Reading The Red Book (5)

“The ancients lived their symbols, since the world had not yet become real for them.”

C.G. Jung, The Red Book

Georgia O’Keeffe, “Red Hills with White Flower”

Chapter IV of The Red Book is called “The Desert.” Since ancient times, the desert has drawn mystics and visionaries, who wanted to retreat from the world to find themselves. In his Dictionary of Symbols, Cirlot described the desert as “the most propitious place for divine revelation.” The desert is also the domain of the everlasting spiritual power of the sun, at its most radiant. Jung says in this chapter that “to find their soul, the ancients went into the desert.” It was a place where “the abundance of visions” came. Jung calls them “the fruits of the desert” and “the wondrous flowers of the soul.” But these rewards are delivered only to those who survive the exposure to the cruel, arid climate there.

The soul shows Jung that his self is “a barren, hot desert, dusty and without drink.” Living too much “in men and events,” not cultivating the inner landscape, has resulted in the place of his soul being “desolate and unfruitful.” Having devoted his life to cerebral pursuits, he forgot that “no culture of the mind is enough to make a garden out of your soul.” At this point Jung realizes that the world of the soul can only be entered by he who has completely become his self, “who is neither in events, nor in men, nor in his thoughts.” The task is to direct the creative force inwards – to the place where the soul dwells. Only then will the soul become green and bear fruit. But this is a slow process. The following passage is a call for soulful authenticity, which can grant ultimate freedom to an individual:

“Nobody can spare themselves the waiting and most will be unable to bear this torment, but will throw themselves with greed back at men, things, and thoughts, whose slaves they will become from then on. Since then it will have been clearly proved that this man is incapable of enduring beyond things, men, and thoughts, and they will hence become his master and he will become their fool, since he cannot be without them, not until even his soul has become a fruitful field. Also he whose soul is a garden, needs things, men, and thoughts, but he is their friend and not their slave and fool.”

Sanford L. Drob reminds us that while creating The Red Book Jung developed the technique called active imagination, which is “a process that begins with a passive observation of images, scenes, and figures as they emerge into awareness from the unconscious, and is completed through the active engagement with them…” The desert is the right place to start the engagement with the unconscious thanks to the lack of external distractions.

Towards the end of chapter IV Jung ponders the power of words in soul making:

“When you say that the place of the soul is not, then it is not. But if you say that it is, then it is. Notice what the ancients said in images: the word is a creative act. The ancients said: in the beginning was the Word.”

The meticulous calligraphy of The Red Book lends gravitas, even holiness to all the words that Jung chose. Like in stone engravings, there is little room for the non-essential. The Words thus created have enormous weight, both spiritual and material. The mysticism of language has accompanied every major religion: besides The Gospel of John quoted above by Jung, it is worth mentioning the Hindu Nada Brahma (the Sound is God) or the creative vibration of AUM. In Fundamental Symbols, The Universal Language of Sacred Science, the great symbologist René Guénon wrote:

“… the world is like a divine language for those who know how to understand it.

… if the world is the result of the Divine Word offered at the beginning of time, then nature in its entirety can be taken as a symbol of supernatural reality.”

The image accompanying this chapter shows a figure clad in white confronted with a snake in the desert. This is an echo of the image from the chapter Soul and God (part 3), which depicted a white dove and a black snake. Here the body of the snake encircles the image, as the figure steps inside the ring. Confrontation with the unconscious begins.

Reading The Red Book – part 1

Reading The Red Book – part 2

Reading The Red Book – part 3

Reading The Red Book – part 4

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Reading The Red Book (4)

Thomas Cole, “The Titan’s Goblet”

“Look into your depths, pray to your depths, waken the dead.”

C.G. Jung, “The Red Book”

The chapter entitled On the Service of the Soul contains a dire warning: soul work is not a light endeavor. Jung describes his fear and trepidation as to whether he should follow in the footsteps of his soul. The supernatural understanding, which the soul offers, reaches way beyond the human measure. Jung laments:

“I limp after you on crutches of understanding. I am a man and you stride like a God. What torture!”

The rational aspect fails when confronted with the soul, at least initially:

“If you take a step toward your soul, you will at first miss the meaning. You will believe that you have sunk into meaninglessness, into eternal disorder. You will be right!”

 Especially when the ego approach was fixated on meaning an order, a confrontation with the soul will bring “the dark flood of chaos with it.” The depths of the soul can be horrifying. This chapter of The Red Book reminded me very much of the following passage from Tao Te Ching:


The enlightened path appears dark, and advancing on this path may seem like retreating.

The greatest virtue appears empty, and the greatest purity appears tarnished. The most magnificent virtue seems insufficient, and firmly established virtue seems frail. Real virtue is fluid and changeable.”

(translated by Robert Brookes, Kindle edition)

Jung resists the soul and wants to return to the rational light of day but the spirit of the depths does not let him – he is “forced back into himself.”  He reflects on the necessity of virtue in soul work in a passage parallel to the quote from Tao Te Ching above:

“If your virtues hinder you from salvation, discard them, since they have become evil

to you. The slave to virtue finds the way as little as the slave to vices.”

