Jung's RED BOOK & The Collective Unconscious

"Carl Jung- Awaken" by ccr1 on Polyvore


What is the Collective Unconscious?

On Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious

. . . The unconscious contains, as it were, two layers: the personal and the collective. The personal layer ends at the earliest memories of infancy, but the collective layer comprises the preinfantile period, that is, the residues of ancestral life. Whereas the memory-images of the personal unconscious are, as it were, filled out, because they are images personally experienced by the individual, the archetypes of the collective unconscious are not filled out because they are forms not personally experienced. When, on the other hand, psychic energy regresses, going beyond even the period of early infancy, and breaks into the legacy of ancestral life, the mythological images are awakened: these are the archetypes. An interior spiritual world whose existence we never suspected opens out and displays contents that seem to stand in sharpest contrast to all our former ideas.

-C.G. Jung, CW 7, par. 118

. . . I have often been asked where the archetypes or primordial images come from. It seems to me that their origins can only be explained from assuming them to be deposits of the constantly repeated experiences of humanity. One of the commonest and at the same time most impressive experiences is the apparent movement of the sun every day. We certainly cannot discover anything of the kind in the unconscious, so far as the known physical process is concerned. What we do find, on the other hand, is the myth of the sun-hero in all its countless variations. It is this myth, and not the physical process, that forms the sun archetype. The same can be said of the phases of the moon. The archetype is a kind of readiness to produce over and over again the same or similar mythical ideas. Hence it seems as though what is impressed upon the unconscious were exclusively the subjective fantasy-ideas aroused by the physical process. We may therefore assume that the archetypes are recurrent impressions made by subjective reactions. Naturally this assumption only pushes the problem further back without solving it. There is nothing to prevent us from assuming that certain archetypes exist even in animals, that they are grounded in the peculiarities of the living organism itself and are therefore direct expressions of life whose nature cannot be further explained. Not only are the archetypes, apparently, impressions of the ever-repeated typical experiences, but at the same time, they behave empirically like agents that tend toward the repetition of these same experiences. For when an archetype appears in a dream, in a fantasy, or in life, it always brings with it a certain influence or power by virtue of which it either exercises a numinous or fascinating effect, or impels to action.

-C.G. Jung, CW 7, par. 109

. . . No matter how beautiful and perfect [we] may believe [our] reason to be, [we] can always be certain that it is only one of the possible mental functions, and covers only that one side of the phenomenal world which corresponds to it. But the irrational, that which is not agreeable to reason, rings it about on all sides. And the irrational is likewise a psychological function -- in a word, it is the collective unconscious.

-C.G. Jung, CW 7, par. 110



An occult critique of Jung's conception of the Collective Unconscious

Jung was a truely brilliant observer.  He was  what we could call a Phenomenologist.  That is, he  studied the appearances or phenomena of the psyche -  the various appearances and manifestations and forms  that the psyche produces - and understood them with a depth of insight that has probably never been  equalled since.  And it is his observances in this  way that make his writings, heavy and obscure as they are, a mine of information on the workings of the human psyche.

 But when it came to interpreting his observations  metaphysically - to formulating hypotheses in other  words - he was disappointing.  Jung's so-called "Collective Unconscious" cannot be denied as an empirical or phenomenological fact.  But I would say  that for the most part what Jung stumbled upon was not any sort of "racial memory" or collective human psyche, but the experiences of the Inner Being (sensu Sri Aurobindo), including the Numinocosm or psychic universe in all its richness and power.

 From the occult perspective then, Jung's Unconscious is not something which is tied up with the human psyche at all.  It should not even be called the "Collective Unconscious".  After all, one does not refer to the physical world as the "Collective  Physical".  The term "collective" is redundant in the latter instance, as it is for anyone who reads Jung with esoteric eyes.

 And so because of this misinterpretation of the "Collective Unconscious" in biological holistic-materialistic terms, the significance of this discovery was lost.  Which is perhaps just as well, as - apart from a few occultists (and no-one who is any way part of the mainstream listened to or understood them) - there was no-one in Jung's day, and precious  few even in our own, who can sympathetically understand such a concept.  So it was the very conser-vatism of his metaphysics which guaranteed the acceptence, partial and critical as it was, of Jung's ideas.

 The trouble with Jung's term "Collective Unconscious" is its sheer vagueness and ambiguity.  The same term is used to describe realities that, from the perspective of occult understanding, are quite distinct, no matter how much they may resemble each other from the point of view of the superficial materialistic consciousness.

 It's like the problem with "God" and religion.  Just as to the esoterically uninformed, any experience that transcends the personal ego and takes them out of themselves must be "God", so to the conservatively alternative or New Paradigm understanding any greater or transpersonal psychic or archetypal reality must be "the collective unconscious".  These problems have arisen because of the metaphysical impoverishment of our present materialistic society.

 It seems that when Jung was describing the "collective unconscious" he was referring to one of at least four different realities:

  1. any of the worlds of higher, spiritual or divine archetypes, or any of the Gods or Cosmic Powers that inhabit those worlds (as explained in NeoplatonismGnosticismKabbalah, etc etc)
  2. the wider or greater psychic reality beyond the individual ego and personality, especially the Numinocosm
  3. the earlier or parallel paraphysical realities, such as are described by Blavatsky and Steiner under the headings of previous Rounds, Root Races, etc
  4. the lower, atavistic, sub-physical reality, which a number of occultists, such as Osmund Spare, have attuned to.

 What all these realities have in common is simply that they are pre-personal or trans-personal; they are atterly beyond the consciousness and boundaries of the individual rational ego-personality, and hence encountering them elicits a feeling of awe, like the traditional religious "God" (and certainly realities (1) and (2) at least would automatically be defined as "God" by any religiously minded person).



The Symbologist

From 1914 until 1930, C. G. Jung recorded, revised, rewrote, recopied and painstakingly illustrated what he considered “the numinous beginning” from which all the rest of his work derived. “The Red Book,” or as Jung called it, “Liber Novus,” consisted of some 200 parchment pages of meticulous calligraphy and visionary paintings collected into a huge folio bound in red leather. While its content, either whole or in part, was made available to a handful of colleagues and patients, its publication was postponed until now, nearly 50 years after his death, because Jung feared the book’s potential impact on his reputation. After all, anyone who read it might conclude what Jung himself first suspected: that the great doctor had lost his mind.

Jung began what would become “The Red Book” shortly after he had fallen out with Freud, each unable to accept the other’s understanding of the unconscious. Though Jung agreed with Freud’s basic theory that the unconscious mind existed beyond the reach of consciousness and yet influenced human behavior, he believed Freud’s conception of it as a dark vault of repressed urges and denied emotions was incomplete and unnecessarily negative — too focused on neurosis. The 1912 publication of Jung’s “Psychology of the Unconscious,” which had grown out of his psychoanalysis of the heroes and heroines of “mythology, folklore and religion” made the two doctors’ differences of opinion public, and the Zurich Psychoanalytical Society, with which Jung was actively involved, broke away from Freud’s International Psychoanalytic Association.

Undoubtedly, Jung’s liberation from his mentor was as unnerving as it was exciting, and in the fall of 1913 he had a series of waking visions that disturbed him both for their overwhelming, bloody devastation, and because he could not interpret them. Having worked with schizophrenic patients in thrall to their own tormenting hallucinations, he concluded he was “menaced with a psychosis” and, ever the clinician, decided to take notes on his madness. But the advent of World War I changed his understanding of the visions. In the face of actual widespread carnage, he now received them as prophecy, evidence, the editor and translator Sonu Shamdasani writes, of “deep subliminal connections between individual fantasies and world events.”

Jung’s study of archetypes in myths had convinced him that the creation of symbols was a characteristic of mankind; it wasn’t necessarily pathological — quite the opposite. The “union of rational and irrational truth,” symbols were the essential and necessary product of the unconscious, its “most important function.” Using a language of archetypes and symbols to speak to the conscious mind, the unconscious offered a means toward self-awareness far more profound than the groping of consciousness alone. Armed with this conviction, Jung embarked on a journey into his own unexplored depths.

Practicing “active imagination,” Jung conjured characters with whom he interacted and conversed. Dreams, he felt, were “inferior expressions of unconscious content” because there was less tension in sleep. “The Red Book” “faithfully transcribed” visions Jung recorded privately in his “Black Books,” adding commentary and painting what he had seen in his waking dreams to encourage readers to “understand the psychological nature of symbolism” and challenge them “to a new way of looking at their souls.” The whole is structured after Nietzsche’s “Thus Spoke Zarathustra,” a work of great influence on Jung. But while Nietzsche had announced the death of God, “The Red Book” described “the rebirth of God in the soul,” drawing from many and varied sources, including the Bible, the Apocrypha, Gnostic texts, Greek myths, the Upanishads, the ancient Egyptian “Am-Tuat,” Wagner’s “Ring,” Goethe’s “Faust” and Dante’s “Divine Comedy.” And, as Shamdasani points out, although the writers on whom Jung drew “could utilize an established cosmology, ‘Liber Novus’ is an attempt to shape an individual cosmology.” Jung continued to practice while working on “The Red Book” and encouraged his analysands to summon and record their own visions, as he had done. The book a patient created would be, he said, “your church — your cathedral — the silent places of your spirit where you will find renewal.”

In fact, reading “The Red Book” is like visiting a foreign place of worship. To understand Jung’s text — to meet and listen to the creatures of his unconscious — requires solitude, silence, concentrated effort. At the beginning of the book (which is divided into “Liber Primus,” “Liber Secundus” and “Scrutinies”), Jung rediscovers his soul, alienated while he “had served the spirit of the time.” With it, he embarks on a series of adventures and meets, among others, Elijah, Salome, a serpent and the Devil. The narrative proceeds like a blend of biblical prophecy and dialectic, in places unexpectedly funny, as when, in “The Castle in the Forest,” he encounters a woman from the kind of novels he had “spat on long ago.” “I am truly in Hell,” Jung remarks, “the worst awakening after death, to be resurrected in a lending library!” But the conventional heroine who fills Jung with disgust has something to teach him: what he considers “banal and hackneyed contains the wisdom” he seeks. The heroine trapped in a castle in a forest is an archetype — one that, in this instance, challenges his intellectual snobbery.

