Reading The Red Book (40) – The Seven Sermons to the Dead

“One, two, three, but where, my dear Timaeus, is the fourth?”

Plato, “Timaeus”

We have now reached the fourth Sermon to the Dead, in which the dead demand of Philemon:

“Speak to us about Gods and devils, accursed one.”

The Seven Sermons may be viewed as an attempt on the part of Jung/Philemon to illuminate the deficiencies of official Christianity, which undertook to repress the feminine and the body:

“I have argued that Christianity was born out of a dichotomized worldview in which the cosmos is split between the celestial realm of pure, quiescent, undisturbed beauty and grace, and the lower fallen, material world which Christian doctrine teaches was God’ beautiful handiwork but was ruined, corrupted by human sin. … Human nature is … split in Christianity mirroring the dichotomy between the higher spiritual part and the powerful drives of the sinful flesh below. … One – spirit – is to be cultivated throughout life, the other – flesh – is to be overcome, risen above, even despised …

A dichotomized consciousness that repressed the shadow was the result. An intractable enmity against the flesh and its master, the Devil, the Lord of This World (Aeon) became institutionalized.” (1)

Francisco Goya, “The Bewitched Man”

Sharon L. Coggan illuminates in her book how the Greek God Pan evolved into the Christian Devil. Half-man, half-goat, he symbolized the melding of bestial, “primal, animalistic elements” with human, civilized qualities. (2) He thus embodied the Jungian conjunction of opposites. His horns stood for his “vital masculine, phallic essence … virility and lust.” (3) Interestingly, the Indo-European root of the word “horn” itself is related to both “crown” and “corn,” which in turn connects Pan with fertility and majesty. Etymologically, the name of the god is also connected to shepherding, watching, nourishing and fattening. (4) Arcadia, where Pan resided, was the land of the shadows, a rugged terrain in the north where the river Styx had its source. This was a terrain where the reign of civilization ended; it was the shadow and liminal land. (5) It seems that with the advent of Christianity, these vital, nourishing roots symbolized by Pan have been ripped out and cast away:

“Animal instinct was eschewed in favour of the vaunted reason and intellect – and the distorted result is the dulled instincts of the modern human and overreliance on the mind.” (6)

Moreover, the name Pan is naturally connected to the Greek word for “all.” This might have meant, as Macrobius saw it, that Pan was “the ruler of the universal material substance;” but Coggan sees the “all” as encompassing the whole psyche – also the unconscious, wild terrain. She features the Heiroglyphical Representation of Jupiter or Pan from Athanasius Kircher’s Œdipus Ægyptiacus, featured below:

Already in the Old Testament the goat served as a fitting canvas for projection of evil content. In the ancient scapegoating ritual (Leviticus 16) two goats were chosen by drawing lots. One was subsequently sacrificed to God, the other to the demon Azazel. The latter goat absorbed all the sins of Israel in a ritual performed by the High Priest. Why were goats such a fitting symbol for evil? One of the reasons, muses Coggan, might have been their inherent wildness and disobedience. How extraordinary that both “ornery” and “horny” are related to the word “horn”! (7) Rebellion was also what brought on the Satan’s fall.

Coggan’s book ends on a hopeful note.

“As the shadowed energies carried by the Devil are reincorporated into the new Christian spirituality, the heavy visage of the Devil will be lifted off to reveal the Goat God underneath. Pan will be liberated and allowed to return into our collective consciousness as a holy form, representing the powerful and lively energies of the earth, pure lust … and the unfettered beauty and horror of the natural world … When Pan can rise again … we can reinfuse our earth, our bodies, our instincts, our native disobedience, and our sexuality with a new holiness.”

She includes a beautiful Greek sculpture depicting Aphrodite, Pan and Eros, dated back to 100 BCE:

In sermo IV Jung does not speak of Pan but he invokes “two devil Gods.” He calls the first one the Burning One and the other One the Growing One:

“The burning one is EROS, in the form of a flame. It shines by consuming.

The growing one is the TREE OF LIFE. It greens by heaping up growing living matter.

Eros flames up and dies. But the tree of life grows with slow and constant increase through measureless periods of time.”

In Plato’s Symposium Diotima famously tells Socrates about Eros being “a mighty daimon,” that is a spirit that acts as an intermediary between humans and gods. In the fourth sermon Eros stands for the love and passion that “binds two together.” But Eros’s flame is consuming and volatile. In him good and evil are united, says Philemon. The meaning of the Burning One and the Growing One is thus interpreted by Stephan A. Hoeller:

“The Greeks declared that two world spirits dwell in the fabric of cosmic and human life and that they stand in mortal combat one with another. This combat is of such power and magnitude that we can by no means foretell its outcome. The growing spirit is the spirit of civilization; it ever seeks to create forms wherein life may expand, may build, and make itself more secure. The burning one, on the other hand, seeks life in movement, change, adventure, battle, and at times even in conflict and violence. The growing one is peaceful, the burning one is warlike; civilization is conserving and often conservative, while the opposing dynamism is revolutionary. Both forces are part of the natural order … War and peace, conservation and destruction, constructive evolution and destructive revolution are all part of nature. To identify nature with peace and serenity to the exclusion of war and fierceness is contrary to the evidence of observation. Is the peaceful sunset more natural than the erupting volcano? Is the nightingale more natural than the hawk?” (8)

It seems that Hoeller equates Eros with violent, unstable emotions of both love and war. He seems to stand for change that is spurred on by love or hate.

This fourth sermon, perhaps the most complicated and obscure of all of them, focuses on the symbolism of number four. Philemon says:

“Four is the devil, for he opens all that is closed.”

Quaternio was one of the most important concepts in Jungian psychology. Jung postulated enriching the Christian Trinity with the fourth missing element – the feminine, the earth, the shadow/devil. Four was also the number of incarnation and structure. It made the mandala complete and thus allowed the cycle to return to the beginning, standing as such for both creation and destruction.

Alfred Ribi thus analyzes the symbolism of number four and its relation to the Devil:

“Evidently, there is a gap between three and four. The missing fourth thing is something more than merely an additional unity. It poses a difficulty: it exists both in opposition to the three, the trinity, and yet is also as the one that encompasses and completes it. As the fourth function of consciousness, this is the one least accommodated or integrated; it is heavily contaminated by the unconscious and thus retains a degree of autonomy from consciousness. It often goes its own way to an astounding degree; because of the attachment to the unconscious, has about it something of the beyond, something ghostly. In the Christian trinity, the fourth is either the devil or the female.” (9)

Here he is referring to Jung’s theory of the four functions of consciousness – thinking, feeling, intuition and sensation. Jung posited that in each individual psyche one of these functions remains undeveloped, unconscious. It is the task of a lifetime to integrate it and make it conscious lest it erupts in its uncontrollable wildness.

The Fourth Sermon to the Dead is also an affirmation of polytheism, as Philemon states:

“The number of Gods and devils is as innumerable as the host of stars.

But woe unto you, who replace this incompatible multiplicity with a single God.”

The numerous pagan gods encompassed the richness of the human psyche much better than the monotheistic religions. Pan was only one of the many gods demoted to the status of dark demons by the triumphant Christianity.

At the end of the sermon Philemon bends down to kiss the earth and says: “Mother, may your son be strong.” He thus expresses his reverence for the fourth element repressed by mainstream religion – the dark gods and goddesses of the earth.

