“There are not many truths, there are only a few. Their meaning is too deep to grasp other than in symbols.”
C. G. Jung, The Red Book, Liber Secundus, chapter XIII
Chapter XII of Liber Secundus, the second part of The Red Book, is called “The Sacrificial Murder.” This has to be the most grisly vision to be encountered in Liber Novus:
“But this was the vision that I did not want to see, the horror that I did not want to live: A sickening feeling of nausea sneaks up on me, and abominable, perfidious serpents wind their way slowly and cracklingly through parched undergrowth; they hang down lazily and disgustingly lethargic from the branches, looped in dreadful knots. … A marionette with a broken head lies before me amidst the stones-a few steps further, a small apron and then behind the bush, the body of a small girl-covered with terrible wounds-smeared with blood. … a shrouded figure, like that of a woman, is standing calmly next to the child; her face is covered by an impenetrable veil.”
The woman remarks that such horrors happen every day and no one is enraged. Jung replies, “The horror is less real if all I have is knowledge.” The woman wants Jung to traverse from knowledge to experience. She says she is “the soul of the child” and orders Jung to take the liver out of the corpse. Then she adds:
“S: “You know what the liver means, and you ought to perform the healing act with it.’
I: ‘What is to be done?’
S: ‘Take a piece of the liver, in place of the whole, and eat it.’”
The woman tells Jung that as a man he shares in the guilt and therefore he must abase himself and do what she asks. By virtue of being human, we are all complicit in all acts of evil. After initial objections, Jung agrees to take part in this bloody ritual for the sake of the soul’s atonement. Here his writing is very visceral and the images he paints vivid:
“I kneel down on the stone, cut off a piece of the liver and put it in my mouth. My gorge rises-tears burst from my eyes, cold sweat covers my brow-a dull sweet taste of blood-I swallow with desperate efforts-it is impossible-once again and once again- I almost faint-it is done. The horror has been accomplished.”
This is when the woman throws away her veil and tells him she is in fact his soul.
For the ancients, the liver was the seat of life, as they believed that it produced blood. Now we know that one of its chief functions is purifying blood, which then goes to the heart. The livers of sacrificed animals were also used for divination, already in Babylonia. Anger and defiance were the emotions commonly associated with this organ, not only in Ancient Greece but also in China. (1) All of this points to the liver as an important seat of deep emotions, passion, intuition; an organ which links the soul with the body. Paracelsus called it “Alchemist im Bauche” – an alchemist in the belly. The punishment of Prometheus, whose liver was devoured by an eagle every night only to grow back for the torture to repeat, stands for the perpetual nature of suffering on the one hand and, more importantly, seems to suggest that he who soars to the heavens to steal the fire from the gods is not immune to the pains of the flesh, being only human. In another of his works Jung wrote that “every step forward along the path of individuation is achieved only at the cost of suffering.” (2)
An important thought that Jung expresses in this chapter is that to save one’s soul (“the true mother of the divine child”) one needs to eat from the bloody sacrificial flesh. Only this sort of communion with the body with all its darkness and suffering will heal the soul by letting it “redeem its primordial powers.” The Christian sacrament of the Holy Communion, understood as symbolic partaking of the body and blood of Christ, which Jung draws upon in this chapter, was preceded by similar rituals in ancient cultures, notably the Aztecs and the Greeks, who saw omophagia (eating of raw flesh) as an inextricable part of the cult of Dionysus. Also in the Orphic Mysteries, Dionysus Zagreus was torn apart and devoured by the Titans. His divine substance was distributed throughout the creation to vivify it. Similarly in the Egyptian myth, Osiris’ dismembered body served as the source of life and nourishment.
In this chapter Jung also conveys an important thought, which is one of the tenets of his psychology, and which may be surprising if taken at face value. Jung seems to issue a warning that Gods want to possess us humans but we must remember that we are not gods. He says:
“But if the soul dips into radiance, she becomes as remorseless as the God himself … But despite all the torment, you cannot let it be, since it will not let you be. … You feel that the fire of the sun has erupted in you. … Sometimes you no longer recognize yourself. You want to overcome it, but it overcomes you. … You want to employ it, but you are its tool.”
The gods and their solar power will not let humans simply “be.” When Jung had healed his god in the previous chapters, he was robbed of his life force. Now the encounter with his soul restores it. Jung finishes the chapter with a defiant statement: “Yes, I even find the divine superfluous.” The soul, which partakes both in the body and in the spirit, defies the gods, refusing to be held hostage by them. Sometimes “a reasonable life” must suffice, adds Jung.
The images in this chapter are predominantly mandalas. Sanford L. Drob finds them inhuman, even schizoid, and says that “they may reflect Jung’s extreme isolation and inwardness during this period and the difficulties he seems to have had in bridging the gap to an actual other.” (3) Jung indeed viewed the act of drawing a mandala as “an attempt at self-healing on the part of Nature, which does not spring from conscious reflection but from an instinctive impulse.” (4)
(1) The Book of Symbols, Reflections on Archetypal Images, ARAS, edited by Ami Ronnberg p. 398
(2) C.G. Jung, Psychology and Religion: West and East (CW 11), par. 411
(3) Sanford L. Drob, Reading The Red Book: An Interpretative Guide to C.G. Jung’s Liber Novus, Spring Journal Books 2012, p. 129
(4) C. G. Jung, The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, part I (CW 9), par. 714
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