Towards an Imaginal Ecology

This essay, originally written in May 2013, has now been published in the inaugural issue of ReImagining Magazine, a publication created by the Chicago Wisdom Project.

“To speak, to ask to have audience today in the world, requires that we speak to the world, for the world is in the audience; it too is listening to what we say.”[1] With these words James Hillman opens his essay “Anima Mundi” in which he speaks of the return of soul to the world. Such is the task we face as a species, as human beings, as we learn to cultivate a different kind of relationship with our planet, the Earth which supports our very existence. But what eyes can we use to see the soul of the world? What languages can we speak to call out to the anima mundi? With what ears shall we listen to hear the Earth’s voices in reply?

To read the rest of this article please see: “Towards An Imaginal Ecology

Imaginal Ecology

[1] James Hillman, The Thought of the Heart and the Soul of the World (Putnam, CT: Spring Publications, Inc., 2007), 91.

The Synchronicity of the Two Red Books: An Astrological Analysis

“But whoever looks from inside, knows that everything is new. The events that happen are always the same. But the creative depths of man are not always the same.”
– C.G. Jung, The Red Book[1]

As I have already explored in the essay “The Red Book and the Red Book: Jung, Tolkien, and the Convergence of Images,” C.G. Jung and J.R.R. Tolkien simultaneously underwent profound experiences of the imaginal realm, transformative encounters with the deep psyche that became the prima materia for their lifeworks. While I have previously analyzed the synchronicity of the two Red Books through the parallel images, symbols, and stories brought forward by each of their authors, I have not delved too far into the significance of their synchronic timing. Jung’s and Tolkien’s deep imaginal experiences both began around 1913 and continued until the end of that decade, although the particular vein of creativity set in motion during that time lasted for each of them until the close of the 1920s.

Jung's Red BookThe primary experiences of active imagination for Jung were from 1913 to 1917, but his Red Book period is considered to have lasted until 1930, when he left off inscribing and illustrating his imaginal encounters onto the pages of the Liber Novus. Nearly simultaneously, from 1912 to 1928, Tolkien was illustrating The Book of Ishness, his sketchbook that contained a series of visionary drawings and paintings. The early years of this project were the most abundant, but he continued intermittently to add fantastical images until the end of the 1920s. Meanwhile during the heart of those years, from 1916 to 1925, Tolkien was primarily dedicated to the composition of his mythology, the great cosmogonic cycles that narrate the creation of Arda and the First Age of the world.

Why is the synchronic timing of Jung’s and Tolkien’s imaginal experiences important? Is it simply another coincidence? Or does it intimate some deeper, more profound implication concerning the nature of human existence in the cosmos? One hermeneutic method of unpacking the significance of this timing is archetypal astrology, which reveals the underlying archetypal patterns of the times through the correlated positions of the planets. When two or more planets come into geometrical alignment, the correlated archetypal energies can be seen unfolding multivalently in human and worldly events for the duration of the alignment. When the slower-moving outer planets of Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto align with each other, whole epochs of history, lasting years to decades depending on the configuration, reflect the relevant archetypal qualities in myriad ways.

Archetypal astrology provides a lens that can shed new light on our understanding of Jung’s and Tolkien’s experiences during this time period. By looking at the world transits during the years of their imaginal encounters we will be able to see the larger archetypal gestalt in which these experiences were emerging, while touching on Jung’s and Tolkien’s natal charts will illuminate the archetypal patterning of their individual psyches and how this may have further shaped the character of their experiences. Furthermore, we will look at the unfolding personal transits Tolkien and Jung underwent during their Red Book periods, honing in on several significant dates throughout this time, to see how the same world transits interacted with their unique birth charts, indicating differing modes of creative expression for the same archetypal energies.

The planetary alignment that correlates most significantly with Jung’s and Tolkien’s awakening to the imaginal is the opposition of Uranus and Neptune that lasted from 1899 to 1918.[2] The most potent time of both men’s visionary periods took place in the sunset years of this alignment, from 1913 to 1917. In the modern astrological tradition, the archetype of Neptune, as Richard Tarnas writes, “is considered to govern the transcendent dimensions of life, imaginative and spiritual vision, and the realm of the ideal.”[3] Neptune “rules both the positive and negative meanings of enchantment—both poetic vision and wishful fantasy, mysticism and madness, higher realities and delusional unreality.”[4] Furthermore, “the Neptune principle has a special relation to the stream of consciousness and the oceanic depths of the unconscious, to all nonordinary states of consciousness, to the realm of dreams and visions, images and reflections.”[5] In contrast, the planet Uranus, as Tarnas articulates,

is empirically associated with the principle of change, rebellion, freedom, liberation, reform and revolution, and the unexpected breakup of structures; with sudden surprises, revelations and awakenings, lightning-like flashes of insight, the acceleration of thoughts and events; with births and new beginnings of all kinds; and with intellectual brilliance, cultural innovation, technological invention, experiment, creativity, and originality.[6]

When the archetypal natures of these two planets, Uranus and Neptune, come into relationship with each other, personal and world events with increasing frequency tend to reflect their combined energies. Repeatedly throughout the world’s cultural history Uranus-Neptune alignments correlate with

widespread spiritual awakenings, the birth of new religious movements, cultural renaissances, the emergence of new philosophical perspectives, rebirths of idealism, sudden shifts in a culture’s cosmological and metaphysical vision, rapid collective changes in psychological understanding and interior sensibility . . . and epochal shifts in a culture’s artistic imagination.[7]

The first couple of decades of the twentieth century, when the Uranus-Neptune opposition was in effect, was a period of tremendous cultural and artistic innovation and creativity. As Sonu Shamdasani, the editor of The Red Book, writes, “On all sides, individuals were searching for new forms with which to depict the actualities of inner experience, in a quest for spiritual and cultural renewal.”[8] Jung’s and Tolkien’s unexpected awakenings to active imagination and fantasy, and their subsequent outpourings of creative genius, perfectly exemplify the characteristic manifestations of Uranus-Neptune alignments. In Jung’s words, “Our age is seeking a new spring of life. I found one and drank of it and the water tasted good.”[9] His use here of liquid metaphors and symbols—spring, drank, water—are particularly characteristic of the Neptune archetype.

Uranus-Neptune alignments also correlate with “cosmic epiphany” and the “birth of new forms of artistic expression,”[10] which can be seen in the unique artistic format of Jung’s Red Book, and the new languages and mythological composition of Tolkien’s cosmogonic cycles.

If it were possible to briefly summarize the essence of the material that emerged for Jung and Tolkien at this time—an impossible task—one might say that it is an expression of “the quintessential Uranus-Neptune theme of a radical transformation of the God-image and a revolutionary new understanding of the divine will acting in history.”[11] Jung’s Red Book can be seen as a participation in the death and rebirth of God, a renewal of the sacred through an encounter with soul. Similarly, the myths Tolkien began to compose during this same period are a new expression of the creation of the world, a reemergence of God’s creativity in an imaginal realm. As Shamdasani writes, “Jung held that the significance of these fantasies was due to the fact that they stemmed from the mythopoeic imagination which was missing in the present rational age.”[12] Tolkien also would have agreed with this statement as is evidenced in his poem Mythopoeia, of which the following is a fragment:

Though now long estranged,
man is not wholly lost nor wholly changed.
Disgraced he may be, yet is not dethroned,
and keeps the rags of lordship once he owned,
his world-dominion by creative act:
not his to worship the great Artefact,
man, sub-creator, the refracted light
through whom is splintered from a single White
to many hues, and endlessly combined
in living shapes that move from mind to mind.[13]

Although human beings have fallen, in Tolkien’s view, and become estranged from the divine imagination by the emergence of disenchanted rationality, we are still able to become alchemical vessels for that sacred creativity, to refract the light of the mythopoeic imagination into our own fantasies and imaginal encounters.

Figure 1: C.G. Jung’s Birth Chart

Figure 1: C.G. Jung’s Birth Chart

During the primary visionary years of Jung’s Red Book period, the previously discussed Uranus-Neptune world transit was crossing his natal Sun-Neptune square (see Figure 1). In an individual’s birth chart, the Sun is an expression of the personal identity, the autonomous self imbued with conscious awareness, the personality and ego identity, the will to be and to exist, as well as what the individual identifies him or herself to be. Jung’s Sun square Neptune can be seen multivalently expressed throughout his life, for example, in his personal exploration of the archetypal realm, his permeability of identity to the imaginal and spiritual, his later understanding of the Self as an archetype, and his lifelong effort to bring individual consciousness and the archetypal unconscious into fruitful relationship.

Figure 2: Jung’s First Red Book Vision

Figure 2: Jung’s First Red Book Vision

At the time Jung’s imaginal experiences began, the Uranus-Neptune opposition of the early twentieth century was crossing not only his natal Sun-Neptune, but the Ascendant-Descendent axis of his chart, the horizon of his birth moment, initiating both a dissolution and liberation of his identity (see Figure 2). The Uranus-Neptune transit was activating and awakening Jung to the eternal vastness of the archetypal realm, drawing forward encounters with imaginal figures who confronted his personal assumptions about the nature of spiritual reality and the psyche, leading to a descent and dissolution of his Solar egoic identity in an encounter with his soul.

Figure 3: The Beginning of Tolkien’s Mythology

Figure 3: The Beginning of Tolkien’s Mythology

The same Uranus-Neptune opposition was also shaping the archetypal atmosphere of Tolkien’s imaginal encounters, but the transit was crossing a different part of his chart, and thus manifesting in a realm other than his Solar identity. When Tolkien wrote the first words of his Middle-Earth mythology in September 1914 the Uranus-Neptune opposition was crossing his natal Venus, whose corresponding archetype relates to art, beauty, artistic creativity, and aesthetic expression (see Figure 3). Because at this time Uranus and Neptune were widening in their orb, now ten degrees apart, Uranus was tightly conjunct Tolkien’s Venus, while Neptune had yet to come into potently effective orb with his Venus. However, over the next several years, from 1916 to 1922, when Tolkien’s mythology was pouring forth from a seeming wellspring of imaginative creativity, Neptune was in tighter opposition to his natal Venus. That the Uranus-Neptune opposition crossed Tolkien’s Venus, rather than the Sun as it did for Jung, is reflected in his chosen form of expression for the emerging material: Tolkien channeled the stream of imaginal energy into the artistic form of mythopoeic narrative, rather than using the experiences as tools to explore his own psyche and personal identity as Jung did. Interestingly, after 1915 all of Tolkien’s works of art were illustrations for his stories, unlike the earliest visionary drawings in The Book of Ishness which have no explanation for their origins other than their titles. Other powerful forces were coming through for Tolkien in those early years of creativity which we will explore later in this essay, but it seems that only once Uranus and Neptune activated his natal Venus did he find his preferred artistic outlet for the imaginal visions he was receiving.

While the long Uranus-Neptune transit crossing Jung’s Sun and Tolkien’s Venus reflect the larger gestalt of the experiences they were each undergoing, a deeper look at their individual transits will reveal the nuanced differences in their experiences and their individual expressions of those encounters. While the larger arc of this project is to show the uncanny convergence of Jung’s and Tolkien’s explorations of the imaginal realm, the current analysis of their divergence will help to unveil the cosmic underpinnings of their unique creative expressions.

A repeated vision shared in different manifestations by Jung and Tolkien was that of a Flood, or the Great Wave as Tolkien called it. While we know that Tolkien’s Great Wave visions came to him throughout his life beginning in childhood, primarily as dreams, we do not have specific dates for their occurrence. However, Jung’s first Flood vision took place on October 17, 1913 while on a train journey. He saw an immense flood that engulfed all the lands of Europe, destroying civilization and carrying floating rubble and corpses in its wake. The waters then turned to blood.[14] Two weeks later he had the vision again; eventually he would come to recognize it as a premonition of the coming First World War.

Besides the Uranus-Neptune opposition on Jung’s Sun previously discussed, another major world transit was beginning to come into orb at this time: Saturn conjunct Pluto. As Tarnas writes, Saturn-Pluto alignments coincide with

especially challenging historical periods marked by a pervasive quality of intense contraction: eras of international crisis and conflict, empowerment of reactionary forces and totalitarian impulses, organized violence and oppression, all sometimes marked by lasting traumatic effects.[15]

Less than a year after Jung’s Flood vision, World War I broke out in Europe when the Saturn-Pluto conjunction was in almost exact alignment. Yet during the previous autumn of 1913, Jung had been granted a painful premonition of that war as the wide Saturn-Pluto conjunction was in opposition to his natal Mars, the archetype of the warrior, of battle, anger, and violence (see Figure 4). Jung’s vision contained the combined Mars-Saturn-Pluto themes in the images of mass destruction and violent death, and the bloody wave of battle engulfing the continent. Yet the experience was also a precognitive visionary awakening reflective of the Uranus-Neptune alignment previously explored.

Figure 4: Jung’s Flood Vision

Figure 4: Jung’s Flood Vision

The same Saturn-Pluto conjunction that corresponded with Jung’s Flood vision and World War I was also transiting Tolkien’s chart, but in his case it was opposing his natal Mercury. The archetype of Mercury relates to language, speech, thought, writing, the intellect, education, and all forms of communication. Tolkien’s greatest love, it might be argued, was for languages, for their phonetic sound and resonant meaning, their evolutions and transformations, and their histories and lineages. Tolkien was born with his natal Mercury in an exact square to Saturn, which can be seen in his appreciation for ancient languages and literature (he disliked nearly all literature written after Chaucer, instead dedicating himself to medieval epics like Beowulf and the Norse and Icelandic sagas such as the Elder Edda), his meticulous attention to the details of language and expression, his painstaking and repeated revisions of all his manuscripts striving for an unattainable level of perfection, and his habit of what he called “niggling” over the finesses of his invented languages (see Figure 5). As Tolkien’s biographer Humphrey Carpenter writes, “Tolkien had a passion for perfection in written work of any kind, whether it be philology or stories. This grew from his emotional commitment to his work, which did not permit him to treat it in any manner other than the deeply serious.”[16] All this eloquently expresses the Saturn archetype of seriousness, the old and the ancient, precision, strict standards, revision and correction, meticulous attention to details, all in relation to Mercury’s realm of language and writing.

Figure 5: J.R.R. Tolkien’s Natal Chart

Figure 5: J.R.R. Tolkien’s Natal Chart

Pluto slowly transited Tolkien’s natal Mercury-Saturn from 1909 to 1919, the years which encompassed his education at Oxford in Philology, his deeply painful separation from the love of his life Edith Bratt (who later became his wife), the visionary drawings in The Book of Ishness, the composition of his first Middle-Earth poem The Voyage of Earendel, his fighting in World War I including in the Battle of the Somme, the deaths of two of his closest friends, and the earliest compositions of The Silmarillion stories including the cosmogonic myth called the Ainulindalë. As Saturn conjoined Pluto in the sky leading up to World War I, the powerful transformational energies associated with Pluto that had already been working on Tolkien’s mind found a Saturnian form and structure in his invention of languages and the creation of myths to accompany them. If anything truly sets Tolkien apart in the realm of fiction authors it is that he developed multiple, fully-fledged imaginal languages with their own syntax and etymology, languages that feel ancient and powerful in tone and character, with grammatical structures that trace their linguistic evolution through time—all Mercury-Saturn-Pluto themes. During these years it was as though his linguistic capabilities had been opened to the evolutionary stream of language itself, and he was able to participate in the generation and rebirth of new linguistic structures.

Interestingly, coming out of the ten-year transit of Pluto across Tolkien’s Mercury, Pluto then began to oppose Tolkien’s natal Sun, a transit that lasted until the end of the 1920s as he continued to compose the cycles of the First Age of Middle-Earth. Thus, the nearly twenty-year transit of Pluto across his wide Sun-Mercury conjunction entirely encompassed the years Tolkien was writing the myths of The Silmarillion. This was the time period when Tolkien was having the powerful visionary experiences that became the prima materia of his later, more refined works: The Red Book of Westmarch, known better as The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

To return to that pivotal moment in the late summer of 1914, when Saturn was conjunct Pluto and the destructive wave of the First World War had been unleashed across the continent of Europe, another potent transit was in the sky, also activating significant aspects of both Tolkien’s and Jung’s charts. At that time the planet Jupiter had come into the Uranus-Neptune alignment, making a conjunction with Uranus that lasted from December 1913 to January 1915. Archetypally, Jupiter is associated with “the principle of expansion and magnitude, providence and plenitude, liberality, elevation and ascendency, and with the tendency to experience growth and progress, success, honor, good fortune, abundance, aggrandizement, prodigality, excess and inflation.”[17] In time periods when Jupiter was aligned with Uranus, as Tarnas writes, “An expansively and buoyantly energizing quality characterized such eras, one that often engendered a certain creative brilliance and the excitement of experiencing suddenly expanded horizons.”[18] As we examined earlier, at this time Uranus was opposing Jung’s Sun, while it was conjoining Tolkien’s Venus. Thus, when Jupiter entered the configuration the expansive, elevating, liberating, breakthrough qualities associated with the Jupiter-Uranus combination could be seen in the profound shift that took place for each of these men during this fourteen-month period.

