On Jung’s Red Book, Part 3

On Jung’s Red Book, Part 3

The Bridge of Sighs (1999), by Nino Barbieri


The supreme meaning is the path, the way and the bridge to what is to come. That is the God yet to come. It is not the coming God himself but his image which appears in the supreme meaning. God is an image, and those who worship him must worship him in the images of the supreme meaning.1

Sonu Shamdasani points out the following in the notes:

In Transformations and Symbols of the Libido (1912), Jung interpreted God as a symbol of the libido (CW B, §III). In his subsequent work, Jung laid great emphasis on the distinction between the God image and the metaphysical existence of God (cf passages added to the revised retitled 1952 edition, Symbols of Transformation, CW 5, §95).2

In Jung, libido is different than the usual Freudian definition. Jung believed that mental energy is created through the conflict of opposites. He said, “there is no energy unless there is a tension of opposites.”3 He called this energy libido. It is to be distinguished from Freud’s definition of libido, in that Freud saw it only as pertaining to sexual desire, whereas Jung viewed libido as psychic energy. According to Jung, libido is the vital impulse of human life.

The distinction between the image of God, and God as existing transcendentally is quite important. I get the feeling from Shamdasani’s note that the early Jung may have only seen God as image, a symbol of psychic energy (since it was Jung’s primary task at the time to do psychology, not theology), and then decades later realized that God is transcendent, as well. This brings to mind the distinction of God in Hinduism. Many great spiritual traditions distinguish between an unknowable Ultimate Reality, and a Reality as experienced in everyday human endeavors. The Hindu religion recognizes this distinction as Nirguna Brahman, Brahman with no attributes; beyond human understanding; and Saguna Brahman, Brahman with attributes and manifested in human experience as Ishvara, a more personal ruler of the Universe. This is somewhat analogous to the Demiurge of the Platonic and Neoplatonic schools.

The puzzle here is to tackle what Jung means by “the supreme meaning.” He says it is “the way and the bridge to what is to come. That is the God yet to come.” This seems to be similar to Nietzsche’s Zarathustra saying, “Man is a rope fastened between animal and Superman–a rope over an abyss.”4

The next lines reinforce a Nietzschean connection:

The supreme meaning is not a meaning and not an absurdity, it is image and force in one, magnificence and force together. The supreme meaning is the beginning and the end. It is the bridge of going across and fulfillment.5.

Shamdasani plainly tells us in note 8 that Jung is referencing Nietzsche’s laguage describing his Ubermensch:

The terms hinubergehen (going across), Obergang (going-across), Untergang (down-going), and Brucke (bridge) feature in Nietzsche’s Zarathustra in relation to the passage from man to the Ubermensch (superman). For example, “What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not a goal: what can be loved in man is that he is a going across and a down-going. / I love those who do not know how to live except their lives be a down-going, for they are those who are going over” (tr. R. Hollingdale [Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1984], p. 44, tr. mod; words are as underlined in Jung’s copy).6

Now, these qualities of “the supreme meaning” as a “going-across” and a “down-going”  are important to Jung. He is not completely in agreement with Nietzsche, however, for he warns elsewhere that claims of God’s death, or non-existence are folly which will lead to psychological disaster. He says the “psychic God-image in man “finds its way back into the subject and produces a condition of ‘God-almightiness,’ that is to say all those qualities which are peculiar to fools and madmen and therefore lead to catastrophe.”7 Jung is here referring to the Nazis, who adopted this foolish idea prior to World War II. It is basically the denial of one’s shadow, and affirming that man is God, which is most likely what led Nietzsche into madness. Jung writes:

This, then, is the great problem that faces the whole of Christianity: where now is the sanction for goodness and justice, which was once anchored in metaphysics? Is it really only brute force that decides everything . . .?

“God-almightiness” does not make man divine, it merely fills him with arrogance and arouses everything evil in him. It produces a diabolical caricature of man, and this inhuman mask is so unendurable, such a torture to wear, that he tortures others. He is split in himself, a prey to inexplicable contradictions. Here we have the picture of the hysterical state of mind, of Nietzsche’s “pale criminal.”8

So, Jung has a very different idea of the goal of humanity than Nietzsche’s. Jung’s idea will not ignore the shadow, and will retain, not only the God-image, but also a belief in the existence of a transcendent God. To deny this is to deny the shadow, which would open the floodgates to psychological catastrophe.

The supreme meaning is a bridge to the sort of human being that has totally melded the conscious and unconscious minds. The image of God, I believe, is the Christ-image, what Jung would call the archetype of the Self. His language is symbolic in these passages of the Christ-image:

The other Gods died of their temporality, yet the supreme meaning never dies, it turns into meaning and then into absurdity, and out of the fire and blood of their collision the supreme meaning rises up rejuvenated anew. The image of God has a shadow. The supreme meaning is real and casts a shadow. For what can be actual and corporeal and have no shadow? The shadow is nonsense. It lacks force and has no continued existence through itself. But nonsense is the inseparable and undying brother of the supreme meaning. Like plants, so men also grow, some in the light, others in the shadows. There are many who need the shadows and not the light. The image of God throws a shadow that is just as great as itself. The supreme meaning is great and small, it is as wide as the space of the starry Heaven and as narrow as the cell of the living body.9

The supreme meaning could be the Anthropos, the archetypal Cosmic Man who shows up in various creation myths around the world. In another place, Jung calls Him “the greater, more comprehensive Man, that indescribable whole consisting of the sum of conscious and unconscious processes. This objective whole, the antithesis of the subjective ego-psyche, is what I have called the self, and this corresponds exactly to the idea of the Anthropos.”10 Primarily, the reality of Christ, regardless of His historical existence, has everything to do with the restoration of human consciousness.

Jung says “the image of God has a shadow.” This is the image of Satan, the accuser, the deceiver, but Satan is “nonsense.” Satan “lacks force and has no continued existence through” himself. But the shadow is “inseparable,” the “undying brother” of the Christ-consciousness. “There are many who need the shadows and not the light.” These are they who are given over to evil and Satanism.  Like plants, some men need light, others shadows. But it is the light, the Christ-consciousness, that will lead humanity into its intended greatness.




Works Cited

Jung, C.G. Aion: Researches into the Phenomenology of the Self. Translated by R.F.C. Hull. Bollingen: New York, 1959.

Jung, C.G. Collected Works X: Civilization in Transition. Translated by R.F.C. Hull. Bollingen: New York, 1964.

Jung, C.G. Two Essays on Analytical Psychology. Translated by R.F.C. Hull. Meridian, New York: 1956.

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

Nietzsche, Friedrich. Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Trans. Walter Kauffman and R.J. Hollingdale. New York: Penguin, 1969.

  1. Jung, p. 229
  2. Jung, The Red Book, n. 7, p. 229
  3. Jung, Two Essays, p. 63.
  4. Nietzsche, p. 43
  5. Jung, The Red Book, p. 230
  6. Jung, The Red Book, n. 8, p. 230
  7. Jung, CW 10, p. 214-215
  8. Jung, CW 10, p. 216
  9. Jung, The Red Book, p. 230
  10. Jung, Aion, p. 242

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