Author Archive

Review of Reading Jung’s Red Book For Our Time: Searching for Soul under Post-Modern Conditions: Volume 2

Reprinted from the C.G. Jung Society of Montreal Newsletter 

Review written by Murray Shugar

Reading Jung’s Red Book For Our Time: Searching for Soul under Post-Modern Conditions: Volume 2

The eighteen Jungian analysts in this second volume of Reading Jung’s Red Book For Our Time almost unanimously point out the dilemma facing the postmodern individual in light of the secular values that dominate our lives and that have driven the religious dimension almost into oblivion.

Australian analyst David Tacey argues that after a long period of secularism that has dominated Western culture—a critical feature of postmodernism—a repressed religious impulse has returned with violent force. He identifies radical Islamism as “a medieval mindset indignant and angry over the relativization of values, the annihilation of traditional structures, and the arbitrariness resulting from a free and open society.” (p. 46) “We cannot capitulate to a premodern demand that a totalitarian expression of the sacred be worshipped.” (p. 47)

Tacey proposes a dive into the spirit of the depths that could produce a cosmology that will “draw on ancient sources, contemporary science, and personal experience … (from which) the future religion will be formed. “ (p. 48)

John Dourley eloquently describes the principle of individuation: … “the drive toward being an individual, moving progressively away from a regressive dissolution in the wealth of its source, the Pleroma, to an ever deeper engagement in the demands of finite life and the making of the individual.” (p. 91)

Anne Ulanov evokes Jung’s humble spirit: “one blunders into the work of redemption … neither beautiful nor pleasant … and so difficult and full of torment that one should count oneself as one of the sick and not as one of the overhealthy who seek to impart their abundance to others.” (p. 72) Furthermore, “the time has come when each must do his own work of redemption.” (p. 83)

For Gary Sparks the Gnostic god Abraxas plays a pivotal role in Jung’s Seven Sermons. “Abraxas represents everything the ideals of an age restrict from typical awareness, but which, in fact, break out in mass, often in savagely destructive, behaviour.” (p. 113) He presents Jung’s work in 1926 with Christiana Morgan, whose monstrous and violent visions gave way to erotic and creative expression. “Through our inner images generated in emotional storms, we recover the lost sacred in life, denied by centuries of dismissal.” (p. 124)

In “The Red Book as a Religious Text,” Lionel Corbett concludes: “I see Jung’s myth as undermining many of the assertions of the reigning monotheisms …deviations from tradition … (include) Jung’s attempt to synthesize good and evil as components of the self, the need for a renewal of the Western god-image, the notion of the dark side of the self, and the stress on the birth of God in the soul rather than in a transcendent domain.” And further, “he implies that the material that arises from the objective psyche is sacred, consistent with his belief that contact with the objective psyche is a religious process.” (p. 65)

Mexican analyst Ramon Madera addresses Nietzsche’s bold proclamation that “God is dead” and proceeds to elaborate on the idea that the Holy Spirit is still alive and well. He cites the twelfth-century Italian theologian Joachim of Fiore as someone who tried, like Jung, to reconcile the opposites through it. Madera asserts that Jung’s quest for meaning after the death of god has not proven to be successful; chaos seems to be in the ascent, a perplexing and dire dilemma that we face.

In “On Salomé and the Emancipation of Women,” Joerg Rasche explores Jung’s “encounter” with the blood-thirsty femme fatale of Biblical notoriety. Salomé was the dark and fascinating subject of late-nineteenth century artists like Oscar Wilde and Richard Strauss. The author complicates matters by adding the personage of Lou Andreas-Salomé, a leading advocate of women’s emancipation, who had among her admirers Friedrich Nietzsche and Rainer Maria Rilke. She attended the 1911 Psychoanalytic Conference in Weimar alongside Jung, Freud, Toni Wolff and Emma Jung. Although fiercely independent, she may ultimately have leaned more towards Freud’s ideas. Rasche presents Jung’s complex relationships with four distinctly gifted women—Sabina Spielrein, Toni Wolff, Andreas-Salomé and Emma Jung—as a struggle to understand his anima. He imagined a blind Salomé in the Mysterium chapter of his Red Book; she regained her sight after challenging Jung to love her. The author suggests that it was Jung’s own blindness to his feelings about women that would be healed by his efforts. Rasche underlines several moments in the Red Book when Jung urged his female counterpart to find her own footing. With or without Jung’s encouragement, these women possessed impressive intellectual gifts.

