I have just finished reading the thick volume that is Carl Gustav Jung’s Red Book, or more appropriately the Liber Novus — let me call it LN, and point page numbers like that: [LN:1]. It is not a light read, to say the least. And i loved some of it, and hated some of it, and it has been a moving experience. Maybe i still need to digest some of it. What is presented here is my analysis of the book. I want to be perfectly clear that i am more of a Liber Novus scholar than a Jung scholar: I am more interested in the book and its cultural importance than with its part in Jung philosophy, and i might even read as derisive of Jungian psychology.
Also, please note: Here be SPOILERS — if you haven’t read the book yet and want to, it might be better to stop reading now.
One of Jung’s characters teaches us that “a sequence of words does not have only one meaning” and that “only to the all-knowing is it given to know all the meanings of the sequence of words”. Texts can have layers of significance, and the LN particularly even parades some of its layered nature:
The story of this book arises from an experiment/exercise Jung performed on himself around the turning of 1913 to 1914 — this is the first layer, which at some times is clearly separated, but not always!. I will call this realm of imagery, the internal realm of the exercise itself, i will call it FANTASY, and everything else is ELABORATION. The Fantasy overtly refers to Jung’s internal, idiosyncratic experience: It is the world inside his head. But (and this is a big but) some of it is supposedly prophetic (anticipating WWI) and could even be construed to be an attempt at collective redeeming or atonement. The Elaboration itself was reworked many times, further stratifying the work. It seems like Jung was changing his mind over the subjects and over the role he expected the book itself to play — and those mutating opinions seem to not be expressed in the text linearly. That is, sometimes early parts of the text appear to reflect latter understandings, which further confuses matters.
Even if the layers are taken to be consistent between themselves (which they do NOT seem to), even then the experiment itself can have much more than one reading.
And i will make this as overt as possible: Jung’s reading of his personal epiphany is not the only one possible, and in many points, possibly in the most important overall meaning itself, he is superficial — sometimes he completely misses the point.
Anyone taking the work of Jung as a given, using LN simply as a window into it, is likely to balk at that. My own very superficial knowledge of this can pinpoint some Jungian arguments against the stance i am taking: That the dreamer recognizes instinctively the meaning of his dream when it is said or thought, or that the power of the symbol cannot be translated into words but instead must be dragged from the depths. Nevertheless, i elect as my method to take LN as standing on its own and as being approachable by a literary and philosophical analysis.
The first point to understand LN is to address its name: Why is it called «Liber Novus» and why has this name somehow remained hidden in favour of the generic «Red Book»? Being a book, it could not avoid being «Liber», and as anything you write the first time, it comes easily to be «Novus». On the other hand, given the voluminous amount of Christian imagery present throughout the book, and the somewhat explicit view that, despite being necessary, Christianity should be overcome or enhanced — in this case it might seem more than coincidence that the corpus of Catholic texts are also called by a word that, despite ancient, is just a generic name for «book»: Bible or «Biblos». «Liber Novus», then, would be the next thing, the book to supplant the Bible.
I am revealing no secret when i say that LN presents psychological arguments in a setting and a context that sometimes defy the limits between psychology and religion. There is a huge influence of Gnosticism, some elements of Alchemy, there are copious quotation from Greek Mythos, there are whole sections depicting discussions of whether or not Religion has or not a place in contemporary world.
So what happens is that Jung’s Soul comes to him and begs in no indirect terms: “Go and spread the new religion that i give to you!” [LN:211, in the introduction] The religion in case being mostly the LN. And he goes and transforms it into a psychology of development, that instead of focusing on curing mental maladies tries to make each person fulfil his own potential and find his internal richness. That might sound as the next best thing, it might even sound as «Religion2.0», better and with a free API coming next quarter.
But my point is that, whether or not Jungian based psychology has its merits, and whether or not the Becoming Theories are important — and i sincerely believe they are full of merit — in any case Jung betrayed his Soul. I don’t mean that he did not accept her orders, or that he should, but that he was towards her deceitful, unreliable, liar, and to top it all a very bad student — and that, because of it, his internal experience was mostly unfruitful and probably had to be atoned for, reworked, and in some ways lived again latter in his life.
