Man and Thunderbird
Man and Thunderbird (by Norval Morrisseau)
This issue consists of one long review of a two-volume study of the analytical psychologist Carl Jung. It was written by Peter Kingsley. In essence, it deals with the transformation of man and mankind. To offer a visual component of this theme, I am including here a one-paragraph description of a major series of acrylic paintings by “Copper Thunderbird” along with the six images themselves.
“Man Changing into Thunderbird” is the title given to six large acrylic paintings that Norval Morrisseau executed in the 1970s. The painter himself, an Anishinaabe native of Northern Ontario, was known during his lifetime as “Copper Thunderbird.” The six, same-size paintings that are relevant here are on permanent display on the north wall of the second-floor hallway of the Art Gallery of Ontario. They capture the act of metamorphosis; in fact, two acts of metamorphosis. Walking past them from west to east (left to right) one sees a man step by step turn into a giant thunderbird, the terrific embodiment of the spirit of thunder. Walking past the panels from east to west (right to left) one sees the thunderbird step by step turn back into a man. The six panels form a single work of schematic simplicity yet great power; the six panels seem to merge into one single panel which is a work of considerable iconic and allegorical as well as spiritual significance, not to mention bright design and vivid colour.
3 Jan. 2019
Catafalque (by Peter Kingsley)
“Catafalque” is a word that is not often encountered in everyday use. It is not to be confused with “coffin” or a “casket.” A coffin holds a body; a casket holds a coffin. A catafalque is defined as a raised structure on which the body of a deceased person lies or is carried in state. One lexicographer even wrote that it is “the second-last resting place for the human body prior to burial.”
Catafalque. Odd word, odd title, The title is especially odd, I should think, for a book – two books, really – that discuss the work, the reputation, and the legacy of the eminent, Swiss-born analytical psychologist Carl Gustave Jung.
When I was a student of Philosophy in the late 1950s, we used the word “moratorium” or “postmortem examination” to refer to the time spent the day following the writing of an exam paper to review our answers in line with the professor’s questions. It was always very instructive to realize how we had been led astray by our preconceptions and misconceptions and misreadings of the text of the exam paper. A moratorium was what a physician might call an autopsy, to determine the cause of death. Deadly stuff! Even after all these years of no-examinations, I seize up, slightly, at the thought of the exam with its time limit and the no-time-limit examining the entrails!
Not at all deadly, however, in Peter Kingsley’s two books. Catafalque is two handsome volumes in length, but there is not all that much reading to do. The first volume is 445 pages in length long; the second volume adds another 365 pages, but those latter pages are limited to ample and highly readable Abbreviations, Notes, and Index, a rich harvest of citations and insights, well worth reading straight through for their own sake. Volume 1 is the text that should be of interest to the reader (you and me). Volume 2 is the text that is of most interest to the scholarly author (Kingsley). The subtitle is intriguing: Carl Jung and the End of Humanity.
What is included in the first volume? The answer is that it offers the reader a quite remarkable thesis, which I will discuss later on in this review. But first let me offer a few sentences about this author and his two-volume set of books. He is a British-born philosopher and a former Fellow of the Warburg Institute in London with a Master of Letters from the University of Cambridge as well as a Doctorate from the University of London. It says here that he has lectured throughout North America and was appointed an honorary professor of both Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C., and the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.
The information that follows about Peter Kingsley is taken from the modern crystal ball known as Wikipedia: “He has noted in public interviews that he is sometimes misunderstood as a scholar who gradually moved away from academic objectivity to a personal involvement with his subject matter. However, Kingsley himself has stated that he is, and always has been, a mystic, and that his spiritual experience stands in the background of his entire career, not just his most recent work.”
His special areas of interest are the writings of the Ancient Greek philosophers Parmenides and Empedocles whom he sees as mystics rather than as scientists in the sense that theirs were scientific undertakings avant la lettre. In the same way it is now understood that Isaac Newton did not waste his time when he devoted so much of it to the study of recondite astrology, alchemy, and biblical chronology. Newton was no astrologer, alchemist, or student of Eschatology. Perhaps he found these occult subjects subjectively satisfying; perhaps he regarded them as working tools to delve into the process of speculation itself. The jury is still out on this matter.
Kingsley is interested in such speculation, as is obvious from the title list of his principle publications.
