“A kind of fluid interpenetration belongs to the very nature of all archetypes. They can only be roughly circumscribed at best. Their living meaning comes out more from their presentation as a whole than from a single formulation. Every attempt to focus them more sharply is immediately punished by the intangible core of meaning losing its luminosity. No archetype can be reduced to a simple formula. It is a vessel which we can never empty, and never fill. It has a potential existence only, and when it takes shape in matter it is no longer what it was. It persists throughout the ages and requires interpreting ever anew. The archetypes are the imperishable elements of the unconscious, but they change their shape continually.”
– C. G. Jung, The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious
The creative magnificence of the universe is so irreducibly complex that no human framework will ever capture the full extent of its dynamic and indefinable nature. Yet human beings need an orientation in the cosmos to allow the meanings of existence to unfold. The spiritual and intellectual quest of humanity has impelled generation after generation to engage with the divine mystery out of which everything arises, in part to come to a fuller understanding of what our role is within the majesty of the cosmos. This quest has produced a plurality of religious and spiritual traditions that diversely engage and enact spiritual truths through their practices, texts, rituals, celebrations, experiments, and customs.
“The world of final participation will one day sparkle in the light of the eye as it never yet sparkled early one morning in the original light of the sun.” – Owen Barfield
When sunlight refracts on the droplets of a raincloud, and an arc of colors bend across the sky, we must ask ourselves, “Is the rainbow really there?” With this image Owen Barfield opens his book Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry, a short but profound tale of the evolution of consciousness from original participation, through the non-participatory (or rather, unconsciously participatory) scientific revolution, to final participation. But what does Barfield mean by participation? And how might one trace an evolution of consciousness?
Barfield begins with the image of the rainbow, demonstrating how it is a shared collective representation. A representation is something that I, and others, perceive to be there: whether it is a rainbow, a tree, a house, or any other phenomenon available to sensory experience. A representation is more than what any phenomenon can be reduced down to—such as subatomic particles; a representation is the phenomenon in its wholeness. The particles, which Barfield calls the unrepresented, are what science claims really exist in the world prior to human perception of them. “The world we all accept as real,” Barfield writes, “is in fact a system of collective representations.” We do not perceive collective representations with our sense organs alone, but with “mental habits, memory, imagination, feeling.” The generation of representations is what Barfield means by participation: “Participation is the extra-sensory relation between man and the phenomena.” The world as we know it is created by participation in that world.
Through imagination Barfield enters into the participatory consciousness of previous world views, from the Medieval European, to the Graeco-Roman, to the Hebraic, each of which lived in original participation with the world to some degree. Original participation is “an awareness which we no longer have, of an extra-sensory link between percipient and the representations.” Modern consciousness also participates in the phenomena, but does so unconsciously, believing instead that the perceived phenomena are independent of human perception. “Thus the phenomena themselves are idols, when they are imagined as enjoying that independence of human perception which can in fact only pertain to the unrepresented.” This misperception of the phenomena as entirely independent of human perception Barfield terms idolatry, and it is to idolatry that he is attempting to bring awareness, to thus overcome and lead human consciousness into final participation—an awakened recognition that the phenomenal world is one of collective representations.
Simply put, it was through the development of the scientific revolution that original participation was expunged from the consciousness of the modern West and idolatry took hold in its place. “If therefore man succeeds in eliminating all original participation, without substituting any other, he will have done nothing less than eliminate all meaning and all coherence from the cosmos.” Not only does idolatry empty spirit from the cosmos, it eventually eliminates spirit from the human as well. In order to move beyond idolatry into final participation, Barfield turns to religion, to the Incarnation of the Word in the Christian faith.
Idolatry suffers from literalness, thus to the idolatrous mind an event can be historical or it can be a symbol: it cannot be both. Barfield uses the Incarnation of the Word—the birth of Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity incarnating into a human body situated in historical time—to usher in final participation. Because the Incarnation is both historical and symbolic, it breaks down the schism between human consciousness and perceived phenomena. Yet by turning to religion, and particularly Christianity, in this way, it feels like Barfield narrows the field of those to whom final participation might apply. He defines religion as “essentially an ‘I-Thou’ relation between man on the one hand and the Creator of man and of his phenomena, on the other. A man who cannot think of his Creator as a Being other than himself cannot be said to have religion.” This definition of religion is quite narrow, and excludes many of the world’s religious and spiritual traditions (and the masculine language unconsciously excludes women as well). Yet Barfield writes that the only possible answer to idolatry is acceptance of a “directionally creator relation to the phenomenal world.” Is that really the case? Can there be a wider reading of final participation that can allow for the inclusion of those who have entered into that stage of consciousness by paths other than the Christian one?
