The Red Book Decoded – Cocreating Your Personal Myth

The Red Book Decoded 


I’d like to open this article with Friedrich Nietzsche’s words, “God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him”. This is a very profound statement because Nietzche isn’t referring solely to the Christian god, it’s something much deeper. You see, for centuries religion gave men a sense of meaning and purpose, but recently it was debunked by the new god of science.

Consequently, old myths, symbols, and metaphors are dying in the hearts of men, and there’s nothing else to ignite the quest for a deeper sense of meaning. The positivistic paradigm, paired with an excessive rationalistic attitude, suffocates the soul and puts us at the mercy of the devouring vacuum of nihilism and the dark facet of the unconscious.

Before that, Carl Jung wrote, “The main interest of my work is not concerned with the treatment of neuroses but rather with the approach to the numinous. But the fact is that the approach to the numinous is the real therapy and inasmuch as you attain to the numinous experiences, you are released from the curse of pathology. Even the very disease takes on a numinous character.” This citation says everything of essential importance about a Jungian analysis. If it is not possible to establish a relationship with the numinous, no cure is possible; the most one can hope for is an improvement in social adjustment” (M.L. Von Franz – Psychotherapy – p. 143).

In that sense, Carl Jung explains that a religious system provides a framework for the conscious mind to be protected from the unconscious and also intelligibly elaborate our numinous experiences. However, it’s something ready-made, for some people, it still works as a living symbol, but to many, like myself, religion has lost its salvific value, and therefore its meaning. That’s precisely why Jungian Psychology is so valuable, as its ultimate goal is to unravel one’s personal myth and become capable of building our cosmovision. In other words, craft our own values and create our unique sense of meaning.

Let’s remember that when Jung uses the term “god” or the numinosum, he’s not referring to a really existent metaphysical being, but to the psychic image of what constitutes the greatest amount of libido, the highest value operative in a human soul, the imago Dei. Someone’s god is what structures their whole psyche and consequently, their whole lives. As Jung says, “There are men “whose God is the belly” (Phil. 3 : 19), and others for whom God is money, science, power, sex, etc.” (C. G. Jung – V6 – §67). 

However, when we don’t actively and consciously engage with the numinous and strive to find and create our own meaning, we’ll unconsciously operate with a system that wasn’t crafted by us, or worse, we’ll be tormented by substitute gods. Now, the numinous infiltrates the conscious mind with sexual fantasies, greed for money, political fanaticism, and the craving for power or drugs.

Ultimately, anything inescapable can be called God, “Man is free to decide whether “God” shall be a “spirit” or a natural phenomenon like the craving of a morphine addict, and hence whether “God” shall act as a beneficent or a destructive force” (C.G. Jung – V11 – §142).

Metaphorically speaking, we’re constantly giving our blood as the ultimate sacrifice to keep our lies and addictions alive. We pay with our lives. Nowadays, narcissism also became a mighty substitute god that plots the destiny of many individuals who worship their traumas and take part in victimhood movements. When nothing can bring meaning, recreating your suffering brings an illusory sense of control, as you get to exempt yourself from any responsibility and get a rise from undermining everyone with a vicious tyranny. 

Under this light, Jung says that healing is a “religious problem“, not because he’s trying to create a new religion, but because only the creative force of the numinosum can revitalize our souls and help us find meaning. Von Franz says “The unconscious is “religious”—that is, it is the matrix of all primal religious experience—but it is often not “orthodox” (M.L. Von Franz – Psychotherapy – p. 148).

This means that the unconscious isn’t interested in destroying every religious symbol, but in creatively renewing them in the individual. Sometimes, it’ll revitalize old traditions, and other times transform and update them, like raising the feminine and giving Eros its righteous place in the hearts and lives of men.

This endeavor of creating a new meaning is a dialectical procedure, a co-creation between the conscious ego and the deeper layer of our psyche, the Self, which Jung denominates the symbol formation process. In Two Essays in Analytical Psychology, Jung simply explains neurosis as self-division. There are two tendencies standing in strict opposition with one another, one of which is unconscious, therefore, our task is to harmonize the cultural and moral perspective of the conscious mind with the seemingly immoral nature of the unconscious.  

I specifically said “seemingly” because we already know that what causes self-division is our rigid moral attitude toward the unconscious which strives to deny it. This naturally generates a backlash from the unconscious which creates conflicts to be seen and to be heard. The Self contains both disintegrating and synthesizing tendencies at the same time, “Ultimately all conflicts are created not only by, let us say, a wrong conscious attitude, but by the unconscious itself, in order to reunite the opposites on a higher level” (M.L. Von Franz – Alchemical Active Imagination – p. 90). In that sense, neurosis also bears a redeeming quality, as the chance of overcoming a complex is being offered.