* Ancient Philosophy, Mystery and Magic: Empedocles and Pythagorean Tradition (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1995)
* In the Dark Places of Wisdom. Published in North America by The Golden Sufi Center (Inverness, CA, 1999) and in the U.K by Duckworth (London, 2001)
* Reality (Inverness, CA: The Golden Sufi Center, 2003)
* A Story Waiting to Pierce You: Mongolia, Tibet and the Destiny of the Western World (Point Reyes, CA: Golden Sufi Center Publishing, 2010)
* Catafalque: Carl Jung and the End of Humanity (two volumes, London: Catafalque Press, 2018)
It sound to me like a serious reading list. It would be worthwhile to read these texts, but the task is made somewhat easier after watching and listening to the videos that feature Kingsley discussing such subjects. There are about one dozen videos freely available on YouTube (though they are mixed up with interviews with a hypnotist also named Peter Kingsley who is interviewed by a woman who is not wearing a brassiere, giggling all the while!). Another way to get the gist of the books is to read the appraisals of them supplied by their publishers on their own websites. For instance, The publisher known as Golden Sufi Centre Publishing quotes an appraisal of Kingsley’s oddly titled work A Story Waiting to Pierce You in these terms:
“Let this book wake you up into new sunlight. It is not just a book, and so to be read with the mind. Peter Kingsley’s voice is a friend, and also a way of seeing, of remembering essence, of walking in a great circle around an island you have always loved, but only rarely visited.” The appraiser here is Coleman Barks, the Tennessee-born poet who has a terrific reputation as a translator from the Farsi of the writings or songs of the great Sufi poet Rumi.
Eckhart Tolle, the spiritual teacher who was born in Germany but who lives in British Columbia, has the following praise for the present author: “Peter Kingsley’s work is a journey back to the source – not only of western civilization but, more importantly, to the source within you. Read it! To understand it is to be transformed.”
Both Barks and Tolle write about waking up, seeing reality anew, finding what is without within, returning to the point of origin, to be transformed. Is this true? Well … Tolle is given to his enthusiasms and occasional platitudes, as Barks finds himself telling us what Rumi is thinking rather than recreating it in our own heads. Yet neither writer is wrong because it is true: Peter Kingsley is unquestionably a fine writer, a fine scholar, and a fine communicator. So let us look at his two volumes.
I have read a number of books written by Carl Jung and a number of books written about Carl Jung. I have always been engrossed by the former, sometimes unimpressed by the latter. Let me tell you about how I took an encyclopedic if excessive bibliographic interest in the subject of Jung’s books for a project of mine. The World’s Biggest Bookstore was the name of a book emporium in Toronto that was said to stock every book in print. That was a pious lie but it was one of the first “big box” book stores.
One Saturday afternoon in the 1990s, I perused all of its sections devoted loosely to tomes and workbooks, audio and video tapes, and artbooks dedicated to the New Age: mysticism, the mystic East, Western occultism, the path, the way, miracles, spiritualism, self-transformation, Theosophy, Anthroposophy, etc. I did not count the number of the books because there were so many duplicate titles, but I did notice that one entire wall was reserved solely for shelves that held the serious writings by or about one teacher and that teacher was C.G. Jung. I estimated that those shelves supported close to fifty percent of all the books.
At the time Jung was the undisputed contributor to this field. There are reasons for this distinction: his books remained in print long after the other titles went out of print; the Bollingen Series kept them available; the interest was world wide (or at least Anglophone-wide); students of psychology both normal and abnormal (or anomalistic) were attracted to his work; students were drawn to his workbooks devoted to subjects like depth psychology, personality characteristics, and Jung’s own analytical psychology.
Yet over the years I noticed a decline in the numbers of Jungian books stocked by the World’s Biggest Bookstore to match the general decline of the larger-than-life man’s reputation as a serious philosopher or psychologist with anything more to contribute to the human potential movement than had already been contributed. The decline was marked by the appearance of Jung’s baffling Red Book (Liber Novus) in 2009 which seemed to signal at least to analysts and psychoanalysts that “enough is enough” at least for Jung’s reputation as a scientist. Peter Kingsley will disagree with me about the Red Book.
For the general public the decline in serious interest was noticeable two years later when film director David Cronenberg released his feature-length film A Dangerous Method which focuses on the relationship between Sigmund Freud and Jung. The following year, in 2012, I sat beside the director himself at an official function (the seats were assigned alphabetically) and I innocently (if mischievously) inquired of him, “How is your latest movie doing in Zurich?” He looked up, surprised, his brow furrowed. Then he replied, “Zurich? Oh, Zurich … oh, you have in mind Jung. Yes, it’s doing well there. And it’s also doing well in Vienna, where Freud lived. We wrote it that way, you see.” All things to the mass audience.
Perhaps I am being frivolous but there is a point that I wish to make and the point is that there are two Jungs. Call them Carl and Gustave, if you wish. Carl is the analytical psychologist who made vital contributions to the terminology accepted by certified psychologists. Gustave is the “revelator,” the spiritual and healing leader of the form of humanistic therapy known generally as the Human Potential Movement, the New Age, etc. The status of the latter has been sustained since 1948, the year the Swiss analytical psychologist himself approved of the founding of the C.G. Jung Institute Zurich, as it is known.
Part One is titled “Mystical Fool” and the reader immediately thinks of the Fool in the Tarot pack. Right off the bat, Kingsley describes being invited to deliver an address at the Eranos Conference in 2013, a series of high-level meetings and discussions that have been held each year since 1933 in Ascona overlooking the shore of Lake Maggiore. I wish he had described the event and the experience in some detail, but he does convey its gravitas: “Because of my work on the origins of western civilization I was invited to speak at the Eranos gathering in August 2013. This book is an expanded version of the talks that, to the shocked surprise of many respectable people present, I delivered there.