Here Jung seems to be saying that any rigid attitude, even if it is regarded as a virtue, estranges one from the soul. In Tao Te Ching “te” is what is usually translated as “virtue.” It is a linguistically complex word in Chinese. It may mean something close to virtuous deeds or the embodiment of the Way (tao). It means being authentic in relation to one’s inner essence rather than the external demands.

There are no straightforward prescriptions on how to follow the path of the soul. The following quote from The Red Book is baffling at first because it suggests that soul work does not always mean serving the soul passively:

“If you believe that you are the master of your soul, then become her servant. If you were her servant, make yourself her master, since she needs to be ruled.”

If the conscious attitude is too biased towards serving the soul, an opposite approach should be developed. Here an important tenet of the Jungian psychology is formulated: the unconscious performs a compensatory role to the conscious approach.

The relation between the unconscious and the conscious creates a divine child:

“If you marry the ordered to the chaos you produce the divine child, the supreme meaning beyond meaning and meaninglessness.”

Thus Jung begins his descent into the fertile chaos of prima materia – “the raw material for creation,” as Sanford L. Drob puts it in his interpretative guide to The Red Book.

Reading The Red Book – part 1

Reading The Red Book – part 2

Reading The Red Book – part 3

Reading The Red Book – part 5

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Reading The Red Book (3)

Morris Graves, “The Chalice”

In the chapter Soul and God Jung continues to dialogue with his soul. He regrets that it has taken him so long to find her. Looking back on his life’s events, he sees the soul behind all of them. He writes:

“I found you where I least expected you. You climbed out of a dark shaft.”

The soul possesses a deus-ex-machina quality: it appears seemingly out of nowhere and changes everything. It resides in the underworld, like Hades who emerged out of the depths to kidnap Persephone. The soul sows and reaps where the ego does not reach:

“Where I sowed, you robbed me of the harvest, and where I did not sow, you give me fruit a hundredfold. And time and again I lost the path and found it again where I would never have foreseen it.”

The soul dwells in the blind spot of the ego. Jung compares his soul to a child and to a maiden, because his conscious ego is masculine and mature. He also seems to suggest that the soul is God, which is a parallel with the Hindu concept of Atman:

“If you are boys, your God is a woman.

If you are women, your God is a boy.

If you are men, your God is a maiden.

The God is where you are not.”

The notion that the soul always compensates for the one-sidedness of the egoic approach is one of the fundamentals of Jungian psychology. Jung believed that the unconscious of the woman had a masculine imprint (the animus) while the unconscious of the men was feminine (the anima). What makes us complete is what we oppose or what we are unaware of. In the unconscious dwell the unlived parts of our psyche, which long to be liberated; though the ego resists it:

“It appears as though you want to flee from yourself so as not to have to live what remains unlived until now.”

One of the most important passages of that chapter deals with dreams, which are defined as the “guiding words of the soul.” Jung is looking for the right words in order to express the soul’s message symbolically:

“Oh, that you must speak through me, that my speech and I are your symbol and expression! How should I decipher you?”

The language of dreams is hard to decipher but according to Jung it is dreams which “pave the way for life.”

The final crucial aspect of the chapter is the juxtaposition between the knowledge of the heart and scholarly knowledge. As Jung says:

“The knowledge of the heart is in no book and is not to be found in the mouth of any teacher, but grows out of you like the green seed from the dark earth.”

Then he repeats the message from the previous chapter about the necessity of living life to the full; here understood as expressing all the aspects of one’s Self unreservedly:

“But how can I attain the knowledge of the heart? You can attain this knowledge only by living your life to the full. You live your life fully if you also live what you have never yet lived, but have left for others to live or to think.”

Finally, Jung declares his total surrender to the dictates of the soul:

“I am as I am in this visible world a symbol of my soul, and I am thoroughly a serf, completely subjugated, utterly obedient.”

The next chapter will expand on the idea of the service of the soul.

In his guide to reading The Red Book, Sanford L. Grob wrote:

“… Jung wavered between two conceptions of knowledge, a Platonic/Gnostic conception, in which one can achieve certainty or gnosis through an intuition of essences (e.g. the archetypes), and a dialectical or constructivist one, in which all so-called truths must be complemented by their opposites and in which so-called ‘knowledge’ is always colored by the ‘personal equation’ (or psychology) of the knower.”

On the one hand, if one stands firmly on the grounds of gnosis and proclaims himself or herself the bringer of Truth, it may result in fundamentalism. As Sanford reminds us, Jung described Hitler as a dangerous servant of the whispers of the unconscious. On the other hand, the exaggerated relativism breeds cynicism or nihilism. As Jung would say, one-sidedness usually leads to distortions; one should rather withstand the tension of the opposites. The notion of coincidentia oppositorum, the coincidence of opposites played a crucial role, in Jung’s later thought, whose seeds were sown while creating The Red Book.


The image opening the chapter just discussed is a striking one: white dove above, black snake below. The letter S stands for die Seele – the Soul. The image carries within the yin and yang dynamic and the tension between the opposite parts of the soul: the celestial (from the heavens) and the chthonic (from the underworld).

