Abstract: This paper reflects on the conference question concerning the clinical and theoretical significance of Jung’s Liber Novus, two years after its initial publication, and looks at how Jung himself reflected upon it and how it informed his turn to alchemy, with particular attention to the theme of opposites and their reconciliation in Liber Novus, later taken up in Mysterium Coniunctionis.
I would like to begin with some reflections on the title and theme of the conference.
These pose a considerable challenge as to how they can be addressed: ‘The Red Book Two Years On: What Have We Learnt?’ The announcement reads:
The publication of Jung’s Red Book, Liber Novus, in 2009 has been an outstanding success, with worldwide sales exceeding all expectations.
Since it’s a complex book that takes time to absorb, this conference provides an opportunity, two years after its initial publication, for scholars and clinicians to come together to begin to consider its long-term meaning and significance for Jungian theory and practice.
Currently, the world wide sales are around the 100,000 mark.
However, I wouldn’t say that this exceeded my expectations.
While anyone who knows about publishing knows that you can never accurately predict how much a book will sell, I long maintained that sales of this sort would be possible.
If one considers the sales of a number of Jungian inspired best-sellers, where the Jung content is like low-alcohol beer, one simply needed to put up a flare and say, this is one hundred percent proof Jung, and wait for the echoes.
Again, reflecting on the sales figures, it’s safe to assume that with a few thousand IAAP analysts orldwide, each of these is not buying thirty copies to stash away with their Lafite and Latour to wait another fifty years for them to mature before they can begin to open the wrappers.
The bulk of the reading is therefore taking place outside of the professional community.
The question then, for the professional community, is perhaps to reflect upon the reading that is now going on outside it, which is a new reading of Jung, or a renewed reading of Jung.
To consider the question of what we learnt, we first have to ponder who we are.
I assume that this indicates the professional community, but then the question is, who is the professional community? What is Jungian theory? What is Jungian practice?
Over a decade ago I wrote the following in the Journal of Analytical Psychology:
Analytical psychology continues to be spoken of in the singular.
I would suggest that it would be more accurate to speak of an archipelago of disparate Jungian psychologies –
some professional, some not – which basically have little to do with one another, or, for that matter, with Jung.
To continue to refer to Jungian psychology today in the singular – even subdivided into schools – has perhaps become an anachronism. (Shamdasani 1999, p. 540)
This statement has not been challenged: if one assumes that there is something like a statute of limitation in such matters, one might infer that it met with widespread agreement!
Following this perspective, the response from the community can only be individual and singular.
There is no Jungian theory, as a unified entity, that can have or can articulate a response to it.
Furthermore, to pose the question of the clinical and theoretical significance of the work first sounds quite strange and difficult, because this is neither a theoretical nor a clinical work; how does one look at the theoretical and clinical significance of a work that is explicitly not theoretical and not clinical, in which the word psychology doesn’t occur once, and nor indeed does the unconscious, collective or otherwise?
Such questions seem to lead one immediately into a thicket of aporias.
However, witness to the fact that they may not be totally insoluble is the presence of so many people here today.
In my view, there is one way in which one can perhaps approach these questions, namely in the fact that there is
one person who has reflected for a long time on these questions: namely Jung himself. For nigh on forty-five years, in ways that are only now beginning to come clear, he tried to envisage a transformation of psychotherapy and a science of complex psychology that in critical respects were tributaries to his work on the parallel opus of Liber Novus.
So I intend to look at some of the ways in which Jung himself reflected on Liber Novus, ‘after’ Liber Novus.
My assumption is that the conference description does not invite us, as it were, to construct a myriad of alternate
analytical psychologies, starting from 1916, as a sort of cross between a Borges short story and some version of string theory.
But it enables another possibility, which is to look at the constitution of analytical psychology itself.
Liber Novus provides a unique window into Jung’s creativity, and enables one to look at the passages and transitions from Jung’s scholarly reading, (not so much sources, but resources, that inspired his fantasy, affected him, and moved him to imagine in amythic way), his subsequent reflections upon these, and his attempt to divine
generic conceptual insights from them, first in a lyrical and then in a theoretical form.
Some of the works I will be showing are drawn from an exhibition starting in a few weeks’ time at the Bodmer Foundation in Geneva, with more than a hundred items, most of which have never been exhibited before: manuscripts of Jung, together with annotated books from his library.
