Reading The Red Book (10)

“The good and the beautiful freeze to the ice of the absolute idea and the bad and hateful become mud puddles full of crazy life.”

C.G. Jung, The Red Book (Liber Primus, chapter VIII)

Giuseppe Bernardino Bison, “Don Juan in Hell”

Chapter VIII of The Red Book (Liber Primus) was given the title The Conception of the God. Jung starts by quoting the parable of the mustard seed from the Gospel of Matthew:

“The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field: Which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree.”

The death of the hero, discussed in part 9 of the series, has planted a seed. This seed will grow into a new God, who will take the life of Jung’s psyche in a new direction. The new God is likened to “a wondrous child,” who was conceived in pain but whose birth will be joyful. Like the mustard seed, also the divine child is fragile, easily overlooked and disregarded by the guardians of the status quo, who dedicate their life to the spirit of our time:

“We passed by in our ridiculousness and senselessness when we caught sight of you.

Our eyes were blinded and our knowledge fell silent when we received your radiance.

The constellation of your birth is an ill and changing star.”

The psychology of the child archetype was analyzed by Jung in a volume which he co-wrote with Karl Kerenyi. Typically in myth, the birth of the divine child, which in psychological terms is “the nascent form of the Self,”(1) is miraculous, yet early childhood is plagued by abandonment and persecution. The abandonment is a necessary consequence of “evolving towards independence,” says Jung (3). It is vital for the divine child to detach from his/her origins. The conscious factors seek to stifle the child and all the new psychological content that the child represents. The child is therefore “easily overlooked and falls back into the unconscious.” (4)

Peter Paul Rubens, “Boy with Bird”

But like the seed the child has also emerged from the depths of Nature and, as Jung says, “represents the strongest, the most ineluctable urge in very being, namely the urge to realize itself.” (5) As such the child becomes also the symbol of the unity of the opposites, as it “anticipates the self which is produced through the synthesis of the conscious and unconscious elements of the personality,” explains the editor of The Red Book in the footnotes.

Next Jung asks a question, which is hotly debated in Jungian circles to this day: does God encompass evil or is he pure good:

“If the God is absolute beauty and goodness, how should he encompass the fullness of life, which is beautiful and hateful, good and evil, laughable and serious, human and inhuman?”

Jung argues that there are no heights without depths, but the descent to the underworld if full of peril. He warns:

“The depths would like to devour you whole and choke you in mud. He who journeys to Hell also becomes Hell; therefore do not forget from whence you come. The depths are stronger than us; so do not be heroes, be clever and drop the heroics, since nothing is more dangerous than to play the hero. The depths want to keep you.”

The newly emerged consciousness is fragile like a child and always in danger of being swallowed, devoured by the depths. But ascent will only come after “night and Hell,” which is why Christ journeyed to the underworld after his death. The dead, says Jung, require sacrificial gifts, “golden cups full of the sweet drink of life.” Such ambiguity, which consists in being poised between darkness and light, is the way of life.

Another important quality of the divine child is uniqueness. Jung always warned against imitation, which he saw as harmful to true individuation. The hero, whom everyone wanted to imitate, had to suffer a metaphorical death, so that a new identity of the psyche could be forged. Jung says:

“Imitation was a way of life when men still needed the heroic prototype. … Human apishness has lasted a terribly long time, but the time will come when a piece of that apishness will fall away from men. That will be a time of salvation and the dove, and the eternal fire, and redemption will descend.”

The notion of individuation means also being able to achieve singleness within oneself, if necessary also outside of “the communal” and “the external.” As Jung says in this chapter:

“If we are in ourselves, we fulfill the need of the self, we prosper, and through this we become aware of the needs of the communal and can fulfill them.”

According to Jung, those who have achieved individuation can serve their community better than those who have been leading communal or conditioned lives. God dwells within the individualized Self (in some interpretations – the Self is God),  not without. It has to be emphasized that individuation does not mean perfection; quite the contrary. By acknowledging that he or she cannot imitate the heroes, an individual accepts his or her “incapacity,” which is a necessary step towards achieving inner unity. In his interpretative guide to reading The Red Book, Sanford L. Grob makes an important point about the hero being “insulated from the negative poles of the features that make him/her heroic.” It is often the unacknowledged opposite that brings about the hero’s downfall.

Grob reminds us that complete unity of opposites is not a desirable effect since it is the conflict between them which “produces interest and activity.” When oppositions are overcome, there is no more energy, no more life, or to quote Jung (after Grob) from his Psychological Types: “He who has… gradually given up all attachments and is freed from all pairs of opposites reposes in Brahman alone.”

William Blake, Illustration from The Gates of Paradise


(1) Liz Greene, The Astrological World of Jung’s Liber Novus: Daimons, Gods and the Planetary Journey, Kindle edition

(2) Carl Jung, Karl Kerenyi, Introduction to a Science of Mythology: The Myth of the Divine Child and the Mysteries of Eleusis, Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd, London 1951

(3) Ibid.

(4) Ibid.

(5) Ibid.

