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

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

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11 Responses to Reading The Red Book (4)

  1. Pingback: Reading The Red Book (3) | symbolreader

  2. I’m enjoying reading your posts on Jung’s book, which I have been contemplating getting for awhile…do you have the illustrated copy or the one with just the text? The illustrated version is quite expensive…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. ptero9 says:

    Thank you for this series on Jung’s Red Book. These dark places that find us can be humbling. A current lesson for me is the reminder that one is always susceptible to being caught by a complex, or some might say, in the grip of some unknown god. Even though this recent experience has brought some redemption around issues with my mother, so powerful they are that they demand full attention and the deepest respect.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dear Debra,
      I am glad you found the series. I really agree about the dark places. There is something quite shattering about The Red Book. I normally read one short chapter three times and then need to take a long break until I can go on.

      Liked by 1 person

      • ptero9 says:

        Always happy to hear when others have the need for slowness, Monika. Have you read any of Peter Kingsley’s Catafalque, or have an interest in his work? I’m halfway through the book, but again, it’s not a book that can be devoured.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I keep hearing about him but have not had the chance to read anything. Just yesterday his “In the Dark Places of Wisdom” was quoted in another book I was reading. I will get there, I am sure.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. lampmagician says:

    thank you No 4, following 💖🙏

    Liked by 1 person

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