Let me stress this over again: my criticism of LN is not to be taken as an attack on Jungian Psychology, on Jung himself, on the rest of his work or on anyone that follows his methods. If anything, it reinforces this, as i do assume the fundamental value of the Fantasy in its own terms.
So, let’s examine the structure of the book. LN is divided in three parts:
- Liber Primus: The way of Things to Come
- Liber Secundus: Images of the Erring
- Liber Tertius: Scrutinies.
Primus follows somewhat strictly the pattern of transcription of a Fantasy followed by Elaboration upon it. Secundus mostly follows it too, but with several exceptions like the Incantations or some points where the same night of the Fantasy gets divided into sections to accommodate more of the Ellaboration. Towards the end, the last fifth of it, Secundus loses its chapter structure, and the limits between Fantasy and Elaboration get a lot less clear. Tertius follows this, with Fantasy very tightly woven with Comment, being in a way more of a “mature” text, but also a little less authentic.
Liber Primus reads like a prolonged incantation ritual. In the first sections Jung is almost only relating internal worries and drives, then he “goes into the desert” where feeling alone he calls for his soul until, 25 nights later, she acquires a voice. After that, some visions arise, and then he is taken to the Mysterium: an Underground Temple where he meets Elijah and Salome. Throughout this part of the journey, there is a play between two voices: «The Spirit of the Times» and «The Spirit of Depths».
Liber Secundos takes a little more than half of LN. In it most of the times Jung is talking with distinct personae (instead of blurry voices) and he goes through many seemingly unrelated experiences. Progressively, he goes from being mostly an audience to visions that come and present themselves to being active and in many ways directing the play — in many senses which we will be further analysing. Halfway through it the Soul acquires a body, beyond being a mere voice, and then further divides into a Serpent and a Bird (and in principle a third fragment that is inside Jung and not directly present). Finally, after many episodes, he finds Elijah and Salome again, and gives birth to an reverse God, which he calls The Son of Toads.
Liber Tertius is an attempt at resolution. Instead of being a contained exercise now the Fantasy seems to have taken a life of its own, a la Sorcerer’s Apprentice, and it crosses over to Jung’s real life. The Son of Toads is discussed at length, a Cosmology is presented, there is some bargaining with the Gods, the dead are sent away and the Soul is imprisoned. Elijah and Salome return, but are now deprived of knowledge, and walk away dispirited. Finally, we receive Christ as a blue shadow.
I find it extremely important that Elijah and Salome always appear at the end of the books. The first time, Salome is blind. She asks Jung if he loves her, basically offering herself up [LN:246]. He denies her offer, and after that we see a battle of two serpents, and then we are taken to the Temple of the Sun, which is revealed to also be an expression of the Underground Temple were Elijah and Salome live. In the Temple of the Sun Elijah is about to reveal to Jung how the energy of the God is channelled to the lives of humanity, but as he is trying to show the way he transforms into Mime, the smith dwarf of the Nibelungs [LN:251]. After that Jung is crucified, and the blood that spills makes the blind Salome see. Even then, Elijah affirms to him that his work at that place is finished, but that there will be further tribulations.
The second time they see each other, again Salome offers herself, and again Jung denies [LN:323]. This time, he is hung from the Tree of Life. Unable to find a solution to the dilemma, he asks for help, and is told to just fly — because Salome is himself and if he flies she grows wings! Exactly after that, it is announced that Jung’s Soul is pregnant from an aberration God, The Son of Toads. Unable to see the direct connection between his failure to correctly address the feminine side and it’s failure to bear good fruit, Jung goes into a tantrum against his soul, calling her names.
The last time, Elijah basically comes around, sees all the “innovations” that Jung is proposing, his attempt at resolution, and basically just shakes his head in disbelief and goes away, though Salome smiles [LN:357].
The themes in Primus will appear over and over again in the rest of LN. The intellectual old man with the young girl will come in all kinds of guises. It seems to be important.
