I know too much not to see on what swaying bridges I go. Where are you leading me?1
In human history, there are some who stand out from the masses. These are usually the ones who have made the journey C.G. Jung is about to make. With soul leading the way, striding “like a God,”2 Jung apprehensively follows, fearing he is being led downward into madness and meaninglessness. He says, “I limp after you on crutches of understanding. . .I follow, but it terrifies me.”3Jung implores his soul to “hear my doubts, otherwise I cannot follow, since your meaning is a supreme meaning, and your steps are the steps of a God.”4 One’s doubts are important, too, and must be reconciled into the total experience of the down-going. The conscious psyche is not accustomed to this strange world of the unconscious.
Jung had, by this time, scaled the heights of success. He was known worldwide for his scientific investigations into the psyche. Now, he was being forced into seeing those things as small, and the things of the soul as large, a complete reversal of how he had viewed things before. Because of our materialistic culture, we consider the things of the soul (if one even believes we have one) not quite as important as making a living, and the hustle-bustle of our everyday routine. If most of us conversed with our souls daily, it would change the world!
In my opinion, it has been designed this way so as to keep us away from our souls. If truth be told about the development of Western philosophy and materialism, I believe we would discover that there was much planning as to how to control the thinking of the masses. Over many centuries, this plan came to fruition. God was said to be dead, and scientism was king. But, I digress. This is for another time.
Jung continues to wrestle with his soul, as Jacob did with the angel. Reconciliation with one’s soul is a process. It doesn’t occur overnight. Just as a beautiful butterfly emerges from the chrysalis after much time and development, so the soul eventually opens its wings and soars through the heavens.
I must learn to love you. Should I also set aside self-judgment? I am afraid. Then the soul spoke to me and said: “This fear testifies against me!” It is true, it testifies against you. It kills the holy trust between you and me.
How hard is fate! If you take a step toward your soul, you will at first miss the meaning. You will believe that you have sunk into meaninglessness, into eternal disorder. You will be right! Nothing will deliver you from disorder and meaninglessness, since this is the other half of the world.5
This last passage brings to mind something Jung mentioned earlier:
If we possess the image of a thing, we possess half the thing. The image of the world is half the world. He who possesses the world but not its image possesses only half the world, since his soul is poor and has nothing. The wealth of the soul exists in images. He who possesses the image of the world, possesses half the world, even if his humanity is poor and owns nothing. But hunger makes the soul into a beast that devours the unbearable and is poisoned by it. My friends, it is wise to nourish the soul, otherwise you will breed dragons and devils in your heart.6
Our consciousness is totally dependent upon this vast storehouse of images we call Soul. Soul is image and image is soul. The only way we experience anything in this world is because of our ability to imagine. We imagine and create constantly. Our consciousness would not exist without images. Images are the irreducible elements inherent in all animatter. At bottom, all is image. He or she who accepts a world bereft of soul, accepts only half of reality. Also, if we only accept the images of the soul without the sensory experience of the world, we are only getting half the picture.
The entire Universe is image. The Universe qua universe, cannot be imagined any other way but as a holistic phenomenon. There are certainly constituent parts to the Universe, but no single part can be the Universe. Therefore, with that being said, I believe it is in order to claim that images belonging to what Henry Corbin called the mundus imaginalis are, indeed, indivisible and irreducible. They are not only indivisible and irreducible, but they are the sine qua non of all human experience. All that we think and all that we do in this life must be preceded by an image.
But Jung says that the first step toward the soul will be a plunge into meaninglessness and eternal disorder. I believe he means that, upon initially encountering his soul, his everyday, orderly life will be slammed with disorderliness and meaninglessness. Fate is hard, indeed! But disorderliness and meaninglessness are only one side of the same coin. The soul encompasses these, as well as orderliness and meaning.
You open the gates of the soul to let the dark flood of chaos flow into your order and meaning. If you marry the ordered to the chaos you produce the divine child, the supreme meaning beyond meaning and meaninglessness.7
This is alchemical work. It is the coniunctio of the Great Work. This produces a “divine child,” the supreme meaning” beyond all opposites. Could this “child” be the same as the lapis philosophorum? Jung searched for an old mythology to help him better understand his down-going. First, he thought Gnosticism held the answers, but he finally settled on alchemy. It held much of the shadow content the Church Fathers had discarded and repressed. Alchemy seemed to be the best description of his time of suffering.
In Jung’s thinking, the path to individuation is characterized by the constant conflict of opposites, which of course produces psychic energy, or libido. One must bring the opposites into complete union in order to accomplish individuation. This means that the conscious and unconscious become integrated and assimilate the ego, after which the Self emerges. In alchemy, this union is known as the coniunctio. The coniunctio is symbolized in various ways in alchemy. One such symbol shows a king and queen in a hermaphroditic union. In Jung’s mind, this represents the union of opposites, and, more specifically, the union of anima and animus, the male and female aspects of the unconscious. Jung claims that these must be integrated in order to achieve individuation.
You are afraid to open the door. I too was afraid, since we had forgotten that God is terrible. Christ taught: God is love. But you should know that love is also terrible.
Christ did not come to bring peace to the earth, but a sword. Christ came to separate the impurities in the psyche, and bring forth a gleaming golden soul. This is the alchemical process of separatio.
Without a proper vessel, none of the processes of of alchemy can be accomplished. There must be a container in order to differentiate the various substances from the massa confusa. The unconscious is this chaos, the prima materia of the Great Work. The need for a vessel begins the alchemical stage called separatio. We are the vessels.
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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