Reading The Red Book – part 1

Reading The Red Book – part 2

Reading The Red Book – part 3

Reading The Red Book – part 4

Reading The Red Book – part 5

Reading The Red Book – part 6

Reading The Red Book – part 7

Reading The Red Book – part 8

Reading The Red Book – part 9

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Beauty and Wonder in Olafur Eliasson’s Art

The Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson is perhaps most known for his stunning The weather project (2003).  In a giant hall of the Tate Modern gallery in London, viewers were mesmerized by an installation which consisted of a yellow sun shining through a mist, imitating the setting sun in Africa. Those who were there spoke of a supernatural experience, many were feeling the heat though in fact there was not any:

“People responded to their transformation in the most extraordinary ways: they lay down flat, flapping their arms and legs as if they could make snow angels on the Tate’s concrete floor, talking to strangers in the mist.”


One of Eliasson’s earlier works, entitled By Means of a Sudden Intuitive Realization (1996), looks futuristic and spiritual at the same time, which is perhaps a rare and surprising combination, and quite typical of his art. In its dark interior, “a white geodesic dome of hexagonal and pentagonal fibreglass panels” contains a fountain illuminated by a strobe light. Such domes were designed by architect-mathematician Einar Thornstein to be used in geothermal drilling in Iceland. You can see this work and many others on the artist’s website:

Michelle Kuo explains:

“The brief moments of illumination allow the viewer to see the water’s ever-shifting form as a sequence of frozen instants.” (1)

In an interview Eliasson, who has an Icelandic father (also an artist), recalled his childhood expeditions to Iceland as a source of his mythical imagination:

“… they’d [his father and his father’s friend – another artist] talk about the moss and the stones and get lost in the various reds and browns and greens. … They’d see trolls’ faces in the sides of the mountains. … I guess, I grew up surrounded by art that embraced both abstraction and mythology and allowed plenty of space for imagination.” (2)

In 1999 he finished The Glacier Series, which is a haunting photo catalogue of Icelandic glaciers. By now, many of the glaciers have disappeared or substantially diminished. He has always been at the avant-garde of the environmental consciousness. In his Berlin studio cooking “organic, vegetarian and locally sourced food” is a vital part of the artistic process.

His signature is bringing nature into the art gallery on the one hand and intervening artistically in the landscape on the other ( The examples of the former are numerous, starting with the extraordinary Moss Wall, an artificial pond, lava floor and last but not least the river bed, an installation which invited visitors to walk upstream to the source. One of his obsessions and a frequent motif is the horizon, the symbolism of which conjures depth, infinity, adventure, and also the abyss, as the sun disappears behind the horizon.

I feel drawn to his art precisely because of these qualities of expansiveness and contemporaneity, which are at the same time rooted in primal, ancient, mythological, instinctual bedrock, which has remained constant for the human race since our beginning. Isn’t Sunspace to Shibukawa a modern answer to Stonehenge?

“The ceiling of this small pavilion… is pierced by an arc of lenses aligned with the arc of the sun through the sky at the site over the course of the year. … Every two weeks, on days that correspond with a traditional Japanese seasonal calendar, a rainbow is projected as a perfect circle within the pavilion.” (3)


Olafur Eliasson on the cover of Wired


(1) Michelle Kuo (author), Olafur Eliasson (editor), Olafur Eliasson: Experience, Phaidon Press 2018

(2) Ibid.

(3) Ibid.



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Reading The Red Book (9)

“In October [1913], while I was alone on a journey, I was suddenly seized by an overpowering vision: I saw a monstrous flood covering all the northern and low-lying lands between the North Sea and the Alps. When it came up to Switzerland I saw that the mountains grew higher and higher to protect our country. I realized that a frightful catastrophe was in progress. I saw the mighty yellow waves, the floating rubble of civilization, and the drowned bodies of uncounted thousands. Then the whole sea turned to blood. This vision last about one hour. I was perplexed and nauseated, and ashamed of my weakness.”

C.G. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections

“The Grindelwald Glacier” by Ferdinand Hodler (1912)

Murder of the Hero – chapter VII of The Red Book (Liber Primus) – deals with a crucial dream/vision of Jung, which he had in 1913:

“I was with a youth in high mountains. It was before daybreak, the Eastern sky was already light. Then Siegfried’s horn resounded over the mountains with a jubilant sound. We knew that our mortal enemy was coming. We were armed and lurked beside a narrow rocky path to murder him. Then we saw him coming high across the mountains on a chariot made of the bones of the dead. He drove boldly and magnificently over the steep rocks and arrived at the narrow path where we waited in hiding. As he came around the turn ahead of us, we fired at the same time and he fell slain. Thereupon I turned to flee, and a terrible rain swept down. But after this  I went through a torment unto death and I felt certain that I must kill myself if I could not solve the riddle of the murder of the hero.”

The murder of the hero illustrated by Jung in The Red Book

The symbolism of the hero’s murder is multi-faceted. First, it was viewed by Jung as the annihilation of his own power, boldness and pride, or as Sanford L. Drob puts it in his guide to The Red Book, “his narcissistic investment in his dominant thinking function.” Some researchers viewed Siegfried’s death as metaphor for the painful break-up with Freud, supporting their thesis with the fact that Siegfried’s father was called Sigmund.

Other interpretations refer to more collective themes. Siegfried was a well-known symbol of German nationalism. Although Jung’s vision took place before the first world war, the importance of Siegfried’s myth for the German identity continued into the 1930s. It is a well-known fact that Hitler, who was deeply obsessed with Wagner’s Ring Cycle (Der Ring des Nibelungen), identified himself with its hero Siegfried.

