The House of Mary

One of the most important Black Madonna shrines in Europe is The Basilica della Santa Casa (Basilica of the Holy House) in Loreto, Italy. Catholics believe that it enshrines the authentic house, where Mary lived. The house is believed to have been brought to Loreto by angels.

Our Lady of Loreto

I think this symbolism of Home is really touching here. Home is what we all seek; the womb and later the mother is our first home; it is the Ithaca we all long for; home is where the heart is, as the popular saying goes. Home does not need to be physical space but, like the soul, it stands for a spiritual centre, finding peace and rest after a period of turmoil; it is “a vital center of both fixity and freedom.” (1) In the wonderful movie Nomadland (2020) the main character played by Frances Macdormand has her whole “home” in a van (she refers to herself as houseless) and yet we sense the spiritual riches in her that are boundless. People are attracted to her radiant presence as if she embodied the idea of home.


Numerous copies of the so called “Loretokapelle” (Loreto chapel) sprung up in the seventeenth century in the German speaking part of Europe. Here in Switzerland there are a number of notable Loreto chapels. I wrote about the most famous one here:
https://symbolreader.net/2020/08/07/the-black-madonna-of-hergiswald/
But the less prominent ones, the ones hidden in dark forests are a real joy to discover and I have been on a quest to find them all. Last weekend I visited one closest to my home. I had not heard about that one before and therefore it was a real thrill. I include a few pictures below.

Notes:

(1) (1) The Book of Symbols, Reflections on Archetypal Images, ARAS, edited by Ami Ronnberg, p. 556

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A Hymn to Plant Life

While listening to a talk of Alan Watts recently, I was struck by one of his observations. He said that in Daoist inspired landscape painting was a statement against anthropocentrism, which sees humans as the crown of creation. In a painting “Poet on a Mountaintop” by Shen Zhou, a fifteenth-century Chinese painter inspired by Daoism, the human figure does not dominate the landscape, as it was frequently the case in Western painting. The tiny figure of the poet is at first hard to spot because he stands in total harmony with his surroundings.

Shen Zhou, “Poet on a Mountaintop”

Yet even in Western thought there are some voices strongly challenging anthropocentrism. One of them is that of Olafur Eliasson, an Icelandic-Danish artist, who recently came to Switzerland with an exhibition called Life. By removing the windows of the exhibition pavilion and flooding the building with water he symbolically erased the boundaries that we try to erect to keep the nature out of the spaces we inhabit. In a write-up to the exhibition we can read:

“… the enclosure of the Beyeler Foundation building by Renzo Piano has been partially removed to let ‘the world’ enter into the museum. What is usually kept out – water, plants, and animals – breaks through and invades the world of humans.”

https://www.inexhibit.com/…/in-olafur-eliassons-life…/

“To realize that human life is inextricably entangled with that of all the creatures around us makes us aware of our vulnerability and that we all share a common fate, thus subverting the anthropocentric perspective we have had for centuries.”

https://olafureliasson.net/archive/exhibition/EXH102547/life

Photo by Georgios Kefalas

At the museum’s bookshop I picked up a book by a philosopher Emanuele Coccia entitled The Life of Plants: A Metaphysics of Mixture. First of all, it is worth pointing out that he is one of very few philosophers who occupies himself with contemplating nature. Otherwise this is not a subject worthy of today’s philosophers’ interests. Furthermore, the academic world does not tolerate mixing of disciplines. However, as Coccia points out,

“Things and ideas are much less disciplined than people: they mix among themselves without worrying about taboos or etiquette; they circulate freely without waiting for permission; …

Ideas mix together in a way that is “not mediated by any discipline and by any norm and that has no other base than a blind, disorganized, undiscerning desire,” he adds and states:

“In the sea of thought, everything communicates with everything and every kind of knowledge is penetrated by all the others.”

True philosophy is simply the love of knowledge and love falls under the domain of Eros, who, as Coccia puts it, was “the most undisciplined and rugged of all gods.”

To me his book reads as a hymn to plant life. Plants are not mere decorations on the tree of life, Coccia affirms. On the contrary, nothing would exist without them. He quotes Karl L. Niklas, who said, “This is a blue planet, but it is a green world.”

In the first part of the book he focuses on the ontological status of plants. Since they do not run or fly, they always remain where they are. Thus they are “pure observers,” who “embody the most direct and elementary connection that life can establish with the world.” They are one with the world since they totally melt into the environment. The most astounding quality that they have is naturally that of creating life:

“They transform everything they touch into life, they make out of matter, air, and sunlight what, for the rest of the living, will be a space of habitation, a world.

The life of plants is a cosmogony in action, the constant genesis of our cosmos.”

Albrecht Dürer, “The Tuft of Grass”

I was particularly inspired by Coccia’s reflections on the meaning of breath. It reminded me of the concept of prana in the Upanishads, where we can read:

“For all these beings merge into breath alone, and from breath they arise.” (2)

All life comes from water but at some point it left the primordial sea and settled on firm earth. Plants were the first to see that process through. Coccia states that through photosynthesis “plants have transformed the world into the reality of breath” and the world is nothing else but “the breath of the living.” Though life came out of the water, it has never abandoned “the fluid space” that we are all immersed in:

“Terra firma is just the extreme limit of this cosmic fluid at the heart of which everything communicates, touches, extends.”

Aleksey Savrasov, “Breath of Spring”

Plants help us recognize that the whole world is “a space of immersion.” Stable boundaries are just an illusion. According to Coccia, the totality of life exists in the “atmosphere,” or “the sphere of breath.” Breath creates unity and intimacy between all the cosmic elements. Importantly, this mixture exists without erasing the individual identities of its components. There is no reduction of variety.

Breath is much more than air, says Coccia. He equates it with the Logos understood as language, reason and “lightning, unveiling, means of revelation.” It is the Logos which allows the elements to mix without losing their individual essence. Breath is what creates unity between “the animal and the cosmos.” As the fish are immersed in the sea, so do we “inhabit the air through the atmosphere.” The world exists within all its beings, which means that “every being is capable of radically transforming the world.” There is unity pervading the cosmos and life is always inclusive.

