Reading The Red Book (29)

I. “Your sun will rise from muddy swamps.”

II. “The lowest in you is the source of mercy.”

III. “But the lowest in you is also the eye of the evil that stares at you and looks at you coldly and sucks your light down into the dark abyss.”

C.G. Jung, The Red Book, Liber Secundus, Chapter XVI

Alex Grey, “Gaia,”

We have reached chapter XVI – “Nox Tertia” (The Third Night) in Liber Secundus. Because Jung has “accepted the chaos,” his soul approaches him. The soul urges Jung to embrace madness because it will allow him to “find paths”:

“Let the light of your madness shine, and it will suddenly dawn on you. Madness is not to be despised and not to be feared, but instead you should give it life.”

Before we delve deeper into the chapter, I would like to share a passage from Sanford L. Drob as a metacommentary:

“So much of The Red Book is propaedeutic to Jung’s later ideas about integrating the shadow that one can almost become impatient with the repetition. We must appreciate, however, that The Red Book is not a finished theoretical treatise, but rather records Jung’s struggle with certain key experiences, intuitions, and ideas that he returns to from a variety of angles in order to more fully comprehend and work them through for himself.” (1)

Jung progresses in spiral motion through the key themes of The Red Book, of which the Shadow is one, and with each repetition our and his understanding of the matter is deeper. To invoke Hamlet and his famous “there is a system behind this madness,” there is indeed a system in The Red Book but it is a living, breathing organic system rather than a linear presentation of ideas. As Jung states in the same chapter:

“Life itself has no rules. That is its mystery and its unknown law. What you call knowledge is an attempt to impose something comprehensible on life.

Only my life is the truth, the truth above all. We create the truth by living it.”

The setting of the chapter is still the madhouse as it was in the preceding chapter. Jung is spoken to by a co-patient. What the man tells Jung echoes Jung’s own experiences when he was working in a psychiatric clinic Burghölzli in Zurich. The patient says:

“I was supposed to marry the mother of God long ago. But the professor, that devil, has her in his power. Every evening when the sun goes down he gets her with child. In the morning before sunrise she gives birth to it. Then all the devils come together and kill the child in a gruesome manner. I distinctly hear his cries.”

Jung’s experience with mental patients was a root to his lifetime work with the archetypes and the collective unconscious. He was able to perceive divine patterns emerging out of psychotic states of the patients. The words of the madman quoted above are linked to image 109, which Jung supplied with the following comment: “This man of matter rises up too far in the world of the spirits, but there the spirit of the heart bores through him with a golden ray. He falls with joy and disintegrates. The serpent, who is evil, could not remain in the world of spirits.”

Image 109

The material man rises to the world of the spirit, which is reminiscent of the Neo-Platonist doctrine of the Ascent of the soul (2) to the Realm of Nous (Divine Intellect) and the World of Forms. There a solar ray of wisdom pierces his heart and he falls down in blissful disintegration. Jung is flooded with a sequence of symbolic images (the rising sun, the ram, the crown of thorns, finally the World Tree with its crown in heaven and roots in Hell). But he is fearful and disheartened. This moment resembles his accounts of the time which he described as the “confrontation with the unconscious,” which happened after he parted ways with Freud. He was seized by a flood of fantasies and feared for his sanity. And yet he was saved thanks to being able to perceive meaning in the seeming madness:

“But there was a demonic strength in me, and from the beginning there was no doubt in my mind that I must find the meaning of what I was experiencing in these fantasies.” (3)

In this chapter Jung once again raises the issue of the language, which he defines as “the image of God.” As such the language can be either empty or full, hellish or divine, the smallest or the greatest. With their “daimonic shadows” words can ensnare or pull into the underworld. Though words may form the seas of chaos, they also bring the truth and light. Similarly, “the endless divine” brings both order and disorder and its laws are “unlawful.”

Another important theme of the chapter is the acceptance of the shadow. Jung asks, “Who should accept the lowest in you, if you do not?” Only in this way, by accepting our darkness and depravity, can the Below conjoin with the Above and can wholeness be achieved. Chaos, evil and hell are where the World Tree has its roots. This part is illustrated by image 111 with its legend: “The serpent fell dead unto the earth. And that was the umbilical cord of a new birth.” Jung says that this radical acceptance is not a peaceful process but is rather akin to a crucifixion. It brings torment and a necessity to “hate that which he loves in himself.”

Image 111

Jung once again conveys a similar thought with a metaphor:

“Insofar as I accept the lowest in me-precisely that red glowing sun of the depths-and thus fall victim to the confusion of chaos, the upper shining sun also rises.”

At the same time he warns against denying one’s own evil because without “the dark nourishment of the roots” our tree of life will wither. Yet the knowledge and awareness of good and evil is not devoid of doubt. Even the strongest experience doubt, says Jung. Doubt is a necessary ingredient of the mind that wants to stay free of doctrine. With his affirmation of doubt Jung anticipates our postmodern sensibilities, says Drob. (4)

The final image of the chapter is an image of the divine child – Phanes, the first god according to the Orphics, the one who emerged from the world egg, which had a serpent wrapped around it. Phanes was the shining one but his light was ineffable, hidden, invisible. In of the footnotes to the chapter Shamdasani includes a passage from Jung’s Black Books, in which Phanes is described as “the friend of man, the light emanating from man, the bright glow that man beholds on his path. / He is the greatness of man, his worth, and his force.” The importance of Phanes in Jung’s personal mythology cannot be underestimated.

Image 113


(1) Sanford L. Drob, Reading The Red Book: An Interpretative Guide to C.G. Jung’s Liber Novus, Spring Journal Books 2012p. 147


(3) C. G. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections; recorded and edited by Aniela Jaffe ; translated from the German by Richard and Clara Winston, Vintage Books 1963, p. 217

(4) Sanford L. Drob, Reading The Red Book: An Interpretative Guide to C.G. Jung’s Liber Novus, Spring Journal Books 2012p. 148

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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 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 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

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5 Responses to Reading The Red Book (29)

  1. litebeing says:

    Such an appropriate post for these times Monika. I also agree there can be truth and pattern in psychosis. John Weir Perry wrote alot about this.theory and executed it in his clinical work.
    Gotta love image 111 , lol!

    hugs, Linda

    Liked by 1 person

  2. wolfcircle says:

    The roots do indeed feed the tree when the Sun and it’s crown cannot.

    Liked by 1 person

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