I see a gray rock face along which I sink into great depths. I stand in black dirt up to my ankles in a dark cave. Shadows sweep over me. I am seized by fear, but I know I must go in. I crawl through a narrow crack in the rock and reach an inner cave whose bottom is covered with black water. But beyond this I catch a glimpse of a luminous red stone which I must reach. I wade through the muddy water. The cave is full of the frightful noise of shrieking voices. I take the stone, it covers a dark opening in the rock. I hold the stone in my hand, peering around inquiringly. I do not want to listen to the voices, they keep me away But I want to know. Here something wants to be uttered. I place my ear to the opening. I hear the flow of underground waters. I see the bloody head of a man on the dark stream. Someone wounded, someone slain floats there. I take in this image for a long time, shuddering. I see a large black scarab floating past on the dark stream.1
The descent into Hell has begun. Black plays a predominant role in Jung’s initial plunge, as would be expected. This is the nigredo. Black dirt up to his ankles. Black water covers the bottom of the inner cave. A black scarab floats by on the dark stream. A slain man with a bloody head floats by, as well. Red blood. Also, there is a red stone covering an opening in the rock ahead. Jung takes the stone and holds it in his hands, almost as a token of the rubedo stage to come. He is not there yet, however. He will venture further still into the unconscious depths.
In the deepest reach of the stream shines a red sun, radiating through the dark water. There I see – and a terror seizes me – small serpents on the dark rock walls, striving toward the depths, where the sun shines. A thousand serpents crowd around, veiling the sun. Deep night falls. A red stream of blood, thick red blood springs up, surging for a long time, then ebbing. I am seized by fear. What did I see?2
This dark realm is also the territory where one is haunted by knowing and unknowing, where one discovers something only to realize that one has lost it again.
These symbols are highly archetypal. More red appears: the red sun, and the red stream of blood surging and ebbing. It is best that we allow Jung to speak himself as to their meaning:
Jung narrated this episode in his 1925 seminar, stressing different details. He commented: “When I came out of the fantasy; I realized that my mechanism had worked wonderfully well, but I was in great confusion as to the meaning of all those things I had seen. The light in the cave from the crystal was, I thought, like the stone of wisdom. The secret murder of the hero I could not understand at all. The beetle of course I knew to be an ancient sun symbol, and the setting sun, the luminous red disk, was archetypal. The serpents I thought might have been connected with Egyptian material. I could not then realize that it was all so archetypal, I need not seek connections. I was able to link the picture up with the sea of blood I had previously fantasized about. / Though I could not then grasp the significance of the hero killed, soon after I had a dream in which Siegfried was killed by myself. It was a case of destroying the hero ideal of my efficiency. This has to be sacrificed in order that a new adaptation can be made; in short, it is connected with the sacrifice of the superior function in order to get at the libido necessary to activate the inferior functions” (Analytical Psychology, p. 48). (The killing of Siegfried occurs below in ch. 7-) Jung also anonymously cited and discussed this fantasy in his ETH lecture on June 14, 1935 (Modern Psychology, vols. 1. and 2, p. 223).3
In Jung’s vision, he is approaching the central fire of Tartarus, the realm of the dead in Greek mythology. He sees the subterranean Sun. The myth tells us that, after the sun has set above, it shines below in Hades. There is a fire above and a fire below, according to the universal principle, As above, so Below. This subterranean fire, is also known as the volcanic sun, or the black sun.
In psychological terms, this fire shining red through the black water symbolizes the burning away of the former ego self, making way for rebirth. The black serpents signify chthonic energy from the unconscious depths. This dark energy is needed for both the destruction of the old and the rebirth of the new.
The bloody body floating by on the dark stream is Siegfried, the legendary hero in German mythology. Jung says the “hero ideal of my efficiency . . . has to be sacrificed in order that a new adaptation can be made; in short, it is connected with the sacrifice of the superior function in order to get at the libido necessary to activate the inferior functions.” Jung was a brilliant thinker, so thinking became his ideal. This is why he became a psychologist. People who are able to think in this manner usually put thinking above all things. Siegfried represents Jung’s ideal. This “hero” needed to be slain in order for the soul to take precedence.
The fullness of my knowledge threatens to fall in on me. My knowledge has a thousand voices, an army roaring like lions; the air trembles when they speak, and I am their defenseless sacrifice. Keep it far from me, science that clever knower, that bad prison master who binds the soul and imprisons it in a lightless cell. 4
A world-class intellectual like C.G. Jung is easily imprisoned by his knowledge and his thinking ability. If such an one is going to allow the soul to become one’s leader, the thoughts must be quiesced. Just imagine what it would be like to have the mental abilities of an Einstein, and then have to lay it aside to allow the soul to be the primary agent in one’s life. This is how materialism, and its handmaiden, scientism, became the lord over our modern society. We need to find a way back to a worldview that recognizes the reality of the soul. Our culture will continue to decline into chaos and violence until we do. We don’t need to become religious fanatics to accept the beautiful vision of the existence of the inner world. It’s as close as a dream in the imagination, or a vision of one’s infinite, ever-expanding inner universe.
Jung, C.G. The Red Book: Liber Novus. Edited by Sonu Shamdasani. Translated by Mark Kyburz, John Peck, and Sonu Shamdasani. Norton, London: 2009.
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