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.
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.