I have owned Carl Jung’s Red Book since it was published in 2009. This is the legendary journal that he kept during a period of self-discovery and introspection that has been described as both revelatory and psychotic since its publication.
At the beginning, my copy was placed in our living room, open to one of the many entrancing images that Jung painted during this deeply private odyssey into, what he termed, “a confrontation with the unconscious.”
I hate to admit this, but I became one of those people who owned the book, but never read it. And so one of the greatest and most intimate journals of mystical illumination sat like some literary trophy on display in our living room. Often discussed, but only in the most banal of degrees.
Until a few months ago when I felt this deep pull to start reading Jung’s words.
So the book migrated to my office desk and then began traveling with me to cafés and weekend trips. I am sure it looked ridiculous, or more probably pretentious, carting around the 10 pound crimson red volume. But I didn’t care, I was so wrapped up in Jung’s writing that I used every spare moment I had to push through the text, marking it up with pencils so that I could return to transcribe the passages that were relevant to my work.
There is a lot I want to write about the Red Book and I will do that in a series of posts over time. But I want to start with a very simple and profound bit that comes from the Introduction. It is a statement about the time in which Jung was writing (1913-1917) by Hugo Ball that places it very precisely in a parallel historical period to the one we are currently entering:
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?
I have long been interested in the system of historical cycles; since I first read Schlesinger’s cyclical theory in high school. The idea that we can look at the intrinsic governing forces of a past time and then use those to map events in a current epoch is fascinating and takes the chaos out of human affairs. History, after all, is a function of economic, social, and spiritual currents. And when one looks back at previous historical trends, they will see very similar patterns occurring.
For many, these could be alarming. Especially when we trace the migrant waves and shifts to intense nationalist politics that precipitated World Wars I and II, respectively.
But I am focused on much more subterranean forces. These are the ones that precipitated the 1920’s and the 1960’s, and now these 20teens, as eras of unparalleled social change.
The birth of the jazz age, and all of the potent intellectual/artistic movements that were surfacing worldwide, is often overshadowed by the omnipresent psychedelia of the hippie era. But what they share in common is that amongst all the partying and re-identification, there was also a deep movement inward toward the mystical frontier.
And the person you find in the early pages of the Red Book is unlike anything you have ever read or been taught about Carl Jung. Here, he is going full shaman and what he is unearthing and chronicling about the pre-material forces that guide and propel our material plane is of critical importance as we enter this time of confusion and fear.
Because as you will discover, there are one of two belief systems that you can adopt about our reality. The first is that it is unpredictable, chaotic, and unpatterned; the product of a spectrum of disparate and purposeless forces which we have no choice but to protect our selves from.
Or you believe that there is an order to this world. That there is a system of reality-generation that is comprehensible and regulated; chaperoned by some force unknown and unseen, but which has the verifiable tracings of a system in place.
Of course, there is an infinity spectrum that bridges these two paradigms. The fundamentalist Christian can share a certain brand of certainty about the nature of reality with the molecular biologist.
But when one turns inward from the world, especially as a result of a calling from that deep seat of the soul, they embark on a journey of self-discovery that is both torturously lonely and paradigmatically revelatory. That is to say, what they learn about their ‘self’ and the forces that propel ‘it’ are ultimately understood as the same forces that govern the world.
This is the nature of systems theory. And I believe we live in an immaculate and uncharted system designed to nurture, evolve, and optimize our human ‘being’. Oh, so much could flow from this statement, and it will.
But for now I want to leave you with Jung’s description of the ‘spirits’ that drive and conjure the world we experience, but from two polar frontiers. I challenge you to read this in the context of the time we live in and ask yourself what Jung’s vision holds for us in this time. (I have bolded the lines I marked as important in my transcriptions):
I have learned that in addition to the spirit of this time there is still another spirit at work, namely that which rules the depths of everything contemporary.
The spirit of this time would like to hear of use and value. I also thought this way, and my humanity still thinks this way. But that other spirit forces me nevertheless to speak, beyond justification, use, and meaning.
But I did not consider that the spirit of the depths from time immemorial and for all the future possesses a greater power than the spirit of this time, who changes with the generations.
The spirit of the depths has subjugated all pride and arrogance to the power of judgment. He took away my belief in science, he robbed me of the joy of explaining and ordering things, and he let devotion to the ideals of this time die out in me. He forced me down to the last and simplest things.
The spirit of the depths took my understanding and all my knowledge and placed them at the service of the inexplicable and the paradoxical. He robbed me of speech and writing for everything that was not in his service, namely the melting together of sense and nonsense, which produces the supreme meaning.
But the supreme meaning is the path, the way and the bridge to what is to come.
Read Part 2 of the Jung series, here.