Reading The Red Book (44)

“Don’t be afraid to suffer – take your heaviness and give it back to the earth’s own weight.”

R.M.Rilke, “Sonnets to Orpheus”

We have almost reached the end of our journey through The Red Book. This post summarizes the final passages of Scrutinies. There is one more post due, which will be devoted to the appendices attached to Liber Novus.

After he spends four days in solitude, Jung is approached by a man wearing a turban, who looks like “a wise doctor.” The stranger says he brings joy and the art of healing that he learnt from women. He says to Jung, “I bring you the bliss of paradise, the healing fire, the love of women.” Jung acknowledges the danger of such a temptation with “women, books and ideas.” (1) In that moment the stranger morphs into Philemon, who compares Jung to Osiris. Philemon says that Jung will experience dismembering – he will be blown apart and scattered to the winds. It is hard not to think here of Jung’s psychology and its widespread appeal. Yet it often seems that the fragments of Jung’s knowledge are present all over the place while not many of us have access to or interest in the entirety of his work. Philemon also acknowledges the amazingly fertilizing quality of Jung’s psychology, comparing it to the inundation of the Nile:

“You will be a river that pours forth over the lands. It seeks every valley and streams toward the depths.”

Jean-Michel Basquiat, “The Nile”

Philemon also brings a metaphor of the Tree of Life, which will be embodied by Jung:

“You will hold the invisible realm in trembling hands; it lowers its roots into the gray darknesses and mysteries of the earth and sends up branches covered in leaves into the golden air.
Animals live in its branches.
Men camp in its shade.

It will stay green for a long time.
Silence abides in its treetop.
Silence in its deep roots.”

Jung understands in that moment that his path leads through devotion and love, and so he must remove the unnecessary ties that bind him with others. Only through solitude will he attain his “stellar nature” through connecting with the great mother:

“If I am bound to men and things, I can neither go on with my life to its destination nor can I arrive at my very own and deepest nature.”

At night Philemon approaches Jung again. He wears an earth-coloured robe and holds a silver fish. This well-known symbol of Christianity is a harbinger of the arrival of the most imposing figure – Christ himself. Philemon expresses his devotion to him and says that people “have learned no lesson from your awe-inspiring life.” To live like Christ, explains Philemon, means “to take their own life into
their own hands, faithful to their own essence and their own love.” Thus Christ is presented here as a symbol of individuation – the one who teaches people to live “without imitation.”

Edvard Munch, “Golgotha”

A subsequent encounter with Philemon bewilders Jung. He overhears the old magician speaking to the dead again and bestowing on them some horrible truths about the dark God:

“But the serpent of the God wants human blood. This feeds it and makes it shine. Not wanting to murder and die amounts to deceiving the God. … The God grows strong through human murder. The serpent grows hot and fiery through the drenching flood. Its fat burns in the blazing flame. The flame becomes the light of men, the first ray of a renewed sun, He, the first appearing light.”

Here Jung seems to be anticipating his later concept of God’s shadow, evil aspect. Jung resisted the notion of God being summum bonum – all good. Philemon also seems to ponder here the renewal and rebirth inherent in an act of destruction. But at this point the atrocities that accompany the birth of God are too terrifying to Jung.

This is followed by Jung’s repeat encounter with Elijah and his daughter Salome. Elijah is very distressed because he had heard that one God had died (this is the echo’s of Nietzsche’s influence). Jung confirms the news joyfully:

“Do you not know that the world has put on a new garb? That the one God has gone away; and that in turn many Gods and many daimons have come to man?”

In order to appease Elijah, who is still inconsolable, Jung says that the multitude of gods have sprung one from the one God, who has disintegrated into many. The soul has embraced this multiplicity, adds Jung. The multiplicity is captivating, says Jung. He admonishes Elijah and the spirit of monotheism that this old prophet stands for:

“That is your old and ingrained mistake, that the one excludes the many.”

In contrast, Salome says that “being and multiplicity” appeal to her.

