Why is The Red Book, red? In the corner of my bedroom, a copy of Carl Gustav Jung’s Liber Novus stretches clear across and over the edges of the small, glass table upon which it rests. The book weighs in at almost about ten pounds and is over 15 inches in length. Its sheer size is enough to turn an eye, but its color is what commands my gaze most of all. Between its covers lie the fantasies Jung recorded during his self-experiments with active imagination. Described as the “central book in his oeuvre,” its contents formed the foundation of the psychological framework he would move on to propound. But with the posthumous publication of Liber Novus, that framework may need recasting. Indeed, the record between red leather may challenge the entire edifice of psychology itself, and perhaps even beyond it. In this essay, I situate myself among those who accept the challenge by considering the figures of Jung’s fantasies as living realities. The figure of my focus does not, however, make an explicit appearance in the pages of Liber Novus, but rather, I gesture toward he who may be luring us to open the book in the first place: Eros, that daimonic heartthrob of legend, pulsing in the color red. What new insights might arise if we were to consider Jung’s work in honor of Eros? How would the daimon inform our practice of active imagination? What light, if any, could he shed on the nature of the imagination in general? On reality itself? For guidance in the inquiry to follow, I heed counsel Jung once received: “To understand a thing is a bridge and a possibility of returning to the path, but to explain a matter is arbitrary, and sometimes even murder. Have you counted the murderers among the scholars?”With Eros, I write for the sake of love, life, and understanding—not murder.
Though this essay does not explicitly advance a metaphysics, it gestures toward one with roots in a claim made by Becca S. Tarnas for the ontological reality of the imagination as “a collective source of participatory knowledge.”Tarnas’ claim arises from her discovery of a deep synchronicity between the works of Jung and J. R. R. Tolkien, particularly between their individual Red Books. The latter appear to be separate but coincident records of either man’s journey to the imaginal realm, what Jung may have referred to as the collective unconscious and Tolkien, Faërie. But before deepening into the significance of their parallels, delineating what Jung’s Red Book actually is and why it deserves our attention is in order. In the introduction to its contents, Sonu Shamdasani—the man who for 13 years painstakingly edited and compiled Liber Novus—describes it as “a work of psychology in a literary form.”Commencing in the early twentieth century, Jung’s work on The Red Book arose during a moment of cultural experimentation. “Clear demarcations among literature, art, and psychology had not yet been set;”practitioners of each discipline were inspired by the others. The zeitgeist encouraged an overcoming of conventions, dissolving unanimity around what counted as art, literature, or psychology and what did not. As a result, Jung’s Red Book—with its pages of calligraphic narrative, painted fantasy images, and reflective elaboration—would come to gleam with facets of each.
Jung’s confrontation with the unconsciouswas initiated by a practice of self-experimentation he gradually developed and called active imagination. Prompted by his famous question—“what is my myth?”—Jung developed the practice as a means of engaging the autonomous life beneath the threshold of his awareness, what he had learned to give credence to after paying special attention to the content of his dreams. One motivating aim for his self-analysis was to become a better analyst to his patients: Jung felt he must become conscious of, and thereby gain distance from, his “personal equation,” or the psychological contribution he brought to his practice of psychoanalysis.Notably, Jung was self-described as keeping close allegiance with Immanuel Kant’s transcendental philosophy and the limits it imposed on knowledge.In contrast to more reductive methods modeled by figures like Sigmund Freud, Jung’s ambivalence to Kant’s limits was revealed in his “constructive” analysis exemplified in the practice of active imagination. Through the constructive, Jung sought to engage the “living meaning of [psychic] phenomena…[;] inasmuch as life was essentially new, [Jung thought,] it could not be understood merely retrospectively.”As Shamdasani writes, “Jung differentiated two kinds of thinking…[,] directed thinking and fantasy thinking. The former was verbal and logical, while the latter was passive, associative, and imagistic. The former was exemplified by science and the latter by mythology.”Active imagination for Jung was the art of suspending critical attention to induce and participate with a living stream of images (fantasy). In service to Jung’s archetypally reductive analytic, directed thinking comes in afterward, dissecting the associations fantasy images evoke for the sake of a patient’s psychic wholeness. But inasmuch as he located the archetypes exclusively in the human psyche, Jung remained a dutiful son to Kant’s limits. That is, until his vision of the flood.
