The Nymphs

I. To Nereids

“O lovely-faced and pure nymphs,
daughters of Nereus, lord of the deep,
at the bottom of the sea
you frolic and dance,
fifty maidens revel in the waves,
maidens riding on the backs of Tritons,
delighting in animal shapes,
bodies nurtured by the sea,
and in the other dwellers
of Triton’s billowy kingdom.
Your home is the water,
you leap and whirl round the waves
like glistening dolphins
roving the roaring seas.”

Apostolos N Athanassakis and Benjamin M. Wolkow, The Orphic Hymns (Kindle edition)


Arnold Böcklin, “Triton Carrying a Nereid on His Back”

II. To the Nymphs

“O Nymphs, daughters
of great-hearted Okeanos,
you dwell inside
the earth’s damp caves;

You nurture fruits, you haunt meadows,
O sprightly and pure
travelers of the winding roads,
who delight in caves and grottos.
Swift, light-footed, and clothed in dew,
you frequent springs,
visible and invisible,
in ravines and among flowers
you shout and frisk with Pan
upon mountainsides,
gliding down on rocks,
you hum with clear voice.
O mountain-haunting maidens of the fields,
of gushing springs and of woodlands,
sweet-smelling virgins,
clothed in white, fresh as the breeze,
herds of goats, pastures, splendid fruit,
you protect; wild animals love you.
Though you are tender, cold delights you;
you feed many, you help them grow,
Hamadryad maidens,
playful, water-loving.”

Apostolos N Athanassakis and Benjamin M. Wolkow, The Orphic Hymns (Kindle edition)

Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, “Circle of Nymphs, Morning”

In her book Greek Nymphs: Myth, Cult, Lore, Jennifer Larson ponders upon the ambiguity of the word “numphe” in ancient Greek, which signified a female divinity on the one hand and a bride on the other. Nymphs were divine beings, who were “sexually desirable, free of familial restrictions,” but not necessarily young or virgins. A case in point is Penelope, who was referred to as a nymph in The Odyssey.

Although free and independent, nymphs were also nurturing and protective. The nymphs Ida and Adrasteia nurtured the infant Zeus in a cave on Crete. Nymphs were worshipped as Mothers on Crete:

“There was a tradition of Kretan colonization on Sicily, according to which the Kretans, who were stranded on the island after Minos’ abortive expedition to punish king Kokalos, founded a settlement at Engyon in the interior. This they named after the local spring, and they instituted a cult to ‘the Mothers,’ for whom they built a temple. The Mothers, or Meteres, were said to be the very nymphs who had nurtured Zeus in the Kretan cave and were set into the sky as the greater and lesser Bears.” (1)

Arnold Böcklin, “Nymph”

In all ancient Greek genealogies, nymphs played a crucial role as divine and mythical ancestors that went back to the period of the Great Flood. This was “a period of proto-civilization that, while harsh and savage, was also in some sense an idealized golden age.” Nymphs, who were predominantly rural rather than urban, were closely intertwined with the features of the landscape, especially rivers, springs, seas, lakes, marshes as well as meadows, mountains and caves. Consequently, they were linked with “gods who have rural or pastoral associations: Dionysus, Hermes, Pan, and Apollo.” They delighted in the company of herdsmen, who enjoyed their protection together with their flocks. They taught mankind the art of beekeeping, thus bringing the gift of civilization. Nymphs were indeed “teachers of the earliest skills and moral values that distinguished civilized humans from bestial savages.” Plutarch wrote that especially Dionysus, the wildest of the gods, needed a large entourage of nymphs “to tame and train him.” There was also a deep affinity between the nymphs and Centaurs, especially Chiron, who was married to the nymph Chariklo, and who, like the nymphs, dwelled in caves and nurtured young heroes.

Arnold Böcklin, “Nymph in the meadow ground as a representative of prehistoric times”

Nymphs presided over the totality of the landscape with the heavy emphasis on water. The Okeanids were daughters of Okeanos, the primordial river. Nereids were sea nymphs while Naiads presided over fresh water. The Pleiades are also usually considered as nymphs due to their status as primordial mothers. What is more, even “the Muses, Charites, and Horai are groups closely allied to the nymphs, and they fulfill under other names many of the functions otherwise attributed to nymphs (e.g., causing the crops to ripen or producing inspiration).” Nymphs possessed prophetic and healing qualities. Before Apollo took over Delphi, the nymph Daphnis delivered her prophesies there, while Erato, the Arkadian nymph, was known to deliver the prophecies of Pan. The Korykian cave of the nymphs at Delphi was frequented alongside the official Delphic oracle mostly by poor people, who used Astragaloi (“knucklebones”) as a method of divination. Furthermore, nymphs were often cult partners of Apollo’s son, the healer god Asklepius.

Jan Toorop, “Oceanide”

Nymphs had a sensual and sensual aura; they abided in “the fertile, moist parts of the landscape,” which “were associated with female anatomy.” They were associated with abundant vegetation and, as hamadryads and dryads, with trees, of which their favourite were the oak, the plane tree and the black poplar, frequently found by rivers and springs. For the Greeks, mountains were “the meeting place of gods and mortals,” where the rules of urban society did not apply and where Dionysus carried out his ecstatic revels. Mountain caves were cult areas especially dedicated to the nymphs. As a matter of fact, any scenic spot with “abundant water, shade, and vegetation” was blessed by the nymphs and imbued with their presence. Such a place was referred to as “locus amoenus” (a pleasant spot) and was believed to endow a visitor with inspiration. In this context the word “numpholeptos” was used, meaning “seized by the nymphs.” It denoted “a heightening of awareness and elevated verbal skills.”

John Flaxman, “The Rise of the Pleiades, the Time to Harvest” via https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Pleiades_(mythology)#/media/File:Flaxman’s_Zeichnungen_1910_017.jpg
John Flaxmann, “The Descent of the Pleiades, the Time of Sowing,” via https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Pleiades_(mythology)#/media/File:Flaxman’s_Zeichnungen_1910_018.jpg
Maia, one of the Pleiades featured on an ancient coin from Pheneos; her son Hermes on the right ; Maia lived in a mountain cave, where she gave birth to Hermes

The key role of the Nymphs as custodians of the motherland is beautifully featured in Homer’s Odyssey. There the nymphs “are the island itself,” which Odysseus craves to regain after his protracted meanderings through the seas. He prays at a fountain, surrounded by poplars, where all his ancestors and townspeople had been drawing water and leaving offerings at the altar dedicated to the nymphs. This is a moment of Odysseus’s homecoming (Greek nostos). But before he can truly announce his return and claim what is his own, he spends some time in the Cave of the Nymphs. In his famous essay the Neoplatonist philosopher Porphyry described the cave as a dark, stony and humid symbol of the sensible world. In their misty and watery cave, the Naiades (sweet water nymphs) are weaving and clothing the souls in bodily energies. Here souls are descending into generation since the moisture is the agent that brings the embodiment of souls.

William Blake, The Sea of Time and Space (Vision of the Circle of the Life of Man)

Another famous Nymph and a cave dweller from The Odyssey is undoubtedly Calypso. She keeps Odysseus concealed in her primordial cave in Ogygia. It is there that the hero gets in touch with the deepest recesses of his soul, enveloped by Calypso’s (the Concealer) fertile feminine darkness. But he refuses the gift of immortality offered to him by this mistress of Life and Death. Gregory Nagy wrote this of Calypso:

“Calypso is keeping Odysseus concealed in her cave. The feelings of attraction associated with the beautiful nymph Calypso are matched by feelings of repulsion evoked by her terrifying name … derived from the verb kaluptein, ‘conceal’: this verb is traditionally used in ritual formulas of burial, and it conveys the idea of consigning the dead to concealment in the realm of darkness and death…” (2)

Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, “Orpheus Leading Eurydice from the Underworld” – Eurydice was a nymph, daughter of Apollo

An encounter with a nymph did not always end well for a mortal. Larson says:

“The nymph’s supernatural power balances or overwhelms the assumed superiority of the male, so that her desires are often central to the narrative.