“Individuation” is the word Jung used for the integration of conscious and unconscious required for a person to reach psychological wholeness, an evolved state of being he did not consider within the reach of every person. Rather than breaking with convention, the “insufficiently creative,” as Shamdasani calls them, should remain within the “collective conformity” of society, which encourages us to assume that all cosmologies, all myths and religions, lie without rather than within ourselves. But, as Jung argued, the collective unconscious, even deeper than the personal, is a realm into which we can travel to discover all we contain, making the beauty, terrors and wisdom of the unconscious available to consciousness.

“The Red Book” includes a facsimile of every page of the original, followed by a comprehensive introduction by Shamdasani and the full translation of Jung’s handwritten text. Jung’s paintings, many of mandalas or, as he described them, “cryptograms on the state of my self,” are vibrantly reproduced. Accomplished works informed by various ancient motifs, they encourage one to leave “The Red Book” on the coffee table. Most likely, it will not fit on the shelf. At 15› by 12 inches and nearly 10 pounds, the physical size and weight of the book serve as a warning: once a reader decides to follow Jung into his unconscious, it will be some time before the tour is over. Shamdasani provides the historical context of Jung’s inner journey, on which he embarked when self-­experimentation was common and spiritualism attracted the interest of leading scientists, who explored methods used by mediums, including “automatic writing, trance speech and crystal vision” as means of accessing the minds of the living rather than the dead.

Do the decades between the completion and publication of “The Red Book” render it less potent or interesting? Not at all. As Shamdasani observes, “in a critical sense, ‘Liber Novus’ does not require supplemental interpretation, for it contains its own interpretation,” and so it is at last possible to begin a study of Jung with the work he held above all the rest. “The Red Book” not only reminds us of the importance of introspection, but also offers a guide to separating the self from the spirit of a time that would have astonished and offended Jung with its endless trivial distractions, its blogs and tweets and chiming cellphones. The creation of one of modern history’s true visionaries, “The Red Book” is a singular work, outside of categorization. As an inquiry into what it means to be human, it transcends the history of psychoanalysis and underscores Jung’s place among revolutionary thinkers like Marx, Orwell and, of course, Freud. The dedication — the love — with which it was assembled makes “The Red Book” as beautiful and otherworldly as a medieval book of hours.

“What is this I am doing?” Jung asked himself at the beginning of his “most difficult experiment.” A voice answered him. “ ‘That is art,’ ” it said.

Kathryn Harrison’s most recent book, “While They Slept: An Inquiry Into the Murder of a Family,” has just been released in paperback.



Jung’s Inner Universe, Writ Large

We know the archetype; we cherish the myth. The hero, like the world around him, is in a state of crisis. And in seeking to restore himself and the shattered cosmos, he valiantly passes through a vale of despair, descending into darkness. He risks his life and psyche in perilous encounters with dreams or dragons and finally emerges into the light, spiritually transformed, ushering in a new age.

That restoration may be like Odysseus’ epic journey home or like the return of the Israelites to Canaan. It may be like Siegfried braving his way to the side of the sleeping Brünnhilde or like ... well, perhaps like the journey that Carl G. Jung tried to outline in a private chronicle he kept for 16 years that until recently had scarcely been seen by anyone outside the extended family of his descendants. It’s an elaborately designed scripture, filled with his fantasies and surreal imaginings, known as “The Red Book.”

The title is not a metaphorical allusion to blood’s primal coloration nor does it require elaborate symbolic explication. The book really is red, and you can see it until mid-February, lying open in a glass case in an exhibition mounted in its honor at the Rubin Museum of Art in Chelsea: “The Red Book of C. G. Jung: Creation of a New Cosmology.”

Jung, who by the time he began work on this tome had already broken with Freud and was developing his mythically suffused conception of the human psyche, made certain that the book’s significance would not be overlooked by future acolytes. Bound in crimson leather, it is an enormous folio, more than 600 pages, bearing the formal title “Liber Novus” (“New Book”). Jung gave it all the trappings of antique authority and stentorian consequence, presenting it as a Newer New Testament.

He wrote it out himself, using a runic Latin and German calligraphy. Its opening portion, which begins with quotations from Isaiah and the Gospel according to John, is inked onto parchment, each section beginning with an initial illuminated as if by a medieval scribe with a taste for eyes, castles and scarabs.

The book’s accounts of Jung’s visions, fantasies and dreams are also punctuated with his paintings (some of which are on display in the exhibition), images executed during the years of World War I and the decade after that now appear as uncanny anticipations of New Age folk art of the late 20th century. They display abstract, symmetrical floral designs Jung came to identify as mandalas, along with almost childlike renderings of flames, trees, dragons and snakes, all in striking, bold colors.

But what is particularly strange about this book is not its pretense or pomposity but its talismanic power. It was stashed away in a cabinet for decades by the family, then jealously withheld from scholarly view because of its supposedly revealing nature. Since being brought into the open, partly through the efforts of the historian and Jung scholar Sonu Shamdasani (who is also curator of this exhibition), it has become a sensation.

A meticulously reproduced facsimile, published in October by W. W. Norton & Company, with detailed footnotes and commentary by Mr. Shamdasani (who also contributed to the volume’s accompanying translation), “The Red Book,” costing $195, is in its fifth printing.

This modest show, in which the book is supplemented by displays of the author’s notes, sketches and paintings, is now scheduled to travel to the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles from April to June, and then to the Library of Congress in Washington.

The book really is a remarkable object, and not just because it so eccentrically insists on its own significance. It represents Jung’s thinking during a period when he was developing his notion of “archetype” and a “collective unconscious,” positing a substratum of the human mind that shapes language, image and myth across all cultures. And as he was developing his ideas about psychological therapy as a form of self-knowledge, he seemed to have been engaging in just such a self-analysis: the book provides a bewildering, seemingly uncensored path into Jung’s inner life. Mr. Shamdasani writes, “It is nothing less than the central book in his oeuvre.”

That is something students of Jung’s life and work can ponder as they try to put these gnomic tales into intellectual and biographical context. As Jung himself warned in an unfinished 1959 epilogue to this unfinished book, “To the superficial observer, it will appear like madness.” Perhaps even to the nonsuperficial observer.

The narrator is a stand-in for Jung; he splits into multiple parts, engaging in cryptic dialogue with alternative souls. He is often in the company of a being named Philemon, an old man with the horns of a bull, a creature, Jung said, who evolved out of the biblical character Elijah. Philemon is a “pagan” who carries with him “an Egypto-Hellenic atmosphere with a Gnostic coloration.”

Nearly every visitation has some such mix of exotico-mythico-primitivo coloration. One painting on display here shows a centipedesque dragon, its jaws opened to swallow a yellow ball.

Jung’s explanation: “The dragon wants to eat the sun, and the youth beseeches him not to. But he eats it nevertheless.” An inscription goes into more detail, naming figures in the story without explaining them: “Atmavictu,” “a youthful supporter,” “Telesphorus,” “evil spirit in some men.”

Confusion about the meaning of it all was apparently shared by Jung, who transcribed these visions and then reflected on them in streams of semiconsciousness, invoking death, sacrifice, love and acceptance, sounding at times like a Greek priestess moaning from the bowels of the earth. He wanders in the desert, he cries aloud, he eats the liver of a sacrificed girl, her head “a mash of blood with hair and whitish pieces of bone.”

The temptation, after numbingly turning these pages, is to react finally like the psychiatrist Spielvogel at the end of Philip Roth’s “Portnoy’s Complaint,” and say: “So. Now vee may perhaps to begin. Yes?” Maybe that was Jung’s reaction too, which is why he abandoned the project in 1930. He couldn’t even complete the epilogue, some 30 years later, breaking off in midsentence.

Now it may be, of course, that Jung was speaking profoundly in tongues, and that more devoted souls may stumble on the key to all these mythologies. Perhaps. Jung himself, after all, was engaged in more compelling systematic work about the primal forces of the psyche during this period (ideas that may have also influenced the late speculations of Freud). Yet right now the lure of the book comes not from within, but from without, not from what it deciphers, but from what it signals about our own mythological predilections.

Mr. Shamdasani argues that “the overall theme of the book is how Jung regains his soul and overcomes the contemporary malaise of spiritual alienation.” And as he points out, Jung undertook his strange project after a series of apocalyptic visions in 1913 and 1914 that he later believed were prophesies of an imminent world war. He looked out a window, he said, and “saw blood, rivers of blood.” Jung felt it within himself as well, the “menace of psychosis.”

And so he began this enterprise of self-examination, a ruthless overturning of the rational Western mind, submerging himself in a pilgrimage through the pagan land of his own psyche. This project was his belated answer to Freud’s “Interpretation of Dreams,” which had also presented itself as the account of a heroic self-analytical descent into the maelstrom of the unconscious.

We are lured by that archetype still, even if it does not seem to shed the illumination Jung claimed. Go see this book and the exhibition, though, to glimpse an extraordinary relic of a particular way of thinking about the mind and its history. Then, cued by a 13th-century Tibetan mandala here that Jung owned, go upstairs and see the Rubin’s astonishing show of these ancient Tibetan designs, each enclosing an encyclopedic universe, encompassing desire, venality, wisdom, ecstasy and passion. Maybe “The Red Book” deserves a diagnosis: Jung had mandala envy.

“The Red Book of C. G. Jung: Creation of a New Cosmology” is on view through Feb. 15 at the Rubin Museum of Art, 150 West 17th Street, Chelsea; (212) 620-5000, rmanyc.org.


Jung’s Reception of Friedrich Nietzsche: A Roadmap for the Uninitiated

Jung’s Reception of Friedrich Nietzsche: A Roadmap for the Uninitiated by Dr. Ritske Rensma


Jung was fascinated by Nietzsche. From the time he first became gripped by Nietzsche’s ideas as a student in Basel to his days as a leading figure in the psychoanalytic movement, Jung read, and increasingly developed, his own thought in a dialogue with the work of Nietzsche. As the following quote from Memories, Dreams, Reflections reveals, Jung even went as far as to connect Nietzsche to what he saw as the central task underlying his life’s work:

The meaning of my existence is that life has addressed a question to me. That is a supra-personal task, which I accompany only by effort and with difficulty. Perhaps it is a question which preoccupied my ancestors, and which they could not answer? Could that be why I am so impressed by the problem on which Nietzsche foundered: the Dionysian side of life, to which the Christian seems to have lost the way? (Jung, 1965 [1961], p. 350)

Given the huge influence Nietzsche had on Jung, examining this line of influence is a project of substantial importance for the field of Jungian scholarship. It should come as no surprise, then, that a substantial amount of academic research has already been dedicated to it. While no articles have been written about the subject thus far, there are three books on the subject: Paul Bishop’s The Dionysian Self: C.G. Jung’s Reception of Friedrich Nietzsche (1995), Patricia Dixon’s Nietzsche and Jung: Sailing a Deeper Night (1999), and most recently Lucy Huskinson’s Nietzsche and Jung: the Whole Self in the Union of Opposites (2004).

