“We need magic to be able to receive or invoke the messenger and the communication of the incomprehensible.”
C.G. Jung, The Red Book, Liber Secundus, chapter XXI
We have reached the final twenty-first chapter of Liber Secundus – the second part of Jung’s Red Book. This is an extremely long and meandering chapter. Its title is The Magician and its main protagonist is ΦΙΛΗΜΩΝ (Philemon), who was one of the chief (if not the chiefest) spiritual influences in Jung’s life. This article is devoted entirely to Philemon while the next part will deal with the remainder of the chapter.
In Memories, Dreams Reflections, Jung’s memoirs recorded by Aniela Jaffé, Jung called Philemon a pagan, who “brought with him an Egypto-Hellenistic atmosphere with a Gnostic coloration.” He first appeared to Jung in the following vision, recorded in Memories:
“There was a blue sky, like the sea, covered not by clouds but by flat brown clods of earth. It looked as if the clods were breaking apart and the blue water of the sea were becoming visible between them. But the water was the blue sky. Suddenly there appeared from the right a winged being sailing across the sky. I saw that it was an old man with the horns of a bull. He held a bunch of four keys, one of which he clutched as if he were about to open a lock. He had the wings of the kingfisher with its characteristic colors. Since I did not understand this dream-image, I painted it in order to impress it upon my memory. During the days when I was occupied with the painting, I found in my garden, by the lake shore, a dead kingfisher!”
In his memoirs Jung explains in detail the pivotal role Philemon played in his spiritual life:
“In my fantasies I held conversations with him, and he said things which I had not consciously thought. … Psychologically, Philemon represented superior insight. He was a mysterious figure to me. At times he seemed to me quite real, as if he were a living personality. I went walking up and down the garden with him, and to me he was what the Indians call a guru.”
Philemon was a character in Ovid’s Metamorphosis and in Goethe’s Faust. Ovid tells the myth of Jupiter and Mercury who, disguised as poor travelers, wondered through the countryside. They knocked on many doors looking for a place to rest but were turned away everywhere but in a humble cottage of Philemon and his wife Baucis. In order to feed the guests, the impoverished couple offered to kill their only goose but then the gods revealed themselves and spared the bird. The lack of hospitality of the couple’s neighbours was punished by flood sent by the gods. The only abode spared was that of Philemon and Baucis. The gods transformed the cottage into a splendid palace of marble and gold. They also granted the couple a wish. Philemon and Baucis asked to become shrine priests to the gods and to die at the same time. When they died, Philemon was transformed into an oak and Baucis into a linden tree. Thus they stayed together for eternity.
In Goethe’s tragedy, Faust is building a city and it so happens that on that same territory live Philemon and Baucis. He asks Mephistopheles to move them. But instead of doing that Mephistopheles burns their cottage down with the couple inside. That crime shocked Jung, who said in Memories, Dreams, Reflections:
“…I felt personally implicated, and when Faust, in his hubris and self-inflation, caused the murder of Philemon and Baucis, I felt guilty, quite as if I myself in the past had helped commit the murder of the two old people. This strange idea alarmed me, and I regarded it as my responsibility to atone for this crime, or to prevent its repetition.
My own inner contradictions appeared here in dramatized form; Goethe had written virtually a basic outline and pattern of my own conflicts and solutions. The dichotomy of Faust-
Mephistopheles came together within myself into a single person, and I was that person. In other words, I was directly struck, and recognized that this was my fate.”
This is why the tower that Jung built in Bollingen bore an inscription over the gate: “Philemonis Sacrum – Fausti Poenitentia” [Philemon’s Shrine – Faust’s Repentance].
Philemon personified for Jung, as he put it in Memories, the spiritual aspect and meaning, hence his wings. Later a new figure emerged in his visions – Ka, who was more earthly, representing the embodied soul, as it did in ancient Egypt. Ka was also described by Jung as demonic and Mephistophelian, which connects him to the shadow.
In a poetic beginning to chapter XXI, Jung stands in front of a “small house in the country fronted by a large bed of tulips.” There Philemon, the Magician and Baucis, his wife live. These days they chiefly occupy themselves with their tulips while “their days fade into a pale wavering chiaroscuro.” Jung asks Philemon to teach him about magic, or as he refers to it, “the black art.” At first Philemon is reticent but he likes Jung’s attitude to learning, which Jung describes in this way:
“Whenever I want to learn and understand something, I leave my so-called reason at home and give whatever it is that I am trying to understand the benefit of the doubt.”
In order to understand magic, says Philemon, one has to give up consistency because it does not follow “ordinary understanding.” Magic is “the negative of what one may know.” It cannot be taught or learnt. Feeling confused, Jung leaves the old master but the people who surround him think that he has received the gift of magic. He says that magic “opens spaces that have no doors and leads out into the open where there is no exit.” Magic operates beyond good and evil and yet it is both good and evil, adds Jung.
Next Jung moves on to ponder the reason and unreason. What our world views as reasonable and unreasonable is not constant because “a part of the incomprehensible … is only presently incomprehensible and might already concur with reason tomorrow.” It is the magical practices which serve to open up the scope of understanding but our age with its limited understanding of what is and is not reasonable has rejected magic. Jung says:
“Magic is a way of living. If one has done one’s best to steer the chariot, and one then notices that a greater other is actually steering it, then magical operation takes place.”
It is important for the magician to recognize that the chariot or the individual psyche is steered by the unconscious forces that are far bigger than the individual. The white and the black Sphinxes of the Chariot card in the Rider-Waite-Smith tarot, might be used to illustrate the following Jung’s remark: “the more the one half of my being strives toward the good, the more the other half journeys to Hell.”
Next Jung focuses on the story of Philemon and Baucis as told by Ovid. He wonders about the etymology of the name Philemon and its connection with love (from philein “to love” in Greek). Philemon is not only the lover of Baucis and of the gods but he is first and foremost a lover of his own soul. Through the inexhaustible mystery of love, Philemon united the Above and the Below. Jung also compares him to a wise serpent, whose wisdom is “cold, with a grain of poison, yet healing in small doses.” Philemon is “the father of all eternal wisdom,” who is neither Christian nor pagan. He does not fashion himself as a savior but chooses to focus on tending the flowers in his own garden:
“Giving is as childish as power. He who gives presumes himself powerful. The virtue of giving is the sky-blue mantle of the tyrant. You are wise, Oh ΦΙΛΗΜΩΝ, you do not give. You want your garden to bloom, and for everything to grow from within itself.”
This is a sign of a true master who opens the way to organic growth within the psyche of his disciple. But this is also an unwilling master, who does not want any power over those who come to listen to him. Philemon, like the Water Bearer, pours out “living water, from which the flowers of your garden bloom, a starry water, a dew of the night.” But he grants people the freedom to drink from the water or not.
Furthermore, Philemon is “a teacher and friend of the dead,” as Jung says:
“They stand sighing in the shade of your house, they live under the branches of your trees.”
He teaches people to remain silent and listen to their own inner speech in the “dark and noiseless” night. Here image 154 appears, whose inscription says: Father of the Prophet, Beloved Philemon.
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