In an intriguing concluding remark, the author reflects on the biblical Elijah, a pivotal figure in Jung’s encounter with the seductress: Elijah championed Yahweh against the pagan gods of his day and subsequently experienced His awesome power, not unlike Job’s encounter. Rasche seems to contend that Jung’s experience was of such magnitude that he too was almost overwhelmed.

In “Soul’s Desire to Become New” Kate Burns elaborates upon the inner calling that summons an individual to enter the “thickest darknesses …” (p. 224). “Jung’s retreat into himself engendered an initiatory crisis that revealed the wisdom waiting to birth the word and image of inner experience and to unlock an attendant meaning that brings relief to suffering.” (pp. 218-19)

Qi Re Ching offers an eloquent Odyssean essay on the subject of aging. A gay man in his 60’s, he explores his declining sexual proclivity. Having lived through the AIDs epidemic in his native San Francisco, he grieves the loss of many friends at that time and realizes the importance of each stage of our lives and the distinction between restorative and reflective nostalgia. Along the way he also encounters a spider woman, an imaginal companion who supports and challenges him.

Noa Schwartz Feuerstein’s essay on India in the Red Book points out the substantial references that Jung found within the Indian wisdom tradition, especially the Upanishads. Having turned his gaze inward, Jung found in the Indian holy books allusions to the Self in Brahman and atman and qualities that supported his challenge to western attitudes, such as detachment from the sensory world, waiting and non-intentionality. In “A Lesson in Peacemaking: The Mystery of Self-Sacrifice in The Red Book,” Günter Langwieler invokes Jung’s account of his heart and soul-rending experience on the cross. Only through this suffering could he break the violent cycle of heroes too willing to take the lives of their brothers.

In an effort to understand the current American political scene, Randy Fertel has written “Trickster, His Apocalyptic Brother, and a World’s Unmaking: An Archetypal Reading of Donald Trump.” He cleverly riffs on subjects such as Improvisation and the Rhetoric of Unmediated Spontaneity; Jung and Trump: Embracing Spontaneity; Lord of Liars: Trickster, Subjectivity and Alt-Facts; The Improviser-in-Chief: Culture Bearer or Destroyer. For all its cleverness and its cathartic intent, this essay somehow fails to convince.

In “Dreaming the Red Book Onward: What Do the Dead Seek Today?” Al Collins identifies three dark twentieth century creations of critical import—T. S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land,” and two Sci Fi films: “Dark City” and “She.” Referring to the importance of the virtual world in the 21st century and seeking a better story, Collins concludes that “it is a cosmic selfhood we are playing with in our nascent mythology …” (p. 380)

The Red Book is a complex multi-vocal work. The eighteen distinct voices in this volume offer deeply considered musings that encourage fruitful reflection.

Review of Jung’s Red Book For Our Time: Searching for Soul Under Postmodern Conditions: Volume 3

Reprinted from the C.G. Jung Society of Montreal Newsletter 

Review written by Murray Shugar

Jung’s Red Book For Our Time: Searching for Soul Under Postmodern Conditions

A third volume of a series on Jung’s Red Book For Our Time: Searching for Soul Under Postmodern Conditions has been released and it continues the legacy of an adventure that Jung began more than a century ago. It gathers eighteen authors, some steeped in the tradition as well as those who have come lately to the dance. 