Next Jung describes difficult dreams and the feeling of torment that besieged him. His soul visits him one night, offering consolation. She says that she has sent tormenting dreams to Jung so that his mind will turn to the Gods. She adds that Gods need humans as much as humans need the Gods because “the Gods need a human mediator and rescuer.” This seems to elevate the ontological status of humanity. Jung remarks:

“There is no longer any unconditional obedience, since man has stopped being a slave to the Gods. He has dignity before the Gods. He is a limb that even the Gods cannot do without. Giving way before the Gods is no more.”

This open defiance is not to the soul’s liking. She asks the lower and the higher Gods what they think of that and they both express outrage. They attempt to frighten Jung by sending him a dream, in which he is a horned devil. But Jung’s resolution is not broken and so the soul brings their message to Jung:

“The Gods give in. You have broken the compulsion of the law.”

Jung seems to have achieved freedom from one last bondage – that of the soul bound to the Gods. At this point in his interpretative guide to The Red Book, Sanford L. Drob notices the resonance of Jung’s insistence on the special status of humans in divine plan. He quotes from Jung’s letter to Reverend Erastus Evans (written in 1954):

“In a tract of the Lurianic Kabbalah, the remarkable idea is developed that man is destined to become God’s helper in the attempt to restore the vessels which were broken when God thought to create a world. Only a few weeks ago, I came across this impressive doctrine which gives meaning to man’s status exalted by the incarnation.”

As Drob explains, Jung refers here to the Kabbalistic concept of Tikkun ha olam, namely actions that humans can take to restore and repair the world.

David Ligare, “Landscape for Baucis and Philemon”

The final visionary encounter in Scrutinies takes place in Jung’s garden. Here Philemon is revealed as an incarnation of Simon Magus. Philemon says:

“Simon and Helena have become Philemon and Baucis and so we are the hosts of the Gods.”

Rembrandt, “Philemon and Baucis”

This is a rich statement that deserves long pondering. First of all, Simon Magus, as Ribi explains, was presumably a father of Gnosticism. (2) Ribi writes:

“Accounts of Simon’s life emphasize that he had a consort named Helena. Later critics asserted that Helena was a prostitute whom Simon had purchased in the Phoenician port of Tyre and then liberated. Simon told the tale differently, adding a mythic or archetypal dimension. He proclaimed that in Helena he found and liberated a deific feminine power hidden within physical creation. Helena was a manifestation of the divine Sophia (Wisdom); through her mediation, Simon had met the primal Epinoia. This term, Epinoia (imperfectly translated by the words “thought” or “conception”), appears often in subsequent Gnostic mythologies as the title for the first feminine emanation manifest within the primordial mystery of divinity.”

Here the parallels between Christ and Mary Magdalene are not to be overlooked. Similarly to Mary Magdalene, also Simon and Helena were vilified by early Christians. Further, rather than blindly obeying the Gods, Philemon and Baucis as well as Simon and Helena suggest a radically different relationship with the divine. Humans offer the gods hospitality as “hosts of the gods.” What is more, Satan (here named “the worm”) also has his place in the Garden. The divinity of darkness must be acknowledged. Philemon speaks to the shade of Christ, who is also present in the scene:

“Recognize, oh master and beloved, that your nature is also of the serpent. Were you not raised on the tree like the serpent? Have you laid aside your body, like the serpent its skin? Have you not practiced the healing arts, like the serpent? Did you not go to Hell before your ascent? And did you not see your brother there, who was shut away in the abyss?”

Christ acknowledges that what Philemon says is the truth and then adds what are the last words of Jung’s Red Book:

“I bring you the beauty of suffering. That is what is needed by whoever hosts the worm.”

The suffering and mental anguish that Jung endured while The Red Book was being created is once again mentioned in the Epilogue which he wrote in 1959 and added to the volume. One may argue that creating Liber Novus granted him healing unity amidst the dismemberment that his soul was going through in those dark years.

M.C.Escher, “Snakes”


(1) Sanford L. Drob, Reading The Red Book: An Interpretative Guide to C.G. Jung’s Liber Novus

(2) Alfred Ribi, The Search for Roots: C.G. Jung and the Tradition of Gnosis

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