The serious momentum of Jung’s self-experimentation began almost a year before the outbreak of WWI, when, “on a train journey to Schaffhausen, Jung experienced a waking vision of Europe being devastated by a catastrophic flood, which was repeated two weeks later, on the same journey… After this experience,” says Shamdasani, “Jung feared that he would go mad. He recalled that he first thought that the images of the vision indicated a revolution.”Jung’s Kantian framework and its agnosticism of any certainty apart from the subject’s projection of a world, held against the prophetic voice of his vision asserting its objective reality, led Jung into a private crisis that would only resolve upon learning of the Great War:
At this moment, Jung considered that his fantasy had depicted not what would happen to him, but to Europe. In other words, that it was a precognition of a collective event…After this realization, he attempted to see whether and to what extent this was true of the other fantasies that he experienced, and to understand the meaning of this correspondence between private fantasies and public events. This effort makes up much of the subject matter of Liber Novus…Thus he took the outbreak of the war as showing him that his fearof going mad was misplaced.
As a result of his direct experience, the limits of Jung’s Kantianism gave way to a deeper subjectivity than he expected, one that placated his fear of insanity by suggesting a very different intimation of reality.
In dialogue with the psychologist James Hillman, Shamdasani compares Liber Novus with the works of artists who were contemporaries of Jung’s like James Joyce and Pablo Picasso; as with the paintings of Picasso or the novels of Joyce, The Red Book resembles a lumen natura, “a form of presentation…sufficient unto itself…[with a] translucency that doesn’t require anything else.”Simply put, the work is a living record of Jung’s experiences with active imagination as an attempt to make sense of what stirred in the collective unconscious. If Jung’s “literary work of psychology” bears so much resemblance to a work of art, why not just call it that? Jung himself was resistant to this idea, but as Shamdasani frames it, perhaps it was merely Jung’s notion of art that disinclined him from treating it as such: “not art for art’s sake,” and so not art, Jung might be thinking, but without fully realizing…[that, in this historical moment,] he’s in the company of people who are revolting against a view of art that has become moribund.”In sync with the zeitgeist and its defiance of conventions, what if Liber Novus were understood as an expression of the early twentieth century “attempt to completely reformulate art as something which could lead to spiritual awakening?”What may differentiate Jung’s work more explicitly from the work of Picasso or Joyce was his insistence on the collective function of interior descent. Rather than revel in the depths, “the real task” for Jung was “to be able to communicate [it] to the contemporary outlook.”“He is not content with finding a solution for himself,” says Shamdasani, “but wants to provide a means of understanding [through his own psychological reflexivity] that would be of therapeutic benefit for others.”Hence, the boon Jung was to offer the collective of his time was not Liber Novus, but the host of concepts he derived from it. After all, it was a science of the soul Jung sought to communicate, an endeavor to which Kant’s limits on knowledge somehow lent confidence.
Today we have an entire school of thought dedicated to Jung’s personal interpretation of the figures he met in active imagination. Figures like the Wise Old Man, Anima, Puer, Puella, Shadow, and Eros have become household terms for many, an advent that, at its best enchants our experience with the universality of archetypes, and at its worst, reduces Psyche to a system of reified concepts. But with the publication of Liber Novus almost fifty years after Jung’s death, we are granted the opportunity to form our own judgements about his recorded confrontation with the collective unconscious. Within Jung’s Red Book, says Shamdasani to Hillman, “you can see the making of his psychology…something quite radical, which reformulates how you understand the man’s work.”Further on in their dialogue Hillman speculates that
the justification for all the other [subsequent] works…[is in] his attempt to understand, rather than just translate it [his experience] into a concept… He has to again and again break into descriptions by saying these are “only.” He cuts them down and puts them forward. He distrusts them. But still that’s what we’re left with… Maybe we have to rethink that question of the language…—anima, animus, shadow, self, process of individuation—and discard thatlanguage, but not altogether a language that is already available in the arts.
Critical of Jung’s conceptual language, Hillman prefers the “rich articulation of experience”in literary art for understanding human nature. “The only axiomatic basis I have,” says Hillman, “is that we are lived by powers that we pretend to understand… They’re our mysteries, they’re our figures, they are occasions of invasion and they are our lives, or at least determine our lives in strong ways.”Therefore, story, because it expresses and concretizes those powers in figures we can relate to, is—for Hillman—an exemplary vehicle for human wisdom. Differentiation from and relationship to those figures becomes a restorative practice for psychological maturity: “the interwovenness between the figures per se, in themselves, is part of the learning, the practice of the image, seeing how they work with each other, what they build, how they influence.”But, accustomed as I am to the binary of fiction and nonfiction—of real versus made-up—how can I accept the reality of fantasy images and their worth for understanding?
