“In October , while I was alone on a journey, I was suddenly seized by an overpowering vision: I saw a monstrous flood covering all the northern and low-lying lands between the North Sea and the Alps. When it came up to Switzerland I saw that the mountains grew higher and higher to protect our country. I realized that a frightful catastrophe was in progress. I saw the mighty yellow waves, the floating rubble of civilization, and the drowned bodies of uncounted thousands. Then the whole sea turned to blood. This vision last about one hour. I was perplexed and nauseated, and ashamed of my weakness.”
C.G. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections
Murder of the Hero – chapter VII of The Red Book (Liber Primus) – deals with a crucial dream/vision of Jung, which he had in 1913:
“I was with a youth in high mountains. It was before daybreak, the Eastern sky was already light. Then Siegfried’s horn resounded over the mountains with a jubilant sound. We knew that our mortal enemy was coming. We were armed and lurked beside a narrow rocky path to murder him. Then we saw him coming high across the mountains on a chariot made of the bones of the dead. He drove boldly and magnificently over the steep rocks and arrived at the narrow path where we waited in hiding. As he came around the turn ahead of us, we fired at the same time and he fell slain. Thereupon I turned to flee, and a terrible rain swept down. But after this I went through a torment unto death and I felt certain that I must kill myself if I could not solve the riddle of the murder of the hero.”
The symbolism of the hero’s murder is multi-faceted. First, it was viewed by Jung as the annihilation of his own power, boldness and pride, or as Sanford L. Drob puts it in his guide to The Red Book, “his narcissistic investment in his dominant thinking function.” Some researchers viewed Siegfried’s death as metaphor for the painful break-up with Freud, supporting their thesis with the fact that Siegfried’s father was called Sigmund.
Other interpretations refer to more collective themes. Siegfried was a well-known symbol of German nationalism. Although Jung’s vision took place before the first world war, the importance of Siegfried’s myth for the German identity continued into the 1930s. It is a well-known fact that Hitler, who was deeply obsessed with Wagner’s Ring Cycle (Der Ring des Nibelungen), identified himself with its hero Siegfried.
Simply put, Siegfried is a typical dragon slaying solar hero, who prevails over the forces of chaos and darkness or the devouring mother complex. In Jung’s dream the murder occurs at sunrise, as the day breaks, further emphasizing the identification of the hero with the solar principle. When the solar hero is slain, the sun disappears and it starts to rain. Jung closes this chapter of The Red Book by talking about the rain:
“The rain is the great stream of tears that will come over the peoples, the tearful flood of released tension after the constriction of death had encumbered the peoples with horrific force. It is the mourning of the dead in me, which precedes burial and rebirth. The rain is the fructifying of the earth, it begets the new wheat, the young, germinating God.”
The quote anticipates the atrocities of war that are to come to Europe, showcasing the prophetic qualities of The Red Book. The distortion of the solar principle, not balanced by the feeling function and its associated compassion, leads to over-ambition, narcissism and the need to conquer and dominate. According to some interpreters, the Nazi SS symbol was the duplication of the rune Sowilo (the Sun). The ancient name of that rune was Sieg (German for victory, which is also part of Siegfried’s name). Perhaps the runes are too potent to be so thoughtlessly duplicated.
The theme of the new god replacing the old one is also crucial in The Red Book. In this chapter Jung says:
“But this is the bitterest for mortal men: our Gods want to be overcome, since they require renewal. … If the God grows old, he becomes shadow, nonsense, and he goes down. The greatest truth becomes the greatest lie, the brightest day becomes darkest night.”
Much of The Red Book is a reflection on how the changing of the guard occurs when a new Aion starts (1). Jung also writes:
“If men kill their princes, they do so because they cannot kill their Gods, and because they do not know that they should kill their Gods in themselves.”
This is a very Age of Aquarius sentiment. In the Aion of Pisces humans were sustained (and oppressed) by religious doctrines. The Age of Aquarius will bring the realization of gods as the inner reality, while humanity will be sustained by its conscious, individualized members.
(1) Liz Greene, The Astrological World of Jung’s Liber Novus: Daimons, Gods and the Planetary Journey, Kindle edition