Edward Burne-Jones, “Pan and Psyche”
Peter Paul Rubens (workshop of) and Frans Snyder, “Ceres and Pan”
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Notes:

(1) Sharon L. Coggan, Sacred Disobedience: A Jungian Analysis of the Saga of Pan and the Devil, Lexington Books 2020, pp. 198-199

(2) Ibid., p. 9

(3) Ibid., p. 26

(4) Ibid., p. 41

(5) Ibid., pp. 42-43

(6) Ibid., p. 211

(7) Ibid., p. 165

(8) Stephan A Hoeller, The Gnostic Jung and The Seven Sermons to the Dead

(9) Alfred Ribi, The Search for Roots: C.G. Jung and the Tradition of Gnosis

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

Reading The Red Book – part 36

Reading The Red Book – part 37

Reading The Red Book – part 38

Reading The Red Book – part 39

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Black Madonna: An Icon of Mystery

St. Maria in der Kupfergasse, Cologne, Germany

“There is a grave aura about many of the Black Virgins, an expression of utter solitude so intense that the child on her knees or in the embrace of her left arm seems strangely appended. She sits, solitary, weighted, at the crossing-over place, the place where we fall, face down, and do obeisance. Rooted in her own aboriginal darkness, her eyes are opaque, blank, veiled in the deepest interiority. She sits deeply, a curtained container, a tabernacle, the eternally bloody cave of birth, disintegration, and rebirth. Sedes sapientiae. Seat of Wisdom.”

Meinrad Craighead, “Lodestone,” in The Moonlit Path: Reflections on the Dark Feminine, edited by Fred Gustafson, 2003, p. 79

Apophatic or negative theology teaches that the divine is ultimately unknowable and inexpressible in words. Standing face to face with the Black Madonna is an experience beyond words. What follows is perhaps a futile attempt to grasp at that mystery, which, I have come to realize, has become my personal Holy Grail.

The dark feminine is the divine face for our times. Her darkness needs to be juxtaposed with our deluded age of Enlightenment. We can see her as the angry Mother Nature and we can feel her fury as she emerges from the shadows determined not to take any more abuse. She stands firmly on the side of the excluded and the forgotten. Our Lady Aparecida, the Black Virgin patroness of Brazil, appeared to poor fishermen who found her in her nets. According to a legend, she was white before she fell into the river:

“Legend holds that the river turned the Virgin black. In the river she lay broken, on the bottom, like the people whom the Portuguese had enslaved and colonized, until the fishermen found her and made her their own.”

China Galland, “Raise up Those Held Down: A Pilgrimage to the Black Madonna, Mother of the Excluded, Aparecida, Brazil, in: The Moonlit Path: Reflections on the Dark Feminine, edited by Fred Gustafson, 2003, p. 216

Our Lady Aparecida

Some Black Madonna lore tells of the statue changing the colour gradually from white to black, but most icons have been black since the beginning. This speaks to the Dark Virgin’s power of instigating the alchemical process – she presides over the nigredo, during which the inessential and the insubstantial falls off, rots, putrefies. She is the Queen of Transmutation:

 “From the perspective of the ego, they are lethal forces. But without yielding to this composting and transcendent energy, no transformation is possible and therefore no renewal of life-force. As archetypal energies within the psyche, what these personages accomplish is the breaking down and transmutation of toxic substances, thereby fueling soul growth.”

Cedrus N. Monte, “At the Threshold of Psycho-Genesis/The Mournful Face of God”, in: The Moonlit Path: Reflections on the Dark Feminine, edited by Fred Gustafson, 2003, p. 16

Meinrad Craighead, “Hagia Sophia”

From this heap of compost new life force arises. What has been lost in the long age of patriarchy is returning. A new balance of forces is hopefully emerging. A world where the default human is not only a white male. The Black Madonna is at the symbolic centre of these changes. Arguably, she is the most ecumenical figure in Christianity. She may be able to bring together all faiths of the past and present. So much has been projected on her – she is the dark pagan goddess, she is Isis, the Throne of Wisdom, she is the dark Demeter, Artemis of Ephesus, Cybele, she is Mary – mother of God, she is Mary Magdalene – a female apostle and consort of Jesus Christ, she is “the black but beautiful” Shulamite from the Songs of Songs, she is the Queen Sheba, she is The Holy Grail and the Ark of Covenant sought by the Knights Templar in the Holy Land, she is the primordial African mother of the whole human race. She is the dark meteorite and the black Kaaba Stone from Mecca. She is Kali and the Black Tara.

Artemis of Ephesus

The mystery of her blackness has been explained by a plethora of extraordinary researchers. Is her blackness symbolic, as Jungian researchers insist, or is she black because she is the dark African mother, the primordial mother goddess such as Isis? The latter theory has been proposed by Chiavola Birnbaum. The former always revolves around the idea of blackness as the void, the primordial matter and earth that is both the fertile womb and the ultimate tomb. We come from her and we return to her. Like Kali, whose name is connected with Time, she is both the origin and the end. Like the colour black, she assimilates all into herself. I especially resonated with these words of Ella Rozett, the curator of the ultimate online resource on the Black Madonna:

“Shortly after I was asked for the first time to give a talk on the black Madonnas I was able to go to Loreto, Italy before the black Mother in the darkness of her little brick house. There I asked her directly about the meaning of her blackness. Listening with an empty, open mind and with my whole being, I felt that she was covering me with the darkness of her cloak as in a dark ‘cloud of unknowing’. In that darkness beyond words we communed. She did not give me any words then, but afterwards I felt assured that she reveals her secrets to those who love her. Those who dare enter the darkness of the ‘Cloud of Unknowing’ and the ‘dark night of the soul’ (St. John of the Cross) she draws into herself, like a ‘black hole’ draws in matter, and there, in that darkness, she teaches them. It’s like being in the womb of God: you know you are safely held and nourished. You grow without needing to understand how. Ever since then, I see Black Madonnas as a symbol for the womb of God.”

http://interfaithmary.net/black-madonna-introduction

Frida Kahlo, “My Nurse and I”

The same Ella Rozett writes this about the image of the famous Madonna of Guadalupe:

“The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe reveals her dark and light side in two ways: one, she radiates with the light of the sun, while standing on a dark moon, and two, a straight line runs down the middle of her dress, dividing it into a light and a dark side.

Virgen de Guadalupe

Thus she brings wholeness to the one-sided world, restoring a much needed balance. In a mysterious way she does not obliterate diversity but affirms it. Everyone and everything is covered by her mantle: she is the mother who does not exclude. In her black unity she lovingly contains all divisions. She makes our western idea of divinity full by enriching it with everything that we have cut off. Jung spoke of the civilized one-sidedness in his essay “A Psychological Approach to the Dogma of the Trinity”:

“The Platonic freedom of the spirit does not make a whole judgment possible: it wrenches the light half of the picture away from the dark half. This freedom is to a large extent a phenomenon of civilization, the lofty preoccupation of that fortunate Athenian whose lot it was not to be born a slave. We can only rise above nature if somebody else carries the weight of the earth for us. … But civilized man can live without the winter, for he can protect himself against the cold; without dirt, for he can wash; without sin, for he can prudently cut himself off from his fellows and thereby avoid many an occasion for evil. He can deem himself good and pure, because hard necessity does not teach him anything better. … The dark weight of the earth must enter the picture of the whole.” (CW 11, par. 264)

She takes us down to the world of chaos, where rigid control has to be renounced. She obliterates all rational signposts, all defense mechanisms designed to get rid of our fear and doubt. In her essay Cedrus N. Monte also said that “the inner shrine of darkness” is where the Dark Feminine abides to teach us that there is no spiritual path which will enable us to “get it right,” or “put an end to suffering, to existential chaos.” Rather, as Father Bede Griffiths wrote:

“The chaos is in God. Creation is chaos. … God is in the darkness, in the womb, in the Mother. … and yet the whole order of the universe is coming out of that chaos. I think that enlightenment is the union of this divine reality with the chaos of life, of nature, of matter, of the world.”

