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Art and Images in Psychiatry
June 2010

The Red Book: Liber Novus

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2010;67(6):554-556. doi:10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2010.68

The years . . . when I pursued the inner images, were the most important time of my life. Everything else is to be derived from this. . . . My entire life consisted in elaborating what had burst forth from the unconscious and flooded me like an enigmatic stream and threatened to break me. . . . Everything later was merely the outer classification, the scientific elaboration and the integration into life.

—C. G. Jung, 19571(p vii)

In the fall of 1913, 38-year-old Carl Jung (1875-1961) faced a personal midlife crisis just months before the onset of the First World War. It resulted in him abandoning his promising academic career at the university in Zurich, Switzerland, and his leadership in the psychoanalytic movement. Four years earlier, he had received international recognition when he, Sigmund Freud, and Adolf Meyer accepted honorary degrees from Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts.2 On his return to Switzerland in 1909, Jung built a new home for his growing family on Lake Zurich and resigned his hospital appointment to focus his attention on psychoanalysis, assuming the editorship of the Yearbook of Psychoanalysis and in 1910 the presidency of the newly formed International Psychoanalytic Association (IPA).

Carl Jung (1875-1961), Swiss. Philemon. Image reprinted from The Red Book (p 154) by C. G. Jung. © The Foundation of the Works of C. G. Jung. With permission of the publisher, WW Norton & Company, Inc, New York, New York.

Carl Jung (1875-1961), Swiss. Philemon. Image reprinted from The Red Book (p 154) by C. G. Jung. © The Foundation of the Works of C. G. Jung. With permission of the publisher, WW Norton & Company, Inc, New York, New York.

As a medical student, Jung had chosen psychiatry over medicine and physiological chemistry after reading Richard von Krafft-Ebing's Textbook of Insanity, Based on Clinical Observations. As a student he imagined that as a psychiatrist he would work “out the unconscious phenomena of the psychosis.”3(p7) His choice surprised him too because his father, with whom he often disagreed, had been the Protestant pastor to the insane asylum in the Swiss canton where he grew up. Jung began his psychiatric training in 1900 at the Burghölzli psychiatric hospital in Zurich. Thus his clinical experience was in hospital work, and unlike Freud, he primarily worked with major mental illnesses. He stayed on at the Burghölzli to become chief assistant to director Eugen Bleuler (1857-1939). In 1908 Bleuler introduced the term schizophrenia to replace dementia praecox, later noting that although he used the word in the singular it referred to a group of several diseases.

Jung too focused on psychosis and speculated on the similarity of a patient's hallucination to an ancient myth unknown to the patient. Increasingly as he sought to understand his severely mentally ill patients, his views about psychoanalysis differed from those of Freud. In 1911 and 1912, Jung published 2 articles that laid out his analysis of the published fantasies of a young woman he believed demonstrated the prodrome to schizophrenia. In the published book4 he questioned key Freudian views.

That year, 1912, Jung had a puzzling dream about Freud. In it Jung was walking with someone along a country road and came to a crossing. Suddenly an old man wearing the uniform of an Austrian customs official appeared; it was Freud. Jung wrote, “In the dream the idea of censorship came to my mind. Freud didn't see me and but walked away silently. [My companion] said to me, ‘Did you notice him? He has been dead for thirty years, but he can't die properly. . . . ’”3(p39) The dream scene changed and Jung found himself walking with the same man along a medieval street: Jung was bothered by this dream, one that occurred while he was still ambivalent about his relationship to Freud and psychoanalysis but before the actual break with him. When he asked Freud, he too was bewildered by these dreams.