Reading The Red Book – part 1

Reading The Red Book – part 2

Reading The Red Book – part 4

Reading The Red Book – part 5

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Reading The Red Book (2)

Georgia O’Keeffe, “Red Poppy”

Chapter 1 of The Red Book bears the title Refinding the Soul. “I have shaken the dust of all the lands from my feet, and I have come to you, I am with you,” says Jung, addressing his soul. He says he has achieved every earthy dream he can think of and yet, at the age of 40, he feels unbearable inner longing. Now he wishes to ascend to solitude and reconnect with the soul he thought he had known because it had been the object of his scientific pursuits. He realizes that “my soul cannot be the object of my judgement and knowledge” because it is “a living and self-existing being” which cannot be judged and whose circumference cannot be grasped.

He also ponders how to reach the place of the soul. The most striking words seem to be these: “The one thing I have learned is that one must live this life.” That resonated with me strongly, and I saw a parallel with what Ram Dass said in one of his talks. He said that in order to become nobody, which is the goal of spiritual pursuits, one must first become somebody. I understand it as establishing yourself in the ways of this world – through the usual activities called upon us by “the spirit of our times” (see part 1 to read more about this). Jung strongly emphasizes that there is no other way to spirituality but this, i.e. the engagement with the world. The divine can be reached only through this life, and all other ways are “false paths.”

But after becoming somebody the next step is to “turn away from outer things.” There is emptiness in “a blind desire for the hollow things of the world.” The soul lies within while the outer world can be distracting. Here Jung draws a distinction between the world and the images. He says that the images constitute the wealth of the soul. A person poor in the material sense but who possesses the image of the world through their rich, imaginative and soulful inner life, in fact “possesses half of the world.” Conversely, “he who possesses the world but not its image possesses only half the world, since his soul is poor and has nothing.” Images are soul nourishment, says Jung. They are not less real than worldly objects.

The image of the white dove opens this chapter as the symbol of the soul. The background is green with lush red flowers at the bottom to juxtapose the sensual with the spiritual aspect.

Reading The Red Book – part 1

Reading The Red Book – part 3

Reading The Red Book – part 4

Reading The Red Book – part 5

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The Scapegoat

Francisco Goya, “The Witches’ Sabbath”

Chapter 16, verses 20-22 of Leviticus, the third book of the Old Testament, speaks of the scapegoat ritual:

“When Aaron has finished making atonement for the Most Holy Place, the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall bring forward the live goat. He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites—all their sins—and put them on the goat’s head. He shall send the goat away into the wilderness in the care of someone appointed for the task. The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a remote place; and the man shall release it in the wilderness.”

New International Version

Rene Girard is famous for developing the concept of the scapegoat mechanism in philosophy. For him the Old Testament story described “the process of collective discharge.” In this ritual aggression is channeled to the outside and peace is restored in the community.


In depth psychology the concept of the scapegoat complex was developed by Sylvia Brinton Perera in her book The Scapegoat Complex: Toward a Mythology of Shadow and Guilt. I have not read the book yet, but I have recently come across  a paper partly based on Perera’s ideas. It was written by a depth psychologist George McGrath Callan. You can read it here – it is quite outstanding.

“Ancient rites and ceremonies of atonement were meant to excise the diseases and evils of the community to wipe away or purge sin through sacrifice, which would magically transfer the evil and guilt to another an animal, object or person. Disposable guilt. The scapegoat ritual restored the sense of wholeness to the community and its relationship to a single patriarchal divine figure. Often it was the ugly or deformed person, the sinner or the criminal who was chosen to be sacrificed always someone who possessed some strong attribute of otherness from the agreed upon aesthetic or ethical standard” says Callan. “To cast or project blame is to protect ourselves from our own shadow,” he also adds.

Further he states:

“I suggest that the story of Azazel is a primary mythos of the global culture, and very particularly, the current American culture, so dominated by attitudes of righteousness, so ready to attribute blame so unconscious of the need for atonement for its long empirical history. It is a complex gone wild in the European, American and Global psyche.”

Though in modern times we do not perform human sacrifice or ritual killing on the scale known in the past, we are quick to judge and expel certain individuals out of the community. In this way, we feel guiltless and we can “turn to our ego ideal and reestablish our place among the chosen,” adds Callan.

In the following passage he traces the biblical source of the scapegoat complex:

“Azazel was originally a pre-Hebraic goat god honored by herdsmen. He was connected to nature religions, and so was bound to the feminine, to the instinctual, and to sensuous beauty. … He had a particular affinity for mortals. It was believed that he provided women with recipes for cosmetics and revealed to mortals the secrets of war. These were two divine treasures not intended to be passed on to mortals. Aggression and vanity were the prerogative of the god. The historic Yahweh was a complex god. He was both an angry and destructive deity and a god of compassion and faithfulness to his people. As Yahweh transitioned to an all loving god, the myth of Azazel, by necessity, changed as well. Someone had to take the rap for the dark aspect of the divine. … As religions separated their divinities from aggressive and erotic instincts, associated with sexuality, seduction, weaponry and war, Azazel became an adversary of Yahweh, and was further distorted by Jewish patriarchs in much the same way that Christians mutilated the images of pagan figures. We can see here where the divine figure has been split off from a significant aspect of his nature.”