Simply put, Siegfried is a typical dragon slaying solar hero, who prevails over the forces of chaos and darkness or the devouring mother complex.  In Jung’s dream the murder occurs at sunrise, as the day breaks, further emphasizing the identification of the hero with the solar principle. When the solar hero is slain, the sun disappears and it starts to rain. Jung closes this chapter of The Red Book by talking about the rain:

“The rain is the great stream of tears that will come over the peoples, the tearful flood of released tension after the constriction of death had encumbered the peoples with horrific force. It is the mourning of the dead in me, which precedes burial and rebirth. The rain is the fructifying of the earth, it begets the new wheat, the young, germinating God.”

The quote anticipates the atrocities of war that are to come to Europe, showcasing the prophetic qualities of The Red Book. The distortion of the solar principle, not balanced by the feeling function and its associated compassion, leads to over-ambition, narcissism and the need to conquer and dominate. According to some interpreters, the Nazi SS symbol was the duplication of the rune Sowilo (the Sun). The ancient name of that rune was Sieg (German for victory, which is also part of Siegfried’s name). Perhaps the runes are too potent to be so thoughtlessly duplicated.

The rune Sowilo

The theme of the new god replacing the old one is also crucial in The Red Book. In this chapter Jung says:

“But this is the bitterest for mortal men: our Gods want to be overcome, since they require renewal. … If the God grows old, he becomes shadow, nonsense, and he goes down. The greatest truth becomes the greatest lie, the brightest day becomes darkest night.”

Much of The Red Book is a reflection on how the changing of the guard occurs when a new Aion starts (1). Jung also writes:

“If men kill their princes, they do so because they cannot kill their Gods, and because they do not know that they should kill their Gods in themselves.”

This is a very Age of Aquarius sentiment. In the Aion of Pisces humans were sustained (and oppressed) by religious doctrines. The Age of Aquarius will bring the realization of gods as the inner reality, while humanity will be sustained by its conscious, individualized members.


(1) Liz Greene, The Astrological World of Jung’s Liber Novus: Daimons, Gods and the Planetary Journey, Kindle edition

Reading The Red Book – part 1

Reading The Red Book – part 2

Reading The Red Book – part 3

Reading The Red Book – part 4

Reading The Red Book – part 5

Reading The Red Book – part 6

Reading The Red Book – part 7

Reading The Red Book – part 8

Reading The Red Book – part 10


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Reading The Red Book (8)

“But how does the mind free itself of its accumulated violence, cultured violence, self-protective violence, the violence of aggression, the violence of competition, the violence of trying to be somebody, the violence of trying to discipline oneself according to a pattern, trying to become somebody, trying to suppress and bully oneself, brutalise oneself, in order to be non-violent – how is the mind to be free of all such forms of violence?”

Jiddu Krishnamurti, via

JMW Turner, “Apollo and Python”

In chapter VI of The Red Book (Liber Primus), which is called Splitting of the Spirit, Jung’s descent into the underworld and confrontation with his shadow continue. The spirit of the depths commands him, “Climb down into your depths, sink!” He is still at the desert surrounded by monstrous beings, who have attached themselves to him. He says:

“I have evidently taken on a completely monstrous form in which I can no longer recognize myself. It seems to me that I have become a monstrous animal form for which I have exchanged my humanity.”

Jung feels indignation at his soul for trapping him in such darkness but the soul replies with a riddle: “”My path is light ” and “My light is not of this world.” Jung cannot stop raging because he is not yet ready to accept the existence of “another world.” He has lost his footing in the reality he has known thus far but he has not been able to establish himself in the new, wider world of the spirit. In his interpretative guide to reading The Red Book, Sanford L. Grob points to Jung’s ambivalence  about the existence of “another world,” which is similar to the realm of Platonic ideals. At times Jung would criticize any statements regarding the actual existence of the archetypal reality as non-empirical. Nevertheless, he frequently emphasized that the imprints of that reality can be seen everywhere in the world. The very word archetype comes from the Greek word “archē, ” beginning”, and typos, ” imprint.”

Throughout the chapter, Jung’s anger and confusion grow. He feels “transformed into a rapacious beast,” full of rage towards “the hero and the prince.” The title “splitting of the spirit” refers to what he calls “the civil war within:”

“I myself was the murderer and the murdered. The deadly arrow was stuck in my heart, and I did not know what it meant. My thoughts were murder and the fear of death, which spread like poison everywhere in my body.”

On the one hand, he identifies with the desire to murder the hero, on the other hand the hero symbolizes his old ego structure, which has to die to open the way to richer and deeper psychological reality, which would encompass the shadow and a relationship with the spirit of the depths. A cause of the hero’s death is presented:

“The God becomes sick if he oversteps the height of the zenith. That is why the spirit of the depths took me when the spirit of this time had led me to the summit.”

When he was embarking on the journey of The Red Book, his worldly success and all the trappings of fame were not authentic to Jung any more. In one of the footnotes to this chapter a significant quote of Jung is revealed. In 1917 during a discussion at the Association for Analytical Psychology, he said:

“The hero-the beloved figure of the people, should fall. All heroes bring themselves down by carrying the heroic attitude beyond a certain limit, and hence lose their footing.”

Th masculine hero archetype seems to have lost his footing in our still patriarchal culture. And what is left now of the Roman Empire, upon which the sun was said to never set? The value of Jung’s vision was its prophetic quality due to his sensitive feel of the collective pulse. He was born at the sunset, when the sun – the consciousness – steps into the netherworld to find renewal and rebirth. But before rebirth occurs, “the sun makes its way through the pitch black of the night sea, battling chaos and extinction, threatened by the vast, eclipsing coils of the primal serpent Apophis…” (1)

The sunset is a moment when the opposition of light and darkness is palpable even to the least poetic of us:

“Sunset is variously depicted as the surrender, union or tension between the relatively fixed solar element and the watery, changeable element, signified by the ascendance of twilight and the waxing and waning moon.” (2)

Bringing together of the opposites, their tension, their union, their eternal dance, was the great achievement of The Red Book and of Jung’s life and work.

