On Jung’s Red Book, Part 6

On Jung’s Red Book, Part 6

The Accursed Fig Tree, by James Tissot (1836–1902)

You dread the depths; it should horrify you, since the way of what is to come leads through it. You must endure the temptation of fear and doubt, and at the same time acknowledge to the bone that your fear is justified and your doubt is reasonable. How otherwise / could it be a true temptation and a true overcoming?

Christ totally overcomes the temptation of the devil, but not the temptation of God to good and reason. Christ thus succumbs to cursing.

You still have to learn this, to succumb to no temptation, but to do  everything of your own will; then you will be free and beyond Christianity.1

It is Hell that Jung dreads. The thought of it horrifies, indeed. To become what Jung is to become requires he travel this path. The image of Hell that has been built up in our culture over many centuries is a ghastly, abominable thing. But one must forge onward into its very mouth.

I see the alchemical process in all of this. Jung is entering the nigredo state. In 1952, he was interviewed by noted historian, Mircea Eliade, where he made the following statement concerning this:

.. . [The] alchemical opus is dangerous. Right at the beginning you meet the “dragon,” the chthonic spirit, the “devil,” or as the alchemists called it, the “blackness,” the nigredo, and this encounter produces suffering. “Matter” suffers right up to the final disappearance of the blackness; in psychological terms, the soul finds itself in the throes of melancholy, locked in the struggle with the “shadow.” The mystery of the coniunctio, the central mystery of alchemy, aims precisely at the synthesis of opposites, the assimilation of the blackness, the integration of the devil. For the “awakened” Christian this is a very serious psychic experience, for it is a confrontation with his own “shadow,” with the blackness of the nigredo, which remains separate and can never be completely integrated with the human personality.2

Jung knew this in 1952 because he had experienced it when he was writing the account of his own nekyia, of which we are now studying. He has great fear; he has doubt, but, at the same time, he says his fear is justified and his doubt is reasonable.

Then, he begins to discuss Jesus’ experience in the desert, where He spent 40 days and 40 nights being tempted of the devil, the beginning of His own nigredo. Jung writes, “Christ totally overcomes the temptation of the devil, but not the temptation of God to good and reason. Christ thus succumbs to cursing.” This cursing refers to the cursing of the fig tree:

Now in the morning as he returned into the city, he hungered. And when he saw a fig tree in the way, he came to it, and found nothing thereon, but leaves only, and said unto it, Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever. And presently the fig tree withered away.3

Now, why would Jesus do this? The previous day, he had triumphantly entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey, as the prophet Zechariah had prophesied of the Messiah. The people had welcomed Him as their Messiah. He threw out the money changers from the temple. The scriptures tell us He spent that night in Bethany, just outside the city. Then, the next morning, being hungry, came upon the fig tree and cursed it because it bore no fruit. I can’t help but think that this is a metaphor for the Jews, viz. their leaders, the Pharisees and Sadducees, who were the recipients of Jesus’ anger the previous day. But could the tree also be a metaphor for the psyche? 

Jung says He “succumbs to cursing” because he did not overcome the temptation of God to “good and reason.” Also, he wrote in 1944, saying: “The Christian – my Christian – knows no curse formulas; indeed he does not even sanction the cursing of the innocent fig-tree by the rabbi Jesus.”4. This is a very mysterious topic of which I have ideas about, but would rather remain silent for now. It is quite a deep rabbit hole.

The final thought in the initial passage, “. . .to succumb to no temptation, but to do everything of your own will; then you will be free and beyond Christianity,” shows that Jung has ideas about God and Christ that transcend Christianity, as it has been taught for two millennia. Of this, there is no doubt. Jung was very explicit about his problems with orthodox Christianity, especially about the absence of the feminine element in the Godhead. 


Works Cited

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

  1. Jung, The Red Book, p.235
  2. qtd. in Cheetham, p. 37
  3. Matthew 21:18-19, KJV
  4. qtd. in n. 68, Jung, The Red Book, p. 235

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