I read all of that as meaning that Jung’s half-hearted redeeming of Salome, while good enough, wasn’t capable of unlocking that part of his personality, that she was healed but not unchained. In other words, that Jung would still have to work over that particular torn.
Which is to say, Jung should have fucked Salome.
Maybe this goes without saying, but in a mythical/psychological context actions can have different meanings than their physical counterparts, or more precisely the acts inside the Fantasy are measured by their personal impact and not by their physical consequences. Having intercourse with an internal figure can have a range of different interpretations, but in the particular case we’re in, it is made clear that she wanted and needed it, that she was the embodiment of Elijah’s wisdom, and that this act would allow Jung to progress in his own path. Intercourse is also a passage from childhood (being a daughter) to adulthood (being a woman). To the man, it represents the possibility of bearing child: Creating. And they are on a temple. It seems clear that this act was part of Jung’s process of growing and self-discovery.
In their second encounter, Jung explicitly cites being married as the reason for refusing Salome. Now this happens a while after he has severed the liver of a slain girl and eaten it. Let’s imagine a questionnaire. What do you think is worse:
- That your significant other has sex with someone else; or
- that your significant other goes around eating children’s livers?
- Fantasizes about having sex with others; or
- fantazises about eating a human liver?
Heck, his wife seemed to be very cool, and she knew her husband was a little unorthodox — maybe asked the right way she would consent to perform some impersonation…
Admittedly, it was not a very normal situation, and it is understandable that Jung would feel uneasy about it. But that he refuses, terminantly, under any circumstances, to go along with it, despite being literally dragged into a cross for it, is astounding. That a man who wrote a book called “Transformation of the Symbols of the Libido” refuses to accept intercourse as an ritual of overcoming, that he even doesn’t notice such overtones, is simply unbelievable. His rationalizing about love and acceptance, despite sounding interesting on first read, is ridiculous inside the context.
The exact nature of this tribulation, the purpose of this adventure, seems to be related to the fight of the serpents: Black against White serpent [LN:251], which is latter in a footnote ascertained to refer to white against black magic [LN:309] — Ars Nigrum versus The Arts of Light. The fight of the snakes occurs exactly after Jung’s refusal of Salome. The black snake is not completely turned into white, but just a half of it. Then Elijah morphs into Mime, and then Salome’s redeeming is extracted by sheer brute force from Jung, as he seems firmly decided to not face his inner dilemma.
The white serpent cannot win, but it can turn the black serpent into white. Both black and white magic are identical in their means, differing only in their purposes. As traditionally, black magic is not to be fought, but instead to be brought to conscience, to be illuminated, to be seen analysed and taught.
Maybe the transformation of black into white magic can be taken as one of the central themes of the LN. As an act of redeeming, it is an allegory for the internal act of recognizing, accepting, and learning to use our inner drives, the energy that lies inside ourselves even though we do not know it. Thus it is also an allegory for dealing with whatever lies unconscious. And so for growing, for accepting ourselves, and for understanding our role in society, choosing it or not, and becoming capable of living it. It is, no more no less, the difference between living your life and simply being dragged around by circumstances.
My contention is that, even though Jung does learn the difference between both kinds of magic, and does indeed put a lot of effort in this transformation, he also does an awful lot of black magic, even in moments that are way too sacred to be dealt with this way — and that the final result, as of LN, is mostly nod good.
Magic can have a host of different meanings, and given its importance in LN we might need to ask: What is magic to Jung? He repeatedly claims to not believe in magic, and still he seems pretty adapt at using it. Not only he was extremely well read in all kinds of different so to say «magic traditions» like Alchemy, greek Mysteria and pagan religion, many of the proceedings of the Fantasy abide to what would be magical rules, although we are never really explained any of them. But even more important, Jung’s personal life is supposed to have been pinpointed by episodes of a somewhat supernatural basis, some of which are related in Shamdasani’s introduction to the LN, the most obvious being the Septem Sermones used to get rid of the poltergeist phenomena in his house. [LN:205, in the Introduction]
In fact, i think it is important to turn a blind eye to the explanations of magic in the Fantasy itself. That is, what is overtly said about magic in the Fantasy seems to be unreliable. For example, in the main “teaching magic” dialogue Philemon says “magic is the negative of what one can know” just to, a few sentences later, ascertain Jung that he’s “beginning to understand magic”. [LN:313,314]
One of the conditions for Jung to use magic is that he must keep severity. This is said to him after his seriousness has been variously mocked, criticized, accused, and generally asked to retire. What is the distinction between seriousness and severity? And: Is it important?
