Reading The Red Book (18)

“The stars whisper your deepest mysteries to you, and the soft valleys of the earth rescue you in a motherly womb.”

C. G. Jung, Liber Novus

We have reached chapter V of Liber Secundus, which is the second part of The Red Book. The title of the chapter is “Dies II,” i.e. Day 2. Jung is still on the desert where he had met the Anchorite. He wakes up remembering a dream. He had dreamt of four white horses with golden wings, which pulled the chariot of the sun god Helios:

“A thousand black serpents crawled swiftly into their holes. Helios ascended, rolling upward toward the wide paths of the sky: I knelt down, raised my hands suppliantly, and called: ‘Give us your light, you are flame-curled, entwined, crucified and revived; give us your light, your light!'”


The Philosophical Tree pictured by Jung in Liber Novus

The chapter is accompanied by a striking image (above) of the Sun shining down on the desert and the Philosophical Tree. On the left a scarab is ascending towards the sun, on the right it is descending towards the earth. For the Egyptians, the dung beetle was the god Khepri, who emerged with the rising sun every morning. (1) He was associated with rebirth, while his name meant “to take shape” or “to come into being.” (2) As the authors of The Book of Symbols put it:

“… Khepri’s blackness also suggests that it is an invisible force that upholds solar energies, an unconscious that propels the consciousness into its awakenings and discriminated forms, creativity and perpetual motion.” (3)

Khepri and the rising sun

In Jung’s image, the Philosophical Tree appears to have roots both in heaven and earth, blooming in both realms. In his Alchemical Studies (CW 13, par. 316) Jung wrote:

“The tree corresponds to the passive, vegetative principle, the snake to the active, animal principle. The tree symbolizes earthbound corporeality, the snake emotionality and the possession of a soul. Without the soul the body is dead, and without the body the soul is unreal.”

Further on, in par. 333, he states that “a person whose roots are above as well as below is thus like a tree growing simultaneously downwards and upwards. The goal is neither height nor depth, but the center.”

The Alchemical Studies quoted above were written ca. ten years after the passages of The Red Book. It is in The Red Book where we find a record of Jung’s confrontation with the raw images that would in the years to come inform his body of work, including the whole alchemical corpus. Here we do not read about what the scarab meant conceptually but we watch how Jung encounters the mythical creature, worships it and paints it with most beautifully chosen words:

Dear beetle, where have you gone? I can no longer see you. Oh, you’re already over there with your mythical ball. These little animals stick to things, quite unlike us-no doubt, no change of mind, no hesitation. Is this so because they live their myth?”

Dear scarab, my father, I honor you, blessed be your work in eternity-Amen.

In this meditative chapter Jung prays to the sun, to the scarab and to the stone, which he calls “the ancient mother.” He is overwhelmed by the beauty of the desert:

“How beautiful it is here! The reddish color of the stones is wonderful; they reflect the glow of a hundred thousand past suns.”

Jung returns to the Anchorite Ammonius, but their final encounter does not end harmoniously. The hermit tries to tell Jung how he freed himself from “the awful predicament of spinning words” when he found Christ, the scripture and the peace of the desert. Jung begins to aggravate the Anchorite by suggesting that he would gain more wisdom if he were nearer people instead of living in the desert. The Anchorite seems to inadvertently absorb Jung’s pagan worship when he slips up and calls the sun “the glorious Helios” and lashes out at Jung calling him Satan. Jung tried to explain to him that religions do not differ “in their innermost essence.” This is why Christ is an echo of Osiris, to give just one example of many. Sanford L. Drob concludes:

“It is clear that Jung is here rejecting the Anchorite’s version of Christianity in favor of a more polytheistic paganism that incorporates elements of the dark side of divinity and the Self.” (4)

Not worried in the least about being called Satan, Jung leaves the Anchorite and devotes the rest of the chapter to the mystery of darkness and light. He says:

“He who comprehends the darkness in himself, to him the light is near. He who climbs down into his darkness reaches the staircase of the working light, fire-maned Helios.”

He has a vision of Anima Mundi, the world soul, permeating the whole existence, including the objects which the ignorant name inanimate. Not only that, he also says that our psychic life is reflected back to us by the material reality and nature that surround us:

“… things live their life, and that they live off you: the rivers bear your life to the valley, one stone falls upon another with your force, plants and animals also grow through you and they are the cause of your death. A leaf dancing in the wind dances with you; the irrational animal guesses your thought and represents you. The whole earth sucks its life from you and everything reflects you again.”

This passage spells a crucial difference between the Jungian psychology and the so-called scientific method. In psychology, the subject and the object are intertwined in a loving embrace. There is no separation. It is not possible to “study” another individual objectively as “a thing” that is separate from us. In order to find meaning, we must look inwards:

“The meanings that follow one another do not lie in things, but lie in you, who are subject to many changes, insofar as you take part in life. But if you change, the countenance of the world alters.”

This is one more crucial claim of Jungian psychology: the world will change if the psyche (consciousness) changes. The Anchorite, in Jung’s view, did not look at himself but looked outside and studied the Scripture. He was disengaged from his own psyche and this is why the desert “sucked him dry.” Jung thus concludes the chapter:

“I had to appear to him as the devil, since I had accepted my darkness. I ate the earth and I drank the sun, and I became a greening tree that stands alone and grows.”

Frida Kahlo, “Sun and Life”


(1) The Book of Symbols, Reflections on Archetypal Images, ARAS, edited by Ami Ronnberg, p. 236

(2) Ibid.

(3) Ibid.

(4) Sanford L. Drob, Reading The Red Book: An Interpretative Guide to C.G. Jung’s Liber Novus, Spring Journal Books 2012p. 93

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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 17

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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5 Responses to Reading The Red Book (18)

  1. Jeff Japp says:

    Hi Monika. Thanks for another profound post on this. Regarding the claim that “the world will change if the psyche (consciousness) changes,” yes, totally agree; but, as we are seeing, sometimes the world changes regardless of whether the collective psyche changes. Sometimes the world needs to change to foment change in consciousness. Anyway, just thinking out loud. Hope you and your loved ones are safe. — Jeff

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Jeff. We are mainly indoors these days. Anyway, perhaps the way Jung saw the world was that everything was in fact psychical. Psyche is everything and everything is psyche. So maybe it is one and the same thing whether we change or the world changes because we are all in the collective ocean of archetypes. Or in other words, the changes in us and the changes in the world come from the same source.
      Thank you again and stay safe, too!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. lampmagician says:

    The Masterpiece No; 18 Thank you again dear Monika, in this hard and cruel situation we need much more to keep our awareness present.
    this quote may help somehow, LOL
    The only way out is in.
    – Leonard Jacobson
    take care and be safe💖💖🙏💖

    Liked by 1 person

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