Under the Jupiter-Uranus conjunction transiting his Venus (see Figure 6), Tolkien encountered the names Earendel and Middle-Earth in the lines of an old Anglo-Saxon poem, both of which played profoundly prominent roles in his mythology. After this discovery, Tolkien composed on September 24, 1914 the poem The Voyage of Earendel the Evening Star, now recognized as the first written work in the Middle-Earth legendarium. Truly it was a breakthrough moment, as Tolkien was finding expression for the images and languages that had been coming to him for the last few years. After this point he began to write more stories about Middle-Earth and the peoples that inhabited this land, the Eldar, the many races of Elvenfolk living in the imaginal realm.

Earendel Poem

Figure 6: Tolkien’s Earendel Poem

Coinciding with this same Jupiter-Uranus alignment, Jung’s Red Book visions were taking a profound turn. A new figure had entered into his imaginal experiences, a wise guide and teacher, one who instructed Jung in a caring, loving, and spiritually illuminating way. This figure was Philemon, the ancient alchemical wisdom-keeper who became Jung’s mentor in the realm of Soul. In Shamdasani’s words, “To Jung, Philemon represented superior insight, and was like a guru to him.”[19] On the day that Philemon was first recorded appearing, January 27, 1914, a remarkable configuration of planets was in the sky. Not only was Jupiter conjunct Uranus in opposition to Neptune as previously discussed, but the Sun, Moon, Mercury, and Venus were also conjoining the longer Jupiter-Uranus conjunction (see Figure 7). This rare and powerful configuration was all crossing Jung’s natal Sun. Not only did this event occur at the new moon, when the Moon conjoins the Sun in a coniunctio of yin and yang energies, but the emergence of Philemon brought into Jung’s psyche a Solar figure representative of his higher self, or Self, whose teachings brought tremendous new insight and awakening, communicated with love, compassion, and wisdom. The transits on this day could be seen as the birth chart of Philemon, which itself would be a fruitful topic to explore in depth.

Figure 7: Jung’s First Encounter with Philemon

Figure 7: Jung’s First Encounter with Philemon

Finally, to conclude this brief archetypal study, I would like to look at one major aspect that both Jung and Tolkien carried throughout their lives, that can be seen not only reflected in their Red Book periods, but in the entirety of their lifeworks. This is the conjunction of Neptune and Pluto, which occurs when the long cycles of the two outermost planetary bodies align, a meeting that takes place approximately every five hundred years and lasts for about 25-30 years each time. Neptune-Pluto alignments have occurred at the rise and fall of civilizational epochs, the most pivotal moments in history when the entire paradigm of a culture dies and is reborn from the ashes, whether it is the fall of the Roman Empire and the beginning of the Middle Ages, the dawn of the Renaissance, or the turn of the 20th century. As Tarnas writes,

the major Neptune-Pluto cyclical alignments appear to have coincided with especially profound transformations of cultural vision and the collective experience of reality, which often took place deep below the surface of the collective consciousness. [20]

The most recent Neptune-Pluto conjunction took place from 1880 to 1905, and Jung was born on the cusp of the transit in 1875. Jung lived the first thirty years of his life in Neptune-Pluto’s culturally transformative gestalt, while Tolkien was born in 1892 with the conjunction within 1° orb (see Figures 1 and 5). While a full study could be given to the ways just this single alignment is apparent in both Jung’s and Tolkien’s entire oeuvre, I want to particularly attend to how two specific themes of this most recent Neptune-Pluto conjunction came through Jung and Tolkien: these manifestations are, as Tarnas describes them, “the dying of the gods that had ruled the Western spirit for two millennia and more” and the simultaneous “powerful upsurge of ‘the unconscious’ in many senses.”[21] The profound and transformative encounters with the deep psyche and imaginal realm that both Jung and Tolkien experienced in their lifetimes are highly reflective of the Neptune-Pluto conjunction they each carry. They both had an encounter of overwhelming potency with the collective unconscious by passing through the underworld gateway of imagination. The powerful visions of the Flood that initiated Jung’s descent, and Great Wave dreams that haunted Tolkien, are also clear expressions of Neptune-Pluto: consciousness being violently “flooded” by the unconscious with overwhelming images of decimating waters that destroy and subsume all in their path. Furthermore, the death and rebirth of God in Jung’s Red Book, and the rebirth of Creation and the fall from grace in Tolkien’s cosmogony are but a taste of the ways Neptune-Pluto manifested in their life works. In a time of disenchanted rational modernity these two men seem to have been chosen as alchemical vessels for a deep, cosmic truth to be reborn. As Jung wrote in the pages of The Red Book, “To give birth to the ancient in a new time is creation. . . . The task is to give birth to the old in a new time.”[22] This is the karmic task both Jung and Tolkien carried in their own ways, to encounter the gods in the archetypal realm, and to express their living truths on the pages of imagination.

Bibliography

Carpenter, Humphrey. J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000.

Hammond, Wayne G. and Christina Scull. J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist & Illustrator. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000.

Jung, C.G. Memories, Dreams, Reflections. Edited by Aniela Jaffé. Translated by Richard and Clara Winston. New York, NY: Vintage Books, 1989.

–––––. The Red Book: Liber Novus. Edited by Sonu Shamdasani. Translated by Mark Kyburz, John Peck, and Sonu Shamdasani. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, 2009.

Owens, Lance. “Lecture I: The Discovery of Faërie.” In J.R.R. Tolkien: An Imaginative Life. Salt Lake City, UT: Westminster College, 2009. http://gnosis.org/tolkien/lecture1/index.html.

–––––. “Tolkien, Jung, and the Imagination.” Interview with Miguel Conner. AeonBytes Gnostic Radio, April 2011. http://gnosis.org/audio/Tolkien-Interview-with-Owens.mp3.

Tarnas, Richard. Cosmos and Psyche: Intimations of a New World View. New York, NY: Viking Penguin, 2006.

Tolkien, J.R.R. “Mythopoeia.” In Tree and Leaf, New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin, 1988.

–––––. The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien. Edited by Humphrey Carpenter, with Christopher Tolkien. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000.

–––––. The Lord of the Rings. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1994.

–––––. “On Fairy-Stories.” In The Monsters and the Critics. Edited by Christopher Tolkien. London, England: HarperCollins Publishers, 2006.

–––––. The Silmarillion. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2001.

[1] C.G. Jung, The Red Book: Liber Novus, ed. Sonu Shamdasani, trans. Mark Kyburz, et al. (New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, 2009), 239.

[2] Richard Tarnas, Cosmos and Psyche: Intimations of a New World View (New York, NY: Viking Penguin, 2006), 365.

[3] Tarnas, Cosmos and Psyche, 355.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Tarnas, Cosmos and Psyche, 93.

[7] Ibid, 356.

[8] Sonu Shamdasani, “Introduction,” in Jung, The Red Book, 194.

[9] Jung, The Red Book, 210.

[10] Tarnas, Cosmos and Psyche, 412.

[11] Ibid, 411.

[12] Shamdasani, “Introduction,” in Jung, The Red Book, 208.

[13] J.R.R. Tolkien, “Mythopoeia,” in Tree and Leaf (New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin, 1988).

[14] Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, ed. Aniela Jaffé, trans. Richard and Clara Winston (New York, NY: Vintage Books, 1989), 175.

[15] Tarnas, Cosmos and Psyche, 209.

[16] Humphrey Carpenter, J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography (New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000), 142.

[17] Tarnas, Cosmos and Psyche, 294.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Shamdasani, “Introduction,” in Jung, The Red Book, 201.

[20] Tarnas, Cosmos and Psyche, 417.

[21] Tarnas, Cosmos and Psyche, 418.

[22] C.G. Jung, The Red Book: Liber Novus, ed. Sonu Shamdasani, trans. Mark Kyburz, et al. (New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, 2009), 311.

PCC Forum – The Red Book and the Red Book: Jung, Tolkien, and the Convergence of Images

The essay “The Red Book and the Red Book: Jung, Tolkien, and the Convergence of Images,” which emerged out of this presentation, is available here.

The Red Book and the Red Book: Jung, Tolkien, and the Convergence of Images

To give birth to the ancient in a new time is creation. . . .
The task is to give birth to the old in a new time.”
– C.G. Jung[1] 

“Fantasy remains a human right: we make in our measure and in our derivative mode, because we are made: and not only made, but made in the image and likeness of a Maker.”
– J.R.R. Tolkien[2]

Red Book Page

This essay was the seed of what is currently being developed into my Ph.D. dissertation, which will be available in spring 2017. Many of the ideas have been expanded and revised as I have brought in new perspectives and further research.

 

When you close your eyes and images arise spontaneously, what is it that you are seeing? The inside of your mind? Your imagination? The interior of your soul? Are you seeing something others can see also? Is it real? Is it inside just you, or inside everyone? Is it only internal, or could it be external as well? Might you actually be seeing a place, a realm, into which not only you but others also can enter? Does this realm have a name? These are questions I have often asked myself, when I close my eyes and am beckoned down some new road I have never encountered in this green world beneath the Sun, or when I read a story flowing from the pen of some author and find that I somehow already know the tale, am familiar with the names, have seen the images of these places before. Reading stories is an anamnesis, a discovery of the new found by treading down the paths of the old. Creativity, creation from the imagination, is that rediscovery, that recollection and remembrance. As C.G. Jung writes, “To give birth to the ancient in a new time is creation. . . . The task is to give birth to the old in a new time.” But how do we begin to undertake that task? And what does it look like when we do?

The Red Book. Carl Gustav Jung undertook the task of giving birth to the ancient in his time by following the meandering pathways of his imagination into the darkest depths of his psyche; the images with which he returned he inscribed in black and red letters, accompanied by rich illustrations, on large pages bound by two covers of red leather.

The Red Book of Westmarch. J.R.R. Tolkien set out to write a mythology—“a body of more or less connected legend,”[3] cosmogonic myths and romantic tales whose “cycles should be linked to a majestic whole”[4]—which came to the world in the form of The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion. But within the world of the story itself these tales are written out in a book that has been passed on from generation to generation: inscribed in black and red letters, accompanied by rich illustrations, in a large book bound by two covers of red leather. The book is referred to—by Tolkien who presents himself simply as the translator of this work—as The Red Book of Westmarch.

At first glance the parallel names of Jung’s and Tolkien’s respective Red Books just seem to be an odd coincidence. They could not actually have anything to do with one another, or share anything in common in content. On the one hand, Jung was one of the founders of depth psychology, an explorer of the unconscious, of the archetypal realm, of the phenomenon of synchronicity, a man of Switzerland born in 1875. On the other hand, Tolkien was firmly English, a philologist, famous author of The Lord of the Rings, one of the founders of the genre of fantasy literature, a younger man born in 1892. At first glance there seems to be little common ground between the two men, let alone between their work. There have, of course, been Jungian analyses of Tolkien’s work—focusing on both the content of his fiction, and on aspects of his biography. But, as of yet, there have been few, if any, extensive “Tolkienian analyses,” [5] to use Lance Owens’ phrase, of Jung and his work, particularly his work with active imagination and its product: the Liber Novus, also named The Red Book.

As I began to explore Jung’s Red Book in the context of Tolkien’s writings I started to find certain similarities between their work beyond the titles and color of the leather binding. There seemed to be a certain resonance between the two bodies of work, a convergence of images—a synchronicity, in Jung’s terminology—a synchronicity of imagination. The following essay is not so much the laying out of one particular thesis, but rather an exploration of this synchronicity of images, a journey through art, language, and story. Because of the nature of this exploration I will also quote at greater length than I usually might, because the original words of each of these men carries great power in themselves.

The first parallel that stood out to me was the timing of when Jung began his “Red Book period”—the time of his psychological descent when the fantasy images began to come to him in waking life—and when Tolkien began making an unusual series of drawings in a sketchbook he entitled The Book of Ishness. In 1913 both men, Jung an established psychoanalyst, Tolkien a young man early in his undergraduate studies at Oxford, took an unusual turn in their lives, turning away from the outer images of the world of common day and focusing instead upon the inner images of the imagination. Jung’s Red Book period is considered to have spanned the years 1913-1930,[6] but the primary content of his visions came to him from late 1913 through around 1917, the first vision taking place on December 12, 1913.[7] The majority of the sketches in Tolkien’s Book of Ishness were done over a shorter period of time: from December 1911 through the summer of 1913 he made his “Earliest Ishnesses,”[8] but he continued to add to The Book of Ishness up until 1928.[9] Alongside the visionary drawings another form of creativity was emerging through Tolkien as well: the arts of language. Tolkien was trying his hand at writing poetry and prose not only in English, but in languages of his own invention as well. The first mythic stories that were to become part of The Silmarillion Tolkien wrote down in September 1914.[10] Although the primary creative period for both Jung and Tolkien was during these potent years of the 1910s, they each spent the next forty years of their lives developing the material they encountered during that time.[11] As Jung wrote of that period:

The years when I was pursuing my inner images were the most important in my life—in them everything essential was decided. It all began then; the later details are only supplements and clarifications of the material that burst forth from the unconscious, and at first swamped me. It was the prima materia for a lifetime’s work.[12]

One means of understanding the simultaneity of Jung’s and Tolkien’s periods of creative imagination is archetypal astrology, which interprets archetypally the relational positions of the planets in the sky at the time Tolkien and Jung were having these unusual experiences. Yet, although astrology sheds a strong light upon the timing of the outpouring of this imaginal material, that is not the primary direction this particular essay will be taking. However, I would briefly like to point out a few significant planetary alignments before moving deeper into exploring the art and writings of Jung and Tolkien.

