Reading The Red Book (36)

“The place of your work should be in the vault.”

C.G. Jung, The Red Book, Scrutinies

We have now reached Scrutinies – the third part of Jung’s Red Book. As Sonu Shamdasani points out in his introduction to The Red Book, Jung’s opus is divided into three parts:

Liber Primus: The Way of What Is to Come
Liber Secundus: The Images of the Erring
Liber Tertius: Scrutinies

The first two parts contain Jung’s visions from the years 1913 and 1914 whereas Scrutinies are based on later and different visions that Jung experienced between the years 1913 and 1916. Most notably, Scrutinies include the legendary Seven Sermons to the Dead, which were the only passages of The Red Book that Jung decided to publish in his lifetime.

Scrutinies opens with Jung’s denunciation of his “I,” which he calls “laughably sensitive, self-righteous, unruly, mistrustful, pessimistic, cowardly; dishonest …, venomous, vengeful…” He denounces its childish pride and craving for power accompanied by “ridiculous vanity.” These harsh words were written on the day when Jung resigned as president of the International Psychoanalytical Association, as Shamdasani informs the reader in his invaluable footnotes. The resignation came after the split with Freud. Jung seems to be so disillusioned with his ego that he wants to crown it with “a prickly crown of iron” and break its bones “until there is no longer a trace of hardness there.”

This is quite a powerful passage characterized by uncompromising honesty. Because the ego’s drive is self-preservation it may turn to nasty shadow tactics when threatened. “Your sensitivity is your particular form of violence,” quips Jung to himself. There is no love in the ego but only self-interest and desirousness, adds Jung. Resistance and hardness are other sins of the I that will do anything so as not to let the forces of the wider psyche into its egoic stronghold. But the battle is lost. Fate will come from outside and have its way, the raging ego notwithstanding.

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, “Pride” (“Superbia”)

Having scolded his I, Jung is now approached by his soul, which relates that she is happy and remains “sunlike.” This on the one hand consoles Jung, who feels stuck in the murky “darkness of the earth.” But then he feels the immense suffering of his I and accuses the soul:

“You live from the blood of the human heart.”

The soul replies:

“No drink is dearer to me than red blood.”

Once again Jung reminds us that the soul is nourished both by the spiritual sun and the dark depths of suffering. Because the soul participates in the divine, there is a steep price to pay for the human, who needs to make sacrifices to lead a soulful life. “The divine consumes the human,” laments Jung. But the soul tells Jung not to be angry because it is a necessity that “the way of life” (that is, the soul-filled life) is “sown with fallen ones.” The way of the soul leads through sacrifice.

Jung struggles throughout these passages to understand what the soul tells him. He says that he needs to understand and goes on to confessing that his belief is weak but he also adds that this is the right attitude in modern times:

“We have outgrown that childhood where mere belief was the most suitable means to bring men to what is good and reasonable. … But we have so much knowledge and such a thirst for knowledge in us that we need knowledge more than belief.”

Yet he admits that it is better to strike a balance between knowledge and belief because neither is “everything.” These issues must have preoccupied Jung all his life, as is evident from his BBC interview from 1959. There, with a Gnostic (Gnosis – knowledge) ring on his finger and with a twinkle in his eye, he replied to the journalist who asked him if he believed in God: “I don’t believe, I know.” Numerous viewers flooded BBC with angry letters chastising Jung for his hubris. He felt obliged to respond to these accusation with a letter in which he wrote:

“I did not say in the broadcast, ‘There is a God’, I said ‘I do not need to believe in God; I know’. Which does not mean: I do know a certain God (Zeus, Jahwe, Allah, the Trinitarian God, etc.) but rather: I do know that I am obviously confronted with a factor unknown in itself, which I call ‘God’ … .


That happens when I meet somebody or something stronger than myself. It is an apt name given to all overpowering emotions in my own psychical system subduing my conscious will and usurping control over myself. This is the name by which I designate all things which cross my willful path violently and recklessly, all things which upset my subjective views, plans, and intentions and change the course of my life for better or worse. In accordance with tradition I call the power of fate in this positive as well as negative aspect, and inasmuch as its origin is beyond my control, ‘god’, a ‘personal god’, since my fate means very much myself, particularly when it approaches me in the form of conscience as a vox Dei, with which I can even converse and argue.”

The value of individual spiritual experience is also a Gnostic concept. God will come, whether he is called or not, as reads the inscription above the door of Jung’s house in Küsnacht. On the other hand, by warning against “childish” belief Jung says later in the chapter we are analyzing:

“We need differentiating knowledge to clear up the confusion which the discovery of the soul has brought in. Therefore it is perhaps much better to await better knowledge before one accepts things all too believingly.”

All too often spirituality and illusion go hand in hand, therefore a discerning intellect is always necessary provided that it does not smother the soul. In his footnotes Shamdasani refers us also to the correspondence between Jung and Hans Schmid-Guisan, another Swiss psychiatrist and Jung’s friend. In a letter of 6 November 1915 Jung warned against the excesses of too much understanding:

“The core of the individual is a mystery of life, which dies when it is ‘grasped: That is also why symbols want to keep their secrets, they are mysterious not only because we are unable to clearly see what is at their bottom … All understanding as such, being an integration into general viewpoints, contains the devil’s element, and kills … That is why; in the later stages of analysis, we must help the other to come to those hidden and un-openable symbols, in which the seed of life lies securely hidden like the tender seed in the hard shell.”

Too much analysis feeds the illusion of the intellect that all the aspects can be brought to life and understood. Jung adds in the same letter:

“The threatening and dangerous thing about analysis is that the individual appears to be understood: the devil takes away and eats up his soul, which had been born into the light as a naked and exposed child, robbed of its protective cover.”

These were very important words written when Jung was absorbed in writing The Red Book. What academics often miss about Jungian psychology is that vital, inaccessible core, which cannot be explained away with any formulas. It is a question of individual experience and emotionally suffused understanding whether one can respond to this content or not.

In this chapter Jung also has difficulty accepting the prediction of his soul that his is the way of solitude. He fears it entails madness but the soul tries to comfort him:

“You must go your way, unconcerned about others, …. You have laid your hand on the divine, which those have not.”

Michelangelo, Creation of Adam; interestingly, some researchers believe that God lies here on the human brain, others say it is a uterus and the floating green piece of cloth underneath symbolizes a cut umbilical cord

Next Jung encounters an old man, who reminds him of a hermit living in the desert. The man tells him again that his work requires solitude and a departure from science:

“Practice solitude assiduously without grumbling so that everything will in time become ready. You should become serious, and hence take your leave from science. … Your way goes toward the depths. Science is too superficial, mere language, mere tools. But you must set to work.”

The hermit leaves Jung with these poetic words:

“Ripeness comes as late as possible in spring, or else it misses its purpose.”

Although Jung feels depressed and in the dark about what kind of work he is supposed to do, the old man reminds him that he cannot rush things into ripeness. Yet after experiencing this vision Jung felt wretched throughout all the days until the First World War broke out. He was only comforted by the words that his soul said to him:

“The greatest comes to the smallest.”

These words lifted the black veil and encouraged him to write the first part of Liber Novus. The words seemed to echo the Biblical “blessed are the meek” and were an incitement for him to bend his back to humble work.

Pamela Colman Smith, Eight of Pentacles

After this Jung had no visions for a year until June 1915 when he saw a sea hawk snatch a fish and fly into the sky. The soul spoke to him then and said:

“That is a sign that what is below is borne upward.”

In the preceding year Jung had been indeed keeping his nose to the grindstone doing military service but more importantly composing the draft of the first parts of The Red Book. Shortly after the sea hawk vision Jung hears the voice of Philemon again, who says to Jung that he wants to “emboss” him like a golden coin. He tells Jung that he should pass from hand to hand like gold and that he should become “the will of the whole.” It seems that after initial hesitation Philemon has decided to impart his secret knowledge to Jung, which he will in turn bring to the collective. “… He who fathoms you, fathoms himself” says Jung to Philemon. Then Philemon disappears again and Jung is left with his own thoughts. He starts pondering on the possibility of selfless love. It seems that he rejects it because from his perspective pushing the self aside leads to the feelings of “bitterness, injustice, and poison.” He adds that uniting with the self is the only way towards God:

“For vices as well as virtues always want to live outside. But through constant outer life we forget the self and through this we also become secretly selfish in our best endeavors. What we neglect in ourselves blends itself secretly into our actions toward others.”

The Jungian path is not selfless but rather it is an introverted path of self-love, which is the path leading to God. For Jung, I and self were two different concepts, the former standing for the field of consciousness, the latter encompassing the total psyche, including its unconscious part. He also equated self with God. But if the self is overcome by God, this may lead to the loss of individual life. Gods often come to us as diseases, wrote Jung famously later.

Next Jung is approached by Philemon again. This brings back to Jung the memories of writing the first part of Liber Novus. He compares the process of writing it to being intoxicated with Philemon’s voice, as if the two had merged into one. But now, as he notices, their relationship has changed and they have become two distinct forms again. Philemon now tells Jung to “enter into the grave of the God and that “the place of your work should be in the vault.” He needs to look for the divine in the underworld.

Now Jung is approached by three shades of the dead. The first one is that of a woman, who emits a soft whirring sound of the scarab beetle. Jung recognizes her as part of his spiritual lineage:

“When she was still alive, she recovered the mysteries of the Egyptians for me, the red sun disk and the song of the golden wings.”

An ornamental breastplate of Tutankhamun

The dead demand from Jung that he gives them the word (logos, the symbol):

“The symbol, the mediator, we need the symbol, we hunger for it, make light for us.”

