Chapter XIX of Liber Secundus (part II of The Red Book) is called The Gift of Magic. The Soul wants Jung to accept the gift of magic represented by “a black rod, formed like a serpent-with two pearls as eyes-a gold bangle around its neck.” The serpent is one of those powerful symbols that accompanied Jung throughout all his life. He owned a ring with an image of a dark snake, which he described with these words:
“It is Egyptian. Here the serpent is carved, which symbolizes Christ. Above it, the face of a woman; below the number 8, which is the symbol of the Infinite, of the Labyrinth, and the Road to the Unconscious.” (1)
It was in Aion: Researches into the Phenomenology of the Self, where Jung dives deep into the symbolism of the serpent. (2) There he wrote the following about the snake, which he perceived as simultaneously the highest, most spiritual animal and the lowest, most material and chthonic one:
“… snakes are favourite symbols for describing psychic happenings or experiences that suddenly dart out of the unconscious and have a frightening or redeeming effect.” (par. 291)
“It expresses his fear of everything inhuman and his awe of the sublime, of what is beyond human ken. It is the lowest (devil) and the highest (son of God, Logos, Nous, Agathodaimon).”(par. 293)
“As serpens mercurialis, the snake is not only related to the god of revelation, Hermes, but, as a vegetation numen, calls forth the ‘blessed greenness’ all the budding and blossoming of plant life. Indeed, this serpent actually dwells in the interior of the earth and is the pneuma that lies hidden in the stone.”(par. 386)
“Just as the serpent stands for the power that heals as well as corrupts, so one of the thieves is destined upwards, the other downwards, and so likewise the shadow is on one side regrettable and reprehensible weakness, on the other side healthy instinctivity and the prerequisite for higher consciousness.” (par. 402)
Cirlot perceived the serpent as “symbolic of energy itself—of force pure and simple.” Snakes are guardians of the deeps and of hidden treasures as well as guardians of the springs of life. (3) They may stand both for renewal and destruction. Because they symbolize pure energy, they are beyond good and evil and they can flow in both directions.
Returning to chapter XIX of Liber Secundus, Jung hesitates whether he should accept the gift of magic from the Soul. The Soul tells him that this kind of gift will require the sacrifice of solace. Jung will not be able to give or receive solace if he accepts this gift from the soul. He ponders:
“This means the loss of a piece of humanity; and what one calls severity toward oneself and others takes its place.”
The inhumanness of the snake of magic seems to worry Jung, but he knows he needs to accept the gift. He hold the rod and speaks to it, calling it “the messenger of the night”:
“Are you time and fate? The essence of nature, hard and eternally inconsolable, yet the sum of all mysterious creative force? Primordial magic words seem to emanate from you, mysterious effects weave around you, and what powerful arts slumber in you?”
The black rod of magic brings with it “defiance and contempt for men.” Image 127, which accompanies this part of the text, was described by Jung as “the inexorable wheel of the four functions, the essence of all living beings imbued with sacrifice.” The four functions he refers to here are thinking, feeling, sensation and intuition. There is always one function that dominates the consciousness in each of us, according to Jung. This exact function needs to be sacrificed in the name of wholeness. Only then will its opposite function be liberated from the state of repression in the unconscious. If a thinking type sacrifices his or her intellect, his feeling function will be able to rise to consciousness. By the same token, the intuitive type is often too steeped in his or her inner life, too much future oriented, which means that his or her sensation is suppressed. Such an individual cannot live here and now and has difficulty living the simple life of the senses. Psychological Types, volume VI of Collected Works of Jung, contains a few examples of sacrificing the main function. For example, this is what Jung wrote of Tertullian, one of the early Church Fathers:
“His most valuable organ was the intellect and the clarity of knowledge it made possible. Through the sacrificium intellectus the way of purely intellectual development was closed to him; it forced him to recognize the irrational dynamism of his soul as the foundation of his being.” (par. 20)
Image 127 shows how painful the sacrifice can be but the consolation is the caption above the painting – The Triumph of Love.
Next image – 129 is quite a striking portrayal of the black serpent. The creature seems to emerge from Kether, the topmost of the sephirot of the Tree of Life in Kabbalah, which symbolized the primal unity with God. White brilliance is the colour associated with Kether by the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. The luminosity and otherworldliness of the image is quite stunning even if Jung did not consciously choose to refer to Kabbalistic thought in the image. He writes:
“…we approach the overpowering, inhuman forces that are busily creating what is to come. … The tension of the future is unbearable in us. It must break through narrow cracks, it must force new ways.”
The luminosity is forcing its way into the sublunary realm. The serpent guarding the treasure is standing on the threshold between the unconscious and manifestation. The energy coils through its sinuous body.
“There is only one way and that is your way; there is only one salvation and that is your salvation. … What is to come is created in you and from you. Hence look into yourself.”
This though is not new in The Red Book. The path to individuation is the body of the snake arising from one’s unconscious. It is a solitary path with little comfort. It is the way of the Magician:
“In it Heaven and Hell grow together, and in it the power of the Below and the power of the Above unite.”
The extraordinary image 131, one of the most celebrated paintings from The Red Book, is accompanied by a magical incantation:
“The Above is powerful,
The Below is powerful,
Twofold power is in the One.
North, come hither,
West, snuggle up,
East, flow upward,
South, spill over.
The winds in between bind the
cross. The poles are united by the
intermediate poles in between.
Steps lead from above to below.
Boiling water bubbles in
cauldrons. Red hot ash envelops
the round floor.
Night sinks blue and deep from
above, earth rises black from
The luminosity of Kether is resplendent in the winter night, behind the dark tree of life set against indigo blue sky. This is followed by two more striking images and magical incantations. Image 133 could be the portrait of the solitary one, who sings the incantations:
“A solitary is cooking up healing potions.
He makes offering to the four winds.
He greets the stars and touches the earth.
He holds something luminous in his hand.
He is far from men and yet the threads of their fate pass through his hands.”
The solitary ends his incantation by abstaining from the role of a savior of humanity. He says instead:
“Now prove your worth by each
living for himself.”
Image 135 is a continuation of the visual narrative presented by the stunning imagery of this rich chapter. The inscription below the egg says:
“The fire comes out of Muspilli and grasps the tree of life. A cycle is completed, but it is the cycle within the world. A strange God, the unnamable God of the solitary, is incubating it. New creatures form from the smoke and ashes.”
In the footnotes, Shamdasani explains that in Norse mythology Muspilli (or Muspelheim) is the abode of the Fire Gods. It seems a new cycle is beginning with the snake and other creatures emerging from the roots of the burnt world tree. This is the mystery of the changeful, says Jung, and “the road is without end.”
(1) C. G. Jung Speaking: Interviews and Encounters, edited by William McGuire and R.F.C. Hull, Bollingen Series: Princeton University Press 1977, p. 468
(2) Collected Works volume 9ii
(3) Juan Eduardo Cirlot, A Dictionary of Symbols, Taylor & Francis e-Library, 2001
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