Though it may not have been readily embraced by the “medico-scientific” paradigm of Jung’s time, the release of Liber Novus resonated strongly with the spirit of the 21stcentury on its “quest for [the] validation of inner experience[;]… The public isn’t being taken by his ideas as they’ve [historically] been portrayed, says Shamdasani, “but by his actual intense engagement with his own figures.”The zeitgeist after TheRed Book is, perhaps, more open to rethinking the demarcations set in the 20thcentury between literature, psychology, and art. Taking up that challenge, Becca S. Tarnas follows Hillman in his emphasis on story, but without devaluing Jung’s conceptual language entirely. “If we take our fantasy visions and shape them into art,” asks Tarnas, “is that in itself not an hermeneutics, a way of understanding and interpreting what we’ve encountered?”Such an hermeneutics would depart sharply from the positivistic, scientistic charade of knowledge-making touted as truly “objective.” But as Jung himself discovered, the limits of what the human psyche can know through itself bottom out the deeper we go. Therefore, active imagination, Tarnas suggests, may be thought of as
a co-creative enaction between the human organ of the imagination and the non-determined archetypal power of the collective unconscious…the living imaginal reality that is co-created is neither fully objective nor subjective, but rather enactive and participatory, existing as a realm in-between: the middle realm that Plato called the metaxy and that Corbin called the mundus imaginalis, the world of imagination.
Concepts in this purview may be treated more as symbolic instruments for the practical use of thought, but how can we allow the life of fantasy to speak on its own behalf in works of art? What affords such works the status of lumen natura amidst the subjective vagaries of today’s vacuous relativism?
This realm in-between Tarnas posits is what she refers to as the imaginal realm, a level of reality that I—thinking with Tarnas—referenced earlier as a possible analog of Jung’s collective unconscious. The term “imaginal” itself is one sourced to the philosopher Henry Corbin; in contrast to the fanciful use of the word “imaginary,” “imaginal” refers to an actual world, one “that is not simply made up or invented, but rather discovered through imagining perception or active imagination.”Like the sensible world, the realm of imagination is peopled with places and creatures of all kinds; it is a world, Corbin reports, “possessing extension and dimensions, figures and colors…[that are] the object of imagining perception or of the ‘psycho-spiritual senses’…[; a fully] objective and real world with equivalents for everything existing in the sensible world without being perceptible by the senses.”If we are to quip, “just where is this imaginal realm? Show and tell if what you say is real!” Corbin answers by assuring us that here
everything happens contrary to the evidence of ordinary consciousness, which remains oriented within our space. For henceforth the where, the place, is located in the soul; the corporal substance resides in the spiritual substance; the soul surrounds and carries the body. As a result, one cannot say where the spiritual place is located.
Soul, therefore, is that through which imagining perception has a world. Because the imaginal realm—as medium—“makes it possible for all the universes to symbolize with each other…[it] provides the foundation for a rigorous analogical knowledge permitting us to evade the dilemma of current rationalism, which gives us only a choice between the two banal dualistic terms of either ‘matter’ or ‘mind.’”Through the imaginal realm, archetypal powers may achieve union with the sensible world, expressing themselves in and through various facets of instantiated particulars. As a result, psychology, art, and literature may converge in storytelling as valid means of knowing and teaching.
But on what grounds is this claim made? In her dissertation, “The Back of Beyond: The Red Books of C. G. Jung and J. R. R. Tolkien,” Tarnas stories her discovery of the deep synchronicity between the two works. Upon paging through Jung’s, Tarnas recognized an uncanny resemblance to the form and content of Tolkien’s Red Book of Westmarch, a title that refers—not to any specific book published by the literary artist—but to the entirety of his Middle-earth legendarium, the magnum opus of which Tarnas identifies as The Lord of the Rings. Similar themes and figures appear in both works, as do many illustrations of remarkable resemblance. Perhaps most compelling is the coincidence in timing of their commencement in the years leading up to WWI, between 1911 and 1913 to be exact. It was then that Jung’s Red Book period and Tolkien’s work in the Book of Ishness—a collection of drawings he called “Ishnesses, which were symbolic and abstract images arising directly from the imagination…[sharing] in common a raw emotionality evoked by their bold colors, strange shapes, and obscure yet weighty titles”—began.The latter formed the basis for many elements portrayed in Tolkien’s legendarium including narrative scenes, themes, characters, and more. Stylistically, they resonate strongly with Jung’s understanding of active imagination as the concretization of a psychological state in image, leading Tarnas to speculate that Tolkien may have also been undergoing similar visionary experiences as Jung was. After scrupulously comparing their lives and work, Tarnas was led to “posit that the striking parallels between Jung’s and Tolkien’s respective Red Books—as well as certain profound similarities in their interpretations of these materials—offer evidence that these works emerged from a shared ontological source enacted by the participatory imagination.”The host of synchronicities between both works suggest mutual, yet individual, enactions—or co-creative activations—of a supersensible ground pervaded with meaning. “From my perspective,” says Tarnas
the human imagination is participating in a spiritual power that is both non-determinate…and archetypally patterned. Yet these archetypes are not only the psychological concepts that Jung described throughout his career. They are the great archetypal powers that structure our world, giving pattern to the sensible, imaginal, and spiritual domains alike.