Suddenly Jung notices that there is an object in his hand, which he refers to as HAP – “God’s other pole.” Shamdasani explains that it is named the phallus in Black Book 5. The dead explain its significance further:

“He is the flesh spirit, the blood spirit, he is the extract of all bodily juices, the spirit of the sperm and the entrails, of the genitals, of the head, of the feet, of the hands, of the joints, of the bones, of the eyes and ears, of the nerves and the brain; he is the spirit of the sputum and of excretion.”

Linga with face of Shiva, via https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/38250

There are no enlightening thoughts without the body, adds the dead woman. The dead want Jung’s blood because they want to be part of his life. They want to tell him what he does not know. Jung hesitantly lets the shadow woman drink blood from his heart. She then tells him about Hekate/Brimo or the dark goddess of death:

“Brimo – guess that’s what you call her-the old one-which is how it begins-the one who bore the son-the powerful HAP, who grew out of her shame and strove after the wife of Heaven, who arches over earth, for Brimo, above and below, envelops the son. She bears and raises him. Born from below, he fertilizes the Above, since the wife is his mother, and the mother is his wife.”

Goddess Chamunga, a terrifying aspect of Durga, via https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/39369

The woman continues:

“HAP is the rebellion of the Below, but the bird comes from the Above and places itself on the head of HAP. That is peace. You are a vessel.”

It seems that Jung’s role is to reconcile the Above with the Below. He despairs that he has to spend time with the dead and not the living. The dead tell him that they belong to his “invisible following and community” and that the living do not see him for what he really is – the holy vessel. He fears that the shadows want him dead but they tell him that it is enough that he lets himself be buried so that he can grasp their mysteries. The dead also admonish Jung that he should take action instead of dreaming and hesitating. He should build a church and a community. Jung reacts with indignation telling them that he is no prophet. But they tell him:

“The bridge should lead out beyond humanity; inviolable, far, of the air. There is a community of spirits founded on outer signs with a solid meaning.”

They see Jung as a pontifex (Pope) figure – builder of bridges; a spiritual father leading a community of like-minded individuals.

Albrecht Dürer, “The Mantle of the Pope”

The shadow woman now addresses the dead in the name of Jung:

“Come, you dark and restless ones, I will refresh you with my blood, the blood of a living one so that you will gain speech and life, in me and through me.

Let us build the bond of community so that the living and the dead image will become one and the past will live on in the present.

“You are my community. I live what I can live for the living. But the excess of my longing belongs to you, you shades.”

Jung’s creative energy is to be directed towards the collective unconscious, which is a sum total of the wisdom of the dead. Modern men and women have forgotten the dead but Jung must bring them back to the living memory.

Now Philemon appears to soberly warn Jung both against the dead and also against his soul. If he does not differentiate himself from his soul, he will run the risk of playing God. The dead should also be kept under control because if they are lost they will become malicious and will attack unsuspectingly from behind. Also Jung should beware of the temptation of judging and diagnosing others because his own garden is full of weeds. He should behold his inadequacy every day. He should help only those who solicit his help and otherwise remain silent.

Jung becomes livid with his soul for all the torment she has caused him but Philemon silences him and speaks to the soul in Jung’s name, paying homage to her:

“You are blessed, virgin soul, praised be your name. You are the chosen one among women. You are the God-bearer. Praise be to you! Honor and fame be yours in eternity.”

Mary – Benedicta Inter Mulieres (Blessed Among Women), via here

“We, your vassals, wait on your words,” says Philemon to the soul. The soul is now ready to leave but Jung suspects that she has stolen something from him. After a fair amount of denial she finally admits that she took “love, warm human love, blood, warm red blood, the holy source of life.” Jung is enraged again and says:

“I want to love, not you through me.”

Jung wants human love, not the one based on projections or the daimonic “immoderation and insatiableness” spun by the soul’s seductive ways.

Two days pass and the soul is still there awaiting Jung at nightfall. She now advises Jung how to go about his further work. She tells him to “build the furnace,” where he will throw “the broken, the worn out, the unused, and the ruined” so that it can be renewed. In a holy alchemical process, heat and fire will smelter the old and bring birth to the new. She reminds Jung how great the power of matter is; the same matter (mother) that HAP came from. The hardest matter “strengthens thought,” concludes the soul.

Pieter Brueghel the Younger, “The Alchemist”

Now Jung is ready to hear the revelation of The Seven Sermons to the Dead, which will be the subject of the next article in the series.

download

Support my blog

If you appreciate my writing, consider donating to support my work. Thank you very much in advance.

$1.00

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

Reading The Red Book – part 10

Reading The Red Book – part 11

Reading The Red Book – part 12

Reading The Red Book – part 13

Reading The Red Book – part 14

Reading The Red Book – part 15

Reading The Red Book – part 16

Reading The Red Book – part 17

Reading The Red Book – part 18

Reading The Red Book – part 19

Reading The Red Book – part 20

Reading The Red Book – part 21

Reading The Red Book – part 22

Reading The Red Book – part 23

Reading The Red Book – part 24 

Reading The Red Book – part 25

Reading The Red Book – part 26

Reading The Red Book – part 27

Reading The Red Book – part 28

Reading The Red Book – part 29

Reading The Red Book – part 30

Reading The Red Book – part 31

Reading The Red Book – part 32

Reading The Red Book – part 33

Reading The Red Book – part 34

Reading The Red Book – part 35

Posted in The Red Book by C.G. Jung | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Sacred Art of Pilgrimage

“May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm on your face, the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.”

A traditional Celtic blessing adopted by the North Wales Pilgrim’s Way

I had my first experience of walking the Way of St James in Spring this year. I walked the Way of Central Switzerland, which starts in Einsiedeln with its Benedictine Monastery with Black Madonna and finishes on Brünig Pass, linking Central Switzerland with the Bernese mountains. The views were breathtaking and it was quite moving to see how many smaller and bigger chapels and churches there are along the way, always adorned with the ubiquitous scallop shell – a symbol of the Camino de Santiago. It was like walking a sacred labyrinth unravelling a golden thread. There were also quite hard stretches along the way – such as waddling through snowy mountains with heavy backpacks on our backs. The liberating feeling of being at one with the land was especially palpable in these moments. All peregrine spiritual teachers came to mind (without immodest comparisons) – from the Peripatetic (i.e. walking) ancient philosophers, to Jesus and the Buddha, who wandered for seven years before he reached Enlightenment.

I later read what the actor Shirley MacLaine wrote about her own “journey of the spirit” along Camino de Santiago. For her it was a “‘walking meditation’, along what she said were the ley lines that the route followed, which communicated the spiritual energy of the earth.” (1) A very old derivation of the word “pilgrim” suggests that it may be connected with the Latin per agrum, “through the field.” (2)

In her book Wanderlust: A History of Walking, Rebecca Solnit wrote:

“The walker toiling along a road toward some distant place is one of the most compelling and universal images of what it means to be human, depicting the individual as small and solitary in a large world, reliant on the strength of body and will. In pilgrimage, the journey is radiant with hope that arrival at the tangible destination will bring spiritual benefits with it. The pilgrim has achieved a story of his or her own and in this way too becomes part of the religion made up of stories of travel and transformation.”

Nicholas Roerich, “Wanderer from the Resplendent City”

The Greek word oime (path or the way of the song) was used by Homer to describe the way along which he, the poet and his readers travel along. How incredibly similar is this idea to the Australian songlines of the Aboriginals, who also call them the Footprints of the Ancestors. (3) Songlines come from a period of time called Dreaming “during which their ancestors took animal forms and created the topography of the land by traveling and leaving behind tracks in the earth.” (4) These tracks live in memories of those who inherited the stories of their ancestors, who in turn inherited them from previous generations. This chain possibly goes back thirteen thousand years. (5) The Aboriginals view the landscape as sacred, as was the landscape seen with the eyes of the Ancient Greeks. The Aboriginal Dreaming tracks not only mark routes on the land but they also follow the movement of the stars. As O’Connor says in her book:

“In the night sky, the white cockatoo is represented by the star Fomalhaut, which appears in the northeast in late July, heralding a change in seasons. It is also a part of a celestial songline that begins with the Creation Dog in the north and stretches across the sky to include the stars of the Rock Cod, Eagle, the Big Law Place, Red Ant Doctor, White-Faced Grass Wallaby, and Catfish Law, and ends with the Bats in the southern sky. The Bats, the constellation the Greeks called the Pleiades, represent the children and teenagers who will be initiates. By following this celestial sequence of stars, one would have been able to navigate to the traditional place of the ceremonies.”

Lloyd Jampijinpa Brown, “Emu Dreaming” (modern Aboriginal art via https://artark.com.au/pages/origins-of-the-modern-aboriginal-art-movement#_) More beautiful art here https://www.nma.gov.au/exhibitions/songlines-touring

This is an intricate and sophisticated system of connections, a real science of the heart. Such “story maps” were also part and parcel of the mythology of the indigenous Salish peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast, who believe in the trickster character “who gives the universe its shape through his travels and whose adventures are passed down through generations.” (6)

O’Connor argues very convincingly in her book that even we moderns use “story maps” when we engage in wayfinding:

“Consider how you get from your home to work. Do you see a picture of the whole route, a bird’s-eye view from above, and begin charting your course? Likely not. Rather, you know your starting point and the series of decisions you will make, and you have a visual memory of the route that follows. It’s an experience that is perhaps more akin to recalling a melody…

Maybe navigation is more like singing a song than following a map.”

But it is when we hear a voice that “calls to our pilgrim soul” (7) that we open ourselves to the possibility of experiencing the oneness of Above and Below. An act of pilgrimage does not need to be religious in the narrow sense of the word. Any sacred walk with a soulful purpose is a pilgrim’s walk. For me it was a journey to Carl Jung’s birth house, for the poet Joseph Brodsky it was his constant returns to Venice; the possibilities are endless. Looked at with the eyes of the soul, all roads are pilgrim’s routes. Cousineau recalls an anecdote about Rainer Maria Rilke in his book. The poet, who had temporarily lost his ability to write, was advised by the sculptor Auguste Rodin to visit the zoo in Paris every day and look at one animal. This is how Rilke’s seventy-two poems about the panther were created. Similarly, the same run-of-the-mill route to work may turn into a songline when looked at with “the right eyes,” as Rilke put it.