All at once I saw among [the local people] a very tall man, a Crusader dressed in a coat of [chain]mail, whom I viewed with astonishment; what was he doing there? My companion said he has been dead since the twelfth century, but he is not yet properly dead. He always walks here among the people, but they don't see him.3(p39)

Under Freud's influence, Jung wrote that he had been He concluded that Freud's psychoanalysis was a living relic; a psyche viewed as a tabula rasa (blank slate)—like the customs official in the dream, psychoanalysts rummaged through old baggage—but Jung's dream of the 12th-century knight suggested to him a deeper mythological archetypal structure, one later referred to as the mythopoeic unconscious.5 It became more apparent to Jung that he needed to find his own approach.

looking on the unconscious as nothing but the receptacle of dead material, but slowly the idea of the archetypes began to formulate itself in my mind . . . a conviction that the unconscious did not consist of [repressed] inert material only . . . there was something living down there. I was greatly excited at the idea of there being something living in me that I did not know anything about.3(p40)

Despite his misgivings, Jung accepted reelection as president of the IPA at the Congress held September 7 and 8, 1913, in Munich, Germany. He gave a lecture at that meeting on psychological types, proposing differences between Freud (an extrovert) and Alfred Adler (an introvert) based on their respective psychological orientations; one focused on the dynamics of sexuality and the other on the dynamics of power.

While riding on a train to visit his mother-in-law on October 17, 1913,3,6 in the fall before the outbreak of the First World War, Jung experienced catastrophic fantasies; he witnessed a flood, the deaths of countless thousands, and rivers of blood. He could not get them out of his mind. To him, a psychiatrist, these fantasies were so frightening that he questioned his sanity. Yet the fantasies quickly passed and he returned to his work and daily routine. Jung was not alone in experiencing anxiety in that era before the war. The poet Thomas Hardy expressed similar fears in his poetry (eg, Channel Firing); politically countries were building up their fortifications. On October 27, 1913, Jung's difficulties with Freud worsened and he resigned his editorship of the Yearbook.2

Jung had reached the peak of his profession but found himself increasingly dissatisfied, writing: “I had achieved everything that I had wished for myself. I had achieved honor, power, wealth, knowledge, and every human happiness. Then my desire for the increase of these trappings ceased, the desire ebbed from me and horror came over me,”1(pp231,232) as he remembered the vision of the flood; “at the beginning of the following month (November 12, 1913) I seized my pen and began” to write.1(p232) From that day until April 19, 1914, he continued to record his personal turmoil in 6 black notebooks. His entries in these notebooks over those 5 months would later comprise the source material for The Red Book. Throughout those difficult months, he grounded himself in his private psychiatric practice, his family life, and the hope that his inner exploration would allow him to better understand his patients. Searching the depths of his soul in those months, he found a new perspective and concluded his last notebook on April 19, writing, “This is the Way.”1(p330) Later he reported this was “the origin of the technique I developed for dealing directly with the unconscious contents.”3(p42)

Having found his Way, the following day, April 20, 1914, Jung resigned his presidency of the IPA and shortly afterwards left the psychoanalytic movement altogether. On April 30, 1914, he resigned his university lectureship, an appointment he had retained after leaving hospital-based practice. Thus freed of administrative and teaching responsibilities, Jung continued what he later called his voluntary “confrontation with the unconscious” that is summarized in his book Memories, Dreams, Reflections.6(pp170-199) Despite periodic doubts about the course that he was taking, Jung persisted. In April, May, and June 1913, he again experienced frightening dreams. An Arctic cold wave turned the land to ice, canals froze, and frost killed the green growth on the earth. No human beings remained.

On August 1, 1914, war was declared. With the onset of the First World War, Jung's nightmares ceased. He sought to understand what had happened, how, and to what extent had his “own experience coincided with that of mankind in general.”6(p176) This decline in his forebodings after war was declared suggested to him that his fantasies and visions were a reflection of his unconscious reaction to underlying societal tensions before war erupted. Throughout the war years, Jung continued to experience a steady stream of fantasies while maintaining his private practice, meeting his family obligations, and completing a period of obligatory military service. Some have mistakenly claimed that Jung was psychotic during this time because of his vivid descriptions of his visual experiences. That he made his observations in full consciousness, maintained his daily routines, and carried out his usual family and civic responsibilities indicates his reality testing was intact throughout. In one fantasy he recorded, Jung finds himself in an insane asylum. He tells the professor that he summoned these images, that they are not abnormal but the product of the intuitive method.1(p295) In 1925 in a professional seminar, he clearly distinguished his voluntary active imagination experiences at that time from those of psychosis in psychiatric patients.3(p43) Jung wrote,

