We are still focusing on The Seven Sermons to the Dead, which are part of Scrutinies, the final section of The Red Book. In my previous posts, I looked at sermons one and two while this one is dedicated to the third sermon and Philemon’s commentaries.
Sermo III is a close encounter with the “terrible” Abraxas, whom we already met in Sermo II. Here we learn that Abraxas’ power is “greatest, because man does not see it.” He is the union of the good that comes from the Sun and the bad that comes from the devil. Unlike the Christian God, who personifies the summum bonum (the highest good), Abraxas draws his power both from good and evil.
Jung was not happy with what he saw as characteristic of our Western mentality which is split between two “antagonistic personifications: God and the Devil.” (1) In Sermo III we read:
“What the Sun God speaks is life, what the devil speaks is death.
But Abraxas speaks that hallowed and accursed word that is at once life and death.”
What follows in the sermon is an enumeration of paradoxical qualities of Abraxas – “the hermaphrodite of the earliest beginning,” who is “the fullness that seeks union with emptiness.” In him unite the brightest light and the blackest darkness. And further:
“He is the life of creation.
He is the effect of differentiation.
He is the love of man.
He is the speech of man.
He is the appearance and the shadow of man.”
When the sermon is finished Jung, in utter confusion, speaks to Philemon. He complains he cannot fathom the cruel contradictory nature of Abraxas. But Philemon tells him that this terrible God is not to be understood – he is just to be known. And, as it was said in the sermon, it is wise to fear him and redemption belongs to the one who does not resist him.
Alfred Ribi compares Abraxas to nature, which is amoral, relentless and full of riddles. He also posits similarities between Abraxas and the alchemical Mercurius, who also united the opposites being both material and spiritual (2). In CW 13 (par. 284) Jung said this of Mercurius:
“(4) He is the devil, a redeeming psychopomp, an evasive trickster, and God’s reflection in physical nature.
(5) He is also the reflection of a mystical experience of the artifex that coincides with the opus alchymicum.”
From the point of view of Stephan A. Hoeller, Abraxas embodies “the principle of irresistible activity.” He is the sheer psychic energy of “titanic magnitude.” (3) This deity has a human body, head of a rooster and serpents for legs. His chariot is drawn by four white horses. The rooster symbolizes “vigilant wakefulness” and is related to the sun, whose rising it announces at dawn. The cry of the rooster dispels the night’s demons and “sounds things into existence or awareness.” (4) The cock, the alternative word for the rooster, alludes to its phallic and fecundating power. Interestingly, Hermes, who was born at dawn, would sometimes take the form of a rooster when guiding souls to the underworld. (5) The serpent legs of Abraxas refer to his dark, chthonic and instinctual wisdom. Altogether Abraxas signifies “an equilibrated state of dynamic union.” In the figure of Abraxas opposites are united “without the terrors of moral judgment and fearful opposition.” He reconciles light and darkness by transcending both. He brings together the lower world of the instincts (evoked in the sermon by the figures of Pan and Priapos) with the spiritual heights. Poised between the two, he relentlessly generates Life.
The numerical value of the name Abraxas totals 365 both in Hebrew and Greek. 365 is emblematic of the totality of time, over which Abraxas rules. Hoeller says that Abraxas both makes and unmakes time. He entangles and disentangles the temporal knots of necessity. But he also signifies the timeless moment, “the eternal one” positioned outside of “time both in its linear and its cyclic aspects.” Because his name is composed of seven letters, it also stands for the powers of the seven classical planets, which simultaneously restrict us with their fateful knots and also act as creative stepping stones of ascension and spiritual liberation from material constraints.
Hoeller thus concludes his analysis:
“Between the two opposites, God and Devil, betwixt and between the night and the day, at the very crack of the dawn, stands the majestic chanticleer, the rooster-headed god of cosmic and psychic energy, drawing his strength from both the night and the day and preparing to race with his chariot drawn by the white steeds of the dawn to a world beyond earth and stars, out of time and out of mind.”
(1) C.G. Jung, A Psychological Approach to the Dogma of the Trinity, CW 11, par. 791
(2) Alfred Ribi, The Search for Roots: C.G. Jung and the Tradition of Gnosis
(3) Stephan A. Hoeller, The Gnostic Jung and The Seven Sermons to the Dead. All the subsequent quotes come from this book, unless otherwise indicated.
(4) (10) The Book of Symbols, Reflections on Archetypal Images, ARAS, edited by Ami Ronnberg, p. 328
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