Ladies and Gentlemen:
I consider it a happy coincidence that we are meeting in Carmel today, and that I have the great privilege to speak here on one of California’s great sons.
Jack London loved Carmel.
It was during the summer of 1913 that he spent happy weeks in Carmel visiting his lifelong friend George Sterling, “swimming in the surf and sunbathing on the sand, hunting for abalones and eating abalone steaks cooked over a wood fire on the beach” (Irving Stone ).
It was a happy and creative time, but a time in which the great conflicts of his life had reached a climax.
He was writing stories such as “Valley of the Moon,” was active in the Socialist movement of his day and was building his magnificent Wolf House, into which he poured his seemingly inexhaustible creative powers – and all his money; a house to which everyone referred as a castle, resembling “a palace of Justinian or Caesar.”
Fate had, however, determined that he should never live in it.
On August 19th of the same year, the Wolf House went up in flames. “Something in his soul burnt out that night,” says Irving Stone.
The Jack London of “Call of the Wild” and many other great stories died in that inferno.
A new one was born, but Jack London’s vitality was spent, and thus the new personality never had a chance to develop.
It died in the bud.
Was this conflagration which destroyed Jack London’s dream house a symbol or an event synchronistic with that conflagration which only one year later should engulf more than half of the world?
There have always been human beings who, seized by an archetype, experience in their individual life that which happens to the collective or even to the whole of mankind.
Jack London was certainly such a man.
I cannot give you here a biography of this extraordinary man who, in spite of the fact that his books were widely read all over the world, has not yet been understood and accepted in his full significance.
His life and personal history have been adequately, candidly, and with loving sympathy, described by Irving Stone in his book, Sailor on Horseback.
He was born on January 12th, 1876, in San Francisco, California.
His real father, Professor W. M. Chaney, a full-blooded Irishman, by profession an itinerant astrologer, always denied his fatherhood.
So Jack London grew up in the family of John London. He suffered extreme poverty throughout his childhood.
At a very early age he had to work, and his wages, at many times during his youth, represented an important part of the family income.
At one time, for instance, he worked in a cellar shoveling coal for $30 a month, with one day off a month.
He never received a formal education.
There was nothing in his surroundings which, at any time, could have stimulated him to develop his mind, but the flame of the spirit was burning in him.
With iron energy he taught himself.
For a time he went to school, and even took classes at Berkeley.
It is one of the sagas of modem American life how this poverty-stricken youth, with no formal education, acquired a profound, comprehensive and thorough grounding in many fields.
He was a voracious reader in the fields of history, social science, literature, philosophy and psychology.
Very early he made up his mind to write a thousand words a day.
He was always sure that he was a great writer.
Success was bound to come his way- and it did in great measure.
He was deeply and wildly in love with life.
He lived it to the full, always risking himself and giving himself fully to life as he found it on the outside.
And with the same devotion, he gave himself to writing almost every day of his life.
The conflict which necessarily arose in himself due to this powerful extraversion, as well as this introversion, reflected in many of his books as well as in the stories themselves.
But it becomes clear that after the fire of his dream house, which symbolized to him his conquest of the world, Jack London was finally captured by the inner world.
A profound and complete introversion began just when he was thirty-seven years of age, which was only occasionally interrupted by heavy drinking bouts and a few trips.
Another pair of opposites was clearly evident in the fact that on one side he embraced Nietzsche’s ideas of the Superman.
He identified the ego with the Self.
He said, for instance,
I have always inclined toward Haeckel’s position, In fact, ‘incline’ is too weak a word. I am a hopeless individualist. I see a soul as nothing else than the sum of the activities of the organism plus personal habits, memories, experiences, of the organism. I believe that when I am dead, I am dead. I believe that with my death I am just as much obliterated as the last mosquito you or I smashed. I have no patience with fly-by-night philosophers such as Bergson. I have no patience with the metaphysical philosophers. With them, always, the wish is parent to the thought, and their wish is parent to their profoundest philosophical conclusions. I join with Haeckel in being …”a positive scientific thinker. ”
On the other hand, he wrote the most imaginative and lively stories we have known in American literature.
He writes, for instance, in “The White Silence”:
Nature has many tricks wherewith she convinces man of his finity -the ceaseless flow of the tides, the fury of the storm, the shock of the earthquake, the long roll of heaven’s artillery- but the most tremendous, the most stupefying of all is the passive phase of the White Silence.