From 1899-1918 there was an opposition between the slow-moving outer planets Uranus and Neptune.[13] The archetype of Neptune, as Richard Tarnas writes, “is considered to govern the transcendent dimensions of life, imaginative and spiritual vision, and the realm of the ideal.”[14] He goes on to say that Neptune “rules both the positive and negative meanings of enchantment—both poetic vision and wishful fantasy, mysticism and madness, higher realities and delusional unreality.”[15] Finally, “The Neptune principle has a special relation to the stream of consciousness and the oceanic depths of the unconscious, to all nonordinary states of consciousness, to the realm of dreams and visions, images and reflections.”[16] In contrast, the planet Uranus, as Tarnas also writes,

is empirically associated with the principle of change, rebellion, freedom, liberation, reform and revolution, and the unexpected breakup of structures; with sudden surprises, revelations and awakenings, lightning-like flashes of insight, the acceleration of thoughts and events; with births and new beginnings of all kinds; and with intellectual brilliance, cultural innovation, technological invention, experiment, creativity, and originality.[17]

When the archetypal natures of these two planets, Uranus and Neptune, come into geometrical relationship with each other, personal and world events with increasing frequency tend to reflect the combined energies of these archetypes. Uranus-Neptune alignments correlate with

widespread spiritual awakenings, the birth of new religious movements, cultural renaissances, the emergence of new philosophical perspectives, rebirths of idealism, sudden shifts in a culture’s cosmological and metaphysical vision, rapid collective changes in psychological understanding and interior sensibility . . . and epochal shifts in a culture’s artistic imagination.[18]

The visionary periods of both Jung and Tolkien perfectly exemplify the characteristic manifestations of Uranus-Neptune alignments. The most potent time of both men’s imaginal experiences took place in the sunset years of the early 20th century opposition alignment, from 1913-1917. Furthermore, they were not the only of their contemporaries to be having fantasy visions and translating them into paint and the written word.[19]

The following two axial, or quadrature, alignments of Uranus and Neptune since the turn of the 20th century have also correlated to significant periods in terms of the work of both Tolkien and Jung. During the square alignment of the 1950s Tolkien’s masterpiece The Lord of the Rings was published in three volumes in 1954 and 1955. Under the same alignment, in 1957, Jung began working with Aniela Jaffé on compiling his autobiographical memoir Memories, Dreams, Reflections. Finally, under the most recent alignment of Uranus and Neptune, the conjunction that lasted from 1985-2001,[20] the film renditions of The Lord of the Rings, directed by Peter Jackson, were produced in New Zealand, with the first installation released in December 2001. Also at the end of that same Uranus-Neptune alignment in the year 2000, the decision was made by the Society of Heirs of C.G. Jung to at last publish the long-awaited seminal work of Jung’s career, his Liber Novus, The Red Book.[21]

Intimations of the imaginal explorer Jung would become were present from his childhood, particularly in his relationship to his dreams, visions, and sense of having two personalities, one of whom he felt was connected to an earlier historical period. Jung referred to these two personalities simply as No. 1 and No. 2. No. 1 was the personality who corresponded with his age and current time in history, a schoolboy who struggled with algebra and was less than self-assured.[22] No 2. Jung felt was an old man, who perhaps lived in the 18th century,[23] but also had a mysterious connection to the Middle Ages.[24] Yet No. 2 was also not tied to history or even time, for he lived in “God’s world,” a boundless, eternal realm.[25] Jung described this realm as follows:

Besides [personality No. 1’s] world there existed another realm, like a temple in which anyone who entered was transformed and suddenly overpowered by a vision of the whole cosmos, so that he could only marvel and admire, forgetful of himself. . . . Here nothing separated man from God; indeed, it was as though the human mind looked down upon Creation simultaneously with God.[26]

In another description, Jung writes how he felt when experiencing life as personality No. 2, saying,

It was as though a breath of the great world of stars and endless space had touched me, or as if a spirit had invisibly entered the room—the spirit of one who had long been dead and yet was perpetually present in timelessness until far into the future. Denouements of this sort were wreathed with the halo of the numen.[27]

The vision Jung paints in these descriptions brings to mind a quote from Tolkien’s essay “On Fairy-Stories,” in which he describes a similar perspective, like a view from above, that one gains while in the realm of Faërie—Faërie being Tolkien’s term for the realm of imagination. He writes,

“The magic of Faërie is not an end in itself, its virtue is in its operations: among these are the satisfaction of certain primordial human desires. One of these desires is to survey the depths of space and time. Another is to hold communion with other living things.”[28]

Tolkien too had the sense he somehow had been born into the wrong time. His interests lay primarily in the Middle Ages, and he was drawn to ancient languages such as Anglo-Saxon, Gothic, Old Icelandic, and several other tongues no longer spoken in the contemporary world. Tolkien had an intuitive feel for these languages as if they were his own. He was most inspired by pre-Chaucerian literature, particularly favoring the heroic myths of the Finnish Kalevala, and the world of monsters and dragons presented in the Anglo-Saxon Beowulf. Even his voice had an other-worldly or ancient tone to it. As his biographer Humphrey Carpenter writes, “He has a strange voice, deep but without resonance, entirely English but with some quality in it that I cannot define, as if he had come from another age or civilization.”[29]

Both Jung and Tolkien painted and drew as children, but their art, leading into adulthood, was always representational in nature, usually of the surrounding landscapes.[30] However, there was an abrupt change in the style of each of their artwork from the early 1910s onward, moving from depictions of topography to abstract, semi-figurative, and symbolic art.[31] [32]

One of the earliest visions that came to both Jung and Tolkien was of major significance to each of them: an overpowering Flood, or as Tolkien sometimes called it, the Great Wave. The first of Jung’s Flood visions came to him while awake, on October 17, 1913:

In October, while I was alone on a journey, I was suddenly seized by an overpowering vision: I saw a monstrous flood covering all the northern and low-lying lands between the North Sea and the Alps. . . . I saw the mighty yellow waves, the floating rubble of civilization, and the drowned bodies of uncounted thousands. Then the whole sea turned to blood.[33]

Two weeks later Jung had the vision again, this time accompanied by a voice saying, “Look at it well; it is wholly real and it will be so. You cannot doubt it.”[34]

An uncannily similar vision came also to Tolkien, both while awake and while sleeping, beginning when he was about seven years old and continuing throughout much of his adult life.[35] He called the vision his “Atlantis-haunting”:

This legend or myth or dim memory of some ancient history has always troubled me. In sleep I had the dreadful dream of the ineluctable Wave, either coming out of the quiet sea, or coming in towering over the green inlands. It still occurs occasionally, though now exorcized by writing about it. It always ends by surrender, and I wake gasping out of deep water.[36]

When World War I broke out in August 1914 Jung recognized that his vision of the destructive Flood was prophetic of the war; his interior images were reflective of the external political and cultural situation occurring in Europe. The outbreak of the war indicated to Jung that he was not, as he had been afraid, going mad, but was rather a mirror of the madness unfolding in the external world. Tolkien, being an Englishman and of a younger generation than Jung, fought in that very war that Jung’s vision had prophesied. Needless to say, the war had a tremendous effect upon Tolkien, particularly the Battle of the Somme in which two of his most beloved friends were killed.[37] Later in his life, as Tolkien was creating The Lord of the Rings, world events began to reflect what he had already written in his narrative. As his close friend, and fellow Oxford don, C.S. Lewis wrote, “These things were not devised to reflect any particular situation in the real world. It was the other way round; real events began, horribly, to conform to the pattern he had freely invented.”[38]

The next vision that came to Jung, and the first that he wrote out in calligraphic hand in his Red Book, marked the beginning of his “confrontation with the unconscious.”[39] To get a fuller sense of the experiential nature of this vision, I will quote at length from Memories, Dreams, Reflections:

It was during Advent of the year 1913—December 12, to be exact—that I resolved upon the decisive step. I was sitting at my desk once more, thinking over my fears. Then I let myself drop. Suddenly it was as though the ground literally gave way beneath my feet, and I plunged down into dark depths. I could not fend off the feeling of panic. But then, abruptly, at not too great a depth, I landed on my feet in a soft, sticky mass. I felt great relief, although I was apparently in complete darkness. After a while my eyes grew accustomed to the gloom, which was rather like a deep twilight. Before me was the entrance to a dark cave, in which stood a dwarf with a leathery skin, as if he were mummified. I squeezed past him through the narrow entrance and waded knee deep through icy water to the other end of the cave where, on a projecting rock, I saw a glowing red crystal. I grasped the stone, lifted it, and discovered a hollow underneath. At first I could make out nothing, but then I saw that there was running water. In it a corpse floated by, a youth with blond hair and a wound in the head. He was followed by a gigantic black scarab and then by a red, newborn sun, rising up out of the depths of the water. Dazzled by the light, I wanted to replace the stone upon the opening, but then a fluid welled out. It was blood. A thick jet of it leaped up, and I felt nauseated. It seemed to me that the blood continued to spurt for an unendurably long time. At last it ceased, and the vision came to an end.[40]

In this inaugural vision of The Red Book are contained many symbolic images. But for this particular study, what stands out to me are the numerous parallels to images in Tolkien’s own works of the many underworld, underground journeys that take place in Middle-Earth: the dark journey through the lost Dwarf realm of Moria in which Gandalf is lost in a battle with Shadow and Flame; Frodo and Sam’s fearful passage through the monstrous spider Shelob’s midnight tunnel on the borders of Mordor, which has resemblance to the giant scarab Jung describes; Aragorn and the Grey Company’s journey through the Paths of the Dead, in which they encounter a dead host of restless shades, another parallel to Jung’s encounter with the Dead deeper into The Red Book; Bilbo’s encounter with the dragon Smaug in the dark halls of Erebor, the Lonely Mountain; and Bilbo’s fateful encounter with the twisted creature Gollum, whose lair was deep within a mountain cavern, upon a little island rock set within the icy waters of a subterranean lake. Upon that rock, like the red crystal of Jung’s vision, lay long-hid the One Ring, the Ring of Power made by the Dark Lord Sauron. In both stories the heart of the narrative begins here, upon this island rock, where a lost treasure of unknown power is hid, awaiting for a new hand to grasp it.

At about the same time Jung was experiencing these early fantasies, Tolkien started to draw the visionary illustrations in his Book of Ishness. Two particularly stand out in correlation to Jung’s own vision, as they seem to symbolize a similar entrance into an underworld imaginal realm. The first is titled simply Before, and depicts a dark corridor lit with flaming torches, leading to a gaping doorway from which a red glow issues ominously (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Tolkien – Before

Figure 1: Tolkien – Before

Lance Owens describes Before as “primitive, quick, a statement of the deep dream world.”[41] Verlyn Flieger also comments on the sketch, saying that “The title Before conveys the dual notions of ‘standing in front of’ and ‘awaiting,’ or ‘anticipating.’ The sketch is remarkable for its mood, which conveys both foreboding (the dark corridor) and hope (the lighted doorway).”[42]

The second sketch seems to be intended to follow directly after Before: it depicts a solitary figure walking out of a doorway of the same shape as in the previous drawing, and heading down a long hall lit with many torches. The drawing is titled Afterwards (see Figure 2). The coloring is in great contrast to the stark red and black of Before; Afterwards is sketched in yellows and blues, although it too conveys a sense of darkness and gloom, yet less foreboding than the previous drawing.

Figure 2: Tolkien – Afterwards

Figure 2: Tolkien – Afterwards

The Book of Ishness contained a series of Tolkien’s drawings, all of them symbolic or abstract in nature.[43] As previously mentioned, Tolkien underwent a shift in the subjects he chose to illustrate. As Owens explains it, Tolkien felt “a need to draw not what he saw on the outside, but what he saw on the inside.”[44] Interestingly, in 1911 not long before he began to draw his “Earliest Ishnesses,” Tolkien visited Switzerland, Jung’s homeland, for the only time in his life. He went on a walking tour through the Alps, whose majestic peaks had a tremendous impact on him.[45] How close geographically Jung and Tolkien might have been to each other at that time, one can only guess. While in Switzerland Tolkien came across a postcard on which was a painting by J. Madlener, titled Der Berggeist, “the mountain spirit” (see Figure 3). The painting depicts an old man in a cloak and wide-brimmed hat, seated beneath a tree in an alpine setting.

Figure 3: J. Madlener – Der Berggeist

Figure 3: J. Madlener – Der Berggeist

Many years later Tolkien made a note on this painting: “Origin of Gandalf.”[46] Within The Book of Ishness Tolkien also composed a painting he entitled Eeriness, that seems to depict a wizard-like figure bearing a staff who is walking down a long road lined with dark trees (see Figure 4). Like all the illustrations in The Book of Ishness, there is no explanation of the content of the pictures beyond their titles—we can only guess what inner images of Tolkien’s they are reflecting.

Figure 4: Tolkien – Eeriness

Figure 4: Tolkien – Eeriness

Perhaps the most striking of all the Ishnesses is the one titled End of the World (see Figure 5). In this drawing a small figure is stepping off of a cliff extending over the sea. The Sun is shining brightly down onto the scene, and seemingly within the water itself shine white stars, and a crescent Moon bends across the horizon line. Although the image of a man stepping off a cliff, and its corresponding title, may seem to be somber, even depressing, they convey a dual meaning: this is not only the “end of the world” in reference to its demise, or to the death of the individual, but it is the “end of the world” in that the individual has reached its edge and wishes to continue on his journey. As Owens says of this image, “that fellow has stepped, and he is not falling, he is walking into a Sun, into a Moon, into Stars.”[47] One might see End of the World as a symbol of the threshold Tolkien appears to have crossed at this time—the doorway to the imaginal, into what he called the realm of Faërie.

Figure 5: Tolkien – End of the World

Figure 5: Tolkien – End of the World

Much of Jung’s fantasy material came to him not only as images but in the form of runes and words that he would hear. No easy translation of his fantasies was available to him. As written in the Translators’ Note to The Red Book, “The task before him was to find a language rather than use one ready at hand.”[48]

When Tolkien began to take up the creation of his own language systems, it was because he too was hearing words, languages with no correlate in the outside world.[49] Owens compares Tolkien’s hearing of languages to Mozart’s experiences of hearing full melodies playing out in his mind.[50] He wished to compose languages as others composed symphonies.[51] Accompanying these languages were races of people, Elves he soon discovered, who came replete with names and histories of their own. The images of story seemed to arise from the music of the languages themselves. In a passage in The Fellowship of the Ring, Tolkien illustrates an experience Frodo has in the Hall of Fire in Rivendell while listening to Elvish music, which I believe may be a description of Tolkien’s own experience with the story visions that would accompany the Elven languages:

At first the beauty of the melodies and of the interwoven words in elven-tongues, even though he understood them little, held him in a spell, as soon as he began to attend to them. Almost it seemed that the words took shape, and visions of far lands and bright things that he had never yet imagined opened out before him; and the firelit hall became like a golden mist above seas of foam that sighed upon the margins of the world. Then the enchantment became more and more dreamlike, until he felt that an endless river of swelling gold and silver was flowing over him, too multitudinous for its pattern to be comprehended; it became part of the throbbing air about him, and it drenched and drowned him. Swiftly he sank under its shining weight into a deep realm of sleep.[52]

The same year Jung’s Red Book visions began, Tolkien came across a pair of lines in an Anglo-Saxon poem titled Crist, written by the poet Cynewulf.

Eala Earendel engla beorhtast
ofer middangeard monnum sended.

“Hail Earendel, brightest of angels
above the middle-earth sent unto men”[53]

Many years later Tolkien wrote of his finding both the names Earendel and Middle-Earth: “I felt a curious thrill . . . as if something had stirred in me, half wakened from sleep. There was something very remote and strange and beautiful behind those words, if I could grasp it, far beyond ancient English.”[54] Tolkien felt as though he had come across something he somehow already knew, a stirring of remembrance, of anamnesis. In September 1914, just after World War I broke out and while Jung was gripped by the visions of his psychological descent, Tolkien wrote his first poem about this figure Earendel, who was to become a central character in his mythology, with the slightly altered name Eärendil.

“The Voyage of Earendel the Evening Star”

Earendel sprang up from the Ocean’s cup
In the gloom of the mid-world’s rim;
From the door of Night as a ray of light
Leapt over the twilight brim,
And launching his bark like a silver spark
From the golden-fading sand
Down the sunlit breath of Day’s fiery death
He sped from Westerland.[55]

The poem is describing the journey of a lone wanderer across the night sky, a single light entering the realm of darkness before making his descent into the West, the direction in which, according to Tolkien, dwelt the Faërie realm.

The journey of the Evening Star seems to have entered Jung’s imagination also, although by another name. Upon the cornerstone of the tower he built at Bollingen, Jung had inscribed this line, among several others: “This is Telesphoros, who roams through the dark regions of this cosmos and glows like a star out of the depths. He points the way to the gates of the sun and to the land of dreams.”[56]

When Tolkien showed “The Voyage of Earendel the Evening Star” to his close friend G.B. Smith, he asked Tolkien what the poem was really about. Tolkien gave an unusual response: “I don’t know. I’ll try to find out”[57] He always maintained that the stories he was writing were true in a sense, that he was not making them up but rather discovering them. As his biographer writes, “He did feel, or hope, that his stories were in some sense an embodiment of a profound truth.”[58] Jung too, “maintained a ‘fidelity to the event,’ and what he was writing was not to be mistaken for a fiction.”[59] What then was it that both men were encountering, that appeared to be an internal experience, and yet had such a profound air of reality?

The Liber Novus, Jung’s Red Book, “depicts the rebirth of God in the soul.”[60] The Red Book is “Jung’s descent into Hell” and is “an attempt to shape an individual cosmology.”[61] Tolkien’s own Red Book, in the form of his mythology and The Lord of the Rings, is also an attempt to shape an individual cosmology and cosmogony, a world containing the God he loved and worshipped. And Tolkien also depicted a descent into Hell—into Mordor, and into worse Hells: the dark realm of Thangorodrim, the darkness of lost and corrupted souls.

Both Jung and Tolkien were drawn to the style of medieval manuscripts, with their calligraphy and illuminated letters, and emulated the medieval aesthetic in their artwork. Jung spoke of the style of language in which he wrote The Red Book, saying: “First I formulated the things as I had observed them, usually in ‘high flown language,’ for that corresponds to the style of the archetypes. Archetypes speak the language of high rhetoric, even of bombast.”[62] The language used in Tolkien’s Silmarillion, and even in the latter chapters of The Lord of the Rings, has a similar tone, sounding mythic, almost Biblical in nature.