Nicholas Roerich, “Traces (Mountain Wanderer)”

To me the most fascinating aspect of the pilgrimage is its message of equality, connectedness and openness. Brilliantly, Stanford compares pilgrimage to a political protest march “being deployed with new enthusiasm against entrenched power, usually but not always in favour of openness, the individual and civil society.” A pilgrim inscription along the route to Santiago de Compostela says: “The Camino isn’t a speed competition or a race. Rather it’s a pathway of brotherhood and universality.” Walking the path of the ancestors does not call for haste or precedence. On the contrary, pilgrims “draw sustenance and self-insight precisely by not being the first and instead walking in the footsteps of others who have been that way before, in the process retelling and reliving their stories… .” (8)

Nicholas Roerich, “Wanderers of the Light City”

Fascinatingly, one of the meanings of the word Compostela is derived from Latin campus stellae – “field of the star”. A pilgrim moves slowly, with reverence with a starry field above. He or she is guided by the scallop symbol, which comes from the tale of the ship that carried the remains of Saint James and crashed at sea. Miraculously, the body of the saint “was washed up undamaged on the shore, encrusted in a protective layer of scallop shells.” (9) Contemplating this image, I cannot help but think of the Buddhist doctrine of the diamond body of pure awareness; that indestructible spiritual core which is the vessel that carries us through the waters of life. The conch is also a symbol of listening and being attuned to the source. (10) The labyrinthine markings on the surface of the shell bring to mind the sacred spiral and the sacred centre of the mandala. Found on the bottom of the ocean, the shell is a symbol of the unconscious. Therefore the pilgrim connects not only with the field of the stars but also with the watery depths of the unconscious. Like newly-born Aphrodite emerging from the sea on the shell, so does the soul get reborn and transformed as a result of pilgrimage. An empty shell, finally, stands for “the soul’s departure to immortality.” (11)

Walking, pilgrimaging, navigating, wayfinding are all popular and apt metaphors for human existence. The wayfinders of the past relied on “sun, sky, stars, wind, trees, tides, sea swells, mountains, valleys, snow, ice, anthills, sand, and animals” to guide them to their destination. (12) In her book, O’Connor argues that our reliance on electronic devices and our worship of speedy travel has deprived us of the meaningful connection that our ancestors felt with the land. We have lost the feeling of “embodiment in time and space.” We have also become oblivious to the spiritual aspect of navigation as we have stopped to rely on our senses, sensations, instincts and feelings when engaging in wayfinding. O’Connor also laments the decrease of “the right to roam” that we grant our children. Sadly, also women are severely limited as most of us would not dare to wander alone.

In a way we moderns are like the panther from the famous poem by Rilke, who described an animal kept in a cage:

“His vision, from the constantly passing bars,
has grown so weary that it cannot hold anything else.
It seems to him there are a thousand bars;
and behind the bars, no world.

As he paces in cramped circles, over and over,
the movement of his powerful soft strides
is like a ritual dance around a center
in which a mighty will stands paralyzed.

Only at times, the curtain of the pupils lifts, quietly–.
An image enters in,
rushes down through the tensed, arrested muscles,
plunges into the heart and is gone.”

(translated by Stephen Mitchell)

download-2

Support my blog

If you appreciate my writing, consider donating to support my work. Thank you very much in advance.

$1.00

Notes:

(1) Peter Stanford: Pilgrimage: Journeys of Meaning, published in April 2021 – a highly recommended read; the motto to my post was also found there

(2) Phil Cousineau and Huston Smith, The Art of Pilgrimage: The Seeker’s Guide to Making Travel Sacred

(3) Ibid.

(4) M. R. O’Connor, Wayfinding: The Science and Mystery of How Humans Navigate the World

(5) Ibid.

(6) Ibid.

(7) Phil Cousineau and Huston Smith, The Art of Pilgrimage: The Seeker’s Guide to Making Travel Sacred

(8) Peter Stanford: Pilgrimage: Journeys of Meaning

(9) Ibid.

(10) The Book of Symbols, Reflections on Archetypal Images, ARAS, edited by Ami Ronnberg, p. 212

(11) Ibid.

(12) M. R. O’Connor, Wayfinding: The Science and Mystery of How Humans Navigate the World

Posted in pilgrimage | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Symbolism of Mountains

In Memories, Dreams, Reflections, C.G. Jung talks about his childhood dream of going to the Swiss mountains. Owing to the fact that he was born in a poor family his dream came true only in late childhood. One day his father took him to Lucerne:

“My father pressed a ticket into my hand and said, ‘You can ride up to the peak alone. I’ll stay here, it’s too expensive for the two of us. Be careful not to fall down anywhere.'”

When he reached the peak of Rigi, which here in Switzerland is called the Queen of the Mountains, he was filled with reverence:

“It was all very solemn, and I felt one had to be polite and silent up here, for one was in God’s world.”

J.M.W. Turner, “The Blue Rigi”

For Jung, mountains (and other features of the landscape) symbolized “the essence of God.” Snow-capped mountains are indeed nothing less than divinity incarnate. Every high mountain, like the mythical Mount Meru of India, is for the one standing at her feet the centre of the universe.

The theme of reverence is crucial when talking about the mountains. This attitude seems to be missing among the throngs of climbers flocking to Nepal with the hope of conquering the highest mountain in the world. We know it as Mount Everest while its local name is Chomolungma, which translates as Mother Goddess of the World:

“Thus, Everest and her flanks are blessed with spiritual energy, and the Sherpas say that one should behave with reverence when passing through this sacred landscape. Here, the karmic effects of one’s actions are magnified, and even impure thoughts are best avoided. When climbing, opportunities for fateful mishaps abound.”

via https://www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/article/130501-mount-everest-fight-sherpas-sahibs-world-mountain-climbing

Tibetans believe that the top of Chomolungma is the abode of Miyolangsagma – Goddess of Inexhaustible Giving.

Miyolangsagma

Jungfrau (The Virgin), the most iconic Swiss mountain, was unconquerable for centuries, certifying to her name as the one who is pristine, complete in herself. Together with Eiger (most probably Ogre) and Mönch (Monk) it constitutes perhaps the most famous Swiss image. Now is the season when in the valley at her feet Alpine roses are in full bloom.

Jungfrau
Eiger, Mönch, Jungfrau – photo by Thomas Weber via here

Mountain peaks, where heaven and earth touch, are places of divine revelation. An ascent to a mountain top is a symbol of initiation. Yet, the symbolism of the mountain is not exhausted by the metaphor of spiritual heights. In the mountains soul and spirit touch each other. In this communion of soul, spirit and body there is a feeling of sublime humility. In one of his most beautiful letters, The Dalai Lama spoke of the difference between spirit and soul:

“I call the high and light aspect of my being spirit and the dark and heavy aspect soul.
Soul is at home in the deep, shaded valleys. Heavy torpid flowers saturated with black grow there. The rivers flow like warm syrup. They empty into huge oceans of soul.
Spirit is a land of high, white peaks and glittering jewellike lakes and flowers. Life is sparse and sounds travel great distances.” (1)

Nicholas Roerich, “Prophet Muhammad on Mount Hira”

In his Dictionary of Symbols, Cirlot included an interesting thought pertaining to the symbolism of the mountain as a life force:

“Seen from above, the mountain grows gradually wider, and in this respect it corresponds to the inverted tree whose roots grow up towards heaven while its foliage points downwards, thereby expressing multiplicity, the universe in expansion, involution and materialization. This is why Eliade says that ‘the peak of the cosmic mountain is not only the highest point on earth, it is also the earth’s navel, the point where creation had its beginning’—the root.”

The mountains with their luscious, fertile valleys and unforgiving peaks, which are referred to as death zones in the Himalayas, seem like an all-encompassing symbol that marries all kinds of dualisms: soul and spirit, spirit and matter, masculine and feminine, life and death. All kinds of treasures come from the mountains – starting with precious metals and finishing with the majority of the world’s freshwater resources. Perhaps this is why mountains have been likened to prima materia in symbolism:

“Gestating within the mountain’s hollow, uterine interior are precious metals, an image alchemy adopted to describe the mysterious prima materia, the undifferentiated stuff we start with when we mine our depths…” (2)

Coming back to Jung, also in Memories, Dreams, Reflections, he describes an encounter with Pueblo Indians. An elder of the tribe asked him a question:

“Another time I stood by the river and looked up at the mountains, which rise almost another six thousand feet above the plateau. I was just thinking that this was the roof of the American continent, and that people lived here in the face of the sun like the Indians who stood wrapped in blankets on the highest roofs of the pueblo, mute and absorbed in the sight of the sun. Suddenly a deep voice, vibrant with suppressed emotion, spoke from behind me into my left ear: ‘Do you not think that all life comes from the mountain?’ An elderly Indian had come up to me, inaudible in his moccasins, and had asked me this heaven knows how far-reaching question. A glance at the river pouring down from the mountain showed me the outward image that had engendered this conclusion. Obviously all life came from the mountain, for where there is water, there is life. Nothing could be more obvious. In his question I felt a swelling emotion connected with the word ‘mountain,’ and thought of the tale of secret rites celebrated on the mountain. I replied, ‘Everyone can see that you speak the truth'”.

Cosmology manuscript panel showing Mount Meru and Ananda the cosmic fish, The British Museum

Notes:

(1) See my older post for more details; for the full letter turn to the comments section https://symbolreader.net/2014/01/08/of-mountains-and-valleys/

(2) The Book of Symbols, Reflections on Archetypal Images, ARAS, edited by Ami Ronnberg, p. 108

download-2

Support my blog

If you appreciate my writing, consider donating to support my work. Thank you very much in advance.