They will be presented in a book which I’ve written based on this material, which will be out in a few weeks’ time (Shamdasani 2012).
The first question which I would like to pose is, what is Liber Novus?
The answer is not straightforward, for Liber Novus refers to an unfinished manuscript corpus, comprising textual variations, none of which can be considered a definitive final text.
The material itself consists of fantasies drawn from the Black Books primarily from 1913–1916, Jung’s reflections
and elaborations on them, together with illustrations and paintings running up to 1930, which relate to Jung’s continual self-explorations in this period and refer in certain places to further episodes in his Black Books and the continued elaboration of his fantasies.
So we have quite a complex manuscript corpus, presented in a historical edition, which itself is one of many possible variations of publication.
The revisions to the text, and the various manuscript versions (many of which I cited in the footnotes), reflect his continued reflections and psychological elaborations on the material.
Thus Liber Novus refers to this ensemble.
If we consider the situation in 1914 with regard to Jung’s theories, we find the following.
Jung had already articulated his theory of the emotionally stressed complexes, the notion of a non-sexual psychic libido, a phylogenetically acquired unconscious, peopled by mythic images, the general types of the introvert and extrovert, and of directions of the libido, introversion and extroversion; he had developed his understanding of the compensatory and prospective function of dreams, and the synthetic and constructive approach to fantasies.
In short, he had developed the bulk of what one can consider the structural model of the personality. So what’s left?
With this in mind, we should reflect on Jung’s later statements, such as the following from the Memories protocols.
The years, of which I have spoken to you, when I pursued the inner images, were the most important of my life. Everything else is to be derived from this. . . Everything later was merely the outer classification, the scientific elaboration, and the integration into life. But the numinous beginning, which contained everything, was then.
(Jung/Jaffe, Protocols, p. 177)
This suggests that Jung’s structural model of the personality was not the alpha and omega, and that this lay elsewhere.
On a theoretical level, what one finds missing in 1914 is any notion of what he would later call the individuation
process, namely a conception of how the personality develops over time: an account of the higher development of the personality and the notion that this is reflected in symbolic transformations, which have their parallel in the great religious traditions, and that ultimately this has a soteriological function through being a part of the self-revelation and becoming conscious of the Godhead itself.
One might term this Jung’s temporal model.
The first clue this gives is that what one should look to in this book at a theoretical level is how Jung distilled the notion of individuation and its generic articulation from his reflections on Liber Novus, and that this, in a sense, was more significant for Jung than all the pieces of theory that he had already got in place by 1914.
So the bulk of what one finds in, say, Jolande Jacobi’s The Psychology of C.G. Jung (1977) (and numerous primers since), Jung would not have considered the essence of his work.
In many ways, his theories up to that point were part of what he now characterized in Liber Novus as ‘science that clever knower, that bad prison master who binds the soul and imprisons it in a lightless cell’ (Liber Novus, p. 238).
In this regard, one finds two stages of theory formation out of Liber Novus.
The first phase runs from around 1916 to 1930.
Here, one sees that what Jung attempted was to translate some of the conceptions that he had been able to confirm to his satisfaction in the processes that had been instigated in his patients into a conceptual language that, in his view, was an approximation, a language that would be acceptable to a medico-scientific audience.
After this, one finds a second phase, embodied in his writings on alchemy.
It is this second phase, which is in so many ways more complicated, that I wish to speak about.
In Jung’s epilogue to the work, he noted: ‘My acquaintance with alchemy in 1930 took me away from it (Liber Novus, p. 360).
While Liber Novus, as he put it to Aniela Jaffe, had been an attempt at elaboration in terms of revelation, he now had to come back from the human side, namely from science.
The cost was considerable; as he put it, he paid with his life and his science (Jung/Jaffe, Protocols, pp. 139–40).
For Jung, alchemy presented a mode in which he could present his results in an allegorical manner: an allegory upon an allegory.
Hence his works on alchemy were Janus-faced.
While they clearly represented original historical research and formidable scholarship, they are by no means purely academic studies, as in many ways the key referent was not what the alchemists may or may not have been engaged with, but his own presentation of his conception of the individuation process and its sequential
progression as depicted in symbols.