All the accounts of goddess-mortal unions I have so far discussed have at their root the same male fear of placing oneself at the mercy of a more powerful female (with, perhaps, an attendant unconscious attraction to this idea). The reversal of expected gender roles creates a powerful anxiety that is completely absent when gods have their way with mortal maidens.”

For women, on the other hand, the nymph stands for “a fantasy of total female independence,” “sexual pleasure without the restricting aspects of marriage and, …, without the duties of caring for children.”

Salvador Dali, “Nymphs in a Romantic Garden”

Also for the gods such as Pan or Apollo nymphs proved to be elusive. The nymph Syrinx was pursued by Pan and managed to flee by turning into marsh reeds. When Pan sighed with dismay upon the reeds, they produces a plaintive sound, which gave him the idea of fashioning the first panpipes. Thus the pursuit of the nymph led to artistic creation. Similarly, Daphne, who was pursued by Apollo, turned into a laurel leaf, which became a cultural symbol for poets and musicians. In both myths carnal desires were sublimated into artwork. Interestingly, Hermes seemed to have had more luck with the nymphs, who as a rule did not flee from him. His mercurial nature seems to have better suited their desire for freedom.

Hermes with the Nymphs, Lainate, Villa Litta Atrium of the four winds

Though themselves untamed, nymphs presided over the rituals of marriage, fertility and childbirth. In this role they were strongly associated with Hera, the goddess of marriage. Larson quotes another scholar, who argues that in earlier times Hera had been “a powerful nature goddess” and “mistress of animals,” who underwent a process of acculturation. While nymphs were usually depicted as nudes, Hera’s images were predominantly clothed. Yet every year Hera retreated to a sacred spring at Nauplia, where she bathed, thus retrieving her maidenhood and her essential nymph nature.

John Reinhard Weguelin, “Rodantha”

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Notes:

(1) Jennifer Larson, Greek Nymphs: Myth, Cult, Lore, Kindle edition (all the subsequent quotes, unless otherwise indicated, come from this book)

(2) Gregory Nagy, The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours, Kindle edition

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Reading The Red Book (28)

“I see behind you, behind the mirror of your eyes, the crush of dangerous shadows, the dead, who look greedily through the empty sockets of your eyes, who moan and hope to gather up through you all the loose ends of the ages, which sigh in them. Your cluelessness does not prove anything. Put your ear to that wall and you will hear the rustling of their procession.”

C.G. Jung, The Red Book, Liber Secundus, chapter XV “Nox Secunda”

Jacek Malczewski, “Vicious Circle” (1895-97)

We have now reached chapter XV of Liber Secundus. Its title is Nox Secunda (Second Night). Having left the library with a copy of The Imitation of Christ, Jung finds himself in a large kitchen, where he meets the Cook, a large woman in a checkered apron. She also loves the book Jung is reading and asks him whether he is a clergyman. He is idly browsing the book when his eyes fall on the following passage: “The righteous base their intentions more on the mercy of God, which in whatever they undertake they trust more than their own wisdom.” Jung realizes that what Thomas proposes here is equivalent to “the intuitive method,” introduced by the philosopher Henry Bergson (born 1859). As Sanford L. Drob explains, Bergson favoured intuitive thinking over conceptual one. He saw intuition as related to the flow of life, “grasping an underlying metaphysical reality.” (1) Intuition is beyond the scope of the scientific method. It feeds upon both instinct and life as well as the mystical view of reality.

The peaceful reveries in the kitchen are suddenly interrupted by a roar of shadowlike human forms entering the room with the words, “Let us pray in the temple!” One of the figures speaks to Jung, introducing himself as the prophet Ezekiel. Jung wishes to join the group on their quest to Jerusalem, but Ezekiel tells him that it is impossible because he is still alive while all the other wanderers are dead. He entreats Jung to tell him why he and his companions cannot find peace. Jung replies, “”Let go, daimon, you did not live your animal.”

The Old Testament vision of Ezekiel exerted a powerful influence on Jung’s work. Throughout his collected works he returned to it frequently. In Mysterium Coniunctionis he wrote:

“…Ezekiel’s vision of the four creatures, with the faces respectively of a man, a lion, an ox, and an eagle. These four figures are associated with four wheels, itheir construction being as it were a wheel within a wheel. When they went, they went in any of their four directions without turning as they went.’ Together they formed the moving throne of a figure having ‘the appearance of a man.’” (CW 14, par. 266)

Bernard Picart, Ezekiel’s Vision, via https://www.thetorah.com/article/ezekiels-vision-of-god-and-the-chariot

Ezekiel’s Tetramorph (from Greek tetra – four, morph – shape) from Anton Koberger’s Biblia Latina, via https://talivirtualmidrash.org.il/biblia-latina-with-commentary-of-nicholas-of-lyra-ezekiels-vision/

Jung’s concept of the self as One divided into Four (the Quaternio) stems partly from that vision. Jung explains further:

“Psychologically the vision of Ezekiel is a symbol of the self consisting of four individual creatures and wheels, i.e., of different functions. Three of the faces are theriomorphic and only one anthropomorphic, which presumably means that only one function has reached the human level, whereas the others are still in an unconscious or animal state.” (CW 14, par. 269)

In The Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious, Jung stressed the importance of integrating the instincts as “a prerequisite for individuation.” (volume 9i, par. 660) He saw the mandala as the most important symbol of the achievement of such a unity. A little later in the chapter Jung ponders the significance of the animal side and its integration into the psyche. He writes:

“Consider animals: how just they are, …, how they keep to the time-honored, how loyal they are to the land that bears them, how they hold to their accustomed routes, how they care for their young, how they go together to pasture, and how they draw one another to the spring.”

It seems that here Jung is calling on us to strive for reverence and humility towards time-honoured traditions. He asks later:

“Do you not know that if you are successful in destroying what has become, you will then turn the will of destruction against yourself? But anyone who makes destruction their goal will perish through self-destruction.”

The other aspect of “living the animal” is associated with temptation and the satisfaction of the senses, which is inextricable from life. In the footnotes to this chapter, Shamdasani tells us that in Jung’s view Christianity aimed to suppress and castigate the animal element in humankind.

Immediately after telling Ezechiel to “live his animal” Jung is seized by the police and brought to a madhouse. He realizes that his knowledge has brought him in the conflict with the society, which suppresses the animal instinct. At the mental hospital doctors diagnose him with a “form of religious madness, perfectly clear, religious
paranoia.” Jung reflects:

“The problem of madness is profound. Divine madness-a higher form of the irrationality of the life streaming through us-at any rate a madness that cannot be integrated into present-day society-but how? What if the form of society were integrated into madness?”