$1.00

Posted in The Mountains | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

The House of Mary

One of the most important Black Madonna shrines in Europe is The Basilica della Santa Casa (Basilica of the Holy House) in Loreto, Italy. Catholics believe that it enshrines the authentic house, where Mary lived. The house is believed to have been brought to Loreto by angels.

Our Lady of Loreto

I think this symbolism of Home is really touching here. Home is what we all seek; the womb and later the mother is our first home; it is the Ithaca we all long for; home is where the heart is, as the popular saying goes. Home does not need to be physical space but, like the soul, it stands for a spiritual centre, finding peace and rest after a period of turmoil; it is “a vital center of both fixity and freedom.” (1) In the wonderful movie Nomadland (2020) the main character played by Frances Macdormand has her whole “home” in a van (she refers to herself as houseless) and yet we sense the spiritual riches in her that are boundless. People are attracted to her radiant presence as if she embodied the idea of home.


Numerous copies of the so called “Loretokapelle” (Loreto chapel) sprung up in the seventeenth century in the German speaking part of Europe. Here in Switzerland there are a number of notable Loreto chapels. I wrote about the most famous one here:
https://symbolreader.net/2020/08/07/the-black-madonna-of-hergiswald/
But the less prominent ones, the ones hidden in dark forests are a real joy to discover and I have been on a quest to find them all. Last weekend I visited one closest to my home. I had not heard about that one before and therefore it was a real thrill. I include a few pictures below.

Notes:

(1) (1) The Book of Symbols, Reflections on Archetypal Images, ARAS, edited by Ami Ronnberg, p. 556

download-1

Support my blog

If you appreciate my writing, consider donating to support my work. Thank you very much in advance.

$1.00

Posted in Home | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A Hymn to Plant Life

While listening to a talk of Alan Watts recently, I was struck by one of his observations. He said that in Daoist inspired landscape painting was a statement against anthropocentrism, which sees humans as the crown of creation. In a painting “Poet on a Mountaintop” by Shen Zhou, a fifteenth-century Chinese painter inspired by Daoism, the human figure does not dominate the landscape, as it was frequently the case in Western painting. The tiny figure of the poet is at first hard to spot because he stands in total harmony with his surroundings.

Shen Zhou, “Poet on a Mountaintop”

Yet even in Western thought there are some voices strongly challenging anthropocentrism. One of them is that of Olafur Eliasson, an Icelandic-Danish artist, who recently came to Switzerland with an exhibition called Life. By removing the windows of the exhibition pavilion and flooding the building with water he symbolically erased the boundaries that we try to erect to keep the nature out of the spaces we inhabit. In a write-up to the exhibition we can read:

“… the enclosure of the Beyeler Foundation building by Renzo Piano has been partially removed to let ‘the world’ enter into the museum. What is usually kept out – water, plants, and animals – breaks through and invades the world of humans.”

https://www.inexhibit.com/…/in-olafur-eliassons-life…/

“To realize that human life is inextricably entangled with that of all the creatures around us makes us aware of our vulnerability and that we all share a common fate, thus subverting the anthropocentric perspective we have had for centuries.”

https://olafureliasson.net/archive/exhibition/EXH102547/life

Photo by Georgios Kefalas

At the museum’s bookshop I picked up a book by a philosopher Emanuele Coccia entitled The Life of Plants: A Metaphysics of Mixture. First of all, it is worth pointing out that he is one of very few philosophers who occupies himself with contemplating nature. Otherwise this is not a subject worthy of today’s philosophers’ interests. Furthermore, the academic world does not tolerate mixing of disciplines. However, as Coccia points out,

“Things and ideas are much less disciplined than people: they mix among themselves without worrying about taboos or etiquette; they circulate freely without waiting for permission; …

Ideas mix together in a way that is “not mediated by any discipline and by any norm and that has no other base than a blind, disorganized, undiscerning desire,” he adds and states:

“In the sea of thought, everything communicates with everything and every kind of knowledge is penetrated by all the others.”

True philosophy is simply the love of knowledge and love falls under the domain of Eros, who, as Coccia puts it, was “the most undisciplined and rugged of all gods.”

To me his book reads as a hymn to plant life. Plants are not mere decorations on the tree of life, Coccia affirms. On the contrary, nothing would exist without them. He quotes Karl L. Niklas, who said, “This is a blue planet, but it is a green world.”

In the first part of the book he focuses on the ontological status of plants. Since they do not run or fly, they always remain where they are. Thus they are “pure observers,” who “embody the most direct and elementary connection that life can establish with the world.” They are one with the world since they totally melt into the environment. The most astounding quality that they have is naturally that of creating life:

“They transform everything they touch into life, they make out of matter, air, and sunlight what, for the rest of the living, will be a space of habitation, a world.

The life of plants is a cosmogony in action, the constant genesis of our cosmos.”

Albrecht Dürer, “The Tuft of Grass”

I was particularly inspired by Coccia’s reflections on the meaning of breath. It reminded me of the concept of prana in the Upanishads, where we can read:

“For all these beings merge into breath alone, and from breath they arise.” (2)

All life comes from water but at some point it left the primordial sea and settled on firm earth. Plants were the first to see that process through. Coccia states that through photosynthesis “plants have transformed the world into the reality of breath” and the world is nothing else but “the breath of the living.” Though life came out of the water, it has never abandoned “the fluid space” that we are all immersed in:

“Terra firma is just the extreme limit of this cosmic fluid at the heart of which everything communicates, touches, extends.”

Aleksey Savrasov, “Breath of Spring”

Plants help us recognize that the whole world is “a space of immersion.” Stable boundaries are just an illusion. According to Coccia, the totality of life exists in the “atmosphere,” or “the sphere of breath.” Breath creates unity and intimacy between all the cosmic elements. Importantly, this mixture exists without erasing the individual identities of its components. There is no reduction of variety.

Breath is much more than air, says Coccia. He equates it with the Logos understood as language, reason and “lightning, unveiling, means of revelation.” It is the Logos which allows the elements to mix without losing their individual essence. Breath is what creates unity between “the animal and the cosmos.” As the fish are immersed in the sea, so do we “inhabit the air through the atmosphere.” The world exists within all its beings, which means that “every being is capable of radically transforming the world.” There is unity pervading the cosmos and life is always inclusive.

Another fascinating section of the book is dedicated to the significance of roots, “the most enigmatic forms of the plant world”:

“The roots make the soil and the subterranean world a space of spiritual communication. Thanks to them, then, the most solid part of the Earth is transformed into an enormous planetary brain through which matter circulates, along with information on the identity and state of the organisms that populate the surrounding environment. It is as if the eternal night, in which one imagines the depths of the Earth to be plunged, were anything but a long and deaf sleep. In the immense and silent horn of the underground, night is a perception without organs, without eyes and without ears, a perception that takes place through the whole body. Intelligence, thanks to roots, exists in mineral form, in a world without sun and without movement.”

Frida Kahlo, “Roots”

Although we humans do not have physical roots, I could not help thinking that Coccia’s description of roots is reminiscent of Jung’s concept of the unconscious. Our lives above ground are rooted in the dark sphere of the unconscious psyche and also in the dark wisdom of our bodies.  

I was also moved by Coccia’s understanding of what the origin of life is. He argues that:

“The origin of our world does not reside in an event that is infinitely distant from us in time and space, millions of light years away; nor does it reside in a space of which we no longer have a trace. It is here and now. The origin of the world is seasonal, rhythmic, deciduous like everything that exists.

The origin of our world is in leaves: fragile, vulnerable, yet capable of returning, of coming back to life once they have passed through the rough season.”

Hishida Sgunso, “Fallen Leaves”

Each moment in the river of time can result in the creation of new life. The wisdom of the breath constantly renews the cosmos. Life is also something that endures underground, in the sphere of roots. In his new book called The Heartbeat of Trees, Peter Wohlleben, a German forester and author of the bestselling The Hidden Life of Trees, (3) writes about his visit with the famous Old Tjikko – a 9550-year-old spruce located in Sweden:

“For a moment I was speechless as I thought about how long this tiny scrawny tree had held out up here. Almost ten thousand years had passed since it germinated from its seed. Mammoths had died out, Stonehenge had been erected, and the pyramids had been built. The climate had fluctuated from cold to warm and back again multiple times, but, unaffected by any of this, the spruce was still standing intact today in the place where it had been born. … This means that the ‘tree’ we see today is only a few hundred years old. The true old spruce is to be found in the roots and in the brushy growth covering the ground. As I looked at the tree, I once again asked myself what really makes a tree a tree. Is it the trunk, which we usually think of as being the most important part? Or is it the roots, which have survived for thousands of years and are where the old spruce has probably stored all that it remembers? At the moment, I’m tending toward the latter. Visually, the spruce is nothing special; it’s all about its history. Its attraction lies in simply knowing that it has been fighting for its life for 9,550 years and may possibly survive for a few thousand more.”

The Old Tjikko , via Wikipedia

Support my blog

If you appreciate my writing, consider donating to support my work. Thank you very much in advance.

$1.00

Notes:

(1) https://symbolreader.net/2019/09/13/beauty-and-wonder-in-olafur-eliassons-art/

(2) The Chandogya Upanishad, First Prapathaka, eleventh Khanda, via https://www.hinduwebsite.com/sacredscripts/hinduism/upanishads/chandogya.asp#Pra7

(3) I wrote about this book here: https://symbolreader.net/2016/10/22/the-holiness-of-trees/

Posted in plants | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Reading The Red Book (35)

“I have united with the serpent of the beyond. I have accepted everything beyond into myself.”