I think it is extremely important. I take, and i believe this reading to be compatible with the uses of such words inside the LN, «Seriousness» to be dogma and the keeping of external appearances, the maintaining of Status-Quo while «Severity» is an unrelenting acceptance of one’s internal laws. Both are a form of rigidity, but their objects are completely different. Severity is a methodology, while Seriousness is a reaction driven by fear.
To further comprehend this distinction, i want to relate it to one of the recurring themes of LN: The Death of the Hero. In Primus, Jung aided by an unidentified youth kill Siegfried, a prince in German epics, presented by Wagner in Ring of the Nibelungs and particularly despised by Jung [LN:241,242]. This is an image particularly rich in possibilities of interpretation. Jung’s primary is that when he refrains his main personality, his “primary function”, then he allows all forms of internal energies and “functions” to arise in himself. We can say that abstaining from a goal-directed competitive behaviour allows us to be more relational and more open to experiences and more sensitive to communication.
The Death of the Hero does not mean a life of restraint, it is not a refusal of life. When the hero dies a rain falls that releases all tension and Jung sees a beautiful flowering garden [LN:242]. It is refusing one way of acting to open up others. The Death of the Hero is only the outstepping of one particular mode of behaviour. For the Portuguese speakers, it is “Eles passarão, eu passarinho”. It is flow instead of impact. Adaptation instead of attack.
Seriousness, then, is the hero, and severity is it’s death. Seriousness is impact, Severity is flow. Severity is staying utterly true to yourself always, Seriousness is decreeing how others and the world ought to be. Seriousness is the meddlesomeness of man who can’t accept the effortless perfection of the Tao, Severity is the Tao that cannot be escaped.
I think when Philemon in the 6th Sermon says he has “outstepped the whirling circle”, this represents the final transcendence of Severity, whereby it loses its initially necessary character of harshness.
This theme can be seen, with varying degrees of directness, almost everywhere in LN. When «The Red One» turns out to be «Joy» [LN:260], for example, or when Jung is sent into the madhouse [LN:298]. Finally, the Healing of Izdubar is the ultimate redeeming of The Death of the Hero [LN:288].
The Healing of Izdubar is arguably the most important moment of the whole LN. It is certainly one of the adventures that got translated more directly in Jung’s work. It is after this act that Jung decides that the Gods have an important part in human life, but that this role can be equally well played with the Gods in the category of «Fantasy» — and i guess we could even say that by assuming his nature of Fantasy the God acquires immortality.
On the other hand, the resolution seems bitter-sweet. When the God is restored, he doesn’t acknowledge Jung’s part in his conquering immortality. The God’s light still blinds Jung. And when Jung bows down the God vanishes.
None of that is really to be mourned too long, for immediately after this episode The Soul finally acquires a body, and even makes a grand entrance taking the demon by his eye. But we should further analyse Jung’s methods. He performs a trick of making Izdubar float and latter putting him inside an egg, by basically renaming him, but although this seems useful and gives some reassurance to Jung, all it does accomplish, in the end, is to take the two of them into a city where they can’t be seen by anyone, and into a house that, while cosy, does lack a proper reception, we don’t even see the owners of such a home. The house itself is not said to have any particular healing powers, not to mention being able to restore to someone who wasn’t even able to walk such powers as comparable to the sun. What does really seem to heal the God are the «Incantations», which follow closely the idea of magical formulae and ritual. Thus, maybe the reasoning after the healing the God is really ad-hoc, maybe it wasn’t Jung’s psychological methods, but his magical methods that were important.
