Reading The Red Book (33)

“One can certainly gain outer freedom through powerful actions, but one creates inner freedom only through the symbol.”

C.G. Jung, The Red Book, Liber Secundus, chapter XX

Chapter XX of Liber Secundus, the middle part of Jung’s Red Book, has got the title The Way of the Cross. This is the penultimate chapter, quite short compared to the upcoming final one. On a personal note, I am always quite astounded how the text of the chapter I am currently analyzing reflects the external events in my personal and also in collective life. Sometimes the synchronicity is very literal indeed like here when I encounter The Way of the Cross during Eastertime. The chapter starts with the following vision:

 “I saw the black serpent, as it wound itself upward around the wood of the cross. It crept into the body of the crucified and emerged again transformed from his mouth. It had become white. It wound itself around the head of the dead one like a diadem, and a light gleamed above his head, and the sun rose shining in the east.”

For more detailed analysis of the symbolism of the serpent, I must refer you to the previous instalment of my series ( The image of a serpent wrapped around a staff is an ancient one. It is known as the rod of Asclepius, which features a single snake, and a caduceus with its twin snakes. Quite surprisingly, it also appears in the Old Testament. As Moses was leading the Israelites across the desert to the Promised Land:

“4 They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”

Then the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.

The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.”

Numbers 21, New International Version via

Jesus alludes to that passage in the Gospels:

“Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”

John 3: 14-15

Agnolo Bronzino, Il serpente di bronzo, from the chapel of Eleonora of Toledo, Florence, Palazzo Vecchio

According to prisca theologia (ancient theology), which asserts that a single, true theological doctrine runs like a thread through all religions, Moses is included in a venerable lineage, a sequence of the sages presented in this order: “Enoch, Abraham, Noah, Zoroaster, Moses, Hermes Trismegistus, the Brahmins, the Druids, David, Orpheus, Pythagoras, Plato, the Sibyls.” (1) This relates also to Gnostic beliefs, notably to such sects as the Ophites or the Naassenes, who revered Jesus as the serpent of wisdom. In Symbols of Transformation (CW 5) Jung devoted a lot of space to the symbolism of the cross and the serpent. He saw the cross as emblematic of “the tree of life and “the mother.” (2) Like the tree of life, the cross forms an axis, which the soul can climb to reach the divine. In the cross, the vertical (spiritual) axis is juxtaposed with the horizontal (physical) axis, which on the one hand stands for agony and suffering, but on the other is a symbol of the unification of the opposites. Jung continues in Symbols of Transformation on the unity of Jesus and the serpent:

“As a serpent he is to be ‘lifted up’ on the cross; that is to say, as a man with merely human thoughts and desires, who is ever striving back to childhood and the mother, he must die on the mother-tree…” (3)

For Jung, Christ was a symbol of the self. He continues the same passage:

“The archetype of the self has, functionally, the significance of a ruler of the inner world, i.e., of the collective unconscious. The self, as a symbol of wholeness, is a ‘coincidentia oppositorum,’ and therefore contains light and darkness simultaneously…. In the Christ-figure the opposites which are united in the archetype are polarized into the ‘light’ son of God on the one hand and the devil on the other.” (4)

Gustave Doré “The Temptation of Jesus”

Returning to chapter XX, Jung elucidates further why Christ is for him both a symbol of the self and of individuation. He says this about Christ:

“He did not simply teach what was knowable and worth knowing, he lived it. It is unclear how great one’s humility must be to take it upon oneself to live one’s own life. … . He would rather devise any trick to help him escape, since nothing matches the torment of one’s own way. It seems impossibly difficult, so difficult that nearly anything seems preferable to this torment. … He who goes to himself climbs down.”

In order to achieve individuation, one needs to renounce “the visible success” and the longing for power, including the power over one’s fellow human beings. This is a path of sacrifice.

In the vision cited at the beginning of the chapter, the transformed black serpent emerges from Jesus’s mouth, white and radiant. This serpent is the Logos, not a meaningless, rootless word, but a word that has acquired the status of a Symbol. Jung continues:

“When the way enters death and we are surrounded by rot and horror, the way rises in the darkness and leaves the mouth as the saving symbol, the word. It leads the sun on high, for in the symbol there is the release of the bound human force struggling with darkness.”

The final passages of the chapter are powerful remarks on the nature of the symbol. In Psychological Types (CW 6), Jung wrote extensively on the topic. Symbol creation is not a rational process. The human psyche has the so-called transcendent function, which results in symbolic formations. (5) The transcendent function projects the contents of the unconscious onto the physical world. The symbol thus created serves as a luminous bridge leading to psychological rebirth:

“The symbol is the middle way along which the opposites flow together in a new movement, like a watercourse bringing fertility after a long drought.” (6)

Only the transcendent function and its symbols can put a person on a path towards individuation. This is thanks to propensity of the symbolic function to leave “the path prescribed by collective norms.” (7)

Further on in the chapter we are discussing Jung says that symbol is like a word of power that arises unexpectedly “on the tongue.” This organic and spontaneous process resembles “the becoming of human life in the womb.” Symbols are birthed anew for each generation, since “the task is to give birth to the old in a new time.” The soul of humanity, which Jung likens in this chapter to “the great wheel of the zodiac” gives birth to new/old symbols at each turning of the cosmic wheel. As Jung puts it: “It belongs to the essence of forward movement that what was returns.”

Zodiac Mosaic from Beth Alpha, a six-century synagogue in Israel
Rider Waite Smith tarot, Wheel of Fortune

At the very end of the chapter Jung briefly reflects on free will and fate. He seems to be saying that despite or against his will and intentions, “futurity grows out of me.” It is an organic process spurred on by the symbols arising from the depths of the collective unconscious. He postulates that the ancients used magic to compel and change outer fate while we the moderns need magic to “determine inner fate.” Magic can help move psychic life forward. In the end, Jung decides to visit a great magician, but that is the subject of the next chapter.  

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(1) Antoine Faivre, The Eternal Hermes: From Greek God to Alchemical Magus, translated by Joscelyn Godwin

(2) par. 411

(3) Ibid., par. 575

(4) Ibid., par. 576

(5) par. 171 and 211

(6) Ibid., par. 443

(7) Ibid., par. 759

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 29

Reading The Red Book – part 30

Reading The Red Book – part 31

Reading The Red Book – part 32

Reading The Red Book – part 34

Reading The Red Book – part 35

Reading The Red Book – part 36

Reading The Red Book – part 37

Reading The Red Book – part 38

Reading The Red Book – part 39

Reading The Red Book – part 40

Reading The Red Book – part 41

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3 Responses to Reading The Red Book (33)

  1. Pingback: Reading The Red Book (33) | PELOTAS OCCULTA

  2. Kevin Falconer says:

    i like how you conclude with that’s the subject of the next chapter !

    Liked by 1 person

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