Synchronicity is coincidence that is not just coincidence. Coined by Carl Jung, the word describes a concept known in religion and mysticism for millennia. Jung brought this concept into the field of psychology, along with the ideas of archetypes and the collective unconscious. It is one of the hallmarks of Jungian psychology.
A prime example of synchronicity is the story of one of Jung’s patients. This woman was a highly rational person, so much so that she had (according to Jung) trouble integrating messages from her subconscious. One day, in therapy, she told him about a dream she’d had the night before in which she saw a scarab beetle. At that very moment, an insect flew into the window. Jung caught it, examined it, and saw that it was a scarab. Native to Egypt, scarab beetles were, and are, almost completely non-existent in Switzerland, where he lived and practiced.
It was this incident that led Jung to the “discovery” of synchronicity. Only it was not so much a discovery as it was a renaming of an ancient concept, and describing it in terms recognizable to the field of psychology.
According to the concept of synchronicity, the patient’s dream of the scarab beetle and the visit by an actual scarab were connected, but one did not cause the other. The beetle did not fly into Jung’s office because the patient had dreamed of it the night before and was telling Jung about it at that moment. Neither did the patient have the dream because she was going to see a scarab the next day. Rather, both incidents stemmed from the same source. This source, difficult to describe logically, is what Jung dubbed the collective unconscious.
The collective unconscious is the reason why many of the popular stories and myths the world over are similar even in cultures that have had no contact with each other. It is the reason why many peoples hold similar superstitions and give similar names to the constellations independently of each other. Ancient Romans and Native Americans alike dubbed the Big and Little Dippers the Big and Little Bears. Every culture in the world with a name for the Pleiades calls them the seven sisters (or, in a few cases, seven brothers). Independently of each other, Celts, Cherokees, and Navajos have traditionally considered the call of an owl to foretell death.
Worldwide, variations of the story of Cinderella exist. In all cultures where there is a myth about the origins of the principal food source, it was a gift from the gods… while, if there is a myth about the origins of fire, it was stolen. Many cultures have at least one story about a great flood in ancient times that wiped out everything, leaving only a few ancestors to repopulate the world.
According to Jung, all these seeming coincidences are rooted in the collective unconscious. The experiences of the human race, past, present, future, and potential, are all stored there. From the subconscious come archetypes. Characters in myths and fairy tales are similar to each other in different cultures because they embody the same archetypes. Masculine and feminine traits are from the animus and anima, masculine and feminine archetypes that all of us have as part of our personalities (in Chinese, these are called yang and ying). Not only do parallel archetypes come from the collective unconscious, so do parallel events.
Synchronicity is the word that describes the parallel events that spring from the collective unconscious. On an individual level, people often use it to describe incidents in their lives that seem too perfect to explain. If you suddenly think of an old friend you haven’t heard from in years and then meet them on the street, that is synchronicity. If you have just started to think about looking for a new job but have not yet told anyone, let alone sent out resumes, and then the perfect opportunity falls right into your lap, that, too, is synchronicity. If you suddenly find yourself trying to remember a song you haven’t heard since your early childhood and then it plays on the radio, that is synchronicity.
Jungian psychology would agree that synchronicity is the right word for these seeming coincidences. It manifests in both big and small ways. Whether it builds a whole culture or simply causes small events in our personal lives, synchronicity is one of the building blocks of the human psyche.