“I have united with the serpent of the beyond. I have accepted everything beyond into myself.”
C.G. Jung, The Red Book, Liber Secundus, chapter XXI
This is a continuation of the discussion of the final twenty-first chapter of Liber Secundus – the second part of Jung’s Red Book.
Having learnt magic from Philemon, Jung becomes a friend of serpents by playing the flute to them. He comes across a large iridescent serpent and enchants her “to make her believe that she was my soul.” In a conversation that they have, the soul tells Jung:
“I let grass grow over everything that you do.”
The soul gives life to Jung’s work. In his Dictionary of Literary Symbols, Michael Ferber, explains that “the primary sense of Greek chloros [green, hence our chlorophyll] may have been ‘sappy’ or ‘having sap,’ and hence ‘vital’ or ‘vigorous.’” For the Greeks life was associated with moisture. (1) Thus, the soul endows all Jung’s endeavours with life, moisture and vitality. Similarly, the medieval abbess and mystic Hildegard of Bingen spoke of viriditas – the greening power, which she connected with creativity and bearing fruit as well as with the moist power of the earth in the spring.
Here image 155 appears, which, as Shamdasani informs us in the footnotes, Jung mentioned in his “The psychological aspects of the Kore” (1951) without revealing himself as its author. There he said that in that image the anima was restored to the Christian church “not as an icon but as an altar itself.” In the mysterious depiction , a veiled female figure of the High Priestess is an object of worship. (2)
The soul asks Jung:
“So, have you noticed that the becoming of the soul follows a serpentine path?
Also The Red Book follows a serpentine path of meandering and spiraling, aiming for depth rather than the clarity of singular meaning. The labyrinthine chapters of Liber Novus do not make for an easy reading but nevertheless each sections pulsates with meaning and points to the radiant centre. More often than not a sentence would appear that opalesces with meaning:
“What is beyond the human that appears in love has the nature of the serpent and the bird, and the serpent often enchants the bird, and more rarely the bird bears off the serpent. Man stands in-between.”
The human unconscious, Jung seems to be saying here, encompasses the serpentine soul, which is earthy and chthonic, and the birdlike spirit, which lifts it upwards. The soul possesses the power of enchantment, which attracts the bird downwards toward embodiment. This juxtaposition lies at the heart of the conflict of opposites, which is inherent to life. Jung wonders whether the obliteration of opposites would not deprive life of energy:
“How will it be, now that God and the devil have become one? Are they in agreement to bring life to a standstill? Does the conflict of opposites belong to the inescapable conditions of life? And does he who recognizes and lives the unity of opposites stand still? He has completely taken the side of actual life, and he no longer acts as if he belonged to one party and had to battle against the other, but he is both and has brought their discord to an end. Through taking this burden from life, has he also taken the force from it?”
The beautiful image 159 accompanies the text here. Shamdasani informs us in the footnotes that Jung discussed this painting in his commentary to The Secret of the Golden Flower. There again he did not own up to being its author:
“A luminous flower in the center, with stars rotating about it. Around the flower, walls with eight gates. The whole conceived as a transparent window.”
In a seminar that he gave years later, however, he revealed himself as the painter:
“I was the perpetrator of that mandala at a time when I had not the slightest idea what a mandala was, and in my extreme modesty I thought, I am the jewel in the center and those little lights are surely very nice people who believe that they are also jewels, but smaller ones. I thought very well of myself that I was able to express myself like that: my marvelous center here and I am right in my heart. … I am not the center, I am the fool who lives in a dark place somewhere, I am one of those little side lights. In that way my Western prejudice that I was the center of the mandala was corrected-that I am everything, the whole show, the king, the god” (3)
The whole Liber Novus seems to be leading to this conclusion: the psyche is infinitely wider and richer than the “I” encountering it.
In keeping with the now familiar structure of the previous chapters, Jung now has a series of encounters, of which the first is with Satan. Jung announces to Satan that thanks to the unification of opposites Satan has now become bonded with God. But the consequence of reconciling the opposites is the standstill, which, as Satan observes, does not make Jung happy:
“The absolute was always adverse to the living. I am still the real master of life.”