Drob points out that Jungian psychology was in fact “the path of transforming the individual and society through a re-integration of the myths and archetypes that the West had long since relegated to the garbage-bin of irrationality and madness.” (2) What better place to ponder the phenomenon of madness than a madhouse. Jung realizes that he has indeed fallen into “the boundless, the abyss, the inanity of
eternal chaos.” The integration of the instinctual, unconscious elements of the psyche is not without peril. The human soul contains the unfathomable darkness, continues Jung, or the I of The Red Book, while still in the madhouse:

“Every man has a quiet place in his soul, where everything is self-evident and easily explainable, a place to which he likes to retire from the confusing possibilities of life, because there everything is simple and clear, with a manifest and limited purpose. About nothing else in the world can a man say with the same conviction as he does of this place: ‘You are nothing but … ‘ and indeed he has said it. And even this place is a smooth surface, an everyday wall, nothing more than a snugly sheltered and frequently polished crust over the mystery of chaos.”

This chaos is filled with the figures of the dead – “not just your dead, that is, all the
images of the shapes you took in the past, which your ongoing life has left behind, but also the thronging dead of human history … .” The chaos contains also everything which has been renounced or damned. The work of the soul consist in delivering the dead to freedom. The new cannot be built without the old, and “a new salvation is always
a restoring of the previously lost.” We are not complete without our dead and we will be hearing their laments “until we grant them redemption through restoring what has existed since ancient times under the rule of love.” Instead of looking forward we need to look back and into ourselves. The following words of Jung sound eerily current:

“We are a blinded race. We live only on the surface, only in the present, and think only of tomorrow. We deal roughly with the past in that we do not accept the dead. We want to work only with visible success. Above all we want to be paid. We would consider it insane to do hidden work that does not visibly serve men.”

The two beautiful mandalas accompanying this chapter speak of the integration of the opposites professed in this part of The Red Book. Image 105 contains the Senex figure at the top, symbolic of tradition, and a chthonic dark figure at the bottom, symbolic of Chaos. Two anima figures on the horizontal axis – one light on the right (the conscious side) and one dark on the left (the unconscious) complete the quaternio.

RB, image 105

Mandala 107 is to me one of the most trance-inducing images of The Red Book. I agree with Drob that it conveys awe and an absolute sense of Oneness. (3)

RB, Image 107

Notes:

(1) Sanford L. Drob, Reading The Red Book: An Interpretative Guide to C.G. Jung’s Liber Novus, Spring Journal Books 2012pp. 134

(2) Ibid, p. 136

(3) Ibid, p. 142

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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 29

Reading The Red Book – part 30

Reading The Red Book – part 31

Reading The Red Book – part 32

Posted in The Red Book by C.G. Jung | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Reading The Red Book (27)

The title of Chapter XIV of Liber Secundus, the second part of The Red Book, is Divine Folly. Jung* finds himself in a library, where he engages in a dialogue with a librarian. He summarizes the atmosphere as “troubling-scholarly ambitions-scholarly conceit-wounded scholarly vanity,” which are the very values he has tried to leave behind by engaging with the unconscious in The Red Book.

James Tissot, “Jesus Goes Alone onto a Mountain to Pray”

Jung wants to borrow a fourteenth-century devotional book called The Imitation of Christ. He says this particular book is written from the soul while scientific works leave him empty and sick. The librarian derides his “old-fashioned” choice and says that Christian dogmatic is a thing of the past. Jung protests by saying that there is more to Christianity than we see. The librarian suggests reading Nietzsche instead as a substitute for the religion that has collapsed. Jung replies:

“Perhaps from your standpoint you’re right, but I can’t help feeling that Nietzsche speaks to those who need more freedom, not to those who clash strongly with life, who bleed from wounds, and who hold fast to actualities.”

While Nietzsche glorifies superiority by criticizing Christianity with its shackles of morality and its attempts at keeping people down, Jung states: “I know men who need inferiority; not superiority.” For Jung, liberation from Christianity is delusion.

Jung’s words here are strongly reminiscent of the Beatitudes, which are the eight blessings Jesus proclaimed in the Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the Earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”

I am currently reading a wonderful book written by Eugene Drewermann, a former Catholic priest, who integrates Christianity with depth psychology. The book Worte der Freiheit: Die Seligpreisungen Jesu (Words of Freedom: The Beatitudes of Jesus) proposes that the eight blessings capture the true beauty and the true spirit of Christianity. To be poor in spirit means to free oneself from the trap of superiority and acknowledge one’s limits, humility and weakness. The terror of efficiency and the constant busyness mask our inner emptiness and existential void. At the same time of us are hungry and thirsty to start a real, proper life, says Drewermann in his book.

Jung ponders in this chapter what it truly means to imitate Christ, who himself emulated no one, and comes up with a paradox:

“If I thus truly imitate Christ, I do not imitate anyone, I emulate no one, but go my own way, …”

Sanford L. Drob reminds us that Jung has written extensively on imitation. (1) In CW 7 (Two Essays on Analytical Psychology, par. 242) Jung wrote:

“Human beings have one faculty which, though it is of the greatest utility for collective purposes, is most pernicious for individuation, and that is the faculty of imitation. Collective psychology cannot dispense with imitation, for without it all mass organizations, the State and the social order, are impossible. Society is organized, indeed, less by law than by the propensity to imitation, implying equally suggestibility, suggestion, and mental contagion. But we see every day how people use, or rather abuse, the mechanism of imitation for the purpose of personal differentiation: they are content to ape some eminent personality, some striking characteristic or mode of behaviour, thereby achieving an outward distinction from the circle in which they move. We could almost say that as a punishment for this the uniformity of their minds with those of their neighbours, already real enough, is intensified into an unconscious, compulsive bondage to the environment. As a rule these specious attempts at individual differentiation stiffen into a pose, and the imitator remains at the same level as he always was, only several degrees more sterile than before. To find out what is truly individual in ourselves, profound reflection is needed; and suddenly we realize how uncommonly difficult the discovery of individuality is.”

Imitating Christ means for Jung not imitating any sterile and lifeless social structures but “to return to simple life.” The humble and everyday life right beneath our feet can solve more than thinking can.

The Sower published 1864 Sir John Everett Millais, Bt 1829-1896 Presented by Gilbert Dalziel 1924 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/A00800

Notes:

(1) Sanford L. Drob, Reading The Red Book: An Interpretative Guide to C.G. Jung’s Liber Novus, Spring Journal Books 2012pp. 132-133

* Throughout the series I refer to the “I” of The Red Book as Jung, though it is not completely accurate to equate the narrator of The Red Book with Jung.

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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 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

Posted in The Red Book by C.G. Jung, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Women’s Wisdom: Hildegard of Bingen

Karlheinz Oswald, Hildegard of Bingen

Hildegard of Bingen, a twelfth-century German Benedictine abbess, was a mystic, a healer and an intellectual, whose achievements are hard to believe if we realize that she lived in the times, when women had very limited opportunities. In the so-called High Middle Ages (1000-1250) Christianity was at its peak: monastic life was thriving and Gothic cathedrals were being erected all over Europe. Hildegard’s visionary mysticism was both sublime and rooted in sensuality; her endless body of work spanned painting, composing most sublime music, writing poems on the one hand and establishing monasteries, healing and writing on botany, medicine and theology on the other.

