Reading The Red Book (36)

“The place of your work should be in the vault.”

C.G. Jung, The Red Book, Scrutinies

We have now reached Scrutinies – the third part of Jung’s Red Book. As Sonu Shamdasani points out in his introduction to The Red Book, Jung’s opus is divided into three parts:

Liber Primus: The Way of What Is to Come
Liber Secundus: The Images of the Erring
Liber Tertius: Scrutinies

The first two parts contain Jung’s visions from the years 1913 and 1914 whereas Scrutinies are based on later and different visions that Jung experienced between the years 1913 and 1916. Most notably, Scrutinies include the legendary Seven Sermons to the Dead, which were the only passages of The Red Book that Jung decided to publish in his lifetime.

Scrutinies opens with Jung’s denunciation of his “I,” which he calls “laughably sensitive, self-righteous, unruly, mistrustful, pessimistic, cowardly; dishonest …, venomous, vengeful…” He denounces its childish pride and craving for power accompanied by “ridiculous vanity.” These harsh words were written on the day when Jung resigned as president of the International Psychoanalytical Association, as Shamdasani informs the reader in his invaluable footnotes. The resignation came after the split with Freud. Jung seems to be so disillusioned with his ego that he wants to crown it with “a prickly crown of iron” and break its bones “until there is no longer a trace of hardness there.”

This is quite a powerful passage characterized by uncompromising honesty. Because the ego’s drive is self-preservation it may turn to nasty shadow tactics when threatened. “Your sensitivity is your particular form of violence,” quips Jung to himself. There is no love in the ego but only self-interest and desirousness, adds Jung. Resistance and hardness are other sins of the I that will do anything so as not to let the forces of the wider psyche into its egoic stronghold. But the battle is lost. Fate will come from outside and have its way, the raging ego notwithstanding.

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, “Pride” (“Superbia”)

Having scolded his I, Jung is now approached by his soul, which relates that she is happy and remains “sunlike.” This on the one hand consoles Jung, who feels stuck in the murky “darkness of the earth.” But then he feels the immense suffering of his I and accuses the soul:

“You live from the blood of the human heart.”

The soul replies:

“No drink is dearer to me than red blood.”

Once again Jung reminds us that the soul is nourished both by the spiritual sun and the dark depths of suffering. Because the soul participates in the divine, there is a steep price to pay for the human, who needs to make sacrifices to lead a soulful life. “The divine consumes the human,” laments Jung. But the soul tells Jung not to be angry because it is a necessity that “the way of life” (that is, the soul-filled life) is “sown with fallen ones.” The way of the soul leads through sacrifice.

Jung struggles throughout these passages to understand what the soul tells him. He says that he needs to understand and goes on to confessing that his belief is weak but he also adds that this is the right attitude in modern times:

“We have outgrown that childhood where mere belief was the most suitable means to bring men to what is good and reasonable. … But we have so much knowledge and such a thirst for knowledge in us that we need knowledge more than belief.”

Yet he admits that it is better to strike a balance between knowledge and belief because neither is “everything.” These issues must have preoccupied Jung all his life, as is evident from his BBC interview from 1959. There, with a Gnostic (Gnosis – knowledge) ring on his finger and with a twinkle in his eye, he replied to the journalist who asked him if he believed in God: “I don’t believe, I know.” Numerous viewers flooded BBC with angry letters chastising Jung for his hubris. He felt obliged to respond to these accusation with a letter in which he wrote:

“I did not say in the broadcast, ‘There is a God’, I said ‘I do not need to believe in God; I know’. Which does not mean: I do know a certain God (Zeus, Jahwe, Allah, the Trinitarian God, etc.) but rather: I do know that I am obviously confronted with a factor unknown in itself, which I call ‘God’ … .


That happens when I meet somebody or something stronger than myself. It is an apt name given to all overpowering emotions in my own psychical system subduing my conscious will and usurping control over myself. This is the name by which I designate all things which cross my willful path violently and recklessly, all things which upset my subjective views, plans, and intentions and change the course of my life for better or worse. In accordance with tradition I call the power of fate in this positive as well as negative aspect, and inasmuch as its origin is beyond my control, ‘god’, a ‘personal god’, since my fate means very much myself, particularly when it approaches me in the form of conscience as a vox Dei, with which I can even converse and argue.”

The value of individual spiritual experience is also a Gnostic concept. God will come, whether he is called or not, as reads the inscription above the door of Jung’s house in Küsnacht. On the other hand, by warning against “childish” belief Jung says later in the chapter we are analyzing:

“We need differentiating knowledge to clear up the confusion which the discovery of the soul has brought in. Therefore it is perhaps much better to await better knowledge before one accepts things all too believingly.”