The term “fantasy” was of great significance for both Jung and Tolkien, and although the specific language in which they defined the term differs somewhat, there are certain significant overlaps. In A Critical Dictionary of Jungian Analysis, “Fantasy” is defined as the

Flow or aggregate of images and ideas in the unconscious Psyche, constituting its most characteristic activity. To be distinguished from thought or cognition. . . . “Active” fantasies, on the other hand, do require assistance from the ego for them to emerge into consciousness. When that occurs, we have a fusion of the conscious and unconscious areas of the psyche; an expression of the psychological unity of the person.[63]

The Jungian dictionary finds a contradiction in the further definition of Fantasy, saying that Jung seemed to have “two disparate definitions of fantasy: (a) as different and separate from external reality, and (b) as linking inner and outer worlds.”[64] Although these definitions seem contrary, perhaps when read in light of Tolkien’s definition of “Fantasy” they may not seem to be quite as at odds as first appears: “Fantasy, the making or glimpsing of Other-worlds, was the heart of the desire of Faërie.”[65] Tolkien goes on to say, “Fantasy is a natural human activity. It certainly does not destroy or even insult Reason; and it does not either blunt the appetite for, nor obscure the perception of, scientific verity.”[66] He also adds, “Fantasy is a rational not an irrational activity.”[67] According to this definition, Fantasy appears highly similar to Jung’s practice of active imagination, that links a person of the external world to the internal realm of Faërie, yet is also the very heart of that separate realm of the Imagination.

Figure 6: Jung – Red Book Dragon

Figure 6: Jung – Red Book Dragon

Diving further into the content of The Red Book itself, there are many significant parallels simply between the style of artwork composed by Jung and Tolkien. For one, they both painted multiple dragons, symbols of the archetypal monster to be confronted in the heart of the underworld (see Figures 6, 7, 8 and 9). Another archetypal symbol both

men painted multiple times was of a great tree, that could be seen as the World Tree or the Tree of Tales. Tolkien “regularly” drew what he called the Tree of Amalion, which particularly resembled a single tree painted in Jung’s Red Book with large ornaments situated upon each branch (See Figures 10 and 11).[68] Jung wrote in his memoir, “Trees in particular were mysterious and seemed to me direct embodiments of the incomprehensible meaning of life. For that reason the woods were the place where I felt closest to its deepest meaning and to its awe-inspiring workings.”[69] Trees were beloved, even sacred, to Tolkien: “he liked most of all to be with trees. He would like to climb them, lean against them, even talk to them.”[70] The entrance to the realm of Faërie, for Tolkien, lay not underground, as was depicted in many traditional fairy-stories, but through the woods; in the world of trees lay the transition between realities. While for Jung the archetype of the World Tree played a significant role, Tolkien’s mythology had at its heart not one World Tree but two, the Two Trees of Valinor, whose intermingling silver and gold lights illuminated the newly created world before the Sun and Moon were formed of their last fruit and flower.

Figure 7: Tolkien – Glorund

Figure 7: Tolkien – Glorund

One of the most prominent figures Jung encounters in The Red Book is Philemon, an old man who provides guidance and teaches magic. Many chapters could be dedicated solely to Philemon and the teachings from his wisdom, but in this study I will focus primarily on his resemblance to another old man who provides guidance and is an embodiment of magic: Gandalf the Grey, one of the Istari, a wizard, who within the course of The Lord of the Rings becomes Gandalf the White and guides the Free Peoples of Middle-Earth to victory against the Dark Lord Sauron. Gandalf not only plays a similar role as Philemon, but also his original name—his Maia name by which he was known in the Undying Lands in the West, before he was sent in human form to Middle-Earth—was Olorin. The name Olorin comes from the Elvish olor which means “dream” but, as Flieger writes, “that does not refer to (most) human ‘dreams,’ certainly not the dreams of sleep.”[71] Furthermore, olor is derived from Quenya olo-s which means “vision, phantasy.”[72]

Figure 8: Tolkien – Conversation with Smaug

Figure 8: Tolkien – Conversation with Smaug

The vision of the Great Wave stayed with both Jung and Tolkien and entered into their imaginal writings. Jung wrote out one particular fantasy of the Wave that came to him January 2, 1914 in the pages of The Red Book. Yet another synchronicity was that this recurring vision, which he seemed to share with Tolkien, occurred on the eve of Tolkien’s birthday, January 3. Yet because Jung always did his practice of active imagination late at night he very well may have beheld the Great Wave after midnight, on the date of Tolkien’s twenty-second birthday. As written in The Red Book, Jung’s fantasy unfolded as follows:

“Wave after wave approaches, and ever new droves dissolve into black air. Dark one, tell me, is this the end?”

“Look!”

The dark sea breaks heavily—a reddish glow spreads out in it—it is like blood—a sea of blood foams at my feet—the depths of the sea glow—how strange I feel—am I suspended by my feet? Is it the sea or is it the sky? Blood and fire mix themselves together in a ball—red light erupts from its smoky shroud—a new sun escapes from the bloody sea, and rolls gleamingly toward the uttermost depths—it disappears under my feet.[73]

Figure 9: Jung – Red Book Dragon

Figure 9: Jung – Red Book Dragon

Tolkien also wrote of the Great Wave many times, in The Silmarillion, in his two unfinished tales The Lost Road and The Notion Club Papers, and as Faramir’s dream in The Lord of the Rings. He said when he bestowed the dream upon Faramir he ceased to dream of it himself, although he found out years later his son Michael had inherited the dream in his turn.[74] One of the most powerful narrations of the Great Wave takes place in the Second Age at the Downfall of Númenor, also called the Akallabêth: “Darkness fell. The sea rose and raged in a great storm . . . the Sun, sinking blood-red into a wrack of clouds.”[75]

And the deeps rose beneath them in towering anger, and waves like unto mountains moving with great caps of writhen snow bore them up amid the wreckage of the clouds, and after many days cast them away upon the shores of Middle-earth. And all the coasts and seaward regions of the western world suffered great change and ruin in that time; for the seas invaded the lands, and shores foundered, and ancient isles were drowned, and new isles were uplifted; and hills crumbled and rivers were turned into strange courses.[76]

Figure 10: Tolkien – Tree of Amalion

Figure 10: Tolkien – Tree of Amalion

The name Númenor, given to the island kingdom that sank beneath the waves in divine retribution for a mortal transgression of hubris, has often been mistakenly written as “Numinor,” even by Tolkien’s close friend C.S. Lewis. Tolkien felt such a mistake came from associating the name with the Latin numen, numina that is the root of the word “numinous,” a term of particular significance to Jung. Tolkien explains that the name Númenor is actually derived from the Eldarin base NDU, meaning “below, down, descend.” This base is the root of the Quenya word nume, meaning “going down, occident,” and númen “the direction or region of the sunset.”[77] Not only does the mistaken name of the land that sank beneath the Great Wave refer to the numinous, but the actual name implies a descent, the very term used for the psychological process Jung was undergoing during his Red Book period.

The power of Fantasy comes directly into the visions of The Red Book when Jung encounters the God Izdubar, a giant somewhat resembling the Norse God Thor. In the course of their conversation Jung brings up an aspect of Western science, the disenchanted world view from which he comes. The encounter of a mythic being with the disenchanted perspective of the modern world mortally wounds the God, laming him so he cannot walk and sapping his life strength away. In an attempt to save him Jung realizes that if he can convince Izdubar he is a fantasy he may have some hope in saving him. Jung’s dialogue captures both the humor and profundity of the exchange, thus I will quote at length directly from The Red Book:

Figure 11: Jung – Red Book Tree

Figure 11: Jung – Red Book Tree

I: “My prince, Powerful One, listen: a thought came to me that might save us. I think that you are not at all real, but only a fantasy.”

Izdubar: “I am terrified by this thought. It is murderous. Do you even mean to declare me unreal—now that you have lamed me so pitifully?”

I: “Perhaps I have not made myself clear enough, and have spoken too much in the language of the Western lands. I do not mean to say that you are not real at all, of course, but only as real as a fantasy. If you could accept this, much would be gained.”

Iz: “What would be gained by this? You are a tormenting devil.”

I: “Pitiful one, I will not torment you. The hand of the doctor does not seek to torment even if it causes grief. Can you really not accept that you are a fantasy?”

Iz: “Woe betide me! In what magic do you want to entangle me? Should it help me if I take myself for a fantasy?”

I: “I know that the name one bears means a lot. You also know that one often gives the sick new names to heal them, for with a new name, they come by a new essence. Your name is your essence.”

Iz: “You are right, our priests also say this.”

I: “So you are prepared to admit that you are a fantasy?”
Iz: “If it helps—yes.”

. . .

“A way has been found. You have become light, lighter than a feather. Now I can carry you.” I put my arms round him and lift him up from the ground; he is lighter than air, and I struggle to keep my feet on the ground since my load lifts me up into the air.[78]

Through this exchange Jung demonstrates the tremendous power that Fantasy has, if allowed to work its enchantment. He writes, “Thus my God found salvation. He was saved precisely by what one would actually consider fatal, namely by declaring him a figment of the imagination.”[79]

Significant in itself, this scene of carrying one who ought to be heavy yet is somehow light also has a resemblance to one of the most moving moments in The Lord of the Rings, when Sam and Frodo are struggling up the treacherous slopes of Mount Doom.

“Now for it! Now for the last gasp!” said Sam as he struggled to his feet. He bent over Frodo, rousing him gently. Frodo groaned; but with a great effort of will he staggered up; and then he fell upon his knees again. He raised his eyes with difficulty to the dark slopes of Mount Doom towering above him, and then pitifully he began to crawl forward on his hands.

Sam looked at him and wept in his heart, but no tears came to his dry and stinging eyes. “I said I’d carry him, if it broke my back,” he muttered, “and I will!”

“Come, Mr. Frodo!” he cried. “I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you and it as well. So up you get! Come on, Mr. Frodo dear! Sam will give you a ride. Just tell him where to go, and he’ll go.”

As Frodo clung upon his back, arms loosely about his neck, legs clasped firmly under his arms, Sam staggered to his feet; and then to his amazement he felt the burden light. He had feared that he would have barely strength to lift his master alone, and beyond that he had expected to share in the dreadful dragging weight of the accursed Ring. But it was not so. Whether because Frodo was so worn by his long pains, wound of knife, and venomous sting, and sorrow, fear, and homeless wandering, or because some gift of final strength was given to him, Sam lifted Frodo with no more difficulty than if he were carrying a hobbit-child pig-a-back in some romp on the lawns or hayfields of the Shire. He took a deep breath and started off.[80]

Perhaps one of the most profound areas in which the fantasy visions, and respective world views, of Jung and Tolkien overlap is around the nature of evil. They both had a deep understanding of the nature of evil, and were able to articulate its presence in the world in a way that demonstrates the importance of confronting that evil and going into its depths on behalf of personal and collective transformation. Yet not only do Tolkien and Jung share a similar understanding of the workings of evil, they also share uncannily similar depictions of evil nature in both their art and writing. Within The Lord of the Rings, the clearest view we are given of the Dark Lord is his great Eye, “an image of malice and hatred made visible . . . the Eye of Sauron the Terrible [that] few could endure.”[81] Frodo has two separate visions of the Eye, each more terrifying than the last. The first is while gazing into the Mirror of Galadriel in the woods of Lothlórien.

But suddenly the Mirror went altogether dark, as dark as if a hole had opened in the world of sight, and Frodo looked into emptiness. In the black abyss there appeared a single Eye that slowly grew, until it filled nearly all the Mirror. So terrible was it that Frodo stood rooted, unable to cry out or to withdraw his gaze. The Eye was rimmed with fire, but was itself glazed, yellow as a cat’s, watchful and intent, and the black slit of its pupil opened on a pit, a window into nothing.

Then the Eye began to rove, searching this way and that; and Frodo knew with certainty and horror that among the many things that it sought he himself was one.[82]

Figure 12: Tolkien – Eye of Sauron

Figure 12: Tolkien – Eye of Sauron

The second exposure to the Eye of Sauron that Frodo endures is upon Amon Hen, the Hill of Seeing:

All hope left him. And suddenly he felt the Eye. There was an eye in the Dark Tower that did not sleep. He knew that it had become aware of his gaze. A fierce eager will was there. It leaped towards him; almost like a finger he felt it, searching for him. Very soon it would nail him down, know just exactly where he was.[83]

Figure 13: Red Book Eye

Figure 13: Red Book Eye

These powerful depictions of the piercing gaze of evil also entered into Jung’s Red Book visions, in both image and word. Tolkien did many illustrations of the Eye of Sauron, showing a red iris with a hard black pupil. Within the illuminated letter on the first page of the Liber Secundus, the second section of Jung’s Red Book, is a nearly identical illustration: a red eye with a hollow black pupil in its center (see Figures 12 and 13). Yet Jung also writes further into The Red Book,

Nothing is more valuable to the evil one than his eye, since only through his eye can emptiness seize gleaming fullness. Because the emptiness lacks fullness, it craves fullness and its shining power. And it drinks it in by means of its eye, which is able to grasp the beauty and unsullied radiance of fullness. The emptiness is poor, and if it lacked its eye it would be hopeless. It sees the most beautiful and wants to devour it in order to spoil it.[84]

The eye that symbolizes evil is an eye that looks only outward; it does not look inward, it does not self-reflect. The eye as symbol of evil cautions against the refusal to look deep into one’s innermost self, to face the Shadow within. If one only looks outward one becomes subsumed by that Shadow; it is all the world can see although the eye may be blind to it from within. Indeed, both Jung and Tolkien even used the term Shadow to refer to this darkness that must be faced and reflected upon.

“He who journeys to Hell also becomes Hell: therefore do not forget from whence you come . . . do not be heroes . . .” Jung writes in The Red Book.[85] Indeed, the two Hobbits who journey into Hell, into Mordor, are not Heroes. They are but simple folk who do the task that is at hand, that has been set before them by the greater powers of the world. But Frodo succumbs to the Hell into which he enters; at the final moment when he is meant to throw the One Ring into the Cracks of Doom, within the heart of the volcano Orodruin, Mount Doom, he cannot do it. He takes the Ring for himself.

Then Frodo stirred and spoke with a clear voice, indeed with a voice clearer and more powerful than Sam had ever heard him use, and it rose above the throb and turmoil of Mount Doom, ringing in the roof and walls.

“I have come,” he said. “But I do not choose now to do what I came to do. I will not do this deed. The Ring is mine!” And suddenly, as he set it on his finger, he vanished from Sam’s sight.[86]

Frodo has, in that pivotal moment, become the evil he had set out to destroy. But it is only through that act, and through his ultimate sacrifice, that the quest can in the end be achieved. In the same section of The Red Book in which Jung writes of the eye of evil, he also writes, “the scene of the mystery play is the heart of the volcano.”[87] The moment of transformation, the unexpected turn that Tolkien calls the eucatastrophe, takes place in the fiery heart of the volcanic underworld.

Figure 14: Jung – Red Book Mandala

Figure 14: Jung – Red Book Mandala

A form of art that Jung found to have particular significance in the psychological journey was the mandala, a circular and quadratic emblem that he came to recognize as a symbol of the Self. Without knowing what at first he was doing, Jung drew his first mandala on January 16, 1916 (see Figure 14).[88] He came to understand that the mandala form represented “Formation, transformation, the eternal mind’s eternal recreation.”[89] In Tolkien’s artwork I did not expect to also find drawings of mandalas, and yet it seems that towards the end of his life he would wile away the time drawing ornate patterns on the backs of envelopes and on newspapers as he solved the crossword.[90] Many of these emblems, which he later designated as Elvish heraldic devices symbolizing individual characters within his mythology, were mandalic in form (see Figure 15), as were some others of his more complete drawings (see Figure 16). Yet another interesting quality of Tolkien’s art was that he often designed his pictures around a central axis.[91] If one were to imagine moving from the sideways perspective portrayed in the drawing to a bird’s eye view from above, these illustrations of Tolkien’s quite likely would resemble a mandala (see Figures 17 and 18).Tolkien Mandalas

Figure 15: Tolkien – Mandalas, Emblems, and Heraldic Devices

Figure 15: Tolkien – Mandalas, Emblems, and Heraldic Devices

“If the encounter with the shadow is the ‘apprentice-piece’ in the individual’s development, then that with the anima is the ‘master-piece.’”[92] Jung wrote these words in reference to his own visionary experiences, as well as the experiences of the patients with whom he worked. We have already explored parallels in Jung’s and Tolkien’s encounters with the Shadow. But what of the encounter with Anima? The Anima for Jung is the female personification of the soul of a man, and the Animus is the male personification of the soul of a woman. Anima figures can take many forms, of course based upon the psychology of each individual. For Jung, one of the personifications of his Anima whom he encountered in the physical world at a young age was a girl he met briefly while walking in the Swiss mountains. As they began to descend the mountain side by side, he said “. . . a strange feeling of fatefulness crept over me. ‘She appeared at just this moment,’ I thought to myself, ‘and she walks along with me as naturally as if we belonged together.’”[93] Reflecting later on the encounter, he wrote, “. . . seen from within, it was so weighty that it not only occupied my thoughts for days but has remained forever in my memory, like a shrine by the wayside.”[94] This girl was one of several women who represented an Anima image for Jung, the female symbol of his soul.