[T]he essential thing is to differentiate oneself from these unconscious contents by personifying them, and at the same time bring them into relationship with consciousness. . . . It is of course ironical that I, a psychiatrist, should at almost every step of my experiment have run into the same psychic material which is the stuff of psychosis and is found in the insane. This is the fund of unconscious images that fatally confuse the mental patient. But is also the matrix of a mythopoeic imagination which has vanished from our rational age. . . . My science was the only way I had of extricating myself from that chaos.6(pp187,188,192)

So pivotal were these active imaginings with inner figures recorded in his notebooks that Jung elaborated on them with commentary through the 1920s in a large red leather book. The resulting Red Book written in German calligraphy is reminiscent of medieval illuminated folio books. It is an aesthetic record of his earlier fantasies. Jung's drawing skills had been honed years earlier in art classes at the Louvre during the elective time he spent in Paris with Pierre Janet at the turn of the century.

Jung's initial notebook entries in 1913 took place at a time of considerable inner turmoil and are quite personal. Never published in his lifetime, The Red Book is essentially his personal diary, revealing his conflicts with his religious upbringing, personal life experiences, possible reference to his being sexually molested by a trusted adult during his adolescence, and extensive fantasy material that he worried would lead others to question his scientific integrity. So personal is the material that Jung's heirs denied scholars access to the book until 2001, when Sonu Shamdasani, later its editor, showed them a copy of The Red Book text that Johns Hopkins–trained physician and Jung translator Cary F. Baynes had copied out for Jung in 1924. This text had been deposited in the Yale University Library archives.

The Red Book or Liber Novus (New Book) is a 205-page manuscript comprising 53 full images, 71 pages that contain both text and artwork, and 81 pages of pure calligraphic text. Some illustrations refer to the text and others are not connected to specific text but show his visual journey in encountering the Self, the term Jung used to indicate mature transcendence achieved through the integrative linking of his ego with the archetypal underpinnings of the psyche. He viewed this deep engagement as objective because it was unclouded by conventional strivings and archetypal identifications—a quiet center for self-observation. During the 16 years he worked on The Red Book, Jung developed his theories of archetypes, the collective unconscious, and individuation and was eventually rewarded with professorships in Zurich and Basel and honorary degrees from Harvard, Yale, and Oxford.

There are 2 main sections to The Red Book, Liber Primus and Liber Secundus.7Liber Primus, titled “The Way of What is to Come,” begins with Jung's expression of spiritual alienation in a format reminiscent of the Confessions of St Augustine. It has 11 chapters, each dated from November to December 1913. Jung begins with an examination of his psychological plight, his sense of spiritual alienation. Similarly poet T. S. Eliot in The Waste Land speaks of emptiness and of a refuge pile of broken images—emblematic of belief systems that are no longer personally meaningful. Jung finds that the “spirit of the times,” the scientific Zeitgeist of his era, he has so long identified with is no longer sufficient to give meaning to his life. He determines to engage the “spirit of the depths” at this time of emotional turmoil. In a series of active fantasies and dreams, he enters in dialogue with the depths, the archetypal level of the psyche, seeking to find meaning in his life. He soon realizes that the heroic viewpoint of his conscience self must be abandoned to open himself fully to the “spirit of the depths.” This takes place metaphorically in a dream when he and another figure slay the Teutonic hero Siegfried, representative of Jung's previous mythological heroic identification.

Opening his mind to fantasy, Jung encounters an archetypal figure resembling the Old Testament prophet Elijah accompanied by his blind daughter, Salome. Through that encounter Jung comes to appreciate the dual nature of archetypal figures. Elijah represents wise thought and Salome feeling or valuation. The book must be read to appreciate how deeply affected and perplexed Jung is by this encounter. As the encounter evolved (in December 1913), it became a kind of initiation similar to those described in “ancient rites”3(p96-99) that sets the stage for Liber Secundus, where Salome becomes Jung's companion or guide. His journey can be compared with that of Dante in the Divine Comedy. From the vantage point of his modern mind, it all seemed absurd, but Jung decided to voluntarily follow, accept it, and see where it led him.