Another fascinating section of the book is dedicated to the significance of roots, “the most enigmatic forms of the plant world”:

“The roots make the soil and the subterranean world a space of spiritual communication. Thanks to them, then, the most solid part of the Earth is transformed into an enormous planetary brain through which matter circulates, along with information on the identity and state of the organisms that populate the surrounding environment. It is as if the eternal night, in which one imagines the depths of the Earth to be plunged, were anything but a long and deaf sleep. In the immense and silent horn of the underground, night is a perception without organs, without eyes and without ears, a perception that takes place through the whole body. Intelligence, thanks to roots, exists in mineral form, in a world without sun and without movement.”

Frida Kahlo, “Roots”

Although we humans do not have physical roots, I could not help thinking that Coccia’s description of roots is reminiscent of Jung’s concept of the unconscious. Our lives above ground are rooted in the dark sphere of the unconscious psyche and also in the dark wisdom of our bodies.  

I was also moved by Coccia’s understanding of what the origin of life is. He argues that:

“The origin of our world does not reside in an event that is infinitely distant from us in time and space, millions of light years away; nor does it reside in a space of which we no longer have a trace. It is here and now. The origin of the world is seasonal, rhythmic, deciduous like everything that exists.

The origin of our world is in leaves: fragile, vulnerable, yet capable of returning, of coming back to life once they have passed through the rough season.”

Hishida Sgunso, “Fallen Leaves”

Each moment in the river of time can result in the creation of new life. The wisdom of the breath constantly renews the cosmos. Life is also something that endures underground, in the sphere of roots. In his new book called The Heartbeat of Trees, Peter Wohlleben, a German forester and author of the bestselling The Hidden Life of Trees, (3) writes about his visit with the famous Old Tjikko – a 9550-year-old spruce located in Sweden:

“For a moment I was speechless as I thought about how long this tiny scrawny tree had held out up here. Almost ten thousand years had passed since it germinated from its seed. Mammoths had died out, Stonehenge had been erected, and the pyramids had been built. The climate had fluctuated from cold to warm and back again multiple times, but, unaffected by any of this, the spruce was still standing intact today in the place where it had been born. … This means that the ‘tree’ we see today is only a few hundred years old. The true old spruce is to be found in the roots and in the brushy growth covering the ground. As I looked at the tree, I once again asked myself what really makes a tree a tree. Is it the trunk, which we usually think of as being the most important part? Or is it the roots, which have survived for thousands of years and are where the old spruce has probably stored all that it remembers? At the moment, I’m tending toward the latter. Visually, the spruce is nothing special; it’s all about its history. Its attraction lies in simply knowing that it has been fighting for its life for 9,550 years and may possibly survive for a few thousand more.”

The Old Tjikko , via Wikipedia

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Notes:

(1) https://symbolreader.net/2019/09/13/beauty-and-wonder-in-olafur-eliassons-art/

(2) The Chandogya Upanishad, First Prapathaka, eleventh Khanda, via https://www.hinduwebsite.com/sacredscripts/hinduism/upanishads/chandogya.asp#Pra7

(3) I wrote about this book here: https://symbolreader.net/2016/10/22/the-holiness-of-trees/

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Reading The Red Book (35)

“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.

Albrecht Dürer, “Great Piece of Turf”

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 Red Book, Image 159

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.

Giacinto Gaudenzi, The Tower from his Dürer Tarot (2002)

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.”

Johfra Bosschart, Leo

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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Notes:

(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

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 36

Reading The Red Book – part 37

Reading The Red Book – part 38

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Reading The Red Book (34)

​“We need magic to be able to receive or invoke the messenger and the communication of the incomprehensible.”

C.G. Jung, The Red Book, Liber Secundus, chapter XXI

We have reached the final twenty-first chapter of Liber Secundus – the second part of Jung’s Red Book. This is an extremely long and meandering chapter. Its title is The Magician and its main protagonist is ΦΙΛΗΜΩΝ (Philemon), who was one of the chief (if not the chiefest) spiritual influences in Jung’s life. This article is devoted entirely to Philemon while the next part will deal with the remainder of the chapter.

In Memories, Dreams Reflections, Jung’s memoirs recorded by Aniela Jaffé, Jung called Philemon a pagan, who “brought with him an Egypto-Hellenistic atmosphere with a Gnostic coloration.” He first appeared to Jung in the following vision, recorded in Memories:

“There was a blue sky, like the sea, covered not by clouds but by flat brown clods of earth. It looked as if the clods were breaking apart and the blue water of the sea were becoming visible between them. But the water was the blue sky. Suddenly there appeared from the right a winged being sailing across the sky. I saw that it was an old man with the horns of a bull. He held a bunch of four keys, one of which he clutched as if he were about to open a lock. He had the wings of the kingfisher with its characteristic colors. Since I did not understand this dream-image, I painted it in order to impress it upon my memory. During the days when I was occupied with the painting, I found in my garden, by the lake shore, a dead kingfisher!”

Vincent van Gogh, “Kingfisher by the Waterside”

In his memoirs Jung explains in detail the pivotal role Philemon played in his spiritual life:

“In my fantasies I held conversations with him, and he said things which I had not consciously thought. … Psychologically, Philemon represented superior insight. He was a mysterious figure to me. At times he seemed to me quite real, as if he were a living personality. I went walking up and down the garden with him, and to me he was what the Indians call a guru.”

Philemon was a character in Ovid’s Metamorphosis and in Goethe’s Faust. Ovid tells the myth of Jupiter and Mercury who, disguised as poor travelers, wondered through the countryside. They knocked on many doors looking for a place to rest but were turned away everywhere but in a humble cottage of Philemon and his wife Baucis. In order to feed the guests, the impoverished couple offered to kill their only goose but then the gods revealed themselves and spared the bird. The lack of hospitality of the couple’s neighbours was punished by flood sent by the gods. The only abode spared was that of Philemon and Baucis. The gods transformed the cottage into a splendid palace of marble and gold. They also granted the couple a wish. Philemon and Baucis asked to become shrine priests to the gods and to die at the same time. When they died, Philemon was transformed into an oak and Baucis into a linden tree. Thus they stayed together for eternity.

