Carl Gustav Jung (Figure 1) was a Swiss psychologist who lived between 1875 and 1961. Jung is best known as the founder of analytical psychology (i.e., complex psychology). Analytical psychology is predicated on the idea that the human personality has a natural tendency to seek out psychic wholeness. While developing and refining his psychology, Jung introduced an entire lexicon of psychological terms that would eventually find widespread use in public discourse—extraversion, introversion, individuation, archetypes, etc. Jung spent the first nine years of his professional career working at the Burgholzi Psychiatric Hospital (1900-1909) in Zurich, Switzerland, where he pioneered the word association experiment and introduced the term complex. Jung collaborated with Sigmund Freud between 1906 and 1913. Theoretical differences gradually led to a professional rift between the two men, which culminated with Jung’s publication of Transformations and Symbols of the Libido in 1912. This book was subsequently published in English in 1916 as Psychology of the Unconscious and an extensive revision of the said work (German version) was published in 1952 as Symbols of Transformation.
After his break with Freud, Jung entered a period of professional isolation. Jung’s so-called fallow period could be described as an intense introversion of libido which activated something that had hitherto remained dormant within Jung’s psyche—a comprehensive term used to describe the totality of psychic processes, both conscious and unconscious. Jung (1912/1956) viewed libido as an energy value present in the psyche that manifests in a range of human activities including sexuality, creativity, religion, and other cultural phenomena (CW5, para. 197). In his autobiography, Jung (1961/1989) described this time as a confrontation with the unconscious:
From the beginning I had conceived my voluntary confrontation with the unconscious as a scientific experiment which I myself was conducting and in whose outcome, I was vitally interested. Today I might equally well say that it was an experiment which was being conducted on me. One of the greatest difficulties for me lay in dealing with my negative feelings. I was voluntarily submitting myself to emotions of which I could not really approve, and I was writing down fantasies which often struck me as nonsense, and toward which I had strong resistances. (p. 178)
Thus, between 1913 and 1916 Jung explored his fantasies by dialoging with the personified images that arose from the unconscious. The result of this process was a series of journals filled with notes describing Jung’s fantasies, dreams, and active imaginations. The journals consisted of one brown and six black notebooks. Jung initially transcribed the black book material onto a handwritten draft, which he later transposed to typescript. In at least one of the manuscripts he added corrections by hand. Jung then transcribed the corrected draft to a series of parchment sheets. These seven double-sided sheets or folios consist of what is known as Liber Primus, the first part of Liber Novus.
In 1915, Jung purchased a 600-page book bound in red leather. The spine of Jung’s Red Book was embossed with the words Liber Novus (Trans. New Book) (Figure 2). In this book, Jung continued to transcribe his journal material from where he left off in Liber Primus. Part three of Liber Novus is titled Scrutinies, which Jung was not able to transcribe to Liber Novus during his lifetime. The physical Red Book itself consists solely of a calligraphic volume containing the majority Liber Secundus and 53 complete illustrations. Jung completed the original draft of Liber Novus in 1917, although he continued to make emendations in the text until the late 1920s (Shamdasani, 2013, p. 109). Jung managed to fill 191 pages of the book with calligraphic text and paintings After Jung died in 1961, Liber Novus was kept in a locked cupboard at his residence in Kusnacht, Switzerland, until it was moved to a Swiss safety deposit box in 1983 (Hoerni, 2009, p. viii). The book remained there until the California-based company Digitalfusion was hired to scan Liber Novus in 2007. Since its publication in 2009, Jung’s psychology. Accordingly, Liber Novus has attracted a substantial amount of interest among specialists and laypersons alike. The book’s contents seem to prefigure major ideas, Liber Novus, and its concomitant illustrations, may be viewed as the original blueprint for what would become a comprehensive psychological system. Whether this is the case it or not, it is difficult to dispute that further study of The Red Book and its elaborate paintings can teach us a great deal about the origins and meaning of Jung’s psychology.