To begin answering this question perhaps a wider reading of what Barfield means by the Incarnation of the Word is also necessary. Idolatry, or non-participatory consciousness, has brought with it gifts as well as shadow. Barfield writes, at first in seemingly negative terms, that “a non-participating consciousness cannot avoid distinguishing abruptly between the concept of ‘man,’ or ‘mankind,’ or ‘men in general’ on the one hand and that of ‘a man’—an individual human spirit—on the other.” This is the literalness of idolatry. But this literalness allows something else to be born as well, of which Barfield speaks shortly thereafter:
The awakened clarity of retrospect . . . will . . . be obliged to recognize that the gradual emergence of man from original participation amounts also to the gradual emergence of ‘men’ from ‘man;’ that it is not just the cumulative history of the race, but the biography, also, of each individual spirit.
What Barfield fails to mention explicitly here, yet can be implied by this statement when read half a century after it was first written, is that not only can individual men emerge from the all-encompassing term “Man,” but so can individual women, as well as others whose identities have been obscured by the Western male conception of Man. The symbolic becomes situated, and thus refracts into a myriad of individuals. This is the gift of the non-participatory stage of the evolution of consciousness as Barfield describes it.
Beginning in the chapter entitled “Israel” Barfield writes about the Divine Name, the “I Am.” The Divine Name, when spoken within the mind of an individual human—one who has only been able to individuate through the refraction of non-participatory consciousness—indicates the divinity not only of the Creator whose name is being spoken, but the divinity of each individual speaking it. This is the Incarnation of the Word, the Word become flesh, that Barfield sees as able to overcome idolatry and usher human beings into final participation. I find myself drawn to read Barfield’s use of the Christian mythos itself as both a symbol and a historically situated reality. If I were to reject Barfield’s concluding thesis on the premise that his turn to Christianity excludes those for whom this perspective does not, or perhaps even cannot, apply then I too would fall into the literalness of idolatry. From my situated perspective I can recognize the way in which the Incarnation of the Word—which allows for a new form of individual participation in the Divine and participation with one another as individuals—was for Barfield the real way in which idolatry could be overcome and final participation entered into. Yet I can also read the Incarnation as a symbol of something beyond the Christian faith alone, a symbol of the recognition of the Divine within, that can encompass a multiplicity of forms of spiritual connection and religious perspective.
Barfield, Owen. Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1988.
 Owen Barfield, Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1988), 161.
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
“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
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,” cosmogonic myths and romantic tales whose “cycles should be linked to a majestic whole”—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,”  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, 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. 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,” but he continued to add to The Book of Ishness up until 1928. 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. 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. 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.
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. 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.” 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.” 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.” 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.
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.
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.
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, 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.
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. No 2. Jung felt was an old man, who perhaps lived in the 18th century, but also had a mysterious connection to the Middle Ages. Yet No. 2 was also not tied to history or even time, for he lived in “God’s world,” a boundless, eternal realm. 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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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. 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. 
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.
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.”
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. 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.
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. 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.”
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.” 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.
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).
Lance Owens describes Before as “primitive, quick, a statement of the deep dream world.” 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).”
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.
The Book of Ishness contained a series of Tolkien’s drawings, all of them symbolic or abstract in nature. 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.” 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. 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.
Many years later Tolkien made a note on this painting: “Origin of Gandalf.” 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.
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.” 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.
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.”
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. Owens compares Tolkien’s hearing of languages to Mozart’s experiences of hearing full melodies playing out in his mind. He wished to compose languages as others composed symphonies. 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.
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.
“Hail Earendel, brightest of angels
above the middle-earth sent unto men”
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.” 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.
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.”
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” 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.” Jung too, “maintained a ‘fidelity to the event,’ and what he was writing was not to be mistaken for a fiction.” 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.” The Red Book is “Jung’s descent into Hell” and is “an attempt to shape an individual cosmology.” 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.” 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.
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.” 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.” 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.” He also adds, “Fantasy is a rational not an irrational activity.” 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.
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). 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.” 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.” 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.
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.” Furthermore, olor is derived from Quenya olo-s which means “vision, phantasy.”
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?”
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.
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. 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.”
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.
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.” 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:
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.
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.”
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.
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.” 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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
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.” The moment of transformation, the unexpected turn that Tolkien calls the eucatastrophe, takes place in the fiery heart of the volcanic underworld.
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). He came to understand that the mandala form represented “Formation, transformation, the eternal mind’s eternal recreation.” 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. 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. 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).
“If the encounter with the shadow is the ‘apprentice-piece’ in the individual’s development, then that with the anima is the ‘master-piece.’” 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.’” 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.” This girl was one of several women who represented an Anima image for Jung, the female symbol of his soul.
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.”
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.”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.
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.
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. 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.
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.” 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’.” 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.
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. 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.”
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.”
