Reading The Red Book (11)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aubrey Beardsley, “The Dancer’s Reward”

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

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

via https://eclecticlight.co/2016/02/02/the-story-in-paintings-gustave-moreau-and-the-dissolution-of-history/

Gustave Moreau, “Salome Dancing Before Herod”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gustave_Moreau_-_l'Apparition

Gustave Moreau, “l’Apparition”

Footnotes:

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

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

(3) Ibid.

Reading The Red Book – part 1

Reading The Red Book – part 2

Reading The Red Book – part 3

Reading The Red Book – part 4

Reading The Red Book – part 5

Reading The Red Book – part 6

Reading The Red Book – part 7

Reading The Red Book – part 8

Reading The Red Book – part 9

Reading The Red Book – part 10

Reading The Red Book – part 12

Reading The Red Book – part 13

 

 

 

 

 

 

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8 Responses to Reading The Red Book (11)

  1. super fascinating…. We all should read more of Jung.

  2. Jeff Japp says:

    Have not read Jung’s “Red Book,” but I have to say, my interest is piqued. Hope you are well, and hope you have a blessed equinox. Cheers!

  3. Dewin Nefol says:

    Dear MR,

    Thank you for another insightful and wholly engaging instalment in this series. The Gustave Moreau paintings are exquisite.

    Intriguing to note you posted this when the autumnal equinox is upon us – a time of balance – which as I recall was a season you were very much waiting for? 😉

    Also curious given the content of your post (sharing thoughts on Jung’s vision of Elijah and Salome) is that astrologically speaking the Sun is currently travelling through Libra whilst loving Venus links with Saturn and Mercury links with Pluto. One might suggest a benevolent universe is encouraging us to look deep within our ourselves, assess what we find, and using our faculties seek balance in heart and mind, surrender our ego and discover a new way of being. The esoteric phrase, V.I.T.R.I.O.L.U.M, as used in Alchemical literature and formed by the Latin expression is quite revealing: “Visita Interiora Terrae Rectificando Invenies Occultum Lapidem Veram Medicinam”, which means “Visit the interior of the earth, and by rectifying (correcting or purifying) what you find there, you will discover the hidden stone, which is the best medicine.”

    Enjoy an inspiring, soulful week Monika,

    DN

    • Dear Dewin,

      First of all, thank you, especially for V.I.T.R.I.O.L.U.M, which I had never heard of. Funny thing is, I am currently reading “Underland: A Deep Time Journey” by Robert Macfarlane, which I find really engaging. You are right – now is the season I always look forward to – I mean the autumn, when we can follow Persephone to the underworld.;)

      About astrology, I do not consciously correlate my posts with the current alignments but I always follow what is going on anyway, so much so that it is etched somewhere at the back of my head. While writing I often realize that I am talking about this or that planetary event and I am taken by surprise. For example, while Mars was in conjunction with the Sun, I posted about the death of the hero, totally “by accident.”

      I never have enough of Moreau 🙂

      Monika

      • Dewin Nefol says:

        Dear Monika,

        My pleasure: I thought the acronym relevant to your post and also to this earthy time of year as we progress through Autumn, into Winter, and look onwards to Spring next year. No doubt whatever we seek to change in ourselves now so as to achieve personal betterment will reward us handsomely early next year. Persephone – as a personification of new life, new growth, continuance, fertility – emerged from her stay (and union with Pluto) in the under-world radiant the following Spring.

        I wish you continued enjoyment of Robert Macfalne’s new book: it sounds most intriguing…in fact perfect to curl-up with during the weeks and months.

        As to those sudden realisations when writing: there is nothing better than writing and/or creative enterprise to give voice to quiet thoughts. You seem to enjoy the creative process.

        DN

  4. lampmagician says:

    Reblogged this on lampmagician and commented:
    “Salome is an Anima figure. She is blind because she does not see the meaning of things.
    C.G.Jung, Memories, Dreams and Reflections, Page 180”
    Another fascinating narration on this fascinating book by a fascinating writer 😊🙏💖💖🙏

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