Jung’s Liber Novus, better known as The Red Book, is divided into Liber Primus and Liber Secundus. The former was created on parchment and resembles a medieval illuminated manuscript. The reason why Jung decided to switch to paper in Liber Secundus was that parchment was very poor at retaining ink, which started to bleed through the pages. He decided to order a red leather-bound notebook with 600 blank pages, and this is how The Red Book was born. Paper enabled Jung to include larger, richer and more detailed paintings in the text. As Drob notices, in Liber Secundus “the paintings achieve independence from the text and create their own psychological and theological narrative.” (1)
We have now reached Liber Secundus and are looking at the initial image (above), which is staring back at us, emphasizing the importance of the visual aspect and beckoning us to embark on a quest towards self-knowledge:
“…the pupil, as Socrates says to Alcibiades, ‘is the finest part of the eye,‘ not just because it is ‘the part which sees‘ but because it is the place where another person looking will find ‘the image of himself looking.‘ And if, as Socrates claims, the Delphic maxim ‘Know thyself‘ can be understood only if translated as ‘Look at thyself,‘ then the pupil becomes the sole means of self-knowledge . . .“ (2)
The psychological quest that Jung embarked upon when he chose to open the floodgates of the visions that were coming to him, was not without suffering and conflict. What it ultimately led to was “important transformations and the integration of previously rejected or unfamiliar elements in Jung’s personal psychological world.” (3) In the image above, a most striking part is what looks like “a cross section of the earth’s crust, with its earth-toned layers and tectonic shifts, cracked and fissured nearly throughout.” (4) The eye of consciousness is framed within these major “displacements and fractures” (5), signalling that the contents of the unconscious are ready to burst through the ego’s crust.
In Liber Secundus a lot of new characters are going to emerge from Jung’s unconscious. Are these dramatis personae real, and what does it even mean to be real? Again, Jung seems to grapple with the question of reality, for there is a fine line between a prophetic vision and an outright psychosis. He pronounces:
“This I learned in the Mysterium: to take seriously every unknown wanderer who personally inhabits the inner world, since they are real because they are effectual.”
Simply put, for Jung “real is what works.” The world of the psyche is no less real than the so-called outside reality.
In the first chapter of Liber Secundus, called “The Red One,” Jung encounters who he suspects to be the devil:
“I find that I am standing on the highest tower of a castle. … I am wearing a green garment. … I am the tower guard. I look out into the distance. I see a red point out there. …it is a horseman in a red coat, the red horseman. He is coming to my castle: he is already riding through the gate. I hear steps on the stairway, the steps creak, he knocks: a strange fear comes over me: there stands the Red One, his long shape wholly shrouded in red, even his hair is red. I think: in the end he will turn out to be the devil.”
At the beginning of the conversation, the devil tells Jung:
“I have wandered a long time through the world, seeking those like you who sit upon a high tower on the lookout for things unseen.”
We are reminded of Faust, who, although he had reached a high position in society, symbolized by the tower, is highly dissatisfied with his life and therefore makes a pact with the devil selling his soul in exchange for worldly pleasures and unlimited knowledge. The tower is also an emblem of isolation, which Jung suffered from when he ended his association with Freud. The Red One brings an air of excitement; though Jung is feeling fearful, he cannot contain his fascination, when he sees the devil:
“It seems to me that you bring with you a strange air, something worldly, something impudent, or exuberant, or-in fact-something pagan.”
All the aggressive and erotic instincts that Christianity projected on the devil come the fore most compellingly in this chapter of Liber Novus. As their conversation proceeds, the Red One gets redder and redder, and “his garments shine like glowing iron.” At the same time, miraculously, Jung’s “green garments everywhere burst into leaf.” The devil says he personifies joy, which Jung had lost. Jung expands on that thought, saying that the Red One symbolizes “that strange joy of the world that comes unsuspected like a warm southerly wind with swelling fragrant blossoms and the ease of living.” He adds:
“Whoever tastes this joy forgets himself. And there is nothing sweeter than forgetting oneself.”
Who is this red emissary of the shadow? Jung says that everyone has their own devil, whom he or she should confront in utmost seriousness. His role is to “tempt you and set a stone in your path where you least want it.” The conscious approach of the ego, which in the case of Jung was his role as a serious and respectable scholar, needs a challenge from “the devil,” so that the obstructed energy can flow again, blood can rush through the veins and the heart may burst with joy. This is what the alchemists called the rubedo – the red stone and the last phase of the opus, when the vision has become real, and the word has become flesh.
Yet living the life at the dictate of the instincts will turn futile, and this is where the ultimate danger brought by the devil lies. In Buddhist cosmology the torment of intense desire that can never be satisfied is called the realm of Hungry Ghosts. The ruin of Faust came when he exclaimed, “Beautiful moment, do not pass away!” Jung remarks that
“you can make no pact with joy, because it immediately disappears. Therefore you cannot capture the devil either. The devil always seeks to saw off the branch on which you sit.”
For Liz Greene the Red One also carries the qualities of the planet Mars with it. Its vital energies, connected with “exercising individual will and desire” threaten to bring down the stable structure of the tower, which is elevated “above the chaos of the emotional and instinctual aspects of life.” (6) Drob sees the Red One as a personification of Nietzsche, whose Zarathustra scorned men for experiencing too little joy in life. (7) One of the tenets of Jungian psychology seems to be a conviction that there is no life in the abstract intellectual realms, no individuation without living a passionate, full life in the realm of the senses.
(1) Sanford L. Drob, Reading The Red Book: An Interpretative Guide to C.G. Jung’s Liber Novus
(2) Roberto Calasso, The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony
(3) Liz Greene: “The Way of What Is to Come”: Jung’s Vision of the Aquarian Age, in: Jung`s Red Book For Our Time (Book 1), ed. by Murray Stein and Thomas Arzt
(4) Sanford L. Drob, Reading The Red Book: An Interpretative Guide to C.G. Jung’s Liber Novus
(6) Liz Greene, The Astrological World of Jung’s Liber Novus: Daimons, Gods and the Planetary Journey
(7) Sanford L. Drob, Reading The Red Book: An Interpretative Guide to C.G. Jung’s Liber Novus
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