The Sibyl of the Rhine, as she was later called, managed to emancipate her community of sisters from the monks of Disibode, with whom she shared headquarters. She transferred the sisters with their dowries to Mount St Rupert near Bingen in the lush Rhineland valley, notwithstanding the vigorous protestations of her former abbot. (1) At the age of 42 she experienced spiritual awakening, which she thus described:

“… a burning light of tremendous brightness coming from heaven poured into my entire mind. Like a flame that does not burn but enkindles, it inflamed my entire heart and my entire breast, just like the sun that warms an object with rays.” (2)

She spent the subsequent tenyears writing her book Scivias (Know the Ways) and working on her illuminated paintings. In one of the most memorable ones featuring the man in sapphire blue, we can immediately appreciate her unique vision. The man is channeling the compassionate energy of the cosmos through his hands, which are “extended in a manner of healing and assisting.” (3) The figure in blue that Hildegard saw in her vision is “Christ in his earthly ministry” or Christ as man, wrote James Hillman in his Alchemical Psychology (4). His blue colouring is in the midpoint between the black of the earthy nigredo and the sublime white of the next stage of the alchemical opus. Interestingly, blue was also the colour used to depict Vishnu and other Indian gods such as Shiva. One of the explanations that I have come across says that while fighting with a primordial snake demon, Vishnu was bitten and as a result his skin turned blue. That would corroborate Hillman’s point concerning the shadow aspect that is associated with the colour blue in alchemy. Another explanation is that blue symbolizes cosmic wisdom, as the colour of the cosmos is deep blue. The visions of Hildegard truly surpassed the symbolism of Christianity and reached deeper into the universal realm of archetypal images common for all cultures.

Another key concept bequeathed to us by Hildegarde is viriditas – the greening power. She connects it with creativity and bearing fruit. (5) She speaks of the moist power of the earth in the spring. In The Book of Divine Works, which she composed ten years after Scivias, Hildegard gives a voice to the personification of Love, who says:

“I am the fiery life of divine substance, I blaze above the beauty of the fields, I shine in the waters, I burn in sun, moon, and stars. And I awaken all to life with every wind of the air, as with invisible life that sustains everything. For the air lives in greenness and fecundity. The waters flow as though they are alive. The sun also lives in its own light, and when the moon has waned it is rekindled by the light of the sun and thus lives again; and the stars shine out in their own light as though they are alive.” (6)

The universal vision of Hildegard was of cosmic proportions. The following illumination showing the Cosmic Egg is an image of the “universe as surrounded by a firmament of fire.” The stars in the picture stand for planets. (7)

Hildegard’s vision of the universe as an egg explained

Picturing the Universe as an egg was more characteristic of Pagans than Christians. Here Hildegard displays an unorthodox, deeply feminine vision. The great symbolist Rene Guenon wrote on the World Egg that it contains in seed all that the Cosmos will contain in its fully manifested state, and all that is essential to create life.

Cultivating the Cosmic Tree is another breathtaking vision of microcosm linked to macrocosm that Hildegard included in Scivias. As Matthew Fox says,

“For Hildegard, the cosmic tree and the world axis do not just sit there. They require cultivation and human creativity. The world is organic, but human ingenuity is required to bring the organism to its full potential. (8)

This is reminiscent of Jung’s idea that God needs an individual as much as an individual needs God.

One of the most enigmatic of her illuminations depicts “The Red Head of God Zealous or Erotic Justice.” A terrifying red face looks towards the north. In her vision, the three white wings grew larger and larger while beating the air. Christ spoke to Hildegard in that vision: “This head signifies the zeal of the Lord who is the rod of freedom from unbending injustice.”

via https://www.wikiart.o
rg/en/hildegard-of-bingen

Hildegard excelled in all of her endeavours, more astonishingly so as she was self-taught. She composed inspiring, breathtaking music despite the lack of any formal musical education. She always struck on her own guided purely by her soulful inspiration.

Notes

(1) Matthew Fox, Illuminations of Hildegard of Bingen, Bear and Company: Rochester, Vermont 2002, p. 4-5

(2) Ibid., p. 7

(3) Ibid, p. 32

(4) James Hillman, Alchemical Psychology, Kindle edition

(5) Matthew Fox, Illuminations of Hildegard of Bingen, Bear and Company: Rochester, Vermont 2002, p. 43

(6) Mark Atherton (transl.), Hildegard of Bingen: Selected Writings, Penguin Books, 2001, p. 26

(7) Matthew Fox, Illuminations of Hildegard of Bingen, Bear and Company: Rochester, Vermont 2002, p. 50

(8) Ibid., p. 69

(9) Ibid., p. 145

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Symbolist Art: The Mysteriarch (The One Who Presides over Mysteries)

In volume V of Collected Works (Symbols of Transformation, par. 299) Jung quotes a passage from Goethe’s Faust, in which he hero must descend to the realm of the Mothers:

“MEPHISTOPHELES: This lofty mystery I must now unfold.
Goddesses throned in solitude, sublime,
Set in no place, still less in any time.
At the mere thought of them my blood runs cold.
They are the Mothers!
… … … … … …
Goddesses, unknown to mortal mind,
And named indeed with dread among our kind.
To reach them you must plumb earth’s deepest vault;
That we have need of them is your own fault.
FAUST: Where leads the way?
MEPHISTOPHELES: There’s none! To the untrodden,
Untreadable regions—the unforgotten
And unforgettable—for which prepare!
There are no bolts, no hatches to be lifted,
Through endless solitudes you shall be drifted.
Can you imagine Nothing everywhere?
… … … … … …
Supposing you had swum across the ocean
And gazed upon the immensity of space,
Still you would see wave after wave in motion,
And even though you feared the world should cease,
You’d still see something—in the limpid green
Of the calm deep are gliding dolphins seen,
The flying clouds above, sun, moon, and star.
But blank is that eternal Void afar.
You do not hear your footfall, and you meet
No solid ground on which to set your feet.
… … … … … …
Here, take this key.
… … … … … …
The key will smell the right place from all others:
Follow it down, it leads you to the Mothers.
… … … … … …
Then to the depths!—I could as well say height:
It’s all the same. From the Existent fleeing,
Take the free world of forms for your delight,
Rejoice in things that long have ceased from being.
The busy brood will weave like coiling cloud,
But swing your key to keep away the crowd!
… … … … … …
A fiery tripod warns you to beware,
This is the nethermost place where now you are.
You shall behold the Mothers by its light,
Some of them sit, some walk, some stand upright,
Just as they please. Formation, transformation,
Eternal Mind’s eternal recreation.
Thronged round with images of things to be,
They see you not, shadows are all they see.
Then pluck up heart, the danger here is great,
Approach the tripod, do not hesitate,
And touch it with the key.” (1)

Mysteriarch is a plaster bust by George James Frampton, a British sculptor (1860-1928). The title means “the one who presides over mysteries.” The emblem or brooch in the central part of her dress include the Medusa and the bat while her headdress is made of bird feathers. A golden halo with swirling motifs surrounds her head. The most striking element of the sculpture, though, is her enduring, otherworldly gaze, haunting and hypnotic at the same time. She seems to have all the qualities of the mysterious Mothers, who for Jung symbolized the Unconscious with its simultaneously redeeming and perilous qualities. Like the Mothers, she encompasses the depths and the heights, the light and darkness. She gazes into the eternal void, which is “thronged with images of things to be.”

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Reading The Red Book (26)

Edvard Munch, “Golgotha”

“There are not many truths, there are only a few. Their meaning is too deep to grasp other than in symbols.”

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

Chapter XII of Liber Secundus, the second part of The Red Book, is called “The Sacrificial Murder.” This has to be the most grisly vision to be encountered in Liber Novus:

“But this was the vision that I did not want to see, the horror that I did not want to live: A sickening feeling of nausea sneaks up on me, and abominable, perfidious serpents wind their way slowly and cracklingly through parched undergrowth; they hang down lazily and disgustingly lethargic from the branches, looped in dreadful knots. … A marionette with a broken head lies before me amidst the stones-a few steps further, a small apron and then behind the bush, the body of a small girl-covered with terrible wounds-smeared with blood. … a shrouded figure, like that of a woman, is standing calmly next to the child; her face is covered by an impenetrable veil.”