Jacob van Oost, “Mercury and Jupiter in the House of Philemon and Baucis

In Goethe’s tragedy, Faust is building a city and it so happens that on that same territory live Philemon and Baucis. He asks Mephistopheles to move them. But instead of doing that Mephistopheles burns their cottage down with the couple inside. That crime shocked Jung, who said in Memories, Dreams, Reflections:

“…I felt personally implicated, and when Faust, in his hubris and self-inflation, caused the murder of Philemon and Baucis, I felt guilty, quite as if I myself in the past had helped commit the murder of the two old people. This strange idea alarmed me, and I regarded it as my responsibility to atone for this crime, or to prevent its repetition.

My own inner contradictions appeared here in dramatized form; Goethe had written virtually a basic outline and pattern of my own conflicts and solutions. The dichotomy of Faust-

Mephistopheles came together within myself into a single person, and I was that person. In other words, I was directly struck, and recognized that this was my fate.”

This is why the tower that Jung built in Bollingen bore an inscription over the gate: “Philemonis Sacrum – Fausti Poenitentia” [Philemon’s Shrine – Faust’s Repentance].

Philemon personified for Jung, as he put it in Memories, the spiritual aspect and meaning, hence his wings. Later a new figure emerged in his visions – Ka, who was more earthly, representing the embodied soul, as it did in ancient Egypt. Ka was also described by Jung as demonic and Mephistophelian, which connects him to the shadow.

In a poetic beginning to chapter XXI, Jung stands in front of a “small house in the country fronted by a large bed of tulips.” There Philemon, the Magician and Baucis, his wife live. These days they chiefly occupy themselves with their tulips while “their days fade into a pale wavering chiaroscuro.” Jung asks Philemon to teach him about magic, or as he refers to it, “the black art.” At first Philemon is reticent but he likes Jung’s attitude to learning, which Jung describes in this way:

“Whenever I want to learn and understand something, I leave my so-called reason at home and give whatever it is that I am trying to understand the benefit of the doubt.”

In order to understand magic, says Philemon, one has to give up consistency because it does not follow “ordinary understanding.” Magic is “the negative of what one may know.” It cannot be taught or learnt. Feeling confused, Jung leaves the old master but the people who surround him think that he has received the gift of magic. He says that magic “opens spaces that have no doors and leads out into the open where there is no exit.” Magic operates beyond good and evil and yet it is both good and evil, adds Jung.

Next Jung moves on to ponder the reason and unreason. What our world views as reasonable and unreasonable is not constant because “a part of the incomprehensible … is only presently incomprehensible and might already concur with reason tomorrow.” It is the magical practices which serve to open up the scope of understanding but our age with its limited understanding of what is and is not reasonable has rejected magic. Jung says:

“Magic is a way of living. If one has done one’s best to steer the chariot, and one then notices that a greater other is actually steering it, then magical operation takes place.”

It is important for the magician to recognize that the chariot or the individual psyche is steered by the unconscious forces that are far bigger than the individual. The white and the black Sphinxes of the Chariot card in the Rider-Waite-Smith tarot, might be used to illustrate the following Jung’s remark: “the more the one half of my being strives toward the good, the more the other half journeys to Hell.”

Next Jung focuses on the story of Philemon and Baucis as told by Ovid. He wonders about the etymology of the name Philemon and its connection with love (from philein “to love” in Greek). Philemon is not only the lover of Baucis and of the gods but he is first and foremost a lover of his own soul. Through the inexhaustible mystery of love, Philemon united the Above and the Below. Jung also compares him to a wise serpent, whose wisdom is “cold, with a grain of poison, yet healing in small doses.” Philemon is “the father of all eternal wisdom,” who is neither Christian nor pagan. He does not fashion himself as a savior but chooses to focus on tending the flowers in his own garden:

“Giving is as childish as power. He who gives presumes himself powerful. The virtue of giving is the sky-blue mantle of the tyrant. You are wise, Oh ΦΙΛΗΜΩΝ, you do not give. You want your garden to bloom, and for everything to grow from within itself.”

This is a sign of a true master who opens the way to organic growth within the psyche of his disciple. But this is also an unwilling master, who does not want any power over those who come to listen to him. Philemon, like the Water Bearer, pours out “living water, from which the flowers of your garden bloom, a starry water, a dew of the night.” But he grants people the freedom to drink from the water or not.

Furthermore, Philemon is “a teacher and friend of the dead,” as Jung says:

“They stand sighing in the shade of your house, they live under the branches of your trees.”

He teaches people to remain silent and listen to their own inner speech in the “dark and noiseless” night. Here image 154 appears, whose inscription says: Father of the Prophet, Beloved Philemon.

Serpent from C.G. Jung’s ‘The Red Book’

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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 35

Reading The Red Book – part 36

Reading The Red Book – part 37

Reading The Red Book – part 38

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The Sirens as Psychopomps and Muses of the Underworld

I came across this beautiful description of the Sirens in Karl Kerenyi’s Gods of the Greeks (first published in 1951). It seems that far form being the evil seductresses often portrayed in literature, they were in fact guides of the souls to the underworld. Like the Sphinx, they symbolized the ultimate mysteries of life and death and the knowledge of fate:

“Any account of the Sirens must include a mention of Acheloos, the most revered of our river gods, to whom … is attributed the paternity of the Sirens … Acheloos had a lower body consisting of a serpent-like fish. But his head was horned, and one of the horns was broken off by Herakles. From the blood that dripped from the wound the Sirens were born: a birth similar to that of the Erinyes.