Father Bede Griffiths, “The Stroke – Discovering the Feminine,” in: The Moonlit Path: Reflections on the Dark Feminine, edited by Fred Gustafson, 2003, p. 245

There is no understanding without embracing confusion. Let the mystery of the Black Madonna remain unsolvable.

Our Lady of the Gate of Dawn, Vilnius, Lithuania

I have written about the Black Madonna before:

  1. https://symbolreader.net/2019/12/01/a-reedeming-darkness-of-the-black-madonna-2/
  2. https://symbolreader.net/2021/09/26/the-house-of-the-black-madonna/
  3. https://symbolreader.net/2020/08/07/the-black-madonna-of-hergiswald/
  4. https://symbolreader.net/2018/10/15/the-black-madonna-of-the-luminous-mountain-2/
  5. https://symbolreader.net/2018/01/07/the-black-madonna/
  6. https://symbolreader.net/2016/02/28/the-black-madonna-of-einsiedeln/
  7. https://symbolreader.net/2021/07/12/the-house-of-mary/
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Reading The Red Book (39) – Seven Sermons to the Dead

We are still focusing on The Seven Sermons to the Dead, which are part of Scrutinies, the final section of The Red Book. In my previous posts, I looked at sermons one and two while this one is dedicated to the third sermon and Philemon’s commentaries.

Sermo III is a close encounter with the “terrible” Abraxas, whom we already met in Sermo II. Here we learn that Abraxas’ power is “greatest, because man does not see it.” He is the union of the good that comes from the Sun and the bad that comes from the devil. Unlike the Christian God, who personifies the summum bonum (the highest good), Abraxas draws his power both from good and evil.

Jung was not happy with what he saw as characteristic of our Western mentality which is split between two “antagonistic personifications: God and the Devil.” (1) In Sermo III we read:

“What the Sun God speaks is life, what the devil speaks is death.
But Abraxas speaks that hallowed and accursed word that is at once life and death.”

What follows in the sermon is an enumeration of paradoxical qualities of Abraxas – “the hermaphrodite of the earliest beginning,” who is “the fullness that seeks union with emptiness.” In him unite the brightest light and the blackest darkness. And further:

“He is the life of creation.
He is the effect of differentiation.
He is the love of man.
He is the speech of man.
He is the appearance and the shadow of man.”

When the sermon is finished Jung, in utter confusion, speaks to Philemon. He complains he cannot fathom the cruel contradictory nature of Abraxas. But Philemon tells him that this terrible God is not to be understood – he is just to be known. And, as it was said in the sermon, it is wise to fear him and redemption belongs to the one who does not resist him.

A print from Bernard de Montfaucon’s L’antiquité expliquée et représentée en figures with images of Abraxas (via Wikipedia)

Alfred Ribi compares Abraxas to nature, which is amoral, relentless and full of riddles. He also posits similarities between Abraxas and the alchemical Mercurius, who also united the opposites being both material and spiritual (2). In CW 13 (par. 284) Jung said this of Mercurius:

“(4) He is the devil, a redeeming psychopomp, an evasive trickster, and God’s reflection in physical nature.
(5) He is also the reflection of a mystical experience of the artifex that coincides with the opus alchymicum.”

From the point of view of Stephan A. Hoeller, Abraxas embodies “the principle of irresistible activity.” He is the sheer psychic energy of “titanic magnitude.” (3) This deity has a human body, head of a rooster and serpents for legs. His chariot is drawn by four white horses. The rooster symbolizes “vigilant wakefulness” and is related to the sun, whose rising it announces at dawn. The cry of the rooster dispels the night’s demons and “sounds things into existence or awareness.” (4) The cock, the alternative word for the rooster, alludes to its phallic and fecundating power. Interestingly, Hermes, who was born at dawn, would sometimes take the form of a rooster when guiding souls to the underworld. (5) The serpent legs of Abraxas refer to his dark, chthonic and instinctual wisdom. Altogether Abraxas signifies “an equilibrated state of dynamic union.” In the figure of Abraxas opposites are united “without the terrors of moral judgment and fearful opposition.” He reconciles light and darkness by transcending both. He brings together the lower world of the instincts (evoked in the sermon by the figures of Pan and Priapos) with the spiritual heights. Poised between the two, he relentlessly generates Life.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is this.jpg
Yama holding the Tibetan Wheel of Life (notice the rooster and the serpent in the centre)
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is wheel-of-samsara-temple-uig.jpg
Wheel of Samsara from the Temple of the Thousand Buddhas in La Boulaye, France

The numerical value of the name Abraxas totals 365 both in Hebrew and Greek. 365 is emblematic of the totality of time, over which Abraxas rules. Hoeller says that Abraxas both makes and unmakes time. He entangles and disentangles the temporal knots of necessity. But he also signifies the timeless moment, “the eternal one” positioned outside of “time both in its linear and its cyclic aspects.” Because his name is composed of seven letters, it also stands for the powers of the seven classical planets, which simultaneously restrict us with their fateful knots and also act as creative stepping stones of ascension and spiritual liberation from material constraints.

Hoeller thus concludes his analysis:

“Between the two opposites, God and Devil, betwixt and between the night and the day, at the very crack of the dawn, stands the majestic chanticleer, the rooster-headed god of cosmic and psychic energy, drawing his strength from both the night and the day and preparing to race with his chariot drawn by the white steeds of the dawn to a world beyond earth and stars, out of time and out of mind.”

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 42.jpg
Mantegna Tarocchi, Mercurio

Notes:

(1) C.G. Jung, A Psychological Approach to the Dogma of the Trinity, CW 11, par. 791

(2) Alfred Ribi, The Search for Roots: C.G. Jung and the Tradition of Gnosis

(3) Stephan A. Hoeller, The Gnostic Jung and The Seven Sermons to the Dead. All the subsequent quotes come from this book, unless otherwise indicated.

(4) (10) The Book of Symbols, Reflections on Archetypal Images, ARAS, edited by Ami Ronnberg, p. 328

(5) Ibid.

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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

Reading The Red Book – part 36

Reading The Red Book – part 37

Reading The Red Book – part 38

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Hermopolis: the City of Beautiful Renewal

“Let us praise Thoth, the exact plummet of the balance,
from whom evil flees,
who accepts him who avoids evil,
the Vizier who gives judgement,
who vanquishes crime,
who recalls all that is forgotten,
the remembrancer of time and eternity,
who proclaims the hours of the night,
whose words abide for ever.”

Hymn to Thoth written by Horemheb, the last pharaoh of the 18th Dynasty of Egypt

Statuette of an ibis, the Vatican museum

Thoth, the Ibis-headed God of writing, magic and wisdom, inventor of hieroglyphs, was also the god of the moon. He was “the reflection of the sun (Ra) in whose absence he fills the darkness of the night with his moonlight.” (1) The shape of the ibis’s beak was reminiscent of the crescent moon. There was a connection with Thoth and the heart; first of all the Egyptians would draw an ibis as a hieroglyph for the heart; secondly, Thoth played a major role in the weighing of the heart ceremony:

“If the weight of the heart was found to be equal to that of the feather [of Maat], the deceased is deemed by Thoth as having led a ‘true life,’ namely having been true of heart and tongue.” (2)

Detail from the Papyrus of Hunefer, Thoth recording the result of the ceremony standing on the right (via Wikipedia)

Maat, the goddess of truth, justice and the cosmic order, was also one of the consorts of Thoth. Through his association with the moon and the heart, Thoth was a deity that embodied the intelligence-of-the-heart, to use the term invented by René Adolphe Schwaller de Lubicz, the brilliant French Egyptologist and mystic. For him, this type of intelligence is distinct from “the cerebral intelligence” in that it is a vehicle to reach the divine through the development of cosmic consciousness.