Thus we find conceptions from Liber Novus surfacing time and time again in an encrypted manner, contextualized and amplified. In this regard, one finds that Jung’s later works do not follow a straightforwardly linear evolution: first publication by no means coincides with first conception or articulation.
Rather, we find Jung working in spirals, taking decades to find the appropriate scholarly approach to present insights that are not derived through scholarly study; conceptions that he has refound through scholarship.
We will see this in some of the examples which follow.
However, before taking up alchemy, we see that Jung engaged in an Eastern intermezzo, which has been somewhat neglected in this regard.
The situation becomes clearer if one realizes that his commentary on The Secret of the Golden Flower (1929) is, in many respects, placed in the wrong volume of the Collected Works.
It shouldn’t be in Volume 13, Alchemical Studies, but in Volume 11, Psychology and Eastern Religion.
As Jung stated in 1938, in his preface to the second edition, it was only later that he realized its significance as an alchemical text:
The text that Wilhelm sent me. . . contained exactly those items I had long sought for in vain among the Gnostics.
Thus the text afforded me a welcome opportunity to publish, at least in provisional form, some of the essential results of my investigations.
That The Secret of the Golden Flower is not only a Taoist text of Chinese yoga, but is also at the same time an alchemical treatise, seemed to me then as unimportant. (Jung 1929 [2nd Edn 1938], p. 4, tr. mod.)
His interest in the text was the confirmation that he found in it of the circumambulation of the centre, the mandala and namely the self; it was not alchemy.
Thus the first major confirmatory connection that Jung made with his material in Liber Novus was not to alchemy, but to Eastern esoteric traditions.
Intriguingly one finds even the form of the first edition of The Secret of the Golden Flower carries a transition from the stylistics of Liber Novus (see Shamdasani 2012, p. 152).
After Richard Wilhelm’s death cut short their collaboration, Jung’s first move was to seek out further collaborators in the form of Wilhelm Hauer and Heinrich Zimmer, with whom he collaborated in his Kundalini seminars in 1932 and in his Berlin seminars in 1933 respectively (the Berlin seminar, as well as Jung’s
correspondences with Hauer, Zimmer and Mircea Eliade are in preparation in two volumes edited by Giovanni Sorge in the Philemon Series).
In particular, Kundalini yoga presented Jung with a model of a sequential series of symbolic transformations in a temporal unfolding (see Jung 1932).
The symbols had a particular topography that located one in a certain phase of the individuation process.
Likewise it was through Zimmer’s work that Jung’s notion of the mandala became clarified, particularly through Zimmer’s understanding of ritual practice, and the significance of the yantra in meditational practices
The research question was, to what extent did the spontaneous forms of symbolic development in Europe have their counterpart in Eastern esoteric traditions?
Subsequently, the hermeneutics, which Jung first developed in his reading of esoteric Daoism, Kundalini and Tantrism, became transferred and applied to alchemy.
But nor did this end his engagement with Eastern symbolism. Jung, like any true esotericist, was happy to throw people off the trail.
In Memories, we find a statement concerning Jung’s trip to India in 1938: ‘I remained within myself like a homunculus in a retort. India affected me like a dream, for I was, and remained in search of myself’ (Jung/Jaffe, 1962, p. 304).
He noted how he spent his time reading the Theatrum Chemicum, which contained the writings of Gerhard Dorn, which was to have a particular significance for him.
If one turns to Jung’s alchemy copy books, one finds a more complicated story (see Shamdasani 2012, pp. 178–85).
In India, Jung was looking for his old friends, symbols, at every turn; and in particular, for symbolic parallels to the individuation process.
While he did not prostrate himself in the lotus position in front of some guru, he did seek out many sadhus to ask them about the meaning of particular symbols and ritual observations.
Once again, his primary task was to look for symbolic parallels to what he had experienced in the material embodied in Liber Novus and which he had found in the process that he had managed to evoke in his patients.
The questions he was addressing were, was there something universal in this?
Was there an underlying process that followed the same form in different traditions?
It is important to state that Liber Novus and Jung’s meditations on it, are not a mono-source for Jung’s later conceptions.
What it does offer is a nodal point where different facets intersect and conjoin: Jung’s scholarly reading, how
this inspired his fantasies, his reflection on his fantasies, his lyrical dithyrambic evocation of them, and his subsequent reflections and conceptualization.
