On Jung’s Red Book, Part 2

On Jung’s Red Book, Part 2

Faust mit Erdgeisterscheinung, 1810 von Ludwig G.C. Nauwerck


Personality #1, “the spirit of this time,” in Jung’s autobiography correlates to the normal, everyday personality; personality #2, or “the spirit of the depths,” is analogous to that part of him that is in contact with the depths of the unconscious. This is the way it is with all of us. Some of us ignore #2. The only contact we have with it is in our dreams. Only through interaction with the spirit of the depths can one come into one’s human birthright.

The spirit of the depths, Jung says,

. . . has subjugated all pride and arrogance to the power of judgment. He took away my belief in science, he robbed me of the joy of explaining and ordering things, and he let devotion to the ideals of this time die out in me. He forced me down to the last and simplest things.1

All our analyzing and ratiocination, and our scientific method, with its logical processes, die under the power of the spirit of the depths, for it is beyond our categories of thought. It’s not that science is false; it is that it is incomplete, if based only on empirical data. When the spirit of the depths has done its work, all that is left is a going down to what Goethe’s Faustian devil, Mephistopheles, calls the “Mothers.”2

Faust, Part II, Act I,  takes place in a dark gallery. Faust and Mephistopheles converse in private concerning Faust’s promise to the emperor to bring forth Paris and Helen in apparitional form:

Faust. The old hand-organ still I hear thee play! From thee one always gets uncertain sense. The father, thou, of all impediments: For every means thou askest added pay. A little muttering and the thing takes place; Ere one can turn, beside us here her shade is.

Mephistopheles. I have no concern with the old heathen race; They house within their special Hades. Yet there’s a way.

Faust. Speak, nor delay thy history!

Mephistopheles. Unwilling, I reveal a loftier mystery. — In solitude are throned the Goddesses, No Space around them; Place and Time, still less; Only to speak of them embarrasses, They are The Mothers!

Faust ( terrified ). Mothers!

Mephistopheles. Hast thou dread,?

Faust. The Mothers! Mothers! — a strange word is said.

Mephistopheles. It is so. Goddesses, unknown to ye, The Mortals, — named by us unwillingly. Delve in the deepest depths must thou, to reach them ‘Tis thine own fault that we for help beseech them.3

What is this shadowy realm of “The Mothers?” It sounds a lot like Henry Corbin’s mundus imaginalis, or Jung’s world of archetypes. It also resembles Giordano Bruno’s mater materia, the creative matrix from which all things are formed.

The journey to this world requires the death of the “natural attitude,” which means one must abandon all presuppositions of the bodily life and the sensible world. Traveling there is fraught with danger. It is akin to taking a journey through Hades.

Philosophy of Religion Professor James G. Hart writes:

We see that for Goethe, as well as for Husserl, the realm of “the Mothers” is not only the realm of the exemplars, forms and essences but also the roots or well-springs of life. It is what “holds the world together in the innermost way.” As such it is the source of the “finished” well-defined world and the meaning-dimensions which render this world intelligible.4

Edmund Husserl believed it to be the realm of “pure consciousness.” One can

. . . find the way to the Mothers of knowledge, to discover their realm of pure consciousness, in which all being originates constitutively and out of which all knowledge as knowledge of what is must draw its ultimate intelligible explanation. Then one makes the initially astonishing discovery that here one is not dealing with incidental instances of incidental forms of consciousness. Rather with such words as “perception,” “memory,” expectation,” etc., one is dealing with nothing other than the science of the formations of the essence of consciousness as such, as the science of the Motherly origins.5

Writer and translator, Alice Pearl Raphael, lived in Zurich for a time and was a student of Jung’s. In her book, Goethe and the philosopher’s stone; symbolical patterns in The Parable, she explains Faust’s journey to the Mothers:

When he asks the way to these goddesses Mephistopheles replies decisively: “There is no way, no path to the unreachable.” The seed of an heroic element in Faust’s being . . . is now further stimulated. Mephistopheles tells Faust that he will be the first to accomplish a deed of such magnitude, for the path to the goddesses involved a descent into the Void. This term, as Goethe used it, can be identified with Jung’s conception of the collective unconscious . . .6

Empowered with this background, we can now understand what horrors and wonders Jung would soon face by choosing to open himself to the “spirit of the depths, or the darkly poetic “Mothers.”

Jung writes:

The spirit of the depths took my understanding and all my knowledge and placed them at the service of the inexplicable and the paradoxical. He robbed me of speech and writing for everything that was not in his service, namely the melting together of sense and nonsense, which produces the supreme meaning.7

We have discussed how dangerous are the depths, but the rewards of going there are immense! It is possible one could finally discover what one has been seeking all one’s life! To have all one’s knowledge and understanding placed in the service of ultimate things, the paradoxical and inexplicable, would be terrifying, but quite beneficial at the same time. What is this “melting together of sense and nonsense” if not the supreme enlightenment?

Jung is at the precipice, a yawning abyss at his feet. The image of God appears in what he calls the “supreme meaning.” “The supreme meaning is the path, the way and the bridge to what is to come. That is the God yet to come.”8

What does he mean?


Works Cited

Goethe, Johann. Faust, a Tragedy, Part 2. Translated by Bayard Taylor. Strahan, London: 1871.

Hart, James G. The Person and the Common Life: Studies in a Husserlian Social Ethics (Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1992).

Jung, C.G. The Red Book: Liber Novus. Edited by Sonu Shamdasani. Translated by Mark Kyburz, John Peck, and Sonu Shamdasani. Norton, London: 2009.

Raphael, Alice Pearl. Goethe and the philosopher’s stone; symbolical patterns in The Parable, and the second part of Faust. Routledge, London: 1965.

  1. The Red Book, p. 229
  2. Faust, Part 2, p. 81
  3. Faust, Part 2, p. 80-81
  4. Hart, p. 5
  5. qtd. in Hart, p. 3
  6. Raphael, p. 141
  7. Jung, The Red Book, p. 229
  8. ibid.

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