The earth, feminine and sensual goat god had become the lecherous devil incarnate.

Aphrodite riding on a goat (apparently her favourite mount)

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Reading The Red Book (1)

1.“It is not an uncommon experience to feel somehow changed after reading The Red Book.”

Stanton Martin

2.”The years … when I pursued the inner images were the most important time of my life. Everything else is to be derived from this.”

C.G. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections

3.“You should carry the monastery in yourself. The desert is within you. The desert calls you and draws you back, and if you were fettered to the world of this time with iron, the call of the desert would break all chains. Truly; I prepare you for solitude.”

From the Prologue to The Red Book

An image from The Red Book

When I moved to Zurich in autumn of 2010 the first cultural event I attended was a newly-opened exhibition at the Museum Rietberg, which celebrated the groundbreaking moment in the history of depth psychology – the publication of Jung’s Liber Novus, commonly known as The Red Book. The book was created by Jung between 1915 and 1930. It is a misconception that he descended into madness or psychosis in order to write it. No doubt, for those who are sensitive to its vibrations, the book appears as a revelation from beyond. But it is important to remember that it was a fruit of Jung’s mysterious nocturnal activity. During the day, he continued to see patients, give lectures and even serve as an officer in the Swiss army.

In the Prologue to The Red Book Jung reflects on the nature of two spirits that have been moving his life – “the spirit of this time” and “the spirit of the depths.” The former is concerned with daily practicalities, conventions and being of use. The latter goes beyond the “belief in science” and teaches spiritual knowledge (gnosis) that goes beyond space and time, escaping the confines of daytime logic. One gets seized by the spirit of the depths, just like Jung’s soul was seized by eternal ideas. He confesses in the Prologue:

“I resisted recognizing that the everyday belongs to the image of the Godhead. I fled this thought, I hid myself behind the highest and coldest stars.”

Perhaps to protect his scientific reputation, Jung never decided to publish The Red Book in his lifetime. After his death in 1961 the manuscript was moved to a bank vault in Zurich, where it remained for decades. I have recently felt an enormous pull to study The Red Book in more detail. Though I have read it before, I feel like at this point in my life it will hopefully bring new revelations.  In his wonderful interpretative guide to The Red Book, Sanford L. Drob made a very striking statement in the Introduction:

“While Jung raises many questions in Liber Novus, he answers few, as he tends to circle around the problems that concern him and try out various possibilities.”

It is so because Jung’s prose is moved by the spirit of the depths; it invites the reader to join the quest whose path leads within. This does not mean following Jung as a prophet. As Jung says in the Prologue:

May each one seek out his own way. The way leads to mutual love in community.”

Perhaps the most important message that can be taken from the Prologue is that each of us carries the instruments of our salvation within. I find the following two further quotes from the Prologue key:

“Do you not know that you yourselves are the fertile acre which bears everything that avails you?”

“The way is within us, but not in Gods, nor in teachings, nor in laws. Within us is the way, the truth, and the life.”

Since the visual and the verbal aspect of Liber Novus are inseparable, another great source that I consulted while reacquainting myself with The Red Book was The Red Book Hours: Discovering C.G. Jung’s Art Mediums and Creative Process by Jill Mellick, who focuses on Jung’s lifelong dedication to visual arts. I realized how devoted Jung was to his creative process and how self-sufficient in his endeavor. Mellick reminds us:

“In the late Middle Ages, a team of specialists divided the intensive, prolonged labor required to illuminate a manuscript; a scribe wrote black minuscules; a rubricator designed and rendered majuscules; an illustrator painted designed majuscules, decorations, and images; and often a separate illuminator added the precious metals that gave the manuscript their name. Jung became his own scribe, rubricator, illustrator, and illuminator.”

Apparently, a master calligrapher could not believe that Jung has done the whole Red Book calligraphy single-handedly.

In her book Mellick also includes the account of Hugh Milstein, who was in charge of scanning the manuscript for publishing purposes.  Here is how he recalls the experience:

“It was late November, 2007.

The book was seeing oxygen for the first time in a long time. As it was opened, the pages started curling. While the curling has a scientific explanation – humidity and age – … the phenomenon was still uncanny: as though someone was turning the pages one by one.

You could sense what everyone was thinking: another dimension of human experience was happening. I could never quiet the thought that Jung himself was turning the pages. And who was I to say he wasn’t? But it’s at least accurate to say that the pages were moving independently. They were moving for whatever reason we care to think they were moving.

The pages had luminosity. When I was working directly with the book, I noticed how vibrantly the gold and greens were reflecting under the light!”


The Red Book – the original

The opening image of The Red Book

The opening image of Jung’s Prologue contains the first of his paintings – the letter D from “Der Weg des Kommenden” (“The Way of Things to Come”). It shows a small town by the lake and a typical church with a steeple. Sanford L. Drob muses:

“Mountains and fair weather clouds can be seen in the background, and an ancient or medieval sailing vessel drifts close to the shore. The masted vessel, which seems suitable for a lone adventurer, signals the beginning of a journey, one that will take Jung into the primitive depths and the astral heights. This scene, which is peaceful, indeed idyllic, in the center, has much that is troubling around its edges – a harbinger of things to come. Astrological objects and symbols range across the sky, and below there are strange, perhaps primitive, plants and corals in a dark lake. The staff of the letter “D” contains a flaming cauldron, and a serpent wearing a golden crown rises high above it.”