What’s capable of producing this new synthesis and bringing wholeness to the personality is the unifying symbol. In Jung’s words, “To be effective, a symbol must be by its very nature unassailable. It must be the best possible expression of the prevailing world-view, an unsurpassed container of meaning; it must also be sufficiently remote from comprehension to resist all attempts of the critical intellect to break it down; and finally, its aesthetic form must appeal so convincingly to our feelings that no argument can be raised against it on that score” (C.G. Jung – V11 – §142). 

In other words, you’re not going to access this state intellectually, this is not a riddle to be solved. It’ll only happen by opening your heart to your inner truth and by allowing the depths of your being to come alive. The symbol is a profound experience that can reshape our whole lives and is accessible to everyone, however, most people either close themselves to their inner truth or don’t take it seriously. The first group does everything they can to avoid looking within, after all, the unconscious is just “child play”. The second, try to possess the unconscious childishly by doing rituals, taking copious amounts of drugs, and trying to develop “magical powers”.

Of course, the unconscious always has its revenge, psychosis being the most poignant one. In this case, part of the ego is assimilated by the unconscious, “Through this, however, there then readily develops a covertly arrogant, mysteriously concocted pseudosuperiority and false “knowledge” concerning the unconscious. This knowledge is based on the possession, that is, based on the impersonal “knowledge” of the unconscious, on its vague luminosity. As Jung proved, the unconscious does possess a certain diffuse quality of consciousness, and in the case of possession by an unconscious complex, this naturally becomes partially available to the ego. This does indeed bring about a certain clairvoyance, but only at the expense of a clear delimitation of the field of consciousness or a deficient clarity of feeling” (M.L. Von Franz – Psychotherapy – p. 168).

These experiences give an illusion that you’re accomplishing something grandiose, however, it’s just inflation speaking, as the most important element is missing, ethical and moral confrontation. In other words, how do you bring these experiences to real life and for that, you need a strong and healthy ego rooted in the practical aspects of life. You see, most people only entertain the unconscious intellectually and aesthetically, they get enamored with the images but never ask themselves how this must change their lives and personalities. They can experience profound dreams and even experiment with active imagination, but it’s never embodied and it never becomes true knowledge as it lacks experience.

Every time you seek the numinosum your responsibility increases. Here, I can give you a personal example, I had many active imagination sessions where a sword was presented to me and I had to wield it. The sword is a symbol for the Logos, the verb, the word. I had touched on a creative aspect of my personality and had to understand where it was taking me. I was being demanded to make space in my life to write, not only that, to face my fears and present them to other people, even though I have never written anything in my life. This made me rearrange my whole life, both personal and professional.

Your personal myth arises from engaging with the unconscious and giving it shape in your real and practical life. This takes me to my last point, individuation happens by sustaining the paradox between the external and the internal worlds. Therefore, a certain degree of adaptation is needed to bear the numinous in your life, otherwise, you’ll easily get engulfed by the unconscious. When you’re being guided by your inner law, fulfilling your professional and relationship duties also acquires a numinous quality, as your life becomes sacred and the container for the unconscious truth.

That’s what the Red Book is all about, it was Jung’s experiment to reconnect with his own soul and unravel his personal myth, an endeavor he denominated the symbol formation process. However, instead of being inspired by Jung’s journey to embark on their own, many people fetishize the Red Book and try to possess Jung’s experiences and make them their own. “The disciple is unworthy; modestly he sits at the Master’s feet and guards against having ideas of his own. Mental laziness becomes a virtue; one can at least bask in the sun of a semi-divine being. He can enjoy the archaism and infantilism of his unconscious fantasies without loss to himself, for all responsibility is laid at the Master’s door” (C. G. Jung – V7.2 – §263). Others take a different approach and become prophets of a new religion, however, “Only a person who doubts himself feels compelled to win over as many admirers as possible so as to drown out his own doubt” (M. L. Von Franz – Psychotherapy – p. 151).

Following your pistis demands the utmost degree of responsibility and by adopting this attitude, you’re finally free to carve your own path. This doesn’t mean to vanish from society but to express your wholeness and individuality while paying your tribute to the world. Because when you touch the deepest part of yourself, you’re also touching the archetypal foundation that can bring us all together.

Lastly, The Red Book is a bet on the human soul and the creative aspect of the unconscious, we can certainly be inspired by others, however, we must follow our hearts. Always remember to sustain the paradox, “Life and spirit are two powers or necessities between which man is placed. Spirit gives meaning to his life, and the possibility of its greatest development. But life is essential to spirit, since its truth is nothing if it cannot live” (C.G. Jung – V8 – §648).

Rafael Krüger – Live an Audacious Life

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