“I feel the things that were and that will be. Behind the ordinary the eternal abyss yawns. The earth gives me back what it hid.”
Liber Secundus, chapter XVII
Chapter XVII of Liber Secundus, the second part of The Red Book, has the title Nox Quarta (The Fourth Night) and is particularly dense and rich with meaning. It starts with Jung saying:
“I hear the roaring of the morning wind, which comes over the mountains.”
This sentence sets the tone for the entire chapter in that it invokes the Atman – the breath, the eternal soul, and the central task of individuation, which seems to be the integration of the individual soul with the collective psyche. The soul tells Jung:
“Airy passages should be built between all opposed things, light smooth streets should lead from one pole to the other.”
It is a task of individuation to go beyond polarities by breaking down the rigid barriers that the ego erects to divide them.
In this chapter Jung talks to the Cook and the Librarian again. Like a trickster, Jung throws a wild idea at the librarian, who finds Jung’s words rather bewildering:
“I: ‘’Allow me the indiscrete question: have you ever had an incubation sleep in your kitchen?’
L: ‘No, I’ve never entertained such a strange idea.’
I: ‘Let me say that you’d learn a lot that way about the nature of your kitchen. Good night, Sir!’”
It seems that at that point Jung had stopped caring about pandering to the closed-mindedness of the Librarian and decided to share his truth with him, no matter the reaction. This brings to mind the German saying “über den eigenen Schatten springen,” which literally translated means “to jump over one’s shadow,” that is to go beyond one’s limitations or do something that is out of character (seemingly). It seems that this necessary step on the way to individuation is illustrated by image 115 with its caption – “This is the golden fabric in which the shadow of God lives.” There is something animal-like in this shadow figure. The sun in the background symbolizes the light of the Self, the God within, who for Jung did not exist without its shadow side.
Following this the setting changes and Jung finds himself in a theatre. He is watching Wagner’s Parsifal. Wagner’s take on the myth of the Holy Grail is different than the classic version authored by Chrétien de Troyes. Liz Greene saw the story of Parsifal as a classic Leo myth, which incidentally was Jung’s Sun sign. She summarizes the classic story in her book Astrology of Fate. Parsifal lives in a forest with his mother. One day a group of knights pass through and persuade him to join them. At this point Parsifal is “clumsy and boorish;” Liz Greene compares him to an animal. At a crucial point Parsifal’s fate brings him to the suffering Fisher King, the protector of the Holy Grail, as summarized by Greene:
“The king in the story was wounded in the groin or thigh: he cannot procreate, for his manhood is injured. This is a thinly veneered image of castration. A vision then appeared to Parsifal, of a sword, a lance which dripped blood, a maiden bearing a Grail of gold set with precious stones, and another maiden carrying a silver platter. Students of the Tarot will see these four sacred objects as the four suits of cups, swords, wands and pentacles, and students of Jung will recognise the quaternity which symbolises the wholeness of the Self.”
The symbolism of the Holy Grail conveys the ideas of “wholeness, center, vessel and source.” (1) The pre-Christian legends of the Grail saw it as the vessel of the goddess, her “Cauldron of Plenty.” Since medieval times it has symbolized “a gradual process of psychic integration and transfiguration.” (2)
This first encounter with the Fisher King ended up in a failure for Parsifal, for he did not ask the only question he was required to, “Whom does the Grail serve?” (the implied right answer being that it serves the Self and not the ego). What Parsifal lacked at that point in the story was the ability to suffer and to feel compassion. But his return to the Grail Castle after a long quest and a lot of suffering proved fruitful. He finally asked the right question, which resulted in the healing of the King and the land regaining its fertility thanks to the Holy Grail.
Liz Greene explains how Wagner’s version of the Grail’s story differed from the classic:
“In the opera, the Grail King Amfortas received his wound from the evil magician Klingsor, at a moment when the king was rendered vulnerable in the arms of the seductive Kundry, …. Klingsor wanted to be a Grail Knight, but Amfortas refused him; so the magician castrated himself to make himself invulnerable to erotic temptation, and stole the spear from Amfortas in revenge. As a result of the wound and the loss of the spear, the Grail Kingdom lay in waste. Perhaps this gives us some insight into one of Leo’s dilemmas; for in the brightness and nobility of his aspirations he will not permit the lowly shadow, his own flawed humanness, entry. That rejected shadow strikes back from the unconscious through the disintegrating effects of uncontrollable eroticism. Amfortas languishes unmanned in the arms of Kundry; he cannot retain his ‘purity’ of vision, and he is thus a mockery, a soiled king who is no longer fit to guard the Grail and is wounded by his own gnawing guilt.”
In Psychological Types (CW 6), Jung also wrote about Wagner’s opera and the role of Parsifal, whom he called “nirdvanda, free from the opposites,” the redeemer “who unites the bright, heavenly, feminine symbol of the Grail with the dark, earthly, masculine symbol of the spear.” (par. 371).
Coming back to the scene described in the chapter, Jung suddenly realizes that Klingsor, the villainous magician, closely resembles him. The evil magician symbolizes the shadow side of Leo with their overblown ego. But then Parsifal enters the stage and Jung suddenly also sees himself in the knight, who at some point enters clad in the lion skin of Hercules.
Further in the chapter, Jung continues to tackle the theme of opposites. He asks:
“I presume you would like to have certainty with regard to truth and error?”
