Journey to the Imaginal Realm: Reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings

Journey to the Imaginal Realm Course

Since I was 9 years old, I have been a devotee of the work of J. R. R. Tolkien and an avid explorer of the world of Middle-earth. I am therefore beyond excited to be teaching an online course through Nura Learning this autumn on Tolkien’s magnum opus, The Lord of the Rings. I feel as though I have been waiting half my life to teach this class, and at last such an opportunity has arisen. If you have never read The Lord of the Rings before, or wish to return to Middle-earth to deepen your connection with this remarkable tale, I would be delighted to have you in this course.

Learn more and Register

Course Description

The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien has been a beloved story to several generations since its publication in the mid-1950s. The story has a timeless quality to it, and engages with a complex struggle between good and evil, death and immortality, power and freedom. The Lord of the Rings blends otherworldly romance with the high rhetoric of epic mythology, at times interwoven with the internal depths of the nineteenth century novel and the political climate of the twentieth century. As Tolkien’s close friend and colleague C. S. Lewis once said: “Nothing quite like it has been done before. This book is like lightning from a clear sky . . . here are beauties which pierce like swords and burn like cold iron.”

The Lord of the Rings is a text treated by many as a sacred text, one to be returned to year after year, or read aloud with loved ones. The Lord of the Rings, for many, has become a myth for our time. This course offers a journey through Tolkien’s magnum opus in a community of learning, guided by a scholar who has spent more than two decades engaging Tolkien’s writings and artwork. This course is designed both for newcomers to Tolkien’s narrative, and for veteran travelers through Middle-earth’s many realms. Together we will explore the grand themes and hidden nuances of Tolkien’s epic story, connecting The Lord of the Rings to the larger mythology of Middle-earth, and situating Tolkien’s process of writing within his own powerful experiences of the imaginal realm.

To learn more and register, please visit: Nura Learning: Journey to the Imaginal Realm 

Doctoral Dissertation Defense: February 26, 2018

CIIS LogoThe Ecology, Spirituality, and Religion Program

Invites You to

A Doctoral Dissertation Defense 
by
Becca Segall Tarnas

The Back of Beyond:
The Red Books of C.G. Jung and J.R.R. Tolkien

Monday, February 26, 3:00 – 4:30pm 

Room 607 & Online via Zoom (details below)

Beginning in the years leading up to the Great War, both C. G. Jung and J. R. R. Tolkien independently began to undergo profound imaginal experiences. They had each stepped across a threshold and entered into another world, the realm of imagination, the world of fantasy. Jung recorded these initially spontaneous visionary experiences, which he further developed using the practice of active imagination, in a large red manuscript that he named Liber Novus, although usually it is referred to simply as The Red Book. The experiences narrated in The Red Book became the seeds from which nearly all of Jung’s subsequent work flowered. For Tolkien, this imaginal journey revealed to him the world of Middle-earth, whose stories and myths eventually led to the writing of The Lord of the Rings, a book he named within its own imaginal history The Red Book of Westmarch. There are many synchronistic parallels between Jung’s and Tolkien’s Red Books: the style and content of their works of art, the narrative descriptions and scenes in their texts, the nature of their visions and dreams, and an underlying similarity in world view that emerged from their experiences. The two men seem to have been simultaneously treading parallel paths through the imaginal realm.

The revelations of this research hold deep consequences for modernity’s assumptions of a disenchanted world, and bring to the surface implications concerning the nature of imagination and its participatory relationship to the collective unconscious. In this dissertation, I will point to the possibility that Tolkien and Jung are preliminary guides on a journey to the depths of an ensouled cosmos in which imagination saturates the very foundations of reality.

Dissertation Committee Chair:                 Jacob Sherman, PhD                             
Dissertation Committee Member:            Craig Chalquist, PhD
Dissertation External Member:                 Daniel Polikoff, PhD  

Three Upcoming Talks

During this upcoming week I will be participating in three dialogues and presentations on archetypes, discussing topics from the Solar and Lunar principles, to the astrological dynamics of outer planetary alignments. The first is an online dialogue with Richard Tarnas, titled “A Room of One’s Own: Re-Visioning ‘Feminine’ and ‘Masculine’.” The presentation is for Seeing Red, and will be taking place Monday, November 6 from 5:00-6:30 pm, Pacific time.

