This is one huge book. The book is 16 inches tall and weighs nearly 8 pounds. The size of this book conferred unto me a reverence, perhaps not unlike the reverence medieval scribes felt towards their books. In fact, Carl Jung scribed the book himself in his own calligraphy, also illustrating it with striking artistic renditions of his visions. Jung intended that the book communicate that his experiences contained something precious. Therefore the book itself needed be a precious – that is to say – that it be a costly book. The book was published two years ago (10/09) at a price of $125. I could not have afforded it. I had the good fortune of obtaining it from my local library on interlibrary loan. Carl Jung died in 1961, and it was not clear what his intentions were for the The Red Book. The family had prevented previous publication. Interested parties maintained that he would not have put such care into the book had he not intended to publish.
This book would not be considered easy reading. At times I was awestruck by the commentary and corresponding illustrations. At other times I struggled to keep up. Call Jung was a very intelligent and well-read man. The book describes his mythic journey. While he was able to maintain his daily routine as a psychologist, the journey pushed Jung to the brink of madness. This period of Jung’s life is generally referred to as his confrontation with the unconscious. Jung feels that without the alchemy achieved through the integration of apparent opposites, he would have gone mad. Instead, this experience provided the wealth from which his major theories derived.
Where Nietzsche begins, “God is dead, because we have killed him.” (Nietzsche was referring to religion as having become frozen like a stone statue), Jung is in the process of resurrecting gods. His conceptual framework of God becomes very complicated, and includes much differentiation between different aspects of God. According to Jung, humanity naturally perceives and experiences God as duality; the wholeness of God is split at the level of humanity into the experience of opposites, such as good and evil (evil is the unintegrated shadow of God). On a transcendent level, the all-knowing and ultimate God is remote and Good. And there are many levels of gods in between, some of whom confuse and some of whom instruct.
Jung is thrust into a mythological quest through taxing dreams and visions, which he writes as dialogue with the characters of vision (archetypes). In an effort to process his encounters he also provides commentary on those experiences.
At times, it is apparent that Jung is metaphorically bleeding. He takes on the mantle of suffering as he hangs from the tree of life, as did Jesus and the mythological Odin. His suffering is necessary as sacrifice, but a sacrifice does not guarantee deliverance. He needs to listen to the right gods (in his case – Philemon), and work on the integration of his own shadow. This can be difficult work. Transformation achieved through the process of integration (Jung called this process individuation) is work that takes time and effort to accomplish. Expanding one’s personal View, incorporating a larger universe, is often threatening to the comfort zone of the ego.
I used to think that if Jung had acquired and practiced a spiritual discipline designed for the exploration expanded consciousness, such as shamanism, that his level of chaos would not have been so acute. I thought that the guidance and structure of the practice would have protected him. Now I’m not so sure. Maybe with a spiritual discipline he could have duplicated the depth of his teachers and ancestors. But could he have achieved the discovery of new gods? Jung was like an explorer in virgin territories mapping what is discovered for the benefit of future travelers. The birthing of new gods (literally expanding Potential), like any birth, can be painful during its process and rewarding on its completion. It appears that Jung was successful.
Here are some quotes from the book:
Page 230: Sacrifice is the foundation stone of what is to come. You should carry the monastery within yourself.
Page 233: You should say, “The life I can still live I should live. And the thoughts I could still think I should think.”
Page 245: No one has my God, but my God has everyone.
Page 263: If no outer adventure happens to you, then no inner in adventure happens to you either.
Page 264: The soul demands your folly, not your wisdom. (This statement by Jung was in response to an old scholar in his visions who became rigid in his thinking.)
Page 266: Your heights are your own mountain, then you are at your best. At your low point you are no longer distinct from your fellow beings. You are not ashamed and do not regret it.
Page 283: Bring your God with you. Bear him down to your dark land where people live who rub their eyes each morning and yet always see the same thing and never anything else.
Paged 284: Your voice is too weak for those raging to be able to hear. Thus do not speak and do not show the God, but sit in a solitary place and sing incantations in the ancient manner.
Page 316: I understand you Philemon, you are a true lover because you love your soul for the sake of men, because they need a king who lives from himself and owes no one gratitude for his life. (I wanted to substitute “an individual” for the word king, thinking that the word king may be misunderstood. But I decided not to change the quote. Jung is referring to Philemon, a god he is trying to integrate as the archetype of the wise old man.)
I can understand why Carl Jung put off publishing this book within his own lifetime. It could easily have been misquoted or misunderstood. If you have not read Jung, I’d recommend beginning with his autobiography: Memories, Dreams, Reflections.