Despite his onetime friend and mentor Sigmund Freud’s enormous impact on Western self-understanding, I would argue it is Carl Jung who is still most with us in our communal practices: from his focus on introversion and extroversion to his view of syncretic, intuitive forms of spirituality and his indirect influence on 12-Step programs. But Jung’s journey to self-understanding and what he called “individuation” was an intensely private, personal affair that took place over the course of sixteen years, during which he created an incredible, folio-sized work of religious art called The Red Book: Liber Novus. In the video above, you can get a tour through Jung’s private masterpiece, presented in an intensely hushed, breathy style meant to trigger the tingly sensations of a weird phenomenon called “ASMR” (recently the subject of a This American Life segment). Given the book’s disorienting and often disturbing content, this over-gentle guidance seems appropriate.
After his break with Freud in 1913, when he was 38 years old, Jung had what he feared might be a psychotic break with reality as well. He began recording his dreams, mystical visions, and psychedelic inner voyages, in a stylized, calligraphic style that resembles medieval European illuminated manuscripts and the occult psychic journeys of Aleister Crowley and William Blake.
Jung had the work bound, but not published. It’s “a very personal record,” writes Psychology Today, “of Jung’s complicated, tortuous and lengthy quest to salvage his soul.” Jung called this process of creation the “numinous beginning” to his most important psychological work. After many years spent locked in a bank vault, The Red Book finally came to light a few years ago and was translated and published in an expensive edition.
Since its completion, Jung’s book—a “holy grail of the unconscious”—has fascinated artists, psychologists, occultists, and ordinary people seeking to know their own inner depths. For most of that time, it remained hidden from view. Now, even if you can’t afford a copy of the book, you can still see more of it than most anyone else could for almost 100 years. In addition to the whispered tour of it above, you can see several finely illustrated pages—with sea serpents, angels, runes, and mandalas—at The Guardian, and read a short excerpt at NPR.
And for a very thorough survey of Jung’s book, listen to the lecture series by longtime Jung scholar Dr. Lance S. Owens, who delivers one set of talks for lay people and another more in-depth set for a group of clinical psychologists. Above and below, you can hear the first two parts of Owen’s more general lecture on Jung’s “numinous beginning,” a book, “unlike anything in the modern age; a work completely without category or comparison.” Visit the Gnostic Society Library site to stream and download the remaining lectures.