Acheloos, detail from a Roman mosaic in Zeugma (via Wikipedia)

Our ancient painters and designers upon vessels depicted the Sirens not only as female beings, but sometimes as male and bearded. That the beings depicted are Sirens, either male or female, is shown by their having predominantly a bird’s body, to which a human head is added, and often also a woman’s breasts and arms. The talon feet are often very powerful, and sometimes end in a lion’s pads, as if to reveal a close kinship between Siren and Sphinx. The lower part of the body is sometimes shaped like an egg. …The distinguishing characteristic of the Sirens … is—apart from their birdlike shape—their talent for music; and this connects them with the Muses. They play on the lyre or on the double flute …

[There is] a close link between the Sirens and Persephone. It was told that the Sirens were companions of the Queen of the Underworld; that they were daughters of Chthon, the ‘depths of the earth’, and that Persephone sent them into this world. … By their art the bitterness of death is alleviated and disguised.”

The Siren of Canosa (4th century BC)
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Gender and the Cosmic Shift

https://www.nmbe.ch/en/exhibition-and-events/queer-diversity-our-nature

Natural History Museum of Bern, Switzerland is currently running an exhilarating, colourful exhibition called “Queer – Diversity is in our Nature.” The thesis of the curators seems to be that the animal kingdom is rich and diverse with numerous examples of gender bending and gender fluidity. The exhibition’s ambition is to demonstrate the analogy between the biological and the social aspect of being human. The extreme male and female ends of the spectrum are divided by the whole rainbow bridge of glorious and multifaceted variety of phenomena. There is a clownfish, which can change its gender; there are also “gay” male sheep which are not interested in sexual relationships with females. There are no males among Caucasian rock lizards, whose females reproduce through parthenogenesis, which is not that uncommon in the animal kingdom. Albatrosses often relish “lesbian” relationships. The examples are endless. Animals challenge the conservative ideas of what gender or reproduction are. The human cultural labels are used tongue-in-cheek here and in the exhibition but nevertheless there is an air of ultimate liberation in the whole endeavor.

Since this is a natural history museum, naturally the spiritual aspect of queerness was omitted. Nothing was mentioned about religion and what effect it had on the collective judgement on any queerness.  The exhibition is focused more on the celebratory, carnivalesque aspect of the diversity and the joy it brings to the world. This reminded me of the ancient and pagan approach to gender fluidity. After all, Greek myths abound in non-binary examples, such as Dionysos or even Athena:

“While Athena identifies as male, Dionysus vacillates between male and female gender performances and roles … His gender fluidity is unique to him amongst the gods, but it is not his only fluid quality; he is very much a liminal figure with continually shifting identities across a variety of traditionally power-saturated realms. He is both male and female, young and old. He is Greek and non-Greek, a god thoroughly embedded in the Greek pantheon, but with mythologies describing him, and his cult, as being newly introduced to the Greek world. He blends the divine, mortal and bestial worlds through his human/animal hybrid followers, the male satyrs and female maenads, while Dionysus walks the line between mortal and immortal. As one of the Olympians, he is unquestionably divine, yet he alone of the Olympians had a mortal mother. And in this liminal space of divine and mortal, he crosses the boundaries between life and death as the twice-born god, having been torn from his dead mother’s womb to be born again from the immortal thigh of Zeus.” (1)

Dionysus

I particularly resonated with the following conclusion of the author:

“Athena and Dionysus are not merely symbolic of how those who may not fit so well into the social structures can still be recognised, but rather they represent the fluidity that lies under the pretense of stability that is continually celebrated and must be continually reaffirmed as divine, natural, ideal and normal. Indeed, one possible conclusion is that if binary sex and gender were any of these things, they would not require such constant upkeep.“ (2)

Dionysos may be the first god who stood for the profound question of identity and its ever-shifting nature. The authors of the book view the question of identity from the perspective of quantum physics with its subatomic participles bearing multiple identities:

“All existence is entangled and unstable, as in undergoing continual, co-dependent transformations.” (3)

One of the most ambiguous and fascinating figures from the Greek myth is Hermaphroditus – a child of Hermes and Aphrodite. In Book Four of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, he/she enters a spring, which is under the magic spell of the naiad Salmacis. Salmacis has fallen desperately in love with Hermaphroditus and wants to merge with him/her. As Ovid puts it, when Hermaphroditus emerged from the spring he/she was “a dual form that could be said to be neither woman nor boy, but seemed to be neither and both.” (4)

Hermaphroditus

The author of the book draws an interesting analogy between the newly emerged Hermaphroditus and the primordial chaos, which in Greek myth preceded creation of the manifest world. Hermaphroditus thus embodies the primordial and protohuman forces of chaos. He/she has access to the source of existence with its inherent multiplicity and pre-duality. Erotic desire to merge with the loved one results in nothing less but “a cosmic shift,” concludes the author. (5) The boundaries our mind creates are permeable and unstable:

“Gender in this context is not only fluid and indefinable, but ultimately ceases to exist.” (6)

Plato’s text Symposium contains a famous myth about the nature of love and primordial humans. There were three genders at the beginning: the male one descended from the sun, the female descended from the earth and the hermaphrodite descended from the moon. The hermaphrodites were threatening the gods with their unlimited powers. Therefore Zeus decided to cut the round beings in two, thus implanting the desire to reunite with the lost half in each of them. I thought about that ancient myth while visiting the exhibition. In the exhilarating multiplicity, fluidity and blurred boundaries there is a desire for love and wholeness, which characterizes absolutely all expressions and facets of love.

Augusto Giacometti, “Rainbow”

Notes:

(1) Exploring Gender Diversity in the Ancient World, edited by Allison Surtees and Jennifer Dyer, Edinburgh University Press, 2020, p. 10

(2) Ibid., p. 13

(3) Ibid., p. 83

(4) Ibid., p. 93

(5) Ibid., p. 99

(6) Ibid., p. 105

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Reading The Red Book (33)

“One can certainly gain outer freedom through powerful actions, but one creates inner freedom only through the symbol.”