All too often spirituality and illusion go hand in hand, therefore a discerning intellect is always necessary provided that it does not smother the soul. In his footnotes Shamdasani refers us also to the correspondence between Jung and Hans Schmid-Guisan, another Swiss psychiatrist and Jung’s friend. In a letter of 6 November 1915 Jung warned against the excesses of too much understanding:

“The core of the individual is a mystery of life, which dies when it is ‘grasped: That is also why symbols want to keep their secrets, they are mysterious not only because we are unable to clearly see what is at their bottom … All understanding as such, being an integration into general viewpoints, contains the devil’s element, and kills … That is why; in the later stages of analysis, we must help the other to come to those hidden and un-openable symbols, in which the seed of life lies securely hidden like the tender seed in the hard shell.”

Too much analysis feeds the illusion of the intellect that all the aspects can be brought to life and understood. Jung adds in the same letter:

“The threatening and dangerous thing about analysis is that the individual appears to be understood: the devil takes away and eats up his soul, which had been born into the light as a naked and exposed child, robbed of its protective cover.”

These were very important words written when Jung was absorbed in writing The Red Book. What academics often miss about Jungian psychology is that vital, inaccessible core, which cannot be explained away with any formulas. It is a question of individual experience and emotionally suffused understanding whether one can respond to this content or not.

In this chapter Jung also has difficulty accepting the prediction of his soul that his is the way of solitude. He fears it entails madness but the soul tries to comfort him:

“You must go your way, unconcerned about others, …. You have laid your hand on the divine, which those have not.”

Michelangelo, Creation of Adam; interestingly, some researchers believe that God lies here on the human brain, others say it is a uterus and the floating green piece of cloth underneath symbolizes a cut umbilical cord

Next Jung encounters an old man, who reminds him of a hermit living in the desert. The man tells him again that his work requires solitude and a departure from science:

“Practice solitude assiduously without grumbling so that everything will in time become ready. You should become serious, and hence take your leave from science. … Your way goes toward the depths. Science is too superficial, mere language, mere tools. But you must set to work.”

The hermit leaves Jung with these poetic words:

“Ripeness comes as late as possible in spring, or else it misses its purpose.”

Although Jung feels depressed and in the dark about what kind of work he is supposed to do, the old man reminds him that he cannot rush things into ripeness. Yet after experiencing this vision Jung felt wretched throughout all the days until the First World War broke out. He was only comforted by the words that his soul said to him:

“The greatest comes to the smallest.”

These words lifted the black veil and encouraged him to write the first part of Liber Novus. The words seemed to echo the Biblical “blessed are the meek” and were an incitement for him to bend his back to humble work.

Pamela Colman Smith, Eight of Pentacles

After this Jung had no visions for a year until June 1915 when he saw a sea hawk snatch a fish and fly into the sky. The soul spoke to him then and said:

“That is a sign that what is below is borne upward.”

In the preceding year Jung had been indeed keeping his nose to the grindstone doing military service but more importantly composing the draft of the first parts of The Red Book. Shortly after the sea hawk vision Jung hears the voice of Philemon again, who says to Jung that he wants to “emboss” him like a golden coin. He tells Jung that he should pass from hand to hand like gold and that he should become “the will of the whole.” It seems that after initial hesitation Philemon has decided to impart his secret knowledge to Jung, which he will in turn bring to the collective. “… He who fathoms you, fathoms himself” says Jung to Philemon. Then Philemon disappears again and Jung is left with his own thoughts. He starts pondering on the possibility of selfless love. It seems that he rejects it because from his perspective pushing the self aside leads to the feelings of “bitterness, injustice, and poison.” He adds that uniting with the self is the only way towards God:

“For vices as well as virtues always want to live outside. But through constant outer life we forget the self and through this we also become secretly selfish in our best endeavors. What we neglect in ourselves blends itself secretly into our actions toward others.”

The Jungian path is not selfless but rather it is an introverted path of self-love, which is the path leading to God. For Jung, I and self were two different concepts, the former standing for the field of consciousness, the latter encompassing the total psyche, including its unconscious part. He also equated self with God. But if the self is overcome by God, this may lead to the loss of individual life. Gods often come to us as diseases, wrote Jung famously later.

Next Jung is approached by Philemon again. This brings back to Jung the memories of writing the first part of Liber Novus. He compares the process of writing it to being intoxicated with Philemon’s voice, as if the two had merged into one. But now, as he notices, their relationship has changed and they have become two distinct forms again. Philemon now tells Jung to “enter into the grave of the God and that “the place of your work should be in the vault.” He needs to look for the divine in the underworld.

Now Jung is approached by three shades of the dead. The first one is that of a woman, who emits a soft whirring sound of the scarab beetle. Jung recognizes her as part of his spiritual lineage:

“When she was still alive, she recovered the mysteries of the Egyptians for me, the red sun disk and the song of the golden wings.”

An ornamental breastplate of Tutankhamun

The dead demand from Jung that he gives them the word (logos, the symbol):

“The symbol, the mediator, we need the symbol, we hunger for it, make light for us.”