Figure 16: Tolkien – Mandalic Scene

Figure 16: Tolkien – The Hills of Morning

The last story that Tolkien ever wrote in his life was called Smith of Wootton Major. It is a short story of a man who, as a child, is given a fay star, an emblem from the realm of Faërie, that grants him passageway into that enchanted world. On one of his journeys through Faërie this man encounters, in a high mountain meadow, a beautiful dancing maiden.

On the inner side the mountains went down in long slopes filled with the sound of bubbling waterfalls, and in great delight he hastened on. As he set foot upon the grass of the Vale he heard elven voices singing, and on a lawn beside a river bright with lilies he came upon many maidens dancing. The speed and the grace and the ever-changing modes of their movements enchanted him, and he stepped forward towards their ring. Then suddenly they stood still, and a young maiden with flowing hair and kilted skirt came out to meet him.

She laughed as she spoke to him, saying: “You are becoming bold, Starbrow, are you not? Have you no fear what the Queen might say, if she knew of this? Unless you have her leave.” He was abashed, for he became aware of his own thought and knew that she read it: that the star on his forehead was a passport to go wherever he wished; and now he knew that it was not. But she smiled as she spoke again: “Come! Now that you are here you shall dance with me”; and she took his hand and led him into the ring.

There they danced together, and for a while he knew what it was to have the swiftness and the power and the joy to accompany her. For a while. But soon as it seemed they halted again, and she stooped and took up a white flower from before her feet, and she set it in his hair. “Farewell now!” she said. “Maybe we shall meet again, by the Queen’s leave.”[95]

Figure 17: Tolkien – The Elven-King’s Gate

Figure 17: Tolkien – The Elven-King’s Gate

Although clearly of a fictional nature, Smith’s encounter with the Elven-maiden has certain resemblances to the young girl with whom Jung walked in the Swiss mountains, and perhaps she had a similar significance to each of them too. Indeed, Jung even wrote in The Red Book that he sees “the anima as elf-like; i.e. only partially human.”[96]During Smith’s final visit to Faërie his most profound meeting occurs:

On that visit he had received a summons and had made a far journey. Longer it seemed to him than any he had yet made. He was guided and guarded, but he had little memory of the ways that he had taken; for often he had been blindfolded by mist or by shadow, until at last he came to a high place under a night-sky of innumerable stars. There he was brought before the Queen herself. She wore no crown and had no throne. She stood there in her majesty and her glory, and all about her was a great host shimmering and glittering like the stars above; but she was taller than the points of their great spears, and upon her head burned a white flame. She made a sign for him to approach, and trembling he stepped forward. A high clear trumpet sounded, and behold! they were alone.

He stood before her, and he did not kneel in courtesy, for he was dismayed and felt that for one so lowly all gestures were in vain. At length he looked up and beheld her face and her eyes bent gravely upon him; and he was troubled and amazed, for in that moment he knew her again: the fair maid of the Green Vale, the dancer at whose feet the flowers sprang. She smiled seeing his memory, and drew towards him; and they spoke long together, for the most part without words, and he learned many things in her thought, some of which gave him joy, and others filled him with grief. . . .

Then he knelt, and she stooped and laid her hand on his head, and a great stillness came upon him; and he seemed to be both in the World and in Faery, and also outside them and surveying them, so that he was at once in bereavement, and in ownership, and in peace. When after a while the stillness passed he raised his head and stood up. The dawn was in the sky and the stars were pale, and the Queen was gone. Far off he heard the echo of a trumpet in the mountains. The high field where he stood was silent and empty: he knew that his way now led back to bereavement.[97]

The encounter with the Queen of Faery may be as significant as the encounter with the Anima, and perhaps that is who the Queen of Faery is. Smith of Wootton Major is considered to be something of an autobiographical tale, or as close as Tolkien would ever come to writing one. Perhaps he is writing of his own encounter with his Anima, or rather an encounter with the archetype of Anima as present in all myths, within the individual human soul and in the mythic dimensions of the cosmos.

Figure 18: Tolkien – Original Cover of The Hobbit

Figure 18: Tolkien – Original Cover of The Hobbit

Jung identified what he called the “transcendent function” as that which bridges the conscious and the unconscious. The transcendent function takes the form of a symbol that transcends time and conflict, that is common to both the conscious and the unconscious, and that offers the possibility of a new synthesis between them.[98] In The Red Book Jung writes of the power of such a symbol:

The symbol is the word that goes out of the mouth, that one does not simply speak, but that rises out of the depths of the self as a word of power and great need and places itself unexpectedly on the tongue. . . . If one accepts the symbol, it is as if a door opens leading into a new room whose existence one previously did not know.[99]

Symbols are present in myths and stories, and in the living visions of the creative imagination. Symbolic, archetypal story can open doorways between the conscious and the unconscious, between this world and the enchanted realm of Faërie. “Such stories,” Tolkien writes, “open a door on Other Time, and if we pass through, though only for a moment, we stand outside our own time, outside Time itself maybe.”[100] Perhaps Fantasy, or Imagination itself, are the transcendent function of which Jung speaks.

In reading Jung’s and Tolkien’s Red Books side by side and seeing the profound similarities in their experiences, and in the writing and artwork produced from those experiences, I came to feel that they may have been entering into the same realm. Whether we call it Faërie, or the collective unconscious, or the Imagination, both men seemed to be crossing a threshold and walking down parallel and even overlapping paths in the same kingdom. Jung writes, “The collective unconscious is common to all; it is the foundation of what the ancients called the ‘sympathy of all things’.”[101] It is the fertile ground from which grows the Tree of Tales, it is the wellspring of the Imagination born anew in each creative person. Tolkien too had a sense that this place in which he witnessed his stories was the unconscious. In a letter to W.H. Auden, Tolkien writes,

I daresay something had been going on in the “unconscious” for some time, and that accounts for my feeling throughout, especially when stuck, that I was not inventing but reporting (imperfectly) and had at times to wait till “what really happened” came through.[102]

I have come to believe that Imagination is a place, a realm, that is both inner and outer. The Imagination is not merely a human capacity, a function of the mind or the workings of the brain. It is a place that can be accessed through human capacity, through creativity, but Imagination extends far beyond human capacity as well. It is a world as infinite as the physical one in which we daily dwell.

Now that the particular leg of this journey is drawing to a close, we can ask how Jung and Tolkien can inform each other’s works. Jung advised that each person could make their own Red Book from the Fantasies that arise through the practice of active imagination. He said to return to your Red Book like you would to a sanctuary or cathedral, for your soul is within its pages.[103] The Red Book that Tolkien created for himself he gave to the world in the form of The Lord of the Rings. It is a text that is treated by many as a sacred text, one to be returned to year after year, or read aloud with loved ones. Why is that? Because The Lord of the Rings, like Jung’s Red Book, is an invitation to enter the realm of Imagination. It is an invitation to find our own stories and learn to tell them. Indeed, when Tolkien was first conceiving of his Middle-Earth legendarium, at the same time that Jung was writing down the visions of his Red Book, he saw it as a great mythological arc in which space would be left for others to take it further with their own art and stories. He once wrote, in his usual self-deprecating tone, “I would draw some of the great tales in fullness, and leave many only placed in the scheme, and sketched. The cycles should be linked to a majestic whole, and yet leave scope for other minds and hands, wielding paint and music and drama. Absurd.”[104]

Sonu Shamdasani, the historian of psychology who took on the great task of editing Liber Novus, captures succinctly and elegantly what Jung’s and Tolkien’s respective Red Books are inviting each one of us to do. He writes, “What was most essential was not interpreting or understanding the fantasies, but experiencing them.”[105]

World Tree

Works Cited

Carpenter, Humphrey. J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000.

Flieger, Verlyn. A Question of Time: J.R.R. Tolkien’s Road to Faërie. Kent, OH: The Kent State University Press, 1997.

Hammond, Wayne G. and Christina Scull. J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist & Illustrator. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000.

Jung, C.G. “Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious.” In Collected Works. Vol. 9, i. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1959.

–––––. Memories, Dreams, Reflections. Edited by Aniela Jaffé. Translated by Richard and Clara Winston. New York, NY: Vintage Books, 1989.

–––––. The Red Book: Liber Novus. Edited by Sonu Shamdasani. Translated by Mark Kyburz, John Peck, and Sonu Shamdasani. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, 2009.

Owens, Lance. “Lecture I: The Discovery of Faërie.” In J.R.R. Tolkien: An Imaginative Life. Salt Lake City, UT: Westminster College, 2009. http://gnosis.org/tolkien/lecture1/index.html.

–––––. “Tolkien, Jung, and the Imagination.” Interview with Miguel Conner. AeonBytes Gnostic Radio, April 2011. http://gnosis.org/audio/Tolkien-Interview-with-Owens.mp3.

Samuels, Andrew, Bani Shorter and Fred Plant. A Critical Dictionary of Jungian Analysis. New York, NY: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1986.

Tarnas, Richard. Cosmos and Psyche: Intimations of a New World View. New York, NY: Viking Penguin,

Tolkien, J.R.R. The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien. Edited by Humphrey Carpenter, with Christopher Tolkien. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000.

–––––. The Lord of the Rings. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1994.

–––––. “On Fairy-Stories.” In The Monsters and the Critics. Edited by Christopher Tolkien. London, England: HarperCollins Publishers, 2006.

–––––. The Silmarillion. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2001.

–––––. “Smith of Wootton Major.” In Tales from the Perilous Realm. London, England: HarperCollinsPublishers, 2002.

Red Book Page

[1] C.G. Jung, The Red Book: Liber Novus, ed. Sonu Shamdasani, trans. Mark Kyburz, et al. (New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, 2009), 311.

[2] J.R.R. Tolkien, “On Fairy-Stories” in The Monsters and the Critics, ed. Christopher Tolkien (London, England: HarperCollins Publishers, 2006), 145.

[3] J.R.R. Tolkien, qtd. in Humphrey Carpenter, J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography (New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000), 97.

[4] Tolkien, qtd. in Carpenter, J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography, 98.

[5] Lance Owens, “Lecture III: Tolkien and the Imaginative Tradition,” in J.R.R. Tolkien: An Imaginative Life, (Salt Lake City, UT: Westminster College, 2009), http://gnosis.org/tolkien/lecture3/index.html.

[6] Ulrich Hoerni, “Preface,” in Jung, The Red Book, VIII.

[7] Jung, The Red Book, 200.

[8] Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull, J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist & Illustrator (New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000), 40.

[9] Hammond and Scull, J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist & Illustrator, 50.

[10] Ibid, 19.

[11] Lance Owens, “Tolkien, Jung, and the Imagination,” interview with Miguel Conner, AeonBytes Gnostic Radio, April 2011, http://gnosis.org/audio/Tolkien-Interview-with-Owens.mp3.

[12] C.G. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, ed. Aniela Jaffé, trans. Richard and Clara Winston (New York, NY: Vintage Books, 1989), 199.

[13] Richard Tarnas, Cosmos and Psyche: Intimations of a New World View (New York, NY: Viking Penguin, 2006), 365.

[14] Tarnas, Cosmos and Psyche, 355.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid, 93.

[18] Tarnas, Cosmos and Psyche, 356.

[19] Sonu Shamdasani, “Introduction,” in Jung, The Red Book, 204.

[20] Tarnas, Cosmos and Psyche, 365.

[21] Hoerni, “Preface,” in Jung, The Red Book, IX.

[22] Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, 33.

[23] Ibid, 34.

[24] Ibid, 87.

[25] Ibid, 72.

[26] Ibid, 45.

[27] Ibid, 66.

[28] Tolkien, “On Fairy-Stories,” 116.

[29] Carpenter, J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography, 13.

[30] Jung, The Red Book, 196.

[31] Jung, The Red Book, 203.

[32] Hammond and Scull, J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist & Illustrator, 40.

[33] Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, 175.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Carpenter, J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography, 31.

[36] J.R.R. Tolkien, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, ed. Humphrey Carpenter, with Christopher Tolkien (New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000), 347.

[37] Lance Owens, “Lecture I: The Discovery of Faërie,” in J.R.R. Tolkien: An Imaginative Life, (Salt Lake City, UT: Westminster College, 2009), http://gnosis.org/tolkien/lecture1/index.html.

[38] Carpenter, J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography, 193.

[39] Hoerni, “Preface,” in Jung, The Red Book, VIII.

[40] Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, 179.

[41] Owens, “Lecture I: The Discovery of Faërie.”

[42] Verlyn Flieger, A Question of Time: J.R.R. Tolkien’s Road to Faërie (Kent, OH: The Kent State University Press, 1997), 260, n. 2.

[43] Hammond and Scull, J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist & Illustrator, 40.

[44] Owens, “Lecture I: The Discovery of Faërie.”

[45] Carpenter, J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography, 57-8.

[46]Carpenter, J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography, 59.

[47] Owens, “Lecture I: The Discovery of Faërie.”

[48] Mark Kyburz, John Peck, and Sonu Shamdasani, “Translators’ Note,” in Jung, The Red Book, 222.

[49] Owens, “Tolkien, Jung, and the Imagination,” interview with Miguel Conner.

[50] Owens, “Lecture I: The Discovery of Faërie.”

[51] Carpenter, J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography, 44.

[52] J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1994), II, i, 227.

[53] Carpenter, J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography, 72.

[54] Carpenter, J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography.

[55] Ibid, 79.

[56] Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, 227.

[57] Carpenter, J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography, 83.

[58]Ibid, 99.

[59] Shamdasani, “Introduction,” in Jung, The Red Book, 202.

[60] Ibid.

[61] Ibid.

[62] Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, 177-8.

[63] Andrew Samuels, et al., A Critical Dictionary of Jungian Analysis (New York, NY: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1986), 58.

[64] Samuels, et al., A Critical Dictionary of Jungian Analysis, 59.

[65] Tolkien, “On Fairy-Stories,” 135.

[66] Tolkien, “On Fairy-Stories,” 144.

[67] Ibid, 139, n. 2.

[68] Hammond and Scull, J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist & Illustrator, 64.

[69] Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, 67-8.

[70] Carpenter, J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography, 30.

[71] Flieger, A Question of Time, 165.

[72] Ibid, 166.

[73] Jung, The Red Book, 274.

[74] Tolkien, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, 213.

[75] Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, II, vii, 354.

[76] J.R.R. Tolkien, The Silmarillion (New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2001), 280.

[77] Tolkien, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, 361.

[78] Jung, The Red Book, 282.

[79] Ibid, 283.

[80] J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1994), VI, iii, 919-20.

[81] Tolkien, The Silmarillion, 280-1.

[82] Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, II, vii, 355.

[83] Ibid, II, x, 392.

[84] Jung, The Red Book, 289.

[85] Jung, The Red Book, 244.

[86] Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, VI, iii, 924.

[87] Jung, The Red Book, 247.

[88] Ibid, 206.

[89] Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, 221.

[90] Carpenter, J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography, 242.

[91] Hammond and Scull, J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist & Illustrator, 149.

[92] C.G. Jung, “Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious,” in Collected Works, vol. 9, i (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1959), 29.

[93] Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, 79.

[94] Ibid, 80.

[95] J.R.R. Tolkien, “Smith of Wootton Major,” in Tales from the Perilous Realm (London, England: HarperCollinsPublishers, 2002), 160-1.

[96] Jung, The Red Book, 198, n. 39.

[97] Tolkien, “Smith of Wootton Major,” 162-4.

[98] Samuels, et al., A Critical Dictionary of Jungian Analysis, 150.

[99] Jung, The Red Book, 311.

[100] Tolkien, “On Fairy-Stories,” 128-9.

[101] Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, 138.

[102] Tolkien, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, 212.

[103] Jung, The Red Book, 216.

[104] Carpenter, J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography, 98.