Untangling the exact influence of Nietzsche on Jung, however, is a complicated business. Jung never openly addressed the exact influence Nietzsche had on his own concepts, and when he did link his own ideas to Nietzsche’s, he almost never made it clear whether the idea in question was inspired by Nietzsche or whether he merely discovered the parallel at a later stage. Add to this the large number of references to Nietzsche in Jung’s Collected Works, and it becomes clear that a researcher who wants to shed light on Jung’s reception of Nietzsche has his work cut out for him indeed. Because of this complexity of the subject, none of the books written about Jung and Nietzsche provide an accessible introduction to the topic. Only one shorter text about the topic exists – Paul Bishop’s chapter on Nietzsche and Jung in the collection of essays Jung in Contexts (1999) - but even this text is highly technical in nature, and is likely to leave the uninitiated reader feeling perplexed. This article serves to correct this imbalance by offering an introductory roadmap to the subject matter that is both clear and concise.  As such, it will hopefully be the perfect point of entry into the debate for the reader with little or no previous knowledge of this important — as well as fascinating — topic.

Jung’s reception of Nietzsche: preliminary explorations

On April 18, 1895, Jung enrolled as a medical student at Basel University, the same university where Nietzsche had been made a professor 26 years before. Up until this point, Jung had not read Nietzsche, even though he had been highly interested in philosophy while in secondary school.[i] In Basel, however, Jung soon became curious about this strange figure about whom there was still much talk at the University.

As Jung himself claimed in his semi-autobiographical book Memories, Dreams, Reflections,[ii] most of the talk about Nietzsche was negative at that time, gossip almost:

Moreover, there were some persons at the university who had known Nietzsche personally and were able to retail all sorts of unflattering tidbits about him. Most of them had not read a word of Nietzsche and therefore dwelt at length on his outward foibles, for example, his putting on airs as a gentleman, his manner of playing the piano, his stylistic exaggerations. (Jung, 1965 [1961], p. 122)

As Jung related in Memories, Dreams, Reflections, he postponed reading Nietzsche, because he “was held back by a secret fear that [he] might perhaps be like him” (1965 [1961], p. 102). Jung would have been well aware of the fact that Nietzsche had gone mad towards the end of his life. As Jung himself had had frequent visions and strange dreams ever since his childhood, he perhaps worried that this was proof that he himself might also go mad. Finally, however, Jung’s curiosity got the better of him, and he started to read Nietzsche vigorously. This reading project had a huge influence on the way his early thoughts took shape. This becomes particularly obvious when one analyses the Zofingia lectures (Jung, 1983 [1896-1899]), a book which contains the transcriptions of four lectures Jung gave to the Basel student-fraternity the Zofingia society, of which he was a member during his student days. In all four of the lectures Jung repeatedly referenced the work of Nietzsche. He quoted the famous line from Zarathustra “I say to you, one must yet have chaos in himself in order to give birth to a dancing star,” and he made multiple references to Untimely Meditations, which was the first book by Nietzsche which he had read. Although the Zofingia lectures, then, might lead one to think that Untimely Meditations had the most impact on him during this time, he later revealed that a different book deserved that particular honor — Thus Spoke Zarathustra, the reading of which Jung described as “a tremendous impression”:

When I read Zarathustra for the first time as a student of twenty-three, of course I did not understand it all, but I got a tremendous impression. I could not say it was this or that, though the poetical beauty of some of the chapters impressed me, but particularly the strange thought got hold of me. He helped me in many respects, as many other people have been helped by him (Jung, 1988 [1934], Vol. 1, p. 544)

When his student days were over, however, Jung gave up on his exploration of Nietzsche’s thought for a while. The complexities of life drew his attention elsewhere: he took up a position in the famous Burghölzli clinic in Zurich, and developed a collaboration and friendship with Freud. It was only when Jung had been acquainted with Freud for a number of years that he finally began to be interested in Nietzsche again. As the published letters to Freud reveal, Jung became particularly interested in Nietzsche´s concept of the Dionysian.[iii] Take for example the following passage, from a letter to Freud dated the 31st of December 2009:

I am turning over and over in my mind the problem of antiquity. It’s a hard nut… I’d like to tell you many things about Dionysos were it not too much for a letter. Nietzsche seems to have intuited a great deal of it (The Freud-Jung letters, 1979, pp. 279-280)

Jung’s fascination with Nietzsche’s concept of the Dionysian, as the letters he wrote to Freud in this period reveal, suddenly arises in 1909. What then, one might ask, brought on this sudden interest in one of Nietzsche’s most famous concepts? Although we cannot be entirely sure, I consider it highly likely that this interest was sparked by Otto Gross (1877-1820), who Jung first met in May 1908.

Otto Gross — Nietzschean, physician, psychoanalyst, adulterer and notorious promoter of polygamy — was admitted to the Burghölzli psychiatric hospital in May 1908. He was to be treated for his relentless addiction to cocaine and morphine, and fell under the personal supervision of Jung himself (Noll, 1994, p. 153). Gross had, when still in a better condition, been a disciple of Freud, and had been regarded by many (including Freud himself) as a man of great intelligence and promise.[iv] He endorsed a very radical philosophy of life, which perhaps can best be explained as a mixture of Nietzscheanism and psychoanalysis. According to Gross, Nietzsche provided the metaphors, Freud provided the technique (Noll, 1997, p. 78). Psychoanalysis, for him, was a tool that had the ability to enable the sort of anti-moral, Dionysian revolution he thought Nietzsche preached. In his attempt to live the lifestyle he thought Freud and Nietzsche implied, Gross — apparently a most charismatic personality — urged many to live out their instincts without shame. In Gross’s own case, these instincts led him to dabble in drugs, group-sex and polygamy (Noll, 1994, p. 153).

By the time Jung met Gross in 1908, Jung was, as we have seen above, already influenced by Nietzsche, albeit only on a philosophical level, not a practical one. He was, at that time, happily married, still tied to the Christian beliefs of his childhood, and a successful member — if not leader — of the psychoanalytic movement. He was, in other words, a far cry removed from the wild Dionysian Nietzscheanism that Gross practiced and preached, and it comes therefore as no surprise that his initial judgment of Gross’s thought was one of distaste (Noll, 1994, p. 158). However, after Jung had treated Gross for a while, the disgust gave way to admiration, as the following letter to Freud reveals:

In spite of everything he is my friend, for at bottom he is a very good and fine man with an unusual mind. . . . For in Gross I discovered many aspects of my true nature, so that he often seemed like my twin brother — except for the dementia praecox. (The Freud-Jung letters, 1979, p. 156)

Whether Jung having fallen somewhat under Gross’s spell influenced his renewed fascination with Nietzsche and the Dionysian is a question to which we will probably never have the answer. In my opinion, however, the fact that both instances coincide does make this likely to be true. Gross probably functioned as a catalyst for Jung’s heightened interest in Nietzsche and his concept of the Dionysian. The knowledge of Nietzsche’s philosophy was already there for Jung, but Gross amplified this knowledge and made Jung more sensitive to its application on a practical level. Needless to say, Jung never became such a radical as Gross was. What Gross did do, most likely, is install in Jung an even more urgent sensitivity to the problem with which Nietzsche had battled: how to deal with the Dionysian side of life.  There was one work by Nietzsche in particular which Jung turned to in this period to investigate that question, and that was the book which had tremendously impacted him as a student:  Thus Spoke Zarathustra. In 1914, right in the middle of the very difficult phase in his life which followed after the split with Freud (the same period during which he also wrote his famous Red book), Jung embarked on a second reading of the work, this time making lots of notes (Jung, 1988 [1934], Vol. 1, p. 259). Such was the impact that the book made on him again that in 1934, twenty years later, Jung embarked on an even more extensive reading of the book. This time, however, he chose to devote an entire seminar to it. The book that resulted from this seminar is the most elaborate source available to us for the examination of Jung’s mature thoughts on Nietzsche, and for that reason I will devote an entire section to it. It is to that section that we will now turn.

Jung’s seminar on Nietzsche’s Zarathustra

At the time of the seminar (1934-1939), Nietzsche was increasingly being associated with National Socialism (Jung, 1997 [1934], p. xviii). This made a seminar on Nietzsche’s Zarathustra a sensitive issue, especially for Jung himself, who had already been accused of National Socialist affinities more than once at that time.[v] Despite all of this, Jung still decided to persist in his discussion of this now controversial work. In the early sessions of the seminar, Jung clarified why he felt that Zarathustra was deserving of this attention. The collective unconscious, as Jung reminded his audience, operates by a mechanism that in Jungian language is called compensation. It will try to correct conscious attitudes that are too narrow or one-sided by offering, by means of archetypal content, a compensatory alternative. Zarathustra, according to Jung, consisted of such archetypal, compensatory content. It was therefore a book which not only said something about Nietzsche, but also about the zeitgeist of Western culture at that particular moment in history. Nietzsche, as Jung put it, “got the essence of his time” (Jung, 1988 [1934], Vol. 1, p. 69)[P1]  .

Jung labeled the process that results from the compensatory nature of the unconscious enantiodromia, a term he borrowed from Heraclites to denote a process of alternation between opposites. When the psychological system has reached a certain extreme, the unconscious will intervene by means of an archetypal compensation, thus causing the psychological system to change its course towards the opposite of that extreme. Jung not only saw this principle as underlying the psychological life of the individual, but as underlying the process of life itself:

[In] the process of life and becoming, the pairs of opposites come together . . .  the idea that next to the best is the worst. So if a bad thing gets very bad, it may transform into something good. . . . This is the natural enantiodromia. (Jung, 1997 [1934], p. 309).

