Heidekolb's Blog

The Way Of What Is To Come, Jung’s Red Book | October 28, 2009

Jung’s Red Book (RB) is a book of extraordinary beauty. Nothing got lost in the reproduction. While I focus here primarily on the images of ideas in the text, it is a treat to spend time with Jung’s paintings, the details of the calligraphic script of the Liber Primus in its medieval manuscript form. Wherever you can, take the chance to take a look at the book! I hope I will eventually find a way of bringing some of the images in here, without infringing on any copyrights. I can read the original in German, which I do in bits and pieces, but it is hard work to decipher Jung’s calligraphic longhand. For the most part I resort to the English translation, which, as far as I can tell, is a brilliant one.

But let me begin at the beginning. The way of what is to come is the heading of the first section of the Liber Primus. Jung speaks “in the spirit of the time”. Each time, each era has a specific “spirit”, a Zeitgeist, that forms our rational mind, morals and values. We are good citizens if we act in accordance to this spirit of the time. The spirit of the time forms our ego-personality  and does not question the supremacy of God in the spiritual realm.

But then Jung also speaks of the spirit of the depths that has begun to stir in him. A spirit that “from time immemorial and for all the future possesses a greater power than the spirit if this time” p.229.  It was this spirit, irrational, foolish, intoxicating, even ugly (at least from the other spirit’s point of view) that was the motivating, even dictating force behind the RB.  Here Jung seems to talk about the spirit of the greater archetypal psyche. A potentially dangerous force if one is possessed by it. Madness, insanity and psychosis loom if this spirit takes over. But this very same spirit of the depths is also the source of all visions, inspiration and greatness and divine bliss that humanity can hope for. It is, in Jungian lingo, the spirit if the Self (with a capital S), which represents and brings forth the God-like nature in mankind, with all its dark and bright aspects.

Jung is a true shaman here. Never identified. Never possessed. Fully aware of the danger of a one way ticket into psychosis, he stays put and moves along where the spirit of the depths ushers him. He made sense of the nonsensical because a NEW VISION was needed. No pain, no gain. No risk, no gain.

Apropos, a new vision. There is a quote from “Flight out of time: A Dada diary” in the RB, which I will repeat here:

“The world and society in 1913 looked like this: life is completely confined and shackled. A kind of economic fatalism prevails; each individual, whether he resists it or not, is assigned a specific role and with it his interests and his character. The church is regarded as a “redemption factory” of little importance, literature is a safety valve……The most burning question day and night is: is there anywhere a force that is strong enough to put an end to this state of affairs? And if not, how can one escape it?”

Now that is a pretty neat quote. I have no problem putting 2009 instead of 1913. Are we not as much in need of a vision  for cultural and spiritual renewal as the dadaists observed in 1913? Another question, is it not interesting that the RB is  published at a time when we are desperately in need (think 2012!) of a new vision that leads to renewal. In fact our very survival may depend on that. Some might even call that a synchronicity.


  1. Interesting that Jung would quote Hugo Ball’s “Flight Out of Time: A Dada Diary (Documents of Twentieth Century Art)” http://bit.ly/2Y2pDm

    Still I think that the “spirit of the depths” may be more then just trying to overthrow the values of the “spirit of the times.”

    I have been researching the story of the snake in the Garden of Eden. From what little I have seen of the drawings in the Red Book, snakes show up more then once, and could symbolize the spirit of the depths.

    It seems to me that “the fall” of first Eve, and then Adam, is really a move out of the “spirit of the times”, essentially living in an unconscious state in the garden, and moving into a deeper state of consciousness, wherein the soul awakens to the reality of other people’s feelings of joy and sorrow.

    Considering the “spirit of the times” in our life time, we see that we still have little feeling for people from other cultures. We often see people from other cultures like the prawns in the movie “District 9”

    It seems to me that Social Media like Twitter allow us to engage and relate to people from other cultures and see them as being as human as ourselves. This could be a new deepening of consciousness from the “Spirit of the Depths”

    Comment by Charles Kress — October 29, 2009 @ 11:19 am

  2. Charles,

    thanks for your thoughtful comment.I think the main point that Jung is developing here is the dialectic relationship between the two “spirits” (archetypal forces). I understand the spirit of the times in quite a literal way. Psychic experiences are always to be understood in a context. The times were about 1915. The destructive forces of the First World War were unleashed in Europe. Christianity, the dominant myth of the Western World, has become a meaningless set of dogmas in Jung’s experience.The spirit of the depth is always in a dialectical, proportional relationship to what is suppressed by the spirit of the times. In that sense the snake is very fitting image for what was suppressed by church dogma, but also Dionysus or Wotan or the alchemical Mercurius are images representing this spirit of the depth. These forces are always at work at all times in every individual and in every collective group, nation etc. I don’t think this spirit is about overthrowing the other spirit per se, but wanting to be related to. And if it is denied and repressed it will show its superior force. But I agree with you, I think it is always about a deepening of consciousness.

    Comment by heidekolb — October 29, 2009 @ 9:35 pm

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