Among the veterans is Murray Stein, who, along with Thomas Arzt, is one of the book’s co-editors. Stein links Jung’s Red Book to the Aurea Catena—a Golden Chain of imaginative literature that spans the ages. It includes works such as TheEpicofGilgamesh, the Tao Te Ching, Dante’s Divine Comedy, the medieval alchemists, and Nietzsche’s Zarathustra.

Stein is concerned with how Jung’s “spirit” is transmitted over time. He likens Jung’s legacy to religious traditions and expresses concern that the inspiration that produced The Red Book cannot be taught in institutions where it could become abstract learning and even dogma.

In his essay, the central role of Philemon is emphasized. As a character in Ovid’s Metamorphosis, he and his wife Baucis offered hospitality to the gods. In Goethe’s Faust, he suffered a tragic fate at the hands of the overweening scholar. And yet Philemon, a retired magician and counselor to the Dead, and perhaps akin to the unscrupulous Simon Magus, was the major player as Jung’s drama concluded in his garden and not that of Jesus. This pagan guide mediated between the human and divine dimensions.

Illustrative of Jung’s use of active imagination, Stein writes: “The human maintains its dignity before the Divine, respectfully, and helps the Divine to become conscious by letting it pass through the doorway of human consciousness and enter into relationship with the human world.” (p. 28)

Stein contends that the receptivity shown by the mythic Philemon was the same religious attitude that Jung needed to explore the inner reaches of psyche: to be open to the unconscious. Stein proposes that “the Red Book offers those of us who are entangled in the postmodern condition of turmoil and confusion, mythlessness, and the dismaying absence of a coherent master narrative a glimpse of the underlying tradition of wisdom that has sustained many generations and can sustain us as well.” (p. 28)

Remarkable insights can be gleaned in an essay written by Linda Carter on “Jung as Craftsman.” She summons Jung’s vulnerable childhood: his mother lost three infants, two still-born, before Carl Gustav was born. This fragility may have led him to a need for interactive relationships, a dimension of his life often overlooked in favour of Jung’s solitary and quasi-mystical adventures. She muses on the difference between deliberative and procedural knowledge. In her opinion, Jung demonstrated considerable procedural skills by the repetition of his art, as attested to by his masterfully-wrought illustrated manuscripts. … “With manual dexterity, the craftsman can … outside explicit consciousness, enter a state of creative resonance or reverie that allows for conjunction between imagination and the material world.” (p. 246)

Carter also points out Jung’s fascination with stone from an early age. His confrontation with the unconscious was famously aided by his play in sand and stone. Years later the construction of his Tower at Bollingen would provide a sanctuary in stone to his opus.

An inscription therein attested to its purpose: (Philemonis Sacrum; Fausti Poenitentia/Philemon’s Sanctuary; Faust’s Repentance). Moreover Jung’s interest in alchemy would take him on an assiduous and scholarly quest for the philosopher’s stone—lapis—in his later years.

Finally, Carter cites the influence on Jung of the Arts and Crafts movement of the late 19th century—a return to the Middle Ages and the importance of turning the immaterial to the material.

Stephen Aizenstat concludes this volume with a wonderfully written essay entitled “The Quest for One’s Own Red Book in the Digital Age.” He begins with his own personal experience of the numinous as a child playing on the tidewaters of Zuma Beach, just outside of Los Angeles. This wondrous memory led him to a life-long interest in exploring “digs” —inner journeys into the psyche—using a method he has called “dream tending.”

However as we spend increasingly more time in cyberspace, “our time in the dream space becomes ever more diminished.” (p. 378) While one expects that the author will advocate strongly for a focus on inner work against the overwhelming presence of technology in our times, instead Aizenstat contends that we must keep ourselves open to modern ways. Guided by a recurrent dream figure Aizenstat calls “Woman with Many Screens,” he argues that “advanced technology and deep imagination can coexist and enhance each other.” (p. 381)

He adds that the publication of The Red Book itself, with the high quality reproduction of its images, would not have been so successful in rendering Jung’s inner experiences without the aid of technological wizardry!

