Monday, July 12, 2010

The Red Book

But, what have we here? At first sight you might mistake these works of art as the alchemical illuminations of a medieval manuscript. But, you'd be wrong. The images are a few of the many which comprise what Sara Corbett refers to in her 9/16/09 New York Times Magazine article as the "Holy Grail of the Unconscious." I quote:

"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."

The book in question: "The Red Book", both written and illustrated by Carl Jung, and published by W. Norton and Co, October 19, 2009.

Just why the book was not published until last year is explained in the article cited. But I can at least add a little background information here.

Remember Lao Tzu, in my last post? Well, in Jung's autobiography, "Memories, Dreams and Reflections", ( link) he reports that he conversed with a number of incorporeal spirit guides during a period of mental "breakdown"... among them, Anima, the female spirit guide who once served Simon Magnus, Klingsor, and, yes, Lao Tzu.

F. David Peat (in the book I mentioned in the last post) writes: "These visitations reached their peak in 1916, when for several days the whole Jung home was haunted, and one Sunday morning, the doorbell rang with no one outside.

(Jung writes) 'The atmosphere was thick, believe me. Then I knew that something had to happen. The whole house was filled as if there were a crowd present, crammed full of spirits... Then they cried out in chorus, "We have come back from Jerusalem where we found not what we sought."'

Of course, in time, Jung's analytical mind transformed his experiences into his cohesive theories regarding the presence of archetypes in the collective unconscious. The Red Book is, presumably, Jung's illustrated journey into his own "madness". But, as any artist can tell you - and what any of us wouldn't give for the creative abandon and genius that could produce such a body of work! - Carl Jung was no more psychotic than the rest of us. He was, instead, profoundly engaged in a rich, personal dialogue with the mysterious "other".

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