Ancient Book: Carl Jung’s Red Book

by Joanna Penn

As part of my Masters in Theology at the University of Oxford (1994-1997), I specialized in the psychology of religion. I was always particularly drawn to Carl Jung, because of his extensive investigation in the subject but also because of his personal struggle with the big questions of life.

Painting from Carl Jung's Red Book

The main character in my ARKANE thrillers, Morgan Sierra, also specializes in psychology of religion, mainly so I can explore my own interest in the subject!

I was keen to bring Jung into the Pentecost story. It so happened that while I was researching the book, it was announced that the Red Book would finally be published and made available to the public after years of being kept secret by his family. To my astonishment, one of the paintings in the Red Book has what looks like a pillar of fire coming out of a stone which I wove into the story of the Pentecost stones.

Jung writes a great deal on synchronicity, the experience of coincidence or chance that occurs in a meaningful way. There were many experiences of synchronicity as I wrote the book but this one was stunning. I also use the painting to describe the room at the Wadi in Nefta where Jung actually visited when he was in North Africa.

Here’s part of a scene where the ARKANE team learn more about the Red Book. At the bottom is a video if you’d like to learn more about it.

Morgan listened to Ben talk, fascinated by the journey of the stone of Simon
the Zealot. They had Ben on speakerphone with Martin Klein also connected from
the ARKANE headquarters, hoping that between them they could locate the final
Pentecost stone. Ben continued his story from what the Grand Master had told him.
“Carl Jung travelled to the oasis of Nefta while he was in Tunisia, North Africa in
1920. He felt the land was soaked with the blood of Carthage, Rome and later the
Christians. It was a powerful experience for him. His memoirs say he felt an alien
sense of being a European in a Moorish, desert land. He recounted a powerful
dream of being within a mandala of a citadel in the desert, where he fought with
and then taught a royal Arab his secrets. Morgan, you’ve studied Jung’s writings in
depth. Did he ever mention this Pentecost stone?”
Morgan frowned and said, “I don’t remember Pentecost mentioned specifically, but
Jung was fascinated with stones as well as being obsessed with religious mythology.
At his Tower in Bollingen on Lake Zurich, he engraved stones with words and
images that meant a great deal to him. He created from his unconscious all the
time. He would have written about this if it meant something.”
Ben spoke again.
“I was told he was in North Africa in 1920. Isn’t that when he was still working on
the Red Book?”
“Of course, you’re right.” Morgan replied. “We should look there. It’s such an
outpouring of his mind at that time.”
Jake asked, “What’s this Red Book and why’s it so important?”
All three of the others started talking at once, and then quietened to let Morgan
continue.

Philemon. Jung's spirit guide

“The Red Book was Carl Jung’s personal inner journey written during a breakdown
he had. It’s an oversized red leather bound book with cream artist’s paper inside
that he filled with calligraphy of his thoughts and paintings of his inner life, visions
and dreams.”
“Why haven’t I heard of it before? It sounds amazing,” Jake said.
“It’s only recently been published for the first time. He wrote it between 1913 and
1929 and it’s truly a work of art. His family have protected it until now,” Morganreplied.
Jake asked, “So how could the book help us?”
“Jung painted what he saw in his unconscious mind and also what affected him,”
Morgan continued. “There should be signs in the Red Book if he had found
something spiritually significant. Jung was a mystic, struggling to reconnect ancient
myths with the modern world. He even dreamt about the coming rivers of blood in
Europe which turned out to be the Second World War. He felt broken in his mind,
and that left him open to divine inspiration, ideas and thoughts that the rest of us
discard in the night.”
Martin jumped in then, keen to add his opinion. His voice crackled over the line.
“Many of the paintings in the Red Book are representations of mandala, the circle in
the square which represents the inward journey of the soul. Jung’s spirit guide,
Philemon, is a central character in the Book shown as an old man with the wings of
a kingfisher. There are images of Egyptian myth and particularly of snakes, a
spiritual image of renewal and creation as well as the Christian idea of it
representing the devil. The snake is a powerful symbol in many…”
Jake jumped in, cutting off his flow. “Thanks Martin, that’s enough for now. Could
we get images of it please?”
“Of course, I’ll send them now. I’ve seen the real thing Morgan. It’s amazing! I was
assigned to be one of the few physically present when it came out of the Swiss vault
and photographed. The colors are so fresh because they have kept it pristine for
years, with hardly a soul looking at it. You’re going to be amazed when you see it.”
As they waited for the emailed images to arrive, Morgan thought about
Martin seeing the actual Red Book. She had an oversize full color reproduction, but
her professional jealousy was piqued by his unique experience. Working for
ARKANE certainly had its benefits. The images arrived and they opened the first file.
Morgan gasped and Jake leaned in closer.
“Is that what I think it is?”
They were looking at one of the images from Jung’s Red Book. It showed a square
room with turquoise patterned walls and a red and black checkered floor. In the
centre of the room, a man knelt in worship, his head on the ground with arms
reaching towards a small grey object in front of him. From that stone a pillar of fire
and flames rose up, filling the room with sparks and smoke, billowing above the
man as if about to consume him.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Natalie Wright October 2, 2011 at 5:39 pm

Fascinating Joanna and that was my favorite part of Pentacost. Isn’t it cool when synchronistic things happen that relate to our writing? I always feel that that’s a sign I’m on the right path.

Reply

Joanna October 3, 2011 at 5:23 am

Thanks Natalie – I really was surprised to get the Red Book and find the painting. Amazing!

Reply

Andi` October 2, 2011 at 7:37 pm

Very interesting and enlightening. I studies Jung while in college many years ago, so I’d forgotten many of the concepts and ideas he’d embraced. Excellent book, Ms. Penn. Looking forward to “Prophecy”.

Reply

Joanna October 3, 2011 at 5:24 am

Thanks Andi – I’m glad you enjoyed Pentecost. I’m pretty sure Jungian concepts will keep appearing in the series as I am obsessed with him :)

Reply

Laura Smith February 13, 2013 at 7:43 pm

You book looks interesting. I too love The Red Book. I love that you incorporate his incredible work in your own writings. You and your readers might like this website http://www.carl-me.com, by Marc Bregman, founder of North of Eden Archetypal Dreamwork. He writes about Carl’s work from the perspective of Archetypal Dreamwork.

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