C.G. Jung, The Red Book, Liber Secundus, chapter XX

Chapter XX of Liber Secundus, the middle part of Jung’s Red Book, has got the title The Way of the Cross. This is the penultimate chapter, quite short compared to the upcoming final one. On a personal note, I am always quite astounded how the text of the chapter I am currently analyzing reflects the external events in my personal and also in collective life. Sometimes the synchronicity is very literal indeed like here when I encounter The Way of the Cross during Eastertime. The chapter starts with the following vision:

 “I saw the black serpent, as it wound itself upward around the wood of the cross. It crept into the body of the crucified and emerged again transformed from his mouth. It had become white. It wound itself around the head of the dead one like a diadem, and a light gleamed above his head, and the sun rose shining in the east.”

For more detailed analysis of the symbolism of the serpent, I must refer you to the previous instalment of my series (https://symbolreader.net/2021/03/21/reading-the-red-book-32/). The image of a serpent wrapped around a staff is an ancient one. It is known as the rod of Asclepius, which features a single snake, and a caduceus with its twin snakes. Quite surprisingly, it also appears in the Old Testament. As Moses was leading the Israelites across the desert to the Promised Land:

“4 They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”

Then the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.

The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.”

Numbers 21, New International Version via https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Numbers%2021&version=NIV

Jesus alludes to that passage in the Gospels:

“Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”

John 3: 14-15

Agnolo Bronzino, Il serpente di bronzo, from the chapel of Eleonora of Toledo, Florence, Palazzo Vecchio

According to prisca theologia (ancient theology), which asserts that a single, true theological doctrine runs like a thread through all religions, Moses is included in a venerable lineage, a sequence of the sages presented in this order: “Enoch, Abraham, Noah, Zoroaster, Moses, Hermes Trismegistus, the Brahmins, the Druids, David, Orpheus, Pythagoras, Plato, the Sibyls.” (1) This relates also to Gnostic beliefs, notably to such sects as the Ophites or the Naassenes, who revered Jesus as the serpent of wisdom. In Symbols of Transformation (CW 5) Jung devoted a lot of space to the symbolism of the cross and the serpent. He saw the cross as emblematic of “the tree of life and “the mother.” (2) Like the tree of life, the cross forms an axis, which the soul can climb to reach the divine. In the cross, the vertical (spiritual) axis is juxtaposed with the horizontal (physical) axis, which on the one hand stands for agony and suffering, but on the other is a symbol of the unification of the opposites. Jung continues in Symbols of Transformation on the unity of Jesus and the serpent:

“As a serpent he is to be ‘lifted up’ on the cross; that is to say, as a man with merely human thoughts and desires, who is ever striving back to childhood and the mother, he must die on the mother-tree…” (3)

For Jung, Christ was a symbol of the self. He continues the same passage:

“The archetype of the self has, functionally, the significance of a ruler of the inner world, i.e., of the collective unconscious. The self, as a symbol of wholeness, is a ‘coincidentia oppositorum,’ and therefore contains light and darkness simultaneously…. In the Christ-figure the opposites which are united in the archetype are polarized into the ‘light’ son of God on the one hand and the devil on the other.” (4)

Gustave Doré “The Temptation of Jesus”

Returning to chapter XX, Jung elucidates further why Christ is for him both a symbol of the self and of individuation. He says this about Christ:

“He did not simply teach what was knowable and worth knowing, he lived it. It is unclear how great one’s humility must be to take it upon oneself to live one’s own life. … . He would rather devise any trick to help him escape, since nothing matches the torment of one’s own way. It seems impossibly difficult, so difficult that nearly anything seems preferable to this torment. … He who goes to himself climbs down.”

In order to achieve individuation, one needs to renounce “the visible success” and the longing for power, including the power over one’s fellow human beings. This is a path of sacrifice.

In the vision cited at the beginning of the chapter, the transformed black serpent emerges from Jesus’s mouth, white and radiant. This serpent is the Logos, not a meaningless, rootless word, but a word that has acquired the status of a Symbol. Jung continues:

“When the way enters death and we are surrounded by rot and horror, the way rises in the darkness and leaves the mouth as the saving symbol, the word. It leads the sun on high, for in the symbol there is the release of the bound human force struggling with darkness.”

The final passages of the chapter are powerful remarks on the nature of the symbol. In Psychological Types (CW 6), Jung wrote extensively on the topic. Symbol creation is not a rational process. The human psyche has the so-called transcendent function, which results in symbolic formations. (5) The transcendent function projects the contents of the unconscious onto the physical world. The symbol thus created serves as a luminous bridge leading to psychological rebirth:

“The symbol is the middle way along which the opposites flow together in a new movement, like a watercourse bringing fertility after a long drought.” (6)

Only the transcendent function and its symbols can put a person on a path towards individuation. This is thanks to propensity of the symbolic function to leave “the path prescribed by collective norms.” (7)

Further on in the chapter we are discussing Jung says that symbol is like a word of power that arises unexpectedly “on the tongue.” This organic and spontaneous process resembles “the becoming of human life in the womb.” Symbols are birthed anew for each generation, since “the task is to give birth to the old in a new time.” The soul of humanity, which Jung likens in this chapter to “the great wheel of the zodiac” gives birth to new/old symbols at each turning of the cosmic wheel. As Jung puts it: “It belongs to the essence of forward movement that what was returns.”

Zodiac Mosaic from Beth Alpha, a six-century synagogue in Israel
Rider Waite Smith tarot, Wheel of Fortune

At the very end of the chapter Jung briefly reflects on free will and fate. He seems to be saying that despite or against his will and intentions, “futurity grows out of me.” It is an organic process spurred on by the symbols arising from the depths of the collective unconscious. He postulates that the ancients used magic to compel and change outer fate while we the moderns need magic to “determine inner fate.” Magic can help move psychic life forward. In the end, Jung decides to visit a great magician, but that is the subject of the next chapter.  