[105] Jung, The Red Book, 217.

The Infinite Dynamic Stairway: A Presentation on Anne Conway

 

The essay “The Infinite Dynamic Stairway: Exploring Anne Conway’s Philosophy,” which is the foundation of this presentation, is available here.

Ellipsis . . .

. . .

            I begin letters with . . . when I want you to feel what I am feeling, when I want you to suspend for a moment who you are and make space for who I might be instead.

As I climb higher up the gray switchback staircase of rickety wooden boards my body tenses with the increasing height, even as my mind knows I am safe, that the stairs beneath my feet will support me. Already present is that indescribable bodily sense, that physical intuition that seems only able to be captured wordlessly, by something as unarticulated as an ellipsis . . . I step out onto the gravel of the roof to be met by the sight of the flaming orb of the setting Sun. This closest of stars burns the clarity from the landscape, blurring the features of the horizon line being pulled toward it: hill, forest, and stretch of ocean I can only perceive in memory as the deepening gold of sunset shatters my sight into uncountable, undifferentiable monads of color.

Sunset

Sitting on the wide ledge of the roof my body settles into an accustomed level of comfort at this new height. But if I lean closer to the edge, to glance below at the street, then this indescribable bodily sense flares up once again, a seeming leap of my heart into my throat that signifies danger or delight I cannot tell. Why is it that looking down four stories at unforgiving concrete gives the same bodily sensation as looking deeply into the eyes of one I love? Wherein lies the truth of this . . .

Looking away from the Sun I turn to my left to see the Moon seated aloft in a soft indigo sky. The reverberating green echo of the Sun’s shape slowly fades from my vision as the Moon’s gentler light fills my gaze instead. The relationship of these two celestial bodies feels familiar . . . and my body knows it before I do . . . Ah yes, I stood upon a mountain exactly a month ago today, positioned as a third body between these two heavenly beings, seeing them in this same triangular relationship once again. I feel this, sense this, intuit this, I . . . this, my body . . . this: this relationship, this interaction.

Whenever I behold a celestial body ablaze in the night sky it stops me in my tracks, without fail. My body is commanded to stop, to wonder, to worship these orbs. My breath catches. It feels not unlike falling in love . . . over and over and over, with each wandering star I witness. The same as looking down from some great height, but rather it is looking up . . . No it is looking out, a looking out into the depths of space. To behold the Sun, the Moon, a thousand stars is to look up, to look out, and to look down into the greatest depths all at once. No wonder we lose our balance, no wonder our bodies react, they catch us and remind us that gravity is real.

I have seen countless sunsets but no one is the same, no one is ever worth looking away from before it has made its perfected exit. I never say to myself, “Not this time, I have seen this before.” It now becomes impossible to look away as the ocean swallows the flaming disc of molten gold. In these final moments of a day I will never see again I feel my heart pulled, as though by an emotion-laden gravitational force, toward the Sun. My heart strains within my chest to follow the Sun beyond the crashing purple waves.

Wash over me, oh descending night . . . let me drown once more in your celestial waters.

The Horizon of Imagination

My body sits nestled in the tall grass, my feet dangling precariously close to the rough-hewn edge of the cliff. The wind off the sea blows salt mist into the tangles of my hair, while the waves crash below, their sound drowning all others except that of the wind and the pulse of blood in my skull. “Matter is ‘pregnant’ with its form,” the phenomenologist writes, “which is to say that in the final analysis every perception takes place within a certain horizon and ultimately in the ‘world.’”[1] In this moment I try to understand, through my intellect, what his words mean. I realize I cannot grasp it. So I attempt the process again, not based upon my intellectual experience, but rather from the beginning, from the primordial seat of awareness, from a place of perception. There… can you feel it? The cliff, the waves, the sea wind—each pregnant with its own form, impressing itself on my beingingness in this moment. I cannot explain this. But sit beside me on this cliff and perhaps your body will know.

Still at the cliff’s edge, I close my eyes. The sounds of salt and wave, crumbling rock and rushing air currents remain, but much else is now gone. Color collapses to the dark behind my eyelids. Yet something else emerges. Even the sounds begin to fade as I descend deeper into this realm. Although my body remains still nestled in the tall grasses that I twist between my fingers, as I attempt to hold a tight physical grip upon this material present, nearly all my awareness begins to lift away from the Earth’s surface. Darkness surrounds me, broken only by the crystalline lamps of distant stars. I wheel past familiar planets, although some part of me realizes they have never been familiar to me at so close a range. Suddenly I am upon the edge of our solar system. How did I get here? How do I know what this looks like?

Perception is thus paradoxical. The perceived thing itself is paradoxical; it exists only in so far as someone can perceive it. I cannot even for an instant imagine an object in itself. As Berkeley said, if I attempt to imagine some place in the world which has never been seen, the very fact that I can imagine it makes me present at that place.[2]

I am present at the edge of our solar system. I am present at the edge of our solar system? Within less than an instant I am present at the edge of the cosmos. My imagination knows this can exist even if physical reality cannot confirm it from our Earth-bound perspective. What then is the phenomenological stance of imagination, if it can so quickly leap beyond the bounds of the situated horizon?

When I open my eyes I see the gray rain curtain that veils the white line of the Pacific Ocean’s horizon. I close my eyes, and I leap beyond all horizons.

Edge of the Solar System

 

Work Cited

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. The Primacy of Perception. Edited by James M. Edie. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1964.

 


[1] Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The Primacy of Perception, ed. James M. Edie (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1964), 12.

[2] Merleau-Ponty, The Primacy of Perception, 16.

Towards An Imaginal Ecology: Presentation for PCC Integrative Seminar

As the final part of the Integrative Seminar, the capstone course of the Philosophy, Cosmology, and Consciousness master’s program, I gave this presentation as part of a day-long seminar with twelve of my fellow graduates in May 2013. The accompanying paper can be found here, and a shorter introduction is available here.

Integrative Seminar Symposium Flyer

The Infinite Dynamic Stairway: Exploring Anne Conway’s Philosophy

A Woman Philosopher

A sole treatise is all that the world has inherited of the philosophical thought of Lady Anne Finch, Viscountess of Conway, yet aspects of her unique system and cosmology can be traced in quiet echoes through the work of several of the great names that came after her, from Leibniz, Blake, and Goethe, to Bergson and Whitehead, to contemporary feminist and ecological thinkers. Her legacy is obscured, it seems, primarily by her gender, for she lived in a time when a university education was denied to women and her name was not even included on the title page of her only publication.[1] Except in rare cases, such as in the work of Leibniz, Anne Conway’s influence on subsequent thinkers can only be traced by a shadowy similarity of content, rather than directly by name. Yet she has been called “the profoundest and most learned of the female metaphysical writers of England”[2] by James Crossley, and “the most important woman philosopher in seventeenth century England” by Sarah Hutton.[3]

Jacob's Ladder

Conway was the “Heroine pupil”[4] of the Cambridge Platonist Henry More, who said in his dedication to her of Antidote Against Atheisme that she is one “whose Genius I know to be so speculative, and Wit so penetrant, that in the knowledge of things as well Natural as Divine, you have not onely out-gone all of your own Sex, but even of that other also, whose ages have not given them over-much the start of you.”[5] In his letters to Conway, More addresses her as, in Hutton’s words, an “exceptional woman: a kind of secular saint, remarkable for her virtue and piety, not the equal of men but their superior.”[6] What can we find of this ‘exceptional woman’ in the single manuscript we have of her own words? What was Conway articulating that More, along with the other men of Conway’s intellectual circle, held her in such admiration? Conway was a truly independent mind, drawing from such diverse sources as Plato and Origen, Behmenism and Quakerism, and the Lurianic Kabbalah,[7] to craft a critique of the early modern philosophies of Descartes, Hobbes, and Spinoza, and even aspects of More’s work as well.[8] To quote Carol Wayne White at length, Conway’s The Principles of the Most Ancient and Modern Philosophy

may be viewed as an invaluable cultural artifact of the early modern period, depicting Conway as a high Renaissance thinker who keenly integrated occult knowledge, alchemy, ancient wisdom, and the new mode of organizing reason, or “science” represented by the mechanists. In it, she introduced a conceptualization of “processional nature” that is measured and authorized by the worth of ancient and marginalized wisdoms. The result is a unique Christian cosmology or mystical naturalism that affirms a continuum of “life-affirming impulses” stretching from God through the most inconspicuous minutiae of perceived materiality.[9]

In the Principles we are presented with a “cross-fertilisation of Cartesianism and Platonism”[10] planted in the rich soils of ancient esotericism and watered generously with Conway’s own original thought. Although brief, it is the fullest philosophical system written in English by a woman in the seventeenth century.[11]

The Three Species of Existence

Conway presents a vision of the continuum of all existence, argued as a rationally deducible religious truth.[12] Conway’s treatise opens with a rewriting of the Trinity and a delineation of the three substances or species of existence: God, Christ, and Creation. Conway writes, “In God there is no time, change, arrangement, or division of parts.”[13] She describes the Trinity not as “three distinct persons”[14] but rather as a “triune deity,” with distinct powers rather than parts: “a triplicity of God, divine wisdom, and divine will.”[15] Conway goes on to say of God that “He is also in a true and real sense an essence distinct from his creatures, although not divided or separate from them but present in everything most closely and intimately in the highest degree.”[16] She differentiates God from God’s creatures not dualistically but rather as one end of an infinite continuum is differentiated from its other end, like an infinite spectrum of light fading towards dimness.[17] God is simultaneously distinct and above Creation, while “intimately present” in all created beings as well.[18]

Drawing on Kabbalistic influences, Conway describes God diminishing God’s own brilliant light for the sake of God’s creatures.[19] In the space of diminished light arises the second species or substance, the Middle Nature between God and creation: the Messiah, the Logos, Christ.[20] Conway maintains the divinity of Christ not as a person of a triune God ontologically separate from Creation, but rather as the Mediator between God and Creation.[21] “The first concept,” Conway writes on the Trinity, “is the infinite God himself, considered above and beyond his creation; the second is the same God insofar as he is the Messiah; the third is the same God insofar as he is with the Messiah in creatures.”[22] These three substances, the only three substances as Conway clearly emphasizes, share spirit as a universal characteristic. “Deity was present in everything,” White comments, “most closely and intimately, and in the highest degree.”[23] Yet for all that God, Christ, and Creation hold in common they remain infinitely differentiated, not in essence but in expression with relation to mutability, and therefore also in relation to time.

The first of the three kinds of being, God, is altogether immutable. “God was always a creator and will always be a creator because otherwise he would change.”[24] Conway goes on to say that “while he is in time, he is not bound by time.”[25] Because God is absolutely perfect God does not move toward greater perfection, and without movement or change there is perforce no time in God; God is eternally at eternity.

God’s creatures are both within time and bound by it, and therefore mutable and susceptible to change. Such mutability arises from what Conway calls the “indifference of will,” which “is the basis for all mutability and corruptibility in creatures, so that there would be no evil in creatures if they were not mutable.”[26] This indifference of the will Conway believes is something God does not have because of God’s divine goodness:

For this reason God is both a most free agent and a most necessary one, so that he must do whatever he does to and for his creatures since his infinite wisdom, goodness, and justice are a law to him which cannot be superceded.[27]

God is immutable, bound by goodness but free from time, while creatures are mutable toward goodness or evil and are subject to the motion of time. It is interesting to note that the indifference, or freedom, of the will of which Conway writes is not only a property of human beings, but of all creatures. In this particular sense she does not give humans a privileged position in Creation.

Christ, as the Middle Nature, the soul generated by God’s partially diminished light[28]—the space the Kabbalah calls tsimtsum[29]—shares in both the nature of God and the nature of Creation. Christ, unlike God, is mutable, but only toward an ever-increasing perfection of goodness; unlike creatures, Christ cannot change toward evil. Conway writes, “Christ cannot become evil but he can become good and consequently he partakes both of divinity and creatureliness as well as eternity and time.”[30] Like the Cambridge Platonists Henry More and Ralph Cudworth, Conway articulated the existence of a “fluid intermediary” between spirit and matter, but in Conway’s system, as Jacqueline Broad writes, Conway differed from her contemporaries by “advocating a monistic theory of created substances.”[31] Conway is clear, in an unnamed refutation of Spinoza, that her system is not pantheism because if all were one substance “sin and devils would be nothing but parts or the slightest modification of this divine being.”[32] Nor is it dualism because Christ is the Mediator between God and Creation, a being that participates in both divine and created substance, permeating both and uniting them through love.

In Conway’s system Christ seems to play a role differing from the orthodox Christian views of her time. Later in her life Conway converted to Quakerism, and it was through some of her Quaker ties, as well as her reading of the Kabbalah and other ancient texts, that allowed her to question the universality of Christian doctrine. Her treatise shows sympathies for other religious perspectives: for example, when she is rewriting the Trinity as three distinct powers instead of persons, she notes how the reference to distinct persons may be “a stumbling block and offense to Jews, Turks, and other people.”[33] In White’s words, Conway also questioned, “How could Christianity be a universal religion if Christian soteriology required a belief in the historical figure of Jesus Christ?”[34] The Christ of Conway’s philosophical system is a mediating being called by many names, not only Christ and the “soul of the Messiah,” but also the Kabbalistic Adam Kadmon, [35] the Middle Nature not made or created by God, but generated by God.[36] “Such a mediator is necessary by the very nature of things,” writes Conway, “because otherwise a gap would remain and one extreme would have been united with the other extreme without a mediator, which is impossible and against the nature of things.”[37] The Middle Nature unites “the creator with his creatures, in which union their happiness lay.”[38] The Christ of Conway’s philosophy, as the loving mediator, is not dissimilar to Plato’s realm of metaxy, in which daemons, such as Eros and Logos, carry prayers and blessings between mortals and gods.

Continuum of Spirit and Matter

Anne Conway was introduced to Henry More by her brother John Finch who was studying under More at Cambridge University.[39] Conway had not always held all the views she expressed in her posthumously published treatise, and came to More with several questions regarding God’s goodness and justice, as well as the nature of the soul.[40] In a letter dated 1652 Conway writes, “Upon the Reading of your Poem of the Prae-existence of the Soul, and serious thinking of it, I desir’d to be satisfied in Four Particulars, which are these.”

       First, Whether God did create the Matter for the Enjoyment of Souls, since they fell by it?

Secondly, Whether the Soul could Enjoy the Matter without being Clothed in Corporeity; and if it could not, how it can be the Fall of the Soul that makes it Assume a Body?

Thirdly, Upon Supposition most of the Souls fell; Why did not all Assume Bodies together: And how Adam can be said to be the first Man, and all Men to Fall in him, since they Fell before: And how the Souls of Beasts and Plants came into Bodies?

Fourthly, How Man can be Restor’d, to what he Fell from; And why the Devils that Fell; cannot? Why Christ’s Death should Extend more to One than to the Other?[41]

As Terryl Givens comments on these questions, such genuine inquiry into the preexistence of the soul without dismissal had “little precedent or parallel” in the history of philosophy, especially during the early modern period.[42] Conway continued in her pursuit of these and other related questions in her philosophical studies and intellectual salons, and finally offered her own answers to some of them in the Principles. Her understanding of the relation of spirit to matter, which arguably is the primary subject of her treatise, reconciles many of the questions she posed to More in the aforementioned letter, from how the soul relates to the human body, to the souls of other species, and finally to the restoration of all who have fallen away from God.