Georgia O’Keeffe, “Sunset – Long Island”


(1) The Book of Symbols: Reflections on Archetypal Images, ed. by Ami Ronnberg, ARAS

(2) Ibid.

Reading The Red Book – part 1

Reading The Red Book – part 2

Reading The Red Book – part 3

Reading The Red Book – part 4

Reading The Red Book – part 5

Reading The Red Book – part 6

Reading The Red Book – part 7

Reading The Red Book – part 9

Reading The Red Book – part 10





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On Silence


download (1)

I have recently read two magnificent books on the same topic – silence. One was written in 1948 by Max Picard, a Swiss philosopher of art and entitled The World of Silence, the other – called Quest for Silence (published in 2000) – is a work of Harry Wilmer, a psychiatrist and Jungian analyst. Neither of the books is contemporary, yet it made me think a lot about the noise of the Internet that we are all caught in. Picard does vent against the meaningless chatter of the radio, though, which can be easily related to the worldwide web of words – the endless updates, comments, blog posts that we are flooded with at our own choosing. Wilmer quotes from Nietzsche’s Thus spoke Zarathustra:

“Everyone among them talks – no one knows how to understand any more. … Everyone cackles, but who wants to sit quietly in the nest and hatch eggs?”

I found both books very nourishing and both pointing at what Meister Eckhart called “the central silence, … where no creature may enter, nor any idea, and there the soul neither thinks nor acts nor entertains any idea… .”

I do not have much to add to the wonderful passages from both books. In Wilmer’s book I was especially moved by the chapters dedicated to the trauma of the war (Hiroshima, Vietnam and the second world war with the Holocaust) and the chapter on the Japanese word MA – “the silent space in painting, music, speech, and between things.” The Japanese believe that it is thanks to that opening, that space, that light can shine through. Wilmer devoted a lot of space to communication, listening and silence. I was quite astounded that dolphins communicate by means of the intervals of silence between the sound they emit. For them, silence communicates.

Some of Max Picard’s passages deserve to be quoted extensively. Here I present a handful of them – I believe any comment would be gratuitous:

“When language ceases, silence begins. But it does not begin BECAUSE silence ceases. The absence of language simply makes the presence of silence more apparent.”


“…language becomes emaciated if it loses its connection with silence.”


“Silence contains everything within itself.”


“Here in Silence is the Holy Wilderness…”


“Speech came out of silence, out of the fullness of silence. The fullness of silence would have exploded if it had not been able to flow into speech.”


“… the silence that precedes speech is the pregnant mother who is delivered of speech by the creative activity of the spirit.”


“Silence reveals itself in a thousand inexpressible forms: in the quiet of dawn, in the noiseless aspiration of trees toward the sky, in the stealthy descent of night, in the falling moonlight, trickling down into the night like a rain of silence, but above all in the silence of the inward soul…”


“Silence can exist without speech but speech cannot exist without silence. The word would be without depth if the background of silence were missing.”


“Words that merely come from other words are hard and aggressive. Such words are also lonely, and a great part of the melancholy in the world today is due to the fact that man has made words lonely by separating them from silence.”


“On the river of tears man travels back into silence.”


“The world of myth lies between the world of silence and the world of language. Like figures that seem to loom larger than life in the gathering twilight, the figures of the world of myth seem huge as they emerge from the twilight of silence.”


“Ekbatana, the city of the Medes, had seven circular walls, each with different coloured battlements. They were, according to Herodotus, the heavenly spheres enclosing the sun castle, and the obelisks were sunrays in stone. No word could express so well the power of the heavenly spheres as this monument in the silence of stone. In the silence of these stones the heavenly spheres and the rays of the sun lived again on earth, and in their silence one heard their movement in the sky.”


“Silence has locked itself up in cathedrals and protected itself with walls.”

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The Splendour of Córdoba

“Córdoba is not a decadent town, one of those haughty cities languishing in its own past, in which life becomes stifled. It maintains its own elegant poise, made of the web of dreams and the substance of time itself. There are places here which seem to contain the entire essence of the universe hidden and untouched.”

Antonio Muñoz Molina (1)

It is very easy to forget which century we are in while walking through the streets of the old town of Córdoba. There is an intellectual nimbus that crowns this city of great minds: Seneca in the Roman times, the Muslim Averroës, masterful commentator on Aristotle, and the Jewish Maimonides, called the greatest Jewish sage since the biblical Moses, all walked these streets. The cultural legacy of Muslim Spain still dazzles.