In the last chapter of Liber Secundus, Jung consolidates his personal myth. Although the text is based on his black notebook entries from 1913 to 1914, the archetypal paintings that inform the text were painted between January 1921 and 1928. These paintings begin with a dramatic and total sacrifice of the ego shown in 4 quadrants of a circle, each filled with images of sacrifice and death progressing to darkness, the eruption of the monstrous, and utter confusion. Then when hope seems lost, the integrating Self makes its first appearance (Figure 1) as a bright shining globe in the deep darkening sky that hovers between the branches of the archetypal World Tree, or Tree of Life, that connects heaven and earth. Ego consciousness has been eclipsed by what Jung describes as an image of the totality of the psyche, the Self, expressed as the illuminated globe. The scene now shifts to the World Egg (Figure 2), an image of the cosmic egg that is part of creation mythologies and from which a new world is meant to be born. Fire grasps the Tree of Life. This image (Figure 2) is reminiscent of the battle between the prophet Elijah and the antichrist at the time of the last judgment in early German Christian epic poem Muspilli.1(p309) One interpretation is that the nascent Self image (from Figure 1) shown in the upper half of the World Egg is shattering in anticipation of being reborn, and frightening serpents appear as new energies are released from the underworld as shown in the lower half of the World Egg. This painting illustrates a powerful creative movement in the unconscious that anticipates the deeper integration of the Self into consciousness.

Figure 1 
Carl Jung (1875-1961), Swiss. Tree of Life. Image reprinted from The Red Book  (p 131) by C. G. Jung. © The Foundation of the Works of C. G. Jung. With permission of the publisher, WW Norton & Company, Inc, New York, New York.

Carl Jung (1875-1961), Swiss. Tree of Life. Image reprinted from The Red Book (p 131) by C. G. Jung. © The Foundation of the Works of C. G. Jung. With permission of the publisher, WW Norton & Company, Inc, New York, New York.

Figure 2 
Carl Jung (1875-1961), Swiss. World Egg. Image reprinted from The Red Book (p 135) by C. G. Jung. © The Foundation of the Works of C. G. Jung. With permission of the publisher, WW Norton & Company, Inc, New York, New York.

Carl Jung (1875-1961), Swiss. World Egg. Image reprinted from The Red Book (p 135) by C. G. Jung. © The Foundation of the Works of C. G. Jung. With permission of the publisher, WW Norton & Company, Inc, New York, New York.

Now Philemon (cover) emerges as the commanding presence. In The Red Book, Jung wrote that Philemon had evolved from the earlier figure of Elijah, whom Jung encountered when his fantasies began. Philemon first appeared to Jung in a dream as a winged old man with the horns of a bull and 4 keys, one held as though he was about to open a lock. Philemon, for Jung, personified the wisdom of the Self. Supraordinate to the ego, Philemon assumed the role of Jung's inner guide. A friend from India told Jung that Philemon was analogous to an inner Indian guru.6 Philemon is the keeper of the Self whose symbol rests in his hands.

Philemon's emergence coincides with the time in Jung's life just before he resigned the last of his professional positions in 1914. Following the encounter with Philemon, Jung painted a fully rendered symbol of the Self (Figure 3) in the form of a mandala. It represents the culmination of Jung's midlife transformation. Jung referred to it as the “Window on Eternity.” It came to him in a dream he had in Liverpool, England, following the death of his friend Hermann Sigg on January 9, 1927. This image of radiant light fulfills his quest. “It represents the apex of the psychological and spiritual development in The Red Book” (written communication; Murray Stein, PhD; March 27, 2010). It demonstrates the integration of the Self into his conscious life and the establishment of the ego-Self axis. Jung now looks out into eternity as both participant and observer. Jung wrote

Figure 3
Carl Jung (1875-1961), Swiss. Window on Eternity. Image reprinted from The Red Book (p 159) by C. G. Jung. © The Foundation of the Works of C. G. Jung. With permission of the publisher, WW Norton & Company, Inc, New York, New York.
Carl Jung (1875-1961), Swiss. Window on Eternity. Image reprinted from The Red Book (p 159) by C. G. Jung. © The Foundation of the Works of C. G. Jung. With permission of the publisher, WW Norton & Company, Inc, New York, New York.

Figure 3 
Carl Jung (1875-1961), Swiss. Window on Eternity. Image reprinted from The Red Book (p 159) by C. G. Jung. © The Foundation of the Works of C. G. Jung. With permission of the publisher, WW Norton & Company, Inc, New York, New York.