The woman remarks that such horrors happen every day and no one is enraged. Jung replies, “The horror is less real if all I have is knowledge.” The woman wants Jung to traverse from knowledge to experience. She says she is “the soul of the child” and orders Jung to take the liver out of the corpse. Then she adds:

“S: “You know what the liver means, and you ought to perform the healing act with it.’
I: ‘What is to be done?’
S: ‘Take a piece of the liver, in place of the whole, and eat it.’”

The woman tells Jung that as a man he shares in the guilt and therefore he must abase himself and do what she asks. By virtue of being human, we are all complicit in all acts of evil. After initial objections, Jung agrees to take part in this bloody ritual for the sake of the soul’s atonement. Here his writing is very visceral and the images he paints vivid:

“I kneel down on the stone, cut off a piece of the liver and put it in my mouth. My gorge rises-tears burst from my eyes, cold sweat covers my brow-a dull sweet taste of blood-I swallow with desperate efforts-it is impossible-once again and once again- I almost faint-it is done. The horror has been accomplished.”

This is when the woman throws away her veil and tells him she is in fact his soul.

For the ancients, the liver was the seat of life, as they believed that it produced blood. Now we know that one of its chief functions is purifying blood, which then goes to the heart. The livers of sacrificed animals were also used for divination, already in Babylonia. Anger and defiance were the emotions commonly associated with this organ, not only in Ancient Greece but also in China. (1) All of this points to the liver as an important seat of deep emotions, passion, intuition; an organ which links the soul with the body. Paracelsus called it “Alchemist im Bauche” – an alchemist in the belly. The punishment of Prometheus, whose liver was devoured by an eagle every night only to grow back for the torture to repeat, stands for the perpetual nature of suffering on the one hand and, more importantly, seems to suggest that he who soars to the heavens to steal the fire from the gods is not immune to the pains of the flesh, being only human. In another of his works Jung wrote that “every step forward along the path of individuation is achieved only at the cost of suffering.” (2)

Peter Paul Rubens, “Prometheus Bound”

An important thought that Jung expresses in this chapter is that to save one’s soul (“the true mother of the divine child”) one needs to eat from the bloody sacrificial flesh. Only this sort of communion with the body with all its darkness and suffering will heal the soul by letting it “redeem its primordial powers.” The Christian sacrament of the Holy Communion, understood as symbolic partaking of the body and blood of Christ, which Jung draws upon in this chapter, was preceded by similar rituals in ancient cultures, notably the Aztecs and the Greeks, who saw omophagia (eating of raw flesh) as an inextricable part of the cult of Dionysus. Also in the Orphic Mysteries, Dionysus Zagreus was torn apart and devoured by the Titans. His divine substance was distributed throughout the creation to vivify it. Similarly in the Egyptian myth, Osiris’ dismembered body served as the source of life and nourishment.

In this chapter Jung also conveys an important thought, which is one of the tenets of his psychology, and which may be surprising if taken at face value. Jung seems to issue a warning that Gods want to possess us humans but we must remember that we are not gods. He says:

“But if the soul dips into radiance, she becomes as remorseless as the God himself … But despite all the torment, you cannot let it be, since it will not let you be. … You feel that the fire of the sun has erupted in you. … Sometimes you no longer recognize yourself. You want to overcome it, but it overcomes you. … You want to employ it, but you are its tool.”

The gods and their solar power will not let humans simply “be.” When Jung had healed his god in the previous chapters, he was robbed of his life force. Now the encounter with his soul restores it. Jung finishes the chapter with a defiant statement: “Yes, I even find the divine superfluous.” The soul, which partakes both in the body and in the spirit, defies the gods, refusing to be held hostage by them. Sometimes “a reasonable life” must suffice, adds Jung.

The images in this chapter are predominantly mandalas. Sanford L. Drob finds them inhuman, even schizoid, and says that “they may reflect Jung’s extreme isolation and inwardness during this period and the difficulties he seems to have had in bridging the gap to an actual other.” (3) Jung indeed viewed the act of drawing a mandala as “an attempt at self-healing on the part of Nature, which does not spring from conscious reflection but from an instinctive impulse.” (4)

Notes:

(1) The Book of Symbols, Reflections on Archetypal Images, ARAS, edited by Ami Ronnberg p. 398

(2) C.G. Jung, Psychology and Religion: West and East (CW 11), par. 411

(3) Sanford L. Drob, Reading The Red Book: An Interpretative Guide to C.G. Jung’s Liber Novus, Spring Journal Books 2012p. 129

(4) C. G. Jung, The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, part I (CW 9), par. 714

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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 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

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Hamnet and Tutankhamun

Shakespeare’s life is a great mystery but we do know that he had a son, Hamnet, who died at the age 11, possibly from the plague. Four years after his son’s death, Shakespeare wrote Hamlet, maybe his greatest masterpiece. In an extraordinary new novel called Hamnet, Maggie O’Farrell tries to reimagine Hamnet’s death and its aftermath. The beating heart of the novel is neither Shakespeare nor even Hamnet, however, but Shakespeare’s wife called Agnes. She was the one who took care of the family, which stayed behind in Stratford, while Shakespeare spent most of the time in London.

The way O’Farrell writes is so palpable, so arresting that I felt transported back into those times, almost being able to sensually experience that distant historical reality in its full corporeality. By far the most devastating to read was the scene of Hamnet’s death and burial. The coldness and finality of these words were chilling to the bone:

“And there, by the fire, held in the arms of his mother, in the room in which he learnt to crawl, to eat, to walk, to speak, Hamnet takes his last breath.

He draws it in, he lets it out.

Then there is silence, stillness. Nothing more.”

I thought of Hamnet while visiting an exhibition Tutankhamun – His Tomb and His Treasures last month in Zurich. “The Boy Pharaoh” also died at a very young age. He did not produce an heir – both his daughters were stillborn and their tiny mummies were placed in tiny sarcophagi and buried with their father’s. Admiring the exhibition’s sheer grandeur, I was haunted by two images – the face of Hamnet before Agnes covered it with white cloth -“She cannot cover him the first time. She cannot do it the second” – and Tutankhamun’s magnificent gold mask. This “imperishable surrogate face” was fashioned in the likeness of Osiris. From the description at the exhibition:

“The animated eyes are light quartz inlaid with obsidian for the pupils. Set on the forehead of the striped headdress are two divine emblems: the vulture’s head of Upper Egypt and the serpent’s body of Lower Egypt. … The inscription on the back of the mask contains a text which equates the sensory organs with gods…”

Mask of Tutankhamun, via Wikipedia

While Hamnet’s body is wrapped in a white shroud and buried – “The grave is a shock. A deep, dark rip in the earth, as if made by the careless slash of a giant claw.” – no less than four shrines inscribed with sacred writings are nested around the sarcophagus of Tutankhamun. With countless objects ranging from his throne to board games, the pharaoh embarked on a symbolic journey towards the immortal existence as a God. The texts on the walls of the second shrine are partly written in coded or secret hieroglyphs and contain very mysterious depictions from an unknown book of the Netherworld. According to a French scholar, the second shrine depicts how “the souls of
the dead rising up and following the sun are powers which refill and empower the
sun during the night.” Osiris, the god of the dead , and the Sun become one by forming “The Solar Osirian Unity.”