Yet, he says, being certain about one end of polarity leads to “resistance against the other.” But the truth is that “one cannot be enough for us since the other is in us.” Polarities are intertwined. The bigger the chasm we try to create between them, the worse the psychological consequences. Growth demands the acceptance of “the Other”. Jung will return to this mystical paradox and the necessity to transcend the either/or thinking in Seven Sermons to the Dead with their pronouncement of Gnostic wisdom.
Another issue Jung expands on at this point is talent. His advice is not to identify yourself with your gift. The essence of a talent is “extrahuman” – therefore it cannot be possessed by the ego – “he is never at the height of his gift but always beneath it.” Furthermore, by accepting the shadow side inherent in each talent, one can bear the gift “without disadvantage” of an inflated ego.
The chapter also contains a wonderful passage that affirms the need of darkness in the psyche:
“It is the most primordial form of creation, the very first dark urge that flows through all secret hiding places and dark passages, with the unintentional lawfulness of water and from unexpected places in the loose soil, swelling from the finest cracks to fructify the dry soil.
This silent, deep part of the psyche calls for salvation and it needs to be awakened, says Jung. He concludes:
“Nothing should separate me from him, the dark one. If I want to leave him, he follows me like my shadow. If I do not think of him, he is still uncannily near. He will turn into fear if I deny him.”
This dark nameless godlike figure, writes Jung, completes Christ.
The chapter is richly illustrated with images that tell their own story. The shadow image 115 described above is followed by image 117. Here we meet Atmaviktu – the breath of life, the creative impulse. He is trying in vain to stop the dragon from swallowing the sun. In Black Book 6 (quoted in the footnotes by Shamdasani) the soul tells Jung that Atmaviktu is “a kobold, a serpent conjuror, a serpent.” From the serpent, Atmaviktu transformed into Philemon, who was a towering figure in Jung’s life and his spiritual guru. More space will be devoted to him in future instalments of the series.
In Jung’s garden in Küsnacht there is a sculpture of Atmaviktu depicted as a kobold or a kabir, who symbolized the vital creative impulse for Jung. In Psychology and Religion (CW 11) Jung wrote about the Cabiri (par. 244):
“The Cabiri are, in fact, the mysterious creative powers, the gnomes who work under the earth, i.e., below the threshold of consciousness, in order to supply us with lucky ideas. As imps and hobgoblins, however, they also play all sorts of nasty tricks, keeping back names and dates that were ‘on the tip of the tongue,’ making us say the wrong thing, etc. They give an eye to everything that has not already been anticipated by the conscious mind and the functions at its disposal.”
Jung carved such a figure also on a stone in Bollingen – a kabir Telesphoros bearing the symbol of Mercury on his vest – with the following inscription:
“AION is a child playing—Wagering on draughts—Kingship of a Child
Telesphoros traverses the dark regions of this Cosmos
A flashing Star from the Depths
Guiding way to the Gates of the Sun and to the Land of Dreams” (4)
In image 119, Atmavictu is shown after killing the dragon. In the previous image (117) the dragon had devoured the sun. Now Atmavictu sets out to retrieve it from the dragon’s belly, but as Jung’s inscription says, the dragon “must not hand over the gold of the sun.” At the same time there are other suns falling from the dragon’s dismembered body. As Drob summarizes,
“We might say that the dragon swallowing the sun symbolizes a stage in the process of individuation in which the conscious ego regresses into the unconscious, remains for a time in its grip, and emerges a fully individuated self after it has been released.” (5)
Interestingly, we had already met Atmavictu in The Red Book. He was a figure, who helped Jung to murder the hero Siegfried, the symbol of the overblown ego.
Image 121 is a beautiful mandala with the philosopher’s stone in the centre. Jung’s own note on the image says that the stone “expands into space through four distinct qualities, namely breadth, height, depth, and time. It is hence invisible and you can pass through it without noticing it. The four streams of Aquarius flow from the stone.” Liz Greene comments that
“The astrological reference seems to hint at Jung’s understanding of the possibilities for humanity inherent in the new Aquarian Aion: integration of the individual personality with the Self, for which he came to view the lapis philosophorum of alchemy as a primary symbol.” (6)
The striking image 122 is yet another depiction of Atmaviktu. Liz Greene writes:
“This face, staring out at the viewer, floats bodiless against a backdrop of greyish stones, and is surrounded by ancient flint or obsidian knives and the fossils of ammonites and other prehistoric creatures. The colours are those of the earth: grey, rusty brown, ochre, and black. Both the image legend and the goatlike features suggest specific symbolic references to Saturn.” (7)
Jung himself describes the image as the “stony residue” of Atmavictu, who has returned to “endless history,” having completed his creation.
Finally, the beautiful image 123 portrays the water-bearer with the stream of water resembling the glyph of Aquarius. (8) The image legend states:
“This is the caster of holy water. The Cabiri grow out of the flowers which spring from the body of the dragon. Above is the temple.“
(1) The Book of Symbols, Reflections on Archetypal Images, ARAS, edited by Ami Ronnberg p. 786
(3) Sanford L. Drob, Reading The Red Book: An Interpretative Guide to C.G. Jung’s Liber Novus, Spring Journal Books 2012, p. 153
(4) Translation found in http://gnosis.org/Hermeneutics-of-Vision.pdf
(5) Sanford L. Drob, Reading The Red Book: An Interpretative Guide to C.G. Jung’s Liber Novus, Spring Journal Books 2012, p. 156-157
(6) Liz Greene, The Astrological World of Jung’s Liber Novus: Daimons, Gods and the Planetary Journey, Kindle edition
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