Jung believed it was this process of enantiodromia that had been the driving force behind the creation of Zarathustra. According to Jung, Nietzsche’s age (and in many ways, Jung’s own age too) was an age characterized by a narrow and one-sided conscious attitude. At the end of the Christian era, life had become repressed, too overly focused on the Apollonian side of life, to put it in Nietzsche’s own terms. It was Nietzsche who, according to Jung, was among the first to recognize this fact, and who expressed that a part of human nature was not being lived (the instincts, the Dionysian side of life). Because he felt these problems of his own time so deeply, the collective unconscious presented him with a compensatory, archetypal vision, therewith starting the process of enantiodromia, of a new beginning:

Nietzsche was exceedingly sensitive to the spirit of the time; he felt very clearly that we are living now in a time when new values should be discovered . . . . Nietzsche felt that, and instantly, naturally, the whole symbolic process . . . began in himself (Jung, 1988 [1934], Vol. 1, p. 279).

Jung, then, saw Zarathustra not as a conscious, deliberate construction of Nietzsche. Rather, he saw it as the result of a sort of dream state into which Nietzsche had entered, which culminated in a work of archetypal content that stood in a compensatory relation to the age in which it had been created. Nietzsche, because he was so sensitive, was among the first to have such an experience, but it was Jung’s conviction that the very archetypal content that had captivated Nietzsche would later enthrall all of Europe.

So what archetypal, compensatory content is it that Jung claims we can find in Zarathustra? In the seminar, we find Jung claiming again and again that the essence of the book is characterized by a single archetype: the archetype of Wotan. Jung named this archetype after a Germanic God who he described in another text as “a God of storm and agitation, an unleasher of passion and lust for battle, as well as a sorcerer and master of illusion who is woven into all secrets of an occult nature (Jung, 1936). It is this archetype which, according to Jung, lies at the root of Zarathustra:

It is Wotan who gets him, the old wind God breaking forth, the god of inspiration, of madness, of intoxication and wildness, the god of the Berserkers, those wild people who run amok (Jung, 1988 [1934], Vol. 2, p. 1227).

This archetype first revealed itself in the work of Nietzsche, but had, by the time of the Seminar, already captivated almost everyone in Europe, according to Jung. He associated it with the revived interest in paganism and eroticism, but also with the disasters of war that would so strongly characterize the first half of the 20th century:

Now old Wotan is in the center of Europe, you can see all the psychological symptoms which he personifies. . . . Fascism in Italy is old Wotan again, it is all Germanic blood down there (Jung, 1997 [1934], p. 196).

Or consider this quote from Memories, Dreams, Reflections, which also sums up Jung’s thoughts on the relationship between Wotan, Nietzsche and the disasters of war quite well:

[The] Dionysian experience of Nietzsche . . . might better be ascribed to the god of ecstasy, WotanThe hubris of the Wilhelmine era alienated Europe and paved the way for the disaster of 1914. In my youth, I was unconsciously caught up by this spirit of the age (Jung, 1965 [1961], p. 262).

Both quotes illustrate very clearly that Jung saw the archetype of Wotan as an explanatory cause for both World War I and Fascism. The second quote, however, also illustrates something that is of much more importance to our discussion here: Jung related Wotan directly to the Dionysian. Indeed, when we examine Jung’s discussion of Wotan in the seminar on Zarathustra, he makes explicit the fact that he considers the two related:

Therefore one can say he [Wotan, RR] is very similar to the Thracian Dionysos, the god of orgiastic enthusiasm(Jung, 1997 [1934], p. 196).

Now we have finally come full circle. As we have seen in the first section of this article, the work of Nietzsche that Jung was most interested in was Zarathustra, and the Nietzschean concept he found the most important was the Dionysian. Here, then, do these two strands finally come together. Zarathustra, according to Jung, was an archetypal work that stood in a compensatory relationship to the Apollonian age in which it had been created, and the archetype which characterized it most of all was the archetype of Wotan, or, in non-Germanic terms, Dionysos.[vi]

“In my youth,” Jung wrote in the passage from Memories, Dreams, Reflections quoted above, “I was unconsciously caught up by this spirit of the age” (p. 262). [P2] We can now finally come to understand what he meant by this. According to Jung, his age was characterized by the spirit of Wotan, or, in Nietzschean terms, the spirit of Dionysos, and it was in Zarathustra that he saw this spirit announce itself, after having been neglected for such a long time during the overly Apollonian era of Christianity. Zarathustra, in other words, “was the Dionysian experience par excellence” (Jung, 1988 [1934], Vol. 1, p. 10).


We are now finally in a position to sketch a rough outline of the essence of Jung’s interpretation of Nietzsche. Nietzsche provided Jung both with the terminology (the Dionysian) and the case study (Zarathustra as an example of the Dionysian at work in the psyche) to help him put into words his thoughts about the spirit of his own age: an age confronted with an uprush of the Wotanic/Dionysian spirit in the collective unconscious.  This, in a nutshell, is how Jung came to see Nietzsche, and explains why he was so fascinated by Nietzsche as a thinker.

A topic which still remains to be discussed, however, is in which way Nietzsche, and the concept of the Dionysian in particular, influenced Jung’s own conceptual framework. This is a topic all its own, and one which I do not have enough room for here to fully do justice. It is also a topic about which the scholars who have written about Jung’s reception of Nietzsche disagree somewhat. For myself, I have come to the conclusion that the concept from Jung’s own theoretical framework which was most explicitly influenced by Nietzsche is his concept of the shadow. Jung hypothesized that all the inferior (Jung’s term) parts of ourselves which we refuse presence in our lives — our wild and untamed instincts, as well as our unethical character traits and ideas — take on a subconscious life of their own, occasionally overtaking us when we least suspect it. According to Jung, the best way to deal with this shadow side of our personality is not to deny it, but to become conscious of it and work with it. The shadow, in other words, is not to be neglected — it is to be confronted. When this task is accomplished, the shadow stops being antagonistic, and can even become a source of great strength and creativity. The shadow, in other words, must be integrated into the conscious personality:

It is a therapeutic necessity, indeed, the first requisite of any thorough psychological method, for consciousness to confront its shadow. In the end this must lead to some kind of union, even though the union consists at first in an open conflict, and often remains so for a long time. It is a struggle that cannot be abolished by rational means. When it is wilfully repressed it continues in the unconscious and merely expresses itself indirectly and all the more dangerously, so no advantage is gained (Jung, 1963, p. par. 514).

I do not mean to imply here that Jung’s concept of the shadow is the exact equivalent of Nietzsche’s notion of the Dionysian. Nietzsche used his term in a much more abstract fashion than Jung did. The shadow, after all, denotes a specific part of the human psyche, not an abstract life force like the Dionysian. Still, if we examine the characteristics of Jung’s concept of the shadow, it becomes clear that it overlaps significantly with the concept of the Dionysian. The shadow, after all:

  • Was neglected and repressed during the Christian era;
  • Operates on a primitive and emotional level;
  • Is also a source of vitality and inspiration, a “congenial asset” (Jung, 1918, par. 20) which represents “the true spirit of life” (Jung, 1965 [1961], p. 262).

All of these characteristics apply to Nietzsche’s concept of the Dionysian as well. Needless to say, this overlap could merely be a coincidence: it could be the case that Jung developed his concept of the shadow without any direct line of influence from Nietzsche’s ideas whatsoever. As I will argue in a forthcoming paper, however, there is clear evidence to be found in texts from the early stages of Jung’s career that Jung developed his concept of the human shadow with Nietzsche’s concept of the Dionysian in the back of his mind. Nietzsche, then, was of profound importance for Jung. Not only did Jung see Nietzsche’s work as essential for anyone wanting to grasp the essence of the time in which he himself lived, Nietzsche’s ideas also had a strong influence on the way his own concepts took shape. Understanding Jung’s relationship to this extraordinary German thinker is therefore of prime importance for anyone who wants to truly understand Jung himself. Although coming to a complete understanding of the exact nature of this line of influence is a complex task, the roadmap presented in this paper will hopefully have made it more manageable.


Bishop, P. (1995). The Dionysian self : C.G. Jung’s reception of Friedrich Nietzsche. Berlin: de Gruyter.
Bishop, P. (1999). C.G. Jung and Nietzsche: Dionysos and analytical psychology. In P. Bishop (Ed.), Jung in contexts : a reader. London / New York: Routledge.
Dixon, P. (1999). Nietzsche and Jung : sailing a deeper night. New York: P. Lang.
The Freud-Jung letters. (1979).  (R. F. C. Hull & R. Manheim, Trans.). London: Penguin books.
Grossman, S. (1999). C.G. Jung and National Socialism. In P. Bishop (Ed.), Jung in contexts : a reader. London / New York: Routledge.
Huskinson, L. (2004). Nietzsche and Jung : the whole self in the union of opposites. New York /
Hove: Brunner-Routledge.
Jung, C. G. (1918). The role of the unconscious. In The collected works of C.G. Jung (Vol. 10). Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Jung, C. G. (1936). Wotan. In The collected works of C.G. Jung (Vol. 10). Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Jung, C. G. (1963). Mysterium coniunctionis (The collected works of C.G. Jung vol. 14). Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Jung, C. G. (1965 [1961]). Memories, dreams, reflections. New York: Random House.
Jung, C. G. (1983 [1896-1899]). The Zofingia lectures. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
Jung, C. G. (1988 [1934]). Nietzsche’s Zarathustra : notes of the seminar given in 1934-1939. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Jung, C. G. (1997 [1934]). Jung’s seminar on Nietzsche’s Zarathustra (abridged edition). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Noll, R. (1994). The Jung cult: Origins of a charismatic movement. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Noll, R. (1997). The Aryan Christ : the secret life of Carl Jung. New York: Random House.

[i] Jung’s favorite philosophers up until that time had been Kant, Schopenhauer and Plato.