In the introduction to Memories, Dreams, Reflections Jung wrote:

“What we are to our inward vision, and what man appears to be sub specie aeternitatis, can only be expressed by way of myth. Myth is more individual and expresses life more precisely than does science.”

Sanford L. Drob wonders about the accessibility of The Red Book and whether Jung’s “unique experience can be generalized to others.” Is it just a private, ultra-esoteric account, as some critics have stated, or is it in fact “an effort to engage the problem and paradox of comprehending the universal in the particular,” as Drob thinks. This question will be answered differently depending on whether you have heard “the call of the desert” or whether the writings of Jung have never captivated you.

Reading The Red Book (part 2)

Reading The Red Book – part 3

Reading The Red Book – part 4

Reading The Red Book – part 5



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Moon Art

I saw an exhibition today devoted to the history of artists’ engagement with the Moon, from the Romantic era to the post-war period. My attention was captured by numerous works of art – some of them very atmospheric, as is fitting for the subject. Here is my subjective list of what to me appeared as the most outstanding pieces of the exhibition.

1. Darren Almond’s photographs of 4000-year-old Scottish standing stones. The stones are positioned in a way that suggests a thorough knowledge of the moon cycles. The caption describing these photographs said:

“The mysterious beauty of these stones quite understandably evokes associations with the rocky deserts of the Moon. Although water is considered to be the origin of life, it is primarily rock that tells us the origin of the universe and thus of life.”

Darren Almond, “White Cube”


2. Photographs by Edward Steichen which used the moon as the source of light were really outstanding.


3. Marianne von Werefkin, a Russian- German-Swiss expressionist painter, is undeservedly less famous than other (male) Expressionists such as Munch or Kirchner. Her life was marred by a toxic love affair with Alexej von Jawlensky, who was also a painter, though much less talented than her. She is quoted as saying, “so that he wouldn’t feel jealous as an artist, I hid my art from him.” To find out more about this outstanding and sadly forgotten figure, look here:


Marianne von Werefkin, “Police Sentinel in Vilnius”


Marianne von Werefkin, “Ice Skaters”


4. Max Ernst, “The Twentieth Century”


This is quite a haunting image, as the Moon is the only natural object there. Although the description under it said that it is in fact a tribute to the technological progress, it does not feel like one.

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Symbolism of the Labyrinth

The myth of Minotaur tells the story of greed and tyranny, which led Minos to deny a sacrificial bull to Poseidon. The angry god punished the king by making his wife fall in love with the bull. The fruit of this union was the monster Minotaur, half-bull, half-man. Full of shame, Minos imprisoned the monster in a labyrinth – a word which comes from the Greek “labrys” and refers to the double axe – the symbol of the supremacy of the Cretan Mother Goddess. The deeper meaning of the labyrinth is associated with the feminine life giving force, the earth-bound instinctual nature of our bodies. The centre of the labyrinth is the goddess’s womb.

The Minoan double axe

The power of nature and instincts, the Greek zoe, the sheer life force – this is how the ancients perceived the bull. Only a woman – Ariadne – knew the way around the labyrinth into its centre. It seems that this first labyrinth was designed to guard the darkest heart of nature and to keep its secrets from the solar, upper-world consciousness. Alternatively, it symbolized the fear of Minos, that is the ego consciousness, of the bestial instincts, which he tried to repress.

“The Minotaur” by George Frederic Watts

Interestingly, also in Christianity the labyrinths were constructed to worship Mother Goddess. The most famous example is the stone Labyrinth from the cathedral in Chartres. It is believed that originally it had the image of Minotaur in its centre, but it was later removed. Now the centre of the Labyrinth features the Mystic Rose, emblem of Mary on the one hand and the ultimate symbol of the Self and the union of the opposites on the other.

Cathedral in Chartres – the Labyrinth

Some researchers make a point of differentiating between the maze and the labyrinth. Karen Ralls explains:

“A labyrinth eventually takes one to a Center. A maze does not, but has many twists and turns in its path, even the occasional “dead end.”

Those who walk the labyrinth do so to find inner peace, to meditate and find a way through silence to inner truth. Cirlot adds that at the centre of the labyrinth conjunction occurs between the conscious and the unconscious. Perhaps the seeming duality of the confusing maze and the orderly labyrinth can be reconciled by invoking human and divine perspective:

“From within, the view is extremely restricted and confusing, while from above one discovers a supreme artistry and order.

In Mercurial fashion, the movement through the labyrinth veers back and forth, round and round, creating a dance whose steps eventually weave a vessel strong enough to hold what was at first intolerable experience.”

The Book of Symbols

The maze, thus, seems to symbolize our human limited perspective, our entanglement in the world of the senses and desires, our getting lost, taking the “wrong” path, occasionally feeling lost and desperate. The labyrinth would stand for the spiritual path of circling the Centre. Neither, it seems, can exist without the other. Spiritual heights will not be reached without the entanglements of the flesh. This is what Jung seemed to be saying in The Red Book:

“Only he who finds the entrance hidden in the mountain and rises up through the labyrinths of the innards can reach the tower, and the happiness of he who surveys things from there and he who lives from himself.”