C.G. Jung, The Red Book, Liber Secundus, chapter XXI

This is a continuation of the discussion of the final twenty-first chapter of Liber Secundus – the second part of Jung’s Red Book.

Having learnt magic from Philemon, Jung becomes a friend of serpents by playing the flute to them. He comes across a large iridescent serpent and enchants her “to make her believe that she was my soul.” In a conversation that they have, the soul tells Jung:

“I let grass grow over everything that you do.”

The soul gives life to Jung’s work. In his Dictionary of Literary Symbols, Michael Ferber, explains that “the primary sense of Greek chloros [green, hence our chlorophyll] may have been ‘sappy’ or ‘having sap,’ and hence ‘vital’ or ‘vigorous.’” For the Greeks life was associated with moisture. (1) Thus, the soul endows all Jung’s endeavours with life, moisture and vitality. Similarly, the medieval abbess and mystic Hildegard of Bingen spoke of viriditas – the greening power, which she connected with creativity and bearing fruit as well as with the moist power of the earth in the spring.

Albrecht Dürer, “Great Piece of Turf”

Here image 155 appears, which, as Shamdasani informs us in the footnotes, Jung mentioned in his “The psychological aspects of the Kore” (1951) without revealing himself as its author. There he said that in that image the anima was restored to the Christian church “not as an icon but as an altar itself.” In the mysterious depiction , a veiled female figure of the High Priestess is an object of worship. (2)

The soul asks Jung:

“So, have you noticed that the becoming of the soul follows a serpentine path?

Also The Red Book follows a serpentine path of meandering and spiraling, aiming for depth rather than the clarity of singular meaning. The labyrinthine chapters of Liber Novus do not make for an easy reading but nevertheless each sections pulsates with meaning and points to the radiant centre. More often than not a sentence would appear that opalesces with meaning:

“What is beyond the human that appears in love has the nature of the serpent and the bird, and the serpent often enchants the bird, and more rarely the bird bears off the serpent. Man stands in-between.”

The human unconscious, Jung seems to be saying here, encompasses the serpentine soul, which is earthy and chthonic, and the birdlike spirit, which lifts it upwards. The soul possesses the power of enchantment, which attracts the bird downwards toward embodiment. This juxtaposition lies at the heart of the conflict of opposites, which is inherent to life. Jung wonders whether the obliteration of opposites would not deprive life of energy:

“How will it be, now that God and the devil have become one? Are they in agreement to bring life to a standstill? Does the conflict of opposites belong to the inescapable conditions of life? And does he who recognizes and lives the unity of opposites stand still? He has completely taken the side of actual life, and he no longer acts as if he belonged to one party and had to battle against the other, but he is both and has brought their discord to an end. Through taking this burden from life, has he also taken the force from it?”

The beautiful image 159 accompanies the text here. Shamdasani informs us in the footnotes that Jung discussed this painting in his commentary to The Secret of the Golden Flower. There again he did not own up to being its author:

“A luminous flower in the center, with stars rotating about it. Around the flower, walls with eight gates. The whole conceived as a transparent window.”

In a seminar that he gave years later, however, he revealed himself as the painter:

“I was the perpetrator of that mandala at a time when I had not the slightest idea what a mandala was, and in my extreme modesty I thought, I am the jewel in the center and those little lights are surely very nice people who believe that they are also jewels, but smaller ones. I thought very well of myself that I was able to express myself like that: my marvelous center here and I am right in my heart. …  I am not the center, I am the fool who lives in a dark place somewhere, I am one of those little side lights. In that way my Western prejudice that I was the center of the mandala was corrected-that I am everything, the whole show, the king, the god” (3)

The Red Book, Image 159

The whole Liber Novus seems to be leading to this conclusion: the psyche is infinitely wider and richer than the “I” encountering it.

In keeping with the now familiar structure of the previous chapters, Jung now has a series of encounters, of which the first is with Satan. Jung announces to Satan that thanks to the unification of opposites Satan has now become bonded with God. But the consequence of reconciling the opposites is the standstill, which, as Satan observes, does not make Jung happy:

“The absolute was always adverse to the living. I am still the real master of life.”

Satan thus describes himself:

“I am ambition, greed for fame, lust for action; I am the fizz of new thoughts and action. The absolute is boring and vegetative.”

To be alive, one needs to stand for something, as well as constantly try and overcome the opposites. Satan helps Jung realize what the difference is between the life of eternity, which is always at a standstill and where opposites are united and a personal life, which “bubbles and foams and stirs up turbulent waves,” The image 163 accompanying the text depicts a golden castle, whose centre is a golden temple. The castle is surrounded by lush greenery, symbolic of vibrant plant life. The chess floor in the centre stands for the unification of the opposites.

Jung’s next encounter is with the Cabiri, who he describes here as “elemental spirits,” “young and yet old,” “first formations of the unformed gold.” (4) In the editorial footnotes, Shamdasani mentions that some researchers regarded the Cabiri as the primal deities of Greek mythology, whose archaic wisdom was deeply connected with vegetative life.

The Cabiri greet Jung reverently and refer to him as “the master of the lower nature,” which takes him by surprise. They say:

“We carry what is not to be carried from below to above. We are the juices that rise secretly, not by force, but sucked out of inertia and affixed to what is growing. We know the unknown ways and the inexplicable laws of living matter. We carry up what slumbers in the earthly; what is dead and yet enters into the living.”

They emphasize that their work is slow, organic and demands patience, not brute force:

“You forget the lethargy of matter. You want to pull up with your own force what can only rise slowly…”

They gift Jung the sword so that he can disentangle himself from the maze created by his brain and move beyond the madness of overthinking towards feeling and being in touch with the lower nature. Thanks to the Cabiri, Jung is now able to build a tower that no one can bring down. The Cabiri had to be sacrificed with a sword to build it; they consecrated the construction with their own blood. Jung says that the tower can only be reached by the one who finds “the entrance hidden in the mountain and rises up through the labyrinths of the innards.”

 The symbolism of the tower is dual: on the one hand it is phallic, mighty, erect, denoting power and spirit reaching from the earth to the heavens. On the other hand, it is feminine, reminiscent of an enclosed area, a walled sanctuary, and a safe haven. The Tower of Ivory was one of the names given to the Virgin Mary in her protective role of offering refuge and comfort. Furthermore, the name of Mary Magdalene has been derived from “the migdal, the tower, the beacon, the saving light in the darkness.” (5) She was Jesus’s tower shining in the darkness. On the other hand, the tower encompasses the symbolism of isolation and hubris, which is illustrated by the story of the tower of Babel as well as the infamous tarot card. And indeed, Jung seems to be full of himself when he says to his serpent (his soul) that he now has found beauty in himself as he looks back on all the work he has accomplished. Yet the soul admonishes him: “Nothing is accomplished yet. … This is only the beginning.” She also tells him that he is getting impertinent and that “life has yet to begin.” “Just don’t assume that somehow you could ever grasp me and embody me,” she delivers the final blow.

Giacinto Gaudenzi, The Tower from his Dürer Tarot (2002)

This passage is accompanied by image 169, which depicts a multitude of human faces – notably painted in green as the colour of life – of all races as well as a number of skulls in the corner. This striking image is very symbolic of Jung’s psychology, which emphasized the universal connection between the living and the dead of all races and all times. The radiant star with rainbow-coloured rays on the left-hand side may indeed stand for the single spiritual core common for all the figures depicted. Later in the chapter Jung emphasizes that he is no longer threatened by the dead since he has accepted them into his day. As Sanford L. Drob points out,

“It is here that Jung holds that a recognition of ‘death’ serves to distance one from ambition and desire, overcome one’s ego strivings and bring one to a rich and beautiful life in which one becomes oneself.” (6)

Although the soul did warn Jung against impertinence, she decided to reward him for what he has accomplished. She brings him Salome, whom we met in Liber Primus, and says, “May she be yours.” But Jung does not want or is not able to be with her because he is already married and “we are not among the Turks,” who at that time sanctioned polygamy. He proceeds to admonish her not to be needy:

“If you really love me, dance before the crowd, please people so that they praise your beauty and your art. And if you have a rich harvest, throw me one of your roses through the window, and if the fount of your joy overflows, dance and sing to me once more. I long for the joy of men, for their fullness and freedom and not their neediness.”

Here the theme of relationships in Jung’s life can be pondered and Drob is wondering whether Jung “fails to leave the orbit of the self” (7) due to his love of isolation and fear of suffering that love brings. Jung says to Salome:

“I have not forgotten the dream where I saw my body lying on sharp needles and a bronze wheel rolling over my breast, crushing it. I must think of this dream whenever I think of love.”

Jung would now like to be praised by the serpent/soul for sacrificing his love to Salome but the soul mocks him:

“You’re not forcing your feeling into the background at all; rather it suits you much better not to agonize further over Salome.”

The serpent now turns into a white bird, which brings Jung a gift from heaven – a golden crown with an inscription which says ‘Love never ends.’ Jung now has a vision of hanging on top of the tree of life for three days and three nights, similarly to Odin. Salome tells him that he has to hang like this until he has devised help for himself. When the necessary time passes, the bird tells Jung:

“The crown and serpent are opposites, and are one. … What words did the crown bring you? ‘Love never ends’- that is the mystery of the crown and the serpent.”

Jung finally sees that him and Salome are one. The golden crown of Above – the spiritual sun or the solar logos from which archetypes such as Salome emerge – is mirrored by the uoroboric serpent of the Below. The Above and Below are united by love and are both aspects of one world – what Jung will call Unus Mundus in his later work.

The next section of the chapter is a reflection on love versus life. Although he calls love “the inescapable mother of life,” he declares that “life stands above love.” It seems that here Jung is mainly talking about motherly love. In order to grow into life, a child needs to separate from the mother:

“A man needs his mother until his life has developed. Then he separates from her. And so life needs love until it has developed, then it will cut loose from it. The separation of the child from the mother is difficult, but the separation of life from love is harder. Love seeks to have and to hold, but life wants more.”