Liber Novus as a whole could be viewed as Jung’s attempt to articulate an individual cosmology based largely on the visionary experiences, he had between 1913 and 1916. Shamdasani (2009) underscores this point in his introduction to Liber Novus by comparing Jung with Dante:
There are also indications that he read Dante’s Commedia at this time, which also informs the structure of the work. . . But whereas Dante could utilize an established cosmology, Liber Novus is an attempt to shape an individual cosmology. (p. 202)
The main difference between the cosmology that Dante articulates in his Commedia and Jung’s individual cosmology is that Dante imported an exclusive Christian schema into his fantasies and literary allusions whereas Jung created an amalgamated cosmology that was derived from a range of philosophical, scientific, and mythological sources. Liber Novus suggests that Jung’s (2009) cosmology, as described, principally relied on the following sources: neo-Platonism (p. 207, p. 315), Philo Judeaus (p. 268), neo-Kantianism (p. 234), Goethe’s natural philosophy (p. 201, p. 206, p. 211, p. 212, p. 213, p. 229, p. 260, p. 302, p. 312, p. 320), p. 352), Schopenhauer’s philosophy (p. 195, p. 274, p. 293), Nietzsche’s ideas (p. 195, 202, p. 207, p. 211, p. 212, p. 287, p. 293, p. 296, p. 297, p. 299) , Christianity, Gnosticism (p. 201, p. 205, p. 206, p. 207, p. 244, p. 246, p. 252, 255, p. 271, p. 346, p. 348, p. 349, p. 359), the alchemical tradition (p. 219, p. 220, p. 231, p. 239, p. 243, p. 252, p. 268, p. 272, p. 297, p. 305, p. 306, p. 317, p. 320, p. 321, p. 337, p. 338, p. 346, p. 347, p. 358), Eastern philosophy (p. 211, p. 317), and Western mythological antecedents. The Christian references in Liber Novus are too numerous to mention.
In Liber Novus, Jung explores several interdisciplinary themes ranging from the relationship between the individual and the collective, accepting one’s own path in life, the role of creative fantasy for the imagination, the rebirth of the god-image, the structure and the reality of the psyche, the arrival of a new age, and arguably a basic template for what would eventually become analytical psychology. Shamdasani (2009) put it similarly:
The overall theme of the book is how Jung regains his soul and overcomes the contemporary malaise of spiritual alienation. This is ultimately achieved through enabling the rebirth of a new image of God in his soul and developing a new worldview in the form of a psychological and theological cosmology. Liber Novus presents the prototype of Jung’s conception of the individuation. (p. 207)
One could say that Liber Novus constitutes Jung’s personal testimony of the reality of the psyche in the form of a dramatic genre that has a quasi-visionary quality. Jung views his work as like a mystery play. Mystery plays represent one of the three vernacular dramas that came about during the Middle Ages. They are symbolic representations in dramatic form portrayed by actors. By the fifteenth century mystery plays depicted major religious events mentioned in the bible such as the act of Creation and the pending Day of Judgement.
Dramatic depictions of the trials and death of Jesus, or passion plays, could be viewed as modern day versions of mystery plays. Such passion plays originated from early rituals of the Catholic Church. Whereas mystery plays externalize symbolic events in dramatic form, one could say that Jung dramatically internalized symbolic contents in personal form. Of the mystery play, Jung (2009) wrote:
This, my friend, is a mystery play in which the spirit of the depths cast me. I had recognized the birth of the new God [the conception], and therefore the spirit of the depths allowed me to participate in the underworld ceremonies, which were supposed to instinct me about the God’s intentions and works. Through these rituals I was supposed to be initiated into the mysteries of redemption. (p. 246, n. 162)
Thus, one could say that Jung viewed his initial visionary experiences in a pedagogical sense for he hoped that others could learn from his example and begin to accept the lowest and darkest in themselves. Furthermore, there is a religious and quasi-prophetic tone in Liber Novus, which is further underscored by the biblical verses Jung selects to cite at the beginning of his book. That Jung selected passages from the book of Isaiah, a prophetic work, suggest that The Red Book has a similar function. In this way, Liber Novus seems to mark Jung’s first attempt to draw parallels between psychology and religion, which he would later return to in the nineteen thirties. In appendix B of Liber Novus, Jung provides some helpful commentary in regard to the mystery play:
all the images that I have placed under the title “Mystery play” are rather more allegorical than actual experiences. They are certainly not intended allegories; they have not been consciously contrived to depict experience in either veiled or even fantastic terms. Rather, they appeared as visions. It was not until I reworked them later that I realized more and more that they could in no way be compared with the experiences portrayed in the other chapters. These images apparently are portrayals of personified unconscious thoughts. That follows from their imagistic manner. (2009, p. 365)
Thus, one could say that Liber Novus formed a kind of psychic theater.
