Tuesday, 31 May 2011

'The Red Book' – Carl Jung’s Journey Through Spiritual Emergence(y)

Have you ever come across a book that weighs more than a new born baby? At nearly 10 pounds, Carl Jung’s Red Book can only be described as a weighty tome, in every sense of the word.

At a recent NHS conference on Spiritual Care and Mental Health (see post 16 May 2011) the speaker I was most impressed by was Rev. Stephen Bushell, Head of Spiritual and Pastoral Care for Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust. A Jungian psychotherapist, we chatted briefly about Jung’s extraordinary Red Book, which was actually only published a couple of years ago. Our conversation reminded me of my quest to access a copy of it and of my first impressions.

Part II of my book ‘In Case of Spiritual Emergency’ looks at spiritual crisis through the ages, exploring the spiritual emergencies of various figures, from mystics to creatives, to well known people alive today. I felt Jung was an obvious choice to include, as I see him as something of a creative genius and he left us the most amazing record of his spiritual emergence(y): his Red Book.

I first tried to get hold of Jung’s Red Book at the British Library, only to be told that it was not available, as it was in high demand. The suggestion was that I re-apply in 54 weeks time (over a year). I then started tracking down copies in other libraries. The Bodleian in Oxford had a copy, but it was ‘in processing’, which I certainly felt I could relate to.

To my delighted astonishment I discovered that the Wellcome Library in London had not one copy, but four, in the Student Collection. I immediately made enquiries about how to join the library, and set off a few days later in eager anticipation.

As someone who has been through spiritual crisis, I was fascinated at the thought of being able to read Jung’s detailed account of his experience of spiritual emergence and emergency . He, of all people, seemed to have managed and integrated it and gone on to live his life from that experience, basing all his subsequent work and theories on that time. The fact that this psychological and spiritual treasure has only recently become available, released by the family and allowed to be published in 2009, somehow made my whole trip to London seem even more thrilling.

I got to the Wellcome Library, went through the very straightforward joining procedure and headed straight for the shelves of the Student Collection. In my excitement I couldn’t immediately make sense of the library’s home grown version of the Dewey cataloguing system. And then I saw it. Absolutely, unmistakably, that was it! Four huge, and I mean HUGE, bright red tomes on the shelf, stacked on their sides, because even though they were the ‘oversize’ shelves, they weren’t big enough to house the copies upright.

I heaved a copy off the shelf. As I put it down on the desk it fell open at a page of the most beautiful fountain pen calligraphy, with decorated capital letters, like medieval illuminated manuscripts. It looked like a sacred book and I guess to Jung it was. It recorded a sacred process and in making The Red Book so beautiful he was giving his spiritual emergency the due honour and respect it deserved.

No sooner had the page fallen open than my heart sank. All that beautiful calligraphy was in German. I wasn’t going to be able to understand a word of it! My sense of anticipation and exhilaration were such that I wasn’t really thinking logically, because, of course, I only had to open the volume at a place further on to see that the English translation followed the original text.

The very next page at which The Red Book fell open left me mesmerized. It was a painting of a sacred geometrical design known as a ‘mandala’. Jung had painted it in such a way that it had a 3D effect, a look of movement. As I gazed at it and watched the shapes moving in and out I immediately felt a shift in my energy, a raising of my vibration. It took me into a slightly altered state. This was sacred art communicating an aspect of the Divine to me. I was in awe. Jung went up in my estimation, that he had produced something so powerfully beautiful, so powerfully transcendent, with such a potent quality of the numinous.

What a privilege to be researching such amazing people and such amazing texts as The Red Book. Have you seen Jung’s Red Book? How did the mandalas impact on you? Share your experience!

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