Thoth was also the god of healing, as he was the one “who brings justice, who healed the Sacred Eye” of Horus, which the son of Osiris had lost in the battle with Set. (3) The symbolism of the eye of Horus (called Udjat or Wedjat eye in Egyptian) encompasses healing, insight, wholeness, integrity, integration of opposites and defense against evil. (4)

Wedjat amulet via https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/552777

Before the Hellenistic city of Alexandria was established, Thoth had his own divine city in Egypt. The Greeks called it Hermopolis because they associated Thoth with their own Hermes. The original ancient Egyptian name of the city was Khmnu, which means “the city of eight” or the city of the Ogdoad – a group of eight deities associated with a creation myth of Hermopolis. (5) Eight gods emerged from the primordial waters of chaos – four male gods with frog’s heads and four female deities with serpent’s heads:

God Nun and his consort/daughter Nunet (fluidity and water)

Heh and Hehet (infinity and air)

Kek and Keket (darkness and fire)

Amen and Amunet (hiddenness and earth) (6)

In another version of the myth, the Mound of Flame emerged from the waters, on its top a celestial goose laid a cosmic egg, out of which sun the creator was hatched. In still another version, a lotus bud appeared on the surface of the waters. When it opened, it revealed a sun god as a child. (7)

I wrote at length about the symbolism of the lotus here, but I love how Mervat Nasser notices that this flower, which opens with the sunrise and closes at dusk, symbolized the notion of Being for the Egyptians:

“Like death resurrected, new life springs from the inertness and hiddenness. What this meant was that the act of being was never separate from non-being, and that creation was never a one-off incident, but something that entailed constant repetition.” (8)

She speaks of the crucial moment of “not-yet-being,” when opposites are united and there is yet no strife.

“The Blue Egyptian Water Lily” by Joseph Constantine Stadler

Because of this symbolism Hermopolis represented for the Egyptians “a place of beautiful renewal.” (9) The county where the city of Thoth was located was called the Nome of Wenet – literally the district of the hare. This beautiful lunar animal was represented by the hieroglyphic sign, which signified the essence of life or simply “being,” explains Nasser. This same hieroglyph was often encircled by the serpent ouroboros, strengthening the symbolism of the eternal renewal.

The Hare hieroglyph over water

The Picatrix, a book of magic and astrology originally written in Arabic in the eleventh century, gives us a breathtaking description of this hermetic city of wonders:

“In this text, the city is described as having fruitful trees and a lighthouse with ‘a spherical cupola’ that flooded the city with a different coloured light each day of the week. It also had ‘four gates guarded with statues of priests’ … and whoever wanted to learn a science ‘went to its particular statue, stroked it with his hand and then stroked his breast, thus transferring the science to himself.” (10)

Seshat at the Temple of Luxor via Wikipedia

There was also the Temple of Thoth in Hermopolis, which may be regarded as a prototype of the Temple of Solomon – the ultimate expression of divine geometry. Here the role of another consort of Thoth is crucial. Her name was Seshat and she was the goddess of writing, of measurement and the ruler of books. No foundation ceremonies of temples could take place without her. Her emblem was the seven-pointed star or the seven-petaled flower. Thus she symbolized the notion of divine harmony and divine cosmic order. (11) Number eight, on the other hand, which is associated with Thoth, bears the quality of intermediation between the square and the circle, between heaven and earth, says Cirlot in his Dictionary of Symbols. Hermes/Thoth was indeed a divine intermediary between the realms. Eight is also a symbol of regeneration (eight for the infinity of cycles) and “is associated with the two interlacing serpents of the caduceus, signifying the balancing out of opposing forces or the equivalence of the spiritual power to the natural,” adds Cirlot.

Dr Mervat Abdel-Nasser, the author of the book that I partly based my post on, is the founder of New Hermopolis. In the final chapter she describes it as an ecological retreat centre “for those who seek to truly belong to a world where barriers and frontiers no longer exist.” The centre was created with the Hermetic idea of oneness in mind. She quotes from the Hermetica:

“The All is not many separate things,

but the Oneness that subsumes the parts.”

In the square pond on the grounds of New Hermopolis the founders succeeded in reviving the Egyptian blue lotus, a species considered to be extinct.

Notes:

(1) Mervat Nasser, The Path to the New Hermopolis: The History, Philosophy and Future of the City of Hermes, Rubedo Press 2019, p. 18

(2) Ibid., p. 21

(3) Ibid., p. 22, the quote comes from Coffin Texts, a collection of ancient Egyptian funerary spells 

(4) Ibid., p. 24

(5) Ibid., p. 27

(6) Ibid.

(7) Joyce Tyldesley, Myths and Legends of Ancient Egypt, Penguin 2010, p. 70-71

(8) Mervat Nasser, The Path to the New Hermopolis: The History, Philosophy and Future of the City of Hermes, Rubedo Press 2019, p. 68

(9) Ibid., p. 29

(10) Ibid., p. 33

(11) John Anthony West, Serpent in the Sky: The High Wisdom of Ancient Egypt, Quest Books 1993, p. 48

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Reading The Red Book (38) – Seven Sermons to the Dead

Shiva Mahadeva from Elephanta Caves

We are making our way through The Seven Sermons to the Dead, which are part of Scrutinies, the final section of The Red Book. In my previous post I looked into the genesis of the sermons while this one focuses on the second sermon and Philemon’s commentaries.

The dead ask a portentous question at the beginning of the sermon:

“Where is God? Is God dead?”

This is of course reminiscent of Nietzsche’s famous words announcing the death of God – Gott ist tot. In his The Search for Roots: C.G. Jung and the Tradition of Gnosis, Alfred Ribi refers us to a passage of Jung’s Psychology and Religion (CW 11). There Jung said that when Nietzsche announced the death of God he was merely diagnosing “a widespread psychological fact.” Yet the Western arrogance cannot hold. The ego, says Jung, cannot kill God – that “unknown quantity in the depths of the psyche.” It does not rest with people “to decide whether they will create a ‘God’ for themselves or not.” The godlike powers within the unconscious psyche are “despotic” and “inescapable,” emphasizes Jung and adds:

“We do not create ‘God,’ we choose him.”

By which he means that the psychological thirst for ‘God’ could also be destructive – the spirit we crave could mean simply alcohol or any other addiction. That which wields power over the ego can be described as godlike. Needless to say, what we do not create, we cannot destroy, either.

Philemon begins his teaching in the second sermon by answering the question posed by the dead. He says:

“God is not dead. He is as alive as ever. God is creation, for he is something definite, and therefore differentiated from the Pleroma. God is a quality of the Pleroma, and everything I have said about creation also applies to him.”

Ribi calls this a shocking statement, for how can we claim that God was created? Philemon adds that although God has emanated from the Pleroma (the godlike fullness and the ground of being, which I discussed more fully in my previous post), Pleroma is still his essence. In this way, God is different from the rest of creation because his essence is “effective fullness.” Together with the devil God is the first manifestation of the Pleroma. In this sermon God is equated with Helios – the sun god. His opponent is the devil, whose essence is “effective emptiness” juxtaposed against the “effective fullness” of God/Helios. According to this doctrine, says Ribi in his book, God is not all powerful because his opposite – the devil – can always thwart him.

The process of creation is the process of differentiation, Philemon teaches:

“Everything that differentiation takes out of the Pleroma is a pair of opposites, therefore the devil always belongs to God.”

Both God and the devil share the quality of “effectiveness.” I had to check the German original to understand more deeply what is meant by effectiveness. The German word here is “das Wirkende,” i.e. that which acts, that which works. God and the devil are the inextricable working (dynamic, as Ribi puts it) powers of creation and destruction.