Juan Carlos Cirlot, The Dictionary of Symbols

Liz Greene, The Astrology of Fate

Karen Ralls, Gothic Cathedrals: A Guide to the History, Places, Art, and Symbolism

The Book of Symbols: Reflections on Archetypal Images, ed. by Ami Ronnberg






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Notre-Dame de Paris

Notre-Dame,1881 by Theodor Hoffbauer

In “Civilization,” a classic TV series of 1969, standing in front of Notre-Dame, Kenneth Clark asked: “What is civilization? I don’t know. I can’t define it in abstract terms — yet. But I think I can recognize it when I see it. He turned toward the Notre-Dame cathedral and added: “And I am looking at it now.” Witnesses say that the people of Paris were mostly looking speechless while a great symbol was engulfed by flames. The reactions throughout the world have been similarly overwhelming. It was perhaps not rational or logical to gasp in horror but so many of us did.

Of all the numerous cathedrals dedicated to the Virgin in Europe, the Parisian one is the most celebrated, being the only one graced with the definite article “the,” signifying unique reference without the need of mentioning its location. In the medieval town, the Gothic cathedral was a spiritual heart of the community. It was designed to last for eternity. “It was an expression of a newly emerging civic consciousness—a result of the rapid growth of medieval towns—providing a focus of artistic and intellectual life in addition to religious services,” says Karen Ralls (1). But the sacred roots of the cathedral reached so much deeper than the current socio-political circumstances. For cathedrals were often built on ancient sacred sites, for example Notre-Dame was built where previously stood the Temple of Isis, and a Druid Goddess Shrine before that.(2)

The very name Gothic, though actually erroneous, suggests something primal and wild. It was used for the first time in the sixteenth century, when Giorgio Vasari disparaged the cathedrals as “monstrous and barbarous, and lacking everything that can be called order.”(3) Vasari believed that the Goths destroyed the symmetrical and beautiful Roman architecture in order to erect coarse and barbarous buildings of the “Gothic” style. Of course, he could not have been more wrong; and yet Notre-Dame is indeed primeval in at least two ways. Firstly, the construction material of its timber roof, which was destroyed in the recent fire, came from the primeval oak forest, which does not exist anymore. As François-René de Chateaubriand wrote in The Genius of Christianity:

“The forests of the Gauls passed into the temples of our fathers, and our woods of oak thus kept their sacred origin. Those vaults chiseled into foliage, those vertical supports that hold up the walls and end abruptly like broken tree trunks, the coolness of the vaults, the shadows of the sanctuary, the dark wings, the secret passages, the low doors, everything reproduces the labyrinths of the woods in the Gothic church; everything evokes religious horror, mystery, and divinity.” (4)

Secondly, as the patroness of the cathedral, Mary evokes the sacred lineage of ancient mother goddesses:

“Thus the cathedral appears to be based on alchemical science, on the science which investigates the transformations of the original substance, elementary matter (Lat. materea, root muter mother). For the Virgin Mother, stripped of her symbolical veil, is none other than the personification of the primitive substance, used by the Principle, the creator of all that is, for the furtherance of his designs.

Finally, in the Ave Regina, the Virgin is properly called root (salve radix) to show that she is the principle and the beginning of all things. ‘Hail, root by which the Light has shone on the world.’” (5)

Indeed, light, along with height, is “the central defining element of the Gothic style” and “all of the features we associate with Gothic architecture – pointed arches, flying buttresses, ribbed vaults, soaring ceilings, stained glass windows, pinnacles and turrets – were developed in the service of the desire to flood the interior space with as much light as possible.”(6) The faithful entered the church from the west, and by walking towards the sanctuary they were facing the direction of the rising sun – from the shadow to the light. Fulcanelli explains:

“As a consequence of this arrangement, one of the three rose windows which adorn the transepts and the main porch, is never lighted by the sun. This is the north rose, which glows on the facade of the left transept. The second one blazes in the midday sun; this is the southern rose, open at the end of the right transept. The last window is lit by the coloured rays of the setting sun. This is the great rose, the porch window, which surpasses its side sisters in size and brilliance. Thus on the facade of a Gothic cathedral the colours of the Work unfold in a circular progression, going from the shadows-represented by the absence of light and the colour black -to the perfection of ruddy light, passing through the colour white, considered as being the mean between black and red.”


The alchemical glass at the Notre-Dame creates an astonishing visual effect. The secrets of its making were never written down and were lost for centuries. The method possibly originated in alchemical laboratories of ancient Persia, according to Karen Ralls. The builders of the cathedrals, the master stonemasons, attempted to materialize heaven on earth. They studied their sacred craft in monastic schools, “acquiring those secrets of geometry, design, and engineering that were closely guarded in the lodges.” (7) The glass makers commanded an astonishing number of these chemical tricks, secrets never written down and lost in subsequent centuries. Only in the middle of the nineteenth century, under the inspiration of Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, did the new scientific chemists laboriously analyze the composition of the glass and managed to reconstruct the manner of its making. However, as Winston points out:

“It then became evident that the very accidental nature of the process, the impurities of the ingredients, the lack of uniformity in each sheet of glass – which might be wavy, thick or thin, full of blisters and bubbles – had a great deal to do with the liveliness of the final effect. Glass made according to tested formulae and under controlled temperatures turned out to be a sorry imitation of the real thing.”