Finally, after mulling deeply on the imagination and its presence in The Red Book, the author adds a wish that Jung could not have mustered as he created this unique work. Aizenstat urges the current reader to consider uniting the spirit of the times with the spirit of the depths!

It is a mark of the importance of Jung’s Red Book that three volumes have been dedicated to its significance for our post-modern times. The authors range widely in their background and in their approaches. There are reflections from an astrological angle, from alchemy, and from Japanese fairy tales. Jung’s explorations ranged from the giant Sumerian god Izdubar (Gilgamesh) to the god-image in the psyche, a Gnostic allusion that Jung favoured. A clinical case evokes the appearance of the golden seed within the vile and misshapen. The creative power of soul as well as its unsettling effects are addressed.

An analysis of a modern film, “No One’s Child,” presents the crisis of the abandoned child—the current plight of the refugee—from a Serbian perspective. Another author invokes the Trickster as instrumental in economic boom and bust cycles. A Muslim perspective cites the mundus imaginalis as common ground shared by its mystic proponents and Jung’s own high esteem for the imagination. There are also perspectives offered on the nature of the serpent in Jung’s encounters from a Japanese angle; even the Red Book as Troll Music by a Swedish analyst!

One may wonder how such a text can be interpreted in so many ways. Perhaps a clue to the richness of the book is found in its symbolic content. A man and his symbols indeed.    

Review of Why Odysseus Came Home As a Stranger and Other More Puzzling Moments in the Life of Buddha, Socrates, Jesus, Abraham, and Other Great Individuals

Reprinted from the C.G. Jung Society of Montreal Newsletter

Review written by Mary Harsany

Why Odysseus Came Home As a Stranger and Other More Puzzling Moments in the Life of Buddha, Socrates, Jesus, Abraham, and Other Great Individuals

This unassuming little volume packs a lot of information. Each chapter poses a curious question—e.g. “Why Arjuna Refused to Fight”—with the rest of it offering a response. The book flows so easily that sometimes the reader feels like a child listening with wonder as the stories unfold. Mostly the book offers wisdom, musings on what happens to the great individuals in myths or stories, and why. As a Jungian analyst Henry Abramovitch explores the background to the question in each story.  He also introduces examples of his therapeutic work with his patients, demonstrating how these questions have relevance to our psychological lives. 

Asking questions is an important tradition in Judaism, e.g., Job in the Bible asking God why he has made him his target when he is a righteous man, and indeed most of the individuals featured in these essays are Biblical characters. However, the stories are not limited to the Bible; heroes of Indian and Greek myths are also included.

The book begins with the story of Arjuna, that great warrior in the Hindu sacred text, The Bhagavad Gita. When Arjuna realizes that he is facing members of his own family in battle, he stops his chariot and refuses to fight. The Gita is one section of the much larger saga, The Mahabharata, and from it the author fleshes out how Arjuna came to this battle. One of Arjuna’s brothers, Yudishthera, gambles everything and loses all. He and his brothers are exiled and in the last year of banishment each has to wear a disguise. Masculine warrior Arjuna becomes a woman, a dancing master for the princesses of the kingdom. In doing so he becomes in touch with his anima. In amplifying this story Abramovitch tells us about the Berdache, transgendered members of American Plains Indian societies, and he relates this to the phenomenon of transgendered people of the present day.  

The iron warrior that was Arjuna has learned to develop compassion from his experience with his feminine side. This is why he initially chooses not to fight his cousins. In the end Arjuna does engage in battle, as it is his fate to do so. Yet, he has not lost his empathy as he offers time for his archrival to change the stuck wheel of his chariot before fighting him. 