Carl Jung (1875-1961), Swiss. Window on Eternity. Image reprinted from The Red Book (p 159) by C. G. Jung. © The Foundation of the Works of C. G. Jung. With permission of the publisher, WW Norton & Company, Inc, New York, New York.

[T]hrough this dream I understood that the Self is the principle of and archetype of orientation and meaning. . . . out of it emerged the first inkling of my personal myth.6(p199)

How might The Red Book be understood today? Although aesthetically presented, it is meant to be seen not as art, but archetypal. In it Jung details how he re-established meaning in his life through his “confrontation with the unconscious” and set the stage for his later work.

Although Jung's synthetic hermeneutic approach5 to psychology is not routinely taught in psychiatry programs today, his views of dreams are sophisticated and are confirmed by recent studies of the importance of dreaming in affect regulation and the need to explore the emotional qualities of a dream's central image when seeking to understand it. In the Hartmann model of thick and thin boundaries to dream recall, Jung's boundaries to dreams seem thin. Jung's approach emphasizes the importance of spirituality and religion in general psychology: he always encouraged his patients to examine their belief systems and to seek meaning in their lives. His views of there being 2 rational cognitive functions, thoughtful reflection (thinking) and aesthetic valuation (feeling), is reflected in Jerome Bruner's focus8 on 2 modes of thought, analytic and narrative. It is the narrative mode that links affect and cognition to create meaning that is further elucidated through reflective analysis. The issue of archetypes is popular in literature and helpful in the interpretation of such films as Ingmar Bergman's Wild Strawberries. However, archetypical themes continue to be largely unexamined in major mental illnesses.

The Library of Congress will display The Red Book and Jung's black notebooks and early mandala drawings from June 17 until August 18, 2010.

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Article Information

Thanks to Thomas B. Kirsch, MD, for his generous help in identifying relevant sources and discussions about the meaning and content of The Red Book; to Steve Buser, MD, for facilitating contacts with Red Book scholars; and to Murray Stein, PhD, on the interpretation of images contained in The Red Book used in this commentary.

Jung  CG The Red Book. Shamdasani  S ed. New York, NY: WW Norton; 2009
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Jung  CG Analytical Psychology: Notes of the Seminar Given in 1925. McGuire  W, ed. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press; 1989
Jung  CG Symbols of Transformation: An Analysis of the Prelude to a Case of Schizophrenia. 2nd ed. New York, NY: Princeton University Press; 1967
Ellenberger  HF The Discovery of the Unconscious.  New York, NY: Basic Books; 1970
Jung  CG Memories, Dreams, Reflections.  In: Jaffé  A, ed. Winston  C, Winston  R, trans. New York, NY: Random House; 1989
Stein  M Carl Jung's Red Book: January 22, 2010 [video webinar].  Asheville Jung Center. http://www.ashevillejungcenter.org. Accessed April 8, 2010Google Scholar
Bruner  J Two modes of thought.  In: Bruner  J, ed.  Actual Minds, Possible Worlds. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press; 1986:11-43Google Scholar
1 Comment for this article
Affect in Dreams The Red Book and Sleep Laboratory
Milton Kramer, MD | University of Illinois ,Psychiatry,
Dear Editor:

Dr. Harris in his brief essay on the remarkable and illuminating work by C.J Jung, The Red Book: “Liber Novus", documenting Jung's extraordinary experience with his transforming dreams notes that his views of dreams are sophisticated and confirmed by recent studies of the importance of dreaming in affect regulation. This is indeed the case but the publication of the first theory embodying the affect regulating function of sleep and dreams utilizing sleep laboratory collections of dreams was first published in 1973 [Kramer, M. and Roth, T. The mood-regulating function of sleep. In: W.Koellea and P.Levin [Eds.] "Sleep-1972",
Basel: Karger, p.536- 541] and most recently updated in "The Sleep Experience "New York:Routledge, 2007p-167-187. The expansion of Jung's insight was incorporated early into studies of laboratory dreaming and continues to this day.
Milton Kramer, M.D. Clinical Professor of Psychiatry University of Illinois at Chicago

Conflict of Interest: None declared