“Speaking at Eranos provided me with the opportunity to complete a certain circle in my life by acknowledging, and paying deep respects to, two people with whom I have the closest of ties. One of them is Henry Corbin; the other, Carl Jung.” He continues, “Corbin was welcomed into the Eranos circle as one of the greatest living experts on Sufi mystical tradition and as a scholar who, almost single-handedly, introduced the sophisticated realities of Persian spiritual wisdom to the West.”
This is the background; the foreground is as follows: “In other words, that I am going to be focusing on is the past as present: on how those aspects of the past we have been forced to forget have shaped and created the bizarre world that we live in.” This brought to mind the occult historian James Webb’s feeling for “neglected wisdom” or “rejected knowledge” which has to be regained to bring balance to lives and equilibrium to ourselves and to our societies. Kingsley finds impetuses to this end in what we know about the religious principles and practices of the Ancient Greeks of the Mediterranean world in the distant past and in the current and existing conceptions of Native Americans. “We are naked as westerners because we, too, have lost everything. We may seem more prosperous, but we are in exactly the same situation they have been squeezed into for hundreds of years.”
This leads the author and the reader to a discussion of the Trickster, one of the most dangerous and most appealing of the archetypal figures. Identification with the Trickster leads to “the danger of psychological inflation. That way, for any human, lies madness.” Indeed, identification, as we are, with archetypal figures, as they are, risks disaster, the opposite of salvation. Kingsley writes, “The unenviable discipline of first encountering, then finding ways of controlling, insanity is always essential for reconnecting the world of the human to the world of the sacred.” This takes us to the end of the first of this book which ends with these words: “And this is really what I would like to talk about: the hubris, the inflation, the insanity of separating ourselves from the sacred.”
Kingsley writes with great ease, employing an associative style that commingles the wisdom of the ancient Greek, the means at the disposal of the modern shaman or berdache, the insights into myth offered by Jung, as well as his own experiences. This is a heady mixture, and while it would be rewarding to explore each in turn, the reader may forgive me if I sketch lightly rather than adumbrate in chiaroscuro the richness of the whole.
What I find refreshing is that Kingsley envisages a give-and-take between gods and human beings. “The one tiny technicality we forget is this: that wherever we take everything for ourselves we end up with absolutely nothing. First we have to know how to care for the gods if the gods are going to care for us.” He is stressing the need for the invocation of the gods. “We have to start by invoking what’s sacred for us.” “Then there are the times my wife and I have spent in North America. I can still vividly remember neighbours where we used to live, off the coast of Canada at the heart of what was once a sacred island, cutting down the enormous fir trees that held up the whole balance of nature for the sake of making a few dollars …. ” Unfortunately the author seems to settle for the New Age rather than argue for the Rock of Ages: “Here and there we’ll do our best to compensate: put a little Buddha statue in our garden, drive an environmentally friendly car, even join a protest. But each of us, deep down inside, realizes what we are up against and knows very well the tide will never be turned back like that.”
I find in Kingsley there lurks the deliverer of homilies, that is sermons or spiritual reflections, that mix the hortatory and the banal. Yes, what he is saying is true, or perhaps I should say “true enough,” but it leaves us where we started. “And we just do our best to make do – to justify it all as livable, bearable.” The author senses this with dismay and with a sense of relief, having delivered the admonitory sermon, he turns the pages of his bible, a book of philosophy, to Section 8 to consider the wisdom of the Presocratics. Their names are familiar enough – Empedocles, Parmenides, then Plato, Aristotle, and Pythagoras. It is not that Kingsley worships them and dotes on their works; it is that he finds Plato would “simply have to get rid of Parmenides before Parmenides got rid of him.” It seems that Parmenides’s logic is not Plato’s logic and hence the war of the philosophers. The philosopher visits the underworld where he encounters madness. Reason restrains madness but only to a point. Quite chillingly he ends Section 10 with these words: “Or, in other words, one has to make the journey to the underworld to discover everybody is already there.”
Kingsley writes movingly and convincingly (as if all of this should be common knowledge rather than the “rejected knowledge” that it is) so the reader is inclined to accompany him. The underworld, as Jung understood very well, is the world of paradox: the paradox of darkness inside the light, of the sanity in madness.” The real philosopher who has entered the underworld and returned is one of the very few. Kingsley is not about to list those human beings who are “glad to have escaped from death,” in the worlds of Homer’s Odyssey.
It is well known to his biographers rather than to his hagiographers that Jung experienced a mid-career breakdown that lasted some two years and that he emerged from the experience a stronger man and perhaps even a different man for the trial and the tribulation. The French metaphysical writer Denis Saurat refers to this change of focus, this about face, this intensification of experience as a “virage,” a change or transformation, when it does not cause psychic damage in exchange for the imparting of psychic gifts.