The longest chapter in the book is “Why Abraham Agreed to Kill” his own son Isaac, when instructed to do so by God. This question is one laboured over by many a Biblical scholar and continues to be difficult to understand to this day. The author wonders if the story is better understood by Christians than Jews, as it prefigures the sacrifice of Christ. “Like Isaac … Jesus carries wood on his back up a mountainside; like Isaac, Jesus asks one poignant question of his Father. There is however one crucial difference between the Old Testament and the New. Isaac is saved at the very last minute, while Jesus, the archetypal abandoned son, dies alone on the cross … For Jesus, death is a prelude to resurrection; for Isaac it is the beginning of his initiation as a man who has experienced Divine Presence.” (pp. 99-100)

Abramovitch ends with the rather bizarre and X-rated story of Lot in a chapter entitled ”Why Did Lot’s Wife Look Back?” Abraham, Lot’s uncle, tried to spare the towns of Sodom and Gemorrah from destruction by bargaining with God over how many righteous people would need to be found for the towns to be saved. He manages to bargain down from fifty good men to ten, but even that number was too large and so the town was destroyed. 

Lot offered hospitality to two angels who came to visit, fearing for their safety. The men of the town clamoured around his door demanding he release the strangers so they could have intercourse with them. Lot staved them off by offering them his two virgin daughters instead! It was these two daughters and Lot who survived the catastrophe. Hiding out in a cave the daughters realized they needed a man to have children; since there was no other man available, one night after the other, they made Lot so drunk that he lay with them without his conscious awareness! 

Salacious details aside, we know that in fleeing from the conflagration of the city, Lot and his family were told to not look back and Lot’s wife did. Abramovitch explains that Lot was a wanderer, a relative newcomer to the city, while his wife was not. It may not be surprising that she nostalgically looked back, but why did she turn into a pillar of salt? In an interesting interpretation, the author relates her petrification to how one may react to a trauma. Often, as it was after the Holocaust, it may take time before survivors of trauma can “look back,” that is, process the shocking events they have lived through. If they do so too soon, they may metaphorically turn into pillars of salt, become numb or stuck, that is, suffer from PTSD. 

Two of my favourite essays in the book are on Odysseus and Socrates, both of which are the subjects of Henry Abramovitch’s presentation to us in January. Why does Odysseus first disguise himself when he finds himself at the shores of his homeland? After long absence home itself may feel disguised, unrecognizable. 

Odysseus, that clever trickster, knows to reconnoiter before revealing himself to his countrymen, and to protect himself, especially from the suitors gathering around his wife Penelope.  And why did Socrates remember his debt at the very end of his life; his last words were to his slave: ”Crito, I owe a cock to Asclepius; will you remember to pay the debt?” In answering this question the author elucidates Socrates’ attitude towards the body, discusses the importance of dreams, the phenomenon of somatic memory, and the need for a ritual to mark the end of an illness. 

This book can be read and reread as each time one peruses it, more gems of wisdom are perceived. What a wonderfully curious mind Abramovitch possesses and what ingenious associations and explanations he offers! I recommend this book and the upcoming lecture to all curious minds among you. You will be pleasantly amused and instructed at the same time.

Review of Edge of Abyss: The Usefulness of Antichrist Terminology in the Era of Donald Trump

Reprinted from the C.G. Jung Society of Montreal Newsletter

Review written by Marsha Mundy

Edge of the Abyss: The Usefulness of Antichrist Terminology in the Era of Donald Trump

Robert Isaac Skidmore. M.Div., PhD., is an Orthodox priest, a scholar of theology and depth psychology, and a licensed counsellor in Ashland, Oregon. He studied theology at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary and depth psychology at Pacifica Graduate Institute. He is now auxiliary priest at Archangel Gabriel Orthodox church and an adjunct professor in the clinical and mental health counselling program at Southern Oregon University. While studying Jung, Skidmore became interested in the subject of shadow and the concept of archetypical shadow; in his 2017 dissertation, he applied Jung’s theory of shadow to Christianity and Western culture. 

Skidmore writes a simple book, but one of in-depth spiritual meaning. He argues that the archetypal antichrist can be seen today in aspects of each of our personalities rather than only in one individual. He reminds us that because it is unconscious to us, it displays itself as an aspect of our own psychological, sociological, and political experiences that can become risky or even dangerous when overlooked or pushed aside. 