A Room of One’s Own: Re-Visioning ‘Feminine’ and ‘Masculine’
When we speak of “the feminine,” are we referring to an essential principle that informs all human beings, female and male, or are we referring to the particular character of women’s psychology? Such a question is not simply academic, as many who have written about the feminine, including Jungians, can move back and forth—sometimes, it seems, quite unconsciously—between these two very different meanings in the same work, even within a single sentence. Similarly, to what extent does “the feminine” reflect a genuine biological or psychological universal, as compared with a specific cultural set of assumptions about what a woman is or should be? For these and other reasons, many feminists have been sharply critical of the widespread use of gendered terms like “the feminine” and “the masculine” to describe essential traits, virtues, and susceptibilities.

A Room of One's Own.jpgIn this first of our two-part presentation, we will illustrate our discussion with references to Eileen Atkins’s extraordinary one-woman performance of Virginia Woolf’s classic work, A Room of One’s Own, based on Woolf’s 1928 talk to undergraduate women at Cambridge. We will also allude to two classic films from past decades that had major impact on the cultural psyche, The Wizard of Oz and Titanic, both of which vividly embodied relevant archetypal and mythic themes.

Here is a link to the Youtube performance of Atkins’s A Room of One’s Own.


The second presentation is titled “Calling the Generations: Participating in Outer Planetary Alignments.” The online presentation is for the Nightlight Astrology School, and will take place on Tuesday, November 7 from 7:00-10:00 pm, Eastern time.

Calling the Generations: Participating in Outer Planetary Alignments
During major outer-planetary cycles, entire generations are born carrying the archetypal signature of that time. When these same outer planets realign in new configurations there is an archetypal resonance between the generations born with those alignments and the needs of that time. Each planetary combination offers unique gifts, and in our current era of social, ecological, and spiritual crisis each may have its significant role to play in creating a life-enhancing future.


The final presentation this upcoming week will be another dialogue with Richard Tarnas, titled “Solar and Lunar Principles in The Return of the King.” This presentation will continue to explore the themes from the previous dialogue for Seeing Red, and will be taking place Monday, November 13 from 5:00-6:30 pm, Pacific time.

Solar and Lunar Principles in The Return of the King
Can we speak of the feminine or the masculine in ways that don’t fall into the trap of a cultural stereotype? How can we liberate these categories in a way that would do justice to the diverse ways we have of being male and female, and of being human? Perhaps the ancient archetypal symbols of the Sun and Moon can help open up our understanding of the deep mysteries of the feminine and masculine so we can better articulate the great social and psychological transformation of gender roles and identities in our time. Return of the King

Building upon the themes presented in our session last week, Becca and Rick will explore the Solar and Lunar archetypal principles in relation to their expression through female and male figures in The Return of the King, the final installment of J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. We will also deepen our analysis of feminine and masculine principles, and suggest ways of expanding the range of ways we can speak about, and live, our different modes of being human, each in our unique and ever-evolving forms. We will also examine some of the principal challenges and new possibilities faced by contemporary women and girls in our age, poised at the threshold of a post-patriarchal world.

Here is the link to rent Peter Jackson’s film edition of The Return of the King on Amazon.


All three presentations can be watched live online, and recordings will also be available for those who wish to tune in later. To see what other upcoming events I have scheduled, please visit my Calendar of Events. Thank you all for your ongoing support and interest in this work!

Psychedelics Today: Jung, Tolkien, and Human Imagination

In anticipation of the International Transpersonal Conference, which will take place from September 28 to October 1 in Prague, I had the honor of joining Joe Moore in dialogue on his podcast Psychedelics Today. We spoke about C.G. Jung’s Red Book and J.R.R. Tolkien’s stories of Middle-earth and his Red Book of Westmarch, as well as exploring facets of transpersonal psychology, archetypal cosmology and astrology, and the participatory relationship of the imagination to the collective unconscious.

The podcast is available here: Jung, Tolkien, and Human Imagination

Psychedelics Today