The Most Important Grimoire of our Modern Age?

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In 1913 Carl Jung, the founder of analytical psychology, experienced a prolonged “confrontation with the unconscious” where he daily wrestled with visions, heard inner voices, and explored his own vast dream-scape for six years. Beginning just before World War I, and ending shortly after its close, his inner turmoil echoed the chaos erupting all around him. During this time Jung didn’t merely experience these events, he rose to meet and catalog them, and created a legendary never-printed (and never-finished) chronicle of his underworld journey called “Liber Novus” (“New Book”) in the process. “Liber Novus”, or “The Red Book” as its become known due to the work being done in a large red notebook, became legendary amongst Jungians, described alternately as holding “infinite wisdom” and being “psychotic” by the few who ever got a glimpse of it. Now, after many years, the heirs of Carl Jung have agreed to allow this lost text to see print for the first time.

“Anytime someone did ask to see the Red Book, family members said, without hesitation and sometimes without decorum, no. The book was private, they asserted, an intensely personal work. In 1989, an American analyst named Stephen Martin, who was then the editor of a Jungian journal and now directs a Jungian nonprofit foundation, visited Jung’s son (his other four children were daughters) and inquired about the Red Book. The question was met with a vehemence that surprised him. “Franz Jung, an otherwise genial and gracious man, reacted sharply, nearly with anger,” Martin later wrote in his foundation’s newsletter, saying “in no uncertain terms” that Martin could not “see the Red Book, nor could he ever imagine that it would be published.” And yet, Carl Jung’s secret Red Book — scanned, translated and footnoted — will be in stores early next month, published by W. W. Norton and billed as the “most influential unpublished work in the history of psychology.” Surely it is a victory for someone, but it is too early yet to say for whom.”

This October (when the veils between the worlds are thin) you can purchase a deluxe scanned, translated, and footnoted copy of “The Red Book” by Jung for 195.00 dollars (or 105.00 dollars through Amazon.com). What can the reader expect after they shell out for this tome? Well, in a mythological and archetypal sense, a little bit of everything.


One of the many illustrations by Jung in “The Red Book”.

“The footnotes map both [Jungian Sonu] Shamdasani’s journey and Jung’s. They include references to Faust, Keats, Ovid, the Norse gods Odin and Thor, the Egyptian deities Isis and Osiris, the Greek goddess Hecate, ancient Gnostic texts, Greek Hyperboreans, King Herod, the Old Testament, the New Testament, Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, astrology, the artist Giacometti and the alchemical formulation of gold. And that’s just naming a few. The central premise of the book, Shamdasani told me, was that Jung had become disillusioned with scientific rationalism — what he called “the spirit of the times” — and over the course of many quixotic encounters with his own soul and with other inner figures, he comes to know and appreciate “the spirit of the depths,” a field that makes room for magic, coincidence and the mythological metaphors delivered by dreams.”

To say that Jung’s work is important to the later development of modern Paganism as we now know it would be something of an understatement. So much of the language and ideas we use in processing our own inner workings and journeys are touched by the terms and ideas pioneered by him. Now the world will see what is perhaps Jung’s most personal work, a psychological grimoire that has acquired such an air of mystery and wonder that it seems almost unreal that it is being mass-produced now. This could be the most important “esoteric” work to be published in decades, and while it most likely won’t shift the way things work in the world of analytical/Jungian psychology, it could end up having deep reverberations throughout the “occult” world. Makes me wish I was the kind of guy who had 100 dollars to randomly spend on a single book. Maybe I’ll put it on my Yule list.