Now Philemon says that “das Wirkende” (“the effectiveness”) in fact stands above both God and the devil. This raw energy is “a God above God.” As Philemon teaches,

“This is a God you knew nothing about, because mankind forgot him. We call him by his name ABRAXAS. He is even more indefinite than God and the devil.”

In his Visions Seminar, quoted by Shamdasani in the footnotes to The Red Book, Jung described Abraxas as a supreme Gnostic deity and “a time god.” He called Abraxas monstrous, as he was often depicted with the head of a rooster, the body of a man and the serpent’s tail:

“It is a monster because it is the life of vegetation in the course of one year, the spring and the autumn, the summer and the winter, the yea and nay of nature. So Abraxas is really identical with the Demiurgos, the world creator. And as such he is surely identical with the Purusha, or with Shiva.”

Marc Chagall, “The Rooster”

Ribi explains that while in the Seven Sermons Abraxas is indeed portrayed as the supreme God, he was not so for the Gnostics. Ribi states: “…this Sermon incorporates distant echoes of Gnosticism, and is in essence an independent autonomous creation.” But if we suspend our disbelief and assume that Jung was indeed channeling the teachings of the Gnostic Basilides in his seven sermons, perhaps we should accept the supremacy of Abraxas without question.

At the end of the sermon Philemon states that while the workings of God and the devil may be described as definite, Abraxas, who is pure manifestation of the essence of the Pleroma, has no definite effect (“keine bestimmte Wirkung” in German). Abraxas is the effect, he constitutes That Which Works/Acts – “die Wirkung überhaupt.” He may also be described as “force, duration, change,” concludes Philemon.

The sermon ends but as usual Philemon stays to answer Jung’s questions. Jung is terrified of the dreadful Abraxas, who includes everything and “to whom good and evil and human suffering and joy are nothing.” He wonders why Jung wants to teach the dead about such a God. Philemon explains that the dead have already rejected both the loving God and the wicked devil. The dead have already rejected the split into the good/creative God and the evil/destructive devil taught by the mainstream Christianity. In The Gnostic Jung and The Seven Sermons to the Dead, Stephan A. Hoeller explains Jung’s lack of acceptance of this dualism:

“The simplistic notion represented by exoteric religion is that we have God, who is light, goodness, positiveness, affirmation, and benevolence, while on the other hand we have the principle of evil, envisioned primarily as the absence of good, an abyss of negativity, denial, malevolence. This religiosity declares that it is the duty of the human being to struggle against the negative pole and to strive toward the positive pole. Thus the good is within God, the bad outside God, and we are between the two, trying to follow the good but usually failing to do so with any degree of effectiveness. Jung was profoundly dissatisfied with this view and felt that it was psychologically unsound.”

Philemon finishes his commentary with these words and dashes away:

“Therefore I teach them the God who dissolves unity; who blasts everything human, who
powerfully creates and mightily destroys.”

There is more on Abraxas, this “veritable God Devil” as Hoeller “christened” him, in the third sermon.

Abraxas stone (Britannica)

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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

Reading The Red Book – part 36

Reading The Red Book – part 37

Reading The Red Book – part 39

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My Octopus Teacher: the Soul and Her Beloved

I. “It is not necessary that you go out of your house. Remain by your table and listen. Do not even listen, only wait. Do not even wait, be completely still and alone. The world will offer itself to you to be unmasked; it cannot do otherwise, in ecstasy it will writhe before you.”

Franz Kafka, The Zürau Aphorisms

II. “It came to me that the soul is like a castle made exclusively of diamond or some other very clear crystal. In this castle are a multitude of dwellings, just as in heaven there are many mansions. At the center is the most important dwelling of them all where the most secret things unfold between the soul and her Beloved.”

Teresa of Ávila

Minoan Octopus vase from Palikastro, ca 1500 BCE

In the documentary film My Octopus Teacher the narrator (Craig Foster) finds his lost soul. It reveals herself to him as an octopus – an ancient, totally bizarre sea creature with highly-developed cognition. A beloved motif in the Cretan art, “the octopus is related to the spider’s web and the spiral, both being symbolic of the mystic Centre and of the unfolding of creation,” writes Cirlot in his Dictionary of Symbols. The eight arms of the octopus contain neurons, which means that the animal’s cognition is both central (located in the brain) and peripheral. Number eight is symbolically fitting here, since eight is bound to the infinity emblem, which in turn is connected to the caduceus with its two twined serpents. In Kabbalah eight is linked to Hod, the eighth Sephira. Its keywords are splendor, thoughts, communication and absolute intelligence. The magical image associated with this Sephira is Hermaphrodite, the child of Hermes and Aphrodite. Eight is also connected with the wisdom of the cycles as well as death and regeneration.

This makes the octopus an ideal canvas for psychological projection so beautifully shown in the documentary. For Craig she is both the anima and Mercurius – a psychopomp that guides him through her underworld. A broken man, as he describes himself at the beginning, he decides to look for healing in a very cold underwater kelp forest near his native Cape Town. He decides to dive without a wetsuit so that he can experience the underwater environment without any barriers. There he encounters a curious octopus that captivates him and so he decides to visit her every day for a year. What starts as a semi-scientific venture turns into an encounter with the Beloved. In his own words, he becomes “sensitized to the Other” and even suffers the feelings of “dismemberment” when she gets attacked by a shark and loses a tentacle.

The sixteenth-century Spanish mystic Teresa of Ávila distinguished between a spiritual engagement of the soul and a spiritual marriage. Craig is definitely spiritually engaged, which means that he tries to carefully guard his boundaries. And yet the most touching moments are when the separation between him and the creature starts to loosen, when he starts to think and feel like her. As Teresa of Ávila wrote in The Interior Castle:

“But in total union no separation is possible. … The spiritual marriage…is like rain falling from the sky into a river or pool. There is nothing but water. When a little stream enters the sea, who could separate its waters back out again? Think of a bright light pouring into a room from two large windows: it enters from different places but becomes one light.”

When the soul experiences such a union, muses Saint Teresa, it “is taught so many different things that she could never fit together a thousandth of them, no matter how many years she labored with her mind to create some kind of systematic order.” The lessons Craig received from his octopus teacher are manifold. Among other things she teaches him about relatedness and loving awareness, but also about death and sacrifice. The life of every female octopus ends after she lays her eggs, making way for a new cycle of life. By the same token, Craig experiences his soul rebirth.

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Autumn

Ferdinand Hodler, “Autumn Evening”

Whenever autumn is in full colour, I always remember the alchemical dictum “Nature rejoices in nature, nature conquers nature, nature rules over nature.” In volume 13 of Collected Works, Jung explained it in the following way:

“This principle is pagan in feeling and an expression of nature worship. Nature not only contains a process of transformation—it is itself transformation. It strives not for isolation but for union, for the wedding feast followed by death and rebirth.” (par. 197)

And in the most beautiful and memorable chapter of James Hillman’s Alchemical Psychology, he focuses on yellowing (citrinitas) – the third stage of the alchemical opus, which follows nigredo and albedo and precedes rubedo. On the one hand:

“Yellow signifies a particular kind of change – usually for the worse: withering leaves, aging pages, and long-stored linen, old teeth and toenails, liver spots, peeling skin, indelible stains of food and semen. The process of time shows as a yellowing. The alchemists spoke of it as ‘putrefaction’ and ‘corruption.’ “

And yet, he continues:

“The German gelb and the Latin galbus and galbinus derive from roots meaning radiant and shining, like gold; so the Homeric Achilles and Apollo are yellow-haired, blond, fair, and sunlit. In addition, the most luminous of all hues (least saturated) is yellow and the yellow spot in the middle of the retina is where vision is most acute.”