Section 13 examines the Red Book in a way no literary critic would espouse: through free association. It is fun but it leaves a reader like myself who has yet to merge with the images or glyphs of the book to remain doubtful about some of the claims of discoveries made reading the text and illustrations. “Nowhere does he claim that the mystical fool in him is as powerful as the whole of his science – is equally strong. Instead he states, quite correctly, that it proved to be stronger.” What is this mystical knowledge? “He, better than anyone, knew there is no way of finding primordial reality in some library.” He added, “All it did was bring him face to face with something infinitely vaster and more powerful than himself. And, from then on, that power arranged and guided everything.”
Kingsley is very perceptive about the journey through the underworld that Jung experienced which he equates with “the dark side of the archetype of humanity.” Unless I missed it, page 89 of Section 16 offers the reader the first reference to Jung’s notion of “individuation.” I will not explore his use of this word. Kingsley admits “true individuation is the rarest and most difficult thing. It’s a path so hard it can be almost impossible to follow through to the end.” This leads the author to a consideration of the word “palimpsest” which he uses to refer to the legible or illegible subtext of archaic life.
So far I have been commenting on “Mystical Fool,” the first section of Volume 1. Now I am on the margin of “Back to the Source,” Part 2, which begins with the author’s evocative description of the celebrated Tower that Jung erected in the village of Bollingen. Kingsley has a deft hand with such encounters. He even refers to “a Christification of many” and how such a state is impossible to attain for the mass of mankind. At this point I recalled a proverbial expression often used by a Swiss-born friend of mind. He said, “The wise man can learn from the fool, but the fool can learn from nobody.” There is no question that Jung is the wise man and for the rest of us, most of whom are fools or at least foolish, this insight rings true: “Psychology is concerned with the art of seeing and not with the construction of new religious truths.”
Section 5 probes the psychological dimensions of these insights, employing such words as “numinous” and “apotropaic” and that tricky term “individuality” as against that other term “individuation” which amounts to a type of “integration.” To this end there is a brief discussion of the Holy Grail. Subsequent sections deal with Jung’s experience of India and then how his insights touch the profoundest of cosmic mysteries. “Perhaps human consciousness has always been the miraculous magic that’s needed for the moon and sun to rise; to sustain and preserve the cosmos; keep it safe.” Kingsley concludes: “The world needs saving. But it’s precisely because we can’t see this that the world is being destroyed.”
The author in Section 8 touches on Native Americans and Sufis, the Grail, the Servator Mundi, the Gospel of John, the Anthropos and the anthropos. Studying Jungian analysis is wonderfully enriching for its fund of classical references. Being able to recognize them and then in some way identify with them seems to be half the battle. But is this really so or is it an illusion? It all seems simultaneously so Pagan and so Christian!
As if on cue, Section 9 deals with Gnosticism and Hermeticism and its influence on Jung (and Jung’s influence on students of those bodies of knowledge). This is an education in itself as we overhear Jung address his spirit-guide or spiritual father Philemon. Section 20 is devoted to what Philemon represents. As with everything connected with Jung, this guide of his represents both what is and what is not, the past and the present, the present and the future. The noun “Jungian” itself has become part of the mythos. There is a lot of to-ing and fro-ing about whether Jung himself was an agnostic and it is only a page or two before the author draws in Jung’s most gnostic text with the arresting title: Seven Sermons to the Dead. The section concludes, perplexingly: “And there we have the definitive picture, able to satisfy everybody and nobody. Jung is a Gnostic but not a Gnostic – all in one.”
Kingsley writes intelligently and at some length about “Jung’s attitude to Jung” and while what he says seems reasonable at first but paradoxical thereafter, so I find myself asking “Is a duck a drake?” and “Are grasshoppers locusts” and “When is magic an effect and when is it a trick” and “Is the spirit of the depths the same as the depths of the spirit?” and “Is today yesterday’s tomorrow?” Yet modesty is part of Kingsley’s personality so he has no problems ending this section with this sentence: “But there are some things that it’s wiser by far not to mention out loud – and it’s this to forget I ever said that.”
Section 13 begins with the statement that Jung created – perhaps – “the most liberating, most transformative psychology in the modern world.” Behind these pages lurk the towering figures of Christ (the Anointed One, not Jesus of Nazareth) and Faust (the great magician) and the great poet who created him, Goethe. Kinsley is well ahead of me here and I imagine most of his readers because it seems he has read the Red Book. I find references to it to be unremarkable but then I also find unremarkable Aleister Crowley’s quotations from Aiwass, the reputed source of The Book of the Law. These might be called “necessary fictions” rather than disembodied entities.
