Thoughts on Liber Novus

July 31, 2020

The psychic events that take place in C.G. Jung's Liber Novus, or Red Book, are the basis for his entire school of thought. His career during, and after, writing Liber Novus is composed of scientific elaborations of what came to him through the unconscious at that time. The book details his dream life and his experiences with practicing "active imagination". It began in 1913 and ended in 1930. In his dreams he largely documents his interactions with archetypal figures, such as wise old men, young maidens, magicians, and figures from ancient myths. This includes Christ, Satan, and both his Shadow and the collective unconscious. The importance of his experiences cannot be overstated, as his later work is an elaboration (and formalization) of what he learned from the symbols that are detailed in the book. The general direction of the book is Jung trying to gain wisdom and knowledge from his unconscious, understand human nature, and ultimately, to birth a God. What follows is an attempt to simplify his findings and make them more understandable in a less abstract, and more livable sense. This is about the process of individuation, the end goal of which is the achievement of the Self.

The Self in Jungian psychology is the totality of one's psyche. For this to be achieved, every aspect of one's being must be allowed life. To understand what this entails, it could be said that every individual has every human potential. It is in our DNA to vary among different dimensions of traits. Some people are more aggressive, and others more passive. But the potential for both kinds of behavior exist in everyone. Due to our temperaments, we typically choose one pole and act it out, while at the same time shunning the other. Practically speaking, this is projected onto others. A heavily introverted individual will likely find a heavily extraverted individual to be a loudmouth who spends too much time distracting himself with others, while the extravert will likely think that the introvert is not living enough, and isn't friendly to boot. The process of reaching one's Self is then balancing one's traits with the traits that he has neglected. Introverts therefore need to take their place in the social world and extraverts need to learn how to bear the emptiness inside them in silence.

Jung had a rough go of it. Though this seems not to be because of his nature. It is, rather, the nature of the process. You must necessarily descend into the void or ascend a mountain of fiery thorns and needles. The constant in the process is the pain of understanding and accepting the other within you. This is a process that will take a very large portion of one's life, if it is undertaken at all. The destination is the journey; When you stare at the end of the road it cannot be reached, for there are uncountable crags in the path, and they will trap you without your knowing if attention is not paid to the doing. This is the essence of living in the moment. Thinking without thought. It is adjusting the resolution of your views and tasks. Effectively trusting oneself. Clearly, moving ahead with no plan in mind is foolish. The destination must be conceptualized for the path to exist. So once you have your destination, and the road there, forget the former. It is a distraction to the task at hand. Like all journeys, there will be detours along the way. There are both good and bad side roads. Some will bring you further up your path, and others will lead you on the path of another, which is not to be preferred. These side roads are the sign posts that you task yourself with. For example, if your goal is to become a master chef, there are multiple categories of cooking that need to be mastered. These are all side roads (or, the paths are simply winding. But I prefer the analogy of side roads because it helps demonstrate the fractal nature of the path itself). The side roads have side roads as well. Perhaps you think it would be good to first master something basic, like cooking a burger. You will then need to learn the art of making a patty out of minced meat, and the proper amount of seasoning to put in said patty. Then you realize that the patties won't taste good if the equipment you are using to cook them is not maintained. By paying careful attention to the smallest workable unit that you can conceptualize, you achieve two things. First, you learn your task much quicker than if you were worrying about the next step. Second, you walk along the way. It will be found that progress is swift when taking things in these steps.

What Jung talks about in Liber Novus is his discovery of the process of individuation through his dreams, and the universal symbology therein. If one reads this poorly, they will have a very skewered and ethereal view of this process, which is in fact blood and guts. Jung notes that while he documents his mental struggles and dream life, he still leads an active waking life, constantly at work. He worked on Liber Novus for over twenty years, while still doing his scientific research throughout. The inner life does not move if the outer life does not move. The one pushes the other along, which is why the step-by-step view is the one that works. By not overstepping, you "fill in" the experience. You don't miss anything, and this fills in the psyche. The internal mirrors the external. Individuation is the drawing out of your potential so that it lives. A large variety of experiences (especially challenging experiences) activate corresponding aspects of your "soul". The ultimate goal is to make your soul manifest fully.