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Notes:

(1) Antoine Faivre, The Eternal Hermes: From Greek God to Alchemical Magus, translated by Joscelyn Godwin

(2) par. 411

(3) Ibid., par. 575

(4) Ibid., par. 576

(5) par. 171 and 211

(6) Ibid., par. 443

(7) Ibid., par. 759

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 34

Reading The Red Book – part 35

Reading The Red Book – part 36

Reading The Red Book – part 37

Reading The Red Book – part 38

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Reading The Red Book (32)

Chapter XIX of Liber Secundus (part II of The Red Book) is called The Gift of Magic. The Soul wants Jung to accept the gift of magic represented by “a black rod, formed like a serpent-with two pearls as eyes-a gold bangle around its neck.” The serpent is one of those powerful symbols that accompanied Jung throughout all his life. He owned a ring with an image of a dark snake, which he described with these words:

“It is Egyptian. Here the serpent is carved, which symbolizes Christ. Above it, the face of a woman; below the number 8, which is the symbol of the Infinite, of the Labyrinth, and the Road to the Unconscious.” (1)

Jung’s Gnostic ring

It was in Aion: Researches into the Phenomenology of the Self, where Jung dives deep into the symbolism of the serpent. (2) There he wrote the following about the snake, which he perceived as simultaneously the highest, most spiritual animal and the lowest, most material and chthonic one:

“… snakes are favourite symbols for describing psychic happenings or experiences that suddenly dart out of the unconscious and have a frightening or redeeming effect.” (par. 291)

“It expresses his fear of everything inhuman and his awe of the sublime, of what is beyond human ken. It is the lowest (devil) and the highest (son of God, Logos, Nous, Agathodaimon).”(par. 293)

“As serpens mercurialis, the snake is not only related to the god of revelation, Hermes, but, as a vegetation numen, calls forth the ‘blessed greenness’ all the budding and blossoming of plant life. Indeed, this serpent actually dwells in the interior of the earth and is the pneuma that lies hidden in the stone.”(par. 386)

“Just as the serpent stands for the power that heals as well as corrupts, so one of the thieves is destined upwards, the other downwards, and so likewise the shadow is on one side regrettable and reprehensible weakness, on the other side healthy instinctivity and the prerequisite for higher consciousness.” (par. 402)

Cirlot perceived the serpent as “symbolic of energy itself—of force pure and simple.” Snakes are guardians of the deeps and of hidden treasures as well as guardians of the springs of life. (3) They may stand both for renewal and destruction. Because they symbolize pure energy, they are beyond good and evil and they can flow in both directions.

Returning to chapter XIX of Liber Secundus, Jung hesitates whether he should accept the gift of magic from the Soul. The Soul tells him that this kind of gift will require the sacrifice of solace. Jung will not be able to give or receive solace if he accepts this gift from the soul. He ponders:

“This means the loss of a piece of humanity; and what one calls severity toward oneself and others takes its place.”

The inhumanness of the snake of magic seems to worry Jung, but he knows he needs to accept the gift. He hold the rod and speaks to it, calling it “the messenger of the night”:

“Are you time and fate? The essence of nature, hard and eternally inconsolable, yet the sum of all mysterious creative force? Primordial magic words seem to emanate from you, mysterious effects weave around you, and what powerful arts slumber in you?”

Image 127

The black rod of magic brings with it “defiance and contempt for men.” Image 127, which accompanies this part of the text, was described by Jung as “the inexorable wheel of the four functions, the essence of all living beings imbued with sacrifice.” The four functions he refers to here are thinking, feeling, sensation and intuition. There is always one function that dominates the consciousness in each of us, according to Jung. This exact function needs to be sacrificed in the name of wholeness. Only then will its opposite function be liberated from the state of repression in the unconscious. If a thinking type sacrifices his or her intellect, his feeling function will be able to rise to consciousness. By the same token, the intuitive type is often too steeped in his or her inner life, too much future oriented, which means that his or her sensation is suppressed. Such an individual cannot live here and now and has difficulty living the simple life of the senses. Psychological Types, volume VI of Collected Works of Jung, contains a few examples of sacrificing the main function. For example, this is what Jung wrote of Tertullian, one of the early Church Fathers:

“His most valuable organ was the intellect and the clarity of knowledge it made possible. Through the sacrificium intellectus the way of purely intellectual development was closed to him; it forced him to recognize the irrational dynamism of his soul as the foundation of his being.” (par. 20)

Rembrandt, “Christ Crucified between the Two Thieves”

Image 127 shows how painful the sacrifice can be but the consolation is the caption above the painting – The Triumph of Love.

Image 129

Next image – 129 is quite a striking portrayal of the black serpent. The creature seems to emerge from Kether, the topmost of the sephirot of the Tree of Life in Kabbalah, which symbolized the primal unity with God. White brilliance is the colour associated with Kether by the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. The luminosity and otherworldliness of the image is quite stunning even if Jung did not consciously choose to refer to Kabbalistic thought in the image. He writes:

“…we approach the overpowering, inhuman forces that are busily creating what is to come. … The tension of the future is unbearable in us. It must break through narrow cracks, it must force new ways.”

The luminosity is forcing its way into the sublunary realm. The serpent guarding the treasure is standing on the threshold between the unconscious and manifestation. The energy coils through its sinuous body.

 Jung continues:

“There is only one way and that is your way; there is only one salvation and that is your salvation. … What is to come is created in you and from you. Hence look into yourself.”

This though is not new in The Red Book. The path to individuation is the body of the snake arising from one’s unconscious. It is a solitary path with little comfort. It is the way of the Magician:

“In it Heaven and Hell grow together, and in it the power of the Below and the power of the Above unite.”

Image 131

The extraordinary image 131, one of the most celebrated paintings from The Red Book, is accompanied by a magical incantation:

“The Above is powerful,

The Below is powerful,

Twofold power is in the One.

North, come hither,

West, snuggle up,

East, flow upward,

South, spill over.

The winds in between bind the

cross. The poles are united by the

intermediate poles in between.

Steps lead from above to below.