A resounding sentence concludes Section 15: “And, in the case of Carl Jung, what he was shown was the precisest outlines of a structure spanning two thousand years – the vast structure reaching back from our present day through all the whirling mists and darkness past alchemists, then Gnostics, to the dawn of western culture.” Perhaps what is being said is that for Jung the sources of the problems and difficulties that we face today lie in the problems and difficulties in the past that our predecessors failed to face going as far back into the prehistory of our race’s pre-consciousness. About the nature of this he is necessarily as mute as the Eleusinian mysteries, the longest-lasting mysteries of all time, the mysteries about which we know the least.
Jung has played many parts, including those of scientist, physician, healer, teacher, prophet, and mystic. But one role that he has undoubtedly assumed that the public has not recognized at all is that of the poet. He begins his memoirs with the following sentence: “My life is a story of the self-realization of the unconscious.” Not even the prophet is able to write with such conviction, adding emphasis and personal intensity to the fifth word in that sentence. Part 3 is called “The Sunset Way” and it takes the reader into the world of dreams and illusions. It has its share of aphoristic insights: “Divine laws get twisted into human laws which end up becoming absurdly inhuman.” “America’s famous manifest destiny is nothing but the end result of the West throwing out what could have been its true destiny.”
Kingsley has an ability that I admire which I found in the literary critic Northrop Frye. It is the delight taken in uniting opposites in meaningful and unexpected ways. “The famous golden fleece, searched for by ancient Greek heroes somewhere in the ocean to the west, was really the American Declaration of Independence.” Kingsley views the United States through Jung’s European eyes: “But in a society where every American is mass-educated to turn into an individual, when each single girl and boy is collectively injected with the skills of self-empowerment, then – in spite of all the song and dance, all the countless choices and therapies, all the magnificent illusions – deep down inside there is going to be a deadly emptiness.”
Section 2 offers a comprehensive discussion of Jung’s response to the America experience, one that is more articulated than, say, Freud’s response to the Americans on the same visit, especially when the statements are sourced and discussed at some length in Volume 2. This section continues with Kingsley’s rhetorical flourish: “And this is simply the voice of wisdom calling out from the dawn, the roots, the source, of our western civilization to that civilization’s ultimate manifestation.” More in this vein: “We have all gone a long way down this road – have forgotten what it means to want something truly essential for ourselves. It’s so much simpler to go on listening to the lawyers outside and inside us, believing in the reasonableness of existence, compromising here and then there and then back here.” I am afraid he is right!
The rest of the section is devoted to describing the contemporary western attitude to the ancient Greeks prophets as presented by modern-day historians who fail to appreciate the wisdom inherent in the great thinkers of the earliest of literate societies. Jung, however, “had been living the legend of Merlin down even to the smallest details.” It goes deeper: “He was Merlin. The whole of his work, everything he ever published, was that ancient prophetic cry. And, exactly like Merlin, he as doomed never to be understood by humans.”
Kingsley writes vividly about prophets but he has nothing at all to contribute to the lineage of the prophets or the consistency or the evolution of the prophetic tradition, studies undertaken by sociologists. It is as if, in Kingsley’s eyes, sociology is of no importance or fails to figure in the equation. As one sociologist noted, “Prophets are not called mainly to change tradition but to enliven it …. The inner power of true prophecy is not centrifugal but centripetal, leading anew towards the core of faith.”
But I suppose if you want sociology, you go to sociology texts; if you want Jung (no sociologist he), you go to Kingsley. I am impressed with how he dwells on the vision of the prophets of the Bible as “howlers” in the wilderness. Kingsley himself is not lacking in the prophetic mode of discourse, yet he is not anti-modern in the way the Traditionalists thinkers are. He excoriates the leading Traditionalist René Guénon for explaining that in the text of the classic The Language of Birds the birds are stand-ins for angels! True prophets, and mere philosophers, it seems, will always be considered to be mad.
Section 6 deals with psychology. Kingsley writes, rather amusingly, about “the decisive turning point in history when his psychology was created to help them, to save all the would-be saviours by saving them from themselves.” He is referring to Jung’s philosophy, of course. There is a cursory discussion of the contributions of Edward F. Edinger, Jung’s principle American interpreter, and it is cursory in that in it he fails to distinguish between madness and craziness. “If he had come across Jeremiah he would have done his job without a moment’s thought and locked him up.” (In this context one thinks of Freud’s dismissal of dadaism and surrealist art is “too crazy for honest insanity.”)
As for the absence of prophets today, they are numerically insufficient for good reason. Kingsley writes, “And so there is no one brave enough left to ask about the collective craziness – the total psychosis – of a world that has silenced its prophets.” There is a short discussion of the role of the prophet in today’s world and the ambiguous nature of the calling as noted by Freud and Jung. “Real prophets have the strength and virtue to do what no one else is willing, or able, to do. They struggle with all their might against their own ambitions and vanity; manage to maintain their psychological balance by knowing, in particular, how to laugh at the fools they are and never take themselves too seriously. They fight against the constant temptation to display themselves as prophets in public, together with the usual drama that involves.”
