franz seems to be most well-known for studying fairy-tales and their underlying archetypes, but she and Jung both shared a deep appreciation and respect for what they described as Oriental philosophy.

These lectures help ground divination as a way of getting at reality while also participating in it. One of Von Franz’s main points is that divination can be complementary rather than contradictory with scientific study - one seeks to make chance its center, while the other seeks to remove chance. Both processes seek to understand reality from different angles.

I noticed that in reading this book, the whole picture did not become clear until I had finished reading the final lecture, and so I went back through the chapters to try to synthesize what I found to be the most important points from each one.


  • Divination is a synthesis of a-causal and causal thinking, physical and psychological events, timeless time and cyclical time - binaries converging in a single chance encounter.
  • Von Franz compares the sequence of qualitative number values in the I Ching as a kind of rhythm, because rhythm is also a way that number sequences are rendered as archetypes.
  • One of China’s early number systems was built around two matrices - the Luo Shu and the He Tu. They are strange to us in the West, because our modern use of numbers comes from a history of overlooking their qualitative aspects.

    “the Luo Shu is the world of time in which we live, and underneath is always the eternity rhythm, the He Tu.”

    “With the development of consciousness, we have got ahold of a part that we now manipulate and call our own, behaving as f it were something which we completely possess. That has happened in the whole development of mathematics: from numbers being gods, they have been desecrated into being something which is arbitrarily posited by a mathematician’s ego.”


  • Many people believe with an emotional conviction that statistical truth is the truth, despite the fact that statistics can only approximate real circumstances. There must be some underlying archetype that fuels this emotional conviction.
  • Counting - a power once attributed to the gods in ancient myths - is now widely accessibly to humans, like a Promethean flame. But without considering its archetypical qualities, we are doomed to miscalculate our surroundings.

    “thus if nowadays man believes that he can handle an infinite series of natural numbers, that is an inflation, an identification wih the archetype of the Self, or of the godhead.”

    “We can therefore say that those people who nowadays do not reasonably appreciate the calculus of probability and statistics as useful and reasonable tools of the human mind, but who believe secretly that we can master nature and find the truth about everything, have fallen into such an inflation, into a secret identification with the Sungod.”

    “the unconscious knows things; it knows the past and future, it knows things about other people […] absolute knowledge is like candlelight, and if the electric light of ego consciousness is burning, then one cannot see the candlelight.”

  • in scientific experiments, chance is the enemy. In divination, chance is placed at the center of the ritual, using a single instance as a source of information.


  • Oracles do not predict with exactitude, they simply cast a wide net in which things are expected to play out. An “expectation list.” (56)
  • ancient Chinese arithmetic arranges its qualitative numbers in matrices. Fields of archetypes.

    “all archetypes are contaminated with each other […] the unconscious is a field in which the excited points are the archetypes and in which one can define neighborhood relationships.” (63)

  • The I Ching is a way of reflecting on the current situation, and acting in awareness of it.
  • Ethics is highly circumstantial, depending on where and when certain actions are taken. Here feeling has to do with measure - a quantitative solution to a qualitative question.


  • More than just quantitative values, numbers have qualitative properties that are just as real.
  • Beyond archetypical characters and subjects, we also have archetypical sequences of events in stories. (the hero’s journey being one of them)

    “there is no split in the stories, [oriental storytellers] have such a feeling relationship to the archetypal connections that they always know which fairytale would b the continuation of the lastand then just start the new melody, which makes those long, long chains of tales.” (80)

    “it can therefore be said that ‘to tell’ is to go through time in a rhythm - to go on, and on, and on, in the rhythm of the archetypes, and that this has a secret order” (80)

  • Dreams can also be regarded as following this kind of flow of events

    “there is, so to speak, a one-moment, a two-moment, a three-moment, having to do ith time and with ethical behavior, which in our psychological language means with the feeling quality. Ethics are a question of feeling, not of the intellect.”

  • There is a rhythmic order to our psychic energy. When we are bored, or over-excited, our bodies respond in ways to change the pace. These rhythms live in our body and come out as “displaced reaction rhythms” (anxiety? over-eating? running?)
  • Understanding these energic imbalances and responding correctly allows us to rebalance.

💡 This introduces a big question for me - how do I redirect my own energetic imbalances for the sake of a specific reading?

