The Red Book

The Red Book (1930)
Carl G. Jung, PhD

I am never surprised to hear spiritual teachers refer to the Bible or the Buddha - these are the types of sources I expect to hear quoted by those speaking about nondual consciousness. I was, however, initially surprised to hear so many teachers call back to the insights of Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Gustav Jung. From Catholic priests to physicists, from philosophers to psychonauts, the number of people teaching in the nondual space who've been influenced by C.G. Jung is impressive. And what most influenced C.G. Jung? According to the man himself, it was his experiences during the years of 1913 to 1917, as seen in this quote from the book's opening pages:
"The years, of which I have spoken to you, when I pursued the inner images, were the most important time of my life. Everything else is to be derived from this. It began at that time, and the later details hardly matter anymore. My entire life consisted in elaborating what had burst forth from the unconscious and flooded me like an enigmatic stream and threatened to break me. That was the stuff and material for more than only one life. Everything later was merely the outer classification, the scientific elaboration, and the integration into life. But the numinous beginning, which contained everything, was then." --C.G. Jung, 1957, speaking on the experiences recorded in 'The Red Book'

While continuing to maintain an active clinical practice and family life, Jung spent his evenings and weekends during these years discovering and documenting the "visions", "fantasies" and "imaginations" he encountered while exploring altered states of consciousness. Originally recorded in a series of journals, by 1915 Jung began transcribing his notes into a 400-page book specially ordered to accommodate the illuminations and illustrations he wanted to add to the text. Jung updated and expanded this book repeatedly over the years but never published it, keeping it instead on a shelf in his office to share with selected students and colleagues, many of whom referred to it not by the name Jung had embossed on the spine (Liber Novus, or 'New Book') but as "The Red Book" due to the bright red leather cover. Though many believe Jung intended to eventually publish the book, that he did not do so before his death left the decision to his estate, which initially refused to publish. But after 13 years (!) of editing by Professor Sonu Shamdasani, the book was finally brought to the public in 2009 to the delight of psychonauts everywhere.

So far I've only read bits and pieces of the book as I can't get past the images (and related footnotes), which I've poured over for hours. Being fascinated by how human psychology expresses itself through images, I can only imagine the insights hidden within the choices (by Jung or by the collective mind?) of the specific colors and forms in each image. Some images remind me of ayahuasca art, some remind me of my own visions and still others seem to invite contemplation. Regardless, images from such a mind as Jung's - and from a time when this mind was discovering its broadest dimensions, no less - are definitely part of the draw here. In full, the book contains a reproduction of Jung's original handwritten text and images, a full translation, notes from the translator and editor, an epilogue, appendix and over 350 footnotes, many of them long and full of interesting comments from the editor. It's like book and meta-book, all in one.

I'm sure the hardcover edition is a beautiful thing to behold but if you're looking for the free option, the website Stillness Speaks has you covered. There are also many resources about the Red Book - I found this series of lectures from Professor Lance Owens a helpful orientation to Jung, the book and the context of its creation.

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