Satan thus describes himself:
“I am ambition, greed for fame, lust for action; I am the fizz of new thoughts and action. The absolute is boring and vegetative.”
To be alive, one needs to stand for something, as well as constantly try and overcome the opposites. Satan helps Jung realize what the difference is between the life of eternity, which is always at a standstill and where opposites are united and a personal life, which “bubbles and foams and stirs up turbulent waves,” The image 163 accompanying the text depicts a golden castle, whose centre is a golden temple. The castle is surrounded by lush greenery, symbolic of vibrant plant life. The chess floor in the centre stands for the unification of the opposites.
Jung’s next encounter is with the Cabiri, who he describes here as “elemental spirits,” “young and yet old,” “first formations of the unformed gold.” (4) In the editorial footnotes, Shamdasani mentions that some researchers regarded the Cabiri as the primal deities of Greek mythology, whose archaic wisdom was deeply connected with vegetative life.
The Cabiri greet Jung reverently and refer to him as “the master of the lower nature,” which takes him by surprise. They say:
“We carry what is not to be carried from below to above. We are the juices that rise secretly, not by force, but sucked out of inertia and affixed to what is growing. We know the unknown ways and the inexplicable laws of living matter. We carry up what slumbers in the earthly; what is dead and yet enters into the living.”
They emphasize that their work is slow, organic and demands patience, not brute force:
“You forget the lethargy of matter. You want to pull up with your own force what can only rise slowly…”
They gift Jung the sword so that he can disentangle himself from the maze created by his brain and move beyond the madness of overthinking towards feeling and being in touch with the lower nature. Thanks to the Cabiri, Jung is now able to build a tower that no one can bring down. The Cabiri had to be sacrificed with a sword to build it; they consecrated the construction with their own blood. Jung says that the tower can only be reached by the one who finds “the entrance hidden in the mountain and rises up through the labyrinths of the innards.”
The symbolism of the tower is dual: on the one hand it is phallic, mighty, erect, denoting power and spirit reaching from the earth to the heavens. On the other hand, it is feminine, reminiscent of an enclosed area, a walled sanctuary, and a safe haven. The Tower of Ivory was one of the names given to the Virgin Mary in her protective role of offering refuge and comfort. Furthermore, the name of Mary Magdalene has been derived from “the migdal, the tower, the beacon, the saving light in the darkness.” (5) She was Jesus’s tower shining in the darkness. On the other hand, the tower encompasses the symbolism of isolation and hubris, which is illustrated by the story of the tower of Babel as well as the infamous tarot card. And indeed, Jung seems to be full of himself when he says to his serpent (his soul) that he now has found beauty in himself as he looks back on all the work he has accomplished. Yet the soul admonishes him: “Nothing is accomplished yet. … This is only the beginning.” She also tells him that he is getting impertinent and that “life has yet to begin.” “Just don’t assume that somehow you could ever grasp me and embody me,” she delivers the final blow.
This passage is accompanied by image 169, which depicts a multitude of human faces – notably painted in green as the colour of life – of all races as well as a number of skulls in the corner. This striking image is very symbolic of Jung’s psychology, which emphasized the universal connection between the living and the dead of all races and all times. The radiant star with rainbow-coloured rays on the left-hand side may indeed stand for the single spiritual core common for all the figures depicted. Later in the chapter Jung emphasizes that he is no longer threatened by the dead since he has accepted them into his day. As Sanford L. Drob points out,
“It is here that Jung holds that a recognition of ‘death’ serves to distance one from ambition and desire, overcome one’s ego strivings and bring one to a rich and beautiful life in which one becomes oneself.” (6)
Although the soul did warn Jung against impertinence, she decided to reward him for what he has accomplished. She brings him Salome, whom we met in Liber Primus, and says, “May she be yours.” But Jung does not want or is not able to be with her because he is already married and “we are not among the Turks,” who at that time sanctioned polygamy. He proceeds to admonish her not to be needy:
“If you really love me, dance before the crowd, please people so that they praise your beauty and your art. And if you have a rich harvest, throw me one of your roses through the window, and if the fount of your joy overflows, dance and sing to me once more. I long for the joy of men, for their fullness and freedom and not their neediness.”