As we will see later, at the very end of Liber Novus, which was written two years after the passage above, Jung says that he in fact had to “remain true to love” because without it he could never attain his true, stellar nature. From one perspective, The Red Book can be viewed as a way to finding Love and Self. If you wish to find out more about Jung’s private trials and tribulations in relationships in the period when he was working on The Red Book, I strongly recommend Jung in Love: The Mysterium in Liber Novus by Lance S. Owens. (8)

In this chapter, however, Jung decides to abandon “the unresolvable question of love.” As he stands alone and lost in thoughts, the soul tells him the following fairy tale, summarized below:

A childless king went to a wise witch and confessed all his sins to her. She scolded him for his evil deeds but she advised him to “take a pound of otter lard, bury it in the earth, and let nine months pass. Then dig up that place again and see what you find.” After nine months the king found a sleeping infant in the pot. The child was strong, healthy and happy and when he turned twenty, he said to the king:

“I am strong and clever and therefore I demand the crown of the realm from you.”

The king thought to himself, “What has produced you? Otter lard. Who bore you? The womb of the earth. I drew you from a pot, a witch humiliated me.” He decided to have the son killed. He went to the witch again, who advised him to bury a pot with otter’s lard for nine months again. After nine months the son died. But the feelings of remorse and melancholy were unbearable and the king yet again turned to the wise woman for advice. Her advice was once again similar – to fill the pot with otter’s lard and bury it in his son’s grave for nine months. After nine months the king found a sleeping infant in the pot and he realized that this was his dead son. Here’s how the story ends in Jung’s words:

“He took the infant to himself and henceforth he grew as much in a week as other infants grow in a year. And when twenty weeks had passed, the son came before the father again and claimed his realm. But the father had learned from experience and already knew for a long time how everything would turn out. After the son had voiced his demand, the old king got up from his throne and embraced his son with tears of joy and crowned him king. And so the son, who had thus become king, was grateful to his father and held him in high esteem, as long as his father was granted life.”

This wonderful story has a multitude of layers. The otter lard is a wonderful image in itself – perhaps it can be viewed as the bonding fluid of family ties since the otter is an animals with a very strong sense of familial bonds. The otter is sacred to the Celtic goddess Ceridwen while in the Native American tradition it represents “balanced female energy.” (9)

The importance of the child archetype for the development of the Self was analyzed in the tenth part of the series – https://symbolreader.net/2019/09/15/reading-the-red-book-10/. There I quoted from a text that Jung co-wrote with Karl Kerenyi. The child emerges from the depths of nature and in this way can be compared to a seed. It is a symbol of the unity of the opposites as it represents “the synthesis of the conscious and unconscious elements of the personality.” The conscious factors, notably the ego, which clings to power and control, seeks 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.”

The soul/serpent tells Jung that he should crown his son. She also tells him not to “resist being a child, otherwise you resist your son, whom you want above all.” Jung confesses that he is ashamed to be a child. This is exactly how you kill your son, says the soul. And the son is what symbolizes Jung’s work, says Sanford L. Drob, quoting from Jung’s Black Books. (10) To reach his full creative potential, Jung must integrate his inner child and his inner feminine side. Jung must thus surrender his masculine drive and power.  The soul tells Jung to subject himself to the son and “let everything grow, let everything sprout.” This echoes the earlier beautiful quote when the soul told Jung that she lets grass grow on everything he does.

Jung does not accept the soul’s truths lightly. He feels resentment and outrage at the demand to renounce his power. Feeling defeated, he lies with the serpent “in a lonely spot on rocks by the water.” But then something extraordinary happens:

“… my son emerged from the water, great and powerful, the crown on his head, with a swirling lion’s mane, shimmering serpent skin covering his body.”

Johfra Bosschart, Leo

He says to Jung that he is now ascending back to his own country which is “in the light, in the egg, in the sun, in what is innermost and compressed, in the eternal longing embers.”

The son is the divine creative spark and as the one who participates in the Solar Logos he can bind the Above and the Below. Jung says that his whole life went now to his son but “my love remained with me.” The son tells Jung that he has been in “immortal company long enough.” Now he needs to descend to the earth and reclaim his life. He needs to let people, not the gods, illuminate his darkness. Jung’s reaction is not intellectual any more. He experiences a transformation into a pregnant woman and at the same time he feels what Mary Magdalene felt towards Jesus. He says to the son,

“I’d like to bathe your feet with my tears, dry them with my hair-I’m raving, am I a woman?”

Jung says that his heart bleeds because the Son, whom he now calls God, is leaving him. The final words of the chapter are:

“The touchstone is being alone with oneself. This is the way.”

Thus conclude the first two parts of The Red Book – Liber Primus and Liber Secundus. It seems that the leitmotiv of the chapter has been Jung’s return to life from the realm of imagination. He is now ready to present his work to the world. After a series of encounters, Jung has come to “himself.” It is now time for the final part of the opus entitled Scrutinies.

download

Support my blog

If you appreciate my writing, consider donating to support my work. Thank you very much in advance.

$1.00

Notes:

(1) Michael Ferber, A Dictionary of Literary Symbols, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007

(2) Jung’s CW 9i, paragraphs 369, 380

(3) C. G. Jung, The Psychology of Kundalini Yoga, edited by Sonu Shamdasani, Princeton University Press, 1996, p. 100

(4) Regarding the Cabiri, I also refer you to part 30 of the series: https://symbolreader.net/2021/02/03/reading-the-red-book-30/

(5) Michael Haag, The Quest for Mary Magdalene, Kindle edition

(6) Sanford L. Drob, Reading The Red Book: An Interpretative Guide to C.G. Jung’s Liber Novus, 2012 by Spring Journal, p. 191

(7) Ibid., p. 193

(8) You can download it from the author’s page here: https://www.academia.edu/19017923/Jung_in_Love_The_Mysterium_in_Liber_Novus_Full_Monograph_Edition_2015_

(9) Jamie Sams, David Carson, Medicine Cards: The Discovery of Power Through the Ways of Animals, St. Martin’s Press; Revised edition (July 30, 1999)

(10) Sanford L. Drob, Reading The Red Book: An Interpretative Guide to C.G. Jung’s Liber Novus, 2012 by Spring Journal, p. 197

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

Reading The Red Book – part 10

Reading The Red Book – part 11

Reading The Red Book – part 12

Reading The Red Book – part 13

Reading The Red Book – part 14

Reading The Red Book – part 15

Reading The Red Book – part 16

Reading The Red Book – part 17

Reading The Red Book – part 18

Reading The Red Book – part 19

Reading The Red Book – part 20

Reading The Red Book – part 21

Reading The Red Book – part 22

Reading The Red Book – part 23

Reading The Red Book – part 24 

Reading The Red Book – part 25

Reading The Red Book – part 26

Reading The Red Book – part 27

Reading The Red Book – part 28

Reading The Red Book – part 29

Reading The Red Book – part 30

Reading The Red Book – part 31

Reading The Red Book – part 32

Reading The Red Book – part 33

Reading The Red Book – part 34

Posted in The Red Book by C.G. Jung | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Reading The Red Book (34)

​“We need magic to be able to receive or invoke the messenger and the communication of the incomprehensible.”

C.G. Jung, The Red Book, Liber Secundus, chapter XXI

We have reached the final twenty-first chapter of Liber Secundus – the second part of Jung’s Red Book. This is an extremely long and meandering chapter. Its title is The Magician and its main protagonist is ΦΙΛΗΜΩΝ (Philemon), who was one of the chief (if not the chiefest) spiritual influences in Jung’s life. This article is devoted entirely to Philemon while the next part will deal with the remainder of the chapter.

In Memories, Dreams Reflections, Jung’s memoirs recorded by Aniela Jaffé, Jung called Philemon a pagan, who “brought with him an Egypto-Hellenistic atmosphere with a Gnostic coloration.” He first appeared to Jung in the following vision, recorded in Memories:

“There was a blue sky, like the sea, covered not by clouds but by flat brown clods of earth. It looked as if the clods were breaking apart and the blue water of the sea were becoming visible between them. But the water was the blue sky. Suddenly there appeared from the right a winged being sailing across the sky. I saw that it was an old man with the horns of a bull. He held a bunch of four keys, one of which he clutched as if he were about to open a lock. He had the wings of the kingfisher with its characteristic colors. Since I did not understand this dream-image, I painted it in order to impress it upon my memory. During the days when I was occupied with the painting, I found in my garden, by the lake shore, a dead kingfisher!”

Vincent van Gogh, “Kingfisher by the Waterside”

In his memoirs Jung explains in detail the pivotal role Philemon played in his spiritual life:

“In my fantasies I held conversations with him, and he said things which I had not consciously thought. … Psychologically, Philemon represented superior insight. He was a mysterious figure to me. At times he seemed to me quite real, as if he were a living personality. I went walking up and down the garden with him, and to me he was what the Indians call a guru.”

Philemon was a character in Ovid’s Metamorphosis and in Goethe’s Faust. Ovid tells the myth of Jupiter and Mercury who, disguised as poor travelers, wondered through the countryside. They knocked on many doors looking for a place to rest but were turned away everywhere but in a humble cottage of Philemon and his wife Baucis. In order to feed the guests, the impoverished couple offered to kill their only goose but then the gods revealed themselves and spared the bird. The lack of hospitality of the couple’s neighbours was punished by flood sent by the gods. The only abode spared was that of Philemon and Baucis. The gods transformed the cottage into a splendid palace of marble and gold. They also granted the couple a wish. Philemon and Baucis asked to become shrine priests to the gods and to die at the same time. When they died, Philemon was transformed into an oak and Baucis into a linden tree. Thus they stayed together for eternity.