Literary art, therefore, consists in the imaginative engagement of universal powers through the vessel of the author’s particular subjectivity. An hermeneutic worth heeding indeed!
Tarnas’ investigation of the synchronicities between Tolkien’s and Jung’s respective works is fascinating, but I here I have chosen to narrow my focus on Jung’s for its explicit mention of the figure I invoke. This is not to say that this figure does not appear under different guises in Tolkien’s work; I would argue the contrary. That essay remains to be written though. Who is this “he,” I reference? Much as he does throughout Liber Novus, the daimon seems to have faded already into the background of this essay. Who is this “he,” I reference? Much as he does throughout Liber Novus, the daimon seems to have faded already into the background of this essay. In Appendix B of the facsimile Shamdasani composed, Jung comments on the reddish light illuminating the household of two central characters in the Red Book, saying that its tint points to Eros. Reflecting on the significance of this seemingly paltry mention catalyzed an inquiry in Tarnas that was the springboard for this essay:
I couldn’t help but wonder, is this perhaps part of why the Red Book is red? It’s a story of learning to integrate Eros, to come into relationship with Eros. Thus, is the color red of the book in honor of Eros?
Why is The Red Book, red? Perhaps the color is a lumen natura of the loving daimon himself; Eros, instantiated as a portal to the imaginal realm. Indeed, a deeper look into the actual practice of inducing and participating in fantasies reveals—in Jung’s and Tolkien’s practices—a basic diplomacy when engaging with the figures who present themselves. Before speculating on the way invoking Eros might inflect our understanding of active imagination, its time to pay him homage. Eros, move center stage—you have the spotlight. Just who are you? “Love,” says Eros, “in your hearts, you know all the rest.” With less majesty, we are told by a voice in Appendix C of Jung’s Red Book that Eros is “only a daimon.”In the more cerebral commentary of Appendix B, Jung describes him as “desire, longing, force, exuberance, pleasure, suffering…dissolution and movement.”“While it does not emit a bright light [as the color red],” Jung writes, “Eros at least provides an opportunity to recognize something, perhaps even by inducing a situation in which man recognize something, provided Logos assists him.”Jung’s reference to Eros as an “it” is something I consider a vestige of his positivistic tendency to collapse the figures of the imaginal realm into concepts or principles. Departing for a moment from how he appears in Jung’s work, I look back further in time to his representation in the dialogue Plato dedicated to him—The Symposium. In the culminating moment of an oratory contest honoring the daimon of Love, Socrates storytells a teaching he learnt during an encounter with the priestess Diotima: “He is a great spirit,” she tells him, from a class of beings who
interpret and carry messages from humans to gods and from gods to humans. They convey prayers and sacrifices from humans, and commands and gifts in return for sacrifices from gods. Being intermediate between the two, they fill the gap between them, and enable the universe to form an interconnected whole…Gods do not make direct contact with humans; they communicate and converse with humans (whether awake or asleep) entirely through the medium of spirits…There are many spirits, of very different types, and one of them is Love.
As Love, Eros is fundamentally in-between, lacking what he desires. And what must the object of that desire be? Why, the Good and the True of course, for how could one love ugliness and falsity? But the achievement of the desired object never quite satisfies Love’s unrest, for as Diotima reveals, Love’s true aim is “to have the good forever.”Only once the beatific vision of True Beauty is realized will Love’s desire be realized and, therefore, understood:
‘Like someone using a staircase, he [the lover] should go from one to two and from two to all beautiful bodies, and from beautiful bodies to beautiful practices, and from practices to beautiful forms of learning. From forms of learning, he should end up at that form of learning from which is of nothing other than that beauty itself, so that he can complete the process of learning what beauty really is…’ So what should we imagine it would be like,’ she said, ‘if someone could see beauty itself, absolute, pure, unmixed, not cluttered up with human flesh and colours and a great mass of mortal rubbish, but if he could catch sight of divine beauty itself, in its single form?’