Taking this stance, though, is somewhat complicated. We do agree that the Fantasy is important. But what do we make of Jung’s take on his own Fantasy?
Because, no matter how many rounds we make around it, there is a basic fact that all of this, all of LN, are voices inside Jung’s head. He might be able to isolate this personae, he might be able to confer them with energy and thoughts, even to the point that things Jung knows are totally unknown to his internal figures — but they remain internal figures. They are a part of Jung.
Therefore, must we not accept whatever Jung tells us about them as fact? Isn’t his access to their realities more direct to such an extent that whatever attempt at interpretation from someone else is bound to fail? That would have been my stance on first read, definitely. On principle, that is how i guess things should go. However, there are too many places where Jung’s Elaboration follow paths that are thinly related to the Fantasy at best, places where he seems to be putting words on his characters mouths — curiously, without having they say it themselves which he could easily have done.
For example, in the already quoted passage where The Anchorite tells about the infinite variety of meanings of the sequence of words, he counsels Jung not to become a slave to words. The Anchorite says: (A philosopher) “belongs to the language artists. But words should not become Gods.” To that, Jung’s Elaboration adds: “But if you believe in things in whose places only words stand, you never come to the end.” Here Jung quite simply does the opposite of what he has been counselled: The Anchorite had nothing against words staying in place of things, he only knew that men can trap themselves with words. Jung provides an abstruse talk of symbols and infinities that can do nothing but trap himself — talk of symbols being notorious for easily becoming too muddy. Elaboration continues with: “He who breaks the wall of words overthrows Gods and defiles temples.” The Anchorite had broken such a wall, but instead of overthrowing God he gave up everything but God and went into the desert and turned his own dwellings into a temple. [LN:269,270]
Taken as a whole, most strongly in Secundus, the Elaboration seems to be, instead of a clarification of the ideas involved, a strange form of anti-invocation trick. It seems more to try to box and limit the ideas involved than to analyse them. It seems to be an attempt to lock inside a book spirits and gods that Jung felt could take too much of a life for themselves if left alone.
Throughout the Fantasy, Jung goes about meeting a variety of people, most of whom have something to say to him. He almost never understands anything at all that he is said. It seems sometimes he is making a point of being utterly impenetrable to even the most obvious arguments. Again and again he complains that “what you are saying is difficult/ painful/ impossible to think”.
Nevertheless, the encounters do have an effect on him. He seems to somehow absorb the personae he is meeting with. So for example, when «The Red One» comes up to him he insists in saying that he is the devil, and refuses to understand the idea of «Joy», but still his body and garments do blossom: He sprouts like a joyful tree. When he meets with the «Tramp» he goes out talking about the moon or somesuch, but even though he is pretending not to see he lives the experience of his fear of becoming that tramp. [LN:266]
The curious thing is that Jung could have simply burned the notebooks where he had registered his active imaginations and proceeded with life as if nothing had ever happened. It was after all an experiment and experiments do fail sometimes, useless results happen, as anyone that walked by a lab knows. But no, he couldn’t. For some reason, he felt compelled to write all that down. He seems bound to some form of rule, but at the same time he also tries to subvert those rules and to break the spirit of them without breaking their letter.
What are those rules? It is difficult to pinpoint all of them. One is that Elijah, just after he recovered Salome’s vision, tells him: “and above all write exactly what you see”. [LN:252] Thus he could not change what the characters said. Even though he could, for example, just make Elijah not have said this order. On the other hand, there was nothing preventing him to add copious commentary, that could dilute and sometimes confuse whatever happened.
But all of this only makes any sense if we accept the Fantasy to have some kind of power, not only over Jung, but beyond him.
It is said that Jung had deep visions of WWI. Could the Fantasy be part of the collective attempt at dealing with all that chaos? Can we say that Jung did play some part of the unfolding of the war, in a psychological level? I leave musing over such a metaphysical issue to the reader. One hundred years after the experiment, there remains no doubt that Jung’s influence has had huge cultural impact. That Jung himself took the Fantasy to have some form of reality strong enough to compel into obeisance — this is argument enough. As for myself, i do neither shrug Jung’s magic under the rug nor accept it blindly.