Jacob van Oost, “Mercury and Jupiter in the House of Philemon and Baucis

In Goethe’s tragedy, Faust is building a city and it so happens that on that same territory live Philemon and Baucis. He asks Mephistopheles to move them. But instead of doing that Mephistopheles burns their cottage down with the couple inside. That crime shocked Jung, who said in Memories, Dreams, Reflections:

“…I felt personally implicated, and when Faust, in his hubris and self-inflation, caused the murder of Philemon and Baucis, I felt guilty, quite as if I myself in the past had helped commit the murder of the two old people. This strange idea alarmed me, and I regarded it as my responsibility to atone for this crime, or to prevent its repetition.

My own inner contradictions appeared here in dramatized form; Goethe had written virtually a basic outline and pattern of my own conflicts and solutions. The dichotomy of Faust-

Mephistopheles came together within myself into a single person, and I was that person. In other words, I was directly struck, and recognized that this was my fate.”

This is why the tower that Jung built in Bollingen bore an inscription over the gate: “Philemonis Sacrum – Fausti Poenitentia” [Philemon’s Shrine – Faust’s Repentance].

Philemon personified for Jung, as he put it in Memories, the spiritual aspect and meaning, hence his wings. Later a new figure emerged in his visions – Ka, who was more earthly, representing the embodied soul, as it did in ancient Egypt. Ka was also described by Jung as demonic and Mephistophelian, which connects him to the shadow.

In a poetic beginning to chapter XXI, Jung stands in front of a “small house in the country fronted by a large bed of tulips.” There Philemon, the Magician and Baucis, his wife live. These days they chiefly occupy themselves with their tulips while “their days fade into a pale wavering chiaroscuro.” Jung asks Philemon to teach him about magic, or as he refers to it, “the black art.” At first Philemon is reticent but he likes Jung’s attitude to learning, which Jung describes in this way:

“Whenever I want to learn and understand something, I leave my so-called reason at home and give whatever it is that I am trying to understand the benefit of the doubt.”

In order to understand magic, says Philemon, one has to give up consistency because it does not follow “ordinary understanding.” Magic is “the negative of what one may know.” It cannot be taught or learnt. Feeling confused, Jung leaves the old master but the people who surround him think that he has received the gift of magic. He says that magic “opens spaces that have no doors and leads out into the open where there is no exit.” Magic operates beyond good and evil and yet it is both good and evil, adds Jung.

Next Jung moves on to ponder the reason and unreason. What our world views as reasonable and unreasonable is not constant because “a part of the incomprehensible … is only presently incomprehensible and might already concur with reason tomorrow.” It is the magical practices which serve to open up the scope of understanding but our age with its limited understanding of what is and is not reasonable has rejected magic. Jung says:

“Magic is a way of living. If one has done one’s best to steer the chariot, and one then notices that a greater other is actually steering it, then magical operation takes place.”

It is important for the magician to recognize that the chariot or the individual psyche is steered by the unconscious forces that are far bigger than the individual. The white and the black Sphinxes of the Chariot card in the Rider-Waite-Smith tarot, might be used to illustrate the following Jung’s remark: “the more the one half of my being strives toward the good, the more the other half journeys to Hell.”

Next Jung focuses on the story of Philemon and Baucis as told by Ovid. He wonders about the etymology of the name Philemon and its connection with love (from philein “to love” in Greek). Philemon is not only the lover of Baucis and of the gods but he is first and foremost a lover of his own soul. Through the inexhaustible mystery of love, Philemon united the Above and the Below. Jung also compares him to a wise serpent, whose wisdom is “cold, with a grain of poison, yet healing in small doses.” Philemon is “the father of all eternal wisdom,” who is neither Christian nor pagan. He does not fashion himself as a savior but chooses to focus on tending the flowers in his own garden:

“Giving is as childish as power. He who gives presumes himself powerful. The virtue of giving is the sky-blue mantle of the tyrant. You are wise, Oh ΦΙΛΗΜΩΝ, you do not give. You want your garden to bloom, and for everything to grow from within itself.”

This is a sign of a true master who opens the way to organic growth within the psyche of his disciple. But this is also an unwilling master, who does not want any power over those who come to listen to him. Philemon, like the Water Bearer, pours out “living water, from which the flowers of your garden bloom, a starry water, a dew of the night.” But he grants people the freedom to drink from the water or not.

Furthermore, Philemon is “a teacher and friend of the dead,” as Jung says:

“They stand sighing in the shade of your house, they live under the branches of your trees.”

He teaches people to remain silent and listen to their own inner speech in the “dark and noiseless” night. Here image 154 appears, whose inscription says: Father of the Prophet, Beloved Philemon.

Serpent from C.G. Jung’s ‘The Red Book’

Support my blog

If you appreciate my writing, consider donating to support my work. Thank you very much in advance.

$1.00

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

Reading The Red Book – part 10

Reading The Red Book – part 11

Reading The Red Book – part 12

Reading The Red Book – part 13

Reading The Red Book – part 14

Reading The Red Book – part 15

Reading The Red Book – part 16

Reading The Red Book – part 17

Reading The Red Book – part 18

Reading The Red Book – part 19

Reading The Red Book – part 20

Reading The Red Book – part 21

Reading The Red Book – part 22

Reading The Red Book – part 23

Reading The Red Book – part 24 

Reading The Red Book – part 25

Reading The Red Book – part 26

Reading The Red Book – part 27

Reading The Red Book – part 28

Reading The Red Book – part 29

Reading The Red Book – part 30

Reading The Red Book – part 31

Reading The Red Book – part 32

Reading The Red Book – part 33

Reading The Red Book – part 35

Posted in The Red Book by C.G. Jung | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

The Sirens as Psychopomps and Muses of the Underworld

I came across this beautiful description of the Sirens in Karl Kerenyi’s Gods of the Greeks (first published in 1951). It seems that far form being the evil seductresses often portrayed in literature, they were in fact guides of the souls to the underworld. Like the Sphinx, they symbolized the ultimate mysteries of life and death and the knowledge of fate:

“Any account of the Sirens must include a mention of Acheloos, the most revered of our river gods, to whom … is attributed the paternity of the Sirens … Acheloos had a lower body consisting of a serpent-like fish. But his head was horned, and one of the horns was broken off by Herakles. From the blood that dripped from the wound the Sirens were born: a birth similar to that of the Erinyes.

Acheloos, detail from a Roman mosaic in Zeugma (via Wikipedia)

Our ancient painters and designers upon vessels depicted the Sirens not only as female beings, but sometimes as male and bearded. That the beings depicted are Sirens, either male or female, is shown by their having predominantly a bird’s body, to which a human head is added, and often also a woman’s breasts and arms. The talon feet are often very powerful, and sometimes end in a lion’s pads, as if to reveal a close kinship between Siren and Sphinx. The lower part of the body is sometimes shaped like an egg. …The distinguishing characteristic of the Sirens … is—apart from their birdlike shape—their talent for music; and this connects them with the Muses. They play on the lyre or on the double flute …

[There is] a close link between the Sirens and Persephone. It was told that the Sirens were companions of the Queen of the Underworld; that they were daughters of Chthon, the ‘depths of the earth’, and that Persephone sent them into this world. … By their art the bitterness of death is alleviated and disguised.”

The Siren of Canosa (4th century BC)
Posted in sirens | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Gender and the Cosmic Shift

https://www.nmbe.ch/en/exhibition-and-events/queer-diversity-our-nature

Natural History Museum of Bern, Switzerland is currently running an exhilarating, colourful exhibition called “Queer – Diversity is in our Nature.” The thesis of the curators seems to be that the animal kingdom is rich and diverse with numerous examples of gender bending and gender fluidity. The exhibition’s ambition is to demonstrate the analogy between the biological and the social aspect of being human. The extreme male and female ends of the spectrum are divided by the whole rainbow bridge of glorious and multifaceted variety of phenomena. There is a clownfish, which can change its gender; there are also “gay” male sheep which are not interested in sexual relationships with females. There are no males among Caucasian rock lizards, whose females reproduce through parthenogenesis, which is not that uncommon in the animal kingdom. Albatrosses often relish “lesbian” relationships. The examples are endless. Animals challenge the conservative ideas of what gender or reproduction are. The human cultural labels are used tongue-in-cheek here and in the exhibition but nevertheless there is an air of ultimate liberation in the whole endeavor.

