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Carl Jung on the Sun Vision and the Mithras Liturgy


585d2 mithra

Modern Psychology: C. G. Jung’s Lectures at the ETH Zürich, 1933-1941

[Carl Jung on the “Sun Vision” and the Mithras Liturgy]

Lecture IX 28th June, 1935

We ended the last lecture by reading part of the Sun Vision in the Mithraic Liturgy.

We heard the invocation of the god, recorded in light and fire symbols.

This sun motif appears in many places and times and the meaning is always the same – that a new consciousness has been born.

It is the light of illumination which is projected into space.

This is a psychological event; the medical term “hallucination” makes no sense in psychology.

The Katabasis plays a very important role in the Middle Ages and the old masters conceived of the rising sun in this Katabasis as of a new light, the” lux moderna”, the jewel, the lapis.

We find this theme in poetry, in Faust for instance.

In the beginning of the second part of Faust, after the tragic death of Marguerite, in the song of Ariel the following lines occur:

“Hark! The Hours in storm are winging,
And, to spirit ears loud-ringing,
Now the new-born day is springing.
Rocky portals clang asunder,
Phoebus’ wheels roll forth in thunder,
What a tumult brings the light!”

We find the same theme in such cases as the famous” Seherin of Prevorst “.

I will read you a description of one of her visions, it is a perception of the light in Manipura.

“I feel the times between waking and sleeping, and those conditions which one cannot describe as either sleeping or waking, as a ring which emanates from the heart and spreads over the breast and is, as it were, rooted in the left side. This ring lies heavily upon me and hurts me, it scratches me; it gives me, in its outer circles, almost the feeling of nervous tissue. It app ears to me, however, as if there were something else, something which is higher than the nervous tissue of the outer circle, which makes me conscious of the ring and which I should like to call the nerve spirit. I feel under the ring five similar rings and above yet another ring which is without content.”

This vision demonstrates the connection between the sun vision and the region of Manipura very clearly. We will now return to our patient’s vision, she continues:
“The rays of the sun stretched themselves towards me as though to seize m e and thus prepared a way by which I could swiftly approach the sun.”

The patient feels that she must continue in the direction of the sun and in this she is helped by the sun itself which stretches out its living rays to form a way for her.

We find an analogy in the Egyptian Myth where the sun stretches out its ray hands holding the Ankh, the Crux Ansata, to the Pharaoh and the members of his family, giving them life .

If we take up our reading of the Mithraic Liturgy where we left off last time, we come to another analogy:

“But speak again. Silence. Then open your eyes and you will see the doors opening, and the world of the gods that is within the doors. This vision will so fill you with pleasure and joy that your spirit will be transported and will climb into the height. Now approach and draw in the spirit breath of the Divine, and, if your soul is once more at peace, speak, ‘Come, O Lord’. When you have said this the rays will turn towards you and you will be in their midst. Then you will see a god, young and beautiful. with fiery locks, in a white robe and scarlet mantel with a wreath of fire.”

Our patient is walking the path of the sun. This is no simple way and she meets with many adventures.

She continues:

“As I walked towards the sun suddenly I saw the figure of a man with a dog before me. I could not, however, see him distinctly, and when I looked again he had disappeared.”

This man and dog vision is very important.

First she was led by the snake, which then transformed itself into the passages, but now that she is on the surface of the earth the guide has to come out into the open, so he is a man.

He is the figure of the psycho pompas, the Hermes, the leader of souls.

In Greek mythology he was called Hermes, the god of fertility.

A form of this god appears as the Poimen, the shepherd, in a book “The Shepherd of Hermas”, written in the second century; Hermas was a brother of Pope Pius who was the second pope and the book was long regarded as canonical, but it was nevertheless rejected by the Muratorian Canon.

It is clearly an initiation process.

Like the Divine Comedy it contains a romance, the lady, however, in this case is a married woman so it is very shocking!

The experience touched something very deep in the writer, it is an exceedingly strange phantasy.

The Poimen, the shepherd, is the leading figure, he is the leader of men.

Christ is not directly referred to in the book, but is only dimly hinted at; this is because everything which concerned Christ was still a secret cult.

The Greeks called this figure of the shepherd “Thrice Greatest Hermes” and he is the equivalent of the Egyptian Thoth.

Hermetic writings in the Middle Ages turned in the direction of philosophy and alchemy.

Alchemy was always only indirectly related to chemistry; the alchemists used a chemical nomenclature, but the process had nothing to do with the making of real gold.

In the opinion of the old philosophers only the hopelessly stupid imagined that real gold was intended.

Alchemy was really just used as a technique, a kind of cloak for philosophy which was regarded with great suspicion in those days.

It is permitted now but it is not regarded as so very healthy and might easily become taboo again.

Faust began to feel that things were getting uncanny when the black poodle appeared, and said as it were: “The devil is concealed in this wish.”

It may be a mere subjective speculation of my own but I associate the dog in this vision with a hyena.

You must never shoot a hyena, though they drive you wild with their idiotic laughter.

