I. “We spread poison and paralysis around us in that we want to educate all the world around us into reason.”
II.”The outer opposition is an image of my inner opposition. Once I realize this, I remain silent and think of the chasm of antagonism in my soul.”
C.G. Jung, “The Red Book” (Liber Secundus, Chapter VIII)
We have reached Chapter VIII of the second part of The Red Book. The title of the chapter is “First Day.” For Sanford L. Drob, this and the subsequent chapter are key to understanding Jung’s work. (1) What ensues here is a response to Nietzsche’s dramatic declaration “Gott ist tot.” Here God, Izdubar, whose name is the early erroneous version of Gilgamesh, is not dead but sick, and Jung commits to heal him. In the full page image that accompanies the chapter Izdubar’s enormous size is juxtaposed with a small figure of a worshipper by his feet.
Jung thus describes the towering god:
“Two bull horns rise from his great head, and a rattling suit of armor covers his chest. His black beard is ruffled and decked with exquisite stones. The giant is carrying a sparkling double axe in his hand, like those used to strike bulls. Before I can recover from my amazed fright, the giant is standing before me. I look at his face: it is faint and pale and deeply wrinkled. His almond-shaped eyes look at me astonished. Horror takes hold of me: this is Izdubar, the mighty, the bull-man. He stands and looks at me: his face speaks of consuming inner fear, and his hands and knees tremble.”
Another striking image serves to introduce this lavishly illustrated chapter. In it, as Drob describes it, “a primitive man holds a serpent over his head that bursts into a star. … a star in space is surrounded by a serpentine form…” (2) To me, this could be an image of individuation, since what rests coiled amidst the stardust unravels to its full incarnate potential on the earth.
Jung is absolutely enthralled with the ailing god from the East. He calls him “the beautiful and most loved one” and declares, “If my God is lamed, I must stand by him, since I cannot abandon the much-loved.” Here Drob quotes a crucial passage from Jung’s Psychological Types, published a few years after The Red Book was written:
“The sickness of God expresses his longing for rebirth, and to this end his whole life-force flows back into the centre of the Self, into the depths of the unconscious, out of which life is born anew.”
We must not let our gods die, for if we do our psyche will lose its vital energy. But gods are the forces to be reckoned with, says Jung:
“If the God comes near you, then plead for your life to be spared, since the God is loving horror. The ancients said: it is terrible to fall into the hands of the living God.”
Jung points the finger at science as the poison that lamed the gods. When Jung tells Izdubar that the earth is round and reveals to him other facts of science, the god seems crashed and “overcome with suffocating fear.” Not only were the gods lamed by science, similarly humans “haven’t properly flourished and remain so dwarfish,” explains Jung to Izdubar. By conquering and focusing on “the outer things” we have lost touch with the depths of the psyche:
“Our truth is that which comes to us from the knowledge of outer things. The truth of your priests is that which comes to you from inner things.”
Jung laments that although science does contain truths, it has unfortunately “taken from us the capacity of belief.” Later in the chapter Jung states that the fate of the Logos (understood here as the logos of science) is that in the end it poisons us all. Drob emphasizes that nowhere in his oeuvre is Jung as critical of science as in Liber Novus. This may have been an important factor that prevented him from publishing the work in his lifetime. In Collective Works he preferred to cloak himself as an empiricist, which is ironic, since the academic psychology abandoned Jung precisely because of his incongruence with the scientific method. For Jung, the road to the depths of the psyche is not through intellect, or not only through intellect. Feeling, fantasy, creative imagination have all been amputated from psychology, which reduced itself to preaching at the altar of science. To further elucidate Jung’s view of science, Drob quotes yet another brilliant and pertinent passage from Mysterium Coniunctionis, the 14th volume of Jung’s Collected Works:
“Science is the tool of the Western mind and with it more doors can be opened than with bare hands. It is part and parcel of our knowledge and obscures insight only when it holds that the understanding given by it is the only kind there is.”
Crucially, for Jung there exists a higher understanding, which he refers to as “understanding through life.” This higher understanding cannot be won without facing the gods. Towards the end of the currently discussed chapter, Jung gives us a stunning description of how a mere human encounters divinity:
“As I rose to the highest point and my hope wanted to look out toward the East, a miracle happened: as I moved toward the East, one from the East hurried toward me and strove toward the sinking light. I wanted light, he wanted night. I wanted to rise, he wanted to sink. I was dwarfish like a child, while he was enormous like an elementally powerful hero. Knowledge lamed me, while he was blinded by the fullness of the light. And so we hurried toward each other; he, from the light; I, from the darkness; he, strong; I, weak; he, God; I, serpent; he, ancient; I, utterly new; he, unknowing; I, knowing; he, fantastic; I, sober; he, brave, powerful; I, cowardly, cunning. But we were both astonished to see one another on the border between morning and evening.”
“The tempestuous force” of the god now lies paralyzed and helpless at Jung’s feet. Jung knows that if he does not heal his god, his life would break in half. Two beautiful images grace the ending of this chapter. A lone man stands under a firmament, his arms outstretched. The first light breaks in the horizon. A vague shape of an ancient column seems to sustain the starry vault of heaven.
The other painting is known as the Atharva-veda image; referring to one of the four sacred Hindu vedas or books of knowledge. In his footnotes to The Red Book, Sonu Shamdasani points out that it depicts a charm to promote virility, presumably to heal the ailing God. Hymn 4 in Book 4 of Hymns of the Atharva-veda reads:
“We dig thee from the earth, the Plant which strengthens and
exalts the nerves,
The Plant which the Gandharva dug for Varuna whose power
Let Ushas and let Sūrya rise, let this the speech I utter rise.
Let the strong male Prajāpati arise with manly energy.”
What I found striking in this final image is what looks like the black sun or a black star at the top and a golden egg in the centre, connected with a dark thread. The symbolism of the black son is deep and deserves a separate consideration. Stanton Marlan wrote an in-depth treatise on the subject called The Black Sun: The Alchemy and Art of Darkness. I found one of his statements quite striking:
“The black sun might well be considered to express this paradoxical dimension of light and darkness and might ultimately be understood as an archetype of the non-Self. Like Jung’s idea of the Self, … [the black sun] also expresses a coincidentia oppositorum—a black sun that shines contains the paradoxical play of light and dark, life and death, and spirit and matter.”(3)
It is a potent image of regeneration – the dark light of the non-self (alchemical lumen naturae – light of nature) connecting with the centre of the psyche where a golden egg resides as a promise of rebirth.
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(1) (1) Sanford L. Drob, Reading The Red Book: An Interpretative Guide to C.G. Jung’s Liber Novus, Spring Journal Books 2012, p. 101
(2) Ibid., p. 102
(3) Stanton Marlan, The Black Sun: The Alchemy and Art of Darkness, Texas A&M University Press, College Station 2005, p. 148