Boiling water bubbles in

cauldrons. Red hot ash envelops

the round floor.

Night sinks blue and deep from

above, earth rises black from

below.”

Image 133

The luminosity of Kether is resplendent in the winter night, behind the dark tree of life set against indigo blue sky. This is followed by two more striking images and magical incantations. Image 133 could be the portrait of the solitary one, who sings the incantations:

A solitary is cooking up healing potions.

He makes offering to the four winds.

He greets the stars and touches the earth.

He holds something luminous in his hand.

He is far from men and yet the threads of their fate pass through his hands.”

The solitary ends his incantation by abstaining from the role of a savior of humanity. He says instead:

Now prove your worth by each

living for himself.”

Image 135

Image 135 is a continuation of the visual narrative presented by the stunning imagery of this rich chapter. The inscription below the egg says:

“The fire comes out of Muspilli and grasps the tree of life. A cycle is completed, but it is the cycle within the world. A strange God, the unnamable God of the solitary, is incubating it. New creatures form from the smoke and ashes.”

In the footnotes, Shamdasani explains that in Norse mythology Muspilli (or Muspelheim) is the abode of the Fire Gods. It seems a new cycle is beginning with the snake and other creatures emerging from the roots of the burnt world tree. This is the mystery of the changeful, says Jung, and “the road is without end.”

Notes:

(1) C. G. Jung Speaking: Interviews and Encounters, edited by William McGuire and R.F.C. Hull, Bollingen Series: Princeton University Press 1977, p. 468

(2) Collected Works volume 9ii

(3) Juan Eduardo Cirlot, A Dictionary of Symbols, Taylor & Francis e-Library, 2001

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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 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

Reading The Red Book – part 38

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Master Arnold Böcklin

Arnold Böcklin (born in 1827) was a Swiss symbolist painter, whose work The Plague (1898) has recently emerged as the emblem of our moment in time. It seems that through his symbolist lens he managed to capture the timeless terror of epidemics. True symbolist art is able to achieve precisely that – to situate its creations in the eternal realm. The vibrant blood red colour of the woman’s dress in the foreground is juxtaposed with the blacks, browns and greens of death and decomposition. The whitish cloud of miasma behind the Death figure and the same bad air breathed out from the dragon’s mouth create a terrifying effect. Böcklin was criticized for his garish taste in colours but from the symbolist viewpoint his choices are fully justified. This emblematic image resembles a tarot card.

A. Böcklin, “The Plague”

Death was the theme close to Böcklin’s heart – see his self-portrait with Death playing the fiddle below (1872). Not to mention that his Isle of the Dead (1880) remains his most iconic and famous work of all times. In it, a figure clad in white is standing over a coffin, also draped in white. Their boat is being solemnly rowed towards an island with cypress trees guarding the ultimate mystery.

Arnold Böcklin, “The Isle of the Dead”

Similar figures also clad in white are featured in The Sacred Grove (1886), which has a very special place in my heart. Who are these people walking in a sacred procession and bowing deeply before a sacred fire? Are they Druids or Ancient Greeks? Or are they simply emblematic of all silent nature worshippers of the times of Yore? There seems to be a temple behind the trees on the right as well as a white statue, which is not visible very well. I was lucky recently to see the original in a museum in Basel and indeed I was able to confirm that there is a statue behind a tree on the right-hand side. The sacred site seems to be situated on a marshland judging by the stone altar’s reflection in the water.

A. Böcklin, “The Sacred Grove”

In The Sacred Teaching of All Ages by Manly P. Hall there is a passage describing the oracle of Jupiter in Dodona, which makes me think of the scene depicted in the painting:

“The oracle of Dodona was presided over by Jupiter, who uttered prophecies through oak trees, birds, and vases of brass. Many writers have noted the similarities between the rituals of Dodona and those of the Druid priests of Britain and Gaul. The famous oracular dove of Dodona, alighting upon the branches of the sacred oaks, not only discoursed at length in the Greek tongue upon philosophy and religion, but also answered the queries of those who came from distant places to consult it. The ‘talking’ trees stood together, forming a sacred grove. When the priests desired answers to important questions, after careful and solemn purifications they retired to the grove. They then accosted the trees, beseeching a reply from the god who dwelt therein. When they had stated their questions, the trees spoke with the voices of human beings, revealing to the priests the desired information. Some assert that there was but one tree which spoke–an oak or a beech standing in the very heart of the ancient grove. Because Jupiter was believed to inhabit this tree he was sometimes called Phegonæus, or one who lives in a beech tree.”

Giorgio de Chirico, the great Italian Surrealist, once declared that each of Böcklin’s works is a shock. One of the most shocking aspects of his oeuvre is perhaps the organic, extremely lifelike and lively nature of some of his paintings. For it was not only death that preoccupied him. His delightful Mermaids at Play (1886) are full of merriment and can be described as gently grotesque. A bewildered baby with a fishtail on the left-hand side is holding a little fish. The frolicking mermaids are not portrayed to be seductive or satisfying for the male gaze. On the contrary, they are being natural and relaxed in their bodily comfort. This puts Böcklin in contrast to many other nineteenth-century artists.

A. Böcklin, “Mermaids at Play”

It is quite astounding that Böcklin’s artistic career developed simultaneously to that of the Impressionists. He really seems to have nothing in common with them. He must have picked his own secluded path through the dark woods. As an art critic George B. Rose wrote in 1917:

“He is no impressionist. His works are finished.”

More paintings at https://www.arnoldbocklin.org/

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Reading The Red Book (31)

“Little good will come to you from outside. What will come to you lies within yourself. But what lies there!”