Whatever the nature of the Fantasy, it was such that allowed figures inside it to have completely distinguished personalities and even different sets of knowledge: For example, the last time Elijah appears he does not know about anything at all that happened with Jung since the last time he had seen him. In the same way, i believe that many of the figures in Jung’s Fantasy do know more about his self-development path than he himself does. And i get this conclusion simply from the fact that many times those discourses are much more consistent and direct than either Jung’s response to them or his much latter added commentary.
Let me take a look at the path he follows to get his magic. He meets both his joy (The Red One) and his patience (The Anchorite), he faces his fear and his death (The Tramp and The Dark One), and he meets his guarded innocence (The Princess). All of this allows him to “will his sunrise”, which takes him to meet the wounded light, his inner energy (Izdubar), which he has to cure. Through that he gives body to his Soul, which demands a sacrifice, and conquers his demons. Now he finds the Librarian and the Cook, which allow him to relive the Parsifal mythos, and then, in his own words, “I rise and become one with myself”.
This is the exact moment where he gains his magical rod — which is also a black serpent, which also has to be turned white through Christ, when it also becomes a crown.
Somehow connecting the conquest of magic with the death of the hero, when he finally transforms the black serpent into white, a bird says: “Let each thing have its development, let becoming have its day” [LN:310] (which sounds a lot like “let it be”), and a little later his serpent-soul says that “I let grass grow over everything that you do” [LN:317].
After all of that, he resolves to learn magic, so that he goes to a Magician to learn. As usual, he understands absolutely nothing of what this magician tells him, but it does not matter, for after talking to him he is automatically able to perform a magic that up to this point he had been again and again told he didn’t grasp the true nature of.
The magician in question is Philemon, universally taken by Jung scholars to be his own guardian angel, the spirit of wisdom that teaches Jung everything that he knows — so to say. In Tertius, Philemon becomes the universal companion, that goes with Jung wherever he may roam, like the Spirit of Depths had been in Primus. Philemon is yet another guise of the old wise man with girl, only this time the girl has become old and is now relegated to the role of mere scenery. She just stands there and does nothing. Philemon, on the other hand, is now active, but much less demanding than Elijah. He does not seem to try to push Jung around, instead just focusing on whatever task Jung is involved with.
If this transformation is gradual, it nevertheless is foreshadowed when Elijah transforms into Mime: the Prophet full of demands, but possessing the secret to the highest mystery, The Temple of the Sun, shrinks into a dwarf, that might not be allowed to reveal the higher mysteries, but is endlessly crafty.
Thus the transformation of Elijah into Philemon harkens Jung’s final failure. He gives up the higher road to deal with the small matters. As The Son of Toads says: “You are a man of the fields, think of your crops” [LN:329] — something the Jung of Primus would easily call “monkey business”.
But to me, the worst of Jung’s crimes is exactly what he does with his magical powers as soon as he achieves them. In some ways, this point marks more profoundly than many others a change in spirits concerning the creation of LN. From the moment he meets the Magician the style of Primus, full of capitulars, and with somewhat clear division from Fantasy and Elaboration, becomes the style of Tertius, a continuous text with Fantasies interspersed. Even in the handwritten version the images begin to get less and less common, and the calligraphy more and more modern.
One of the biggest rules of the whole LN, one so important that it actually seems to be the basis for the experiment itself, even more than a part of the Fantasy, is that Jung must obey his Soul. Whatever she says is a law. And to be sure there is a lot of whining and moaning on Jung’s part, but on the end he does what he is told to. A very cautious analysis would be required to tell how flexible or imperious the Soul actually is — i have had the impression that on the very few times Jung addresses her in an adult manner, neither complaining as a baby or shouting at her as a grunt, that on those occasions the Soul was pretty much reasonable, being unrelentless only where it was impossible not to. But it does not matter, because Jung does not try the adult negotiating approach. He finds a different one.