The Roman Bridge and the roof of the Mezquita in the distance

Córdoba was the capital of Muslim Spain or Al-Andalus. During the ninth and tenth centuries it was most probably as powerful as Constantinople. Muslims, Jews and Christians are said to have coexisted peacefully there, though not without incidents. Ancient Greek texts were being translated into Arabic, Hebrew and Latin. There were 3000 mosques in the city, the most wonderful of which was La Mezquita. It was not only a place of worship but also a centre of learning, where the Caliph invited greatest thinkers of the Arabic kingdoms. The Moors may have been responsible for the rebirth of classical learning long before the Renaissance began in Europe:

Normally the Renaissance is traced back to Florentine and Venetian Italy, and with good reason: Venetian trade with the Arabic world did indeed allow Classical learning to re-enter Europe through Italy. But studying the Spanish roots of the Renaissance allows us to ponder how Classical learning only declined in certain parts of Europe, that it continued to flourish in both the Byzantine and Arabic worlds, and that it was returned to Europe via al-Andalus – “Moorish Spain” – roughly 500 years before the Italian Renaissance.


Of course in those times there were predominantly men who wrote cultural scripts and were allowed personal freedom. Yet there are stories of liberated Islamic women, for example Wallada the Omayyad, who was a member of caliphal aristocracy. She chose not to wear a hijab and was criticized for frivolous clothing. But more importantly, she was a renowned poet and the founder of the most prestigious literary salon in the city. She would walk through the streets of Córdoba with her poems embroidered on her clothes.

Today the Mezquita remains a remarkable monument containing the elements of all cultures that once lived on the Iberian peninsula. The building materials were salvaged by the Moors from Roman and Visigoth structures. But the most astounding effect was achieved by superimposing a cathedral on the existing mosque.

Upon entering the eye rests on the endless sea of white and red arches. Light filters through them delicately and the whole space seems to be floating. There is a sense of lightness and openness. A. Muñoz Molina spoke of “the sensation of space repeating itself and expanding towards the ubreachably far horizon.” Then you realize that you are not in a mosque but in a Catholic cathedral of the Blessed Mary, whose beautiful image adorns one of the columns.

The Christian additions to the mosque – the fifty chapels, the high altar, the choir and high windows, flood the space with light but also, in my opinion, dispel the aura of mystery. The legend says that the king who ordered these additions was horrified when he saw the end result of the work. He lamented that the builders had destroyed unique beauty.

The heart of the temple is not the altar however but indisputably the mihrab (the niche in a mosque indicating the direction of the Kaaba in Mecca – see image above), beautifully decorated with gold mosaic cubes and crowned by a white marble dome in the shape of a shell. The Mihrab has a miraculous presence as a symbol of the Absolute – a doorway to eternity. The shell is a rich symbol both in Islam, where it is viewed as the source of life, and Christianity, which associates it with Mary. In 2004 Spanish Muslims petitioned the Pope to permit them to worship in the Mezquita again. The Vatican said no.

Maimonides statue in the Jewish Quarter

The third great religious group – the Jews – was said to have been in cordial relations with the Muslims during Córdoba’s golden age. The Jewish quarter was large and located near the Mezquita, not in the outskirts of the city like in many other places in Europe. But when the free thinking Umayyad dynasty fell and the rule of the radical Almohads started, the Jews and the Christians were either forced to convert to Islam or chose exile. This was the choice of Maimonides and many others. Another dark chapter in the history of religious freedom on the Iberian peninsula started with the Christian reconquest and was sealed by the actions of the Spanish Inquisition. In 1391 the Jewish quarter was destroed. Bloody auto-da-fés were carried out until the eighteenth century. The model of neighbourly coexistence between Jews, Arabs and Christians had vanished. The roots of Spanish nationalism are attributed to that period while the Jihad ideology of the Almohads further fuelled the hostilities.

A courtyard in the museum dedicated to Sephardic Jews

The patron saint of Córdoba is Archangel Raphael, whose statues are dispersed all over the city. The most famous one overlooks the great Roman bridge and there is a smaller one on the bridge itself. Raphael is the Watcher of the North and he represents the royal star Regulus. His name means “God Heals.” He is an important figure in all the three religions that for a brief moment in history peacefully coexisted here.


(1) Córdoba in Focus, ed. by J. Augustin Nuñez, published by Edilux, S.I.

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The Alhambra

“I have heard O King, that the king walked to the center of the palace and looked around, but saw no one. The palace was furnished with silk carpets and leather mats and hung with drapes. There were also settees, benches, and seats with cushions, as well as cupboards. In the middle there stood a spacious courtyard, surrounded by four adjoining recessed courts facing each other. In the center stood a fountain, on top of which crouched four lions in red gold, spouting water from their mouths in droplets that looked like gems and pearls, and about the fountain singing birds fluttered under a high net to prevent them flying away … ”

‘The Tale of the King’s Son and the She-Ghoul’, The Arabian Nights, translated by Hussein Haddawy, quoted by Robert Irwin (see footnotes)

The Fall of Granada in 1492 marked the end of the Muslim rule in the Iberian Peninsula. The Nasrids (1238-1492) were the last Muslim dynasty that reigned in Spain with the Alhambra (Arabic for the red castle) as the bastion of their power. The 250 years of their reign was marked by cultural and intellectual splendour achieved despite being besieged by Christianity. Rafael Hierro Caleja stated that the Nasrids sensed that their civilization was coming to an end. (1) This is why they poured all their creative wisdom into the Alhambra, which is more richly decorated than any other Muslim monuments. Caleja suggests that the palace was the swan song of the Muslims who were “suffocated by increasing pressure from the Christian kingdoms”:

“This may well be an indication of a ‘fear of emptiness’ (the Latin horror vacui), which Johan Huizinga referred to in his marvellous book “The Autumn of the Middle Ages” as characteristic of the spirit’s final periods.”