Diotima’s conclusion is that the beatific vision would result in the living of a virtuous life, one that detaches from the finite beauties of the phenomenal world and reproduces ideas that point to the beatific vision. She also emphasizes using the “right part” of ourselves in order to behold the divine form of beauty, what we might call the Logos, or as Jung defined the spirit in Appendix B, “an independent principle of form that means understanding, insight, foresight, legislation, and wisdom.”The sage, therefore, is the one who abides in Logos alone, reflecting on the perfection of divine forms. It is easy to interpret this narrative as rendering our living lovers as mere rungs on the ladder up to capital T—Truth. Fortunately, though, The Symposium does not end with Diotima’s counsel, rather, it is with Socrates’ lover Alcibiades that we leave off. By unveiling Socrates as Eros himself, Alcibiades excuses mortals from mimicking the partial divinity of spirits. Instead, the phenomenal—and imaginal—figures of our loving attachments may maintain their integrity, preserved by the connection Eros makes between the archetypes and their instantiations in particular people and things. We are not spirits; we are not Gods.
Differentiating from the figures confronted in the unconscious was one of Jung’s primary aims in the practice of active imagination. Ideally, the practice would consist in a rhythmic “alteration of creation and understanding… The unconscious contents want first of all to be seen clearly, which can only be done by giving them shape, and to be judged only when everything they have to say is tangibly present.”Jung’s Red Bookis one such outcome of that rhythm, an expression of what he called the “transcendent function,” or the uniting of conscious and unconscious to form a third through aesthetic and psychologically reflexive expression. Despite his conceptual register in the passage above, Jung’s use of the verb “want” and reference to the unconscious contents as “they” reveal a living quality underlying what he speaks about in the abstract. This same inconsistency repeats in Jung’s response to a letter he received from a Mr. O about his dream of the literary figure Beatrice:
Beatrice, as an anima figure is most certainly a personification; that means, a personal being created in this shape by the unconscious… Treat her as a person, if you like as a patient or a goddess, but above all treat her as something that does exist… It is a very good method to treat the anima as if she were a patient whose secret you ought to get at.
Jung’s advice here about relating to such figures is of the instrumental kind. Indeed, as he writes elsewhere, “by objectifying them, the danger of their inundating consciousness is averted and their positive effect is made accessible.”Jung’s treatment of the Anima figure is peculiar, for as I mentioned earlier, it was in his very differentiation from the voice who proclaimed the objectivity of the flood vision—a figure he eventually refers to as Philemon—that Jung could think himself sane again. “The overall theme of the book,” writes Shamdasani, “is how Jung regains his soul and overcomes the contemporary malaise of spiritual alienation.”But how can Jung possess his soul while at the same time affording her the autonomy and respect she demands? In protest to this, Hillman calls Jung out for what he calls the “personalistic fallacy,” or the mistaken ownership over figures of the unconscious. Rather, “what he reestablished,” says Hillman, “was that the psyche is a living world of imagination and that any person can descend to that world. That’s your truth, that’s what you are, that’s what your soul is. You’re in search of your soul, and your soul is imagination.”Might then the overall theme of The Red Book better be described as the loving restoration of Soul to her majesty?
Jung has run-ins with multiple female figures who he identifies as “his” soul. Especially in the figure of Salome, Jung is entreated to love “his” soul, but initially rejects her. In consideration of the soul’s preoccupation with love and recognition, Tarnas follows Hillman in concluding that perhaps “only when Jung can feel love for these figures is he able to acknowledge the reality of the persons of the imaginal realm.”In doing so, the loving respect due to Soul may encourage her to present herself differently.Echoing Hillman’s sentiment that psychology after The Red Book has to be based on the fantasy image, Tarnas insists that what this “entails is integrating the imaginal depths into one’s sense of self. And it entails recognizing oneself as part of an infinite, enchanted, archetypal whole.”How might Soul appear to us once that move of the imagination has been achieved? “Who has the power,” Tarnas asks,
to allow one to transcend the imaginal realm and the primary realm and to see them as a unified whole? She is soul, she is Anima… [but] the Queen of Faërie is more than the Anima or the personified soul of the individual. She is the Soul of the World, the Anima Mundi in all her glory.
