Red Book

The Return of the Dead

Amid the unprecedented carnage of the war, the theme of the return of the dead was widespread, such as in Abel Gance’s film J’accuse.

The death toll also led to a revival of interest in spiritualism.

After nearly a year, Jung began to write again in the Black Books in 1915, with a further series of fantasies.

He had already completed the handwritten draft of Liber Primus and Liber Secundus.

At the beginning of 1916, Jung experienced a striking series of parapsychological events in his house.

In 1923, he narrated this event to Cary de Angulo (later Baynes). She recorded it as follows:

One night your boy began to rave in his sleep and throw himself about saying he couldn’t wake up.

Finally your wife had to call you to get him quiet & this you could only do by cold cloths on him—finally he settled down and went on sleeping.

Next morning he woke up remembering nothing, but seemed utterly exhausted, so you told him not to go to school, he didn’t ask why but seemed to take it for granted.

But quite unexpectedly he asked for paper and colored pencils and set to work to make the following picture—a man was angling for fishes with hook and line in the middle of the picture.

On the left was the Devil saying something to the man, and your son wrote down what he said.

It was that he had come for the fisherman because he was catching his fishes, but on the right was an angel who said, “No you can’t take this man, he is taking only bad fishes and none of the good ones.”

Then after your son had made that picture he was quite content.

The same night, two of your daughters thought that they had seen spooks in their rooms.

The next day you wrote out the “Sermons to the Dead,” and you knew after that nothing more would disturb your family, and nothing did.

Of course I knew you were the fisherman in your son’s picture, and you told me so, but the boy didn’t know it.

In Memories, Jung recounted what followed:

Around five o’clock in the afternoon on Sunday the front doorbell began ringing frantically . . . Everyone immediately looked to see who was there, but there was no one in sight.

I was sitting near the doorbell, and not heard it but saw it moving. We all simply stared at one another.

The atmosphere was thick, believe me!

Then I knew something had to happen. The whole house was as if there was a crowd present, crammed full of spirits.

They were packed deep right up to the door and the air was so thick it was scarcely possible to breathe.

As for myself, I was all aquiver with the question: “For God’s sake, what in the world is this?”

Then they cried out in chorus, “We have come back from Jerusalem where we found not what we sought.” That is the beginning of the
Septem Sermones.

Then it began to flow out of me, and in the course of three evenings the thing was written. As soon as I took up the pen, the whole ghastly
assemblage evaporated.

The room quieted and the atmosphere cleared. The haunting was over.

The dead had appeared in a fantasy on January 17, 1914, and had said that they were about to go to Jerusalem to pray at the holiest graves.

Their trip had evidently not been successful.

The Septem Sermones ad Mortuos is a culmination of the fantasies of this period. It is a psychological cosmology cast in the form of a gnostic creation myth.

In Jung’s fantasies, a new God had been born in his soul, the God who is the son of the frogs, Abraxas.

Jung understood this symbolically. He saw this figure as representing the uniting of the Christian God with Satan, and hence as depicting a transformation of the Western God-image.

Not until 1952 in Answer to Job did Jung elaborate on this theme in public.

Jung had studied the literature on Gnosticism in the course of his preparatory reading for Transformations and Symbols of the Libido.

In January and October 1915, while on military service, he studied the works of the Gnostics.

After writing the Septem Sermones in the Black Books, Jung recopied it in a calligraphic script into a separate book, slightly rearranging the sequence.

He added the following inscription under the title:

“The seven instructions of the dead. Written by Basilides in Alexandria, the city where the East touches the West.”

He then had this privately printed, adding to the inscription:

“Translated from the Greek original into German.”

This legend indicates the stylistic effects on Jung of late-nineteenth-century classical scholarship.

He recalled that he wrote it on the occasion of the founding of the Psychological Club, and regarded it as a gift to Edith Rockefeller McCormick for founding the Club.

He gave copies to friends and confidants. Presenting a copy to Alphonse Maeder, he wrote:

I could not presume to put my name to it, but chose instead the name of one of those great minds of the early Christian era which Christianity obliterated.

It fell quite unexpectedly into my lap like a ripe fruit at a time of great stress and has kindled a light of hope and comfort for me in
my bad hours.1On January 16, 1916, Jung drew a mandala in the Black Books (see Appendix A).

This was the first sketch of the “Systema Munditotius.” He then proceeded to paint this.

On the back of it, he wrote in English: “This is the first mandala I constructed in the year 1916, wholly unconscious of what it meant.”

The fantasies in the Black Books continued. The Systema Munditotius is a pictorial cosmology of the Sermones.

Between June 11 and October 2, 1917, Jung was on military service in Chateau d’Oex, as commander of the English prisoners of war.

Around August, he wrote to Smith Ely Jeliffe that his military service had taken him completely away from his work and that, on his return, he hoped to finish a long paper about the types.

He concluded the letter by writing: “With us everything is unchanged and quiet. Everything else is swallowed by the war. The psychosis is still increasing, going on and on.”

At this time, he felt that he was still in a state of chaos and that it only began
to clear toward the end of the war.

From the beginning of August to the end of September, he drew a series of twenty-seven mandalas in pencil in his army notebook, which he preserved.

At first, he did not understand these mandalas, but felt that they were very significant. From August 20, he drew a mandala on most days.

This gave him the feeling that he had taken a photograph of each day and he observed how these mandalas changed.

He recalled that he received a letter from “this Dutch woman that got on my nerves terribly.”