Conway argues that all of Creation, as the third substance of being next to Christ and God, is a single substance. All of creation is one spiritual substance, a continuum from body to soul, from spirit to matter. For Conway, the unity of created substance explains how the soul and body can relate to each other, the causal connection between mind and body that Descartes saw as completely incompatible and distinct.[43] In the same language that she uses to describe the continuum of God through Christ to Creation as a gradual diminution of God’s light, she writes of body as only the darkened form of spiritual light. “Truly,” she writes, “every body is a spirit and nothing else, and it differs from a spirit only insofar as it is darker. . . Consequently, the distinction between spirit and body is only modal and incremental, not essential and substantial.”[44] Conway’s primary influence on her belief in a spirit-matter continuum is her reading of the Lurianic Kabbalah,[45] a version of the Kabbalah drawn from the teachings of Isaac Luria, a Jewish zaddik from the sixteenth century whose writings carry strains of Plotinus’ and Origen’s thought.[46]

Illustrating her point further Conway writes, “spirit and body are of one original nature and substance, and that body is nothing but fixed and condensed spirit, and spirit nothing but volatile body or body made subtle.”[47] Both spirit and matter, according to Conway, can be located in time and space and have mutual influence upon each other.[48] In this latter respect, Conway holds a position contrary to More and the other Cambridge Platonists, who believe that the body is impenetrable and divisible, while spirit is penetrable and indivisible.[49] Carolyn Merchant, who sees great value in Conway’s philosophy overall, nevertheless charges that Conway’s system is “simply a reduction of all reality to the idealist category of spirit.”[50] Broad points out that “one might be led to believe that when Conway collapses the distinction between soul and body, she is more concerned to emphasise the spirituality of matter, rather than the other way around.”[51] But as Broad goes on to emphasize, “Conway’s spiritual particles are not quite ‘spiritual’ in the orthodox sense, because they are always extended and (potentially) divisible and impenetrable.”[52] Furthermore, unlike the Platonic and Cartesian views, Conway has “unorthodox conceptions of bodies, as alive, self-moving, perceptive, and penetrable,” and she has “materialistic views of the soul, as extended, divisible, and capable of being penetrable.”[53] Rather than merely collapsing all of reality into the category of spirit as Merchant suggests, Conway seems to be emphasizing the similarity of spirit and matter and their affinity as gradations of a single substance that is neither spirit nor matter essentially, but characterized simultaneously by material and spiritual properties. That spirit and matter are the same substance explains how they are able to relate to each other, but it is their distinction that allows them to be in relationship, which is required for their evolution and movement toward perfection. Both difference and similarity, as Conway understands it, are required for the purposeful motion of Creation to exist.

Anti-Cartesianism

Conway was introduced to philosophy through Cartesianism, taught to her by More through their correspondence.[54] She was not taught to take Descartes’ system as dogma, however, and in the end her own philosophy became a refutation of the Cartesian mind-body dualism: she even went so far as to call her treatise “anti-Cartesianism.”[55] The primary question she puts to Descartes, More, and others who hold similar views, is the interaction problem: if bodies are impenetrable and divisible and souls are penetrable and indivisible, how can they possibly interact? She argues that impenetrability is the mode of matter rather than its essence, and that matter can be penetrated by substance when in a subtler, more spiritual form.[56] She offers the metaphor of iron, which cannot be penetrated by another “equally course body” but can be penetrated by a body more subtle than it: “namely, by fire, which enters it and penetrates all its parts.”[57] So it is also with the soul and its body that they are able to be intimately present in one another as fire is to iron.

The soul has an affinity for its body because they are alike; they are one substance expressing itself in opposite modalities. Conway draws an analogy between, on the one hand, the body-soul relationship and, on the other hand, the relationship, love, and cooperation of a wife and husband.[58] But unlike other philosophies that use gendered metaphor for the soul and body, Conway emphasizes the similarity between women and men rather than how they differentiate to explain their love for each other. As Broad writes, “Her argument relies upon the supposition that men and women love one another because they have the same nature.”[59] Furthermore, Conway writes of the need the soul has for the body to be complete; the body retains the image of the spirit so that it might exist as a being:

Spirit is light or the eye looking at its own proper image, and the body is the darkness which receives this image. And when the spirit beholds it, it is as if someone sees himself in a mirror. But he cannot see himself reflected in the same way in clear air or in any diaphanous body, since the reflection of an image requires a certain opacity, which we call body. . . Just as every spirit needs a body to receive and reflect its image, it also needs a body to retain the image.[60]

In order for a person to have memory her spirit must have a body, for the body is what retains the image of the spirit. “Every spirit has its own body and every body its own spirit,” Conway writes.[61]

Seemingly in response to the first two of her own questions to More about the soul, Conway speaks of the “great love and desire which spirits or souls have for bodies, and especially those bodies with which they are united and in which they dwell.”[62] Not only this, but it is the goodness of the body that moves the soul to love it, a goodness which is shared by the nature of the soul—a view starkly contrasted with both the Platonic and Cartesian conceptions of the body.[63]

One position from which Conway argues for the unity of the soul with the body is from the experience of pain—something with which Conway was deeply familiar. From a young age Conway suffered chronic ill health and severe pain, primarily in the form of incapacitating headaches that left her bedridden for long periods of time.[64] She was often so weak she took to conducting her philosophical salons in her own bedroom—a practice tremendously uncommon for the time.[65] It is interesting to note that she wrote the Principles during her last two years of life, when her health and physical pain were at their worst.[66] In reference to the concept of soul-body dualism she writes,

Why does the spirit or soul suffer so with bodily pain? For if when united to the body it has no corporeality or bodily nature, why is it wounded or grieved when the body is wounded, whose nature is so different? . . . If one says that only the body feels pain but not the soul, this contradicts the principle of those who affirm that the body has no life or perception.[67]

It is on this subject of the ontological status of matter with which Conway most strongly disagrees with Descartes, Hobbes, More, and other like-minded dualists: is matter dead and inert, or is it vital and perceptive?[68] Based on her initial arguments for the continuum of all reality and the intimate presence of God in God’s creatures, she asks, “Since every creature shares certain attributes with God, I ask what attribute produces dead matter, or body, which is incapable of life and sense for eternity?”[69] In White’s words, Conway “asserted that all substances have some element, or at least potential possession, of thought or mentality.”[70] From this position Conway argues further that animals are not soulless automatons as Descartes declared, but rather they too, like human beings, “have some kind of spirit which possesses thought, sense, love, and various other properties.”[71]

An Ecological Ethic

The vitality Conway saw running through all of Creation, and the unity of nature, led her to perceive “a certain universal love in all creatures for each other.”[72] It is this perspective held by Conway that led such ecologically oriented thinkers as Merchant and White to draw on her philosophy for an ecological ethic. Merchant writes on Conway’s philosophical system:

Its emphasis on the life of all things as gradations of soul, its lack of a separate distinction between matter and spirit, its principle of an immanent activity permeating nature, and its reverence for the nurturing power of the earth endowed it with an ethic of the inherent worth of everything alive.[73]

Meanwhile, from White’s perspective: “Conway’s religious philosophy placed emphasis on the life of all things and compelled its adherents to adopt an ethic of care for the inherent worth of everything alive.” White goes on to say, “She offers a religious cosmology resonating with ethical force regarding proper relations among all forms of nature.”[74] Conway is articulating an utterly different approach to the cosmos—a “mystical naturalism” as White calls it—from the mechanistic world view that so powerfully captivated the modern mind and subsequently shaped the very face of the Earth through industrialization.

The Dynamic Stairway

Merchant draws on Conway for her vitalist, organicist perspective, saying “Conway based her system of creation not on the machine but on the great, hierarchical chain of being, modified to incorporate an evolution or transmutation to higher forms, based on the acquisition of goodness and perfection.”[75] Conway maintains the Platonic view that Creation continually and infinitely moves toward the Good.[76] Indeed, as Broad points out, Conway agrees with the Cambridge Platonists in emphasizing the spiritual purpose behind Creation, which is to move to greater and greater spiritual perfection and goodness.[77] Because all of Creation is a single substance, it is not the essence of Creation that changes toward the Good but rather its mode, or expression.[78] Yet, as previously mentioned, what differentiates Creation from God is its mutability, and what differentiates Creation from Christ is its mutability not only toward goodness but toward evil as well—a difference made possible by creatures’ ability to have indifference or freedom of the will.

Between created beings—humans, plants, animals, water, minerals, and so forth—only a finite difference exists, making it possible for creatures to perfect themselves through the ‘hierarchical chain of being.’[79] This chain of being Conway compares to an infinite staircase, in which the steps extend infinitely yet the distance between each step remains finite.[80] Such is the finite distance between created species. Animals can become human, plants can become animals and so on, but also vice versa. Conway seems to have two different perspectives on how such mutation occurs. For one, she seems literally to hold that one species can become another, an idea she likely adopted from her close friend and fellow Quaker convert Francis Mercury van Helmont.[81] She writes of such mutation saying,

daily experience teaches us that various species can change into each other: earth changes into water, water into air, air into fire and ether and, vice versa, fire into air, air into water, etc., and these are nevertheless distinct species.[82]

She also goes on to describe more unusual transmutations of species, such as wheat into barley, worms into flies, and other aspects of the still widely believed theory of spontaneous generation that would not be disproved until the nineteenth century by Louis Pasteur.

In addition to Conway’s conception of the changeability of species into each other at a material level, she also has an alternate perspective on how a member of one species becomes that of another: echoing the Kabbalah,[83] and even aspects of More and Cudworth’s thought that was influenced by ancient sources,[84] Conway presents the idea of metempsychosis, a transmigration of souls after death from one species to another depending on how the life of that soul was lived.[85] The character of the soul will give shape to the body with which it is united—whether it be animal, vegetable, human, angel, or demon—an idea not dissimilar to Aristotle’s, and later Aquinas’s, conception of the soul as the form of the body.[86] The transmigration of souls is an expression of God’s justice in Conway’s cosmology, souls ascending or descending the infinite stairway according to their behavior not only towards fellow humans but in the treatment of animals and other species also.[87] For this perspective Conway seems to be drawing on the work of Origen, introduced to her by More, who “proposes a principle of change running through all created things,” change that is both moral and ontological.[88]

In continued agreement with Origen, who had been dismissed by the Catholic Church as a heretic centuries prior to the Renaissance revival of his thought, Conway asserts that God’s goodness would not allow God to punish souls eternally for their wrongdoings.[89] In a refutation of the Calvinist system still dominant in England during her lifetime, Conway believed punishment not to be eternal damnation but rather part of the continual movement of Creation towards goodness.[90] The benevolence and love of God would not allow God to act as a tyrant eternally punishing God’s own creations. Echoing Origen’s concept of apokatastasis[91] and the Kabbalistic notion of tikkun,[92] Conway believed in, as Givens defines it, “the eventual salvation and restoration of all spirits—even that of Satan himself.”[93]

Creatures can ascend or descend the hierarchical stairway infinitely, but Conway is clear they will never ascend to the point of equaling God in God’s perfection. “For the highest excellence of a creature,” she writes, “is to be infinite only in potentiality, not in actuality. That is, it is always able to become more perfect and more excellent to infinity, although it never reaches this infinity.”[94] God is infinitely greater than the infinite potential of God’s creatures in the way that “one infinity is greater than another.”[95] God is like a perfect sphere that no other geometrical shape can approach: even if a geometrical shape has an infinite number of sides it will never become the smooth curve of a sphere.[96]

Souls As Ruling Spirits

Some disagreement exists between interpreters of Conway’s text on whether she believed in the preexistence of souls as her teacher More did. After all, it was his poem “Prae-existence of the Soul” that inspired her series of questions regarding the nature of souls. Hutton argues that Conway did not share More’s belief in the Origenist doctrine of preexistence, although she did agree with other aspects of Origen’s thought as has been previously mentioned.[97] Givens, on the other hand, clearly asserts that Conway did agree with More on preexistence,[98] which he draws from her text when she writes, “Creatures, although they are not coeternal with God, nevertheless have existed for an infinite time from the beginning.”[99] Yet Conway also goes on to say, “In different senses, creatures have existed and not existed from eternity.”[100] How one interprets this depends on what one understands souls to be: are they individual personalities that have existed from the beginning? Or rather is the single substance constituting all of Creation what has existed from eternity, and souls are constituted later by the process of eternal motion toward goodness?

Just as Creation is a multitude within the unity of a single substance, and the Trinity a triune within a single Spirit, Conway has a similar conception of all creatures. Not only are God’s creatures “infinite and created in an infinity of ways”[101] but also that “in every creature, whether spirit or body, there is an infinity of creatures, each of which contains an infinity in itself, and so on to infinity.”[102] This idea, drawn by Conway from the Kabbalah,[103] gives rise to the conception that not only is every body composed of a multitude of bodies, but furthermore so is every spirit.[104] How then is one to understand where the concept of personhood arises? If all of the spirit-matter continuum is perceptive and vital, albeit to varying degrees, what part of myself can assert “I am”? Conway writes that just as the parts that make up a body are arranged in a certain order so too are spirits arranged, to be governed by a principle ruling spirit[105]—not unlike Emerson’s conception of the Over-Soul, or Whitehead’s dominant monad. There is not a single ruling spirit, but rather a hierarchy of ruling spirits, “such that one is the principle ruler, another has second place, and a third commands others below itself. . . Thus every human being, indeed every creature whatsoever, contains many spirits and bodies.”[106] These ruling spirits are organized along the continuum from matter to God, who is the ultimate leader of the multitude of spirits.

The dynamic multiplicity of Creation’s unity is another aspect that differentiates the spiritual being of creatures from the spiritual being of God: Creation is composed at the primary level of spiritual monads—a concept that greatly inspired Leibniz[107]—whereas God is not.[108] While creatures, as previously mentioned, can be divided to infinity, Conway writes that this is only a mathematical possibility, but not one that God, bound by goodness, would allow to occur physically. For if divided to the smallest mathematical monad, instead of merely the smallest physical monad, a creature would cease its vital motion and thus no longer have the ability to move toward perfection and goodness.[109] Something in which the motion has ceased would be dead matter, which Conway has already deemed to not exist due to the goodness of God.

Finally, Conway asserts that the infinite multiplicity of creatures is actually what allows them to have the capacity for motion and the ability to strive for perfection. “A creature,” she writes, “because it needs the help of its fellow creatures, must be multiple in order to receive this help.”[110] All creatures need their fellow creatures; despite their multiplicity no creature can ever be separated from Creation because they are all ultimately of one nature, one being.[111] Referring back to the principle ruling spirit that organizes the multiplicity of spirits to compose the soul and body of a creature, Conway clarifies that even this ruling spirit itself is multiple:

It is called central because all the other spirits come together in it, just as lines from every part of the circumference meet in the center and go forth from this center. Indeed, the unity of spirits composing this central predominant spirit is firmer and more tenacious than that of other spirits    . . . This unity is so great that nothing can dissolve it.[112]

Because it is God’s nature to be immutable, God has been a creator from eternity; as such, creatures also have existed from eternity because God has always created.[113] From this position Conway concludes to the Christian doctrine of the eternal existence of the soul, while simultaneously maintaining the multiplicity of that soul. She writes, “Thus it happens that the soul of every human being will remain a whole soul for eternity and endure without end, so that it may receive proper rewards for its labor.”[114] Conway affirms the eternal existence of the soul not only forward in time but backward, while also affirming the evolution of Creation, in which creatures learn from embodied action and morally guided metempsychosis.

Sacred Relationality

Conway’s religious philosophy holds that the role of Creation is ultimately to recognize and move toward its own divine nature, a belief that draws on the diverse influences of Platonic, Kabbalistic, Gnostic, Neoplatonic, and alchemical sources.[115] Her system of natural mysticism, which might also be characterized as an early modern form of process panentheism, can be seen quietly reflected in aspects of the monadology of Leibniz,[116] the organicism of Blake,[117] the morphology of Goethe,[118] the vitalism of Bergson,[119] and the process philosophy of Whitehead.[120] Her protest against a mechanical world view[121] and the Cartesian soul-body dualism has been picked up by contemporary feminists and ecological thinkers alike as they find a voice in solidarity hailing from the pivotal time of the early modern period.[122] As White notes,

Her early modern perspectives thus provide a remarkable antecedent for new naturalistic impulses in religious studies, particularly current reconstructions of nature that challenge “dominion-over-nature” ideologies derived from early scientific and modern conceptions.[123]

Yet Conway’s name is rarely included in major histories of philosophy, despite the brilliance of her thought that was recognized by her colleagues. The patriarchal tide of Western history swept her under its strong current to become a name infrequently retrieved. Nevertheless, the ocean of history is wide and the tides of the world are changing. Conway’s brief treatise may yet resurface in a significant way as humanity searches for answers within our historical lineages, answers from thinkers who present a cosmology that can remind us of our connection not only to each other but to the divinity of the planet on which we live and the cosmos through which we travel. Her emphasis on multiplicity within unity brings awareness to the relationality of the entire cosmos, to the love inspired by the simultaneous affinity and difference of all beings held together in dynamic union. In the picture White paints of Conway’s vision she says, “For Conway, the love among all creation constitutes a sacral universe where the shared love among all entities is based on a processional view of natural phenomena participating in the divine life.”[124] Conway’s may be one of the voices we need to hear in order to learn how to remain afloat upon the changing tides of a universe woven of sacred, multiplicitous unity.