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.
“To philosophize is to learn how to die.” – Cicero
Night comes softly following the glory of sunset. The sun dies in a blaze of color, hues of gold and magenta, blood orange and dusty rose. When the sun sinks below the horizon it is as though it has taken hold of all the colors of the waking world and pulled them from out of the landscape, like dye extracted from cloth, and trailed them in streaming splendor toward the dying sun. The landscape bleeds out its colors, fading to a twilight gray, while the dying ember of the sun shines forth in one final burst of magnificence. At last, when the day star appears to sink beneath the wine-dark horizon, the colors depart with it, the inky black of night oozing out across the open canvas of the sky.
Wait patiently. The liminal space seems to be most still now, in this time that is neither day nor night. The world seems to hold its breath. Then, with a gasp of wonder, the dusk is pierced by the first white star of the evening. It is there, where it was not a moment before, yet the exact moment it appeared is unknown. In cooling quiet the sky bedecks herself in jewels, webs and nets of storied interconnection, shapes that have walked the sky since before ever human eyes beheld their patterns.
Socrates drank the hemlock at sunset.
No sunset is ever the same. If you are present to witness one, you cannot bring yourself to look away. The sunset is like a moment out of time; yet it is the moment that makes time be as well.
In the period of time right before to his execution, Socrates spoke to his students of the rhythms of life and death. “Well then,” he spoke, “is there an opposite to living, as sleeping is the opposite of being awake?” “Being dead,” one student answers.
Sleep follows waking, waking follows sleep. Dawn comes after each long night. Does death too birth into new life? How can we know? How do we prepare ourselves for our own sunset, the inevitable ending of this life? Plato’s dialogue Apology tells of the trial and condemnation of Socrates, in which he says
To fear death, gentlemen, is no other than to think oneself wise when one is not, to think one knows what one does not know. No one knows whether death may not be the greatest of all blessings for a man, yet men fear it as if they knew that it is the greatest of evils.
Here Socrates claims that no one knows if death is a great blessing, yet in the dialogues that lead up to his inevitable demise he seems to have an increasingly clearer understanding that death is indeed a gift.
Many of Plato’s dialogues carry implicitly the theme of death in their tone and setting. Plato was just crossing into his third decade of life when his teacher Socrates was condemned to death by the city of Athens. He did not begin writing the dialogues until some time after the execution of his mentor, but the impression of that pivotal moment underlies nearly every dialogue composed. Socrates’ death is imprinted upon each of Plato’s dialogues as words and images are upon the face of a wax tablet. Other philosophies may be engraved over the initial impression, but through the palimpsest can often be read the echo of this early, defining tragedy.
In the Republic, as Socrates and his students are choosing how best to educate the future guardians of their ideal city, they decide the young guardians should “be told stories that will make them least afraid of death.” Socrates begins reciting lines that must be expunged from the poetry of Greek tradition, censoring and editing to find the tales that will shape the future guardians into the philosopher-kings they are meant to become. But in his dialogues Plato is not only editing the old myths; he is bringing forth new myths as well, illustrating them with images that have since been impressed up the philosophic imagination of the Western world for two and a half thousand years.
While some dialogues literally recount the story of Socrates’ trial, imprisonment, and execution, others carry the weight of his death more symbolically. The Republic opens with Socrates saying “I went down to the Piraeus yesterday. . .” in language echoing Odysseus’s “I went down to Hades” in Homer’s epic. One of the first characters we meet is the aging Cephalus, who seems rapidly to be approaching death. Yet the dramatic date of the dialogue is set some twenty to thirty years after the historical Cephalus passed away. Plato’s dialogue is evidently not taking place in the land of the living.
At Socrates’ request Cephalus begins speaking of what it is like to approach death:
When someone thinks his end is near, he becomes frightened and concerned about things he didn’t fear before. It’s then that the stories we’re told about Hades, about how people who’ve been unjust here must pay the penalty there—stories he used to make fun of—twist his soul this way and that for fear they’re true . . . . he is filled with foreboding and fear, and he examines himself to see whether he has been unjust to anyone.
These are the stories that Socrates later refers to that he wishes to censor: stories that ignite a fear of death. Yet it is these very stories that inspire an examination of justice in one’s life. Does not this indicate that the stories do some good?
In the Phaedo, the dialogue that ends in Socrates’ execution, the philosopher says to his gathered students, “I am not so resentful, because I have good hope that some future awaits men after death, as we have been told for years, a much better future for the good than for the wicked.” Here too, Socrates gives reference to myths of Hades for his understanding of the underworld. But Socrates also has his own assurance that death is the right course for him, that it is nothing to fear. During his trial, as laid out in the Apology, he refers to his “familiar sign,” the daemon that accompanies and guides his actions by negating what he ought not to do. Socrates comes to find that his daemon has not opposed anything that he said during his trial.
