For many years, Carl Jung devoted most of his time to record all his dreams and visions to analyze them. The result is a book filled with psychedelic narrations and strange characters.
Freud might be the father of modern psychology and psychoanalysis, but I wouldn’t know who’d win in terms of followers and fanatics, he or Carl Jung. This is not to diminish the work of either great minds or to say that the most popular one is better. However, it’s interesting how ideas can impact people’s minds. Researching about the book we’re going to talk about here, I was shocked to see how Jungian followers devote their lives to the study of his works and how this book, that took so long to be published, became some sort of a Holy Grail of psychoanalysis and a treasure many Jungians dreamed of holding in their hands, as Sara Corbett’s article in the New York Times shows.
Both Freud and Jung devoted a huge part of their career and research to the understanding of dreams and their connection to the unconscious. To Freud, this was like a box or closed space storing all our repressed desires. In some cases, these could manifest in the conscious part of our mind as a pathology, and thus it was properly treated with therapy. However, Jung had another approach to this subject, which basically was one of the reasons why later on he would become his former mentor's rival. For him, spirituality also played an important role in the development and functioning of the human mind, a very controversial subject among his peers.
Much has been said about how by incorporating his passion and interest for occult subjects like witchcraft, astrology, and séances, Jung gained a not so admirable popularity. Many psychiatrists at the time believed that merging these apparently opposed subjects wasn’t professional and diminished the main purpose of psychoanalysis. Still, he remained researching and working on his theories, which takes us to the book that’s been the subject of many hypotheses and legends. Known popularly as the Red Book, the Liber Novus (New Book) is a red leathered notebook where Jung documented everything that existed within his own subconscious.
In 1913, after he concluded his collaboration with Freud, the then 38-year-old psychoanalyst started experiencing visions and hearing voices that tormented him. In some of his books, he’s explained how terrified he was, since it would feel as if tons of rocks were being thrown over his head and impeding him to move. He believed he was going through psychotic episodes or even that he was probably schizophrenic. Having a better understanding of how the mind works, he decided to analyze all these visions and episodes to understand what was really causing them. In that way, he decided to set a record of them and worked hard so that his conscious mind wouldn’t repress what was under these episodes.
He worked about six years on this particular project, or if we could call it research/self-therapy. It’s even said that he took certain substances to induce hallucinations, which he called “active imaginations.” In that way, he could really let his unconscious run free and unveil everything concealed in this mysterious level of his mind.
Now, to make this, he recorded literally everything, every hallucination, every episode he experienced, and every single dream he had during this time. Afterwards, he would analyze them and write them down on his famous red book. However, this isn’t anything like a diary or dream recollection. In fact, his experiences were so real that his book portrays them as short narratives belonging to the realm of the fantastic. Since its publication in 2009, many scholars have described it as a psychedelic journey the author experienced in his quest to defeat all his demons and finally find his true self.
Jung was famous for his archetypal patterns and theories, so he was able to incorporate all these ideas with his particular passion for spiritual matters. He believed that dreams had similar imagery and narrative schemes as myths, magic, and fantastical stories, and for that reason it was important to analyze them under similar terms. Although very little was known about this particular book (which was kept concealed by his descendants, since he never left them any instructions), it represents a starting point of many of his most important theories and studies.
Besides the content of the book and his experiences related to the unconscious, what makes this book special and at the same time intriguing are the many paintings he made to illustrate and portray in a more visual way all these episodes. In that way, every detail, his words, and the illustrations are free tickets to explore one of the greatest minds of the twentieth century.
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