Despite this view of prophecy, Kingsley argues that Jung saw himself as a prophet of a new understanding of the self and society if not of the world and its sense of order. “It’s not enough for him to speak theoretically about prophecy. Instead, even when he is talking about prophets he instinctively follows the hallowed and time-honoured tradition of speaking as a prophet.” Kingsley draws parallels between the use of prophetic language by the Ancient Greeks and modern prophets like Jung. That is not enough. “As he tried to explain, for a westerner there is no psychology without the Bible.” When I read this I recalled a prominent rabbi and scholar explaining to me in earnest that it is a mistake to search for instances of modern psychology in any part of the Hebrew Bible.
Is Jung a prophet? A qualified Yes from Kingsley. The wisdom of the prophet is his to be sure, but knowing the fate of the prophet to be cast out of society or to be regarded as a madman, Jung avoided the identification. “Often Jung used to mention the one sure, telltale sign of a saviour figure or prophet or magician: the utter conviction such people hold that there’s no one in the world who understands them. So the irony is that, in making precisely this point while lamenting his inflated followers’ inability to understand him, he is offering the most archetypal confirmation of his own role as a prophet.”
In Section 9, Kingsley has a lot to say about the conscious descent into the underworld, the descent undertaken by Jung, who told Freud “religion can only be replaced by religion.” In fact he asserted that “far from being a replacement or substitute for religion, it’s the very essence of religion – because the central concern of psychology is, by definition, the mystery of the soul.” It has always struck me as odd that while most people regard the world as sane and the subconscious or the unconscious as mad, Jung (and Freud) regarded it the other way around: the world is mad whereas the salvific is to be found in the underworld despite its reputation as being a form of Hell. “Some things are just too self-evident to be denied. And one of them is that the Red Book is a book of prophecy.” In fact, Kingsley calls it “a replacement for the New Testament of Christianity.”
It is through Jung’s book, his testament, that Kingsley is able to assert that “the person who at any moment in history speaks or writes or communicates faithfully, accurately, without interfering with the process, on behalf of the divine; serves as a mouthpiece to record exactly what the sacred is needing to convey.” Here Kingsley has finally found his novum. The prophet is the “prototypical psychologist, the first and foremost task was to find the answer to what originally went wrong with humanity that made everything the way it is.” It lays bare the “ancient crimes,” perhaps what Christians regard as “original sin.” Kingsley does not make the last connection, but it is apparent what the mission of the prophet and of mankind is as follows: “the only real and lasting creation consists of consciously reincarnating what’s most ancient – not even of having to update or streamline or modernize it but of importing it exactly as its essence dictates.” As Kingsley expresses it, not only is Philemon “Father of prophets, beloved Philemon,” but “Jung is Philemon’s son.”
There is much more in these sections about Jung’s mission, based on first-hand experience amid the dead of this world and the dictation that appears in the Red Book. Jung is “at one” with Mani, Christ, Muhammad, Buddha, Zarathrustra. “They all did the best they possibly could.” It seems that Jung had gone “beyond them.” Asserted boldly like that, it is difficult to take the idea with any degree of seriousness. In fact, it is beyond serious in the sense that it makes no literal sense, for it is not the highway of science that is being travelled here but the rocky path of the spirit.
I have sympathy for this conception of the prophet’s mantle which one may find expressed in poetic form in Blake’s Prophetic Books as a form of “organiz’d innocence.” Yet Jung’s expansive work seems more like the Odyssey in that the end is the return home along with the hard-won wisdom of experience acquired on the return. In tracing his path back he made an astonishing discovery: “that his experiences, during the time of his critical descent into the unconscious, were the same as the experiences of the alchemists and the other way around.” Alchemists? The secret of the alchemist is his inner self. Through writing about the symbolic records of their experiences, he could hide his own. It was a way to convey the insight yet hide the fact that it is purely and simply “this primordial revelation.” Insights abound: “I wanted God to be alive and free from the suffering man has put on him by loving his own reason more than God’s secret intentions.” “There is a mystical fool in me that proved to be stronger than all my science.”
That Jung was a prophet comes as a surprise to those students of his work who could at one moment see him serially as a healer and then as a scientist, but it is not a surprise to Kingsley who (I sense) early on imagined him as a Merlin figure. Why not be all of them at once? It takes a mighty man to shoulder such burdens, sometimes successively, sometimes simultaneously, and Jung remains in our minds’ eyes as just such a figure.
It takes Kingsley to Section 16 to come to the long essay Answer to Job which he rightly calls “a damnable piece of work.” It seems it is “the words of an ‘unspeakable fool’ who was stupid enough to disrupt the wishes of the bourgeois coward inside him and disturb his own longing to go on sleeping peacefully like everyone else.” Elsewhere I have written at some length about Answer to Job and find it an exciting embarrassment on all fronts, though it is frequently singled out as the culmination of Jung’s thought and thinking. From what Kingsley says, he wrote the essay while ill and feverish and the composition of it cured him. Jung suffered, so did Job, as did Jesus (whom he calls Christ). “I live in my deepest hell, and from there I cannot fall any further.” Kingsley annotates these words: “And if this sounds very familiar, it should – because we are back in the place we never even left, which is the land of prophecy.” What to make of this? Kingsley is surprisingly cautious: “One very odd characteristic that Jung became famous for was seeing everything, even the most ordinary of everyday objects, as alive; as a conscious, individual, often nameable being.” I think this is a remarkable insight.