The Alchemist of Notre Dame (according to Fulcanelli); the Wandering Jew according to exoteric scholars

P.D. Ouspensky emphasized that the Schools of Masons were temples of spiritual freedom in the otherwise “rude, absurd, cruel, superstitious, bigoted and scholastic Middle Ages.” (8) In these schools “the true meaning of religious allegories and symbols was explained” while esoteric philosophy was studied under cover “because of the growing ‘ heretic-mania’ in the Catholic Church.

Luc-Olivier Merson, Quasimodo at Notre-Dame

This masonic wisdom was lost for a few centuries while Notre-Dame became neglected and almost destroyed, especially during the French Revolution. However, the nineteenth century brought its spectacular revival, partly thanks to Victor Hugo’s Gothic novel “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame.” The already mentioned Eugène Viollet-le-Duc was the architect of the cathedral’s restoration. As Ouspensky remarks, he had a deep understanding of the symbolic significance of Notre-Dame and was able to bring the soul of the Cathedral back to life. He suggested rebuilding the medieval spire, which had been removed in 1786. The same spire actually collapsed in the recent fire.

Drawing by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc

But perhaps more importantly, Viollet-le-Duc is responsible for the addition of the most iconic elements of the cathedral – its menagerie of gargoyles, chimeras and grotesques. He submitted drawings and photographs of similar elements in other medieval cathedrals. These designs were then carved in stone by Victor Pyanet. In the fourteenth century, when Notre-Dame was finished, its exterior walls were covered by gargoyles, which were designed to ensure drainage. These figures were not long lasting, though. Viollet-le-Duc recreated the original gargoyles and added the chimeras, which were not part of the original Notre-Dame and were not meant to carry off water from the facade. Not many people know that the chimeras were the nineteenth century as purely ornamental elements. Once again Ouspensky seems to capture their spiritual meaning convincingly:

“The gargoyles and other figures of Notre Dame transmit to us the psychological ideas of its builders, chiefly the idea of the complexity of the soul. These figures are the soul of Notre Dame, its different ‘I’s: pensive, melancholy, watching, derisive, malignant, absorbed in themselves, devouring something, looking intensely into a distance invisible to us, as does the strange woman in the headdress of a nun, which can be seen above the capitals of the columns of a small turret high up on the south side of the cathedral. …

The gargoyles and all the other figures of Notre-Dame possess one very strange property: beside them people cannot be drawn, painted or photographed; beside them people appear dead, expressionless stone images.”

Charles Meryon, Le Stryge

Fulcanelli claims that originally the space next to the cathedral was occupied by a large fountain, on which a couplet was carved:

“You, who are thirsty, come hither if, by chance the fountain fails

The goddess has, by degrees, prepared the everlasting waters.”

Why, then, was the whole world so touched by the destruction of Notre-Dame? I think Allan Temko was right when he said:

“In the great moment of the Middle Age, Mary lifted and civilized the entire Western world. In an era of continual male brutality, her emblem, the rose, became the sign of the less brutal woman.”(9)

The symbolic power of Notre-Dame lies in its ability to make us feel connected to the Goddess and through her to the transcendental, spiritual power of the collective unconscious. We will be saved only if we as individuals find a way back to our soul – the inner mystic rose. I am reminded of the young Carl Gustav Jung’s vision of God dropping an enormous turd on a shiny roof of the Cathedral in Basel. He reminisced in Memories, Dreams, Reflections: “I felt an enormous, indescribable relief. Instead of the expected damnation, grace had come upon me… I wept for happiness and gratitude.” The vision perhaps meant that spirituality and redemption can or must be found outside the church walls, away from organized religions. Perhaps this is also the message sent to us by the purifying fires of Notre-Dame. The gargoyles and chimeras keep pointing out with their protruding tongues that there is a vital layer of instinct beneath the veneer of civilization. Fulcanelli reminded us that “the cathedral was the hospitable refuge of all unfortunates.” Like the mother goddess it spread its protective mantle over the poor, the sick, the suffering – all the hunchbacks of the world.



1. Karen Ralls, Gothic Cathedrals: A Guide to the History, Places, Art, and Symbolism

2. Richard Winston, Notre-Dame: A History

3. Roland Recht, Believing and Seeing: The Art of Gothic Cathedrals

4. David Spurr, Architecture and Modern Literature

5. Fulcanelli Master Alchemist, Le Mystère des Cathédrales: Esoteric Interpretation of the Hermetic Symbols of the Great Work – A Hermetic Study of Cathedral Construction

6. Robert A. Scott, The Gothic Enterprise: A Guide to Understanding the Medieval Cathedral

7. Richard Winston, Notre-Dame: A History

8. P. D. Ouspensky, A New Model of the Universe

9. Allan Temko, Notre-Dame of Paris

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Reflections on Narcissism: The Feminine and Masculine Experience of Sexual Love

“I love myself…I love you.
I love you…I love myself.”