[ii] As is well-known, Memories, Dreams, Reflections is NOT Jung’s autobiography. Although Jung wrote sections of the book himself, most of the real legwork was done by his secretary, Aniela Jaffé, who based most of the passages she wrote on interviews she conducted with Jung in the period before his death. As Sonu Shamdasani, in C. G. Jung: A Biography in Books, has pointed out, the final version of the book was assembled after Jung’s death, and included many editorial changes made by Jaffé and the Jung family that had not been approved by Jung himself. This means that Memories, Dreams, Reflections is a controversial work, the content of which cannot be taken at face value. It should be noted, however, that the passages about Nietzsche in Memories, Dreams, Reflections are in all likelihood not passages that would have been changed after Jung’s death in accordance with the wishes of the Jung family, as they do not represent anything ‘controversial’. Moreover, it is pretty much the only source available if one wants to give a historical overview of Jung’s relationship with the works of Nietzsche, which is why I make use of it in this section.

[iii] The Dionysian was a concept which Nietzsche first used in his book The Birth of Tragedy, in which he contrasted it with the opposing concept of the Apollonian. According to Nietzsche, both of these forces are operable in human culture. The Apollonian he associated with reason, harmony and balance; the Dionysian, on the other hand, he associated with irrationality, drunkenness and madness. He also related it to intuition and to ecstatic union with the forces of nature.

[iv] Gross was up until recently somewhat of a forgotten figure; however, the recently released Hollywood film about Jung’s life, A Dangerous Method, may have changed this somewhat, as the meeting between Gross and Jung plays an important part in the story of the first half of the film.

[v] Jung’s alleged National Socialist sympathies are a topic unto themselves, and one with which I cannot deal here. For a good discussion of this topic see Grossman (1999).

[vi] Jung felt strongly that one had to stick to the traditions/myths of the culture one had been raised in. This probably explains why he preferred to refer to the Dionysian by using a more Germanic term such as Wotan (so as to better suit his own Swiss/Germanic upbringing).

 [P1]page number inserted (RR)

 [P2]page number inserted (RR)


Dr. Ritske Rensma is a lecturer in the field of Religious Studies at Roosevelt Academy, an international honors college of the University of Utrecht. He is the author of the book The Innateness of Myth (London: Continuum, 2009), which analyses Jung’s influence on the American comparative mythologist Joseph Campbell.

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The Holy Grail of the Unconscious

September 20, 2009

The Holy Grail of the Unconscious

This is a story about a nearly 100-year-old book, bound in red leather, which has spent the last quarter century secreted away in a bank vault in Switzerland. The book is big and heavy and its spine is etched with gold letters that say “Liber Novus,” which is Latin for “New Book.” Its pages are made from thick cream-colored parchment and filled with paintings of otherworldly creatures and handwritten dialogues with gods and devils. If you didn’t know the book’s vintage, you might confuse it for a lost medieval tome.

And yet between the book’s heavy covers, a very modern story unfolds. It goes as follows: Man skids into midlife and loses his soul. Man goes looking for soul. After a lot of instructive hardship and adventure — taking place entirely in his head — he finds it again.

Some people feel that nobody should read the book, and some feel that everybody should read it. The truth is, nobody really knows. Most of what has been said about the book — what it is, what it means — is the product of guesswork, because from the time it was begun in 1914 in a smallish town in Switzerland, it seems that only about two dozen people have managed to read or even have much of a look at it.

Of those who did see it, at least one person, an educated Englishwoman who was allowed to read some of the book in the 1920s, thought it held infinite wisdom — “There are people in my country who would read it from cover to cover without stopping to breathe scarcely,” she wrote — while another, a well-known literary type who glimpsed it shortly after, deemed it both fascinating and worrisome, concluding that it was the work of a psychotic.

So for the better part of the past century, despite the fact that it is thought to be the pivotal work of one of the era’s great thinkers, the book has existed mostly just as a rumor, cosseted behind the skeins of its own legend — revered and puzzled over only from a great distance.

Which is why one rainy November night in 2007, I boarded a flight in Boston and rode the clouds until I woke up in Zurich, pulling up to the airport gate at about the same hour that the main branch of the Union Bank of Switzerland, located on the city’s swanky Bahnhofstrasse, across from Tommy Hilfiger and close to Cartier, was opening its doors for the day. A change was under way: the book, which had spent the past 23 years locked inside a safe deposit box in one of the bank’s underground vaults, was just then being wrapped in black cloth and loaded into a discreet-looking padded suitcase on wheels. It was then rolled past the guards, out into the sunlight and clear, cold air, where it was loaded into a waiting car and whisked away.

THIS COULD SOUND, I realize, like the start of a spy novel or a Hollywood bank caper, but it is rather a story about genius and madness, as well as possession and obsession, with one object — this old, unusual book — skating among those things. Also, there are a lot of Jungians involved, a species of thinkers who subscribe to the theories of Carl Jung, the Swiss psychiatrist and author of the big red leather book. And Jungians, almost by definition, tend to get enthused anytime something previously hidden reveals itself, when whatever’s been underground finally makes it to the surface.

Carl Jung founded the field of analytical psychology and, along with Sigmund Freud, was responsible for popularizing the idea that a person’s interior life merited not just attention but dedicated exploration — a notion that has since propelled tens of millions of people into psychotherapy. Freud, who started as Jung’s mentor and later became his rival, generally viewed the unconscious mind as a warehouse for repressed desires, which could then be codified and pathologized and treated. Jung, over time, came to see the psyche as an inherently more spiritual and fluid place, an ocean that could be fished for enlightenment and healing.

Whether or not he would have wanted it this way, Jung — who regarded himself as a scientist — is today remembered more as a countercultural icon, a proponent of spirituality outside religion and the ultimate champion of dreamers and seekers everywhere, which has earned him both posthumous respect and posthumous ridicule. Jung’s ideas laid the foundation for the widely used Myers-Briggs personality test and influenced the creation of Alcoholics Anonymous. His central tenets — the existence of a collective unconscious and the power of archetypes — have seeped into the larger domain of New Age thinking while remaining more at the fringes of mainstream psychology.

A big man with wire-rimmed glasses, a booming laugh and a penchant for the experimental, Jung was interested in the psychological aspects of séances, of astrology, of witchcraft. He could be jocular and also impatient. He was a dynamic speaker, an empathic listener. He had a famously magnetic appeal with women. Working at Zurich’s Burghölzli psychiatric hospital, Jung listened intently to the ravings of schizophrenics, believing they held clues to both personal and universal truths. At home, in his spare time, he pored over Dante, Goethe, Swedenborg and Nietzsche. He began to study mythology and world cultures, applying what he learned to the live feed from the unconscious — claiming that dreams offered a rich and symbolic narrative coming from the depths of the psyche. Somewhere along the way, he started to view the human soul — not just the mind and the body — as requiring specific care and development, an idea that pushed him into a province long occupied by poets and priests but not so much by medical doctors and empirical scientists.

Jung soon found himself in opposition not just to Freud but also to most of his field, the psychiatrists who constituted the dominant culture at the time, speaking the clinical language of symptom and diagnosis behind the deadbolts of asylum wards. Separation was not easy. As his convictions began to crystallize, Jung, who was at that point an outwardly successful and ambitious man with a young family, a thriving private practice and a big, elegant house on the shores of Lake Zurich, felt his own psyche starting to teeter and slide, until finally he was dumped into what would become a life-altering crisis.

What happened next to Carl Jung has become, among Jungians and other scholars, the topic of enduring legend and controversy. It has been characterized variously as a creative illness, a descent into the underworld, a bout with insanity, a narcissistic self-deification, a transcendence, a midlife breakdown and an inner disturbance mirroring the upheaval of World War I. Whatever the case, in 1913, Jung, who was then 38, got lost in the soup of his own psyche. He was haunted by troubling visions and heard inner voices. Grappling with the horror of some of what he saw, he worried in moments that he was, in his own words, “menaced by a psychosis” or “doing a schizophrenia.”

He later would compare this period of his life — this “confrontation with the unconscious,” as he called it — to a mescaline experiment. He described his visions as coming in an “incessant stream.” He likened them to rocks falling on his head, to thunderstorms, to molten lava. “I often had to cling to the table,” he recalled, “so as not to fall apart.”

Had he been a psychiatric patient, Jung might well have been told he had a nervous disorder and encouraged to ignore the circus going on in his head. But as a psychiatrist, and one with a decidedly maverick streak, he tried instead to tear down the wall between his rational self and his psyche. For about six years, Jung worked to prevent his conscious mind from blocking out what his unconscious mind wanted to show him. Between appointments with patients, after dinner with his wife and children, whenever there was a spare hour or two, Jung sat in a book-lined office on the second floor of his home and actually induced hallucinations — what he called “active imaginations.” “In order to grasp the fantasies which were stirring in me ‘underground,’ ” Jung wrote later in his book “Memories, Dreams, Reflections,” “I knew that I had to let myself plummet down into them.” He found himself in a liminal place, as full of creative abundance as it was of potential ruin, believing it to be the same borderlands traveled by both lunatics and great artists.

Jung recorded it all. First taking notes in a series of small, black journals, he then expounded upon and analyzed his fantasies, writing in a regal, prophetic tone in the big red-leather book. The book detailed an unabashedly psychedelic voyage through his own mind, a vaguely Homeric progression of encounters with strange people taking place in a curious, shifting dreamscape. Writing in German, he filled 205 oversize pages with elaborate calligraphy and with richly hued, staggeringly detailed paintings.

What he wrote did not belong to his previous canon of dispassionate, academic essays on psychiatry. Nor was it a straightforward diary. It did not mention his wife, or his children, or his colleagues, nor for that matter did it use any psychiatric language at all. Instead, the book was a kind of phantasmagoric morality play, driven by Jung’s own wish not just to chart a course out of the mangrove swamp of his inner world but also to take some of its riches with him. It was this last part — the idea that a person might move beneficially between the poles of the rational and irrational, the light and the dark, the conscious and the unconscious — that provided the germ for his later work and for what analytical psychology would become.

The book tells the story of Jung trying to face down his own demons as they emerged from the shadows. The results are humiliating, sometimes unsavory. In it, Jung travels the land of the dead, falls in love with a woman he later realizes is his sister, gets squeezed by a giant serpent and, in one terrifying moment, eats the liver of a little child. (“I swallow with desperate efforts — it is impossible — once again and once again — I almost faint — it is done.”) At one point, even the devil criticizes Jung as hateful.