Meanwhile, Agnes picks the flowers for his son’s last journey:

“Agnes selects rue, comfrey, yellow-eyed chamomile. She takes purple lavender and thyme, a handful of rosemary. Not heartsease, because Hamnet disliked the smell. Not angelica, because it is too late for that and it did not help, did not perform its task, did not save him, did not break the fever. Not valerian, for the same reason. Not milk thistle, for the leaves are so spiny and sharp, enough to pierce the skin, to bring forth drops of blood. She tucks the dried plants into the sheet, nestles them next to his body, where they whisper their comfort to him.”

Finally, both the book and the exhibition made me meditate on the difference (or lack thereof) between truth and fiction. O’Farrell’s book is a work of creative fantasy, for we do not have any documents which would support any of the events she describes in her novel. All we know is that Hamnet died prematurely, which is a mere footnote to the biography of the Bard. And yet her book undeniably breathes the truth. The written world becomes palpable, substantial, solid.

On the other hand, the Tutankhamun Exhibition that is currently touring the world does not contain a single object that Howard Carter so famously discovered in 1922, uttering the words that would go down in history – “I see wonderful things“. The truth is that all the wonderful things at the exhibition are meticulously handcrafted replicas. The originals are way too vulnerable to tour the world and are now safe in Cairo.

The way the exhibition recreates the moment of the discovery of the Tomb of Tutankhamun is quite magical. What we the visitors see is what appeared in front of Howard Carter – we are walking through the tomb of the king with its different chambers.

Since the usual glass cases are unnecessary, it is possible to immerse oneself in the experience. The emotional truth and the enthusiasm it generates is quite exhilarating.

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Reading The Red Book (25)

“I know your shadow and mine, that follows and comes with us, and only waits for the hour of twilight when he will strangle you and me with all the daimons of the night.”

“The Red Book,” chapter XII “Hell”

Henry Fuseli, “The Nightmare”

Chapter XII of Liber Secundus entitled “Hell” begins with a terrifying vision:

“I find myself in a gloomy vault, whose floor consists of damp stone slabs. In the middle there is a column from which ropes and axes hang. At the foot of the column there lies an awful serpent-like tangle of human bodies. At first I catch sight of the figure of a young maiden with wonderful red-gold hair-a man of devilish appearance is lying half under her-his head is bent backward-a thin streak of blood runs down his forehead-two similar daimons have thrown themselves over the maiden’s feet and body. Their faces bear an inhuman expression-the living evil-their muscles are taut and hard, and their bodies sleek like serpents. They lie motionless. The maiden holds her hand over one eye of the man lying beneath her, who is the most powerful of the three-her hand firmly clasps a small silver fishing rod that she has driven into the eye of the devil.”

The eye is a complex symbol, whose meaning here is connected with consciousness coming from the underworld and from the the evil. Amidst decomposition and disintegration, the anima wants to rend the demon apart. She knows that “nothing is more valuable to the evil than his eye” (one cannot not think here of the Eye of Sauron). Jung here juxtaposes the emptiness of evil against the “gleaming fullness” and “the shining power” of what is good, bright and beautiful. Jung stresses that “the eternal fullness” cannot exist without the eternal emptiness.

Furthermore, evil has unquestionable power:

“Once evil seizes you without pity, no father, no mother, no right, no wall and tower, no armor and protective power come to your aid.”

Evil came to Jung because he created a radiant God. He says:

“But if you want to escape evil, you will create no God, everything that you do is tepid and gray.”

He who creates divine beauty is followed by a relentless shadow. The same shadow endows the creator with insight, passion and depth. The fishing rod that the anima/soul uses to pluck out the eye of the demon is the instrument of consciousness that tries to “fish in emptiness” for wisdom.

The theme of this chapter centres around evil and its meaning. Firstly, the individuated soul cannot simply remain in “the light of the upperworld.” Rejecting the evil would mean that the soul of such an individual would be stuck in the underworld – “his soul will languish in the dungeons of the daimons.” Beauty would not exist if the evil did not “long” for it and if the evil did not look at it with his multiple eyes. “The evil one is holy,” concludes Jung.

The many-eyed Devil from the Tarot of Marseilles by Jean Dodal (via Wikipedia)

Sanford L. Drob emphasizes the role of evil in individuation. He says:

“… one cannot forge a powerful, happy, and lustrous self without also creating an evil and empty one. The forging of such a radiant self will be followed by the imaginative unfolding of a nightmare.” (1)

All the qualities traditionally associated with the evil one such as “lust, avarice and earthly desire” (2) are at the ground of all being and are indispensable to any creative impulse. The image that accompanies this chapter suggests a reconciliation of opposing principles, says Drob.

Notes:

(1) Sanford L. Drob, Reading The Red Book: An Interpretative Guide to C.G. Jung’s Liber Novus, Spring Journal Books 2012p. 124

(2) Ibid., p.124

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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 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

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Reading The Red Book (24)

Chapter XI of Liber Secundus is called The Opening of the Egg. Having sung his incantations, Jung kneels on the rug and carefully opens the egg. Completely healed, Izdubar appears in front of him. The god relates what his experience had been inside of the egg:

“I was ancient and perpetually renewing myself-/ Falling from the heights to the depths,/ and whirled glowing from the depths to the heights-/hovering around myself amidst glowing clouds-/ as raining embers beating down like the foam of the surf, engulfing/ myself in stifling heat-/Embracing and rejecting myself in a boundless game/ Where was I? I was completely sun.”

Camille Pissarro, “Sunrise on the Sea”

Izdubar had become one with the Sun; like the Sun he now sees all and knows all. (1) Like the Sun, he had made a night journey into the depths of the nadir and has ascended towards the zenith, symbolizing his perpetual renewal. (2) Izdubar now emits a radiant light that Jung’s eyes “cannot grasp.” Jung compares himself to the mother, who had given birth to a god:

“I became his nocturnal mother who incubated the egg of the beginning. And he rose up, renewed, reborn to greater splendor.”

Bringing Izdubar back to life as an unblemished, radiant solar deity has deprived Jung of his own life force, however:

All my force was now in him. My soul swam like a fish in his sea of fire. But I lay in the frightful cool of the shadows of the earth and sank down deeper and deeper to the lowest darkness. All light had left me. The God rose in the Eastern lands and I fell into the horror of the underworld. I lay there like a child-bearer cruelly mauled and bleeding her life into the child, uniting life and death in a dying glance, the day’s mother, the night’s prey.”

Gustave Moreau, (detail from) “Suitors” (an unfinished painting showing a scene from The Odyssey – triumphant Athena above the bodies of murdered suitors)

Perhaps what Jung is saying here is that reaching divine perfection comes at a terrible price – the shadow will claim those who dared to look divinity in the eye. Jung is left “powerless and groaning,” with the empty eggshell as the only reminder of his divine encounter.

One of the leitmotifs of Jung’s psychology was the co-existence of light and darkness, good and evil in all beings, including the gods. In this chapter Jung says:

“The God suffers when man does not accept his darkness.”

The radiant god is not separate from “monstrous serpents of eternal emptiness.” This is why “if the God draws near, your essence starts to seethe and the black mud of the depths whirls up.” For Jung, the divine is not just “good;” it comprises wholeness with all its opposites.

Jung proceeds to explain why evil is a necessary part of life. He says:

“So long as you persist with the standpoint of the good, you cannot dissolve your formation, precisely because it is what is good. You cannot dissolve good with good. You can dissolve good only with evil. For your good also leads ultimately to death through its progressive binding of your force by progressively binding your force.”