You have probably seen this image – the illustration to a short story by Kristen Roupenian’s entitled “Cat Person,” which was published in December 2017 in The New Yorker and went viral online. A young and fresh-looking feminine face, lips closed, is “under attack” of mature male lips, open and charging ahead. The story plunged itself right in the middle of the “me too” movement. Now Roupenian has published a collection of short stories, which significantly depart from the sordid realism of “Cat Person.” You Know You Want It is a captivating collection with some of the stories very rich in symbolism steeped in the aesthetics of horror stories with a good dose of the supernatural.

The story called “The Mirror, the Bucket, and the Old Thigh Bone” stood out for me. It tells the story of a princess who rejects all her suitors, which deeply worries and exasperates her father, the king. One night the princess hears a knock on the door to her rooms. When she opens it, she sees a stranger “with the most captivating and warm face,” who speaks to her in a melodious voice. The princess spends a happy night talking and snuggling with him on her bed. In the morning, the king’s advisor reveals that he had played a trick on her. The stranger was nothing but a contraption made of a cracked mirror, a bucket and an old thigh bone:

“You see, said the royal advisor. When you looked in your lover’s face, you were looking at your own face reflected in this cracked mirror. When you heard his voice, you heard only your own voice echoing back to you from this dented bucket. And when you embraced him, you felt your own hands caress your back, though you held nothing but this old thigh bone.”

The princess feels ashamed at being exposed like this and decides to marry one of the suitors. Her husband falls in love with her in the course of the marriage but she does not reciprocate his feelings. Instead, she appears to be depressed and nothing can relieve her unrelenting happiness. Her husband, now the king, is concerned, so he asks her about the source of her sadness. She tells him about the trick played upon her by the advisor and confesses her love for the stranger:

“The night I spent with it in my bed was the only night I have ever been happy. And even knowing what it is, I ache for it, I yearn for it, I love it still. What can this mean but that I am spoiled, and selfish, and arrogant, and that I am capable of loving nothing but a distorted reflection of my own twisted heart?”

The husband tries to win her heart through deception, by dressing in a black cloak, pretending to look like the apparition, but all of that is in vain. It is only when he brings her a figure constructed from a cracked mirror, a mouldy bucket and a smelly old bone that the queen experiences a state of bliss again. She abandons all her duties as queen, wife and mother and spends hours in her bed “naked among the bedclothes, nuzzling the mirror, murmuring into the bucket, and cradling the old thigh bone in her arms.”

Years pass and she slowly turns into a ghastly monster “with matted hair and corpse-white skin and huge, unseeing eyes.” When the husband tries to intervene, she slits his throat with a piece of glass.  She goes on to ascend the throne with the cloaked “figure” beside her as the new king. After many years, when she dies, they are buried together, according to her wishes. Subsequently, the kingdom falls into disarray while “deep beneath the earth, the tin bucket echoed with the sound of gnawing maggots, and the mirror reflected a dance of grim decay.”

La Santa Muerte

In the book Soul: Treatment and Recovery: The Selected Works of Murray Stein, there is a chapter dedicated to the myth of Narcissus, which seems to have been an obvious inspiration for Roupenian’s “fairy tale.” Stein argues that Narcissus is not so much self-absorbed as “soul-absorbed;” for he longs for and is in love with his own soul. The external reality holds less fascination for him than the internal world of reflection and imagination. As a result, he neglects his physical body and dies. Stein comments:

“…to each subject his soul image is of such surpassing fascination and beauty that this warning must be dramatized in a story of death or in mockery of navel-gazing.”

For Freud, narcissism consisted in withdrawing of libido from the outside world and directing it onto the ego. Stein warns, however, that if we accept this definition, narcissism and introversion would be quite similar, since an introvert directs his or her libido towards the subject and away from the object. Thought that turns inwards becomes mythological rather than based on external empirical data and “hard facts.”. Freud was very suspicious of introverts, whom he perceived as stuck in a primitive, childish stage of development. Stein retorts that perhaps the nymph Echo symbolizes the traps of extreme extroversion, since she seems to lack any form of inner life but simply repeats, echoes the sounds of the external world.

It is easy to condemn the queen from Roupenian’s story for her narcissism. Yet while reading I was also feeling a lot of compassion towards her. She is trapped in a society where everybody is expected to play specific, rigidly-defined roles. Longing for the soul is not tolerated. Another crucial aspect mentioned by Stein is the difference between the feminine and the masculine experience of relationships. Stein refers here to an early psychoanalyst Else Voigtländer, who in her work distinguishes the sexual experience of men and women. The masculine experience, she claims, is object-oriented and “seeks to overcome the subject-object abyss” in order to be one with his beloved. The feminine experience, in contrast, “is lived out in quite another way, in itself, …, in its own interior, and therein the woman lives and moves, swimming as it were, in her proper element” (here quoted after Stein). In the archetypally feminine experience of sexual love the libido is turned inwards, as if, Stein comments,  brilliantly, “the love of the object and the object’s reciprocated love would form a pathway of self-love.”

Salvador Dali, “The Metamorphosis of Narcissus”



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