Liber Novus is divided into three sections: Liber Primus, Liber Secundus, and Liber Tertius, which respectively correspond to the following proper titles: The Way of What is to Come, The Images of the Erring, and Scrutinies. Although each section addresses different philosophical, religious, and cultural themes, one could say that the work contains a continuous contextual thread which unifies the three parts into a self-consistent grand narrative. Liber Novus could be viewed of consisting of several acts and scenes. Each part could be viewed as one major act and the chapters depict different scenes.
The Way of What Is to Come, or Liber Primus, consists of eleven chapters. Jung recorded its contents in the Black Books between November 12, 1913 and December 25, 1913. The principal dramatis personae that appear in Liber Primus are the following: Jung, Jung’s soul, youthful supporter, Siegfried, Elijah, Salome, and a black serpent. According to Shamdasani, Jung transcribed most of his fantasies from the Black Books to Liber Novus, and he faithfully adhered to their content, “with only minor editing and division into chapters” (p. 202). Shamdasani added:
the sequence of the fantasies in Liber Novus nearly always exactly corresponds to the Black Books. When it is indicated that a particular fantasy happened “on the next night,” etc., this is always accurate, and not a stylistic device. The language and content of the material were not altered. Jung maintained a “fidelity to the event,” and what he was writing was not to be mistaken for a fiction. (p. 202)
What would eventually become The Images of the Erring (Liber Secundus) was written in the Black Books between December 26, 1913 and January 27, 1914. The principal dramatis personae that appear in it are Jung, Jung’s soul, the Red One, the Anchorite (i.e., Ammonius), the dark one, Izdubar, Ezechiel, the Cabiri, Phanes, Philemon, Baucis, Elijah, Salome, the black serpent and Satan. Scrutinies is the most introspective of the three books. Jung recorded its contents in the Black Books between April 19, 1914 and June 1, 1916. Due to the outbreak of the war and professional obligations, Jung did not write in the Black Books between July 22, 1914 and June 2, 1915. Jung mentions this gap of time in Liber Novus: “From there on the voices of the depths remained silent for a whole year” (2009, p. 226). During this time period, Jung wrote the Handwritten Draft (2009, p. 336) of Liber Primus and Liber Secundus. The principal dramatis personae that appear in Scrutinies are Jung, Jung I, Jung’s soul, Philemon, HAP, the dead, Elijah, Salome, and Christ as a blue shade. Throughout the work, Jung takes on the role of both actor and narrator.
Hillman, J. & Shamdasani, S. (2013). Lament for the dead. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Co. Hoerni, U. (2009). Preface to The red book. In Sonu Shamdasani (ed.), The red book: Liber novus. Philemon Series. New York, NY: W.W. Norton and Company. (pp. viii-ix).
Jung, C. G. (1989). Jung, C.G. (1959). Symbols of Transformation. In V.S. De Laszlo (Ed.), The basic writings of C.G. Jung (Vol. 5, pp. 3-36). New York, NY: Random House Inc. (Original work published 1912)
Jung, C. G. (1989). Memories, dreams, reflection. ( A. Jaffe, Ed.) (R. Winston & C. Winston, Trans.). New York: NY: Vintage Book. (Original work published 1961)
Jung, C.G. (2009). The Red Book: Liber novus. Sonu Shamdasani (ed.). Philemon Series. New York, NY: W.W. Norton and Company.