The Red Book and Philemon



Change of plan … I’m afraid my blogging is getting rather active again.  I have to postpone till tomorrow, the sequel to “Each Day is Solstice” about child art and mythology, as Jung’s Red Book begins to take hold of me.   To read when I found it … scroll back to my two Tarka Trail posts, in October !

Philemon in the red book

Philemon in the red book

I am still in the translator’s introduction.  Here are this morning’s notes:


Had war not been declared in 1914, Liber Novus the Red Book might not have been compiled!  The war outbreak affirmed to Jung that it was not he who was going mad (twelve precognitive visions 1913/14) but the European subconscious;  and so the Red Book integrates what he might otherwise have fallen victim to.

The psycho analytical theory in those days was:  (his talk in Aberdeen on 28 July ’14) – “In cases of neuroses and psychosis, the unconscious attempted to compensate the one-sided conscious attitude … which had supposedly become rigid.  The unbalanced individual defends himself against this, and the opposites become more polarized.  The corrective impulses that present themselves in the language of the unconscious should be the beginning of a healing process, but the form in which they break through, makes them unacceptable to consciousness.”

In other words, LIBER NOVUS is Jung’s platform of individuation:  his recognition of a collective psychosis, and his summoning of the Physicians from the deep past, being a native of neutral Switzerland.

This inevitable Great War included Hitler and Nazism and Holocaust – the nadir of our history.  (The technological revolution which followed this period is but a sticking-plaster.) Immediately after Jung’s lecture in Aberdeen, the war was declared;  his personal relief as he set foot in Holland was yet considerable, that the responsibility for catastrophe was not his in isolation, it was in the subsoil;  and he knew now what to do.


“The insane person falls victim because he cannot integrate the fantasy-material but is swallowed up by it.”   Creative involvement, on the other hand, embraces and engages consciously with it.   (Tarot Keys 1, 2 and 6:  the conscious self, the subconscious, and their reciproprocal activity).  It is like being either broken by the wave, or surfing it.   Creative involvement recognises a Great Work’s necessity …  and rebirth of God in the soul.   Creative involvement rolls up the sleeves and gets on with it.

It felt like this, when I tackled my own Earthquake.   I knew, although I hadn’t studied Jung, that I stood, like many do, on his shoulders:  he was the First Navigator of our time.

Here are two paintings from my Earthquake series in 1986:  scenes of my soul in leafy West Hampstead …

Kreutzer Sonata erupts '86

Kreutzer Sonata erupts ’86


Ferryman '86

Ferryman ’86 – Oistrakh, Menuhin & musicians of W.Hampstead


In November 1914, Jung studied Zarathustra.   In 1913, when he had the 12 visions, he was nearly 40, and having his Uranus Opposition.   (I was having mine, during the Earthquake.)

The Uranus Opposition in astrology – Uranus opposite its natal position in our chart –  arrives when we are reach the roaring forties.  It challenges us to navigate our small boats across the ocean.  Those who are ripe for this passage, confront their Shadow and achieve great things for humanity, whether concealed or openly.  The fallout from the voyage goes on being clarified for the rest of their lives.

“Liber Novus is an attempt to shape an individual cosmology.  The role of Philemon in Jung’s work is analogous to Zarathustra and to Virgil.”

These I love:  the Great Physicians, the appearance of Philemon, as the mud in the puddle parts, to reveal the clear blue sky.

B.O.T.A.Tarot Key 13.  Death is the movement through Life.  The Hebrew letter NUN assigned to this Key, means "a fish" or even a seed, like the symbol in the top left hand corner.  The ruler is Scorpio - the scorpio-force of alchemy

B.O.T.A.Tarot Key 13. Death is the movement through Life. The Hebrew letter NUN assigned to this Key, means “a fish” or even a seed, like the symbol in the top left hand corner. The ruler is Scorpio – the scorpio-force of alchemy

Jung for me for Xmas!   At last I am connecting with his work, and I must stop here, today, as the excitement fills my jug.   (Just saw this – an N in the “jug” is Hebrew letter NUN, whose colour vibration is turquoise, the fish, the Key of Death, Movement and Transfiguration – the scorpio force of our second birth in life.  The Great Fishes are our deepest dreams.

Yesterday I blogged my Solstice piece, and spent hours on a sketch of Jung in his study.  The online photo was wonderfully suggestive but very difficult to work from, as he is lamplit, and gnome-like and fierce with his pipe and deep shadows and an Enormous Book in his hands.

I cannot find a repro anywhere of Jung’s first (initial) painting of Philemon – the kingfisher one – so what about reconstructing it for myself, this morning ?

During the later part of my Earthquake – the pain of life broke open and inward – and for many subsequent years, I was engaged with a Guide who inspired me every day and drew me along.   In the early days, this was Hermes Trismegistos into whose Hand I fell.  Later on, there were Ramana and Le Comte.   I have a devotee’s need to be aligned with a beloved Preceptor, and for several years this has felt rather scattered.  Today I feel the presence of Jung and his Preceptors and Elder Physicians, like the arches of a holy Temple.  I feel aligned with deep history.   They are all working alchemically in the world’s crisis.   They are yeast to the rising Bread.

young amazon, 1957

young amazon, 1957

Together with the Red Book, came Jung’s Seven Sermons to the Dead (1916), a seminal draft of all his work to come.  These profound psalms of non-duality were given to him by “Basilides”.  They awaken the “unconscious” – “The dead came back from Jerusalem, where they did not find what they were seeking.  They asked admittance to me and demanded to be taught by me, and thus I taught them:  Hear ye – I begin with nothing.  Nothing is the same as fullness.  In the endless state, fullness is the same as emptiness … …  is called by us the PLEROMA.”