What Jung seems to be saying here is that rigidity is alien to life. When the ego clings to what it perceives to be good, when we are following a certain rigid pattern, which we consider good and orderly, life becomes mechanical and neurotic. (3) If we do not recognize the transformative force and the importance of evil in our lives, it will overwhelm us, thus creating “terrible suffering.” By rejecting evil we also reject our humanity. Jung warns:

“… we make desperate attempts to follow the God into the higher realm, or we turn preachingly and demandingly to our fellow men to at any rate force others into following the God. Unfortunately there are men who allow themselves to be persuaded into doing this, to their and our detriment.”

This explains the numerous atrocities committed in the name of religion.

The images accompanying the chapter are very striking. The image on page 71 represents three intertwined snakes. The crimson background reminds us of the Red One – the devil, who instilled a new lease of life in Jung in chapter 1 of Liber Secundus. The intertwined snakes seem to symbolize the incarnated soul, which has embraced the life in matter, on the earth, where the inferno of passions is forever writhing like the snakes on Medusa’s head.

The closing image on page 72 has quite a hypnotic impact. Sanford L. Drob muses:

“It is a mosaic composition in which a series of six conical beams of light … point up and down over a largely black field, punctuated by small yellow lights. The viewer may have the sense that it is deep night, that his back is against the wall, and he is on the verge of being caught in one of these searching beams. … the contrasts between the darkness and saturated colours suggests a melding together of oppositions. Indeed, it is such a melding together that results from the journey into hell that Jung is about to undertake.” (4)

Notes:

(1) Juan Eduardo Cirlot, A Dictionary of Symbols, Routledge: London, second edition, p. 317

(2) Ibid., p. 318

(3) Compare these ideas with Krishnamurti’s lecture on rigidity: https://jkrishnamurti.org/content/how-one-bring-about-order-oneself-without-any-conflict

(4) Sanford L. Drob, Reading The Red Book: An Interpretative Guide to C.G. Jung’s Liber Novus, Spring Journal Books 2012p. 121

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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 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

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Lilith

Michelangelo, Lilith, Adam and Eve (from the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel)

On the ceiling of the Sistine chapel we can see an atypical depiction of the serpent of Paradise. Michelangelo chose to portray the snake as a red-headed woman, undoubtedly Lilith. Why did Michelangelo decide to include Lilith in his biblical masterpiece, though she is mentioned only once in the Bible by name? Without a doubt, her fascinating and terrifying presence is palpable also in our times, as it was when Michelangelo engaged with the theme. As Siegmund Hurwitz puts it,

“Of all the motifs in Jewish mythology, none – other than that of the Messiah – remains so vivid to this day as the myth of Lilith.” (1)

Lilith made her first appearance in the Epic of Gilgamesh:

“After heaven and earth had been separated and mankind had been created, …; on this day, a huluppu tree (probably a linden tree), which had been planted on the bank of the Euphrates and nourished by its waters, was uprooted by the south wind and carried away by the Euphrates. A goddess, who was wandering along the banks seized the swaying tree and – (…) – brought it to Inanna’s garden in Uruk. Inanna tended the tree carefully and lovingly; she hoped to have a throne and a bed made for herself from its wood. After ten years, the tree had matured. But in the meantime, she found to her dismay that her hopes could not be fulfilled. Because during that time, a dragon had built its nest at the foot of the tree, the Zu-bird was raising its young in the crown, and the demon Lilith had built her house in the middle. But Gilgamesh, who had heard of Inanna’s plight, came to her rescue. He took his heavy shield, killed the dragon with his gigantic bronze axe, (…). Then the Zu-bird flew into the mountains with its young, while Lilith, petrified with fear, tore down her house and fled into the wilderness.”

Here Inanna covets two symbols of worldly power and comfort – the throne and the bed. The inner wildness and freedom symbolized by the huluppu tree is destroyed with an axe by Gilgamesh at Inanna’s behest. Lilith flies away in a similar manner as she will flee Paradise when Adam refuses to recognize her as his equal.

The name Lilith comes from Sumerian and is connected to storm and wind. Endowed with a pair of wings, Lilith feels most comfortable in the element of air. Some researchers connect her name also with the Hebrew “laila,” the night, but Hurwitz rejects this etymology. Yet already in ancient Sumer Lilith seemed to represent the shadow of the great goddess and thus can be regarded as a hidden aspect of Inanna. The huluppu tree can be interpreted as a symbol of Inanna’s Self, which her ego seeks to suppress. Another Bybylonian goddess Lilith is derived from is Lamashtu. Hurwitz quotes from an ancient text regarding her nature:

“Her abode is on the mountains, or in the reedbeds. Dreadful is her appearance. Her head and her face are those of a fearsome lion, white as clay is her countenance, she has the form of an ass, from her lips pours spittle, she roars like a lion, she howls like a jackal. A whore is she. Fearsome and savage is her nature. Raging, furious, fearsome, terrifying, violent, rapacious, rampaging, evil, malicious, she overthrows and destroys all that she approaches. Terrible are her deeds. Wherever she comes, wherever she appears, she brings evil and destruction. Men, beasts, trees, rivers, roads, buildings, she brings harm to them all. A flesh-eating, bloodsucking monster is she.”

One of the most celebrated images, which possibly depict Lilith, is the so-called Burney Relief. Interestingly, up to this day scholars are debating whether it depicts Ishtar, Ereshkigal or Lilith. For Hurwitz, it is Lilith. He thus describes it:

“The relief shows the erect figure of a naked goddess of exceptional beauty. She has two huge wings and excessively long bird’s feet with the talons of a bird of prey. … She stands on two lions which face in opposite directions and is flanked by two realistic-looking night owls which have exactly the same wings and feet as the goddess herself. … There are no controversies as regards the age and origin of the relief. As has generally been accepted, it is of Sumerian origin and appears to date from the so-called Isin Larsa period, i.e., some time around 1950. For these reasons, we can almost certainly assume – along with Kraeling – that a pictorial representation of a winged Lilith is involved here.”

Fascinatingly, the original relief was painted red, as the approximate colour scheme reveals below. Red has always signified a fallen woman in the Bible; the most prominent example being the scarlet-clad Whore of Babylon from the Apocalypse. Red seems to be the colour frequently associated with Lilith also in the later Kabbalistic tradition.

Burney Relief today (The British Museum) and its probable original colour scheme below
via Wikipedia
Lucas Cranach the Older, “The Whore of Babylon,” a coloured depiction from Luther’s Bible with the harlot wearing a papal tiara

Red is also a colour of seduction. This particular aspect of Lilith’s persona came strongly to light in the Talmud. As Hurwitz comments:

“That she was perceived as such a dangerous and demonic figure in the Talmudic-Rabbinic tradition has both historical and psychological bases. In the first place, it is connected with the patriarchal attitude of Talmudic-Rabbinic Judaism, in which the feminine was always perceived as something threatening. As a result, in Judaeo-Christian, Western cultural development, the feminine was not only devalued but also, in consequence of a marked defensive attitude, virtually demonized.”

One Talmudic text warns that whoever sleeps alone in a house will be attacked by Lilith.

Another important source of information about early Jewish beliefs concerning Lilith are the so called Aramaic magic texts, which were inscribed on the inside of bowls and buried in a magic ritual. The act of burying the vessel was destined to prevent the danger from escaping by containing it underground. This is connected with an important motif of banishment, directly related to Lilith:

“Psychologically speaking, banishing evil out of sight signifies nothing more nor less than a driving out, a wish-not-to-see, which for primitive people meant the same as not existing.”