Paul Gauguin, “By the Stream, Autumn”

There is both godlike perfection and earthly corruption in yellow. And yet the beauty of autumn leaves, their radiance is mesmerizing. Nature rejoices in this moment. It is as if for a moment a normally hidden unconscious lumen naturae (light of nature) became visible. From the scientific perspective, as trees stop producing chlorophyll, their green colour fades and other colours, which had been there all along, are revealed. This pertains especially to the yellow.

The bitter sweet melancholy of autumn may be connected with the meaning of the alchemical stage of yellowing, as Hillman says:

“…during nigredo there is pain and ignorance; we suffer without the help of knowledge. During albedo the pain lifts, having been blessed by reflection and understanding. The yellow brings the pain of knowledge itself. The soul suffers its understanding.

…the yellow brings the pain of further knowledge derived from piercing insights, critical, cruel, the slings and arrows of seeing sharp and true, insights that arrive suddenly together with the fire and fear regarding the cowardice, jealousy, choler, and decay that taints…”

The final stage of the alchemical opus is rubedo, where we bring the results of all the insights of the previous stages into the world. We create and manifest. I have tried to find out why some trees turn red in the autumn and apparently it is a totally different process than yellowing. Some trees actively produce the red pigment in autumn and scientists are not sure why. You can read more about that here. While being human always means suffering under the yellow yoke, not all (only few?) of us reach the rubedo stage of individuation.

But what we see around ourselves in peak autumn are all colours, not just the yellows and the reds; the green is not yet gone, some flowers have not withered, there are plenty of colourful fruit around and the sky can be as azure as in peak summer. Alchemy spoke of cauda pavonis – the peacock’s tail – the radiant colours which appeared all at once, like the white prism breaking into a rainbow. This is by no means an orthodox interpretation, just my own flight of fancy, but I always thought that the stages of the alchemical opus are not necessarily akin to a ladder that the souls climb. In other words, it is not an evolution but an endless transformation and none of the stages are more valuable than others.

Recently I was astounded to find a book, which resonated with my thoughts. I have not finished reading it yet but here is a quote from the Introduction:

“All life, in order to develop, must pass through an irreducible multiplicity of forms, a whole population of bodies that it dons and discards with the same ease as it changes outfits from one season to the next. Every living being is legion. Each one stitches together bodies and ‘selves’ like a seamstress, like a body artist constantly modifying their appearance. Every life is an anatomical fashion show of variable duration. To think the relationship between this multiplicity of forms in terms of metamorphosis rather than in terms of evolution, progress, or their opposites, is not just to free oneself of all teleology. It means also, and above all, that each of these forms has the same weight, the same importance, the same value: metamorphosis is the principle of equivalence between all natures, and the process that allows this equivalence to arise. Every form, every nature, comes from the other and is equivalent to it. They all exist on the same plane. They each have a share of what the others have, but in different ways. Variation is horizontal.”

Emanuele Coccia and Robin Mackay, Metamorphoses

Georgia O’Keeffe, “Lake George, Autumn”
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Reading The Red Book (37) – Seven Sermons to the Dead

Salvador Dali, “The Lighthouse at Alexandria”

Seven Sermons to the Dead (Septem Sermones ad Mortuos) is a collection of seven Gnostic texts written and privately published by C. G. Jung in 1916, under the title Seven Sermons to the Dead, written by Basilides of Alexandria, the City Where East and West Meet. They were included in the third part of The Red BookScrutinies – enriched with a commentary of Philemon, which was not published in Jung’s lifetime. Initially Jung limited the distribution of the text to a carefully chosen audience but in 1962 the full text of the sermons was added as an appendix to Jung’s memoirs Memories, Dreams, Reflections. There Jung tells about the quite extraordinary genesis of the sermons:

“It began with a restlessness, but I did not know what it meant or what ‘they’ wanted of me. There was ominous atmosphere all around me. I had the strange feeling that the air was filled with ghostly entities. Then it was as if my house began to be haunted. My eldest daughter saw a white figure passing through the room. My second daughter, independently of her elder sister, related that twice in the night her blanket had been snatched away; and that same night my nine-year-old son had an anxiety dream. … Around five o’clock in the afternoon on Sunday the front doorbell began ringing frantically. … Everyone immediately looked to see who was there, but there was no one in sight. I was sitting near the doorbell, and not only heard it but saw it moving. We all simply stared at one another. The atmosphere was thick, believe me. Then I knew that something had to happen. The whole house was filled as if there were a crowd present, crammed full of spirits. They were packed deep right up to the door, and the air was so thick it was scarcely possible to breathe. As for myself, I was all a-quiver with the question: ‘For God’s sake, what in the world is this?’ Then they cried out in chorus, ‘We have come back from Jerusalem where we found not what we sought.’ That is the beginning of the Septem Sermones. Then it began to flow out of me, and in the course of three evenings the thing was written. As soon as I took up the pen, the whole ghostly assemblage evaporated. The room quieted and the atmosphere cleared. The haunting was over.”

Gentile Bellini, “St Mark Preaching in Alexandria” (detail)

In his book The Search for Roots: C. G. Jung and the Tradition of Gnosis, Alfred Ribi states that Jung “traced the historical lineage of his psychology back to the Gnostic communities that had existed two thousand years ago at the beginning of the Christian age.” The dead did not find what they looked for in Jerusalem, that is in the seat of traditional Christianity. The seven sermons contain instruction from a Gnostic teacher Basilides of Alexandria, the city where East and West meet, and where all kinds of non-orthodox, heretic ideas flourished. Only in Alexandria, “the classical urban alchemical vessel of human creativity” (1) where all cultures intertwined and where “gods and goddesses walked with men longer than in any other city in the world” could such a teaching have been born. (2) Interestingly, as Hoeller tells us, well-travelled as he was, Jung never visited Rome, another seat of traditional Christianity, but he did travel to Alexandria, which he perceived as his “spiritual home,” as Hoeller put it. Although Jung’s studies of Gnosticism took place before 1945, when the Nag Hammadi Scriptures were discovered by an Egyptian peasant, his knowledge of Gnosticism was profound and astounding, according to Alfred Ribi and other distinguished Gnostic scholars.

Nag Hammadi Codex II, The Gospel of Thomas

Ribi posits in his book that the Gnostics based their teachings on the assumption that “the alpha and omega of every religion is the subjective experience of the individual.” In this Gnosticism resembled Jung’s psychology of the unconscious, which also emphasised the importance of individual experience, no matter how alien to the collective values. What the Gnostics glorified was the “Promethean and creative spirit which will bow only to the individual soul and to no collective ruling,” says Ribi. Thus Gnosticism may be called the “introverted, mystical undercurrent of occidental Christianity.” The value of individual knowledge and individual revelation is what distinguishes Gnosticism from mainstream Christianity.

Furthermore, what was recorded in the official Gospels was but a fraction of what Jesus revealed to his closest disciples, said the Gnostics. This emphasizes the value of individual initiation delivered by a spiritual teacher. In the introduction to The Nag Hammadi Library, Elaine Pagels wrote:

“What Muhammad ‘All discovered at Nag Hammadi is, apparently, a library of writings, almost all of them Gnostic. Although they claim to offer secret teaching, many of these texts refer to the Scriptures of the Old Testament, and others to the letters of Paul and the New Testament gospels. Many of them include the same dramatic personae as the New Testament–Jesus and his disciples. Yet the differences are striking. Orthodox Jews and Christians insist that a chasm separates humanity from Its creator: God is wholly other. But some of the Gnostics who wrote these gospels contradict this: self-knowledge is
knowledge of God; the self and the divine are identical.
Second, the ‘living Jesus’ of these texts speaks of illusion and enlightenment, not of sin and repentance, like the Jesus of the New Testament. Instead of coming to save us from sin, he comes as a guide who opens access to spiritual understanding. But when the disciple attains enlightenment, Jesus no longer serves as his spiritual master: the two have become equal–even identical.
Third, orthodox Christians believe that Jesus is Lord and Son of God in a unique way: he remains forever distinct from the rest of humanity whom he came to save. Yet the gnostic Gospel of Thomas relates that as soon as Thomas recognizes him, Jesus says to Thomas that they have both received their being from the same source:
Jesus said, ‘I am not your master. Because you have drunk, you have become drunk from the bubbling stream which I have measured out…. He who will drink from my mouth will become as I am: I myself shall become he, and the things that are hidden will be revealed to him.’ ” (3)

The Seven Sermons to the Dead are constructed in the following way: the Dead ask a question and receive an answer in the form of a sermo. In the commentary to the first sermon Jung asks Philemon why he wants to teach the dead. Philemon says that the dead were seekers who died too early and did not finish their earthly work. They did not find what they were looking for in the traditional Christianity and they had no chance to find an alternative teaching that would fulfill their souls. The dead must be therefore taught about a hidden aspect of Jesus’ teachings.

