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

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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

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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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Reading The Red Book (36)

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

C.G. Jung, The Red Book, Scrutinies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The soul replies:

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The hermit leaves Jung with these poetic words:

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

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

“The greatest comes to the smallest.”

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

Pamela Colman Smith, Eight of Pentacles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An ornamental breastplate of Tutankhamun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The woman continues:

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

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

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

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

Albrecht Dürer, “The Mantle of the Pope”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I want to love, not you through me.”

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

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

Pieter Brueghel the Younger, “The Alchemist”

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

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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 37

Reading The Red Book – part 38

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The Sacred Art of Pilgrimage

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nicholas Roerich, “Wanderer from the Resplendent City”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nicholas Roerich, “Traces (Mountain Wanderer)”

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

Nicholas Roerich, “Wanderers of the Light City”

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

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

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

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

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

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

(translated by Stephen Mitchell)

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Notes:

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

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

(3) Ibid.

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

(5) Ibid.

(6) Ibid.

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

(8) Peter Stanford: Pilgrimage: Journeys of Meaning

(9) Ibid.

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

(11) Ibid.

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

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Symbolism of Mountains

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

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

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

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

J.M.W. Turner, “The Blue Rigi”

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

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

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

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

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

Miyolangsagma

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

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

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

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

Nicholas Roerich, “Prophet Muhammad on Mount Hira”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes:

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

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

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