This is why I’ve sketched out here some of this historical background to the psychological reading of alchemy (see Shamdasani 2012, pp. 174–202), to indicate that Jung was not simply sitting meditating like an imaginary alchemist on his own fantasies and cooking the whole thing up; he was also reading the books in his library.
In this context, I would like to focus on the theme of opposites in Liber Novus.
Jung’s articulation of this theme reaches its full culmination in Mysterium Coniunctionis (1955–6).
In the ‘first phase’ of theoretical formulation, this had been taken up in 1921 in the critical fifth chapter of Psychological Types, ‘The type problem in poetry’.
By way of one final digression: the genesis of Mysterium Coniunctionis is intriguing.
Jung came across a copy of the Aurora Consurgens, which is now in the Zentralbibliothek in Zurich.
The Latin was difficult, so he asked Marie-Louise von Franz to work on it.
She then began to find other, more complete, manuscripts, had the idea of preparing it for publication, and asked Jung to contribute a preface for her edition.
As Jung’s secretary Marie-Jeanne Schmid informed Cary Baynes in 1951:
‘Jung became so fascinated with her material, that he asked her if she would mind if he wrote a book on it, and the ‘preface’ swelled to eight hundred pages’ (Shamdasani 2012, p. 195; see also von Franz 1980, p. 177f).
So you had to be careful if you asked Jung to write a preface to a book!
If one examines the manuscript, at the top is written, ‘Mysterium Coniunctionis’.
The text that actually follows is the opening of the Psychology of the Transference, which Jung then presented as an introduction to Mysterium Coniunctionis.
In the lines that are crossed out at the top, Jung begins by commenting on the treatise at hand, namely the Aurora Consurgens (ibid.).
Thus the first page of the manuscript provides a hinge between the Aurora Consurgens, The Psychology of the Transference and the Mysterium project.
Such manuscripts are really analytical psychology in the making; this is the ‘material production’, as the old Marxists would say, this is how Jung’s psychology was forged.
At a general level, the main sequence of Liber Novus charts how Jung’s ‘I’ – and it is important to stress that it is Jung’s ‘I’ and not Jung: his ‘I’ is another figure within the text – encounters and attempts to come to term with what it has rejected, its adversary, its opposite.
Within this general framing, the theme of opposites features in the work in three main forms.
First, as a series of structured opposites or polarities.
Second, as a formulation of the relation of these opposites, and third, a cosmological schematism of the place of opposites in life.
What I would like to do now is to briefly summarize these themes.
Regarding the structured oppositions, we find for instance the spirit of the time and the spirit of the depths, the marrying of order and chaos, the will and incapacity, forethinking and pleasure, thinking and feeling, masculine and feminine, one’s heights and one’s lowness, good and evil, emptiness and fullness, and so on.
Alongside these structured oppositions, we find a series of formulations concerning the relation of oppositions.
Here, I would like to paraphrase some of these statements:
Embracing one’s opposite principle gives a presentiment of the whole as the whole belongs to both principles (p. 248).
His longing had led him to the light, which was heavenly love, the mother, the opposite of the darkness of forethinking (p. 252).
Balance is only achieved through nurturing one’s opposites, but one avoids doing this, as it is not heroic (p. 263).
Outer opposites can no longer oppose him, but his own opposite came to him, and they faced each other off in an impasse (p. 280).
Accepting the other leads one to descend into the opposite, which he constructs here as a move from seriousness into the laughable, from suffering into the cheerful, from the beautiful into ugliness, and from the pure into the impure4 (p. 293).
The Fish indicated that when the united was split into an underworld and upperworld, when the power of growth ceased, the united falls into its opposites. Christ had sent what was beneath to Hell, since it strove toward the good.
However, the separated will be reunited when the month of the Fish is over (pp. 314–5).
(This last statement is a clear and obvious reference to the precession of the equinoxes. In parentheses, one finds this theme resurfaces decades later in Aion:
‘If, as seems probable, the aeon of the fishes is ruled by the archetypal motif of the “hostile brothers”, then the approach of the next Platonic month, namely Aquarius, will constellate the problem of the union of opposites. It will then no longer be possible to write off evil as a mere privatio boni; its real existence will have to be recognised’ (Jung 1951, para. 142). So as Jung saw it, the problem of the uniting of the opposites is not merely an individual task; it is the task of the Platonic month of the age of Aquarius, that we are entering into.)