Here the theme of relationships in Jung’s life can be pondered and Drob is wondering whether Jung “fails to leave the orbit of the self” (7) due to his love of isolation and fear of suffering that love brings. Jung says to Salome:
“I have not forgotten the dream where I saw my body lying on sharp needles and a bronze wheel rolling over my breast, crushing it. I must think of this dream whenever I think of love.”
Jung would now like to be praised by the serpent/soul for sacrificing his love to Salome but the soul mocks him:
“You’re not forcing your feeling into the background at all; rather it suits you much better not to agonize further over Salome.”
The serpent now turns into a white bird, which brings Jung a gift from heaven – a golden crown with an inscription which says ‘Love never ends.’ Jung now has a vision of hanging on top of the tree of life for three days and three nights, similarly to Odin. Salome tells him that he has to hang like this until he has devised help for himself. When the necessary time passes, the bird tells Jung:
“The crown and serpent are opposites, and are one. … What words did the crown bring you? ‘Love never ends’- that is the mystery of the crown and the serpent.”
Jung finally sees that him and Salome are one. The golden crown of Above – the spiritual sun or the solar logos from which archetypes such as Salome emerge – is mirrored by the uoroboric serpent of the Below. The Above and Below are united by love and are both aspects of one world – what Jung will call Unus Mundus in his later work.
The next section of the chapter is a reflection on love versus life. Although he calls love “the inescapable mother of life,” he declares that “life stands above love.” It seems that here Jung is mainly talking about motherly love. In order to grow into life, a child needs to separate from the mother:
“A man needs his mother until his life has developed. Then he separates from her. And so life needs love until it has developed, then it will cut loose from it. The separation of the child from the mother is difficult, but the separation of life from love is harder. Love seeks to have and to hold, but life wants more.”
As we will see later, at the very end of Liber Novus, which was written two years after the passage above, Jung says that he in fact had to “remain true to love” because without it he could never attain his true, stellar nature. From one perspective, The Red Book can be viewed as a way to finding Love and Self. If you wish to find out more about Jung’s private trials and tribulations in relationships in the period when he was working on The Red Book, I strongly recommend Jung in Love: The Mysterium in Liber Novus by Lance S. Owens. (8)
In this chapter, however, Jung decides to abandon “the unresolvable question of love.” As he stands alone and lost in thoughts, the soul tells him the following fairy tale, summarized below:
A childless king went to a wise witch and confessed all his sins to her. She scolded him for his evil deeds but she advised him to “take a pound of otter lard, bury it in the earth, and let nine months pass. Then dig up that place again and see what you find.” After nine months the king found a sleeping infant in the pot. The child was strong, healthy and happy and when he turned twenty, he said to the king:
“I am strong and clever and therefore I demand the crown of the realm from you.”
The king thought to himself, “What has produced you? Otter lard. Who bore you? The womb of the earth. I drew you from a pot, a witch humiliated me.” He decided to have the son killed. He went to the witch again, who advised him to bury a pot with otter’s lard for nine months again. After nine months the son died. But the feelings of remorse and melancholy were unbearable and the king yet again turned to the wise woman for advice. Her advice was once again similar – to fill the pot with otter’s lard and bury it in his son’s grave for nine months. After nine months the king found a sleeping infant in the pot and he realized that this was his dead son. Here’s how the story ends in Jung’s words:
“He took the infant to himself and henceforth he grew as much in a week as other infants grow in a year. And when twenty weeks had passed, the son came before the father again and claimed his realm. But the father had learned from experience and already knew for a long time how everything would turn out. After the son had voiced his demand, the old king got up from his throne and embraced his son with tears of joy and crowned him king. And so the son, who had thus become king, was grateful to his father and held him in high esteem, as long as his father was granted life.”