Again, our daimon Eros has faded into the background of this inquiry, but perhaps now we might better understand that tendency of his. Interestingly, though Psyche may be she through whom we have our lives, it seems as though Eros—our patron saint of Love—is indispensable for recognizing her majesty. Just as Jung has difficulty completely differentiating from Psyche, I posit that he does not fully differentiate from Eros either. In what follows I elaborate this claim by considering multiple passages from Chapter XXI “The Magician” of the second portion of Liber Novus, “Liber Secundus.”
As was said earlier, the figure Salome appears throughout the tale as one of Psyche’s primary guises. After her multiple attempts to draw love from him, Jung realizes that he does care for her, though a love he describes as “somewhat.” Lukewarm. “Incidentally,” says the imaginal Jung, “the care I afforded her, was literally,” pressed out of me, rather than something I gave freely and intentionally.”In this scene Salome enjoins Jung once again, saying, “I will carry all your thoughts in my heart. I will kiss the words that you speak to me. I will pick roses for you each day and all my thoughts will wait upon you and surround you.”Jung’s response is one of gratitude, but Salome is not satisfied and persists. Jung struggles against her lure as if in principle:
I: “You are like the serpent that coiled around me and pressed out my blood.” / Your sweet words wind around me and I stand like someone crucified.”
Sal:“Why still crucified?”
I:“Don’t you see that unrelenting necessity has flung me onto the cross? It is impossibility that lames me.”
Sal: “Don’t you want to break through necessity? Is what you call a necessity really one?”
What is the necessity that crucifies Jung? Could it be a notion of Eros that does not fairly mediate heavenly and earthly love? The use of colored text throughout the many dialogues is exemplified by the passage above, distinguishing the various characters when enjoined in expression. Jung almost always appears as a red “I,” while the many guises of Psyche appear in blue. The reader will no doubt have noticed by now my use of color when representing the name of Eros; this is no mere decoration, for his color is what initiated the entire phenomenological study of this essay. Considering Jung’s statement that his newfound love for Salome was something he felt “pressed” out of him, I am led to wonder about the color of his “I.” Is the love that keeps knocking on his door, really his? Jung’s reason for refusing Salome is for her poverty—“I long for the joy of men, for their fullness and freedom and not their neediness,” says he.But is Psyche not she through whom we may realize our ultimate unity with the whole?
Earlier on in their relationship, Jung was repulsed by the eroticism he attributed to Salome. After learning to accept that in her, he finds he can accept it in himself and realizes a desire to love his own self. “But she wants to be with me,” writes Jung, puzzled, and asks, “How, then, should I also have love for myself?” Working this out, Jung writes
Love, I believe, belongs to others. But my love wants to be with me. I dread it. May the power of my thinking push it from me, into the world, into things, into men. For something should join men together, something should be a bridge. It is the most difficult temptation, if even my love wants me!
Jung cannot understand how he might reconcile what seems like the sacrifice of loving himself if he were to love Salome, too. Psyche, having at this point taken on her serpentine form, reminds Jung that, “as has been said, you are allowed to make demands of yourself.”Rather than think it over, Jung wonders what he must do. “I have a feeling,” says Jung, “that I must soar over my own head.”Psyche then transfigures herself into a bird and soars overhead for him, returning with a royal crown of gold found “on a street in the immeasurable space of Heaven.”The crown, says the Bird, has “lettering incised within; what does it say? ‘Love never ends.’ A gift from Heaven.”For Jung, this is a riddle, but for the Bird there is nothing to else to say: a lumen natura, “it truly speaks for itself.”Salome’s return finds Jung hanging “high on the summit of the tree of life,” beyond her reach. Upon learning that Jung has the crown in his possession, Salome becomes ecstatic, celebrating his luck. “The crown—you are to be crowned!” she exclaims, “what blessedness for me and you!”But still, Jung thinks it an incomprehensible riddle. “Hang until you understand,”says Salome cruelly.
Hanging there alone, Jung senses his weariness, “weary not only of hanging,” he says, “but of struggling after the immeasurable.”Here again I am reminded of Diotima’s speech about Eros and the world-denying interpretation it can make possible. Could we imagine a way to think love that preserves the intrinsic worth of the phenomenal and the divine? But in this moment Jung finds recourse to thought, for what else can he do as he hangs there? “Is it really true,” he asks, “shall love never end? If this was a blessed message to them, what is it for me?” His answer comes from a Raven who suddenly perches nearby: “That depends entirely on the notion,” says the Raven:
I: “Why does it depend entirely on the notion?
Raven: “On your notion of love and the other.”
