Reading The Red Book (17)

Saint Onuphrius, one of the Desert Fathers (via Wikipedia)

Chapter IV of Liber Secundus is called “The Anchorite. Dies 1” and relates the first day of Jung’s encounter with a hermit monk, who lives in the Libyan desert. While reading The Red Book I was particularly struck by all the passages in which Jung describes nature; they are always extremely evocative. He starts:

“On the following night, I found myself on new paths; hot dry air flowed around me, and I saw the desert, yellow sand all around, heaped up in waves, a terrible irascible sun, a sky as blue as tarnished steel, the air shimmering above the earth, on my right side a deeply cut valley with a dry river bed, some languid grass and dusty brambles. In the sand I see the tracks of naked feet that lead up from the rocky valley to the plateau.”

What follows is an encounter with “a haggard man” wearing a white mantle and holding a parchment, which Jung recognizes as a Greek gospel. The first topic of their conversation is language and interpretation. Jung is surprised that the Anchorite can occupy himself with just a single volume for the entirety of his time on the desert. The hermit berates Jung’s childishness. A book, he says, reveals something new each time it is read because “on the higher levels of insight into divine thoughts, you recognize that the sequence of words has more than one valid meaning.”

He proceeds to tell Jung that before he converted to Christianity he was a rhetorician and philosopher in Alexandria, a city founded by Alexander the Great, who, according to a legend, was inspired by a fragment of Homer’s Odyssey about an island called Pharos, lying off Egypt. (1) There the genius of Hellenism and the genius of Egypt met. The population of Alexandria was very diverse, predominantly Greek, Egyptian and Jewish, but with sizeable groups from people from all over the world. As Vrettos puts it, “the city was a universal nurse, …, nurturing each race that settled there.” (2) There the anchorite from The Red Book taught philosophy, both Greek and modern, concentrating on the teachings of the great Philo of Alexandria, the first Western esotericist. Philo was a Jewish thinker, whose aim was to harmonize the Torah with Greek philosophy. His writings, especially the doctrine of the logos, influenced early Christian writers, including the prologue to the Gospel of John, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God.” In the Greek version of the Gospel of John in the beginning was not “the Word” but “logos.”

The concept of “logos” was first found in Heraclitus, who used it to refer to order and knowledge, though already in his philosophy there was already more to logos than simply “measure” or “word.” There exists a breathtakingly powerful short passage of Heraclitus, in which he ponders the unlimited nature of the psyche: “You would not discover the limits of the soul although you have travelled every road. So deep is its logos.”

Philo expanded the theory of the logos. He saw it as the principle of order in the world and the way God manifests himself in matter:

“It is the powerful word that gives solid consistency to the universe … It is synonymous with due measure and harmony, both in God, reconciling the contrasting attributes of mercy and justice …, and in the world, bringing together the different elements and neutralizing the forces of chaos. ….Philo links Sophia to a life-giving feminine maternal principle. In union with God, she generates the Logos and the cosmos.

…the Logos not only provides order to the world, but it also actively and constantly dominates and controls it, or even, when necessary, props it up internally. In fact, Philo goes so far as to say that ‘the most venerable Logos of the one who is put on the world as a garment’ … In this fashion the Logos comes to take the place of the Platonic ‘world soul’ in an extraordinary integration of philosophical notions and concepts.” (3)

It seems that for Philo logos served as an intermediary between God and the material world.

The Anchorite asks Jung to read the Prologue to John’s gospel. With the ardour of a new convert, the hermit argues that Philo’s logos was just a word, a dry concept, an abstraction, while John equated logos with Jesus, God’s “son in flesh.” The Anchorite seems to perceive pre-Christian philosophy as purely abstract intellectual exercise. He encourages Jung to “unlearn” everything.

Jung admires anchorite’s simple but full existence:

…The solitary seeks the sun and no one else is so ready to open his heart as he is. … In the desert the solitary is relieved of care and therefore turns his whole life to the sprouting garden of his soul, which can flourish only under a hot sun. … You think that the solitary is poor. You do not see that he strolls under laden fruit trees and that his hand touches grain a hundredfold. … He cannot tell you, since the splendor of his garden is so abundant. He stammers when he speaks of it, and he appears to you to be poor in spirit and in life. But his hand does not know where it should reach, in all this indescribable fullness.”

The final part of the chapter is Jung’s meditation on words and their danger to the psyche, whose depth they often seek to obliterate. He asserts the importance of finding new words, but first we need to shatter the old ones. The silence of the desert opens the soul to “the boundless,” while words often banish it. Silence allows us to “comprehend the darkness” and

“Through comprehending the dark, the nocturnal, the abyssal in you, you become utterly simple. … Peace and blue night spread over you while you dream in the grave of the millennia.”

Kay Sage, “Margin of Silence”


(1) Theodore Vrettos, Alexandria: City of the Western Mind

(2) Ibid.

(3) Adam Kamesar, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Philo

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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 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 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

Reading The Red Book – part 32

Reading The Red Book – part 33

Reading The Red Book – part 34

Reading The Red Book – part 35

Reading The Red Book – part 36

Reading The Red Book – part 37

Reading The Red Book – part 38

Reading The Red Book – part 39

Reading The Red Book – part 40

Reading The Red Book – part 41

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9 Responses to Reading The Red Book (17)

  1. Pingback: Reading The Red Book (15) | symbolreader

  2. Thank you so much Monika for sharing all these links to your wonderful and insightful “Red Book” reflections with us. Please know that I (like many of your readers I’m sure!) return to re-read each different part often. And today, I feel most especially nudged by your rich, illuminating reflections and true marriage of words and images to open up Jung’s big book myself this weekend. Blessings always, Deborah.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. wolfcircle says:

    Good find on the Anchorite Onuphrius. At first, I mistook the name for Ophiuchus, the Serpent-bearer, and the 13th zodiac sign which has been in the news today about an explosion to rival the big bang.

    I also looked for the “wrong” chapter IV (The Desert) in Liber Primus which in Mysterium Encounter where Jung “became aware of an image … [of] an old man stood before [him]. A black serpent that lay at his feet.” Elijah. Linked chapters it seems in some respects.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I had known about desert fathers but Onuphrius was a lucky find. I totally agree with you that there are parallels between the chapters in Liber Primus and Secundus. Perhaps this is worth exploring further. I feel like each time I read The Red Book, I find something new anyway. I feel so in awe and I often wonder why sm I even scribbling about it, but it does help, so I keep going.
      Thanks a lot for reading.


  4. lampmagician says:

    My Mandalas were Cryptograms concerning the state of the Self which was presented to me anew each day.
    Great as always dear Monika, 🙏💖

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Jeff Japp says:

    Hi Monika. As always, a well-thought out and erudite post. Some day, I will delve into this book. I’m finally settled in to my new home, and have my books unpacked, so once I get through some of my unread books, I’ll look for this one. Cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

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