Synchronicity, the principle of meaningful coincidence, was the brainchild of the psychoanalyst Carl Jung. He used it to explain paranormal phenomena. Imagine that you are in a café, thinking of a loved one who has passed away, and suddenly that person’s favorite song begins to play. Jung would say that the rules of causality do not account for this, but also that it is not merely a matter of chance.
Jung once tried to convince a patient, a young woman of a scientific and rational bent, to assent to this principle. She kept getting the better of him in the argument. Then, while she was relating a dream about being given a scarab made of gold, a large insect bumped against the window. Jung opened the window and caught the bug, a scarab-like beetle of iridescent sheen. He presented it to the young woman, saying, “Here is your scarab.” Her answer is not recorded, but according to Jung, the incident “broke the ice of her intellectual resistance.”
With a good deal of hesitation, Tabitha related the story of the manuscript to Dr. Liffey. “So, what do you think, Anna? Am I losing it? I can’t accept that the manuscript matches up so accurately with my dreams. I hardly know what’s real anymore.”
“Are you having trouble functioning at work or at home? Are you seeing things that shouldn’t be there? Hearing voices? Forgetting things?”
“Then I think you’re fine.” Anna took a contemplative sip from her coffee mug. Today she was dressed in a powder blue skirt suit, but as usual she had kicked off her high-heeled pumps to tuck her legs comfortably beneath her. Her blonde hair was gathered into a neat twist, but a few strands were coming loose about her face. She’s got a very appealing face, thought Tabitha. I like her. I feel I could tell her anything.
“Tabitha, you know I favor a Jungian approach to cases like yours, cases that involve dreams and… phenomena that may be difficult to understand.”
“Yes. We talked about my animus figure. I think of him as Cúchulainn now, or Sétanta. But an Irish man I met, Rúairí… he told me that in his family they call this an aisling, a dream vision. Something from another time or place that has meaning here and now.”
“Jung described a not dissimilar concept called synchronicity. It happens when two events that seem causally unrelated occur together, and the person who experiences them finds meaning in the fact that they coincide. In other words, a synchronicity is a meaningful coincidence.”
“So you think that it’s only a random event that I’m having these dreams, and reading the manuscript at the same time?”
“I’m saying that what a scientist might call random often has real meaning to us. And that coincidences may be significant in our lives.”
“I don’t believe in mysticism or religion,” said Tabitha firmly.
“Think of it this way,” replied Anna. “From a scientific point of view, nothing is guided except by natural laws. Everything is, in a sense, random. And yet, I feel that my life has meaning. Don’t you?”
“Yes, I suppose so. Or at least, that meaning is created when we interact with each other, and try to understand the world around us. When we try to understand ourselves.”
“Precisely,” said Anna. “Now, there are whole realms of yourself that have yet to be explored.”
“You mean Corbin Crowe,” said Tabitha, and Anna smiled.
“I can see you tensing up the minute you speak his name. Yes, I think you need to explore that part of yourself, the hidden part, the part you’ve disavowed and discarded. But tell me about Cúchulainn and the women around him. How are things going in your dream-vision?”
She took a deep breath before answering. “He married a woman who loves him. Her name is Emer. They’re happy and they’ve been married a long time, except… there are no children.”
Dr. Liffey nodded. “No children. Tabitha, you’re what, thirty-eight now? Have you ever had a long-term relationship with a man?”
“Long-term? Well, I knew Mark for a long time, before we split up. Five years, at least.”
“But you weren’t dating exclusively? In a committed relationship?”
Tabitha frowned. “No. It’s always been hard because of my profession. I’ve had to move every few years. That’s why I haven’t been married.”
Anna looked intrigued. “You received proposals of marriage, then?”
“Yes, a few. They just didn’t come at the right time.”
“I am suggesting that you didn’t accept commitment because there’s something holding you back, some unfinished business. Tabitha, there’s nothing wrong with choosing your career over a man. But your choices might have been different, if you had resolved your issues. Maybe you would have begun a committed relationship with a man, even if there were periods of hardship and separation. Maybe, even now, you’re regretting that you didn’t have children.”
“Not every woman needs a man or a baby to make her life complete.”
“Of course not. You’re absolutely right about that.” Dr. Liffey sat silent then, waiting patiently for Tabitha to absorb her words.
Finally she answered, “I’m not sure I can do this. Think about him. Talk about him… and what happened.” Even as she spoke the words, she felt her throat closing up.
“That’s okay. All I want at the moment is for you to consider it. That in itself is a big step. You know you can talk about him here, in a safe space, if you ever want to. But I’ll make a suggestion that may be less scary. Open the subject with your mother again. Instead of asking about your own past, ask about her, what she was feeling when it happened.”
“Maybe I will,” answered Tabitha. “When we were on the plane,” she volunteered, “Rúairí and I were talking about Cúchulainn being adopted and not knowing his birth mother.”
Anna nodded again. “Yes. There’s a mystery about his parentage. That’s often true in mythic stories, because it’s often true in our lives, in a psychological sense. But what about Sétanta’s wife Emer? Who are her parents?”
“Well, her father was a harsh, deceitful man. He’s dead now.”
“And her mother?”
“That’s odd,” said Tabitha slowly. “Her mother is absent from the story. I think she died a long time ago.”
“And I think you need to talk to Melinda.”
Copyright 2017 by Linnet Moss
Notes: Fairytales (Western ones, at least) seem to leave out mothers, except for the occasional wicked stepmother. More often, the Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty or Belle of the story is motherless. An article in The Atlantic asks why modern children’s animated movies are so desperate to kill off mothers. Apparently it’s done in order to celebrate a wonderful father figure. Maybe we need to stop clamoring for more assertive princesses, and start insisting on wonderful mothers. Living mothers would be a good start.
This story has a scarred, flawed mother and a strong, supportive grandmother. Instead of a heroic, attractive, courageous, kind father, I have written a scary rapist serving a sentence of life in prison. Hmmmm. Maybe this is a different kind of fairytale…