Heidekolb's Blog

On Soul and Darkness and Imagination: The Red Book Reflections | November 6, 2009

In the Red Book (RB) Jung documents his process of confronting a series of gruesome visions and fantasies filled with blood, destruction and cruelty. As I am writing this, images of the tragic news today of the massacre at Fort Hood flash through my mind. Jung’s recorded visions date from 1913 to 1914 and he considered them to be precognitive, foreshadowing the flood of destruction that would soon sweep through Europe. I am thinking of our culture’s current fascination  with horror, violence and destruction, which, so we are told, will culminate in the cataclysmic events of “2012”. End days? The final hurray before the ultimate apocalypse? Maybe. Jung was deeply effected by the darkness that enveloped Europe during the First and Second World War. The horrors were unimaginable and it was indeed the end, the death for millions. Yet life continued. But the danger still looms. The archetype of the apocalypse (the violent pattern of disintegration of the world as we know it) continues to be the dominant force. Hindu mythology tells us that the dark age of Kali Yuga began 3000 BC and will last for another while (another 400 000 or more years). Are we depressed yet? Ready to stick the head in the sand or bury the nose in a bottle? I would not blame you.

But that is not what Jung did. One way of looking at the RB is, I suggest,  as a “How To” book of some sort.  How to gaze into the darkness and survive it. How to gaze into the darkness and bring forth meaning. How to gaze into the darkness and, Deo Concedente, find a shimmer of light in it. Not a job for the faint hearted, but then the Jung I know never was. One thing I am certain is that the RB will do away with for good with the notion that Jung is a fluffy, new agey psychologist whose path of individuation is filled with love and light and flowery archetypal imagery.

If we stay with the idea of looking at the RB as a  “how to” (deal with these times) book a little longer, then Jung suggests the absolute necessity of “refinding the soul”( p.231). Not the idea of soul as it has been co-opted by religious institutions, but the very private soul (or psyche if you prefer). Our core that is capable of the most terrible suffering and the most ecstatic bliss. It is the expression of our shared humanity, which  connects us to the larger world soul, the anima mundi. The soul in us feels, connects, longs for, desires. It finds and creates beauty. Cynicism, political games and unbalanced ambition are lethal to soul.

Jung writes:” He could find his soul in desire itself, but not in the objects (italics mine) of desire. If he possessed his desire, and his desire did not possess him, he would lay a hand on his soul, since his desire is the image and the expression of the soul. If we possess the image of a thing, we possess half the thing. The image of the world is half the world” (p.232). Jung develops here what is to become a hallmark of his work: an appreciation for the power of the imagination, the true alchemical imagination that creates and transforms worlds.

Looking back out into our blood stained, violent and cynical world as we spin (out of control?) towards 2012, it is our courage and willingness to follow the soul’s imagination that could change the trajectory of our current path of destruction, for nothing is ever written in stone.

1 Comment »

  1. Who are we really? As Homo Sapiens, the species of modern humans, we are a somewhat self aware group of beings that seem to thrive on violence. The violence at Ft. Hood, 9/11, car bombs in the middle east, on and on, back and back through history it goes.

    Are we in control, or is our unconscious primal nature running us? And is the game worth the candle? The existentialists say that if it’s not, we may as well commit suicide. And in some ways it looks like we as a species are attempting suicide.

    Still as Jung rightly says, not out but through. We need to work with the darkness. And the first place we have to start with is within our own soul. All the darkness and despair can be a source of renewal or it can bury us in the depths.

    On a side note there was a report on the publishing of the Red Book, in which Jung was characterized as being psychotic when he did the active imaginations for processing the darkness of the soul. Its possible that he had what could be characterized as “psychotic breaks” that enabled him to explore deeper areas of the psyche. Still I wonder if such experiences are really psychotic if they are temporary and lead to renewal of the soul. It reminds me of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin who during WWI served as a stretcher bearer ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pierre_Teilhard_de_Chardin )and later said “…the war was a meeting … with the Absolute.”

    Comment by Charles Kress — November 6, 2009 @ 11:43 am

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