An incantation bowl featuring Lilith via https://jewishstudies.washington.edu/jewish-history-and-thought/yannai-sotah-poem-piyyut-magic-demonic-women-lilith/

Also Gnostic writing contains stories about Lilith, such as the one in which prophet Elijah cannot ascend into heaven because he had fornicated with Lilith unconsciously at night and as a consequence becomes trapped on the earth. The so called Mandaean Gnosis teaches about a figure called Lilith-Zahriel, who contrary to all other known myths about Lilith, is not a child-stealing demon but helps a pregnant woman and is concerned with the child’s well-being.

One of the most pivotal works on Lilith is undoubtedly The Alphabet of Ben Sira, one of the earliest and most sophisticated Hebrew stories written in the Middle Ages, which most probably was inspired by an earlier Hellenistic work. Hurwitz quotes the following passage from that work:

“When the Almighty – may His name be praised – created the first, solitary man, He said: It is not good for man to be alone. And He fashioned for man a woman from the earth, like him (Adam), and called her Lilith. Soon, they began to quarrel with each other. She said to him: I will not lie underneath, and he said: I will not lie underneath but above, for you are meant to lie underneath and I to lie above. She said to him: We are both equal, because we are both (created) from the earth. But they didn’t listen to each other. When Lilith saw this, she pronounced God’s avowed name and flew into the air. Adam stood in prayer before his Creator and said: Lord of the World! The woman you have given me has gone away from me. Immediately, the Almighty – may His name be praised – sent three angels after her, to bring her back. The Almighty – may His name be praised – said to him (Adam): If she decides to return, it is good, but if not, then she must take it upon herself to ensure that a hundred of her children die each day. They went to her and found her in the middle of the sea, in the raging waters in which one day the Egyptians would be drowned. And they told her the word of God. But she refused to return. They said to her: We must drown you in the sea. She said to them: Leave me! I was created for no other purpose than to harm children, eight days (after birth) for boys and twenty for girls. When they heard what she said, they pressed her even more. She said: I swear by the name of the living God that I, when I see you or your image on an amulet, will have no power over that particular child. And she took it upon herself to ensure that, every day, a hundred of her children died. That is why we say that, every day, a hundred of her demons die. That is why we write her name on an amulet for small children. And when she (Lilith) sees it, she remembers her promise and the child is saved.”

Also the Kabbalah recognized the importance of Lilith. She is ever present in The Zohar, which is a key Kabbalistic work of Jewish mysticism, written in Spain in the 14th century. Here also, like in The Alphabet of Ben Sira, Lilith appears as the first wife of Adam, who flees from him. The Zohar takes a deeper look at the creation story from the Bible (Genesis, book 1, verse 27):

“So God created man in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”

According to the Zohar, this verse describes the creation of the androgynous primordial man/woman – Adam Kadmon. His female part is Lilith. However, in Genesis 2 God creates Eve from the sleeping Adam’s rib. This subsequent creation of Eve seems to contradict the Genesis 1 story, unless it was Lilith who was the first woman ever created, not Eve.

In The Zohar Lilith is portrayed as a great seductress of men:

“She (Lilith) adorns herself with all kinds of decorations, like an amorous woman. She stands at the entrance to roads and paths, in order to seduce men.… Her adornments for seducing men are her beautifully-dressed hair, red as a rose, … her ears hung with chains from Egypt and her neck hung with all the jewels of the East.”

After she achieves her seductive aims she “kills him … and casts him into the very centre of hell.”

John Collier, “Lilith”

In The Zohar Lilith forms an “unholy pair” with Samael, the leader of the fallen angels. They are regarded as the shadow pair to the divine pair of the two Sefiroth (i.e. ten emanations, or powers, by which God the Creator was said to become manifest) – Tiferet and Malchut. Hurwitz explains:

“The Sefiroth are mostly grouped in opposing pairs: thus there are right and left, male and female, active and passive Sefiroth. Within the Sefirothic system, however, two Sefiroth occupy a quite exceptional position. The very first two emanated Sefiroth, Chochma (Wisdom) and Bina (Understanding), are portrayed as a male and female pair of opposites, in which Chochma is the father and Bina the mother.

However, this symbolism was applied in particular to the sixth Sefirah Tif’eret (Mercy) and the tenth Sefirah, which appears under different names. Sometimes it is referred to as Malchut, i.e., the Kingdom (of God), sometimes as Shekhinah…”

God having a female part – Shekhinah, the divine presence in the world – is a revolutionary idea in Judaism, proposed for the first time in the Kabbalah. Lilith and Samael are believed by some Kabbalists to constitute the “demonic, destructive side of the divine personality.” As such, they are also part of the divine plan.

Kabbalistic Tree of Life, via https://www.atthewellproject.com/blog//counting-the-omer-101-a-deep-dive-into-49-days-of-jewish-wisdom

In the last part of his book Hurwitz embarks on a psychological analysis of the myth of Lilith. He compares her to the dark goddess as well as to the Black Madonna, who epitomizes the nigredo of the alchemical process. As he puts it:

“The black of the prima materia of the alchemists is an expression of their unconsciousness. In addition, it is a dangerous state which must first of all be ‘washed’ in the course of a lengthy transformation process, to bring out the different colors of albedo, citrinitas and rubedo, which signify a stimulation of the unconscious. At the same time, the dangerous nigredo is eliminated.“

The lotus will not grow into the light of consciousness without being rooted in the muddy earth. Further, Lilith also personifies “the expression of unrestrained natural and physical desires.” Yet she is also an expression of the darkest feelings of despair, melancholy and loneliness, which need to be washed away so that “the inner gold may appear.”

Her refusal to be restrained in any way is also linked with the emancipation of women, who are still not treated as autonomous beings in many parts of the world. Hurwitz writes:

“The dominating attitude of patriarchal man towards the feminine is, at bottom, nothing more nor less than an expression of his deep-seated fears and his uncertainty of womankind. At the same time, behind these fears must also lie a certain fascination. … Fear of the alien unknown generally leads to quite specific defensive reactions, which first become apparent in an attempt to devalue it. This leads in turn to a tendency to dominate and repress the alien.”

Lilith flies into the air towards the desert and The Red Sea. These two places are highly significant symbolically. The miracle at the Red Sea, when God parted the waves, letting the Israelites pass while the Egyptians drowned, signifies being saved by divine intervention. The desert is where the Jewish tribes originated; it is their first home. The desert and the sea are both symbols of the unconscious, where the heart opens to the infinite in moments of solitude.

Looking at Michelangelo’s painting I was reminded of a Sabian Symbol visualized as “A Serpent Coiling Near a Man and a Woman.” The astrologer Dane Rudhyar had this to say about its meaning:

“We can understand this ‘triangular’ image — man, woman and the serpent — if we relate it to the preceding one in the series, the unexploded bomb of the anarchist or activist. The urge to blow up some structure which somehow has become in the activist’s mind a symbol of the Establishment — the ruling elite — is usually the protest of an alienated and often immature mind that refuses relationship, because in the relationship he would occupy a subservient position. In this symbol, the serpent represents the acceptance of relationship by the two polarized human beings.”

Dane Rudhyar, “An Astrological Mandala: The Cycle of Transformations and Its 360 Symbolic Phases”

Lilith’s escape may have been immature (I actually do not think so) but sometimes a seemingly hopeless protest sows the seeds for the future, when the time will become ripe for a change to occur.

Mark
Rothko, “Rites of Lilith”

Notes:

(1) Siegmund Hurwitz, Lilith – The First Eve: Historical and Psychological Aspects of the Dark Feminine, Kindle edition (all the subsequent quotes in the post come from this book)

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