Jung owes the Soul obeisance. He actually overdoes it a little with endless flattery. But as soon as he conquers his magical powers, he finds a non-soul serpent, and enchants her into thinking she is his soul. [LN:317] In the realm of the Fantasy, it seems it is as good as, for both of them act exactly as if she was her soul, which includes the serpent talking and knowing everything that the Soul would know. But this also means that Jung forced the Soul into the serpent, not by commanding the Soul itself but by commanding the serpent. Jung now is the commander, the one who sets things in motion, the one who defines how things unfold. This seems to be good enough a loophole in their contract, for from then on Jung stops being respectful towards the Soul. He calls her names, gives her orders, and gets angry when she complains.
From then on, the progress of matters is, let’s say, less than promising. Satan is pulled by the horns and says that he is “on Jung’s side”, small Greek primeval deities called the Calibri rise and greet Jung as “Lord of the Lower Nature” (though i must say that the Calibri incident smells of being out of order in the Fantasy continuity), a hanged murderer tells him that life after death is colourless and hopeless, the bird part of the Soul retreats into heaven, Salome again is refused, and Jung lies hanged in the Tree of Life for some days. Pretty. To top it all, the Soul is impregnated by Philemon (or something like that, the details get completely unclear by that point) and gives birth to The Son of Toads. Liber Secundus ends with the ominous sentence by The Son of Toads: You, Jung, my dear father, has failed. His precise words are: “It has happened, the last cord tears away, my wings bear me up. I dive into the sea of light. You who are down there, you distant, twilight being — you fade from me.” [LN:329]
If you are part of Jung fanclub, you might try to argue that his message was instead — go back to the world of men because you already has conquered all there was to conquer in the world of Gods. I suspect that if you can think thus, there are no arguments whatsoever that can shake your faith. I have reread their final talk some times, and i can detect no accolade there, no «service well done», no «level completed». I just see «i’m gone» and «you had your chance, stop complaining». “You ought to live in the darkest solitude, men — not Gods — should illumine your darkness.”
In Tertius, The Son of Toads receives the name of Abraxas. He is now part of a grander, complex cosmogony of gods, which follows closely a gnostic and theosophic structure. Abraxas is the commingling of God and Satan. Yet, instead of being freedom — which supposedly should arise from outgrowing dualisms — he is the utter imprisonment, a kind of god that can neither be fought nor worshipped, but that must be forever and constantly feared — i kid you not, this is the result of Jung’s “most difficult exercise”.
There are certainly some interesting points in the hierarchy (i particularly enjoy that the very sci-fi concept of “the cold of outer space” has taken the part of hell), but i am not sure it is worth the discussion, as this hierarchy is clearly the result of Jung’s failure and not his success. This is not the religion the Soul wanted to give him, it is the hurried mending that Philemon could do with the rags left behind from the retreat of the Son of Toads.
When Jung has killed the hero, he has an inner feeling of release of tension. When he has given birth to the God he has only despair and fear. What can we do with that?
Does that hierarchy refer to the God Inside — that is, an idea of God that the person has for himself alone — or to the God Outside — the metaphysical supreme entity? Jung was pretty meticulous about maintaining such a distinction, but what difference does it make to other people’s lives? Doesn’t this whole idea fit too much in the form of a sophism that invalidates all criticism without proving the actual veracity of the argument proposed?
When Jung, after First Communion, imagined God pooping in the cathedral and said that God was not in that church, was he speaking about his internal God? We can see how this childhood experience led him to some of the ideas that end up on LN, so: Was that internal God what he was looking for? Couldn’t an internal God be sought after in the church, were quiet and prayer would free one of distractions?
Obviously, the whole point of the God Inside is that the work inside oneself is more important than external crusades, to which i am sure most full time priests of most religions would agree wholeheartedly. But doesn’t the actual distinction, the actual locking up of the God inside the head of the person — which is to say, the locking up of the Soul that Jung performs in Tertius [LN:343] — doesn’t that particular trick also avoid that we conduct our real, concrete lives as parts of God? Isn’t the sense of meaning and purpose — the fullness in Jung’s terms — denied a part of life itself when we lock the God in a cell? Doesn’t this fullness exist in the concrete world, as we brush our teeth in the morning or as we play with our kids?