Skidmore looks at the Sumerian myth of the descent of Inanna, a myth that has been both historically and archetypally repressed, to develop his understanding of the archetype of the antichrist. Inanna was a goddess in Sumerian mythology, and was known also as Ishtar in the Akkadian pantheon. She is regarded as one of the most important and complex deities of the Mesopotamian pantheon, and is known primarily as a goddess of sexual love but also as a goddess of war. 

From this myth, Skidmore shares that we, too, can experience the reality of Inanna. At times, she is portrayed as a young girl under patriarchal authority, though at others she is depicted as an ambitious figure who seeks to expand her own sphere of influence. 

This book is timely as we have entered a time of many troubling questions as we look at the era of the recent U.S. president—Donald Trump. Skidmore sees Donald Trump’s present activity and influence as expressing an archetypal pattern, that is not only bringing about ancient conscious awareness, but that is also calling us to self-scrutiny and truth. He recognizes that the Antichrist has gained a negative reputation historically, particularly through the occasional extreme activities of few fundamental churches and groups, but suggests that today our consciousness is being tweaked through the presence of this archetype, as we realize both the potential hazards, but also the important benefits of this archetype. He sees the presence of the Antichrist as relevant today to wake up our unconscious mind to what is going on in the madness and chaos around us, to work with our own shadows to find truth. 

Skidmore invites us to take a different view to examine the Antichrist. The biblical story of the Antichrist refers to one individual who appears at the end of days executing Satan’s last surge of activity on earth. Christ and His heavenly army appear to confront the Antichrist, and the battle of Armageddon, (a final divine judgment in which God casts Satan, the Antichrist, and those under the Antichrist into the fiery abyss) ensues.

But Skidmore takes an interesting look at the Antichrist as an archetype, and suggests that “the spirit of antichrist resides in more than a single individual.” (p. 20) It is with this information that Skidmore sees that the antichrist “falls radically outside the range of our normal expectations with the understanding of the antichrist as an expression of an archetypal shadow.”(p. 45) He adds that because we do not accept our shadows, we do not see the antichrist characteristics within ourselves. 

He quotes Revelation 14:5 where the words “first beast” appear to describe the antichrist, and interprets this as there being more than one beast or Antichrist. Thus, he suggests that the beast is more of an archetype than only one being. He notes the annoyance that Trump has brought as he exhibits extraordinary skills in business management, but also has serious deficits in behaviour. Skidmore also notes the chaos and disruption in the world and suggests these all imply the presence of the Antichrist. This view may interest religious scholars today because this theme can also be found in the Bible in the words of St. John the Evangelist: “Whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ.  Whoever denies the Father, and the Son, this is the antichrist.”1 John 2:22 

Skidmore reminds us that the concept of antichrist functions on the boundary between truth and error, and how it particularly “functions to warn us that some things on the side of error, convincingly retain characteristics we associate with truth—so much so that, without deliberate effort, our normal instincts concerning truth can be confounded.” (p. 24) He further reminds us that “error, in the form of antichrist, does not reveal itself except to those who are on guard, not just for error, but for trickery, for cunning and sophisticated camouflage.“ (p. 24) He notes that extreme situations exist in which signs can be deliberately and maliciously manipulated. He concludes that the concept of antichrist as an archetype, calls for “utmost vigilance of heart and spirit,“ (p. 25) and leaves us with the task of awakening to our own comportment as we journey through life, to become aware of our inner lives. 

Skidmore handles a deep subject with skill and ease, and has linked Jungian understanding to a concept of antichrist that is not only helpful, but also informing and transforming. This is a short book, but one that
should be read twice.  

As in Christ dwells the fullness of the Godhead so in Antichrist the fullness of all wickedness. Not indeed in the sense that his humanity is to be assumed by the devil into unity of person…but that the devil by suggestion infuses his wickedness more copiously into him than into all others. In this way all the wicked that have gone
before are signs of Antichrist. —Thomas Aquinas