C.G. Jung, The Red Book, chapter XVIII (Liber Secundus)

Johfra Bosschart, Aquarius

Chapter XVIII of Liber Secundus is called The Three Prophecies. The title itself poses an important question of whether The Red Book is prophetic. In a book of dialogues dedicated to The Red Book by James Hillman and Sonu Shamdasani, the latter offers the following reflection:

“He [Jung] realizes around about 1917 that the prophetic tone, the prophetic language in which he wrote the first two sections of the text were given to him by this figure of Philemon, in other words, there’s a prophetic voice in him that is not himself. The issue then is one of differentiating being instructed by it without identifying with it. He did have a real career choice. He could have set up shop like Rudolf Steiner around the corner in Dornach and said, ‘This is the new revelation.’ I mean, gurus are two a penny in Europe in the 1920s—prophets of the new age, competing for the same clientele. He could have done that. But what then is interesting, what makes Jung Jung is, in a certain sense, the fact that he doubts his own visions and is more interested in the vision-making function than simply proclamation.” (1)

Jung chose the path of experience. He chose not to identify with the divine presence that was bestowing revelations on him. In a letter to Frau Patzelt, which Jung wrote in 1935, he emphasizes his reservations even more decisively:

“I have read a few books by Rudolf Steiner and must confess that I have found nothing in them that is of the slightest use to me. You must understand that I am a researcher and not a prophet.”

Though Jung touched the eternal in the experience that he described in Liber Novus, he decided not to proclaim it as the absolute truth. He decided against publishing The Red Book.

Chapter XVIII begins with a vision that Jung experienced on 22 January 1914, which he recorded in his black book. The soul asks Jung if he will accept whatever she brings to him without judgement or rejection. He agrees. The soul dives through the ages of humankind bringing him the worst atrocities: the annihilation of whole peoples, war, epidemics, and all kinds of “frightful feral savagery.” Jung accepts everything as gifts of the soul. But when the soul brings the treasures of all past cultures and “books full of lost wisdom,” he seems overwhelmed. No person can accept such an enormous wealth. It is wise to limit oneself and with contentment and modesty cultivate one’s own garden. Jung says:

“A well-tended small garden is better than an ill-tended large garden. Both gardens are equally small when faced with the immeasurable, but unequally cared for.”

The soul also brings Jung three prophecies – “ancient things that pointed to the future.” These are “the misery of war, the darkness of magic, and the gift of religion,” which all share the same capability of both unleashing and binding the forces of chaos. Before the First World War erupted Jung had had an overpowering vision of a flood that covered all Europe but was stopped by the Swiss Alps. He saw the sea of blood and a civilization turning into rubble. In the chapter that we are discussing Jung expresses the longing to know nothing because the memory of what he saw would not leave him alone. This is why it is so important, he claims, to keep a well-tended garden, because otherwise the depths of the collective unconscious, which contain everything, will swallow the individual. Therefore he declares that he wishes to discard “everything divine and devilish with which chaos burdened me.” He says that is is vital that an individual does not identify with the collective contents pressing upon the psyche:

“You should be able to cast everything from you, otherwise you are a slave, even if you are the slave of a God.”

Magic is the second gift that the soul brings Jung. In Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche (CW 8) Jung wrote that “’magical’ means everything where unconscious influences are at work.” (2) In the same volume he referred to psyche as “the greatest of all cosmic wonders.” (3) He also said further that “anyone should draw the conclusion that the psyche, in its deepest reaches, participates in a form of existence beyond space and time, and thus partakes of what is inadequately and symbolically described as ‘eternity.'” (4) But still he concluded that we would never be able to determine whether that was the absolute truth. From the perspective of the conscious mind, any proclamation as to the nature of the unconscious psyche is conjecture. When Jung says that “magic is dark and no one sees it” in the chapter of The Red Book that we are looking at, he is hinting at the occult nature of the unconscious psyche and its workings.

But even such hedged statements about the nature of the psyche did not win Jung any favours with scientists or scientifically minded psychologists of his time and of our time. Lance S. Owens makes an excellent point when he says that Jung was disowned not only by science but also by religion of his time. He explains:

“… both fields share a problematic blind spot: They both think that ‘religion’ stands against ‘the secular.’ However, the historical record shows that these two defined themselves not just against one another but, simultaneously, against a third domain…. This third domain that they both rejected has been referred to by different names, but the most well-known are superstition and magic.” (5)

Magic is the dark, shadowy domain inaccessible both to science and the institutionalized religion. It is religion which is the final gift that the soul bestows upon Jung. The Red Book seems to ponder an important question what religion will be like in the coming Aion of Aquarius. The main themes of the Aion of Aquarius have been summarized by Liz Greene as “the union of the opposites, the interiorisation of the god-image, and the struggle to recognise and reconcile good and evil as dimensions of the human psyche” rather than “projected duality of God and the Devil” that has been prevalent in the current Aion of Pisces. (6)

The chapter is accompanied by Image 125. In his invaluable footnotes Shamdasani explains that the scene depicted in the image resembles one of Jung’s childhood fantasies described in Memories, Dreams, Reflections. In it he imagined Basel to be a port and in his mind’s eye he saw a sailing ship on the waters of the Rhine. The image here shows Atmavictu in deep meditation (see part 30 for details about him). The Aquarian vessel on his head is being filled with divine prana or the water of the spirit, which emanates from the golden red solar mandala. It seems that the ship from the childhood fantasy sails on the border between divine and mundane reality. The orderly Swiss world below appears to be oblivious of the spiritual dimension depicted in the upper part of the image.

Notes:

(1) James Hillman and Sonu Shamdasani, Lament of the Dead: Psychology After Jung’s Red Book, Kindle edition

(2) par. 725

(3) par. 357

(4) par. 815

(5) Lance S. Owens, “C.G. Jung and the Prophet Puzzle,” in: Murray Stein and Thomas Arzt, editors, Jung’s Red Book for Our Time: Searching for Soul under Postmodern Conditions, volume 1, Kindle edition

(6) Liz Greene, “‘The Way of What is to Come’: Jung’s Vision of the Aquarian Age,” in: Murray Stein and Thomas Arzt, editors, Jung’s Red Book for Our Time: Searching for Soul under Postmodern Conditions, volume 1, Kindle edition

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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 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

Reading The Red Book – part 38

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