What is written in official guidebooks about the magnificent seat of the Nasrid caliphs should not be taken for granted, says the researcher Robert Irwin (2):

“…there are very few facts about the Alhambra that are securely established and agreed upon. It is a sunlit place of many mysteries.”

The Muslim peoples, says Calleja, lived their lives looking inwards and this is why their buildings looked simple on the outside but were opulently decorated indoors. There is grandeur but there is also intimacy, according to Irwin, who adds that while most architecture is planned for the day, the Alhambra was intended to be seen at night, caressed by moonlight. The place used to be lit by vast candles from Damascus, which were reflected in water. It is a pity that the site is now so overrun by tourists, who visit it mostly in the blazing sun. There is little left of the intimacy but still the enchanting beauty of the place can be overshadowed by nothing.

Though we know little of the purpose of the elaborate designs, Irwin offers a beautiful suggestion:

“The Alhambra was designed by and for intellectuals with mystical inclinations. It was a machine for thinking in. Its lacework decoration and watery reflections hint at the impermanence of all material and visible things. The beauty of the Alhambra is based upon proportion and upon abstract geometric designs of staggering complexity. …The Alhambra is a stone book in more than one sense, for not only are its walls decorated with religious and poetical texts, but those texts are framed by geometrical designs that are, to all intents and purposes, demonstrations of mathematical theorems.”

Like in many other ancient monuments, there is plenty of astronomical symbolism. The ceiling of the Hall of Ambasadors, says Irwin, is a representation of the seven heavens or the seven classical planets – “the celestial court presided over by the sun king:
“The moon was his chief minister and heir to the throne. Mercury was the katib (scribe), Mars the army commander, Jupiter the qadi (judge), Saturn the treasurer and Venus the maidservant.”

A further beautiful example of astrological symbolism is encoded in The Hall of the Two Sisters. The poetry written on its walls translates:
“The constellation of Gemini holds out its hand to you on a sign of friendship and the moon goes up to it to talk in secret.”

The twelve lions in the Courtyard of the Lions may have stood for the twelve Zodiac signs, but it is not certain. A more plausible theory, according to Calleja, sees their origin in Hebrew art:
“There are twelve white marble lions holding up the sea, the twelve lions of Judah or the twelve tribes of Israel.”

It was a gift of the Jewish vizier and poet to the king of Alhambra, which, in Calleja’s words “reminds us of the peace and coexistence of the three monotheistic religions in medieval times in Spain.”

Another poetic inscription found in The Hall of the Two Sisters says: “In this place the soul shall find a stunning dream.” Calligraphy, vegetal motifs and geometric shapes are repeated endlessly on the walls of the Alhambra. This, together with the interplay of light, shadows and shapes transports the mind to another dreamlike dimension.


(1) Rafael Hierro Calleja, Granada and the Alhambra: Art, Architecture, History, Ediciones Miguel Sánchez

(2) Robert Irwin, The Alhambra (Wonders of the World), kindle edition

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Museo Picasso in Málaga, His Birthplace

I felt a sort of a spiritual communion with Pablo Picasso while visiting Museo Picasso in his home town of Málaga (featured in the photo above). Never before had I received his art so intensely. The museum is housed in an old Moorish palace, which was built on the foundations of a much older Phoenician dwelling. As the guide book to the museum says:

“While radical in its modernity, Picasso’s art also drew extensively on the past, nourishing its creative vitality with the treasure of bygone centuries. His museum in Málaga reflects the man by including historical strata in the modern building.”

Málaga is the second-most populous city on Andalusia and one of the most ancient cities in the world. Typically of Andalusia, it is a harmonious blend of aesthetic influences of various cultures, especially Muslim and Catholic, which resulted in the so called Mudejar style combining Christian and Islamist elements. Picasso’s Andalusian roots reached deep and defined him as an artist.

The exhibition featured some amazing quotes by Picasso. The first one I want to share relates to his Andalusian homeland:

I was born of a white father and a small glass of Andalusian eau de vie I was born to a mother the daughter of a fifteen year-old girl born in the Percheles of Málaga the handsome bull who sired me with his forehead crowned with jasmine”.

Jasmine is the well-known symbol of Málaga. I had not realized before how talented a writer Picasso was. He also had a deep understanding of art as an activity that both creates and expresses symbols. He said:

I always aim at the resemblance. An artist should observe nature but never confuse it with painting. It is only translatable into painting by signs. But such signs are not invented. To arrive at the sign, you have to concentrate hard on the resemblance. To me, surreality is nothing, and has never been anything but this profound resemblance, something deeper than the forms and the colors in which objects present themselves.”

(you can find this and more quotes with their sources on the Museum’s website:

Picasso’s art was not only strongly archetypal and mythological, it was also decidedly carnal, even bestial. He relished the constant company of animals:

Picasso may like or detest men, but he adores all animals […]. At the Bateau-Lavoir he had three Siamese cats, a dog, a monkey, and a turtle, and a domesticated white mouse made its home in a drawer of his table. […] In Vallauris he had a goat; in Cannes, a monkey.”

There were a lot of works of art featured in the museum that made a profound impression on me. First of all, “The Three Graces,” which was his rebellion against “academic training in beauty.” The guide book to the museum offers the following commentary on the painting:

“This play of shadow and light creates a perfect balance between solids and voids, between what we see and what we imagine. … One dressed, another naked, and the third simply draped, they silently impose their light, ghostly presence, like apparitions that have emerged from thin air. Picasso chose to represent them alone, on a monochrome ground devoid of anything suggesting an environment, and this adds to the timeless feel of the image.”