He worked on his red book — and he called it just that, the Red Book — on and off for about 16 years, long after his personal crisis had passed, but he never managed to finish it. He actively fretted over it, wondering whether to have it published and face ridicule from his scientifically oriented peers or to put it in a drawer and forget it. Regarding the significance of what the book contained, however, Jung was unequivocal. “All my works, all my creative activity,” he would recall later, “has come from those initial fantasies and dreams.”

Jung evidently kept the Red Book locked in a cupboard in his house in the Zurich suburb of Küsnacht. When he died in 1961, he left no specific instructions about what to do with it. His son, Franz, an architect and the third of Jung’s five children, took over running the house and chose to leave the book, with its strange musings and elaborate paintings, where it was. Later, in 1984, the family transferred it to the bank, where since then it has fulminated as both an asset and a liability.

Anytime someone did ask to see the Red Book, family members said, without hesitation and sometimes without decorum, no. The book was private, they asserted, an intensely personal work. In 1989, an American analyst named Stephen Martin, who was then the editor of a Jungian journal and now directs a Jungian nonprofit foundation, visited Jung’s son (his other four children were daughters) and inquired about the Red Book. The question was met with a vehemence that surprised him. “Franz Jung, an otherwise genial and gracious man, reacted sharply, nearly with anger,” Martin later wrote in his foundation’s newsletter, saying “in no uncertain terms” that Martin could not “see the Red Book, nor could he ever imagine that it would be published.”

And yet, Carl Jung’s secret Red Book — scanned, translated and footnoted — will be in stores early next month, published by W. W. Norton and billed as the “most influential unpublished work in the history of psychology.” Surely it is a victory for someone, but it is too early yet to say for whom.

STEPHEN MARTIN IS a compact, bearded man of 57. He has a buoyant, irreverent wit and what feels like a fully intact sense of wonder. If you happen to have a conversation with him anytime before, say, 10 a.m., he will ask his first question — “How did you sleep?” — and likely follow it with a second one — “Did you dream?” Because for Martin, as it is for all Jungian analysts, dreaming offers a barometric reading of the psyche. At his house in a leafy suburb of Philadelphia, Martin keeps five thick books filled with notations on and interpretations of all the dreams he had while studying to be an analyst 30 years ago in Zurich, under the tutelage of a Swiss analyst then in her 70s named Liliane Frey-Rohn. These days, Martin stores his dreams on his computer, but his dream life is — as he says everybody’s dream life should be — as involving as ever.

Even as some of his peers in the Jungian world are cautious about regarding Carl Jung as a sage — a history of anti-Semitic remarks and his sometimes patriarchal views of women have caused some to distance themselves — Martin is unapologetically reverential. He keeps Jung’s 20 volumes of collected works on a shelf at home. He rereads “Memories, Dreams, Reflections” at least twice a year. Many years ago, when one of his daughters interviewed him as part of a school project and asked what his religion was, Martin, a nonobservant Jew, answered, “Oh, honey, I’m a Jungian.”

The first time I met him, at the train station in Ardmore, Pa., Martin shook my hand and thoughtfully took my suitcase. “Come,” he said. “I’ll take you to see the holy hankie.” We then walked several blocks to the office where Martin sees clients. The room was cozy and cavelike, with a thick rug and walls painted a deep, handsome shade of blue. There was a Mission-style sofa and two upholstered chairs and an espresso machine in one corner.

Several mounted vintage posters of Zurich hung on the walls, along with framed photographs of Carl Jung, looking wise and white-haired, and Liliane Frey-Rohn, a round-faced woman smiling maternally from behind a pair of severe glasses.

Martin tenderly lifted several first-edition books by Jung from a shelf, opening them so I could see how they had been inscribed to Frey-Rohn, who later bequeathed them to Martin. Finally, we found ourselves standing in front of a square frame hung on the room’s far wall, another gift from his former analyst and the centerpiece of Martin’s Jung arcana. Inside the frame was a delicate linen square, its crispness worn away by age — a folded handkerchief with the letters “CGJ” embroidered neatly in one corner in gray. Martin pointed. “There you have it,” he said with exaggerated pomp, “the holy hankie, the sacred nasal shroud of C. G. Jung.”

In addition to practicing as an analyst, Martin is the director of the Philemon Foundation, which focuses on preparing the unpublished works of Carl Jung for publication, with the Red Book as its central project. He has spent the last several years aggressively, sometimes evangelistically, raising money in the Jungian community to support his foundation. The foundation, in turn, helped pay for the translating of the book and the addition of a scholarly apparatus — a lengthy introduction and vast network of footnotes — written by a London-based historian named Sonu Shamdasani, who serves as the foundation’s general editor and who spent about three years persuading the family to endorse the publication of the book and to allow him access to it.

Given the Philemon Foundation’s aim to excavate and make public C. G. Jung’s old papers — lectures he delivered at Zurich’s Psychological Club or unpublished letters, for example — both Martin and Shamdasani, who started the foundation in 2003, have worked to develop a relationship with the Jung family, the owners and notoriously protective gatekeepers of Jung’s works. Martin echoed what nearly everybody I met subsequently would tell me about working with Jung’s descendants. “It’s sometimes delicate,” he said, adding by way of explanation, “They are very Swiss.”

What he likely meant by this was that the members of the Jung family who work most actively on maintaining Jung’s estate tend to do things carefully and with an emphasis on privacy and decorum and are on occasion taken aback by the relatively brazen and totally informal way that American Jungians — who it is safe to say are the most ardent of all Jungians — inject themselves into the family’s business. There are Americans knocking unannounced on the door of the family home in Küsnacht; Americans scaling the fence at Bollingen, the stone tower Jung built as a summer residence farther south on the shore of Lake Zurich. Americans pepper Ulrich Hoerni, one of Jung’s grandsons who manages Jung’s editorial and archival matters through a family foundation, almost weekly with requests for various permissions. The relationship between the Jungs and the people who are inspired by Jung is, almost by necessity, a complex symbiosis. The Red Book — which on one hand described Jung’s self-analysis and became the genesis for the Jungian method and on the other was just strange enough to possibly embarrass the family — held a certain electrical charge. Martin recognized the descendants’ quandary. “They own it, but they haven’t lived it,” he said, describing Jung’s legacy. “It’s very consternating for them because we all feel like we own it.” Even the old psychiatrist himself seemed to recognize the tension. “Thank God I am Jung,” he is rumored once to have said, “and not a Jungian.”

“This guy, he was a bodhisattva,” Martin said to me that day. “This is the greatest psychic explorer of the 20th century, and this book tells the story of his inner life.” He added, “It gives me goose bumps just thinking about it.” He had at that point yet to lay eyes on the book, but for him that made it all the more tantalizing. His hope was that the Red Book would “reinvigorate” Jungian psychology, or at the very least bring himself personally closer to Jung. “Will I understand it?” he said. “Probably not. Will it disappoint? Probably. Will it inspire? How could it not?” He paused a moment, seeming to think it through. “I want to be transformed by it,” he said finally. “That’s all there is.”

IN ORDER TO UNDERSTAND and decode the Red Book — a process he says required more than five years of concentrated work — Sonu Shamdasani took long, rambling walks on London’s Hampstead Heath. He would translate the book in the morning, then walk miles in the park in the afternoon, his mind trying to follow the rabbit’s path Jung had forged through his own mind.

Shamdasani is 46. He has thick black hair, a punctilious eye for detail and an understated, even somnolent, way of speaking. He is friendly but not particularly given to small talk. If Stephen Martin is — in Jungian terms — a “feeling type,” then Shamdasani, who teaches at the University College London’s Wellcome Trust Center for the History of Medicine and keeps a book by the ancient Greek playwright Aeschylus by his sofa for light reading, is a “thinking type.” He has studied Jungian psychology for more than 15 years and is particularly drawn to the breadth of Jung’s psychology and his knowledge of Eastern thought, as well as the historical richness of his era, a period when visionary writing was more common, when science and art were more entwined and when Europe was slipping into the psychic upheaval of war. He tends to be suspicious of interpretive thinking that’s not anchored by hard fact — and has, in fact, made a habit of attacking anybody he deems guilty of sloppy scholarship — and also maintains a generally unsentimental attitude toward Jung. Both of these qualities make him, at times, awkward company among both Jungians and Jungs.

The relationship between historians and the families of history’s luminaries is, almost by nature, one of mutual disenchantment. One side works to extract; the other to protect. One pushes; one pulls. Stephen Joyce, James Joyce’s literary executor and last living heir, has compared scholars and biographers to “rats and lice.” Vladimir Nabokov’s son Dmitri recently told an interviewer that he considered destroying his father’s last known novel in order to rescue it from the “monstrous nincompoops” who had already picked over his father’s life and works. T. S. Eliot’s widow, Valerie Fletcher, has actively kept his papers out of the hands of biographers, and Anna Freud was, during her lifetime, notoriously selective about who was allowed to read and quote from her father’s archives.

Even against this backdrop, the Jungs, led by Ulrich Hoerni, the chief literary administrator, have distinguished themselves with their custodial vigor. Over the years, they have tried to interfere with the publication of books perceived to be negative or inaccurate (including one by the award-winning biographer Deirdre Bair), engaged in legal standoffs with Jungians and other academics over rights to Jung’s work and maintained a state of high agitation concerning the way C. G. Jung is portrayed. Shamdasani was initially cautious with Jung’s heirs. “They had a retinue of people coming to them and asking to see the crown jewels,” he told me in London this summer. “And the standard reply was, ‘Get lost.’ ”

Shamdasani first approached the family with a proposal to edit and eventually publish the Red Book in 1997, which turned out to be an opportune moment. Franz Jung, a vehement opponent of exposing Jung’s private side, had recently died, and the family was reeling from the publication of two controversial and widely discussed books by an American psychologist named Richard Noll, who proposed that Jung was a philandering, self-appointed prophet of a sun-worshiping Aryan cult and that several of his central ideas were either plagiarized or based upon falsified research.