Though the way is fractal, it is only as fractal as we can conceptualize. Therefore the progress made is actual, and not like Zeno's Arrow which never finds it's mark. To connect the physical mastery more closely with the psychic aspects which Jung talks about, you could say that becoming a master chef is a side road on the broader task of gaining self respect (though becoming a master chef is clearly a side road for more things than that). An interesting aspect of the path is that when you encounter the one, you also simultaneously encounter the other. The path is perfectly mirrored like this: the closer you get to heaven, the closer you get to hell.

To switch this to the physical again, here is another example. Learning, or achieving, self respect (positive in terms of action) will (normally) come packaged with self ridicule, or humility (negative in terms of action). Because getting to know yourself means knowing your limitations, and the space you occupy in reality. Highly trained martial artists (I'm not talking about professional fighters necessarily) are very often chilled out, and are less likely to get into street or bar fights than the average person, and here is a reason why: The body language they express is neither invasive nor defensive. They are not defensive because they have confidence due to the hours they have spent honing their skills. The chances of someone being able to beat them is relatively low. They are not invasive because of many factors. The discipline instilled by training; Peace over violence is a key tenet in most martial arts. They have also been humbled by training; they know that they are capable of losing (and of doing it very embarrassingly). So they neither provoke nor are provoked into a fight. By combining the positive and negative aspects they gained through their tasks and trials, they ride the path. And as I said, the physical and psychical are mirrored; their mental balance will inevitably balance their physical situation as well.

The unity of opposites is inescapable when looking at the religions of the world. This is how Jung realized the pattern within himself. He notes that God is identified with the Word, and that this is likely because words are both innately meaningless (arbitrary) and meaningful (definite). They combine meaning and meaninglessness. God is also the Father and Son simultaneously, the Holy Spirit that binds them. The Dao is also a symbol of opposites that reside within each other. These are projected maps of the psyche to describe itself and thereby reality (because what "reality" is without the classification systems, and presence, of the psyche is either nothing or one whole mass. We lack words to describe it, and so it is impossible to speak of it. Reality is our interpretation of what is). Simply put, the only reality that can be known is human reality. To exit this frame is to put a bullet in one's head. But that reality would not be known. It is impossible to fathom.

Jung notes the stagnation associated with the total union of opposites, and the joining of Jesus and Satan. There is no more individual movement, and no story (no life of the parts). This union makes the two, one. When one moves up, the other moves up. A solid mass. This is where my knowledge of his views gets considerably foggier, but I believe that the solution to the stagnation is to acknowledge the sovereign nature of the opposites, while still knowing the connection. It is healthiest to allow the cycle to run whilst keeping track of your position on the spectrum. To not play the game is to reject life; To see the entire system at work is a castle of ice. To live within the system without any of these considerations is a stormy sea of molten lava. Everything is to be taken in moderation--including moderation itself. There must always be wiggle room.

This ties back very intimately with working through things step-by-step. You don't look at both your tasks and entire course at the same time. You would be overwhelmed from the sheer magnitude and would lack the focus required for the tasks. So only one is to be taken in at time. It is like deep-sea diving for treasure. You have a map of the general area where the treasure should be. But to take that map underwater is both useless, and suicide. Things must be assessed on site with great care, and the hands of a carpenter (but probably a diver). When you find the treasure, slightly off where the map said it would be, you rise to the surface, and look at the map again, and reassess the general outline, taking what just transpired into consideration. All of this has been said thousands of times before me. And so it is cliche.

The point is that to view the general and specific at the same time is unhealthy. You can do one or the other, and learning to "go with the flow" consists of shifting from one perspective to another depending on the situation and new information presented to you. There are times to be fiery, and times to be cool. Like learning when to change your front-facing side when snowboarding. How to shift your weight, when to bend your knees. Learning your faculties and how they interact with the world (having the humility to take opportunities as learning opportunities rather than winning opportunities is a blessing). Learning that your feelings about something does not change it's existence. Nothing is obligated to change for you; You are the one that must bend.

The first tenet of Musashi's Dokkōdō (Way of Walking Alone):

Accept everything just the way it is.