The first sermon begins with the following words:

“Now hear: I begin with nothingness. Nothingness is the same as the fullness. In infinity full is as good as empty. Nothingness is empty and full. … That which is endless and eternal has no qualities, since it has all qualities.

We call this nothingness or fullness the Pleroma. Therein both thinking and being cease, since the eternal and endless possess no qualities.”

Mark Tobey, “Meditative Series VIII”

This astounding fragment echoes the Buddhist Heart Sutra with its famous words “form is emptiness, emptiness is form.” This ineffable ground of being, like the Neoplatonic One, or like the To, is beyond consciousness or logic. The word pleroma was used in the New Testament by Paul to denote the fullness of God. In a letter to Kurt Plachte Jung explained what he understood under the symbolic function of the Pleroma:

“You are right— the symbol belongs to a different sphere from the sphere of instinct. The latter sphere is the mother, the former the son (or God). For my private use I call the sphere of paradoxical existence, i.e., the instinctive unconscious, the Pleroma, a term borrowed from Gnosticism . The reflection and formation of the Pleroma in the individual consciousness produce an image of it (of like nature in a certain sense), and that is the symbol. In it all paradoxes are abolished. In the Pleroma, Above and Below lie together in a strange way and produce nothing; but when it is disturbed by the mistakes and needs of the individual a waterfall arises between Above and Below, a dynamic something that is the symbol. Like the Pleroma, the symbol is greater than man. It overpowers him, shapes him, as though he had opened a sluice that pours a mighty stream over him and sweeps him away.” (4)

Pleroma is “the consciousness transcending background of the entire world,” writes Ribi. For the Gnostics Pleroma is the realm of true being, from which the whole world emanated.

Further on the sermon reads:

“In the Pleroma there is nothing and everything. It is fruitless to think about the Pleroma, for this would mean self-dissolution. Creation is not in the Pleroma, but in itself. The Pleroma is the beginning and end of creation.”

One cannot access the eternal fullness of the Pleroma with thought or logic. We do, however, participate in it unconsciously – through the unconscious we are linked to the divine in us:

“We are, however, the Pleroma itself or we are a part of the eternal and the endless. But we have no share therein, as we are infinitely removed from the Pleroma; not spatially or temporally; but essentially, since we are distinguished from the Pleroma in our essence as creation, which is confined within time and space.”

This is a similar idea to the Indian tradition of Atman-atmân: the world-soul and the soul of the individual, points out Ribi. The divinity is mirrored in the individual.

However, Jung’s psychology is not entirely congruent with the eastern thought. First Jung/Basilides says that to differentiate oneself from the pleroma is a creative endeavour:

“Differentiation is creation. It is differentiated. Differentiation is its essence, and therefore it differentiates.”

And further:

“If we do not differentiate, we move beyond our essence, beyond creation, and we fall into nondifferentiation, which is the other quality of the Pleroma. We fall into the Pleroma itself and cease to be created beings.”

The unique idea of Jung and the Western thought which he represents, says Hoeller, is for the individual psyche “not to give up its light of consciousness and fall back into the internal abyss of primordial nothingness.” (5) “A permanent dissolution of human individuality in Divinity,” continues Hoeller, is something that Jungian psychology does not see as desirable.

Now we have approached the last part of the first sermon, which to me seems the most enigmatic:

“When we strive for the good or the beautiful, we forget our essence, which is differentiation, and we fall subject to the spell of the qualities of the Pleroma, which are the pairs of opposites. We endeavor to attain the good and the beautiful, yet at the same time we also seize the evil and the ugly; since in the Pleroma these are one with the good and the beautiful. But if we remain true to our essence, which is differentiation, we differentiate ourselves from the good and the beautiful, and hence from the evil and ugly. And thus we do not fall under the spell of the Pleroma, namely into nothingness and dissolution.”

“Therefore you must not strive for what you conceive as distinctiveness, but for your own essence. At bottom, therefore, there is only one striving, namely the striving for one’s own essence.”

Auguste Rodin, “Psyche”

We have already read in The Red Book Jung’s admonition that it is wrong to identify with just one element from a pair of opposites. Such clinging will inevitably trigger the enantiodromia, where the polar opposite will hit us hard and demand its due. If we for example identify with the beautiful, says Jung here, we must also seize the ugly or it will seize us. One-sidedness is a disease. The cure is self-knowledge, which leads to finding one’s true nature, says Hoeller. (6)

At the end of this part of The Red Book Jung asks Philemon if he really believes what he teaches. Philemon admonishes Jung and tells him that he does not believe what he teaches but he teaches what he knows. Once again the primacy of gnosis based on inner experience over faith based on acceptance of external authority is emphasised.

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Notes:

(1) Stephan A. Hoeller, The Gnostic Jung and the Seven Sermons to the Dead, Quest Books, p. 91

(2) Ibid., p. 93

(3) James M. Robinson, general editor, The Nag Hammadi Library: The Definitive Translation of the Gnostic Scriptures complete in one volume, p. 4

(4) Carl Jung, Letters, vol. I, p. 61

(5) Stephan A. Hoeller, The Gnostic Jung and the Seven Sermons to the Dead, Quest Books, p. 102

(6) Ibid., p. 107

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

Reading The Red Book – part 36

Reading The Red Book – part 38

Reading The Red Book – part 39

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Sisyphus and Stone

Stones symbolize that which is ancient, eternal, impenetrable and unconscious. Unsurprisingly, the first chapter of human history was called the Stone Age. For the ancients stones were infused with the spirit of the gods and ancestors. Stone caves were places of initiation, the symbolic wombs where souls descended into embodiment or ascended into the ancestral realm or to higher spiritual realms. Before monuments to solar worship, such as Stonehenge, were erected, all over Europe people used to carve large-scale sculptures that were human-like in shape. This was 4000 BC while in the course of the 3rd millennium BC worship of the sun emerged and stone structures lost their anthropomorphic character. But back at the beginning, when religion was more closely bound to nature, Hermes was worshipped in the form of herms – stone pillars erected at roadsides, while the ancient goddess Artemis of Ephesus (Artemis at Perga) was venerated as a black meteoric stone. Later in monotheistic religions stones kept their sacred status; Jesus said to Peter (petrus – rock) that he is the rock that Jesus will built his church on; in Islam Ka’aba – the Black Stone – is venerated at Mecca. In our times, however, we often disregard the stone as lesser material and speak of a heart of stone or that you cannot get blood from a stone (English proverb). We also become petrified (=like a stone) due to fear or trauma.

Salvador Dali, “The Wailing Wall”

Yet, as Juan Eduardo Cirlot beautifully puts it in his Dictionary of Symbols, the stone is a symbol of creation per se, about which the alchemists knew very well:

“In volcanic eruptions, air turned to fire, fire became ‘water’ and ‘water’ changed to stone; hence stone constitutes the first solid form of the creative rhythm —the sculpture of essential movement, and the petrified music of creation.

As for the philosophers’ stone in alchemy, it represents the ‘conjunction’ of opposites, or the integration of the conscious self with the feminine or unconscious side (or in other words, the fixing of volatile elements); it is, then, a symbol of the All.”

In old Europe, young women used to visit special so-called sliding stones to sit on them or crawl over them in order to conceive a child.

Golden rock in a Buddhist temple in Kyaikto, Myanmar

It is true that when we moderns think of the meaning of the stone we do not immediately recall divinity but we certainly remember the myth of Sisyphus. In her book, Sisyphus: A Jungian Approach to Midlife Crisis, the Jungian analyst Verena Kast offers an in-depth analysis of the myth. She quotes from The Odyssey (the Fitzgerald translation), in which Odysseus sees the toiling Sisyphus in the underworld:

“Then Sísyphos in torment I beheld
being roustabout to a tremendous boulder.
Leaning with both arms braced and legs driving,
he heaved it toward a height, and almost over,
but then a Power spun him round and sent
the cruel boulder bounding again to the plain.
Whereon the man bent down again to toil,
dripping sweat, and the dust rose overhead.”

Titian, “Sisyphus”

For Verena Kast, the myth of Sisyphus means that our problems can never be eliminated and that the path we follow is the goal. The contrasting archetypal image to the myth of the task of Sisyphus is the myth of the holy child, which is associated with the ability to create and discover. We may speak of the torture of the ordinary, repetitive tasks, for which the holy child in us has low tolerance.

The stone demands the greatest effort and undivided attention from Sisyphus. But in the end the hero has no choice but to let go, as Kast explains:

“In considering this we are forced to confront our own fear that our efforts will fail in the end, that everything could prove useless, senseless, absurd, in vain.

Perhaps the myth of Sisyphus is also a symbol for the fact that in spite of all our efforts nothing can really be brought to an end in human life, nothing can ever be completed.”

What is heroic about Sisyphus, says Kast, is that he does not escape but he stays and takes responsibility. He cannot flee into the paradise of death or illusion, either.

Freud spoke of what he called “the repetition compulsion,” by which he meant our human preference for the familiar. The myth of Sisyphus also stands for our compulsion to repeat the same mistakes, which mark us for life. In the same context we may also speak of the difficulty of breaking the karmic cycle. Some life patterns are just set in stone.

But why was Sisyphus punished by the gods in such a cruel way? Verena Kast explores the myth and offers very valuable insights. The name Sisyphus apparently meant “the clever one” and he was indeed a trickster character. His most important feat was that he tricked Death itself:

“Death, change, setbacks and having to let go, these things hold no reality for him. When he is threatened by the principle of ‘death’ we see this attitude most clearly in his behavior – he chains up death and locks it away in a storage room. By this action our friend sets himself up as equal to Zeus, on the same level as the gods.”

Sisyphus was unable to accept that life is limited by death; he could not relinquish the idea that human existence, unlike that of the gods, is frail and limited. Therefore he was sentenced to spinning the vicious circle and pursuing his unglamorous task without the possibility of redemption or transformation. But is there hope in this seemingly hopeless myth? Albert Camus finished his famous essay dedicated to the myth of Sisyphus and his heroic struggle in the face of the absurdity of existence with these words:

“The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”

There is dignity and divinity in ordinary daily struggle. “A face that toils so close to stones is
already stone itself!,” writes Camus. This must be “the human form divine” of which William Blake wrote.

Marc Chagall, “Sisyphus”
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The House of the Black Madonna

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, where she heard the Annunciation and also where she lived humbly with Joseph and the little Jesus. The house is believed to have been brought to Loreto by angels.

The Holy House of the Black Madonna of Loreto

Numerous architectural 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 and the oldest one here:
https://symbolreader.net/2020/08/07/the-black-madonna-of-hergiswald/

The first three Loreto chapels were built in 1648 (Hergiswald and Freiburg) and in 1649 (Solothurn). I visited the latter recently and it was an intense experience.

The chapel is situated outside of city walls, close to the Cloister of the Capuchins but also in an open field with a beautiful view of the surrounding cliffs and the local mountain called Weissenstein (the white stone). Approaching the chapel, one feels as if the time had stopped there. The air suddenly feels like syrup; there is an inexplicable feeling of slowness of things. When I was there the chapel and the surrounding area appeared almost deserted although the near-lying city was bustling with Saturday activity. The shrubs and plants outside the chapel oozed heaviness and a certain subterranean feel, though this might be because it was two days after the Autumn Equinox. On the left side of the door leading to the chapel grew a small tree or a shrub known as the common medlar. Along with the pomegranate, which it looks similar to, this is definitely the fruit of the underworld. Medlars are deep russet in colour and do not exactly look fresh. Fascinatingly, this particular fruit is not edible until it starts to rot, which is described by scientists as bletting, that is softening before ripening. In Coorte’s painting below the butterfly, the most common symbol of the soul, hovers over the medlar fruit, symbolizing the rebirth of the soul through putrefaction. The walls of the chapel were also covered in rosehips – the fruit of the rose. Surprisingly, medlars belong to the rose family, too.

Adrian Coorte, “Three Medlars with a Butterfly”

It was a sunny day but not a single ray of the sun penetrated the windowless chapel. It felt like a dark cave. There were two doors that let the light in when left open. The theme of deep blood red also continued here with reddish walls, the red robe of the Black Virgin and a bouquet of the winter cherry (Physalis alkekengi) on the altar. Later I read up on the plant in Wikipedia: “In Japan, its bright and lantern-like fruiting calyces form a traditional part of the Bon Festival as offerings intended to help guide the souls of the dead.”  We had indeed entered the cave of the goddess of the underworld. I felt torpefied, frozen, like a butterfly pinned to the wall.

Below are a few photos I took.

The spire visible in the first photo is crowned with the image of the Black Madonna resting on a cloud above a crescent moon and surrounded by a radiant halo of the sun. She holds the holy house in her right hand.

The symbolism of the house is strengthened by the so-called Holy Fireplace, which represents the kitchen of the Holy Family. The fireplace is hidden below the image of Mary and might have been used on certain liturgical occasions. Naturally, the kitchen and the hearth are rich in symbolic meaning:

“Wherever the kitchen is in the house, symbolically it evokes the center, for its origin and correspondence is the hearth and magic cauldron, the body’s stomach, the alchemical retort, the psyche’s creative core. Like these, kitchen represents a container in which diverse ingredients undergo processes of chaos and order, merging and separation, heating, cooling, decoction, distillation and transmutation. … Like the hearth, the kitchen is often associated with the feminine as vessel and source.” (1)

A rare image of the Holy Fireplace of the Solothurn Loreto chapel

As for the hearth, “traditionally, it was seen as a feminine, and most famously as the Greek goddess Hestia, whose origins are so archaic that she was not usually imagined in a human form, but as the hearth itself.” (2) “Attending to one’s own psychic centre” lies at the core of hearth symbolism. (3)

Under the trapdoor in the floor of the chapel is an underground passage that connects to the hermit’s house on the north side of the building. This passage symbolizes the possibility of descending even lower to the underground, dynamic psychic energies of the creative void – the earth mother as both womb (hearth) and tomb (death and rebirth).

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Notes:

(1) The Book of Symbols, Reflections on Archetypal Images, ARAS, edited by Ami Ronnberg, p. 577

(2) Ibid., p. 578

(3) Ibid.

I used some information from this website while writing my post:

http://bauforschungonline.ch/aufsatz/die-loretokapelle-solothurn-eine-nachbil.html

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