At many points Jung says that the whole experience is to be taken as his own, private, dream, but the Soul says he should proclaim it to others. Jung begins Liber Segundus with a quote from the book of Jeremiah on the Bible, whereby he prevents against false prophets that dream and take their dreams to be the words of the living God. I find it terribly ambiguous whether this is to be taken as “i am just a false prophet” or as “i am the true prophet” — but Jeremiah surely meant the latter.
I believe passionately that every single person should search for his own truth, for the thing that he believes by himself and not because others want him to. In a way, that means that i think that everyone must search the Inner God. But i find it terribly dispiriting that Jung — who had the good fortune of such a rich, complex, powerful inner experience — didn’t have the courage to take it to the light. That he didn’t treat it as sacred — even if was his private God and not everyone’s God, it deserved more than to be boxed and caged.
This whole business that “It was only my dream…” sound to me as a feeble excuse, as the same pathetic hesitancy that impedes him to redeem Salome. Again, in my private opinion, he failed — and i am terribly sore that he did.
And thus, it remains to be asked: What if? What could have been if instead of silencing his Soul and caging her, Jung had worked with her — not for her, but with her?
Well, no doubt a little bit of this we can grasp from LN itself. First i believe we would have something that would accept its own Christian influences without chaining itself to callous dogma like the Nicean ones. In this respect, doubtlessly this new religion would have a lot of Gnostic to it, in a way redeeming Gnosticism, a corpus of ideas that was violently silenced by early Catholicism — something that i believe is probably a valid attempt still today, even more with the various discoveries of early Christian manuscripts in the twentieth century. Jung’s latter discovery of Alchemy couldn’t but help and enrich such an attempt.
The same concerns that led him to steer psychology into a self-discovery tool could have the same effect on his religion. I don’t particularly dislike his attempt at turning religion into a kind of science, as much as i know this text sounds like i do. But i dislike that, the way he chose to conduct matters, he was particularly disloyal to both sides. He got the worse of both worlds: Caged Soul on one side and a “science” full of false reports (like faking that his own imaginations came from patients and so on). Intellectually, he left a corpus where a fundamental work like LN — maybe not indispensable, but certainly important and useful beyond measure — remained unpublished for half a century.
I mean, did he even try to sell to the Soul the same fish that he passed on to Izdubar: “Look, I will go about preaching the new religion, but instead i will call it Psychology of Development, I will give it a new name to produce certain effects and make people like it better”. Did he try? Conversation, man, sometimes it helps, instead of just bossing people around or licking their boots.
Finally, i think his discussion of Thomas à Kempis’ Imitation of Christ shows the enormous talent he had to bring about the best in his sources, sometimes joining them with other pieces or even completely new ideas, sometimes mixing things that would look on first sight to be complete opposites — and getting on the end something beautiful. Don’t imitate Christ, for Christ was not imitating anyone, and if you do you impede yourself to be as luminous as Christ. Instead, use his life to make your own more full of meaning and light. Wow!
So, yes, i know that this passage is in the same book that i am criticizing. But consider this. In the beginning of LN, our character, as in many a bildungsroman, has a comfortable life but deep down is lacking true purpose and true knowledge of himself. He goes through many adventures to conquer his true destiny. But now, after all of it, it ends in fear — the passages describing how Abraxas is to be utterly feared almost suffocate. It ends with bargaining with Gods — something that any ethnographer will tell you is very characteristic of the religions of tribal societies. It ends in duality, which throughout the journey we progressively learn to outgrow: “Whoever hosts the worm also needs his brother” [LN:359]. It ends in pain — the last sentences of the book read: “I bring you the beauty of suffering, that is what is needed by whomever hosts the worm.”
He could do much better. He should have. And now, 100 years latter, i hope we can do better.