Faith is trusting in a larger system which allows one to focus on the tasks of the day without worrying too much about the future. This works out well, since taking care of today will help take care of tomorrow as well. Instead of pouting and being upset about your low wages, and probably working less hard because of it, you believe that your faith (in whatever you believe in) and dedication will land you a better position in the future. This mindset encourages hard work, and most importantly, integrity. These qualities in a person result in more friends, better relationships, and more opportunities for advancement. Faith functions as a self-fulfilling prophesy this way.

When I have talked about different qualities thus far, like self respect, and faith, I do so not in the neutral sense. Both of these qualities can be negative in excess or deficiency, naturally. I speak about them in their positively manifested (balanced) forms. Meaning, not respecting oneself beyond one's due, and not blind faith, which results in either total non-action or thoughtlessness. The negative aspects of these traits balance them out. Everything in proper proportions (no one disagrees with this). In this way, we have not advanced past Plato, which probably means he got it right. To get this roughly back on track, if this hasn't been inferred already, the reason why the process of individuation is blood and guts is not only because of the necessity of activities in daily life, but that we must strive psychically towards that which repels and is foreign to us. For example, if one has an excess of self respect, AKA arrogance, humility will appear as cowardice and weakness; A child crying in the rain. To accept that which you view as innately inferior as a part of your totality is humiliating and feels degrading. It is easier to view the other as evil.

Many of the dreams that Jung writes about largely took place slightly before the Great War, and he believes some of the dreams that he had were direct warnings about the war due to a bubbling up of hatred, or unrest, in the collective unconscious. Afterwards, he wrote that the war had happened because people looked at others as the other, while if they had looked inside, and accepted the other within themselves, such blood would not have been shed. This sort of thing happens all the time on a smaller scale. Men who believe themselves to be very masculine reject femininity, citing many negative aspects to it. What they view as negative within themselves, if they are brave enough to consider the question, will inevitably be feminine in nature. They say, "I ain't no bitch!" and project what they view as negative within themselves onto others. i.e. Boys don't cry. In more extreme cases this could lead to someone curb stomping a homosexual because of an act of submission to another man horrifies them; They build the wall high. This happens all because of repressed feelings and a lack of introspection. This should show the difficulty of accepting one's own other; People will kill to avoid it.

The fact that neutral, or even good, traits appear as disgusting and unacceptable when they are your other is shown many times in Liber Novus via Jung's dreams. On one occasion, a dark and mysterious woman demands that Jung eat the liver of a mutilated little girl. After he does, she transforms into a beauty, and it is revealed that through his eating of the flesh (a la J.C.) he has rejuvenated his soul, and the woman transforms, and is his soul. Jung naturally wasn't happy about being asked to eat the liver, and was petrified with horror and disgusted. The evil woman, after the baseness within him is accepted, or at least taken in, is revealed to be his very soul. He says that the soul of a man is a woman, and that the soul of a woman is a man. What a soul is to Jung is quite confusing, but it is in a way different from who he is. It might be most accurate to say that the soul is the mediator between us and the spirit of the depths (his soul transforms many times between a snake and a bird, each communicating it's realm to him in turn). That is why it is the other sex; It has access to information which we are not privy to.

Around this time, Jung was working on his theory of Typology. His types consist of combinations of different set traits. Introversion and Extraversion (Jung massively popularized these terms, which were unheard of before him), Sensing and Intuitive, Thinking and Feeling, and Judging and Perceiving. Tests of these kinds of things are relatively popular, and quite accurate, online. But they serve a hidden second function, considering what Jung talks about in terms of the process of individuation. Not only do they tell you what you are, but they tell you what you aren't. Equally. Everything you lack is a weakness. If you go online and do the 16 Personalities test (for example), and then look at the opposite personality of yours, along every dimension, you will likely have conflicting feelings about the opposite personality type. The chances that you would get along well (well enough to be friends) are quite low, but in reading the description, you are also likely to have a feeling of jealousy (perhaps that one is just me) and respect for them as well. They have what you lack, and you have what they lack. The more balanced we become (in terms of traits such as these), the more complete we are. Extraverts will need to look more within on their path, while Introverts need to get out more. It will be a painful experience for both, but ultimately rewarding.