While the attacks by Noll might have normally propelled the family to more vociferously guard the Red Book, Shamdasani showed up with the right bargaining chips — two partial typed draft manuscripts (without illustrations) of the Red Book he had dug up elsewhere. One was sitting on a bookshelf in a house in southern Switzerland, at the home of the elderly daughter of a woman who once worked as a transcriptionist and translator for Jung. The second he found at Yale University’s Beinecke Library, in an uncataloged box of papers belonging to a well-known German publisher. The fact that there were partial copies of the Red Book signified two things — one, that Jung had distributed it to at least a few friends, presumably soliciting feedback for publication; and two, that the book, so long considered private and inaccessible, was in fact findable. The specter of Richard Noll and anybody else who, they feared, might want to taint Jung by quoting selectively from the book loomed large. With or without the family’s blessing, the Red Book — or at least parts of it — would likely become public at some point soon, “probably,” Shamdasani wrote ominously in a report to the family, “in sensationalistic form.”

For about two years, Shamdasani flew back and forth to Zurich, making his case to Jung’s heirs. He had lunches and coffees and delivered a lecture. Finally, after what were by all accounts tense deliberations inside the family, Shamdasani was given a small salary and a color copy of the original book and was granted permission to proceed in preparing it for publication, though he was bound by a strict confidentiality agreement. When money ran short in 2003, the Philemon Foundation was created to finance Shamdasani’s research.

Having lived more or less alone with the book for almost a decade, Shamdasani — who is a lover of fine wine and the intricacies of jazz — these days has the slightly stunned aspect of someone who has only very recently found his way out of an enormous maze. When I visited him this summer in the book-stuffed duplex overlooking the heath, he was just adding his 1,051st footnote to the Red Book.

The footnotes map both Shamdasani’s journey and Jung’s. They include references to Faust, Keats, Ovid, the Norse gods Odin and Thor, the Egyptian deities Isis and Osiris, the Greek goddess Hecate, ancient Gnostic texts, Greek Hyperboreans, King Herod, the Old Testament, the New Testament, Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, astrology, the artist Giacometti and the alchemical formulation of gold. And that’s just naming a few. The central premise of the book, Shamdasani told me, was that Jung had become disillusioned with scientific rationalism — what he called “the spirit of the times” — and over the course of many quixotic encounters with his own soul and with other inner figures, he comes to know and appreciate “the spirit of the depths,” a field that makes room for magic, coincidence and the mythological metaphors delivered by dreams.

“It is the nuclear reactor for all his works,” Shamdasani said, noting that Jung’s more well-known concepts — including his belief that humanity shares a pool of ancient wisdom that he called the collective unconscious and the thought that personalities have both male and female components (animus and anima) — have their roots in the Red Book. Creating the book also led Jung to reformulate how he worked with clients, as evidenced by an entry Shamdasani found in a self-published book written by a former client, in which she recalls Jung’s advice for processing what went on in the deeper and sometimes frightening parts of her mind.

“I should advise you to put it all down as beautifully as you can — in some beautifully bound book,” Jung instructed. “It will seem as if you were making the visions banal — but then you need to do that — then you are freed from the power of them. . . . Then when these things are in some precious book you can go to the book & turn over the pages & for you it will be your church — your cathedral — the silent places of your spirit where you will find renewal. If anyone tells you that it is morbid or neurotic and you listen to them — then you will lose your soul — for in that book is your soul.”

ZURICH IS, IF NOTHING ELSE, one of Europe’s more purposeful cities. Its church bells clang precisely; its trains glide in and out on a flawless schedule. There are crowded fondue restaurants and chocolatiers and rosy-cheeked natives breezily pedaling their bicycles over the stone bridges that span the Limmat River. In summer, white-sailed yachts puff around Lake Zurich; in winter, the Alps glitter on the horizon. And during the lunch hour year-round, squads of young bankers stride the Bahnhofstrasse in their power suits and high-end watches, appearing eternally mindful of the fact that beneath everyone’s feet lie labyrinthine vaults stuffed with a dazzling and disproportionate amount of the world’s wealth.

But there, too, ventilating the city’s material splendor with their devotion to dreams, are the Jungians. Some 100 Jungian analysts practice in and around Zurich, examining their clients’ dreams in sessions held in small offices tucked inside buildings around the city. Another few hundred analysts in training can be found studying at one of the two Jungian institutes in the area. More than once, I have been told that, in addition to being a fantastic tourist destination and a good place to hide money, Zurich is an excellent city for dreaming.

Jungians are accustomed to being in the minority pretty much everywhere they go, but here, inside a city of 370,000, they have found a certain quiet purchase. Zurich, for Jungians, is spiritually loaded. It’s a kind of Jerusalem, the place where C. G. Jung began his career, held seminars, cultivated an inner circle of disciples, developed his theories of the psyche and eventually grew old. Many of the people who enroll in the institutes are Swiss, American, British or German, but some are from places like Japan and South Africa and Brazil. Though there are other Jungian institutes in other cities around the world offering diploma programs, learning the techniques of dream analysis in Zurich is a little bit like learning to hit a baseball in Yankee Stadium. For a believer, the place alone conveys a talismanic grace.

Just as I had, Stephen Martin flew to Zurich the week the Red Book was taken from its bank-vault home and moved to a small photo studio near the opera house to be scanned, page by page, for publication. (A separate English translation along with Shamdasani’s introduction and footnotes will be included at the back of the book.) Martin already made a habit of visiting Zurich a few times a year for “bratwurst and renewal” and to attend to Philemon Foundation business. My first morning there, we walked around the older parts of Zurich, before going to see the book. Zurich made Martin nostalgic. It was here that he met his wife, Charlotte, and here that he developed the almost equally important relationship with his analyst, Frey-Rohn, carrying himself and his dreams to her office two or three times weekly for several years.

Undergoing analysis is a central, learn-by-doing part of Jungian training, which usually takes about five years and also involves taking courses in folklore, mythology, comparative religion and psychopathology, among others. It is, Martin says, very much a “mentor-based discipline.” He is fond of pointing out his own conferred pedigree, because Frey-Rohn was herself analyzed by C. G. Jung. Most analysts seem to know their bloodlines. That morning, Martin and I were passing a cafe when he spotted another American analyst, someone he knew in school and who has since settled in Switzerland. “Oh, there’s Bob,” Martin said merrily, making his way toward the man. “Bob trained with Liliane,” he explained to me, “and that makes us kind of like brothers.”

Jungian analysis revolves largely around writing down your dreams (or drawing them) and bringing them to the analyst — someone who is patently good with both symbols and people — to be scoured for personal and archetypal meaning. Borrowing from Jung’s own experiences, analysts often encourage clients to experiment on their own with active imagination, to summon a waking dreamscape and to interact with whatever, or whoever, surfaces there. Analysis is considered to be a form of psychotherapy, and many analysts are in fact trained also as psychotherapists, but in its purist form, a Jungian analyst eschews clinical talk of diagnoses and recovery in favor of broader (and some might say fuzzier) goals of self-discovery and wholeness — a maturation process Jung himself referred to as “individuation.” Perhaps as a result, Jungian analysis has a distinct appeal to people in midlife. “The purpose of analysis is not treatment,” Martin explained to me. “That’s the purpose of psychotherapy. The purpose of analysis,” he added, a touch grandly, “is to give life back to someone who’s lost it.”

Later that day, we went to the photo studio where the work on the book was already under way. The room was a charmless space with concrete floors and black walls. Its hushed atmosphere and glaring lights added a slightly surgical aspect. There was the editor from Norton in a tweedy sport coat. There was an art director hired by Norton and two technicians from a company called DigitalFusion, who had flown to Zurich from Southern California with what looked to be a half-ton of computer and camera equipment.

Shamdasani arrived ahead of us. And so did Ulrich Hoerni, who, along with his cousin Peter Jung, had become a cautious supporter of Shamdasani, working to build consensus inside the family to allow the book out into the world. Hoerni was the one to fetch the book from the bank and was now standing by, his brow furrowed, appearing somewhat tortured. To talk to Jung’s heirs is to understand that nearly four decades after his death, they continue to reel inside the psychic tornado Jung created during his lifetime, caught between the opposing forces of his admirers and critics and between their own filial loyalties and history’s pressing tendency to judge and rejudge its own playmakers. Hoerni would later tell me that Shamdasani’s discovery of the stray copies of the Red Book surprised him, that even today he’s not entirely clear about whether Carl Jung ever intended for the Red Book to be published. “He left it an open question,” he said. “One might think he would have taken some of his children aside and said, ‘This is what it is and what I want done with it,’ but he didn’t.” It was a burden Hoerni seemed to wear heavily. He had shown up at the photo studio not just with the Red Book in its special padded suitcase but also with a bedroll and a toothbrush, since after the day’s work was wrapped, he would be spending the night curled up near the book — “a necessary insurance measure,” he would explain.

And finally, there sunbathing under the lights, sat Carl Jung’s Red Book, splayed open to Page 37. One side of the open page showed an intricate mosaic painting of a giant holding an ax, surrounded by winged serpents and crocodiles. The other side was filled with a cramped German calligraphy that seemed at once controlled and also, just given the number of words on the page, created the impression of something written feverishly, cathartically. Above the book a 10,200-pixel scanner suspended on a dolly clicked and whirred, capturing the book one-tenth of a millimeter at a time and uploading the images into a computer.

The Red Book had an undeniable beauty. Its colors seemed almost to pulse, its writing almost to crawl. Shamdasani’s relief was palpable, as was Hoerni’s anxiety. Everyone in the room seemed frozen in a kind of awe, especially Stephen Martin, who stood about eight feet away from the book but then finally, after a few minutes, began to inch closer to it. When the art director called for a break, Martin leaned in, tilting his head to read some of the German on the page. Whether he understood it or not, he didn’t say. He only looked up and smiled.

ONE AFTERNOON I took a break from the scanning and visited Andreas Jung, who lives with his wife, Vreni, in C. G. Jung’s old house at 228 Seestrasse in the town of Küsnacht. The house — a 5,000-square-foot, 1908 baroque-style home, designed by the psychiatrist and financed largely with his wife, Emma’s, inheritance — sits on an expanse between the road and the lake. Two rows of trimmed, towering topiary trees create a narrow passage to the entrance. The house faces the white-capped lake, a set of manicured gardens and, in one corner, an anomalous, unruly patch of bamboo.