This wonderful story has a multitude of layers. The otter lard is a wonderful image in itself – perhaps it can be viewed as the bonding fluid of family ties since the otter is an animals with a very strong sense of familial bonds. The otter is sacred to the Celtic goddess Ceridwen while in the Native American tradition it represents “balanced female energy.” (9)
The importance of the child archetype for the development of the Self was analyzed in the tenth part of the series – https://symbolreader.net/2019/09/15/reading-the-red-book-10/. There I quoted from a text that Jung co-wrote with Karl Kerenyi. The child emerges from the depths of nature and in this way can be compared to a seed. It is a symbol of the unity of the opposites as it represents “the synthesis of the conscious and unconscious elements of the personality.” The conscious factors, notably the ego, which clings to power and control, seeks to stifle the child and all the new psychological content that the child represents. The child is therefore “easily overlooked and falls back into the unconscious.”
The soul/serpent tells Jung that he should crown his son. She also tells him not to “resist being a child, otherwise you resist your son, whom you want above all.” Jung confesses that he is ashamed to be a child. This is exactly how you kill your son, says the soul. And the son is what symbolizes Jung’s work, says Sanford L. Drob, quoting from Jung’s Black Books. (10) To reach his full creative potential, Jung must integrate his inner child and his inner feminine side. Jung must thus surrender his masculine drive and power. The soul tells Jung to subject himself to the son and “let everything grow, let everything sprout.” This echoes the earlier beautiful quote when the soul told Jung that she lets grass grow on everything he does.
Jung does not accept the soul’s truths lightly. He feels resentment and outrage at the demand to renounce his power. Feeling defeated, he lies with the serpent “in a lonely spot on rocks by the water.” But then something extraordinary happens:
“… my son emerged from the water, great and powerful, the crown on his head, with a swirling lion’s mane, shimmering serpent skin covering his body.”
He says to Jung that he is now ascending back to his own country which is “in the light, in the egg, in the sun, in what is innermost and compressed, in the eternal longing embers.”
The son is the divine creative spark and as the one who participates in the Solar Logos he can bind the Above and the Below. Jung says that his whole life went now to his son but “my love remained with me.” The son tells Jung that he has been in “immortal company long enough.” Now he needs to descend to the earth and reclaim his life. He needs to let people, not the gods, illuminate his darkness. Jung’s reaction is not intellectual any more. He experiences a transformation into a pregnant woman and at the same time he feels what Mary Magdalene felt towards Jesus. He says to the son,
“I’d like to bathe your feet with my tears, dry them with my hair-I’m raving, am I a woman?”
Jung says that his heart bleeds because the Son, whom he now calls God, is leaving him. The final words of the chapter are:
“The touchstone is being alone with oneself. This is the way.”
Thus conclude the first two parts of The Red Book – Liber Primus and Liber Secundus. It seems that the leitmotiv of the chapter has been Jung’s return to life from the realm of imagination. He is now ready to present his work to the world. After a series of encounters, Jung has come to “himself.” It is now time for the final part of the opus entitled Scrutinies.
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(1) Michael Ferber, A Dictionary of Literary Symbols, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007
(2) Jung’s CW 9i, paragraphs 369, 380
(3) C. G. Jung, The Psychology of Kundalini Yoga, edited by Sonu Shamdasani, Princeton University Press, 1996, p. 100
(4) Regarding the Cabiri, I also refer you to part 30 of the series: https://symbolreader.net/2021/02/03/reading-the-red-book-30/
(5) Michael Haag, The Quest for Mary Magdalene, Kindle edition
(6) Sanford L. Drob, Reading The Red Book: An Interpretative Guide to C.G. Jung’s Liber Novus, 2012 by Spring Journal, p. 191
(7) Ibid., p. 193
(8) You can download it from the author’s page here: https://www.academia.edu/19017923/Jung_in_Love_The_Mysterium_in_Liber_Novus_Full_Monograph_Edition_2015_
(9) Jamie Sams, David Carson, Medicine Cards: The Discovery of Power Through the Ways of Animals, St. Martin’s Press; Revised edition (July 30, 1999)
(10) Sanford L. Drob, Reading The Red Book: An Interpretative Guide to C.G. Jung’s Liber Novus, 2012 by Spring Journal, p. 197