All movement ceases, the sky clears, the heavens are as brass; the slightest whisper seems sacrilege, and man becomes timid, affrighted at the
sound of his own voice.
Sole speck oflife journeying across the ghostly wastes of a dead world, he trembles at his audacity, realizes that his is a maggot’s life, nothing more.
Strange thoughts arise unsummoned, and the mystery of all things strives for utterance.
And fear of death, of God, of the universe, comes over him – the hope of the Resurrection and the Life, the yearning for immortality, the vain striving of the imprisoned essence – it is there, if ever, man walks alone with God.
How great the conflict is we can see from these two quotations.
On one side he was a staunch materialist of Haeckel’s persuasion, so characteristic of the end of the 19th century; on the other hand, he was a poet, living with incorruptible sincerity and unquestioned devotion in the service of his inner voice.
As this quotation from “The White Silence” shows, the numinous experience of the Unconscious reached and seized him.
This pair of opposites, the scientific materialist and the poet, open to thoughts of God and yearning for immortality, is difficult to carry for any human being.
As one of his obituaries said,
“The inner struggle of London is the key to his work. His biography is a record of privation in its first phase, and a diary of individual daring in its second and last phase. He died at the age of forty – left his playground of the world at large as he had lived his short life – left at full speed – took ill in the morning and crossed the tall hill as the sun went down on his mountain ranch.”
We could of course deduce from the outer events of his life, his marriages, for intance, his friendships, his monetary problems, his relationship to his publishers or to the Socialist movement of his day, what his fundamental problem was, but we are enabled to see the development and denouement of his fate from the rich material of the Unconscious which he left us in his writings.
Unfortunately, we know only two dreams of Jack London, but practically every story which Jack London ever wrote is “active imagination” and therefore a vivid self-representation of the Psyche.
They allow us an amazing insight into his psychological problems, and also into the problems of his time.
Let us tum first to these two dreams.
The first is a childhood dream, which throws significant light on Jack London’s outstanding character traits.
It is told by George Wharton James.
He says that Jack London told him:
My other childish victory was over a peculiar nightmare. I have lived in the country and was one day brought to town and stood on a railway platform as a railway engine came in.
Its ponderous size, its easy and resistless onward movement, its panting, its fire and smoke, its great noises, all impressed me so powerfully that that night I dreamt of it, and when the dream turned to a nightmare I was filled with the dread and horror at what seemed to be the fact that this locomotive was pursuing me and that I could not get out of its way.
For weeks thereafter I was haunted by this dreadful fear, and night after night I was run down.
But, strange to say, I always rose up again after suffering the pangs of horrible death, to go over it all again.
The tortures those nightmares gave me none can understand except those who have gone through a similar experience.
Then one night came release. In the distance, as the mighty modem juggernaut came towards me, I saw a man with a stepladder.
I was unable to cry out, but I waved my hand to him. He hailed me and bid me come.
That broke the spell. I ran to him, climbed to the top of the stepladder, and thereafter lost all terror at the sight of a locomotive.
But the victory gained in climbing the ladder was as real as any I ever had in my waking life.
This dream, as a frequently recurring dream, is very important. It indicates young Jack London’s fear of the Unconscious.
The locomotive symbolizes the tremendous energy which is contained in the Unconscious.
It comes as a terrific threat against him.
For a certain time the conflict continues and no solution seems possible, but at last he succeeds in climbing on top of it.
In other words, his solution is getting on top of it, a mastering of the Unconscious – and thereby achieving a complete identification with it.
The fruit of it is an increase of libido and power of imagination.
It was this tremendous energy which moved him throughout the first phase of his life.
The energy which radiated from him through his work, in his actions, in his many, many ideas, in his working out of new plans and strivings in many fields was characteristic for him throughout his life.
It was only through the burning of the Wolf House that this enormous vitality received a shock, and that his libido definitely turned inward.
The other dream we know is reported by Charmian Kittredge, his second wife, in The Book of Jack London.
She says there:
In Jack’s dreams, at widely separated intervals, appeared the Man who would contest Jack’s self-mastership, to whom he would eventually bend a vanquished intelligence.
He never saw such a one in the flesh, yet that entity stalked through more than the hallucinations of sleep.
It was long ago he first told me of this ominous figure in his consciousness.
The last manifestation was within a very few years of his death.