“Weeping Woman in Front of a Wall” was another striking work. The drawing was a preparation to the later “Guernica,” the famous anti-war painting. Picasso managed to convey the horrors and torments of the war through many of his paintings. There is s Madonna like feel to this particular drawing, which bestows profound sadness on the viewer.

But because there was a whole emotional spectrum in Picasso’s work, there was also a lot of childlike playfulness. One of the brilliant examples was the head of a bull, which is described on the museum’s website:

The work reflects an already established procedure in his working process in which he joined two completely different elements – in this case a seat and handlebars of a bicycle – in order to give rise to new meanings through their assemblage.

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Reading The Red Book (7)

Luis Scafati, Illustration to Kafka’s Metamorphosis

I. “The spirit of the depths is pregnant with ice, fire, and death. You are right to fear the spirit of the depths, as he is full of horror.”

II. “You thought you knew that abyss? Oh you clever people! It is another thing to experience it.”

Carl Jung, The Red Book

Chapter V of The Red Book is entitled Descent into Hell in the Future. It starts ominously, “In the following night, the air was filled with many voices.” This particular chapter has a more visceral tone, marking the watershed between preparation and actually plunging into “a dreadful deep.” It also includes more illustrations than previous chapters, which also marks the transition from intellectual verbal speculation to the realm of primordial images. The spirit of the depths allows Jung to experience the underworld.


Seized by fear, Jung descends into a dark cave along “a gray rock face.” He proceeds still deeper, to a lower cave with black water on the bottom. At that moment he catches a glimpse of the red stone, which he knows he must reach. He also sees a dead body on the surface of the water: “the bloody head of a man on the dark stream.” There is also a black scarab floating there and “a red sun, radiating through the dark water.” The red sun shines in the depths while “a thousand serpents crowd around, veiling the sun.” As the night falls, “thick red blood springs up.”


This passage foreshadows chapter VII – “Murder of the Hero.” Jung later identified the dead man as Siegfried, the dragon slaying hero of the Germanic mythology. In a dream of 1913, described in Memories, Dreams, Reflections Jung shot Siegfried with a rifle. That is how he himself interpreted the dream:

“Siegfried, I thought, represents what the Germans want to achieve, heroically to impose their will, have their own way. ‘Where there is a will there is a way!’ I had wanted to do the same. But now that was no longer possible. The dream showed that the attitude embodied by Siegfried, the hero, no longer suited me. Therefore it had to be killed.“

Arthur Rackham, “Siegfried’s Death”

Jung’s task was to find a new psychological adaptation because identifying with the male hero no longer served his soul. How much can his interpretation of his own dream be trusted has been a subject of debate. Some researchers have pointed out that Jung left the personal element out of the equation. Sabine Spielrein, his early patient and lover, shared a fantasy with him that she would like to bear him a son called Siegfried. Another interpretative angle could be connected with Jung’s premonition of the world war and the German role in it.

The scarab is of course a reference to the Egyptian god Khepri, who transcends “the boundaries of darkness and underworld, [emerging] with the rising sun. His name means “to come into being.” But “Khepri’s blackness also suggests that it is an invisible force that upholds solar energies.” (1) Along with the image of death – the dead hero’s body, scarab is the symbol of rebirth, which will come after the solar ego consciousness descends into the unconscious.


The symbolism of the red stone, the ultimate goal of the alchemical opus standing for the integration of the soul, was analyzed by me here. It seems that Jung’s vision of the underworld condenses the entire alchemical process: from the nigredo to the creation of the red stone. Thus, the soul offers Jung hope that his suffering will bear fruit.

Before he follows the thread of his visions further, Jung makes an invocation to his soul, further rejecting the intellectual judgement in favour of “divine astonishment”:

“Keep it far from me, science that clever knower, bad prison master who binds the soul and imprisons it in a lightless cell. … I want to go down cleansed into your depths with white garments … Let me persist in divine astonishment, so that I am ready to behold your wonders. Let me lay my head on a stone before your door, so that I am prepared to receive your light.”

In the subsequent passage Jung considers the theme of divine madness. He says, “if you enter into the world of the soul, you are like a madman, and a doctor would consider you to be sick.” He defines divine madness as “the overpowering of the spirit of this time through the spirit of the depths.” He also explains that balance is crucial in the sort of soul work that he has been dedicating himself to. He explains that during the preceding twenty-five days he served his soul by night while by day he served the spirit of our time. In this way, he did not descend into utter madness. The footnotes to The Red Book offer here a magnificent quote from Plato’s Phaedrus about madness: “provided it comes as a gift of heaven, [it] is the channel by which we receive the greatest blessings.”

In the following passage Jung explains what the slaying of the hero signifies – the birth of new life out of torment and suffering:

“If the hero in you is slain, then the sun of the depths rises in you, glowing from afar, and from a dreadful place. But all the same, everything that up till now seemed to be dead in you will come to life, and will change into poisonous serpents that will cover the sun, and you will fall into night and confusion. Your blood also will stream from many wounds in this frightful struggle. Your shock and doubt will be great, but from such torment the new life will be born. Birth is blood and torment. Your darkness, which you did not suspect since it was dead, will come to life and you will feel the crush of total evil and the conflicts of life that still now lie buried in the matter of your body.”