It is just like that of an hysterical woman and gets on your nerves; then you fetch a gun because you simply cannot stand it; but they really should not be shot because they eat corpses which makes them taboo as they are then the houses of the souls of the dead.

Primitives do not like to eat their own relatives but in some places they expose their corpses and the people of the next village come and fetch them and eat them, leaving presents in their stead.

This is not indecent, it is really a very nice idea to give the dead a home in our own bodies.

Primitives on a slightly higher level leave their corpses to the hyenas and in that case they are filled with the mana of the spirits, and if you injure the hyenas you are up against the spirits of the dead.

It is the custom in Persia to bring a dog to the dying Parsee. He gives the animal a piece of bread in the hope that it will show him the way to the land of the dead.

He needs this instinct in order to be able to find his way for it is a purely instinctive way.

In this phantasy the man and dog are only seen as a fleeting vision, as an intuition.

The patient continues:

“I followed the way of the sun, the path descended gradually. I found myself among mountains and in a cliff on my right stood a large iron door. I did not know whether to go through the door or down the ravine. I tried the door, it opened without effort, and I looked in.”

A door always marks a change. In the Egyptian Book of the Dead the twelve hours of the night are represented by twelve gates.

She continues:

“It was simply another dark tunnel. Should I go in? I had the impression that I must. So I went in and found myself in a dark passage, but a little light came from the left side so that it was not quite dark. The whole way was hewn in the rock. At last I reached a great black opening, this time there was no gate. I looked in and s aw that it was absolutely dark. I decided instantly to go in. The way took many turns and I was in complete darkness. I tried to see but had only an indistinct feeling of things around me which I could not recognize. There seemed to be a seat, a throne, and behind it something like a curtain of blue flames. This was very misty, it disappeared and appeared again in a wavelike movement. From time to time lions seemed to creep round me and there may have been a dragon encircling me.”

She arrives in the dark where a new symbolism comes up, the idea of the stone seat.

This is an anticipation, we must go on to see how it develops.

The dog has already prepared the way for the animals; the instincts are appearing.

There is a hint here of the possibility that the light of consciousness may be put out and that the patient may fall entirely into the instincts.

“I was not afraid, but I wished very fervently that the things around me would become visible.”

Why has she this burning desire to see? A curtain veils and that always awakes curiosity but why is this interest so especially burning? T

There are animals in the neighborhood.

That is what arouses this intensity, it is mingled with fear, and of what?

As we know the conflict which brought her into analysis we can perhaps guess the reason.

“After I had waited in the dark for a long time without anything happening I got up, and walked through the room. I passed by that place where the stone seat and curtain of flame had been and found myself suddenly in another large hall which was brightly lit and suggested the ballroom of a palace. In the background was a raised platform and behind that a curtain.”

Now the vision has appeared in a clear form and it has a very worldly aspect.

It appears as a king’s palace.

“Otherwise the hall was empty. I walked through it and lifted the curtain.”

By doing this she gives herself to the situation.

There is a parallel to this remarkable vision in the Egyptian Isis mysteries.

Apuleius recounts how Lucius was changed into an ass because of many questionable episodes in his life, a very nasty fate.

The whole story is too indecent to tell. Lucius, while he was an ass, met a procession of priests of Isis, and ate the crown of roses that the priest was carrying.

He then became a man again and was even considered worthy of entering the temple while the Isis mysteries were being performed.

The following is a quotation out of Apuleius’ “Golden Ass”:

“I went right to the boundary between life and death. I crossed Proserpina’s threshold and after I had passed through all the elements I returned. At midnight I saw the sun shining with its brightest light. I perceived the higher and lower gods face to face and prayed in their presence. Behold! Now you have heard everything. But have you also understood? Impossible! So take at least what I without sin can make known to the laity!

“Towards morning the initiation was completed. During this time I changed my clothes twelve times, and at last came out of the innermost of the temple into a place where, although it was holy, one might talk freely. Many people had already seen me there.

“In the middle of the temple I had to ascend the wooden platform before the image of the goddess. My garment was of batiste on which bright flowers were painted. From my shoulders to my heels hung a precious coat on both sides of which all kinds of animals of different colours could be seen; here Indian dragons, there hyperborean griffins in the form of lions, but with eagles’ heads, and wings such as the other world produces. The initiated call e d this mantle the Olympic stole.

“I carried a burning torch in my right hand and was crowned with a wreath of palm leaves. They were so arranged that they stood around my head like rays of light. Then, decked as a picture of the sun, I stood there like an image and saw a curtain parted thus revealing me to the curious eyes of the people.”

“So I began the happy introductory day of the mysteries with dainty and joyous feasting. In accordance with the holy laws the entire initiation ended on the third day with every kind of pomp and feasting.”

One wonders if the patient knew any mythology, but the Americans learn even less of these things than we do. She had had a scientific and not a classical education so we can safely assume that she knew little or nothing of mythology. ~Carl Jung, ETH Lecture IX, Pages 231-234.