ABOUT THE RED BOOK
By age 40, Jung had achieved “honor, wealth, power, knowledge and every human happiness.” He was an internationally-known psychiatrist, but he found himself unsatisfied, searching for meaning. He was overcome with horrifying visions and thought he was going mad. Yet, he sensed the visions were erupting from his unconscious and revealed vital facts which he must understand. He decided to allow himself to submerge into his visions, and let his unconscious reveal itself without judgement.
During the day, he kept up his practice and familial obligations. But in the evenings, he slipped into the mysterious realm of his own personal underworld and recorded what he found there. He met mythical characters from his dreams and waking fantasies, insisting that they tell him their purpose before leaving the vision. He later called this work “active imagination” and used similar psychotherapeutic techniques with his patients. He learned to trust the process while receiving support from his wife, Emma, and his collaborator, Toni Wolff. As he followed his psyche into formidable realms, he discovered that he could rewrite the myths he lived by.
"You have your own mystery play.
Find it. Follow it."
- Ann Ulanov
Using both spiritual and scientific lines of inquiry, Jung kept detailed notes of each session in a series of six journals, the first incarnations of what would become the Red Book. Dense with hand-crafted calligraphy and paintings, the Red Book is an artistic and philosophic labor of love, full of pain and confusion, symbolism and poetry. Jung intentionally chose a medieval style for his precious book, which he infused with the language coming directly from his soul. He also drew inspiration from various sacred texts, German philosophy, and world myths. The creation of the book was his spiritual practice for 16 years during which time he infused each page of parchment with attention, dedication, ritual, and humility.
For decades The Red Book had been hidden away in a Swiss bank vault, Jung’s family uncertain what to do with such a deeply private document. This book could present Jung as psychotic rather than a man committed to toiling with his darkest interior for the sake of understanding the soul, the psyche, and the possibilities of a more meaningful life, for both himself and his audience. In 2000, Jung’s family agreed to allow its publication, edited by the scholar Sonu Shamdasani. It was published in 2009 by W.W. Norton & Company eliciting great attention and ushering in a new era in the study and understanding of Jung’s work.
Jung was adamant that we all embark on our own journey to explore our inner depths. He said “the world hangs on a thin thread, and that is the psyche of [hu]mans.” In order to heal ourselves, and in turn, heal the world together, we must question the systems we live by, excavate and forge a relationship with our own unique Self. He felt that his work was meant for his era - war-torn and full of conflict - a sentiment many Jungian analysts hold equally relevant in today’s world. The Red Book is a useful model for each of us, to inspire us to explore the mystery within, experience its magic, meet the divinity within us, and tend the garden of our souls - not only for the understanding of the human psyche but for the betterment of humanity.