A tremendous amount of energy has rightly been expended in attempting to assess the reality or otherwise of reported exceptional experiences, as well as in attempting to explain them, whether by currently accepted scientific frameworks or by alternative frameworks. However, in all this work, the question of the meaning of individual exceptional experiences often gets forgotten.
In this presentation, I focus on this arguably neglected question of meaning and the task of developing adequate interpretative approaches to the reported experiences. By way of example, I examine what was probably the most exceptional of C. G. Jung’s many anomalous experiences—his near-death experience and mystical visions of 1944, recounted in rich detail in Chapter 10 of Memories, Dreams, Reflections. After situating the experience in relation to contemporary literature on mystical and near-death experiences, I critically deploy Jung’s own analytical psychology—as a language that may be partly internal to the experience itself and in any case has been well honed by engagement with other exceptional experiences—to explore what the content and process of this experience might mean both individually and at various transindividual levels, including socially, culturally, environmentally, and spiritually.
The analysis is likely to reveal limitations as well as strengths of the Jungian hermeneutic and may suggest directions in which to develop more adequate approaches. But I hope the example will at least illustrate the general value of such hermeneutic approaches—including, interestingly, for eliciting from the content of the experiences themselves radical insights into the additional questions of their reality and explanation.