Andreas is a tall man with a quiet demeanor and a gentlemanly way of dressing. At 64, he resembles a thinner, milder version of his famous grandfather, whom he refers to as “C. G.” Among Jung’s five children (all but one are dead) and 19 grandchildren (all but five are still living), he is one of the youngest and also known as the most accommodating to curious outsiders. It is an uneasy kind of celebrity. He and Vreni make tea and politely serve cookies and dispense little anecdotes about Jung to those courteous enough to make an advance appointment. “People want to talk to me and sometimes even touch me,” Andreas told me, seeming both amused and a little sheepish. “But it is not at all because of me, of course. It is because of my grandfather.” He mentioned that the gardeners who trim the trees are often perplexed when they encounter strangers — usually foreigners — snapping pictures of the house. “In Switzerland, C. G. Jung is not thought to be so important,” he said. “They don’t see the point of it.”

Jung, who was born in the mountain village of Kesswil, was a lifelong outsider in Zurich, even as in his adult years he seeded the city with his followers and became — along with Paul Klee and Karl Barth — one of the best-known Swissmen of his era. Perhaps his marginalization stemmed in part from the offbeat nature of his ideas. (He was mocked, for example, for publishing a book in the late 1950s that examined the psychological phenomenon of flying saucers.) Maybe it was his well-documented abrasiveness toward people he found uninteresting. Or maybe it was connected to the fact that he broke with the established ranks of his profession. (During the troubled period when he began writing the Red Book, Jung resigned from his position at Burghölzli, never to return.) Most likely, too, it had something to do with the unconventional, unhidden, 40-something-year affair he conducted with a shy but intellectually forbidding woman named Toni Wolff, one of Jung’s former analysands who went on to become an analyst as well as Jung’s close professional collaborator and a frequent, if not fully welcome, fixture at the Jung family dinner table.

“The life of C. G. Jung was not easy,” Andreas said. “For the family, it was not easy at all.” As a young man, Andreas had sometimes gone and found his grandfather’s Red Book in the cupboard and paged through it, just for fun. Knowing its author personally, he said, “It was not strange to me at all.”

For the family, C. G. Jung became more of a puzzle after his death, having left behind a large amount of unpublished work and an audience eager to get its hands on it. “There were big fights,” Andreas told me when I visited him again this summer. Andreas, who was 19 when his grandfather died, recalled family debates over whether or not to allow some of Jung’s private letters to be published. When the extended family gathered for the annual Christmas party in Küsnacht, Jung’s children would disappear into a room and have heated discussions about what to do with what he had left behind while his grandchildren played in another room. “My cousins and brothers and I, we thought they were silly to argue over these things,” Andreas said, with a light laugh. “But later when our parents died, we found ourselves having those same arguments.”

Even Jung’s great-grandchildren felt his presence. “He was omnipresent,” Daniel Baumann, whose grandmother was Jung’s daughter Gret, would tell me when I met him later. He described his own childhood with a mix of bitterness and sympathy directed at the older generations. “It was, ‘Jung said this,’ and ‘Jung did that,’ and ‘Jung thought that.’ When you did something, he was always present somehow. He just continued to live on. He was with us. He is still with us,” Baumann said. Baumann is an architect and also the president of the board of the C. G. Jung Institute in Küsnacht. He deals with Jungians all the time, and for them, he said, it was the same. Jung was both there and not there. “It’s sort of like a hologram,” he said. “Everyone projects something in the space, and Jung begins to be a real person again.”

ONE NIGHT DURING the week of the scanning in Zurich, I had a big dream. A big dream, the Jungians tell me, is a departure from all your regular dreams, which in my case meant this dream was not about falling off a cliff or missing an exam. This dream was about an elephant — a dead elephant with its head cut off. The head was on a grill at a suburban-style barbecue, and I was holding the spatula. Everybody milled around with cocktails; the head sizzled over the flames. I was angry at my daughter’s kindergarten teacher because she was supposed to be grilling the elephant head at the barbecue, but she hadn’t bothered to show up. And so the job fell to me. Then I woke up.

At the hotel breakfast buffet, I bumped into Stephen Martin and a Californian analyst named Nancy Furlotti, who is the vice president on the board of the Philemon Foundation and was at that moment having tea and muesli.

“How are you?” Martin said.

“Did you dream?” Furlotti asked

“What do elephants mean to you?” Martin asked after I relayed my dream.

“I like elephants,” I said. “I admire elephants.”

“There’s Ganesha,” Furlotti said, more to Martin than to me. “Ganesha is an Indian god of wisdom.”

“Elephants are maternal,” Martin offered, “very caring.”

They spent a few minutes puzzling over the archetypal role of the kindergarten teacher. “How do you feel about her?” “Would you say she is more like a mother figure or more like a witch?”

Giving a dream to a Jungian analyst is a little bit like feeding a complex quadratic equation to someone who really enjoys math. It takes time. The process itself is to be savored. The solution is not always immediately evident. In the following months, I told my dream to several more analysts, and each one circled around similar symbolic concepts about femininity and wisdom. One day I was in the office of Murray Stein, an American analyst who lives in Switzerland and serves as the president of the International School of Analytical Psychology, talking about the Red Book. Stein was telling me about how some Jungian analysts he knew were worried about the publication — worried specifically that it was a private document and would be apprehended as the work of a crazy person, which then reminded me of my crazy dream. I related it to him, saying that the very thought of eating an elephant’s head struck me as grotesque and embarrassing and possibly a sign there was something deeply wrong with my psyche. Stein assured me that eating is a symbol for integration. “Don’t worry,” he said soothingly. “It’s horrifying on a naturalistic level, but symbolically it is good.”

It turned out that nearly everybody around the Red Book was dreaming that week. Nancy Furlotti dreamed that we were all sitting at a table drinking amber liquid from glass globes and talking about death. (Was the scanning of the book a death? Wasn’t death followed by rebirth?) Sonu Shamdasani dreamed that he came upon Hoerni sleeping in the garden of a museum. Stephen Martin was sure that he had felt some invisible hand patting him on the back while he slept. And Hugh Milstein, one of the digital techs scanning the book, passed a tormented night watching a ghostly, white-faced child flash on a computer screen. (Furlotti and Martin debated: could that be Mercurius? The god of travelers at a crossroads?)

Early one morning we were standing around the photo studio discussing our various dreams when Ulrich Hoerni trudged through the door, having deputized his nephew Felix to spend the previous night next to the Red Book. Felix had done his job; the Red Book lay sleeping with its cover closed on the table. But Hoerni, appearing weary, seemed to be taking an extra hard look at the book. The Jungians greeted him. “How are you? Did you dream last night?”

“Yes,” Hoerni said quietly, not moving his gaze from the table. “I dreamed the book was on fire.”

ABOUT HALFWAY THROUGH the Red Book — after he has traversed a desert, scrambled up mountains, carried God on his back, committed murder, visited hell; and after he has had long and inconclusive talks with his guru, Philemon, a man with bullhorns and a long beard who flaps around on kingfisher wings — Jung is feeling understandably tired and insane. This is when his soul, a female figure who surfaces periodically throughout the book, shows up again. She tells him not to fear madness but to accept it, even to tap into it as a source of creativity. “If you want to find paths, you should also not spurn madness, since it makes up such a great part of your nature.”

The Red Book is not an easy journey — it wasn’t for Jung, it wasn’t for his family, nor for Shamdasani, and neither will it be for readers. The book is bombastic, baroque and like so much else about Carl Jung, a willful oddity, synched with an antediluvian and mystical reality. The text is dense, often poetic, always strange. The art is arresting and also strange. Even today, its publication feels risky, like an exposure. But then again, it is possible Jung intended it as such. In 1959, after having left the book more or less untouched for 30 or so years, he penned a brief epilogue, acknowledging the central dilemma in considering the book’s fate. “To the superficial observer,” he wrote, “it will appear like madness.” Yet the very fact he wrote an epilogue seems to indicate that he trusted his words would someday find the right audience.

Shamdasani figures that the Red Book’s contents will ignite both Jung’s fans and his critics. Already there are Jungians planning conferences and lectures devoted to the Red Book, something that Shamdasani finds amusing. Recalling that it took him years to feel as if he understood anything about the book, he’s curious to know what people will be saying about it just months after it is published. As far as he is concerned, once the book sees daylight, it will become a major and unignorable piece of Jung’s history, the gateway into Carl Jung’s most inner of inner experiences. “Once it’s published, there will be a ‘before’ and ‘after’ in Jungian scholarship,” he told me, adding, “it will wipe out all the biographies, just for starters.” What about the rest of us, the people who aren’t Jungians, I wondered. Was there something in the Red Book for us? “Absolutely, there is a human story here,” Shamdasani said. “The basic message he’s sending is ‘Value your inner life.’ ”

After it was scanned, the book went back to its bank-vault home, but it will move again — this time to New York, accompanied by a number of Jung’s descendents. For the next few months it will be on display at the Rubin Museum of Art. Ulrich Hoerni told me this summer that he assumed the book would generate “criticism and gossip,” but by bringing it out they were potentially rescuing future generations of Jungs from some of the struggles of the past. If another generation inherited the Red Book, he said, “the question would again have to be asked, ‘What do we do with it?’ ”

Stephen Martin too will be on hand for the book’s arrival in New York. He is already sensing that it will shed positive light on Jung — this thanks to a dream he had recently about an “inexpressively sublime” dawn breaking over the Swiss Alps — even as others are not so certain.

In the Red Book, after Jung’s soul urges him to embrace the madness, Jung is still doubtful. Then suddenly, as happens in dreams, his soul turns into “a fat, little professor,” who expresses a kind of paternal concern for Jung.

Jung says: “I too believe that I’ve completely lost myself. Am I really crazy? It’s all terribly confusing.”

The professor responds: “Have patience, everything will work out. Anyway, sleep well.”


This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: September 20, 2009 
An article on Page 34 this weekend about Carl Jung and a book he wrote about struggling with his own demons misspells the name of a street in Zurich where, before it was published, the book was held for years in a bank safe-deposit box, and a correction in this space on Saturday also misspelled the name. It is Bahnhofstrasse, not Banhofstrasse or Banhoffstrasse. The article also misstates the location of Bollingen, the town where Jung built a stone tower as a summer residence. While it is on the north shore of Lake Zurich, it is south of the Jung family home in Küsnacht.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: October 4, 2009 

An article on Sept. 20 about the publication of Carl Jung’s Red Book misstated part of the name of the Swiss bank where the book was kept for many years. It is the Union Bank of Switzerland, not United.



The following discussions were posted by Joseph Constantine in the deleted Red Book group!



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