I: “I know, unlucky old bird, you mean heavenly and earthly love. Heavenly love would be utterly beautiful, but we are men, and, precisely because we are men, I’ve set my mind on being a complete and full-fledged man.”
In Jung’s response to the Raven I interpret a notion of love that does not heed the reality of Psyche—that is, the reality of Imagination as the metaxic bond between divinity and phenomenal things. Nor does he fully heed her livingness, her personhood; they are one and the same. Jung’s notion of love, as I interpret it, is not one of capital L—Love, a differentiated daimon named Eros—rather, it is a finite thing, with little to go around. Perhaps, alternatively, he could have considered more keenly the meaning love had for the imaginal figures. Later on, after the Raven has departed, the Bird returns to tell Jung that, “if you love the earth, you are hanged; if you love the sky, you hover.”But still, Jung is hung up on the crown:
I:“And the crown? Solve, the riddle of the crown for me!”
B: “The crown and serpent are opposites, and are one. Did you not see the serpent that crowned the head of the crucified?
I: “What, I don’t understand you.
B: “What words did the crown bring you? ‘Love never ends’—that is the mystery of the crown and the serpent.”
I: “But Salome? What should happen to Salome?”
B: “You see, Salome is what you are. Fly, and she will grow wings.”
Jung’s conversation with the Bird lead to conclude that Jung must release his grip on the heavens strive downward. Weary of necessity and struggle for the immeasurable, he gives his attention exclusively to an earthly form of love, for, as he says, “we are men.” But, so the Bird tells, the words inscribed on the inside of the crown and their meaning are said to unify the serpentine and skyward: “Love never ends,” a meaning that finds reality in Psyche, binding together the infinite and finite in her marriage to Eros. Jung’s elaboration on love following this event renders it unsuitable for life; love, “the inescapable mother of life.” “I speak,” writes Jung, “against the mother who bore me, I separate myself from the bearing womb. I speak no more for the sake of love, but for the sake of life.” His words become even harsher as he goes on: “A man,” says Jung
Needs his mother until his life has developed. Then he separates from her. And so life needs love until it has developed, then it will cut loose from it. The separation of the child from the mother is difficult.
But must the relationship of son and mother be one that ends with separation? And are there not other ways to conceive of Love? In the very last paragraph of Sonu Shamadasani’s facimile edition, Liber Novus ends with someone else claiming motherhood over Jung:
I, your soul, am your mother, who tenderly and frightfully surrounds you, your nourisher and corrupter… I am your body, your shadow, your effectiveness in this world, your manifestation in the world of Gods, your effulgence, your breath, your odor, your magical force. You should call me if you want to live with men, but the one God if you want to rise above the human world to the divine and eternal solitude of the star.
Whether she reveals herself as Mother, Maiden, Crone, or Goddess, her declaration makes clear that she is worthy of love and respect. Love, Eros, I say, is the striving behind the “I;” its scarlet color, another lumen natura. Jung’s struggle to understand the unifying meaning of the words “love never ends” reveals how our notions of the daimon determine our experience of the world. If, as Diotima might insist, love’s true nature is held as divine, we may find ourselves crucified by necessity and cut off from others. On the other hand, if love is in short supply—earthbound—upside down we shall go! Embracing the between of these opposing directions in the meaning of “love never ends” takes Imagination. And indeed, it is She, Psyche, through whom Eros achieves his rhythmic momentum!
The degradation of Imagination into the merely “imaginary” destroys the metaxic bond that Eros as Psyche’s courtier makes possible. The meaning of their marriage not only suggests an ethic for encountering beings of the imaginal realm, but an ethic for the sensible world too. Meaning and value are not simply nominal, but are conveyed from the divine through Imagination: the ecology of our planet is therefore saturated with holy worth. All our claims to coherent knowledge depend on Psyche, for Imagination is what grounds our knowing in a shared world. What could be a proper expression of gratitude for these weighty gifts? As Tarnas writes,
She asks those who tread the pathways of her realm to give her a gift in return: the gift of remembrance. Please record your experience. Whether it is in song or tale, in painting or poetry, or in the quiet memories that you share with a loved one.
Thanks to Jung, we know a method for making contact, but through her courtier, we have learned the proper virtue through which to approach it. Why is The Red Book, red? “Open your heart,” he says, and you shall understand.
Corbin, Henry. Mundus Imaginalis or the Imaginary and the Imaginal. Pdf. Golgonooza Press, 1976.
Plato.The Symposium of Plato. Edited by Gill, Christopher. England: Penguin Books, 1999
Hillman, James, and Sonu Shamdasani. Lament of the Dead: Psychology after Jung’s Red Book.New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2013.