Jung holds that Jesus is a symbol of the Self (complete person, fully individuated). It is through him that people are redeemed. When Jesus died, he spent three days and three nights in Hell. This is his confrontation with the collective unconscious (Satan is his particular other); He preaches to the damned in Hell (raising dormant unconscious forces). It is only after this that he rises from the dead. Prior to his death, he rejuvenated (symbolically) cannibalistic rituals with the eating of his flesh and the drinking of his blood. He is remembered because he lived his life totally authentically. Therefore, to imitate him is to deviate from him (it is his authenticity that makes him special). Jung stresses in Liber Novus that Jesus is to be emulated, and not imitated. To emulate Christ means to live a life that is entirely your own. This means that he was not possessed by the "spirit of the times".

The spirit of the times is something like the will of our culture. When Jung was writing and working, the spirit of the times was heavily materialistic. He lived in the age of the death of the soul. It was about steel and physics and new gadgets and new techniques. The spirit of the times intends to bend everyone into the same way of thinking. A civilized mob. Civil because it is custom. If it isn't custom, it isn't the spirit of the times. The spirit of our times is primarily about consumption while complaining about consumption. The soul remains dormant. Hours of TikTok, sitting alone in a dark room and staring at a screen without knowing why. The temporality of this spirit is why it is not to be preferred. It is here for a couple years, and leaves no saplings when it is gone. Thin as paper. Frivolous.

Jung claims that he changed one master for another. Namely, the spirit of the times for the spirit of the depths. It was the spirit of the depths that told him to continue his research in the direction it was going. The spirit of the depths does not share the lifespan of the spirit of the times, and so it has accumulated more wisdom. Specifically, the wisdom of the other. It brings up gold from it's sludge. It certainly isn't comforting, but it instills strength when one can bear it. What this means is vague to me. It could point in the next direction to go; a deeper intuitive connection with one's sub/unconscious would help direct one towards what actually interests them (rather than towards what is expected of them). Much of Jung's writing in Liber Novus is hard to decipher, largely because of its specificity to him. He says many times that what happens in the book was his journey, and ours will not be the same.

While I have largely stressed more practical (physical) ways in which the process of individuation plays itself out slowly over time, it was Jung's belief that deep introspection and dream analysis is totally necessary (or at least a great boon). Since the spirit of the depths speaks in the language of symbols, learning how to interpret them relative to your position in the world, and the path you are on, is very helpful. For example, mandalas are a symbol of the Self, and the emergence of the Self. They can show if you are doing the right or wrong things in your waking life. Though I am truly unqualified to speak about proper dream interpretation. Paying very close attention to your feelings and learning how to be honest with oneself is, I believe, the most practical way to at least get on the path (it is something that must be learned. Such things cannot be taken for granted).

I mentioned that Jung claimed that he changed one master for another. This is a very humbling idea because it implies that we are not necessarily in charge of all of our actions. We act out the will of greater forces. This can be seen when people are fighting for a cause they know very little about. This can be seen in riots. People act out the will of the mob (something like the collective unconscious). Since we are all controlled (at least in part) by forces outside our control, it is in our best interests to choose what to serve wisely. This is where the birth of the God comes in. Jung's writings about the necessary steps for the birth of the God are highly complicated, and even moreso for the implications of a birthed God. The main point is that it is your God. Once it is birthed, it becomes separate from you, and either flies to the sun or deep within the earth (depending on where you started). The separation (the achievement of independent life) is why this idea differs from Nietzsche's created values. It is not a simple process, and Jung describes the birth of the God as "unbearable". When the separation is complete, you will serve and make sacrifices to your God, and your God will both control you and protect you from the will of the other Gods.

It seems to me that the birthed God is the emergence of the values which the core of your being holds as transcendent. Once this is discovered, and allowed life, it is as though you are no longer in control. Nothing is more important than that which you serve. The pressure to conform to custom will be nothing compared to the will of your God upon you. To serve one's God is to discover what matters the most. The importance of it's topmost position cannot be overstated. Transcendent values are things which you would sacrifice your life for without hesitation. This act of total submission gives rise to the greatest freedom imaginable. It enables total honesty with your environment, and the will to fight for what you believe in (the kind of strength gained when a general burns his army's ships behind him after they have landed on the enemy's shore. Retreat is not an option). Having a transcendent value, while limiting, limits one to what they find most meaningful.