Jung wrote of his first meeting with Philemon, in 1913:  “His figure first appeared to me in the following dream.  There was a blue sky, like the sea, covered not by clouds but by flat brown clods of earth.  It looked as if the clods were breaking apart, and the blue water of the sea were becoming visible between them.  But the water was the blue sky.  Suddenly there appeared from the right, a winged being sailing across the sky.  I saw that it was an old man with the horns of a bull.  He held a bunch of four keys, one of which he clutched as if he were about to open a lock.  He had the wings of a kingfisher with its characteristic colours. 

“Since I did not understand this dream image, I painted it, in order to impress it upon my memory.  During the days when I was occupied with the painting, I found in my garden, by the lake shore, a dead kingfisher!  I was thunderstruck, for kingfishers are quite rare in the vicinity of Zurich, and I have never since found a dead one … 

“Philemon and other figures of my fantasies brought home to me the crucial insight that there are things in the psyche which I do not produce, but which produce themselves and have their own life.  Philemon represented a force which was not myself.  In my fantasies I held conversations with him, and he said things which I had not consciously thought.  For I observed clearly that it was he who spoke, not I.  He said I created thoughts as if I generated them myself, but in his view thoughts were like animals in the forest, or people in a room, or birds in the air, and added, ‘If you should see people in a room, you would not think that you had made those people, or that you were responsible for them.’  It was he who taught me psychic objectivity, the reality of the psyche.”

C.G.Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections


I need to ponder Jung’s visions, and walk with him in the garden.   “Let us draw together.”

Obviously Jung’s painting of Philemon in the Red Book which heads this post, is not the same as the one in his dream, which has horns.  Nor could I locate where the original might be.   So I decided this morning to try to paint my own version:

Impression of Jung's dream of Philemon in 1913

My impression of Jung’s dream of Philemon in 1913


From a distance, the Philemon kingfisher looks like a quill or pen the right hand holds;  and the dead kingfisher might be the left-hand or feminine side:  the sleeping grey stone slabs on which the bird rests, are pages of a book.  There are hints of the dead, the wounded and renewal.  Only connect … the sides of consciousness.

Addendum – The Language of the Dead

Jung’s self-art-therapy interpreted and viewed his thoughts not reductively, but objectively – such as the relation of introversion to extroversion, pain or pleasure.  A reductionist interpretation obscures the view which opens.  In the Emerald Tablet it is written, “I speak no fiction, but what is certain and most true.”  I know it to be certain and true, because it has occurred to other souls – by intuition.  I can call it THE LANGUAGE OF THE DEAD.

Philemon held 4 keys.  With one, he seemed to open a lock.  The lock is this cruciform Mandala - one of Jung's first pencil sketches for the Red Book. Mandalas are the gate and symbol to wholeness.  Jung's future patients drew and painted wonderful Mandalas.

Philemon held 4 keys. With one, he seemed to open a lock. The lock is this cruciform Mandala – one of Jung’s first pencil sketches for the Red Book. Mandalas are the gate and symbol to wholeness. Jung’s future patients drew and painted wonderful Mandalas.

The dead bird is where the book is open but unknown.   Yet all is known.  My new picture has the parting mud – like bright brown fishes – and the water of life.  It is projected as if I am the sea bed looking up:  yet it is the shore of Jung’s lake and sky, blood from the war spills into it; and the approaching Kingfisher Philemon suggests an alternative dimension which slants across the composition.

Interpretation therefore, looks forward into the opening, into the unknown factor coming in, rather than backward into a theory.  Francis Lucille said “an artist should leave the centre empty.”   While painting it, I do not know what message it will reveal;  I struggle with the details and to get the colours to work better.



This morning – the next – I wrote:
The dead do not have faces, so they do not talk together, and sometimes they cling to the living, to the living faces of speech.  The dead clutched at Harry Potter from out of the underground lake when he dipped a shell for water;  Frodo raised the legions of the dead in Lord of the Rings for the conclusive battle:  and Basilides of Alexandria summoned and preached to the dead, during the Great War, through Jung.  The collective subconscious is the dead – the carpet where we walk.  The Great Work in the interior, awakens their faces, the carpet comes to life, do not trample it, it is holy ground – “tread softly for you tread on my dreams” (Yeats).

THE POWER OF THE DEAD …  We really are the Awakened Dead – as a result of Jung facing his own.   Who knows what this hidden unconscious power holds?  Its presence is undetected by statistic sciences … a whole part of their equation is missing.


(continued in Mandala, Abraxas and the Angel)




My adventure invites fellow travellers.  I am a poet, an artist and a seer.  I welcome conversation among the PHILO SOFIA, the lovers of wisdom.

This blog is  a vehicle to promote also my published work – The Sacred India Tarot (with Rohit Arya, Yogi Impressions Books) and The Dreamer in the Dream – a collection of short stories (0 Books). Watch this space.

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