Section 4 is titled “Catafalque.” The author restates his intuition, then his belief, and finally his truth: “From my teens through to my early thirties I was held fast in an awareness that the oldest western philosophers – the so-called Presocratics – weren’t just the rationalists they are usually claimed to be.” He adds, “They also included mystics and prophets.” At this point he describes his chance encounter with an unnamed book written by Henry Corbin in which he found the thesis that Persian Sufism “had rescued and preserved the secret of the West which the West itself had forgotten – the secret understanding that western philosophy, logic, science, even the apparent arts of reason, all had their origin in the experience of another world.” In time, Kingsley meets the French metaphysician’s widow Stella and from her learns about her husband’s conception of himself and his mission – something of a secret identity – “not as a scholar with some minor mystical leanings but as a mystic, inwardly directed to play the role of academic.”
This insight leads to an appreciation of “the ‘esoteric.’” Real esotericism is an inwardness (Rilke would have murmured in agreement) and “such an individual is forced to keep his secret. Secretum meum mihi, ‘My secret is for me.’ The secret of the castle of the soul.” Here I think, following the words of Corbin, Kingsley is coming into his own. Section 2 goes into specifics about Corbin and his translations of the writings of “my invisible sheikh: Shihâb al-Din Yahyâ, who died a martyr in 1191.” Parallels between Corbin and Jung and perhaps between Suhrawardî and Philomen present themselves. It is here, around page 368-69 that the book comes into focus. To quote from Robert Browning’s poem “Rabbi Ben Ezra”: Grow old along with me! / The best is yet to be, / The last of life, for which the first was made.”
In a roundabout way Kingsley establishes the fact that Suhrawardî’s tradition is “dangerously alive. It’s able to reach out through and across the centuries, secretly, silently, whenever someone is ready – whoever, wherever, you are. And that aliveness explains the name he gave his Ishráqî tradition: the ‘eternal leaven.’” In a way I wish Kingsley had begun his book here, on Section 3, page 371, instead of on Section 1, page 7. I hope he plans to devote more time in the future to Henry Corbin (1903-1978), philosopher, theologian, Iranologist, contributor to the Eranos Conferences, and Professor of Islamic Studies at the École pratique des hautes études in Paris, France.
Corbin is remembered for introducing into Western thought the notion of mundus imaginalis as the foundation for the unity of religions, visionary spirituality in place of fundamentalism in all its guises. Though the notion has inspired countless writers and thinkers in the Western world, it has not done much to better the lot of the average Middle Easterner. Apparently Suhrawardî appreciated the spiritual basis of the Ancient Greek sages, the cognitio matutina or “dawn consciousness” buried within man. Jung recognized Corbin with “extraordinary joy.” The seed of the present book lies in these pages.
Yet the seed is also scattered throughout the pages that follow. It is suggested that Corbin’s maxim is Secretum meum mihi, “My secret is for me,” or Monos pro mono, “Alone to alone.” I will not outline his relationship with Jung or with his closest Iranian collaborator, Seyyed Hossein Nasr. “Nasr belonged to a band of intellectuals and would-be esotericists who called themselves Traditionalists. Mostly, aside from Nasr himself, these Traditionalists were Europeans who had become converts to Islam and somehow believed this entitled them to speak with authority about all the world’s religions – not to mention everything else, including Jung’s psychology.” Here Kingsley issues a surprisingly scathing and long overdue indictment of the hubris of the Western Traditionalists.
Apparently at the opening of the C.G. Jung Institute Zurich, established for training purposes in 1948, Jung “had trouble concealing his grudgingness or reluctance about the whole affair. Somehow the words managed to slip out that ‘My grandfather, Carl Gustave Jung, once founded a home for retarded children. Now I am founding one for retarded adults.” To a group of his followers he complained, “Thank God I am Jung and not a Jungian.”
Section 8 begins to tie the “loose-ends” and bring them in line with “Christification” and “the age of Aquarius.” He was prepared to buffet popularity and “would share the fate of Meister Eckhart whose work was buried and forgotten for six hundred years, then suddenly got dug up again so people could realize he was one of the most important mystics who had ever lived.” As Jung, for one, knew, “Failure, for true prophets, is absolutely guaranteed.”
The book draws to its many conclusions with descriptions of Jung’s final visions vouchsafed to members of his family and then to his closest collaborator Marie-Louise von Franz. They deal with the experience of death. In Jungian terms this means coming to terms with not merely one’s personal demise but with the total destruction of all of humanity. Or is it total? Perhaps it is partial, with a “saving remnant” of civilization surviving. Jung is divided on this point of prophecy. “The future should be left to those who belong to the future.”