God and the devil had become one. He wondered if this conflict of opposites belonged to the inescapable conditions of life?
If one recognized their unity – i.e. the unity of the opposites – does one stand still? The serpent then informed him that opposites were indeed an element of life for her (p. 318).
The same sequence – After the opposites were united, nothing happened, and life indeed came to a standstill (p. 319).
The serpent informs him that one cannot reconcile personal life with absolute life, as they are not opposites, but differences (p. 322).
The bird tells him that the crown and the serpent are opposites, and are one, referring to the serpent that crowned Christ’s head (p. 326).
He asks the spirit of the depths why he is forced to say that he who loves does not live, and vice versa.
Why does everything have to turn into its opposite? (p. 327).
This sequence demonstrates that the relation between the opposites is not simply one theme within this book, but runs right throughout the whole work in a number of different formulations.
The third manner in which this is articulated is its cosmological formulation in the Septem Sermones.
Here opposites are figured as qualities of the Pleroma.
The qualities of the Pleroma are pairs of opposites, such as, ‘the effective and the ineffective, the fullness and the emptiness, the living and the dead, the different and the same, light and darkness, hot and cold, force and matter, time and space, good and evil, the beautiful and the ugly, the one and the many, etc’ (p. 347).
The ‘etc.’ invites us to continue the nomination of this seriality of opposites.
Critically, here Jung says that these qualities do not exist as such, as they balance and cancel each other out.
However, we have all of these within ourselves, and our nature is characterized by differentiation, consequently these opposites are not cancelled out within us, but take effect and we become their victims.
Hence we need to distinguish ourselves from them.
So here we have a cosmological formulation of the location of opposites, and the idea that it is within the creature that opposites become differentiated and effective.
We then become the victim of the strife of opposites, and the task is to differentiate ourselves from both of the pairs.
Thus striving one-sidedly towards the good and beautiful leads one to forget one’s essence as differentiation: we end up also seizing the evil and the ugly, since they are one with the former.
Thus one needs to differentiate oneself from both aspects of each of these qualities.
These opposites are then conjoined in the figure of Abraxas.
Abraxas is another name for the God that is reborn in Jung’s soul: Phanes, the son of the frogs, the son of the earth.
As Jung wrote:
It is the son of the earth, the dark one whom you should awaken. It is man and woman at the same time and immature sex, rich in interpretation and misinterpretation, so poor in meaning and yet so rich. This is the dead that cried loudest, that stood right at the bottom and waited, that suffered worst. It desired neither blood nor milk nor wine for the sacrifice of the dead, but the willingness of our flesh. Its longing paid no heed to the torment of our spirit which struggled and tortured itself to devise that which cannot be devised, hence tore itself apart and sacrificed itself. Not until our spirit lay dismembered on the altar did I hear the voice of the son of the earth, and only then did I see that he was the great suffering one, who needed salvation (p. 304).
This dark chthonic deity, who else does this resemble, but the figure of the alchemical Mercurius, the God-image that Jung argues in his late alchemical work ran as a counter-current, as a compensation to the one-sidedness of
the Christian God-image (see ‘The Spirit Mercurius’, [Jung 1943] and ‘The Spiritus Mercurialis, frontispiece, CW 13).
What Jung refinds ultimately in alchemy is a historical precursor of his own theophany.
In his pivotal seminars at Polzeath in 1923, Jung claimed that the church had suppressed individual symbol formation, and that with the collapse of ecclesiastical Christianity, one found an efflorescence of this today.
Reflecting on his own self-experimentation, at a historical level, he viewed himself as having partaken of this process of individual symbol formation.
It was precisely this that he considered ultimately had its counterpart within the historical tradition of alchemy, carrying the subterranean tradition of individual symbol formation, compensating the onesidedness of ecclesiastical Christianity.
Judging by the letters and comments that I have received, it is this dimension in Liber Novus – the acceptance of
one’s own fantasies, no matter how crazy they might appear at first glance, and the value of expressing them in a personal iconography and reflecting on them for regaining one’s orientation in the world – that has met with the most widespread echo in the public at large.