In this letter, this woman, that is, Moltzer, argued that “the fantasies stemming from the unconscious possessed artistic worth and should be considered as art.”

Jung found this troubling because it was not stupid, and, moreover, modern painters were attempting to make art out of the unconscious.

This awoke a doubt in him whether his fantasies were really spontaneous and natural.

On the next day, he drew a mandala, and a piece of it was broken off, leaving the symmetry:

Only now did I gradually come to what the mandala really is: “Formation, transformation, the eternal mind’s eternal recreation.”

And that is the self, the wholeness of the personality, which, when everything is well, is harmonious, but which can bear no self deception.

My mandala images were cryptograms on the state of my self, which were delivered to me each day.

The mandala in question appears to be the mandala of August 6, 1917.

The second line is from Goethe’s Faust. Mephistopheles is addressing Faust, giving him directions to the realm of the Mothers:


A glowing tripod will finally show you
that you are in the deepest, most deepest ground.
By its light you will see the Mothers:
the one sits, others stand and walk,
as it may chance. Formation, transformation
the eternal mind’s eternal recreation.
Covered in images of all creatures,
they do not see you, since they only see shades.
Then hold your heart, since the danger is great,
and go straight to that tripod,
touch it with the key!

The letter in question has not come to light.

However, in a subsequent unpublished letter from November 21, 1918, while at Chateau d’Oex, Jung wrote that “M. Moltzer has again disturbed me with letters.”

He reproduced the mandalas in Liber Novus. He noted that it was during this period that a living idea of the self first came to him:

“The self, I thought, was like the monad which I am, and which is my world. The mandala represents this monad, and corresponds to the microcosmic nature of the soul.”

At this point, he did not know where this process was leading, but he began to grasp that the mandala represented the goal of the process: “

Only when I began to paint the mandalas did I see that all the paths I took, all the steps I made, all led back to the one point, that is, to the center.

The mandala became the expression of all paths.”

In the 1920s, Jung’s understanding of the significance of the mandala deepened.

The Draft had contained fantasies from October 1913 to February 1914.

In the winter of 1917, Jung wrote a fresh manuscript called Scrutinies, which began where he had left off.

In this, he transcribed fantasies from April 1913 until June 1916. As in the first two books of Liber Novus, Jung interspersed the fantasies
with interpretive commentaries.

He included the Sermones in this material, and now added Philemon’s commentaries on each sermon.

In these, Philemon stressed the compensatory nature of his teaching: he deliberately stressed precisely those conceptions that the dead lacked.

Scrutinies effectively forms
Liber Tertius of Liber Novus.

The complete sequence of the text would thus be:

Liber Primus: The Way of What Is to Come
Liber Secundus: The Images of the Erring
Liber Tertius: Scrutinies

During this period, Jung continued transcribing the Draft into the calligraphic volume and adding paintings.

The fantasies in the Black Books became more intermittent. He portrayed his realization of the significance of the self, which took place in the autumn of 1917, in Scrutinies.

This contains Jung’s vision of the reborn God, culminating in the portrayal of Abraxas.

He realized that much of what was given to him in the earlier part of the book (that is, Liber Primus and Liber Secundus) was actually given to him by Philemon.

He realized that there was a prophetic wise old man in him, to whom he was not identical.

This represented a critical disidentification. On January 17, 1918, Jung wrote to J. B. Lang:

The work on the unconscious has to happen first and foremost for us ourselves.

Our patients profit from it indirectly.

The danger consists in the prophet’s delusion which often is the result of dealing with the unconscious.

It is the devil who says: Disdain all reason and science, mankind’s highest powers. That is never appropriate even though we are
forced to acknowledge [the existence of] the irrational.

Jung’s critical task in “working over” his fantasies was to differentiate the voices and characters.

For example, in the Black Books, it is Jung’s “1” who speaks the Sermones to the dead. In Scrutinies, it is not Jung’s “1” but Philemon
who speaks them.

In the Black Books, the main figure with whom Jung has dialogues is his soul. In some sections of Liber Novus, this is changed to the
serpent and the bird.

In one conversation in January 1916, his soul explained to him that when the Above and Below are not united, she falls into three parts—a
serpent, the human soul, and the bird or heavenly soul, which visits the Gods.

Thus Jung’s revision here can be seen to reflect his understanding of the tripartite nature of his soul.

During this period, Jung continued to work over his material, and there is some indication that he discussed it with his colleagues.

In March 1918 he wrote to J. B. Lang, who had sent him some of his own fantasies:

I would not want to say anything more than telling you to continue with this approach because, as you have observed correctly yourself, it is very important that we experience the contents of the unconscious before we form any opinions about it.

I very much agree with you that we have to grapple with the knowledge content of gnosis and neo-Platonism, since these are the systems that contain the materials which are suited to form the basis of a theory of the unconscious spirit.

I have already been working on this myself for a long time, and also have had ample opportunity to compare my experiences at least partially with those of others.

That’s why I was very pleased to hear pretty much the same views from you.

I am glad that you have discovered all on your own this area of work which is ready to be tackled.

Up to now, I lacked workers. I am happy that you want to join forces with me.

I consider it very important that you extricate your own material uninfluenced from the unconscious, as carefully as possible.

My material is very voluminous, very complicated, and in part very graphic, up to almost completely worked through clarifications.

But what I completely lack is comparative modern material. Zarathustra is too strongly consciously formed.

Meyrink retouches aesthetically; furthermore, I feel he is lacking in religious sincerity. ~Sonu Shamdasani, The Red Book, Page 205-207