Reading The Red Book (38) – Seven Sermons to the Dead

Shiva Mahadeva from Elephanta Caves

We are making our way through The Seven Sermons to the Dead, which are part of Scrutinies, the final section of The Red Book. In my previous post I looked into the genesis of the sermons while this one focuses on the second sermon and Philemon’s commentaries.

The dead ask a portentous question at the beginning of the sermon:

“Where is God? Is God dead?”

This is of course reminiscent of Nietzsche’s famous words announcing the death of God – Gott ist tot. In his The Search for Roots: C.G. Jung and the Tradition of Gnosis, Alfred Ribi refers us to a passage of Jung’s Psychology and Religion (CW 11). There Jung said that when Nietzsche announced the death of God he was merely diagnosing “a widespread psychological fact.” Yet the Western arrogance cannot hold. The ego, says Jung, cannot kill God – that “unknown quantity in the depths of the psyche.” It does not rest with people “to decide whether they will create a ‘God’ for themselves or not.” The godlike powers within the unconscious psyche are “despotic” and “inescapable,” emphasizes Jung and adds:

“We do not create ‘God,’ we choose him.”

By which he means that the psychological thirst for ‘God’ could also be destructive – the spirit we crave could mean simply alcohol or any other addiction. That which wields power over the ego can be described as godlike. Needless to say, what we do not create, we cannot destroy, either.

Philemon begins his teaching in the second sermon by answering the question posed by the dead. He says:

“God is not dead. He is as alive as ever. God is creation, for he is something definite, and therefore differentiated from the Pleroma. God is a quality of the Pleroma, and everything I have said about creation also applies to him.”

Ribi calls this a shocking statement, for how can we claim that God was created? Philemon adds that although God has emanated from the Pleroma (the godlike fullness and the ground of being, which I discussed more fully in my previous post), Pleroma is still his essence. In this way, God is different from the rest of creation because his essence is “effective fullness.” Together with the devil God is the first manifestation of the Pleroma. In this sermon God is equated with Helios – the sun god. His opponent is the devil, whose essence is “effective emptiness” juxtaposed against the “effective fullness” of God/Helios. According to this doctrine, says Ribi in his book, God is not all powerful because his opposite – the devil – can always thwart him.

The process of creation is the process of differentiation, Philemon teaches:

“Everything that differentiation takes out of the Pleroma is a pair of opposites, therefore the devil always belongs to God.”

Both God and the devil share the quality of “effectiveness.” I had to check the German original to understand more deeply what is meant by effectiveness. The German word here is “das Wirkende,” i.e. that which acts, that which works. God and the devil are the inextricable working (dynamic, as Ribi puts it) powers of creation and destruction.

Now Philemon says that “das Wirkende” (“the effectiveness”) in fact stands above both God and the devil. This raw energy is “a God above God.” As Philemon teaches,

“This is a God you knew nothing about, because mankind forgot him. We call him by his name ABRAXAS. He is even more indefinite than God and the devil.”

In his Visions Seminar, quoted by Shamdasani in the footnotes to The Red Book, Jung described Abraxas as a supreme Gnostic deity and “a time god.” He called Abraxas monstrous, as he was often depicted with the head of a rooster, the body of a man and the serpent’s tail:

“It is a monster because it is the life of vegetation in the course of one year, the spring and the autumn, the summer and the winter, the yea and nay of nature. So Abraxas is really identical with the Demiurgos, the world creator. And as such he is surely identical with the Purusha, or with Shiva.”

Marc Chagall, “The Rooster”

Ribi explains that while in the Seven Sermons Abraxas is indeed portrayed as the supreme God, he was not so for the Gnostics. Ribi states: “…this Sermon incorporates distant echoes of Gnosticism, and is in essence an independent autonomous creation.” But if we suspend our disbelief and assume that Jung was indeed channeling the teachings of the Gnostic Basilides in his seven sermons, perhaps we should accept the supremacy of Abraxas without question.

At the end of the sermon Philemon states that while the workings of God and the devil may be described as definite, Abraxas, who is pure manifestation of the essence of the Pleroma, has no definite effect (“keine bestimmte Wirkung” in German). Abraxas is the effect, he constitutes That Which Works/Acts – “die Wirkung überhaupt.” He may also be described as “force, duration, change,” concludes Philemon.

The sermon ends but as usual Philemon stays to answer Jung’s questions. Jung is terrified of the dreadful Abraxas, who includes everything and “to whom good and evil and human suffering and joy are nothing.” He wonders why Jung wants to teach the dead about such a God. Philemon explains that the dead have already rejected both the loving God and the wicked devil. The dead have already rejected the split into the good/creative God and the evil/destructive devil taught by the mainstream Christianity. In The Gnostic Jung and The Seven Sermons to the Dead, Stephan A. Hoeller explains Jung’s lack of acceptance of this dualism:

“The simplistic notion represented by exoteric religion is that we have God, who is light, goodness, positiveness, affirmation, and benevolence, while on the other hand we have the principle of evil, envisioned primarily as the absence of good, an abyss of negativity, denial, malevolence. This religiosity declares that it is the duty of the human being to struggle against the negative pole and to strive toward the positive pole. Thus the good is within God, the bad outside God, and we are between the two, trying to follow the good but usually failing to do so with any degree of effectiveness. Jung was profoundly dissatisfied with this view and felt that it was psychologically unsound.”

Philemon finishes his commentary with these words and dashes away:

“Therefore I teach them the God who dissolves unity; who blasts everything human, who
powerfully creates and mightily destroys.”

There is more on Abraxas, this “veritable God Devil” as Hoeller “christened” him, in the third sermon.

Abraxas stone (Britannica)
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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

Reading The Red Book – part 36

Reading The Red Book – part 37

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