Since this is a natural history museum, naturally the spiritual aspect of queerness was omitted. Nothing was mentioned about religion and what effect it had on the collective judgement on any queerness.  The exhibition is focused more on the celebratory, carnivalesque aspect of the diversity and the joy it brings to the world. This reminded me of the ancient and pagan approach to gender fluidity. After all, Greek myths abound in non-binary examples, such as Dionysos or even Athena:

“While Athena identifies as male, Dionysus vacillates between male and female gender performances and roles … His gender fluidity is unique to him amongst the gods, but it is not his only fluid quality; he is very much a liminal figure with continually shifting identities across a variety of traditionally power-saturated realms. He is both male and female, young and old. He is Greek and non-Greek, a god thoroughly embedded in the Greek pantheon, but with mythologies describing him, and his cult, as being newly introduced to the Greek world. He blends the divine, mortal and bestial worlds through his human/animal hybrid followers, the male satyrs and female maenads, while Dionysus walks the line between mortal and immortal. As one of the Olympians, he is unquestionably divine, yet he alone of the Olympians had a mortal mother. And in this liminal space of divine and mortal, he crosses the boundaries between life and death as the twice-born god, having been torn from his dead mother’s womb to be born again from the immortal thigh of Zeus.” (1)

Dionysus

I particularly resonated with the following conclusion of the author:

“Athena and Dionysus are not merely symbolic of how those who may not fit so well into the social structures can still be recognised, but rather they represent the fluidity that lies under the pretense of stability that is continually celebrated and must be continually reaffirmed as divine, natural, ideal and normal. Indeed, one possible conclusion is that if binary sex and gender were any of these things, they would not require such constant upkeep.“ (2)

Dionysos may be the first god who stood for the profound question of identity and its ever-shifting nature. The authors of the book view the question of identity from the perspective of quantum physics with its subatomic participles bearing multiple identities:

“All existence is entangled and unstable, as in undergoing continual, co-dependent transformations.” (3)

One of the most ambiguous and fascinating figures from the Greek myth is Hermaphroditus – a child of Hermes and Aphrodite. In Book Four of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, he/she enters a spring, which is under the magic spell of the naiad Salmacis. Salmacis has fallen desperately in love with Hermaphroditus and wants to merge with him/her. As Ovid puts it, when Hermaphroditus emerged from the spring he/she was “a dual form that could be said to be neither woman nor boy, but seemed to be neither and both.” (4)

Hermaphroditus

The author of the book draws an interesting analogy between the newly emerged Hermaphroditus and the primordial chaos, which in Greek myth preceded creation of the manifest world. Hermaphroditus thus embodies the primordial and protohuman forces of chaos. He/she has access to the source of existence with its inherent multiplicity and pre-duality. Erotic desire to merge with the loved one results in nothing less but “a cosmic shift,” concludes the author. (5) The boundaries our mind creates are permeable and unstable:

“Gender in this context is not only fluid and indefinable, but ultimately ceases to exist.” (6)

Plato’s text Symposium contains a famous myth about the nature of love and primordial humans. There were three genders at the beginning: the male one descended from the sun, the female descended from the earth and the hermaphrodite descended from the moon. The hermaphrodites were threatening the gods with their unlimited powers. Therefore Zeus decided to cut the round beings in two, thus implanting the desire to reunite with the lost half in each of them. I thought about that ancient myth while visiting the exhibition. In the exhilarating multiplicity, fluidity and blurred boundaries there is a desire for love and wholeness, which characterizes absolutely all expressions and facets of love.

Augusto Giacometti, “Rainbow”

Notes:

(1) Exploring Gender Diversity in the Ancient World, edited by Allison Surtees and Jennifer Dyer, Edinburgh University Press, 2020, p. 10

(2) Ibid., p. 13

(3) Ibid., p. 83

(4) Ibid., p. 93

(5) Ibid., p. 99

(6) Ibid., p. 105

Support my blog

If you appreciate my writing, consider donating to support my work. Thank you very much in advance.

$1.00

Posted in LGBTQ+ | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Reading The Red Book (33)

“One can certainly gain outer freedom through powerful actions, but one creates inner freedom only through the symbol.”

C.G. Jung, The Red Book, Liber Secundus, chapter XX

Chapter XX of Liber Secundus, the middle part of Jung’s Red Book, has got the title The Way of the Cross. This is the penultimate chapter, quite short compared to the upcoming final one. On a personal note, I am always quite astounded how the text of the chapter I am currently analyzing reflects the external events in my personal and also in collective life. Sometimes the synchronicity is very literal indeed like here when I encounter The Way of the Cross during Eastertime. The chapter starts with the following vision:

 “I saw the black serpent, as it wound itself upward around the wood of the cross. It crept into the body of the crucified and emerged again transformed from his mouth. It had become white. It wound itself around the head of the dead one like a diadem, and a light gleamed above his head, and the sun rose shining in the east.”

For more detailed analysis of the symbolism of the serpent, I must refer you to the previous instalment of my series (https://symbolreader.net/2021/03/21/reading-the-red-book-32/). The image of a serpent wrapped around a staff is an ancient one. It is known as the rod of Asclepius, which features a single snake, and a caduceus with its twin snakes. Quite surprisingly, it also appears in the Old Testament. As Moses was leading the Israelites across the desert to the Promised Land:

“4 They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”

Then the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.

The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.”

Numbers 21, New International Version via https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Numbers%2021&version=NIV

Jesus alludes to that passage in the Gospels:

“Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”

John 3: 14-15

Agnolo Bronzino, Il serpente di bronzo, from the chapel of Eleonora of Toledo, Florence, Palazzo Vecchio

According to prisca theologia (ancient theology), which asserts that a single, true theological doctrine runs like a thread through all religions, Moses is included in a venerable lineage, a sequence of the sages presented in this order: “Enoch, Abraham, Noah, Zoroaster, Moses, Hermes Trismegistus, the Brahmins, the Druids, David, Orpheus, Pythagoras, Plato, the Sibyls.” (1) This relates also to Gnostic beliefs, notably to such sects as the Ophites or the Naassenes, who revered Jesus as the serpent of wisdom. In Symbols of Transformation (CW 5) Jung devoted a lot of space to the symbolism of the cross and the serpent. He saw the cross as emblematic of “the tree of life and “the mother.” (2) Like the tree of life, the cross forms an axis, which the soul can climb to reach the divine. In the cross, the vertical (spiritual) axis is juxtaposed with the horizontal (physical) axis, which on the one hand stands for agony and suffering, but on the other is a symbol of the unification of the opposites. Jung continues in Symbols of Transformation on the unity of Jesus and the serpent:

“As a serpent he is to be ‘lifted up’ on the cross; that is to say, as a man with merely human thoughts and desires, who is ever striving back to childhood and the mother, he must die on the mother-tree…” (3)

For Jung, Christ was a symbol of the self. He continues the same passage:

“The archetype of the self has, functionally, the significance of a ruler of the inner world, i.e., of the collective unconscious. The self, as a symbol of wholeness, is a ‘coincidentia oppositorum,’ and therefore contains light and darkness simultaneously…. In the Christ-figure the opposites which are united in the archetype are polarized into the ‘light’ son of God on the one hand and the devil on the other.” (4)

Gustave Doré “The Temptation of Jesus”

Returning to chapter XX, Jung elucidates further why Christ is for him both a symbol of the self and of individuation. He says this about Christ:

“He did not simply teach what was knowable and worth knowing, he lived it. It is unclear how great one’s humility must be to take it upon oneself to live one’s own life. … . He would rather devise any trick to help him escape, since nothing matches the torment of one’s own way. It seems impossibly difficult, so difficult that nearly anything seems preferable to this torment. … He who goes to himself climbs down.”

In order to achieve individuation, one needs to renounce “the visible success” and the longing for power, including the power over one’s fellow human beings. This is a path of sacrifice.

In the vision cited at the beginning of the chapter, the transformed black serpent emerges from Jesus’s mouth, white and radiant. This serpent is the Logos, not a meaningless, rootless word, but a word that has acquired the status of a Symbol. Jung continues:

“When the way enters death and we are surrounded by rot and horror, the way rises in the darkness and leaves the mouth as the saving symbol, the word. It leads the sun on high, for in the symbol there is the release of the bound human force struggling with darkness.”

The final passages of the chapter are powerful remarks on the nature of the symbol. In Psychological Types (CW 6), Jung wrote extensively on the topic. Symbol creation is not a rational process. The human psyche has the so-called transcendent function, which results in symbolic formations. (5) The transcendent function projects the contents of the unconscious onto the physical world. The symbol thus created serves as a luminous bridge leading to psychological rebirth:

“The symbol is the middle way along which the opposites flow together in a new movement, like a watercourse bringing fertility after a long drought.” (6)

Only the transcendent function and its symbols can put a person on a path towards individuation. This is thanks to propensity of the symbolic function to leave “the path prescribed by collective norms.” (7)

Further on in the chapter we are discussing Jung says that symbol is like a word of power that arises unexpectedly “on the tongue.” This organic and spontaneous process resembles “the becoming of human life in the womb.” Symbols are birthed anew for each generation, since “the task is to give birth to the old in a new time.” The soul of humanity, which Jung likens in this chapter to “the great wheel of the zodiac” gives birth to new/old symbols at each turning of the cosmic wheel. As Jung puts it: “It belongs to the essence of forward movement that what was returns.”

Zodiac Mosaic from Beth Alpha, a six-century synagogue in Israel
Rider Waite Smith tarot, Wheel of Fortune

At the very end of the chapter Jung briefly reflects on free will and fate. He seems to be saying that despite or against his will and intentions, “futurity grows out of me.” It is an organic process spurred on by the symbols arising from the depths of the collective unconscious. He postulates that the ancients used magic to compel and change outer fate while we the moderns need magic to “determine inner fate.” Magic can help move psychic life forward. In the end, Jung decides to visit a great magician, but that is the subject of the next chapter.  

Support my blog

If you appreciate my writing, consider donating to support my work. Thank you very much in advance.

$1.00

Notes:

(1) Antoine Faivre, The Eternal Hermes: From Greek God to Alchemical Magus, translated by Joscelyn Godwin

(2) par. 411

(3) Ibid., par. 575

(4) Ibid., par. 576

(5) par. 171 and 211

(6) Ibid., par. 443

(7) Ibid., par. 759

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

Reading The Red Book – part 10

Reading The Red Book – part 11

Reading The Red Book – part 12

Reading The Red Book – part 13

Reading The Red Book – part 14

Reading The Red Book – part 15

Reading The Red Book – part 16

Reading The Red Book – part 17

Reading The Red Book – part 18

Reading The Red Book – part 19

Reading The Red Book – part 20

Reading The Red Book – part 21

Reading The Red Book – part 22

Reading The Red Book – part 23

Reading The Red Book – part 24 

Reading The Red Book – part 25

Reading The Red Book – part 26

Reading The Red Book – part 27

Reading The Red Book – part 28

Reading The Red Book – part 29

Reading The Red Book – part 30

Reading The Red Book – part 31

Reading The Red Book – part 32

Reading The Red Book – part 34

Reading The Red Book – part 35

Posted in The Red Book by C.G. Jung | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments