Reading The Red Book (13)

“In Mark 4.11 Jesus says to his disciples: ‘To you has been given the secret, mysterion, of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables.'” (1)

Fresco from Pompeii, temple of Isis (via Wikipedia)

Jung divided The Red Book into two parts: Liber Primus and Liber Secundus. With chapter XI called Resolution we reach the end of Liber Primus. This marks a pivotal moment: Jung undergoes an initiation, similar or identical to the one experienced by initiates who participated in ancient mysteries. Jung says:

“On the third night, deep longing to continue experiencing the mysteries seized me.”

There are no first-hand accounts of ancient mysteries, except one, which is to be found in The Golden Ass, a novel written by the Roman Apuleius in the second century CE. There he describes his initiation into the mysteries of Isis with these words:

“I approached the frontier of death, I set foot on the threshold of Persephone, I journeyed through all the elements and came back, I saw at midnight the sun, sparkling in white light, I came close to the gods of the upper and nether world and adored them from near at hand.” (2)

In this part of The Red Book Jung goes a step further than adoring the gods “from near at hand.” He becomes deified:

“The notion that Liber Novus both illustrates and effects a divinization process provides insight into why Jung treated The Red Book with such reverence, and why he produced it as a calligraphic illuminated manuscript, in the style of the Bibles of medieval Europe.” (3)

The steps leading to Jung’s becoming one with Christ abound in visions, the first one of which involves a battle between a white and black serpent. As a result of the conflict, part of the black serpent’s body becomes white, and finally the animals retreat to darkness and light respectively. Jung wonders if that means that darkness will be illuminated by light. Next, Elijah takes Jung to the temple of the sun and says: “This place is a vessel that collects the light of the sun.” The place reminds Jung of a Druidic temple. But then the prophet encourages Jung to follow him into the depths, through a crevice into a dark cave. Now Elijah calls himself Mime, who will show Jung the underground wellsprings, as “whoever drinks from them becomes wise.”

Bill Hammond, Cave Painting 3

From the extensive footnotes provided by the editors of Liber Novus we learn that Mime was a dwarf from Wagner’s Ring of the Nibelung. He was the brother of the master craftsman Alberich, who stole the Rhinegold from the Rhinemaidens and forged a ring of limitless powers out of it. At some point the ring goes into the possession of the giant Fafner, who transforms into the dragon. Siegfried kills Fafner with a sword that Mime had forged for him. In the end, Siegfried slays Mime as well because he knows that the dwarf covets the ring above all and is ready to kill for it.

Arthur Rackham, Mime at the Anvil

It seems that the unconscious is trying to show to Jung the value of low and dark places, the wisdom of creatures like Mime, as well as the enlightening qualities of the dark serpent. In a 1925 seminar Jung indeed admitted that he was going through an internal conflict at that time, facing “a resistance to going down.”

Next, Jung has a vision of the Passion of Christ, which he finds an agonizing sight. He also sees a divine child “with the white serpent in his right hand, and the black serpent in his left hand.” This suggests the unity of opposites. But then the vision of Christ’s cross returns, and this passage comes:

” I see the green mountain, the cross of Christ on it, and a stream of blood flowing from the summit of the mountain-I can look no longer, it is unbearable-I see the cross and Christ on it in his last hour and torment-at the foot of the cross the black serpent coils itself-it has wound itself around my feet- I am held fast and I spread my arms wide. Salome draws near. The serpent has wound itself around my whole body, and my countenance is that of a lion.”

Augustus Knapp, Mithra in the Form of Boundless Time

Salome tell Jung: ” “You are Christ.”

The vision continues:

“The serpent squeezes my body in its terrible coils and the blood streams from my body; spilling down the mountainside. Salome bends down to my feet and wraps her black hair round them.”

At that point Salome’s blindness is healed, while the prophet’s form shines like a flame. The serpent had also stopped torturing the body of Jung and wraps itself around Salome’s foot.

At the end of this initiation Jung describes his emotions:

“Salome kneels before the light in wonder struck devotion. Tears fall from my eyes, and I hurry out into the night, like one who has no part in the glory of the mystery. My feet do not touch the ground of this earth, and it is as if I were melting into air.”

In 1925 seminar Jung explained the above vision by referring to Mithraism. The Roman initiates to Mithraism referred to their God Mithra or Mithras as the invincible sun (Sol Invictus). As Dabid Fingrut explains in his fascinating essay:

“The seven grades of Mithraism, were: Corax (Raven), Nymphus (Male Bride), Miles (Soldier), Leo (Lion), Peres (Persian), Heliodromus (Sun-Runner), and Pater (Father); each respective grade protected by Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, the Moon, the Sun, and Saturn.”(4)

Jung was referring to the figure known from the Mithraic mysteries, which is “represented with a snake coiled around the man, the snake’s head resting on the man’s head, and the face of the man that of a lion.” An initiate was, in Jung’s words, “a vessel of creation in which the opposites reconcile.”

As you may imagine, Jung has been viciously attacked for equating himself with Christ. There have been accusations of establishing his own cult, and so forth. This is perhaps why he hesitated whether to publish The Red Book. Sanford L. Drob says that in this chapter Jung “attains Christ’s powers of spiritual healing.” He experiences a union between “the spiritual principle represented by  Christ and the earthly, instinctual principle, represented by the black serpent, in order to achieve mastery as a psychotherapeutic healer of the soul.” (5) For Jung, Christ did indeed represent a symbol of individuation. Following Christ meant for him living according to one’s true essence, and furthermore, as Drob adds, “the union of opposing principles is the path to the Self.”

At the end of the chapter Jung once again addresses the issue of warring opposites, as expressed by the fight of the two serpents. He says that every individual psyche is an arena of such a war. The footnotes to this chapter contain a quote from the preface to The Psychology of the Unconscious Processes, where Jung wrote:

“The psychological processes, which accompany the present war, above all the
incredible brutalization of public opinion, the mutual slanderings, the unprecedented fury of destruction, the monstrous flood of lies, and man’s incapacity to call a halt to the bloody demon-are suited like nothing else to powerfully push in front of the eyes of thinking men the problem of the restlessly slumbering chaotic unconscious under the ordered world of consciousness. This war has pitilessly revealed to civilized man that he is still a barbarian … But the psychology of the individual corresponds to the psychology of the nation. What the nation does is done also by each individual, and so long as the individual does it, the nation also does it. Only the change in the attitude of the individual is the beginning of the change in  the psychology of the nation”


It has been suggested that the final days of the Age of Pisces have brought to the fore the extreme polarization of opposing principles. Until humans realize that the conflict lies within themselves, they will continue laying blame on one another, which Jung seems to suggest in the above quote, which sounds astonishingly contemporary.


(1) Jan N. Bremmer, Initiation into the Mysteries of the Ancient World

(2) Ibid.

(3) Sanford L. Drob, Reading The Red Book: An Interpretative Guide to C.G. Jung’s Liber Novus


(5) Sanford L. Drob, Reading The Red Book: An Interpretative Guide to C.G. Jung’s Liber Novus

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




Posted in The Red Book by C.G. Jung, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

“One Version of Events” by Wislawa Szymborska

“If we’d been allowed to choose,

we’d probably have gone on forever.

The bodies that were offered didn’t fit,

and wore out horribly.

The ways of sating hunger

made us sick.

We were repelled

by blind heredity

and the tyranny of glands.

The world that was meant to embrace us

decayed without end

and the effects of causes raged over it.

Individual fates

were presented for our inspection:

appalled and grieved,

we rejected most of them.

Questions naturally arose, e.g.,

who needs the painful birth

of a dead child

and what’s in it for a sailor

who will never reach the shore.

We agreed to death,

but not to every kind.

Love attracted us,

of course, but only love

that keeps its word.

Both fickle standards

and the impermanence of artworks

kept us wary of the Muses’ service.

Each of us wished to have a homeland

free of neighbors

and to live his entire life

in the intervals between wars.

No one wished to seize power

or to be subject to it.

No one wanted to fall victim

to his own or others’ delusions.

No one volunteered

for crowd scenes and processions,

to say nothing of dying tribes—

although without all these

history couldn’t run its charted course

through centuries to come.

Meanwhile, a fair number

of stars lit earlier

had died out and grown cold.

It was high time for a decision.

Voicing numerous reservations,

candidates finally emerged

for a number of roles as healers and explorers,

a few obscure philosophers,

one or two nameless gardeners,

artists and virtuosos—

though even these livings

couldn’t all be filled

for lack of other kinds of


It was time to think

the whole thing over.

We’d been offered a trip

from which we’d surely be returning

soon, wouldn’t we.

A trip outside eternity—

monotonous, no matter what they say,

and foreign to time’s flow.

The chance may never come our way again.

We were besieged by doubts.

Does knowing everything beforehand

really mean knowing everything.

Is a decision made in advance

really any kind of choice.

Wouldn’t we be better off

dropping the subject

and making our minds up

once we get there.

We looked at the earth.

Some daredevils were already living there.

A feeble weed clung to a rock,

trusting blindly

that the wind wouldn’t tear it off.

A small animal

dug itself from its burrow

with an energy and hope

that puzzled us.

We struck ourselves as prudent,

petty, and ridiculous.

In any case, our ranks began to dwindle.

The most impatient of us disappeared.

They’d left for the first trial by fire,

this much was clear,

especially by the glare of the real fire

they’d just begun to light

on the steep bank of an actual river.

A few of them

have actually turned back.

But not in our direction.

And with something they seemed to

have won in their hands.”

Translated by Claire Cavanagh and Stanisław Barańczak

Found in Wislawa Szymborska, Poems New and Collected, Kindle edition

Untitled by Zdzislaw Beksinski

Posted in Poetry, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments

Reading The Red Book (12)

I. “You may call us symbols for the same reason that you can also call your fellow men symbols, if you wish to. But we are just as real as your fellow men. You invalidate nothing and solve nothing by calling us symbols.”

II. “To live oneself means: to be one’s own task. Never say that it is a pleasure to live oneself. It will be no joy but a long suffering, since you must become your own creator. If you want to create yourself then you do not begin with the best and the highest, but with the worst and the deepest.”

“The Red Book,” chapter X (Liber Primus)

George Frederic Watts, “She Shall Be Called Woman”

Chapter X of The Red Book, Liber Primus is called “Instruction.” Jung’s visions and his involvement with the unconscious is becoming deeper and more intense. He describes the following image:

“I am standing in the rocky depth that seems to me like a crater. Before me I see the house with columns. I see Salome walking along the length of the wall toward the left, touching the wall like a blind person. The serpent follows her. The old man stands at the door and waves to me.”

“She is my own soul,” Jung will say about Salome later. Her blindness, her association with the serpent and the fact that she is walking towards the left, all means that she personifies his anima, the part of male psyche, which is in touch with the unconscious. During his first encounter with Salome, described in my previous post, Jung saw Salome as a sensual dancer, who asked Herod for the head of John the Baptist. He disparaged her (“Was she not vain greed and criminal lust?”) and could not fathom why the Prophet claimed that she was his daughter, equal to him in wisdom. But now Jung’s defenses are melting, he says he feels “more real” in the company of Elijah and Salome, though at the same time he admits that his head is heavy as lead, and he is lost in his ignorance. Yet he perseveres and follows the pair into the house. This is a decisive moment of a breakthrough.

Inside, Jung has a complex vision:

“I stand before the play of fire in the shining crystal. I see in splendor the mother of God with the child. Peter stands in front of her in admiration-then Peter alone with the key-the Pope with a triple crown-a Buddha sitting rigidly in a circle of fire-a many-armed bloody Goddess-it is Salome desperately wringing her hands-it takes hold of me, she is my own soul, and now I see Elijah in the image of the stone.”

Y.G. Srimati, Mahakali

Jung is flooded with archetypal images, which means that the desperation of his anima – wringing her hands at his rigidity – has borne fruit. He sees Salome as the dark goddess, most probably Kali. Easter and western symbols co-exist in his vision, as well as darkness and light, good and evil. Once again we can appreciate how the visions of Liber Novus are at the root of Jung’s axiom of “the coincidence of good and evil in the archetypes of God and the Self,”  as Sanford L. Drob put it in his interpretative guide to reading The Red Book.

Openness to the unconscious means being able to let the chaos “break the dams,” says Jung. Free-flowing contents of the unconscious will bring about transformation; it is transformation, not exclusion, which is “the way of life.” Elijah says to Jung:

“… your thoughts are just as much outside your self as trees and animals are outside your body.”

We do not possess our thoughts, Jung explains, but they grow in us “like a forest,
populated by many different animals.” Rigidity, one-sidedness and narrow-mindedness breed exclusion, preventing the development of personality. Developing the Self, which is nothing else but one’s inner divinity, is only possible when an individual embraces his or her shadow; it is also vital to connect to the anima in the case of men or animus in the case of women. Finally, one should work to include the underdeveloped functions of personality, for example a thinking type would do well to embrace the feeling function, and so forth.

Salome tells Jung that she is his sister, while Mary is their mother, which makes Jung one with Christ.  Christ, says Jung, symbolizes the mystery of transformation, which brings about “the passing over into a new creation.” However, merging with inner divinity carries the risk of inflation. As Jung says, “I am in danger of believing that I myself am significant since I see the significant.” Staying humble and becoming one with God may seem like a paradox, but is the only way to keep one’s sanity. Jung emphasizes that he does not become the symbol but rather “the symbol becomes in me such that it has its substance, and I mine.” Complete merging with the unconscious is impossible; the ego must retain its own substance rather than being vanquished. The vision ends with Jung seeing a powerful lion leading the way for him. After feeling weak at the beginning it seems that he is growing into his power, acquiring regal attributes.

This chapter of The Red Book brings an extraordinary development in Jung’s connection with his anima, personified here by Salome. He goes beyond seeing her as a purely sexual object towards recognizing her as Sophia, personification of wisdom. At the end of the chapter Jung quotes from the non-canonical Gospel of the Egyptians, which should be distinguished from the so-called Gnostic Gospels of the Coptic Gnostic Library of the Nag Hammadi. The Gospel of the Egyptians was widely used in Egypt. It has not survived in its entirety; all we have are fragments and quotes. It contains dialogues between Jesus and Salome:

“… each fragment endorses sexual asceticism as the means of breaking the lethal cycle of birth and of overcoming the alleged sinful differences between male and female, enabling all persons to return to what was understood to be their primordial androgynous state.” (1)

This is a radical departure from the highly sexual image of Salome from the previous chapter. Here she is Jesus’ disciple. In the (canonical) Gospel of Mark, Salome was one of the women who went to Jesus’ tomb to anoint his body with spices. The Gospel of Thomas, which belongs to the Gnostic Gospels, mentioned that Jesus had female disciples, notably Mary Magdalene and Salome, while the four canonical gospels recognize only male disciples, referring to women somewhat dismissively as just Jesus’ followers.

Mary, Mary Magdalene and Salome at the grave of Jesus – Eastern Orthodox Icon (via Wikipedia) “When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go and anoint him. Very early when the sun had risen, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb.” ―Mark 16:1–2


(1) Ron Cameron, The Other Gospels: Non-Canonical Gospel Texts

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 13





Posted in The Red Book by C.G. Jung, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Persephone, Lady of the Mysteries

Pytia in the Adyton (via link)

Drive your cart and your plow over the bones of the dead.

William Blake, Proverbs of Hell

Is one even allowed to talk about the gods of the underworld? For Rudolf Otto, a twentieth-century theologian, the holy or the numinous manifests in two forms: as mysterium tremendum, which is a mystery that frightens and repels, and as mysterium fascinosum, which we are drawn to despite our fears. The Greek word hieros (sacred) was used to describe votive offerings, the ground on which temples were built as well as ways walked during Mysteries, for example the way to Eleusis, or days on which the gods were present. (1) A person could also be “hieros” if they were initiated in mysteries or worked in temples. Natural phenomena such as mountains, rivers or corn were also believed to possess sacred power. Sacred places were “surrounded by prohibitions,” for example the names of certain gods, especially underworld gods, were not to be uttered; temples contained abatons or adytons – restricted sanctuaries not to be entered by the prophane. (2) Gods were never described as “hieros,” but rather as “hagios;” while the concept of “hieros,” concludes Burkett, was “as it were the shadow cast by divinity.”

Under the entry “Abaddon” in The Women’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets stands:

“The god Apollo was a solar king in heaven during the day, and a Lord of Death in the underworld at night. … Apollo-Python was the serpent deity in the Pit of the Delphic oracle, who inspired the seeress with mystic vapors from his nether world. The Greek word for the Pit was abaton, which the Jews corrupted into Abaddon later a familiar Christian synonym for hell.

Also called a mundus or earth-womb, the abaton was a real pit, standard equipment in a pagan temple. Those who entered it to ‘incubate,’ or to sleep overnight in magical imitation of the incubatory sleep in the womb, were thought to be visited by an “incubus” or spirit who brought prophetic dreams. Novice priests went down into the pit for longer periods of incubation, pantomiming death, burial, and rebirth from the womb of Mother Earth. …

The same burial-and-resurrection ritual is found in the lives of many ancient sages. It was said of the Pythagorean philosopher Thales of Miletus, accounted one of the Seven Wise Men of the ancient world, that he derived his intellectual skills from communion with the Goddess of Wisdom in an abaton.” (3)

According to Peter Kingsley, the goddess of wisdom mentioned above was Persephone, Queen of the Dead. (4)

The Rider-Waite tarot deck – The High Priestess with pomegranates

Funerary practices were the most ancient manifestations of culture and religion. Being human has always meant sharing “the dread of something after death, the undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns,” to quote from Hamlet’s famous monologue. The world is like the cosmic cave, said Neoplatonists, with its southern entrance (into life) and northern exit (into death). This was described in detail by Porphyry in his essay “On the Cave of the Nymphs.” All the invisible, occult powers act in this moist hidden place, where souls descend into generation. Through the gate of Cancer, a water sign, souls “lapse into generation,” while “the spirit becomes moist and more aqueous through the desire of generation.” The gate of Cancer is thus “the gate of men.” The gate of Capricorn, meanwhile, is “the gate of the gods,” and the exit from the cosmic cave. (5)


Adrian Lester as Hamlet in Peter Brook’s production

Some souls have barely entered through the gate of Cancer only to die a premature death. I remember Ram Dass say in one of his talks that these wise souls chose liberation from the samsara. But parents dealing with the death of a child, like Demeter desperately seeking Persephone, cannot find any solace. I was struck by a passage from a non-fiction book that I am currently reading:

“In the shallow sandy soil of northern Europe, some 6,000 years ago, the body of a young woman – dead in childbirth along with her son – is lowered gently into a grave. Next to her is laid the white wing of a swan. Then onto the wing is placed the body of her son, so that the baby is doubly cradled in death – by the swan’s feathers and his mother’s arms. A round mound of earth is raised to mark their burial place: the woman, the child and the white swan’s wing.” (6)

The book is called The Underland: A Deep Time Journey and explores the worlds under our feet, going deep down into the bowels of the earth. Its author Robert MacFarlane writes that

“humanitas in Latin comes first and properly from humando, meaning ‘burying, burial’, itself from humus, meaning ‘earth’ or ‘soil’… In burial, the human body becomes a component of the earth, returned as dust to dust – inhumed, restored to humility, rendered humble.” (7)

On the other hand, James Hillman wrote that “the underworld of Hades and Persephone is so remote from our world that those removed there can have no influence upon the life and doings of men on earth.” (8) He called for drawing a categorical distinction between the chthonic darkness of soul and the earthy blackness of soil, but I am not convinced. In the world of myth, to mention just Osiris and Demeter/Persephone as most prominent examples, and in all funerary rites, these two worlds commingle, nourished by one another.

One of the ancient religious movements which recognized the divinity of the soul and the possibility of symbolic death during life was Orphism. In recent decades researchers have made groundbreaking discoveries regarding this doctrine and the so-called Orphic-Bacchic mysteries, in which Persephone played a crucial role. Jan N. Bremmer refers to Orpheus as a founder of the Mysteries and “father of songs.” (9) Orpheus cast a spell on animals and trees with his music. In a well-known myth, he descended to the Underworld to fetch his wife Eurydice, which explains Orphic devotion to the chthonic wisdom of the Underworld. He died torn to piece by maenads, possessed by divine frenzy.

John Roddam Spencer Stanhope, “Orpheus and Eurydice on the Banks of the Styx”

Orphic theogony differs from Homeric myth quite substantially. As narrated in Greek Religion by Walter Burkert, Zeus transforms into a snake and mates with his daughter Persephone, who gives gave birth to Dionysos. Zeus places the child on the throne as the ruler of the world. “But Hera sends the Titans who distract the child with toys and… he is dragged from the throne, killed, and torn to pieces, then boiled, roasted and eaten. Zeus hereupon hurls his thunderbolt to burn the Titans, and from the rising soot there spring men…”. (10)

The idea that people are partly divine, through coming from Dionysos’ dismembered body, had an enormous bearing on Orphism, which espoused the belief in the immortal soul, metempsychosis (reincarnation) and descent to the underworld (i.e. death) during life to find rebirth and renewal. Barbara Walker compared Orphism to Buddhism since it included the ideas of “escape from the karmic wheel effected by ascetic contemplation, spiritual journeys of the astral-projection type, and elaborate revelations.” An initiated Orphic mystic announced to the world: “”I have sunk beneath the bosom of Persephone, Queen of the Underworld.”(11) Orphics were strongly anti-collectivist and emphasized the doctrine of individual salvation. They were vegetarian and did not practice animal sacrifice.

But what was the symbolic meaning of dismemberment, which seems to permeate the Orphic myth so markedly? The Book of Symbols offers the following insights:

“Belonging to the family of ‘death mysteries,’ dismemberment calls for fertility and resurrection, freeing libido by breaking down defensive structures… The myth of world creation by dismemberment of a primordial being is universal… Each act of dismemberment recapitulates the Creation.

Divine scapegoats such as Jesus were symbolically dismembered in order to effect renewal…

Gods personifying the dynamics of dismemberment, such as Osiris, Dionysus and Kali, personify the prospective potentials of this archetypal experience: violence, loss, grief, catastrophe, privation, illness, despair, envy, fury and ecstasy induce altered states that dismember by delinking the personality from its habitual moorings.

Dionysus, personifying the dismembering frenzy of ecstasy, possession by unconscious manias and obsessions, opening of boundaries and being ‘torn-up,’ symbolizes many forms of ‘madness’ that dismember as a first step in the fertility magic where dissolution provides the seeds of rebirth.” (12)

Jean Delville, “The Death of Orpheus”

Orphism seemed like a demanding life path, certainly only for the chosen and the elite. A more egalitarian way of guaranteeing oneself a blessed afterlife was taking part in the Eleusinian Mysteries. Unlike in Orphism, those who took part in those did not have to change their lives as a result. I have recently listened to Demetra George’s webinar “The Disappearance of the Daughter – The Eleusinian Mystery Rites of Ceres and Persephone,” which I can recommend wholeheartedly (13). I was also inspired to reread her book Mysteries of the Dark Moon: the Healing Power of the Dark Goddess. There she summarizes her painstaking research into the subject, offering a lot of insights into the significance of these greatest mysteries of the ancient world.

Eduardo Chicharro y Aguera, “Demeter, Kore and Hekate”

In the well-known myth, based on Homeric hymn to Demeter, Persephone is gathering flowers with her female companions when her attention is drawn to a particularly beautiful narcissus. Little did she know that it had been placed there by the earth goddess Rhea, who collaborated with Zeus and Hades. Hades had fallen in love with Persephone, and Zeus agreed to let him marry her without asking Demeter or Persephone. The abduction of Persephone reached the ears of Hekate in her cave and was seen by Helios, the sun god. Demeter fell into utter despair, looking for her daughter everywhere with flaming torches, assisted by Hekate. Finally, they found out the truth from Helios. Demeter fell into an even deeper mourning and despair, letting the earth be bare, with no crops:

“She avoided the company of the Olympians altogether, and traveled instead among the cities of men, in appearance like an old woman, one who has endured many sorrows, who has reached the time when she is through with love and children. Her lush, thick hair was thin and gray, her face wrinkled, her arms and legs like bones. In this state she entered the territory of Keleos, at Eleusis, not far from Athens, and sat down to rest in the shade near the Maiden Well, where the women of the neighborhood came daily to draw water.” (14)

Demeter talked to the young women she met there and soon found a job as a nanny to a high-born baby boy. At night, she would hold him in the ashes fire so that he would grow godlike but once his mother saw her and cried out in despair:

“At this, Demeter, becoming angry, threw the child to the floor, away from the fire, shouting, ‘Stupid, witless humans! You don’t even know what’s good for you! Now he will have to die, like all other mortals. … Know this: I am Demeter, mankind’s greatest joy and aid.’ As she spoke, the goddess changed appearance, until she looked her divine self, taller and more fair, her golden hair flowing over her shoulders. A sweet fragrance wafted from her clothing and a gentle glow pulsed from her skin, filling the whole house with light. With a last command—that the people of Eleusis should build a great temple on the hill to seek her favor—Demeter left the hall.” (15)

Zeus found himself powerless in the face of Demeter’s relentlessness, so he gave in and sent Hermes to retrieve Persephone from the Underworld. But the young goddess was tricked by Hades into eating three grains of pomegranate. Thus, she had to return to the Underworld for a third of the year in winter while she was allowed to spend the fertile seasons with her mother on the earth.

The symbolism of the myth is in part agrarian:

“Demeter represented the fertile earth that nourishes the mature crop, the ripened grain of the harvest in the above world. Persephone stood for the seed germ of the grain, which is buried in the below world during the barren winter months and then emerges as the young vegetation of spring.” (16)

The Goddess of the Grain was also the Goddess of the Dead, since “the earth was both the reviver of their crops and the storehouse of their dead.” (17) Or as Carl Kerenyi, puts it “the being” (Demeter) is sustained by “the non-being” (Persephone). (18)

The Eleusinian Mysteries were the greatest religious festival of the Ancient Greece. The participants had the opportunity to experience the whole range of Demeter’s emotions:

“To enter into the figure of Demeter means to be pursued, to be robbed, raped, to fail to understand, to rage and grieve, but then to get everything back and be born again.” (19)

“The Eleusinian Mysteries”

Both men and women, also slaves, were allowed to take part in the Mysteries and become one with the goddess and follow the Demetrian path. The initiates were the ones who closed their eyes and mouths in an act of surrender to the mystery. In the first part of the mysteries, the participants took part in a procession, during which they immersed themselves in the sea and sacrificed little pigs, which each of them had brought. After a feew days, in the most important part of the event:

“Having sipped her holy drink by the site of Demeter’s well, initiates filed into the omphalos, the cave or navel of the world. This represented the passage to the underworld. As the seekers entered the darkened Telesterion, the Greater Mysteries began. In a mystic drama, the part of the legend dealing with death was imparted. The initiates experienced fear in all its physical symptoms: cold sweats, tremors, and nausea, as the hallucinogenic barley drink coursed through them, and dreadful apparitions howled through the halls.” (20)

Gustave Courbet, “The Grain Sifters”

As a final part of the mysteries, the Hierophant sounded a gong and a happy reunion of mother and daughter took place, together with an announcement of the birth of a child. The Goddess of Death has given birth. The Hierophant showed in utter silence a single ear of corn to the crowd. I love how Kérenyi compared that moment to the famous flower sermon of Buddha, in which his teaching consisted in holding a flower in front of his listeners. Demetra George sums up:

“As the seed died awaiting germination, the initiate died to the old self; and like the sprouting grain, the new soul was reborn into the company of those who had gone before, the epoptai.” (21)

The aim of the mysteries for the mystai (initiates) was to counteract the fear of death. The individual death was demonstrated as something which ensures the continuance of life. The experience was non-communicable and allowed the participants as assimilate themselves into the holy symbols, said Demetra George in her webinar. The symbolism of myth and ritual accompanying the mysteries is extremely rich. Feminist researcher Mara Lynn Keller wrote about the main symbols and ritual objects found on the grounds of the Eleusinian temple, which included images of “sheaves of wheat or barley; the many-seeded pomegranate, …; poppies, symbol of sleep and death; and the snake.” In addition, she offers a fascinating take on the sphinx and a handful of other symbols associated with Demeter and Persephone:

“Another spiritual symbol found in the artwork of Eleusis is the sphinx, in whom the artist combines spiritual, psychic and physical elemental powers, which for preurban peoples were not seen as separate or distinct. The sphinx was a great winged creature with a powerful lion’s body and, most usually, a woman’s head, sometimes crowned by a diadem. Perhaps the sphinx represents the shamanic ability to participate in the bird’s power of flying close to the heavens and seeing great distances, and in the feline’s power to roam the mountains and plains unafraid. In riddles of patriarchy (as alluded to, for example, in Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex), the sphinx-like women who give birth, raise children and attend the dying-knew the beginning, middle and end of life. Oedipus could not unseat the great sphinx until he too had begun to understand these mysteries. The great winged creature is probably a direct descendant of the Neolithic Bird Goddess; … I see the sphinx, like the snake, as a major symbol of the early mother-clan or mother-rite culture. Another animal sacred to Demeter was the pig, whose “prolific character” manifested the abundant fertility and nurturance of nature. In Arcadia, Demeter was also associated with the horse, the peaceful dove and the playful dolphin.” (23)

The goddess holding wheat, poppy bulbs and horned snakes

The pomegranate is a symbol strictly associated with Persephone rather than Demeter. Like Eve’s apple, it symbolizes her transformation from Kore (Maiden) into a conscious, grown woman, Persephone, the queen of the underworld, equal to her husband and equally terrifying. Kérenyi connects her with Medusa, endowed with the consummate wisdom of the snake, which in its profound symbolism encompasses “pure energy, water, treasure, wisdom of the deep, and the feminine principle.” (24) The pomegranate, next to being the symbol of fertility, also symbolizes oneness of the universe and “reconciliation of the multiple and diverse within apparent unity.” The dismembered world is brought to unity by the goddess, just as Isis put together the fragments of Osiris’ body. Persephone, “the Bride of Darkness,” as Tennyson refers to her in his poem, unifies the upper- and underworld, mediating between the two.

Dante Gabriel Rosetti, “Proserpine”


(1) Walter Burkert, Greek Religion

(2) Ibid.

(3) Barbara Walker, Women’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets

(4) Peter Kingsley, In the Dark Places of Wisdom


(6) Robert MacFarlane, The Underland: A Deep Time Journey

(7) Ibid.

(8) James Hillman, The Dream and the Underworld

(9) Jan N. Bremmer, Initiation into the Mysteries of the Ancient World

(10) Walter Burkert, Greek Religion

(11) Barbara Walker, Women’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets

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


(14) Richard P. Martin, Myths of the Ancient Greeks

(15) Ibid.

(16) Demetra George, Mysteries of the Dark Moon: the Healing Power of the Dark Goddess

(17) Ibid.

(18) Carl Kerényi, Kore, in: Introduction to a Science of Mythology by C.G. Jung and C. Kerényi

(19) Ibid.

(20) Ibid.

(21) Demetra George, Mysteries of the Dark Moon: the Healing Power of the Dark Goddess

(22) Mara Lynn Keller, “The Eleusinian Mysteries of Demeter and Persephone,” Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, Vol. 4, No. 1

(23) Ibid.

(24) Juan Eduardo Cirlot, Dictionary of Symbols

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Reading The Red Book (11)

“I am all that has been and is and shall be; and no mortal has ever lifted my veil.”

(the words inscribed on the statue of Isis of Sais)

The title of Chapter IX of The Red Book (Liber Primus) is Mysterium. Encounter. This chapter contains a powerful vision, in which Jung sees the prophet Elijah with a black serpent at his feet, accompanied by who the prophet says is his daughter, Salome. She is blind, which symbolizes the wisdom of the inner vision and the blind power of instincts. The vision is illustrated by a painting, which shows the figures at night in the mountains.

Liz Greene notes that this is the first female figure in The Red Book (1), which marks an important stage and a major qualitative change. Suddenly the air is electrified with the utterance of the mysterious name – Salome. “My wisdom and my daughter are one,” says Elijah, while Jung seems horrified because he remembers that Salome was the woman who danced before Herod and as her reward asked for the head of John the Baptist. Salome speaks to him:

“S: ‘Do you love me?’
I: ‘How can I love you? How do you come to this question? I see only one thing, you are Salome, a tiger, your hands are stained with the blood of the holy one. How should I love you?’
S: ‘You will love me.’

At this stage Jung is still not ready to love his anima. But Elijah insists: “I and my daughter have been one since eternity.”

Liz Greene points out to the red moon and red robes in the painting featured above. Jung says:

“I hear wild music, a tambourine, a sultry moonlit night, the bloody-staring head of the holy one – fear seizes me. Woe, was she the hand of the God? I do not love her, I fear her. Then the spirit of the depths spoke to me and said: ‘Therein you acknowledge her divine power.'”

Salome had just a passing reference in the Bible, where her name was not even mentioned. She was later identified as Salome by the Jewish historian Flavius Josephius. But her enduring myth, which has survived until today, was created by Oscar Wilde in his tragedy Salome.  There Salome falls in love with John the Baptist, who spurns her. She enchants king Herod with the dance of the seven veils. The king offers her anything she wants so she requests the head of John the Baptist on a silver platter. She proceeds to kiss his bloody lips. Sickened, Herod orders her to be killed, too. In the sky rises the blood red moon.

Aubrey Beardsley, “The Dancer’s Reward”

Wilde had been influenced by a number of sources, one of which was a painting by the French Symbolist Gustave Moreau. The work Salome dancing before Herod created real frenzy when it was displayed at the Salon in Paris in 1876. Holding a lotus flower, Salome is dancing in an ornate eclectic palace:

“Everything … about the painting … is extraordinary, particularly in its fusion of different cultural elements. These have been associated with the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, the Alhambra in Granada, the Great Mosque of Cordoba, and several mediaeval cathedrals. Motifs have been identified from Etruscan, Roman, Egyptian, Indian, and Chinese art and culture.”


Gustave Moreau, “Salome Dancing Before Herod”

Toni Bentley, who herself used to dance with George Balanchine’s New York City Ballet, is an author of a book about four famous dancers, who embodied the spirit of Salome in the period after Oscar’s Wilde play gave rise to a real Salome mania. Her interpretation of the myth of Salome is quite provocative. She writes:

“This fictional female, whose erotic allure leads men into danger, destruction, and even death, was created by the male masochistic mind, resolving his contradictory desire for sexual connection and his even deeper fear of castration and annihilation.

Oscar Wilde gave Salome what she had heretofore lacked: a personality, a psychology all her own. Wilde transformed Salome from an object of male desire and fear into the subject of her own life. Wilde saw Salome from her own point of view and completed her evolution into a real woman with real motivations.” (2)

Bentley compares the dance of the seven veils to Inanna’s descent to the underworld. The Mesopotamian goddess also had to relinquish her robes and jewellery at each of the seven gates:

“Oscar Wilde assigned this symbolic descent to the underworld of the unconscious, a ceremony that equates stripping naked to being in a state of truth, the ultimate unveiling, to Salome.

… a naked woman still conceals the darkness where life begins. The hymen veils the womb, the womb veils the origin of life itself.” (3)

The encounter of the dark goddess is not comfortable for Jung, who longs to go back to the light of the day. In the second part of the chapter, he tries to make sense of the powerful vision, perhaps in order to rationalize it:

“Because I have fallen into the source of chaos, into the primordial beginning, I myself become smelted anew in the connection with the primordial beginning, which at the same time is what has been and what is becoming.”

He meditates on the symbolism of the snake with its “changeability and germination”, which he sees as the unconscious earthly essence of man, and “the mystery that flows to him from the nourishing earth-mother.”

Once more Jung returns to the theme of opposites. He says:

“It is always the serpent that causes man to become enslaved now to one, now to the other principle, so that it becomes error.”

He identifies Salome with pleasure and Eros, while Elijah symbolizes “forethinking” and Logos. He says that human moves between thinking and pleasure according to his or her personal preference:

“He who prefers to think than to feel, leaves his feelings to rot in darkness. It does not grow ripe, but in moldiness produces sick tendrils that do not reach the light. He who prefers to feel than to think leaves his thinking in darkness, where it spins its nets in gloomy places, desolate webs in which mosquitoes and gnats become enmeshed. The thinker feels the disgust of feeling, since :the feeling in him is mainly disgusting. The one who feels thinks the disgust of thinking, since the thinking in him is mainly disgusting. So the serpent lies between the thinker and the one who feels. They are each other’s poison and healing.”

It seems that Salome is the overpowering presence in this chapter. Although Jung appeals for balance between Eros and Logos, as we need both, nevertheless the power of the goddess seems irresistible. Jung admonishes:

“A thinker should fear Salome, since she wants his head, especially if he is a holy man. … You must turn back to  motherly forethought to obtain renewal.”


Gustave Moreau, “l’Apparition”


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

(2) Toni Bentley, Sisters of Salome, Yale University Press: New Haven&London, 2002

(3) Ibid.

Reading The Red Book – part 1

Reading The Red Book – part 2

Reading The Red Book – part 3

Reading The Red Book – part 4

Reading The Red Book – part 5

Reading The Red Book – part 6

Reading The Red Book – part 7

Reading The Red Book – part 8

Reading The Red Book – part 9

Reading The Red Book – part 10

Reading The Red Book – part 12

Reading The Red Book – part 13







Posted in The Red Book by C.G. Jung, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Reading The Red Book (10)

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

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

Giuseppe Bernardino Bison, “Don Juan in Hell”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peter Paul Rubens, “Boy with Bird”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

William Blake, Illustration from The Gates of Paradise


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

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

(3) Ibid.

(4) Ibid.

(5) Ibid.

Reading The Red Book – part 1

Reading The Red Book – part 2

Reading The Red Book – part 3

Reading The Red Book – part 4

Reading The Red Book – part 5

Reading The Red Book – part 6

Reading The Red Book – part 7

Reading The Red Book – part 8

Reading The Red Book – part 9

Reading The Red Book – part 11

Reading The Red Book – part 12

Reading The Red Book – part 13

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Beauty and Wonder in Olafur Eliasson’s Art

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

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


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

Michelle Kuo explains:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Olafur Eliasson on the cover of Wired


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

(2) Ibid.

(3) Ibid.



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Reading The Red Book (9)

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

C.G. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections

“The Grindelwald Glacier” by Ferdinand Hodler (1912)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The rune Sowilo

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

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

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

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

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


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

Reading The Red Book – part 1

Reading The Red Book – part 2

Reading The Red Book – part 3

Reading The Red Book – part 4

Reading The Red Book – part 5

Reading The Red Book – part 6

Reading The Red Book – part 7

Reading The Red Book – part 8

Reading The Red Book – part 10

Reading The Red Book – part 11

Reading The Red Book – part 12

Reading The Red Book – part 13

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Reading The Red Book (8)

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

Jiddu Krishnamurti, via

JMW Turner, “Apollo and Python”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Georgia O’Keeffe, “Sunset – Long Island”


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

(2) Ibid.

Reading The Red Book – part 1

Reading The Red Book – part 2

Reading The Red Book – part 3

Reading The Red Book – part 4

Reading The Red Book – part 5

Reading The Red Book – part 6

Reading The Red Book – part 7

Reading The Red Book – part 9

Reading The Red Book – part 10

Reading The Red Book – part 11

Reading The Red Book – part 12

Reading The Red Book – part 13





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On Silence


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

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

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

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

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

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


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


“Silence contains everything within itself.”


“Here in Silence is the Holy Wilderness…”


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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