Certainly helps explain the importance of our recent pre-reading warm-ups - working out whatever we might be coming in with. It also helps rephrase the readings. While I think I’m already attempting to express the imagery of the readings, this passage helps explain the importance of conveying their energetic that transference can cause a deep physical reaction that takes shape in the imagination. (a la Oliveros)

“If we know the deepest underlying archetypal constellation of our present situation then we can, to a certain extent, know how things will go.”


  • Proposes that reality is set up as two wheels intersecting - one is an eternal, acausal order, the other is time and space.
  • Science seeks to understand the eternal order from a conceptual, unobtrusive observation point. Eliminating the chance from reality.
  • Synchronistic events use chance operations to reveal bits of reality from the point of intersection - where order intersects with time and space.
  • Why is ritual important to be treated with play? Because when taken too seriously, the ego sacrifices sincerity for the sake of winning.

“In all primitive civilizations ritual and play cannot be separated [...] That is a well-known fact, exemplified by all chinese rituals, which are a game, play, and a sacred ritual at the same time. What is the common factor psychologically? We can get an answer from the Chinese themselves: they say that a ritual or a game needs complete sincerity and complete detachment from desire and wishes. For instance, if you want to play fair, then play, for only fair play is real play. The ego which wants to win must be sacrificed, for it seduces you into cheating. In spite of all the passion with which you participate, you have always to have a sacrificial attitude, knowing that you may lose, and then you have to keep face, and not strangle your opponent. So one has to be completely and passionately involved, and at the same time sacrifice any kind of ego desire.”

Talking Music - Laurie Anderson / Pauline Oliveros

There are some things that these two women say that I wish I could burn into my memory. To me that’s one reason to make art - catchy ideas - and I think they share an interest in that. 

I was definitely struck by how scattered their trajectories were. Both Laurie Anderson and Pauline Oliveros sort of bummed around different interests...obviously drawn by deep curiosity but indifferent to how these things might be perceived narratively from the outside. Which is refreshing and reassuring. Laurie started with violin, studied biology for a year, moved to Barnard as an art major, then went to two different schools for like a year at a time. Got kicked out multiple times. Pauline was obsessed with the accordion, dropped out of music school to be an accordion teacher, went back to school in SF with Terry Riley, and started improvising with a small group of friends.

These are both artists who led with their pieces - whose ideas came first, and the methods were put together after the fact. In the Oliveros interview the interviewer identifies this: “So in your music, each piece becomes its own model. Which explains why your pieces have been so different over a period over time.”

A carrier bag, if you will.

Laurie in particular had some ideas about technology that spoke to me.

“When you have too much equipment, that’s a real limitation. It’s a strange sort of paradox. I use old electronics as well. I like trying to push them into other modes - use them for things that they were not supposed to be used for. That’s satisfying. But you can get into a trap. I think a lot of musicians are in that trap - trying to get the latest thing that’s going, to fix everything up. It won’t. You have to read the manual, first of all, in order to understand it. And work with it; it’s an instrument. You have to work with it intimately, not just go off in a studio and plug it in to fix up your music. You have to try a lot of things with it, experiment with it. You can’t force it to do things. It won’t work that way for you.

She also has a blurb in which she describes how label success was not something her friends complained about, but perhaps people outside her social circle might have. And she understands that reasoning, since there is a certain necessary exclusivity to the avant-garde. But the work itself will stand on its own, the criticism is more about the system of distribution.

Pauline was such a hoot to read, her voice and opinion are so strong in the interview! So much of her interview resonated with and deepened my interest in music as ritual, and beyond.

The fact that her musical choices are led more by her own ear than by any tradition. How she played with tape music like an instrument. How she gathers sounds she wants to hear and finds ways to recreate them. The way her personal experience gives her confidence to know others will like it. 

“I think of composition as a slowed-down improvisation, and improvisation as a sped-up composition.”

She even talks about the function of these pieces, how they can direct energy...and that it doesn’t need to be a religious or political thing to be effective and powerful. 

“The whole issue of music as entertainment is something I have trouble with. Although I’m as happy to be entertained as anyone else, I don’t think of these things as entertainment. The meditations, and some of the other things that I do, are opportunities to change and to explore who we are, and what we do, and how we do what we do with each other. Tools. They have a different function from just entertaining.

The interview ends with her describing her excitement about some ongoing performance series taking place in her local community, and how that’s much more exciting than whatever academia is up to.

“Almost every night there’s been somebody there doing something. It was very special, somehow. It’s an easy walk over to Niblock’s loft, and it’s very comfortable, and you sit there and get a closeup of someone’s work for the evening. Afterwards there’s a lot of camaraderie and an easy walk home. That’s very nice.”