Here we have two themes – this is by no means exhaustive – that articulate the hinge between Liber Novus and Jung’s late work, and his work on alchemy in particular.
The third and final one which I would like to comment on is the return to the Middle Ages, the veritable age of alchemy.
At the end of Liber Secundus, Jung noted:
‘An opus is needed, that one can squander decades on, and do it out of necessity. I must catch up with a piece
of the Middle Ages, within myself, of others. I must begin early, in that period when the hermits died out’ (Liber Novus, p. 330).
This return to the Middle Ages is a return precisely to an epoch before what Jung saw as the catastrophic split between science and religion, and within this sense, one can actually begin to understand why he engaged in the calligraphic project, and why he laboured for sixteen years on this effort of transcription.
The calligraphic experiment of Liber Novus stages this return to the Middle Ages in a performative dimension.
It’s an attempt not simply to articulate certain themes and conceptions, but to embody it within an appropriate mode of presentation.
In 1999, in a report to the Jung family concerning whether this book should be published, I ended it with the lines:
‘If indeed, as Umberto Eco has claimed, we are faced today with a return to the Middle Ages, the publication of the work may well have some quite unforeseen echoes’ (see ‘The return to the middle ages’, in Eco 1998, pp. 59–86).
Perhaps we are indeed witnessing something of this today, which may suggest why this work has had such a contemporary resonance.
What one sees in the second phase of theoretical working on Liber Novus is a move from theory to evocative language, and we find an expression of this in Jung’s essay on Paracelsus as a spiritual phenomenon.
One certainly has an understandable desire for unambiguous clarity, but we are apt to forget that matters of the soul are processes of experience, that is, transformations which should not be unequivocally designated if one does not want to petrify their living movement into something static. The protean mythologem and the shimmering symbol express the process of the soul far more trenchantly and, in the end, far more clearly than the clearest concept; for the symbol not only conveys a visualisation of the process but – and this is perhaps just as important – it also brings a re-experiencing of it, of that twilight which we can learn to understand only through inoffensive empathy, and never through the great pull of clarity (Jung 1942, para. 199, tr. mod).
While in the first phase of theoretical elaboration or translation, the first hermeneutic, running to about 1930, Jung had sought to translate the insights and formulations from Liber Novus into a conceptual language, we find here a different project, namely to use the density of symbolic imagery of the alchemical text to reapproximate the richly figurative and evocative language of Liber Novus, even down to the illustrated mode of presentation, where images ‘amplify’ the written text, that marked Jung’s alchemical works.
Jung was turning theory back into a language of evocation, a language that would attempt to draw people to an experience.
It was in a certain sense a farewell to theory, and with this point, I’ve drawn to the end of my allotted hour.
Janet Leigh: The notebooks look fascinating, particularly the Indian notebooks: are they going to be published with the drawings?
Sonu Shamdasani: With all of these projects, there’s been a sort of sense in the Jungian world with the funding of the Bollingen Foundation that Jung’s works just appeared like fruit from a mango tree, like something that came down from heaven.
If you would like to see these published, send your donations to the Philemon Foundation, and we will present a case for them.
So you can help if you want them to be published, in an active sense.
Michael Whan: This business about Mercurius, and the whole notion of alchemy as a compensation for Christianity, or at least a certain reading of it; sprinkled throughout the alchemical texts of Jung are references from the alchemists about an equation or a linkage between the notion of the Holy Spirit and Mercurius.
Jung says that the religion of the alchemists was a kind of a continuation of the notion of the Holy Spirit.
I wonder if you have any comments around that?
Sonu Shamdasani: That becomes quite critical and is ultimately elaborated in Answer to Job; it is the study of the Paraclete, where Jung is speaking of the continued revelation of the Godhead, and one finds this within critical
statements in Liber Novus, when he says that the anointed of our time is not to be born in the flesh but in the spirit (p. 299); this is the articulation of the continued incarnation.
If one takes the formulation of Answer to Job, this is the time of the revelation of the Holy Spirit, and hence Jung’s theophany is not simply an aberrant idiosyncrasy, but is an experiencing of a religious transformation that is happening within the world.
That’s condensed, but I’m just trying to draw together the themes you’re indicating.
Leon Schlam: I wonder if you could say any more about the middle part of your lecture, this transition to Asian materials.