This will likely be incredibly painful. To pick something as a priority means to put everything else on the backburner. This certainly does not mean that you can't value other things; Simply that contradictory things are shunned. It is always in one's best interests to become a good negotiator and to learn to make one's point with minimal hurt to others. For example, if what you value most is "the truth" (and you somehow believe that you could represent such a thing), without a considerable amount of maneuvering and care, your social life will likely be absolutely destroyed. There are some things that cannot be said because it will hurt the structure and cohesion of the group (if this kind of thing interests you, Nietzsche's On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense is excellent). But no matter what, a price will always have to be paid. To live one's life in pure conformity means the death of the soul, and to do otherwise means a rich life of pain.

Everything which I have written about here, and everything Jung writes about in Liber Novus, only works with honesty and very careful attention. When one is a dark place, they will grab at any illusory light that appears before them. Humans are built for self-deception. This is because the sheer horror of existence is enough to break anyone. I recently saw a video where a very large pit had been dug, and there was an excavator at the top. The pit was filled with live pigs, all tightly packed together. There was gas at the bottom, and somebody threw a match in, and set them ablaze. It was like a scene from Hell; Writhing bodies in the flames and the only sound to be heard were the screams and shrieks of the pigs. This lasts for at least thirty seconds to a minute. The fire goes out, and all of the pigs are still alive, charred and dark. After a couple seconds, the screaming stops, and there is a moment of sheer still and quiet. It is at this precise moment that the excavator pushes a very large boulder down into the pit, crushing several pigs. The rest of them begin screaming again, and the excavator begins filling in the pit and burying them alive.

The entire event was perfectly orchestrated to produce the maximum amount of horror and suffering for the pigs in the pit. I have heard of mass burials of diseased animals, but it was clearly done very wrong (and intentionally wrong). It struck me as the perfect argument as to why it is wrong to bring a child into this world. It is a very strong argument. We cannot be naive about the situations which we find ourselves in. The two options are the classic ones: Yes or No? Life or Death? To look towards or turn away? To be or not to be (ha ha.)? But there is no greater or fundamental question. The avoidance of this question is the task of much of our daily lives. Spending your days looking at stupid shit you don't give a fuck about. To say that I have the answer would be totally absurd, since this is a question that is built into the structure of our reality. It has been asked, it is being asked, and will continue to be asked until the last breath of the last man. And though this question will never end, it is the duty of every individual to find the answer within themselves. I would like to act as if it wasn't my temperament writing, and I would like to say in clear, intellectual terms, why the answer is Yes (but I am not an intellectual), and why the sharp and snarky cynicism I have seen is not the answer.

The closest I can manage is that it only makes things worse. It chooses to view only one side of the issue, and ignores the transformative potential we have as individuals and as a species. We have the ability to make things worse, but we also have the ability to make things better, and bearable, and possibly even worth living for. Though to do the former is much easier. But the moment when two people really connect and realize that they care about each other, or the joy of making a discovery after months of research, is also true, and it is these small and tender moments that make everything okay (for at least a second). The attempt to be kind to one another, and to genuinely do things for the betterment of being, does make things better. As I mentioned, the horror of being can never be eliminated, but we can at least do our best to balance it out. To reach out to a friend in need is an act of beauty. To make oneself capable of doing such a thing is an act of beauty. To treat animals humanely is an act of beauty. The attempt to understand, instead of dominate, others is what will get us through our lives, and advance the species, and better being. And that is worth living for, I think.

In the last section of Liber Novus, Philemon, a magician and recurring character, encounters Jesus in the form of a blue shade. This is how the book ends. I will end here as well, since I have clearly run out of things to say.

Philemon answered, "Recognize, Oh master and beloved, that your nature is also of the serpent. Were you not raised on the tree like the serpent? Have you laid aside your body, like the serpent its skin? Have you not practiced the healing arts, like the serpent? Did you not go to Hell before your ascent? And did you not see your brother there, who was shut away in the abyss?"

Then the shade said, "You speak the truth. You are not lying. Even so, do you know what I bring you?"

"This I know not," Philemon answered. "I know only one thing, that whoever hosts the worm also needs his brother. What do you bring me, my beautiful guest? Lamentation and abomination were the gift of the worm. What will you give us?"

The shade answered, "I will bring you the beauty of suffering. That is needed by whoever hosts the worm."

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