The man, imperial, inexorable with destiny, yet strangely human, descended, alone, a vast cascade of stairways, and Jack at the foot looked up and
waited as imperially for the meeting that was to be his unknown fate.
But the Nemesis never, in that form at least, overtook him.
Charmian spoke very true words in saying this.
This figure, as we understand it today, was certainly the archetype of the Self, and Jack London was a man who, through his constant active imaginations and the writing of his many books, was confronted with the Self – had called up the Self. It is sad to think, but it was tragically unavoidable, that Jack could not find any positive aspect in this figure.
We don’t know how much he realized that the archetype of the Self had established itself in him.
We know that in the story “The Red One” he certainly describes in large details his meeting with the Self.
We don’t know, however, how much he realized that in writing the story he was writing all about himself and that he had met the objective Psyche.
He died at the age of forty under circumstances which never made it quite clear whether he had committed suicide or died from natural causes.
There is, however, no doubt that toward the end of his life he was a very sick man.
On one of his trips to Hawaii in May of 1916, six months before his death, he wrote “The Red One,” a story which I want to present to you here today.
It was preceded by stories like “The Hussy,” in which a man finds the Tower of Jewels, the gold of the Incas, on a high mountain, and is followed by a story called “Argus of the Ancient Times,” in which an old man is in quest of the Great Treasure and finds it.
He writes there, It was in the dusk of Death’s fluttery wings that Tarwater thus crouched, and, like his remote forebear, the child-man, went to myth-maldng, and sun-heroizing, himself hero-maker and the hero in quest of the immemorable treasure difficult of attainment.
Either he must attain the treasure – for so ran the inexorable logic of the shadow-land of the unconscious – or else sink into the all-devouring sea, the blackness eater of the light that swallowed to extinction the sun each night. .. the sun that arose ever in rebirth next morning in the east, and that had become to man man’s first symbol of immortality through rebirth.
I will now give you a brief outline of his story, “The Red One.” It is interesting to know that the first title he gave it was “The Message.”
It was written on the 22nd of May, 1916, exactly six months before his untimely death, and exactly thirty-eight years ago to the day.
Bassett, the hero of the story, is a young English scientist and botanist who is in search of the mythical jungle butterfly – one which is more than one foot from wing-tip to wing-tip and lives in the roof of the jungle. In quest of this mysterious butterfly, he hears one day from the island of Ringmanu a marvelous sound, which he likens to the trump of an archangel.
He determines at once to discover the mysterious instrument which creates this sound.
Throughout the story Jack London gives abundant and beautiful descriptions of this sound: “sonorous as thunder, mellow as a golden bell, thin and sweet as a thrummed taut cord of silver.”
“Walls of cities might well fall down before so vast and compelling a summons.”
“It is like the mighty cry of some Titan of the Elder World vexed with misery or wrath.”
In almost every word of this magnificent story one feels the extreme fascination which the mysterious Red One exerts on Bassett – pardon me, on Jack London.
The Self truly inspired this story – there is not a superfluous word in it.
Fascinated by the magic of the tone, Bassett enters the jungle, accompanied by the boy, Sagawa, who carries the shotgun and all the naturalist’s gear of his master.
Immediately upon moving into the jungle, Sagawa is decapitated – and Bassett, in his fight with the primitive natives, has a terrible struggle to survive.
He loses two fingers of his hand. He spends several nights in the jungle and is eaten up by the insects, becomes very sick, shaken with fever; but at last succeeds in getting out of the jungle into a wonderful grassland.
He then enters a village and finds there a roasted pig – there he meets the Anima for the first time.
He resolves to shoot her, but can never remember whether he had or not – any more than he could remember how he chanced to be in that village, or how he succeeded in getting away from it.
At last, however, he fights his way into another village. This one happens to be the principal village in a federation of twelve.
Their god is the Red One whom all worship, and to whom they bring bloody sacrifices.
He, the Red One, has subdued the gods of all the other tribes on the island of Guadalcanal. Vngngn is the weak chief, Ngum is the medicine-man whose main occupation is the curing of heads over a fire.
The headhunters bring to him the heads of their victims, and through curing these N gum receives the wisdom contained in these heads.
Bassett is increasingly possessed by the magic peal of the Red One and now bends every effort to find out its secret and then bring it back to civilization.
He is very sick, and the natives know that he will never be able to leave them.
Therefore, they give him permission to roam in three quadrants of the compass; but the fourth quadrant, in which the Red One is located, is declared taboo to him.
In order to satisfy his consuming curiosity imposed upon him by the numinous sound of the Red One, and to find a way to set his eyes upon it, he decides to make love to Balatta, the girl who has saved him and has herself fallen in love with the whiteness of his skin.
She is just as frightened of breaking the taboo as he is attracted to it by the numinosity of its sound.
He succeeds, however, in persuading her to lead the way to the mysterious Red One.
He discovers that the Red One is a perfect sphere, fully 200 feet in diameter, with the color quality of lacquer, brighter than bright cherry red.
On closer investigation it appears that it is no lacquer, nor does the Red One have a smooth surface.
The substance is metal, but of no metal or combination of metals he had ever known.
On the slightest touch it quivered [with] a sound “so elusive thin that it was shimmeringly sibilant; … piping like an elfin horn, … like a peal from some
bell of the gods reaching earthward from across space.”
Amongst its many names were The Loud Shouter, The God-Voiced, The BirdThroated, the Sun Singer, and the Star-Born.
The Star-Born was certainly the most fitting one. “It was a creation of artifice and mind, … [A] child of intelligences. ”
… “Bassett laughed aloud … at the thought of this wonderful messenger, winged with intelligence across space, to fall into a bushman stronghold …. It was as if God’s World had fallen into the muck mire of the abyss underlying the bottom of hell; … as if the Sermon on the Mount had been preached in a roaring bedlam of lunatics. ”
So Jack London describes this wonderful discovery.
“Who were they?” he asks.
“What were they, those far distant and superior ones who had bridged the sky with their gigantic, red-iridescent, heaven-singing message? … [This] sounding sphere … contained the speech and wisdom of the stars …. [It could] contain vast histories, profounds of research …. It was time’s greatest gift to blindfold, insatiable, and sky-aspiring man. And to him, Bassett, had been vouchsaved the lordly fortune to be the first to receive this message from man’s interstellar kin!”
After his return to the village, Bassett renews his plans for going back to civilization. Soon, however, he realizes that his fevers continue to weaken him,
and that death is inevitable.
He continues to make love to Balatta, but with utter
reluctance and loathing. He escapes from her as much as possible into the hut of Ngurn, the medicine-man who spends his time with curing heads and
He assures Bassett that it will not be very long before he will also cure his head, because Bassett will certainly die from his illness.
On a day when his mind is unclouded by his fevers, Bassett therefore proposes a contract to Ngurn.
He wants to see and hear the Red One once more and die with this wonderful peal in his ears.
He will accept to be ritually killed by Ngurn while seeing and hearing the Red One. This is done.
At the last moment, Bassett consideres that he still could kill Ngurn with his shotgun, but he rejects this idea.
But why cheat him? … Head-hunting cannibal, beast of a human … , nevertheless Old Ngurn had … played squarer than square …. [I]t would
be a ghastly pity and an act of dishonour to cheat the old fellow at the last. His head was Ngurn’s, and Ngurn’s head to cure it would be .. . . And Bassett … bending forward his head as agreed, … forgot Balatta who was merely a woman … and undesired …. And for that instant, ere the end, there fell upon Bassett the shadow of the Unknown …. [I]t seemed that he gazed upon the serene face of the Medusa, Truth -And … he saw the vision of his head turning slowly, always turning, in the devil-devil house beside the breadfruit tree.
These almost literal quotations will convey to you the full poetry and inspired quality of this story.
But behind this poetry the story of Jack London’s tragedy appears in stark relief.
Let us remember that as a child he climbed on the locomotive, and carried by the magic power of the Unconscious, he developed a fascinating personality; he wrote an incredible amount of great and also mediocre stories, was always driven to overdemand himself, strove to achieve the impossible in many fields, always living life to the fullest and fearlessly, sometimes wantonly, risking more than even his powerful organism could stand.
So illness overtook him, catastrophe broke upon him in the fire of his beloved Wolf House.
His daughters from his first marriage refused to live with him.
In the midst of thousands of friends, men and women, he was lonely.
He did not and could not realize that by his daring adventures into the life of the spirit, he had come into the neighbourhood of the Self, nor could he
realize that the might of his genius did not originate in his ego, but came from the Self. For a long time, he could afford to identify with the Self and feel himself as a superman. Sooner or later, the “Auseinandersetzung” between himself and the Self had to begin.
And that is what the second dream tries to tell him. The “Man,” the ominous figure, the Anthropos who descended, was destiny and became his
As Ngurn says in “The Red One,” paraphrasing the Old Testament, “No white man could see him and live.” (Exodus 33:20: “No man shall see me,
And yet Jack London, in the person of Bassett, looked upon him and lived. He was even able to touch it and to awaken its marvellous voice and then
return to the village.
This he was able to accomplish because he went down to see him accompanied by the primitive Anima, that Anima so despised by Bassett.
He had actually acquired his fatal illness practically at the instant at which he entered the jungle.
And yet he did not die from his illness.
His illness rather gave him the chance to experience the miraculous sphere again, to expose himself once more to the greatest risk and grace which can be bestowed upon man.
That is, to meet the Self in its fullness, whose other name is Truth.
He was driven to it in the hopelessness of his psychic condition, but paradoxically enough he also volunteered. It was a contract he made with the Self.
At the last moment he was indeed tempted to cheat God but rejected it, because he acknowledged that the Self had played squarer than square with him.
This was different from Faust, the story of another man who was granted a meeting and association with the Self, and upon whom the Self bestowed its richest gift – and whom he cheated at the last. Jack London’s hero, in contrast, was true to himself to the end.
He recognized that the Self had given him both spiritual and material riches, had played squarer than square with him and he, Jack London, must needs play fair as well with the Self to the end.
In the case of Faust, Faust’s “immortal” soul is carried to Heaven, and his redemption takes place in the beyond. His last achievement is the discovery of
the moment in its fullness.
But Jack London’s fulfilment is the vision of Truth, the Zen experience at the moment of his death, and the slow turning of the head in the devil-devil house, in the post-mortal state.
While the Self is the all-pervading motif of the story, we actually discover all the classical archetypes of the collective unconscious in this story, and even in their classical sequence: Shadow, Anima, Old Wise Man and Self.
By its very beauty of language, it is obvious that it is not thought out, but truly inspired.
The patterns of the Unconscious themselves have dictated the story.
In Bassett we find the Ego, or to be more correct, the representative of Jack London’s Ego.
It is in Bassett that we see the scientist, the rationalist who however carries in himself the longing for the non-rational which is symbolized in his quest for the mythical butterfly, a fitting symbol for the psyche.
In his quest he encounters something that transcends by far the value and meaning of this butterfly. It is the magic sound of the mysterious Red One.
Just as a comparison, I want to show you this amusing picture from the “New Yorker” of October 3, 1953. Jack London did not take to his heels – as
the entomologist does in this picture when confronted with the mysterium of the Soul, who holds on to his “scientific” conceptions, which cannot catch or hold the Psyche. Jack London, in contradistinction, is immediately captured by the sound of the Red One, and is poisoned by the dank and noisy jungle of the Unconscious.
Like so many classical journeys, this one also begins as an adventure of a hero and his companion.
But in contrast, for instance, to Dante’s journey with Virgil or Moses’ with Dulquarnein, this second figure – the servant – is described with a remarkable degree of contempt: “He has a queer little monkeyish face, eloquent with fear.”
Yet he is faithful and- as it turned out- he foresees that the adventure must have a tragic end.
Though a companion on this quest, he is not invested with the qualities of a superior guide like Virgil in the Divine Comedy.
He has much more the characteristics of Jack London’s inferior personality of his shadow.
His advice is not listened to, his common sense is not appreciated, and actually this shadow figure has no chance to interact with the Ego.
The Ego at this point has already fallen under the spell of the Red One, and there is nothing, not even a trace of common sense, which would give the Ego fair warning of the dangers awaiting it on this quest, thus permitting it to equip itself for the hazards of the journey.
Thus, poorly prepared Bassett enters the Unconscious like a curious adolescent, without much realization of the dangers of such a journey, and Sagawa is immediately killed – that is, he is decapitated, and the hero is assailed by primitives with poisoned arrows and falls victim to the insects of the jungle, thus acquiring his fatal illness.
He has irrevocably been captured by the process of individuation.
The fascination issuing from the archetypes, and quite especially from the Self, has caught him; but the loss of the shadow, i.e. the lack of insight into his human limitations, has the effect that the Unconscious invades him as poison and infection.
Thus the Ego is forced to fight a courageous battle, but without the possibility of an ultimate victory or accomplishment of the task.
Translated into actual reality, this psychological condition in Jack London meant, for instance, that he built the “Snark” and made the famous journey to the South Sea islands.
In this way he overestimated by far his stamina and powers, his physical and financial resources, and actually contracted the disease which fatally sapped his strength.
In this way, one could consider Jack London as a tragic victim of the process of individuation. He certainly is, but still not a failure – because he lived his life fully and without reservation, because like a man he courageously accepted the challenge of the Self, and as a human being he was granted the vision of God in his voluntary sacrifice.
The second of the classical figures, the Anima, actually saves his life; but nevertheless she is treated by him with an amazing hostility and loathing.
In remembering his first encounter with her he cannot even make sure whether he killed her or not. In her second and more permanent form, he heaps contempt on her, calls her quite frankly the inferior sex, expresses the same sentiments as Nietzsche.
Quite obviously this Anima is to a large extent contaminated with the shadow.
Not only is she described as primitive in the sense of primeval or original, but more in the sense of being barbaric, dirty, ugly and smelly.
Furthermore, she is predominantly Nature to him, in the sense of sex without any positive feeling tone attached to her. In order to make contact, he has to teach her how to bathe, even to the point of giving her frequent scrubbings.
When he meets her for the first time, he tells that “her sex was advertised by the one article of finery with which she was adorned, namely a pig’s tail, thrust through a hole in her left ear lobe.”
His relationship to her is simply that of making use of her and of exerting power over her. He needs her because there is a taboo which forbids a stranger to see the Red One, and because the Red One is hidden in a gorge within the Fourth Quadrant.
He can find this place only with the help of a native – and Balatta, because of her love for him, would break the taboo.
For this reason only, he is forced to make up to her. He uses the charm of his white skin and his masculinity as assets in the deal to achieve his overriding ambition of gaining access to the mysterious Red One.
At no point in the story is she treated as an equal, to say nothing of consideration or love.
Therefore, we find in Jack London’s hero qualities like fascination by the Red One to an unlimited degree: acknowledgment of its power, superiority,
and transcendental quality.
We find submission to it and ecstasy in completely surrendering to it – but never love.
And this is probably one important reason why in the same way as the Anima was contaminated with the shadow, the Self appears contaminated with an important aspect of the Anima, i.e. why it has the transmundane color – this unearthly red.
As was to be expected, the third classical figure is that of the Old Wise Man.
Bassett is genuinely attracted to Ngurn, the primitive medicine-man of the tribe, but he also spends as much time as possible with him in order to escape from the loathsome Anima.
Again we find that this figure has a great many negative qualities.
Though he is certainly very wise and conveys his wisdom to Bassett, he is after Bassett’s head nevertheless; not in order to re-establish his health and
return him to life, but to gain his head and cure it.
This whole story occurs in the country of headhunting primitives.
The atmosphere of headhunting and the curing of heads pervades it.
All the long talks between Bassett and Ngum take place in Ngum’s hut whilst he is curing heads.
He is one of the best curers of heads, having inherited his art from his medicine-man ancestors, an art long lost in other tribes.
He promises Bassett to take good care of his head after his death and to make his head his masterpiece.
A curious motive! True, Jack London, in his South Sea journey, came across some examples of hunting and curing heads, but that it turned up just in this story is most significant.
I have met this motif of the wise head in dreams of my patients.
I have met it in dreams, for instance, as the head which continually spoke perfect wisdom – in this way symbolizing the Logos principle of the Unconscious. I have encountered it in dreams also as the vessel which had to be prepared and worked upon in order to become the perfect vessel.
I have most frequently found it as the Round One, in this way being a symbol of the Self, a most suitable symbol, since as head it represented the essential and concentrated substance of the human being.
In Psychology and Alchemy (pp. 431-2 of the English edition) Jung refers to the “sixth parable” of the Splendor Solis, where a vision of a dismembered body is mentioned, whose head was of fine gold, but separated from the body.
Jung also mentions that the Greek Alchemists styled themselves: “Children of the Golden Head.”
In his newest book, “About the Roots of Consciousness” (p. 269), Jung speaks in detail about primitive beliefs and rituals in which animal and human sacrifices were made in order to gain a head and to make it white; he mentions other rather gruesome rituals, the purpose of which was to gain a specially prepared head giving forth great wisdom.
According to Jung, the head can be interpreted as the so-called “round element,” since the Liber Quartorum establishes a connection between the vessel and the head. Furthermore, Zosimos mentions several times “the extremely white stone which is in the head.”