I was thinking as you were speaking that there was a link, because alchemy for Jung was Western yoga, and my question has to do with Jung’s ambivalence to oriental symbols, as in the Kundalini seminar – he calls them poison, but he was also fascinated with them – I wonder if you could say any more about that?
Sonu Shamdasani: In a certain sense, if you take a text such as Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, it’s an awful lot clearer than reading an alchemical text.
I think some of the clarity of progression within the Tantric texts eased the type of model that Jung was to generate in his reading of alchemy.
Jung was interested in symbolism in the West that approximates that found within the Tantric texts.
Of course he warns against the uncritical adoption of these practices.
He has no problem with the symbolism per se: to return to Michael Whan’s question, you find the classic understanding of Tantrism as a compensation, an underground movement compensating for the shortcomings of Brahmanistic Hinduism, that he maps onto alchemy.
Matjaz Regovec: I was struck by the end, the catastrophic split between science and religion, a certain farewell to theory.
Is that the Izdubar, within the Izdubar?
And I quite like the similarity with Gilgamesh, who is not able to give up his immortality. Izdubar is put into the egg.
Sonu Shamdasani: Jung tries to construct a new science that will no longer wound or lame Izdubar.
He’s trying to construct a new science that redeems or provides new access to the ancient.
That’s the split that he’s attempting to reconcile.
Matjaz Regovec: Izdubar says in the Red Book that he does not know the science, the scientist that Jung was at the time.
Sonu Shamdasani: So the question then for Jung is, can there be what you could call a science, a psychology of the religion making process?
Elizabeth Scharsach: I was really interested in your comments, which you picked up, about Jung’s farewell to theory, and my question, as I was listening to your talk is, was he also saying, in some way, farewell to his theory of opposites through Abraxas, and is he asking for more of a spiked roundedness, where, within the spikes, are actually held the opposites?
I don’t know whether that’s going to make sense, I just need a bit more explanation about Abraxas, because
I didn’t quite get it.
Sonu Shamdasani: There are two points that are important.
First there’s the question of theory, in a sense, was Jung a theorist? Was he primarily a theorist?
I don’t think that I would characterize Jung principally as a theoretician of psychology, that’s not to say he didn’t have theories, but I don’t see that this was the main drift of his work.
I would actually characterize him more as a psychological essayist.
If Jung was a theorist, you could imagine one 600-page book expounding the theory, but you find the theories are simply, in his work, the basis of endless variations; it’s what he does with them that’s important.
I don’t know if people here listen to Bill Evans, there’s this track he plays called Nardis. He played it for decades, each time playing it differently.
It’s not about the melody, but what he does with it each time.
You read through Jung’s seminars, you’re hearing the same anecdotes, but retold in a different way.
So the weight I’ve put on one’s reading of Jung is not as a theoretician.
The theories – I’m not the first to point out – are massively inconsistent right throughout.
And also they’re a makeshift, post 1915–1916.
The theories are not the core of Jung’s work; they’re simply an approximation by which he’s attempting to translate his insights into a language for a scientific and medical audience.
It’s a compromise. Hence the contradictions.
How close can he get to saying something of the type of stuff that he’s been articulating in Liber Novus and also in a similar sort of form in his analytic sessions?
That, to me, is a question of how one understands Jung.
It also pertains to the theme of the conference:
if Jung is not really primarily a theoretician, is the task then one of looking to make theories out of Jung, or even make his theories consistent, as many strove heroically and failed to do?
The significance of his work lies more, in my view, in what he’s attempting to convey: providing a rich articulation of experience, which is on a different tack.
One finds this in Liber Novus, one finds it in many evocative passages in the Collected Works.
That’s just by way of raising this issue of theory.
Now the figure of Abraxas, within the Sermones, as he puts it in an entry in January 1916 in the Black Books which I put in the appendix to the work, is ‘the uniting of the Christian god with Satan’ (p. 367).
What else is that but the first articulation of what becomes the theme of Jung’s Answer to Job, which is a way of trying to reground through theological scholarship the force of his theophany?
So it’s not a question of dismissing the problem of opposites, but it’s attempting to further understand their coming together.
The union and the synthesis of psychic opposites, that’s the subtitle of Mysterium, how is this played out? And again, this is a key theme of psychotherapy.