References

Broad, Jacqueline. Women Philosophers of the Seventeenth Century. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

Conway, Anne. The Principles of the Most Ancient and Modern Philosophy. Edited and translated by Allison P. Coudert and Taylor Course. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

Givens, Terryl L. When Souls Had Wings: Pre-Mortal Existence in Western Thought. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2012.

Hutton, Sarah. Anne Conway: A Woman Philosopher. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

Merchant, Carolyn. The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology and the Scientific Revolution. San Francisco, CA: Harper San Francisco, 1990.

More, Henry. “The Epistle Dedicatory.” In An Antidote Against Atheisme: or an Appeale      to the Natural Faculties of the Minds of Man, whether there be not a God. London, England, 1653.

Ward, Richard. The Life of the Pious and Learned Henry More. Edited by Sarah Hutton et al. Dordrecht, Netherlands: Kluwer, 2000.

White, Carol Wayne. The Legacy of Anne Conway: Reverberations from a Mystical Naturalism. New York, NY: State University of New York Press, 2008.

Worthington, John. The Diary and Correspondence of Dr. John Worthington. Edited by James Crossley. Manchester, England: The Chetham Society, 1847.


[1] Carolyn Merchant, The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology and the Scientific Revolution (San Francisco, CA: Harper San Francisco, 1990), 254.

[2] John Worthington, The Diary and Correspondence of Dr. John Worthington, ed. James Crossley (Manchester, England: The Chetham Society, 1847), 142, note 1.

[3] Sarah Hutton, qtd. in Jacqueline Broad, Women Philosophers of the Seventeenth Century (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 65.

[4] Richard Ward, The Life of the Pious and Learned Henry More, ed. Sarah Hutton et al. (Dordrecht, Netherlands: Kluwer, 2000), 123.

[5] Henry More, “The Epistle Dedicatory” in An Antidote Against Atheisme: or an Appeale to the Natural Faculties of the Minds of Man, whether there be not a God (London, England, 1653).

[6] Sarah Hutton, Anne Conway: A Woman Philosopher (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 29.

[7] Merchant, The Death of Nature, 255.

[8] Hutton, Anne Conway: A Woman Philosopher, 2, 49.

[9] Carol Wayne White, The Legacy of Anne Conway: Reverberations from a Mystical Naturalism (New York, NY: State University of New York Press, 2008), 48.

[10] Hutton, Anne Conway: A Woman Philosopher, 3.

[11] Ibid, 5-6.

[12] Ibid, 55.

[13]Anne Conway, The Principles of the Most Ancient and Modern Philosophy, ed. and trans. Allison P. Coudert and Taylor Course (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 9.

[14] Conway, The Principles of the Most Ancient and Modern Philosophy, 10.

[15] Hutton, Anne Conway: A Woman Philosopher, 65.

[16] Conway, The Principles of the Most Ancient and Modern Philosophy, 9.

[17] Ibid, 10-11.

[18] Ibid, 50.

[19] Terryl L. Givens, When Souls Had Wings: Pre-Mortal Existence in Western Thought, (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2012), 163.

[20] Conway, The Principles of the Most Ancient and Modern Philosophy, 10-11.

[21] Hutton, Anne Conway: A Woman Philosopher, 65.

[22] Conway, The Principles of the Most Ancient and Modern Philosophy, 11.

[23] White, The Legacy of Anne Conway, 49.

[24] Conway, The Principles of the Most Ancient and Modern Philosophy, 13.

[25] Ibid, 14.

[26] Ibid, 15.

[27] Ibid, 16.

[28] Conway, The Principles of the Most Ancient and Modern Philosophy, 24.

[29] White, The Legacy of Anne Conway, 53.

[30] Conway, The Principles of the Most Ancient and Modern Philosophy, 23.

[31] Broad, Women Philosophers of the Seventeenth Century, 70.

[32] Conway, The Principles of the Most Ancient and Modern Philosophy, 31.

[33] Conway, The Principles of the Most Ancient and Modern Philosophy, 10.

[34] White, The Legacy of Anne Conway, 22.

[35] Conway, The Principles of the Most Ancient and Modern Philosophy, 10.

[36] Ibid, 25.

[37] Ibid.

[38] Ibid, 11.

[39] Hutton, Anne Conway: A Woman Philosopher, 17.

[40] Hutton, Anne Conway: A Woman Philosopher, 55.

[41] Ward, The Life of the Pious and Learned Henry More, 169.

[42] Givens, When Souls Had Wings, 158.

[43] White, The Legacy of Anne Conway, 45.

[44] Conway, The Principles of the Most Ancient and Modern Philosophy, 39-40.

[45] Broad, Women Philosophers of the Seventeenth Century, 73.

[46] Givens, When Souls Had Wings, 163.

[47] Conway, The Principles of the Most Ancient and Modern Philosophy, 61.

[48] White, The Legacy of Anne Conway, 52.

[49] Hutton, Anne Conway: A Woman Philosopher, 42.

[50] Merchant, The Death of Nature, 263.

[51] Broad, Women Philosophers of the Seventeenth Century, 72.

[52] Broad, Women Philosophers of the Seventeenth Century, 78.

[53] Ibid.

[54] Hutton, Anne Conway: A Woman Philosopher, 4.

[55] Conway, The Principles of the Most Ancient and Modern Philosophy, 64.

[56] Broad, Women Philosophers of the Seventeenth Century, 76.

[57] Conway, The Principles of the Most Ancient and Modern Philosophy, 50.

[58] Conway, The Principles of the Most Ancient and Modern Philosophy, 38.

[59] Broad, Women Philosophers of the Seventeenth Century, 78.

[60] Conway, The Principles of the Most Ancient and Modern Philosophy, 38.

[61] Ibid, 39.

[62] Ibid, 46.

[63] Conway, The Principles of the Most Ancient and Modern Philosophy, 48.

[64] Hutton, Anne Conway: A Woman Philosopher, 33-4.

[65] White, The Legacy of Anne Conway, 11.

[66] Hutton, Anne Conway: A Woman Philosopher, 34.

[67] Conway, The Principles of the Most Ancient and Modern Philosophy, 58.

[68] Broad, Women Philosophers of the Seventeenth Century, 69.

[69] Conway, The Principles of the Most Ancient and Modern Philosophy, 45.

[70] White, The Legacy of Anne Conway, 3-4.

[71] Conway, The Principles of the Most Ancient and Modern Philosophy, 32.

[72] Ibid, 47.

[73] Merchant, The Death of Nature, 254-5.

[74] White, The Legacy of Anne Conway, 4.

[75] Merchant, The Death of Nature, 260.

[76] Broad, Women Philosophers of the Seventeenth Century, 83.

[77] Ibid, 85.

[78] Conway, The Principles of the Most Ancient and Modern Philosophy, 29.

[79] Conway, The Principles of the Most Ancient and Modern Philosophy, 33.

[80] Ibid, 34.

[81] Merchant, The Death of Nature, 254-5.

[82] Conway, The Principles of the Most Ancient and Modern Philosophy, 34.

[83] White, The Legacy of Anne Conway, 53.

[84] Merchant, The Death of Nature, 260-1.

[85] Conway, The Principles of the Most Ancient and Modern Philosophy, 36.

[86] White, The Legacy of Anne Conway, 57.

[87] Conway, The Principles of the Most Ancient and Modern Philosophy, 35.

[88] Hutton, Anne Conway: A Woman Philosopher, 70.

[89] Givens, When Souls Had Wings, 163.

[90] White, The Legacy of Anne Conway, 52.

[91] Givens, When Souls Had Wings, 97.

[92] Ibid, 163.

[93] Ibid, 98.

[94] Conway, The Principles of the Most Ancient and Modern Philosophy, 33.

[95] Ibid, 17.

[96] Ibid, 67.

[97] Hutton, Anne Conway: A Woman Philosopher, 70.

[98] Givens, When Souls Had Wings, 164.

[99] Conway, The Principles of the Most Ancient and Modern Philosophy, 12.

[100] Ibid.

[101] Ibid, 16.

[102] Ibid, 17.

[103] Broad, Women Philosophers of the Seventeenth Century, 73.

[104] Conway, The Principles of the Most Ancient and Modern Philosophy, 39.

[105] Conway, The Principles of the Most Ancient and Modern Philosophy, 39.

[106] Ibid, 39.

[107] Merchant, The Death of Nature, 264.

[108] White, The Legacy of Anne Conway, 50.

[109] Conway, The Principles of the Most Ancient and Modern Philosophy, 20.

[110] Conway, The Principles of the Most Ancient and Modern Philosophy, 54.

[111] Ibid, 52.

[112] Ibid, 55.

[113] Ibid, 13.

[114] Ibid, 55.

[115] White, The Legacy of Anne Conway, 26.

[116] Merchant, The Death of Nature, 257.

[117] White, The Legacy of Anne Conway, 69.

[118] Ibid, 70.

[119] Ibid, 77.

[120] Ibid, 83.

[121] Merchant, The Death of Nature, 268.

[122] Broad, Women Philosophers of the Seventeenth Century, 80.

[123] White, The Legacy of Anne Conway, ix.

[124] White, The Legacy of Anne Conway, 92.

Towards an Imaginal Ecology: A First Glance

“The imagination is a tree. It has the integrative virtues of a tree. It is root and boughs. It lives between earth and sky. It lives in the earth and in the wind. The imagined tree becomes imperceptibly the cosmological tree, the tree which epitomizes the universe, which makes a universe…”
– Gaston Bachelard[1] 

California Sunset

Imagine a stream, choked, murky gray, oiled surface, sunken deep below the watermark-stained banks. Feel deep within your soul the hopelessness of this place, the deadening of your senses to the despair of the river. Allow your imagination to fill with the river’s pain. Now, slowly, begin to imagine those waters rising, gradually at first, then more and more quickly, flowing first as a muddy trickle, widening into an onrushing stream. Bulbous plants begin to flourish along the banks, setting roots into the silted bottom. Filth becomes food, the waters begin to run clear. Light, once again, sparkles on the rippling surface. Fish return. What has allowed such a transition to occur? A re-imagining of purpose.

The imagination plays many roles in our practice of ecology upon this exquisite, blue and green celestial gem we have named Earth. As our planet suffers the ravaging destruction of industrialization and the consumptive growth of human greed, humanity is beginning to re-imagine its purpose in relationship to the Earth. The imagination is a multifaceted gift to ecology, one that can connect us to both our past and future, that can connect us with spiritual strength and moral empathy, that allows us to see our human role in an enchanted cosmos. The imagination is the eye of the soul, a bridge between the rational mind and the physical world, the opening of a realm in which the true beauty of the anima mundi can be revealed. Aspects of what could be called “imaginal ecology” can be glimpsed throughout the work of Joanna Macy, Thomas Berry, Brian Swimme, Mary Evelyn Tucker, Christopher Bache, James Hillman, Theodore Roszak, David Abram, and many other thinkers; it resounds in the poetry and philosophy of the Romantics, Transcendentalists and German Idealists. Imaginal ecology flourishes in the articulations of the enchanted realm of Faërie penned by J.R.R. Tolkien, and other fiction writers whose work reveals the enchantment of the realm in which we live.

The moral imagination of which Macy speaks can allow us to situate ourselves in the experience of other beings, whether ancestors of our past, or plants and animals, ecosystems of our current Earth, even beings of the future. Through imaginal practice we can hear the needs of others and recognize them as our own. Macy writes, “The imagination needs to be schooled in order to experience our inter-existence with all beings in the web of life.”[2] We can gain spiritual and psychic courage by seeing with the imagination’s eye into our potentially dire future. The work of Bache allows one to envision such a future while learning to cultivate the spiritual center needed to stay grounded in such an unstable time. The grief and despair work of both Macy and Bache lay a solid foundation in reality that can act as the fertile ground from which creative solutions can sprout and flourish.

Imagination can carry us back through time to the flaring forth of our cosmos, and as we experience the unfolding of our universe our own role as human beings becomes clearer. As Swimme and Tucker write, “Every time we are drawn to look up into the night sky and reflect on the awesome beauty of the universe, we are actually the universe reflecting upon itself.”[3] Such a realization can reorient our actions into a more harmonious relationship to the Earth as we recognize that we also are the Earth in relationship to ourselves.

Because we are the cosmos in human form, the pain of the world is expressing itself through our human pains, through our pathologies and diseases. The work of ecopsychology practiced by Hillman, Roszak and others, which itself could be seen as a form of imaginal ecology, seeks to engage in the healing of the soul of the world, the anima mundi.

Abram suggests that the imagination exists not only in the human but in the Earth and the cosmos itself. The imagination of the Earth is diverse, and varies from region to region like the landscape, affording various insights and ideas that differ by location. Abram writes,

There are insights we come upon only at the edge of the sea, and others we glimpse only in the craggy heights. Some prickly notions are endemic to deserts, while other thoughts, too slippery to grasp, are met mostly in swamps. Many nomad thoughts migrate between different realms, shifting their habits to fit the terrain, orienting themselves by the wind and the stars.[4]

Our ability to create and sustain our existence, to imagine the future, is wholly dependent on this creativity gifted by the Earth.

The creative works of many authors and artists can serve ecology by offering a “recovery,” as Tolkien writes, giving us the opportunity of “regaining a clear view”[5] of the enchantment inherent to the world in which we live. They offer a view of a fantasy realm, which Tolkien calls Faërie, crafted out of the materials of our everyday world, just as the painter’s or sculptor’s materials are drawn also from nature.[6] Yet fantasy allows us to see these primary ingredients in a new way, once again marveling at the wonders of our own world.[7] Tolkien shows the overlap between our world and Faërie when he writes,

Faërie contains many things besides elves and fays, and besides dwarfs, witches, trolls, giants, or dragons: it holds the seas, the sun, the moon, the sky; and the earth, and all things that are in it: tree and bird, water and stone, wine and bread, and ourselves, mortal men, when we are enchanted.[8] (Emphasis added.)

Faërie could then be seen as the real cosmos but without the human, or rather, without the disenchanted human. Fantasy—expressed through any art form, from literature, to painting, to sculpture—allows us to look again at our own world with new eyes, for as Hillman writes, “We pay respect to it simply by looking again, re-specting, that second look with the eye of the heart.”[9] The role the imagination can play in ecology is to unlock the doorway to this realm, our own cosmos, and re-enter as re-enchanted human beings, reflecting on themselves in the form of the universe.

Bibliography

Abram, David. Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology. New York, NY: Pantheon Books. 2010.

Bache, Christopher M. Dark Night, Early Dawn: Steps to a Deep Ecology of Mind. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press. 2000.

Bachelard, Gaston. On Poetic Imagination and Reverie. Putnam, CT: Spring Publications, Inc. 2005.

Berry, Thomas. Evening Thoughts: Reflecting on Earth as Sacred Community. San Francisco, CA: Sierra Club Books. 2006.

–––––. The Dream of the Earth. San Francisco, CA: Sierra Club Books. 1988.

–––––. The Great Work: Our Way Into the Future. New York, NY: Three Rivers Press. 1999.

–––––. The Sacred Universe: Earth, Spirituality, and Religion in the Twenty-First Century. New York, NY: Columbia University Press. 2009.

Hillman, James. The Thought of the Heart and the Soul of the World. Putnam, CT: Spring Publications, Inc. 2007.

Macy, Joanna. World As Lover, World As Self: Courage for Global Justice and Ecological Renewal. Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press, 2007.

Roszak, Theodore, Mary E. Gomes, and Allen D. Kanner, ed. Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth, Healing the Mind. San Francisco, CA: Sierra Club Books. 1995.

Swimme, Brian and Mary Evelyn Tucker. Journey of the Universe. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2011.

Swimme, Brian and Thomas Berry. The Universe Story. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers. 1994.

Tolkien, J.R.R. The Tolkien Reader. New York, NY: Ballantine Publishing Group. 1966.


[1] Gaston Bachelard, On Poetic Imagination and Reverie (Putnam, CT: Spring Publications, Inc, 2005), 85.

[2] Joanna Macy, World As Lover, World As Self: Courage for Global Justice and Ecological Renewal (Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press, 2007), 112.

[3] Brian Swimme and Mary Evelyn Tucker, Journey of the Universe (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2011), 2.

[4] David Abram, Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology (New York, NY: Pantheon Books, 2010), 118.

[5] J.R.R. Tolkien, “On Fairy Stories,” in The Tolkien Reader (New York, NY: Ballantine Publishing Group, 1966), 77.

[6] Tolkien, “On Fairy Stories,” 78.

[7] Ibid, 77.

[8] Ibid, 38.

[9] Hillman, The Thought of the Heart, 129.