In addition, he mentions the rumor that Gerbert of Rheims [may] have possessed a golden skull which revealed oracles to him.
According to rabbinical tradition, the “teraphim,” the oracle mentioned in the Old Testament, was supposed to have been a cut-off head or skull. Jung also quotes M. I. Bin Gorion: Die Sagen der Juden, in which it is said that these teraphim were made in the following way:
the head of somebody who had to be a native was cut off, then the hair was plucked out.
Then the head was sprinkled with salt and anointed with oil.
After that a small tablet made of copper or gold was inscribed with the name of the god
and put under the tongue of the cut-off head.
The head was then placed in a room, candles were lit before it, and one bowed before it, and it happened that when one prostrated oneself before it, the head began to talk and to answer all the questions which one addressed to it.
These examples are a striking parallel to Jack London’s story and show that an archetypal pattern imposed itself on Jack London when he wrote at some length about the curing of the head – and that he recognized its true purpose, which was to gain wisdom.
It follows an archetypal pattern when, in the end, he sees his own head slowly turning as the serene face of Truth.
It is the “veritas efficaciae” which, according to Dom (Psychology and Alchemy, 256), is “the highest power and an impregnable fortress wherein the philosopher’s stone lies safeguarded.”
Ngum says to Bassett: “I will tell you many secrets for I am an old man and very wise, and I shall be adding wisdom to wisdom as I turn your head in the
And yet, there is a great difference between the motif of the teraphim or the old alchemists and the curing of the head as described in “The Red One.”
The Alchemists or the Hebrew priests gaining the head did not identify with it.
They gained possession of the head and found means to communicate with it.
In Jack London’s story, it is Bassett’s head which will be cured, and wisdom will accrue to it and issue from it only after his death.
In other words, it will occur only in the post-mortal state.
That is: the wisdom will never serve life or Bassett’s individual life, but will represent a terminal condition.
The head itself as the Round One certainly symbolizes the Self, as Jung has demonstrated in Psychology and Alchemy.
In his new book, About the Roots of Consciousness, Jung quotes the Liber Quartorum: “Vas … oportet esse rotunda figurae: ut sit artifex huius (aperis) mutator firmanenti et testae capitis, ut cum sit res qua indigemus, res simplex.” (The vessel must be of round shape, just as the artist of this work is a transformer of the firmament and of the skull, and like the thing which we need is “a simple thing.”)
As a vessel, however, it also has feminine characteristics and therefore has a certain Anima aspect.
One can therefore conclude that it was more the instinctual and emotional aspect of the Anima which was so unacceptable to Jack London, whilst her more spiritual aspect, relating him to the Self, could be assimilated to Consciousness.
This head as a vessel of wisdom needing a great deal of work represents the alchemical or psychological process – the opus.
Yet it has a rather lugubrious aspect in Jack London’s story and casts its dark and fatal shadow on Jack London’s experience.
This is certainly essentially different in the great symbol of the Self which has given its name to the whole story, and of which we hear again and again
on account of its all-encompassing numinosity.
The sphere as a symbol of the Self is one of the most familiar representations of the Self, as Jung has shown in Psychology and Alchemy.
The cosmogony of Empedocles, for example, calls this spherical being eudaimonestatos Theos (“the most serene God”), just as Jack London calls the Red Sphere the serene face of Truth.
The curious thing about it in this story is that it is described as a metal, “though unlike any metal or combination of metals he had ever known.”
He observes that it shows “signs of heat and fusing.”
It is “a child of intelligences, remote and unguessable, working corporally in metals.
It is a far-journeyer which was lacquered by its fiery bath in two atmospheres.”
In the Roots of Consciousness Jung discusses the question why the inner man and his spiritual being happen to be represented by metals.
He anwers that Nature seems to be concerned to drive consciousness to greater clarity, and therefore uses man’s constant desire for metals, especially the precious ones, to search for them and to examine its possibilities.
In this occupation, it might dawn upon him that a dangerous demon or a dove of the Holy Ghost might be contained in lead.
It has exactly this effect upon the hero of our story.
Entranced by the wonder of the unthinkable and unguessable thing, it makes him reflect and meditate on it.
