Dream Gates

Dream Gates

Jung and the April fish

In many parts of Europe, an April Fools prank is called an “April fish”. The term poisson d’Avril first broke surface in a French poem in the early 1500s. The oirginal, smelliest, version of such a prank was to attach a dead fish to the back of an unsuspecting victim, and let him slowly become aware – if he missed the sniggers of those around him – by the odor. In kinder times, a paper cut-out fish was substituted. The person who was fooled was himself called an “April fish”, meaning that he was a young fish who was easily caught.


This was a folk custom very familiar to Carl Jung, and it played into his understanding of symbols and synchronicity.

When Jung was immersed in his study of the symbolism of the fish in Christianity, alchemy and world mythology, the theme started leaping at him in everyday life. On April 1, 1949, he made some notes about an ancient inscription describing a man whose bottom half was a fish. At lunch that day, he was served fish. In the conversation, there was talk of the custom of making an “April fish” – a European term for “April fool” – of someone. In the afternoon, a former patient of Jung’s, whom he had not seen for months, arrived at his house and displayed him some “impressive” pictures of fish. That evening, Jung was shown embroidery that featured fishy sea monsters. The next day, another former patient he had not seen in a decade recounted a dream in which a large fish swam towards her.


Several months later, mulling over this sequence as an example of the phenomenon he dubbed synchronicity, Jung walked by the lake near his house, returning to the same spot several times. The last time he repeated this loop, he found a fish a foot long lying on top of the sea-wall. Jung had seen no one else on the lake shore that morning. While the fish might have been dropped by a bird, its appearance seemed to him quite magical, part of a “run of chance” in which more than “chance” seemed to be at play.

If we’re keeping count (as Jung did) this sequence includes six discrete instances of meaningful coincidence, five of them bobbing up, like koi in a pond, within 24 hours, and all reflecting Jung’s preoccupation with the symbolism of the fish. Such unlikely riffs of coincidence prompted Jung to ask whether it is possible that the physical world mirrors psychic processes “as continuously as the psyche perceives the physical world.”

  • Azima

    I love this, and I really like you languaging of it as “rhyming”.

  • Kit Cooley

    It’s happening with spiders for me today. Everywhere, they are!

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Don

    They story about Carl Jung is amazing. I am curious about the meaning of the fish synchronicity. How did he relate to it? What did fish mean to him after that?
    Thanks for posting the story.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Nina

    Shortly after seeing Michelagelo´s drawings at the exhibition, my good friend came upon a few lines from the artist´s verse. It seems to reflect on the same problem Jung was trying to solve about the mutual relationship of psyche and the world.
    I can provide only very poor translation but probably someone else will know the original poem in Italian language. Very clumsily:
    “Tell me Grace merciful if the beauty which I strive to achieve is that which I see or if I carry it within. Whereever I look, everywhere I find its face as if carved.”
    My little experience is that the world around us starts making sense as soon as we turn inside and place the needs of our soul and Higher Self in the first place. It sometimes looks as if the outside world was delighted by our efforts to wake up to our real meaning and was willingly lending us a helping hand. Before our awakening the world around often reminds of a lifeless country under the spell, after our change it revives and provides lots of clues for our inner development. It´s a bit like turning a former adversary into an ally.

    • Robert Moss

      Nina – what a beautiful thought, that the outside world, “delighted” at our awakening, stirs itself from dormancy in our sight to stretch and signal and beckon.

    • Robert Moss

      Nina – will you give us the Italian version of the marvelous Michelangelo quote? Most of us are familiar, in English, with his statement about how he sculpted: “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Aaron

    After I sent the response on yesterday’s post about navigating synchronicity, I found myself wondering if synchronicity wasn’t navigating me.
    ‘Such unlikely riffs of coincidence…’
    A wonderful way to put it.
    The last dentist I went to was named Jung.
    He wanted to pull my wisdom teeth.
    So, needless to say, I haven’t been back to see him.
    I like my wisdom teeth right where they are.
    Do I digress?
    Thanks again.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Nina

    I would love to give the original version in Italian if I had been in the possesion of one. This quotation comes from the Czech language (Czech and Slovak are formally very close but in atmosphere they couldn´t differ more, Czech is very airy, sparkingly light and playful, Slovak is more earth-loving and earth-feeling). I made a little effort to get to the original text, but without any positive result for now. I can promise to keep it at the back of my mind and if it appears somewhere in my field in the near future, I will remember to post it.
    Just for fun and music of language – the Slovak version:

    “Povedz, Milos? z?utovná, ?i krása,
    o ktorú usilujem, je tou, ktorú vidím,
    alebo ?i ju nosím v sebe.
    Kamko?vek obrátim svoj zrak,
    všade nachádzam jej tvár ako vytesanú.”

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Nina

    I am sorry, I forgot that computers are illiterate and can´t even read the simple punctuation.
    I will have to wait until they get wiser.

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