Jung, Carl G., and Joan Chodorow. Jung on Active Imagination. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press, 1997.
Jung, C. G., and Sonu Shamdasani. The Red Book = Liber Novus: A Readers Edition. New York: W.W. Norton, 2012.
Tarnas, S. Becca. “The Back of Beyond: The Red Books of C. G. Jung and J. R. R. Tolkien” diss. 2018.
C.G. Jung and Sonu Shamdasani, The Red Book = Liber Novus: A Readers Edition. (W. W. Norton, 2012), 95.
Shamdasani, The Red Book, 122.
Becca S. Tarnas , “The Back of Beyond: The Red Books of C. G. Jung and J. R. R. Tolkien, diss. (2018),9.
Shamdasani, The Red Book, 3.
Shamdasani, The Red Book, 2.
Shamdasani, The Red Book, 15.
Jung, The Red Book, 235, footnote 57.
Shamdasani, The Red Book, 29.
Shamdasani, The Red Book, 13.
Shamdasani, The Red Book, 18.
Shamdasani, The Red Book, 28-29.
James Hillman and Sonu Shamdasani, Lament of the Dead: Psychology after Jung’s Red Book. (W. W. Norton & Company, 2013), 52.
Hillman and Shamdasani, Lament of the Dead, 48.
Hillman and Shamdasani, Lament of the Dead, 45.
Hillman and Shamdasani, Lament of the Dead, 54.
Hillman and Shamdasani, Lament of the Dead, 56.
Hillman and Shamdasani, Lament of the Dead, 60.
Hillman and Shamdasani, Lament of the Dead, 62.
Hillman and Shamdasani, Lament of the Dead, 191.
The first part of this quotation comes from the poet W. H. Auden.
Hillman and Shamdasani, Lament of the Dead, 201.
Hillman and Shamdasani, Lament of the Dead, 190.
Hillman and Shamdasani, Lament of the Dead, 23.
From lecture 8 of a course Tarnas taught titled, “Imaginal Ways of Knowing.”
Tarnas, “The Back of Beyond: The Red Books of C. G. Jung and J. R. R. Tolkien, 135.
Tarnas, “The Back of Beyond: The Red Books of C. G. Jung and J. R. R. Tolkien, 126.
Henry Corbin, Mundus Imaginalis or the Imaginary and the Imaginal. (Golgonooza Press, 1976), 5.
Corbin, Mundus Imaginalis or the Imaginary and the Imaginal, my italics on “place,” 8.
Corbin, Mundus Imaginalis or the Imaginary and the Imaginal, my italics on “place,” 7.
Tarnas, “The Back of Beyond: The Red Books of C. G. Jung and J. R. R. Tolkien, 31.
Tarnas, “The Back of Beyond: The Red Books of C. G. Jung and J. R. R. Tolkien, 10.
Tarnas, “The Back of Beyond: The Red Books of C. G. Jung and J. R. R. Tolkien, 170.
From lecture 8 of a course Tarnas taught titled, “Imaginal Ways of Knowing.”
Jung, The Red Book, 579.
Jung, The Red Book, 563.
Jung, The Red Book, italics of “it” are mine, 571.
Christopher Gill, The Symposium of Plato. (Penguin Books, 1999), 39.
Gill, The Symposium of Plato, 43.
Gill, The Symposium of Plato, 49.
Jung, The Red Book, 563.
C.G. Jung and Joan Chodorow, Jung on Active Imagination. (Princeton Univ. Press, 1997), 56.
Jung. On Active Imagination, 165.
Jung. On Active Imagination, 148.
Shamdasani, The Red Book, 48.
Hillman and Shamdasani, Lament of the Dead, 114.
Tarnas, “The Back of Beyond: The Red Books of C. G. Jung and J. R. R. Tolkien, 332.
From lecture 8 of a course Tarnas taught titled, “Imaginal Ways of Knowing.”
Tarnas, “The Back of Beyond: The Red Books of C. G. Jung and J. R. R. Tolkien, 338.
Jung, The Red Book, 436.
Jung, The Red Book, 439.
Jung, The Red Book, 440.
Jung, The Red Book, 431.
Jung, The Red Book, 443.
Jung, The Red Book, 444.
Jung, The Red Book, 446.
Jung, The Red Book, 446.
Jung, The Red Book, 582.
Tarnas, “The Back of Beyond: The Red Books of C. G. Jung and J. R. R. Tolkien, 340.
 Jung, The Red Book, 448.