I feel that Kingsley’s intimations of the future are that we are all dead already and that because we have lost “the link to our primordial past,” our civilization and certainly our culture will expire with us as well: the doom of the half-read prophet who has forgotten his task is not to read the future but to recall the past and search the present for clues to the future if need be. It is here, in Section 16, that he explains his choice of the single-word title of this very long and well argued, two-volume work: Catafalque. The unexpected word came in a dream or vision.
The final page of the book – page 445 is only half a page long – offers the author his hard-won opinion of the goal of all that went before. “It’s only by shedding everything, including ourselves, that we sow the seeds of the future.” Yet in search of the last word, the final thought, the definitive consideration, the final conclusion, it is helpful to turn to page 394, where the author recalled in his musings on Corbin the wisdom of a French expression that relatedsto the Grail. It goes like this: “Seule guérit la blessure la lance qui la fit.” In other words, “The wound is only healed by the lance that made it.”
Permit me to add some thoughts and after-thoughts. What I have tried to do is take the reader on a cruise aboard the yacht captained by Admiral Kingsley. The object is to explore the Mediterranean of his mind. The seas are calm; the weather is pleasant and only occasionally overcast, though there are storm warnings. The Admiral points to some of the scenic wonders along the way. There is no shore leave because there is no time to spare, so at times the voyage seems to be endless and even a little tedious and repetitious; at other times, a little breathless and rushed. As the yacht’s owner the Admiral points out points of interest on the shorelines with practised ease. He is used to lecturing. He is also used to dreaming and imagining in keeping with his subject-matter.
So it is with much conviction and repetition that he presents his major theme – the Ancient Greek philosophers understood their world, indeed all worlds. Then he presents his major argument – C.G. Jung is perhaps the sole philosopher-scientist-therapist-healer of our time who comprehends the eternal nature of the human condition and the fact (the Original Sin perhaps) that we have made things worse rather than better than did our predecessors in their day by our timely inventions and our trendy indifferences to the tragedies and triumphs of the past. We failed to learn from their failures and so we even fail to learn anything from our own failures. Thus ends Volume 1. As he bids us goodbye, the Admiral invites us to take another voyage, Volume 2, which is rich in Abbreviations, Notes, and Index. If the passenger, like the Admiral, has a taste for research, he or she will find these sections to be rich and informative in themselves. But Volume 2 is reserved for for another voyage.
While I have the reader’s attention, permit me to add two caveats. I have praised these agreeable books, which many readers will find convincing, on their own terms. Indeed, I find the arguments to be convincing, in a way. However, there are two misgivings that I have yet to mention. One misgiving is that the two volumes are better described as “wisdom-lite” rather than as “wisdom-heavy.” The reader learns only so much. There is much diagnosis but no practicum when it comes to doing more than pondering the human condition and identifying the strains and crises that it faces. Reading Jung (or any other author, prophet or not) does not alter the fate of any man or woman, certainly not that of all of mankind. Perhaps there is no help forthcoming from any of the four quarters or the seven seas of the world. There is very little any individual, even one like Jung, can do about this given situation. As James Joyce quipped in another context, “The Jung are easily Freudend.”
The other misgiving is that while Kingsley expresses himself so well (might I say admirably?) that the argument proceeds in a vacuum, so to speak: in the vacuum of critical considerations of Jung, his role and his accomplishment to date. I have no doubt his contributions will be debated for decades to come. Yet in the back of my mind, while turning the innumerable pages of these two volumes, I kept thinking of two books that I had on my shelves that I had read when they were first published. Since then the books having been gathering dust. Their titles are The Jung Cult: Origins of a Charismatic Movement (1994) and The Aryan Christ: The Secret Life of Carl Jung (1997) and their author is Richard Noll, clinical psychologist and historian in History of Science at Harvard University.
There would have been a third book by Noll, titled Mysteria: Jung and the Ancient Mysteries: Selections from the Writings of C.G. Jung, and it was scheduled for publication in January 1995 by Princeton University Press in the Bollingen Series. But it was withdrawn from publication at the insistence of the Estate and Jung family. There is no reason for me to review either The Jung Cult or The Aryan Christ here, but the critical reader might well see Jung and Jungianism in quite a different light after reading these books as I did so many years ago.
P.S. For the record, I checked the indices of Noll’s two publications for the fate of the Presocratics, so close to Kingsley’s head and heart. They fared poorly. In the two volumes there is but one single reference to Empedocles, and no references at all to Parmenides. By comparison, Kingsley refers to Empedocles 67 times and to Parmenides 48 times. It is as if Peter Kingsley and Richard Noll have been describing two different men, Carl and Gustave perhaps, both named Jung. Perhaps they were — and are — two entirely different men.
1 April – 23 April 2019