Suddenly Jung notices that there is an object in his hand, which he refers to as HAP – “God’s other pole.” Shamdasani explains that it is named the phallus in Black Book 5. The dead explain its significance further:

“He is the flesh spirit, the blood spirit, he is the extract of all bodily juices, the spirit of the sperm and the entrails, of the genitals, of the head, of the feet, of the hands, of the joints, of the bones, of the eyes and ears, of the nerves and the brain; he is the spirit of the sputum and of excretion.”

Linga with face of Shiva, via https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/38250

There are no enlightening thoughts without the body, adds the dead woman. The dead want Jung’s blood because they want to be part of his life. They want to tell him what he does not know. Jung hesitantly lets the shadow woman drink blood from his heart. She then tells him about Hekate/Brimo or the dark goddess of death:

“Brimo – guess that’s what you call her-the old one-which is how it begins-the one who bore the son-the powerful HAP, who grew out of her shame and strove after the wife of Heaven, who arches over earth, for Brimo, above and below, envelops the son. She bears and raises him. Born from below, he fertilizes the Above, since the wife is his mother, and the mother is his wife.”

Goddess Chamunga, a terrifying aspect of Durga, via https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/39369

The woman continues:

“HAP is the rebellion of the Below, but the bird comes from the Above and places itself on the head of HAP. That is peace. You are a vessel.”

It seems that Jung’s role is to reconcile the Above with the Below. He despairs that he has to spend time with the dead and not the living. The dead tell him that they belong to his “invisible following and community” and that the living do not see him for what he really is – the holy vessel. He fears that the shadows want him dead but they tell him that it is enough that he lets himself be buried so that he can grasp their mysteries. The dead also admonish Jung that he should take action instead of dreaming and hesitating. He should build a church and a community. Jung reacts with indignation telling them that he is no prophet. But they tell him:

“The bridge should lead out beyond humanity; inviolable, far, of the air. There is a community of spirits founded on outer signs with a solid meaning.”

They see Jung as a pontifex (Pope) figure – builder of bridges; a spiritual father leading a community of like-minded individuals.

Albrecht Dürer, “The Mantle of the Pope”

The shadow woman now addresses the dead in the name of Jung:

“Come, you dark and restless ones, I will refresh you with my blood, the blood of a living one so that you will gain speech and life, in me and through me.

Let us build the bond of community so that the living and the dead image will become one and the past will live on in the present.

“You are my community. I live what I can live for the living. But the excess of my longing belongs to you, you shades.”

Jung’s creative energy is to be directed towards the collective unconscious, which is a sum total of the wisdom of the dead. Modern men and women have forgotten the dead but Jung must bring them back to the living memory.

Now Philemon appears to soberly warn Jung both against the dead and also against his soul. If he does not differentiate himself from his soul, he will run the risk of playing God. The dead should also be kept under control because if they are lost they will become malicious and will attack unsuspectingly from behind. Also Jung should beware of the temptation of judging and diagnosing others because his own garden is full of weeds. He should behold his inadequacy every day. He should help only those who solicit his help and otherwise remain silent.

Jung becomes livid with his soul for all the torment she has caused him but Philemon silences him and speaks to the soul in Jung’s name, paying homage to her:

“You are blessed, virgin soul, praised be your name. You are the chosen one among women. You are the God-bearer. Praise be to you! Honor and fame be yours in eternity.”

Mary – Benedicta Inter Mulieres (Blessed Among Women), via here

“We, your vassals, wait on your words,” says Philemon to the soul. The soul is now ready to leave but Jung suspects that she has stolen something from him. After a fair amount of denial she finally admits that she took “love, warm human love, blood, warm red blood, the holy source of life.” Jung is enraged again and says:

“I want to love, not you through me.”

Jung wants human love, not the one based on projections or the daimonic “immoderation and insatiableness” spun by the soul’s seductive ways.

Two days pass and the soul is still there awaiting Jung at nightfall. She now advises Jung how to go about his further work. She tells him to “build the furnace,” where he will throw “the broken, the worn out, the unused, and the ruined” so that it can be renewed. In a holy alchemical process, heat and fire will smelter the old and bring birth to the new. She reminds Jung how great the power of matter is; the same matter (mother) that HAP came from. The hardest matter “strengthens thought,” concludes the soul.

Pieter Brueghel the Younger, “The Alchemist”

Now Jung is ready to hear the revelation of The Seven Sermons to the Dead, which will be the subject of the next article in the series.

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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 33

Reading The Red Book – part 34

Reading The Red Book – part 35

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2 Responses to Reading The Red Book (36)

  1. wolfcircle says:

    The Bruegel the Elder painting reminds me of Hieronymus Bosch but Bruegel was apparently more associated with Hieronymus Cock. Perhaps if you have seen one Hieronymus, you’ve seen them all?

    Liked by 1 person

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