Psychologically speaking, it means that he has become aware of a world of active intelligences beyond the narrow field of human consciousness, that the awe engendered by the archetypes has struck him, and that he who for so long identified with the archetype of the Self, at last recognizes the activity of the archetypes and asks himself: “Who are they?” and significantly, “What are they?” – those far superior ones who had bridged the sky with their gigantic, red-iridescent, heaven-singing message.
It reminds us of Dorn, who says:
“Nemo vero potest cognoscere se, nisi sciat quid, et non quis ipse sit, a quo dependat, vel cuius sit … et in quern .finem factus sit.” (“No one can truly know himself, unless he knows what he is, and not who he is, on what he depends, or to what or whom he belongs, and for what purpose he was created. “) Cf. CW 9.(ii), iJ252, p. 164
Jung comments that “this differentiation between ‘quid’ and ‘quis’ is extremely significant.
Whilst ‘quis’ has an indubitably personalistic aspect and therefore refers to the Ego, the ‘quid’ is a neuter, and therefore presupposes nothing but an object of which it is not even sure that it has personality. ”
In this way, Jack London experiences the psyche as an objective reality, as a “quid” and not a “quis.”
It is even possible to gain its extraordinary wisdom. He realizes that it might contain “engines and
elements and mastered forces, … lore and mysteries and destiny-controls.”
What insight! What vision! In this way, Jack London recognized that the archetypes are the factors which arrange and control our fate, and that by contacting them, we establish a relationship to our destiny and no longer remain mere objects of Fate.
In this way, he recognized his destiny, but also his inability to change his destiny at such a late hour.
He, Jack London, was the one who was “vouchsaved the lordly fortune to be the first to receive this message from man’s interstellar kin.”
On account of his unstinted devotion to life as he found it, and to the spirit as he experienced it, he was granted the great vision, and this was his fulfilment.
His strength was spent, and he could not go beyond this intuition.
All his life he was a seeker for the “immemorable treasure difficult of attainment.”
Through most of his life he had been seeking the progress and salvation of mankind in Socialism.
Irving Stone said his mind completely surrendered to Karl Marx.
But this is not the whole truth inasmuch as he, at the same time, was one of the great mythmakers of mankind.
So much for Jack London. We, the heirs of his message, must ask ourselves how much of all this is still our problem today.
What Jack London observed in discovering the mysterious sphere, the Red One, was an event in the Collective Unconscious.
The story, “The Red One,” does not describe Jack London’s personal psychology, but is an accurate picture of American psychology and of Western man as a whole.
The Self has embedded itself not only on the mythical island of Guadalcanal, but everywhere in mankind.
Jack London was not the first one, as he believed, to whom this lordly fortune was vouchsafed.
Nietzsche was probably its first tragic victim in modem times.
It is worth noting that Jung’s great development and discovery of the Collective Unconscious took place just in these same years.
In a commentary on Zimmer’s book, Art Form and Yoga, he mentions the fact that it was at about this time that he discovered the mandala and
essential facts about the archetype of the Self.
The world as a whole has been in constant unrest since. In the years that followed the writing of “The Red One,” two world wars, revolutions of social,
political and religious nature have been fought, and the discovery of the Hydrogen Bomb has been made.
All this is due to the all-determining fact that, as Jack London describes it, the Self has embedded itself in our soil.
But the soil in which it has been implanted is a “bushman stronghold.”
We are “man-eating and headhunting savages.”
It is “as if God’s World had fallen into the muck mire of the abyss underlying the bottom of hell,. . . as if the Sermon on the Mount had been
preached in a roaring bedlam of lunatics.”
Bassett’s problem is our problem.
We are in the same psychological boat. It is a general human attitude to forget the Shadow.
We need a good and adequate knowledge of the Shadow to release his positive values.
We cannot afford to maintain an attitude of contempt, hostility or loathing against the Anima, i.e. against the non-rational quality of the Unconscious.
We would do better to accept it as it is, a world of images and of mysterious life.
Such an approach will give us new strength and understanding to receive the Self in our midst and thus to release its unlimited resources of wisdom.
The changes necessary for the reception of the Self in our life cannot occur by means of political agreements or economic planning, they cannot take place in institutions or nations, but only through the work and experience of the individual human being to whom they occur in the stillness and storms of his soul.
Only that civilization will survive which allows the individual to meet his Self in full freedom.
Only thus, as Jack London says, can “man’s life on earth, individual and collective, spring up from its present mire to inconceivable heights of purity and
power.” ~James Kirsch, Jung-Kirsch Letters, Pages 288-305