Criticism of the hero ideal is deepened in the final section of that chapter, where Jung juxtaposes the “everlasting ascent” of the hero with the concept of “incapacity,” which is as important for the psyche. In his guide to The Red Book Sanford L. Drob emphasizes that it is important that the hero “surrenders a portion of his control to the powers of the underworld.”


(1) The Book of Symbols: Reflections on Archetypal Images, ed. by Ami Ronnberg, ARAS

Reading The Red Book – part 1

Reading The Red Book – part 2

Reading The Red Book – part 3

Reading The Red Book – part 4

Reading The Red Book – part 5

Reading The Red Book – part 6

Reading The Red Book – part 8

Reading The Red Book – part 9

Reading The Red Book – part 10

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A Visit to the House of C.G. Jung

We are in the grip of another heatwave here in Switzerland, “the relentless beating heat” described famously in The Great Gatsby, while the Sun has just entered the sign of Leo. We are also on the eve of C.G. Jung’s birthday. I had an amazing opportunity today to visit the house in Küsnacht, Zurich, where Jung lived with his wife Emma and their five children. The house has now been partly turned into a museum. I highly recommend you book a visit if you are ever in the area. The tours are given to small groups (we were ten) and the guide was the Jung family member. The feeling the visitor gets while walking around the hall, the dining room, the library, the veranda and Jung’s study, where he saw patients, is very intimate. It is not allowed to take any photos of the interiors, but the ban does not pertain to the garden surrounding the property, where the visitors are welcome to spend as much time as they want. I was very happy that photos were not allowed because we were able to sink into the experience without the usual distraction of clicking cameras or people posing for photos.

The part of the house which is open to the public looks almost exactly as it used to in Jung’s time. The other part of the house is still occupied by Jung’s family members and it is not open to visitors. We were a small international group, who seemed to be deeply interested in Jung’s work, judging by the questions that were asked. This was not a usual museum visit, but something much more touching and memorable.


Upon entering the house through the famous door with the iconic inscription in stone “vocatus atque non vocatus deus aderit” (called or not called, God will be present), we saw two portraits of Carl and Emma taken in the year of their engagement. He was 27, she 20. Importantly, Emma was not only the mother of his children but she was also his intellectual partner in every way. She wanted to go to university but her father, a wealthy industrialist, forbade it. She compensated for that in later years, when she hired private tutors to learn ancient languages, politics and philosophy. She also saw her own patients and published books.

Emma and Carl Gustav

We then proceeded to the salon or the living room full of family photos and featuring an extraordinary decorative green tile stove. Emma fashioned it for Jung while he was away in the army. It was adorned with symbols, notably a magnificent Zodiac and a striking figure of a pelican on top of it. The Pelican was also the name of the boat that Jung used extensively, being an avid sailor. The pelican was also one of the most important symbol in Jung’s life. The legend says that the mother pelican would wound herself by striking her breast with the beak in order to feed her starving children with her own blood. I was struck by a large number of goddess images in the household, especially the virgin with child. Other beautiful ornaments included souvenirs from his journeys, such as African masks, skulls, figures of Buddha, and many others religious artifacts.

The dining room made quite an impression by its sheer size and the wonderful view of Lake Zurich. We were told that Jung enjoyed spending evenings there sitting on the sofa in the corner, smoking his pipe and reading Agatha Christie novels. We proceeded to the magnificent winter garden, which was adorned by the statue of Homer immediately visible upon entering.

Jung and Homer

The highlight of the visit was of course the library with a magnificent collection of alchemical books that have been digitalized recently ( and Jung’s study, which is a small dark room, where he also saw his patients. On the staircase leading to the library our attention was caught by a drawing, which was included in The Red Book. It shows a fortified tower on the shore of a sea, a medieval town and a large ship on the horizon. This image goes back to Jung’s childhood in Rheinfall, when he had a vision described in Memories, Dreams, Reflections. While walking to school along the river Rhein, he saw a large ship, which was a very unusual sight on the river. His imagination ran wild and he suddenly found himself in a medieval town:

“On the rock stood a well-fortified castle with a tall keep, a watchtower. This was my house. … There was an uncommonly attractive library where you could find everything worth knowing. … the … raison d’être of this whole arrangement was the secret of the keep, which I alone knew. … Here I had an equally inconceivable apparatus, a kind of laboratory in which I made gold.”

An image from The Red Book

Jung’s vision was to make his family home look like an ancient building but the architect and his wife did not share this desire, so he had to come to terms with building a contemporary looking house. But when he decided to erect his tower in Bollingen he was the only one who made all the decisions about its design.

The study where Jung created The Red Book is a very small, dark room, which does indeed bring to mind an alchemical lab. Colourful delicate light filters through stained glass windows. There is a faint but notable smell of tobacco. This was a place where no distractions were tolerated and the only room in that side of the house with no view of the lake so that the attention can be kept on the work. The guide told us that Jung allowed only two reasons to be disturbed there: war or fire.

Jung in his study

The house was not only the place of deep concentration but it also pulsated with life. We saw numerous children’s toys, board games, and we were told the whole family frequently went camping together, which was not a usual practice of the Swiss at the time. Food was extremely important; we were told that the family employed a cook. It was also quite interesting for me to find out that Jung and his wife made a deal of their lifetime by purchasing the land adjacent to the lake. Right now these sites are worth tens of millions of francs, while in Jung’s time the rich preferred to build their houses on the hills because the areas next to the lake were teeming with mosquitoes.

You can find a few photos here and also here: . I am also including some of the ones that I took below.





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