What do you think is the reason for this? I will tell you. What has happened to me may well be a good thing, and those of us who believe death to be an evil are certainly mistaken. I have convincing proof of this, for it is impossible that my familiar sign did not oppose me if I was not about to do what is right.
His absolute trust in the guidance of his daemon is remarkable. This assuredness appears to come from an inherent trust Socrates has in the way he has spent his life; if the guidance of the daemon has led him to follow a just life, this guidance must be true. Furthermore, his daemon is one whom Socrates chose himself, if indeed the myth that ends the Republic is meant to be read in such a way. As depicted in the Myth of Er, reincarnating souls choosing their next lifetimes are told “Your daemon or guardian spirit will not be assigned to you by lot; you will choose him.” The guidance one receives in life is freely chosen by each individual before birth.
In the Phaedo, Socrates refutes the idea that there might be but a single path to Hades. Rather, he says,
I think it is neither one nor simple, for then there would be no need of guides; one could not make any mistake if there were but one path. As it is, it is likely to have many forks and crossroads; and I base this judgment on the sacred rites and customs here.
The many paths to Hades can also be read symbolically: there are many paths one can choose in life; if there were but one then leading a just life would not be a free decision made with the help of one’s chosen daemon, rather it would be predetermined and unchangeable. One’s lot would be cast and there would be naught to strive for.
Within the prison Socrates tells his gathered followers that “The one aim of those who practice philosophy in the proper manner is to practice for dying and death.” Considering all that philosophy seems to cover in its practice, this statement carries significant weight. But Socrates goes on to explain exactly what he means by this statement. He defines death, saying that it is, “namely, that the body comes to be separated by itself apart from the soul.” The action of the philosopher is to contemplate the divine Forms or Ideas, and to do this he must reach for the Ideas not with his bodily senses but through thought alone, with the soul. The philosopher is therefore in a state most closely related to death, a separating of the soul from the body.
If we are ever to have pure knowledge, we must escape from the body and observe things in themselves with the soul by itself. It seems likely that we shall, only then, when we are dead, attain that which we desire and of which we claim to be lovers, namely, wisdom.
As a philosopher, Socrates does not claim to ever have attained wisdom, and here we see that he does not believe it to be possible while one is alive and incarnated in physical form. Yet not much earlier in this same dialogue he emphasizes to his disciples that one must not end one’s life to attain the wisdom that is accessible after death. “There is the explanation that is put in the language of the mysteries,” he says, “that we men are in a kind of prison, and that one must not free oneself or run away.” A reason exists for incarnation, for this being one with a body.
The Myth of Er in the Republic tells of how souls after death are led to heaven or hell and, after a specific amount of time in one or the other place, are brought forth again to choose new lives and to be born anew. Socrates notes that most of the souls who come from heaven choose less virtuous lives due to their ignorance, while those souls ascending from their time in hell are able to choose more wisely because of the suffering they have witnessed and experienced. Only the philosopher is able to choose a virtuous life and also enjoy the rewards of heaven. By studying philosophy, Socrates says,
he will be able, by considering the nature of the soul, to reason out which life is better and which worse and to choose accordingly, calling a life worse if it leads the soul to become more unjust, better if it leads the soul to become more just, and ignoring everything else: We have seen that this is the best way to choose, whether in life or death.
The philosopher’s ability to discern a good life is presumably because, as said in the Phaedo, it is only after death that one is able to directly perceive the Forms and to attain wisdom. Yet it seems that not any soul is able to attain wisdom after death, otherwise all of the other souls coming from heaven to choose their new lives would not be plagued by ignorance and choose difficult new lives. Plato seems to be indicating that it is only one who has been a philosopher in life that has the ability after death to reach wisdom.
Plato has often been accused of being a dualist who denies the value of the body, instead privileging the soul and the abstract realm of the Forms. While a soul-body dualism seems to be implicit in Plato’s dialogues, the utter denial of the body may not be a full reading of Plato’s project. The philosopher in life is not one who has attained wisdom; he is a lover of wisdom and not in possession of it. Only by being a philosopher, one who loves but does not possess wisdom, can one choose a just life when one reincarnates. And it is only by being in a body, and therefore at a certain distance from the Forms, that one can actually become a philosopher.
The doctrine of the Forms indicates that an archetype exists for each thing that we experience in the earthly realm, from the more concrete Ideas of Bed, Horse, and Tree, to the more abstract Ideas of Justice, Truth, and the Good. Would this not also indicate that there must be an Idea for Death? Is there an archetypal expression of the mysterious transition that ends all lives? In the ancient Greek world Cronus, later to be named Saturn by the Romans, was the god of Time who ruled endings, mortality, finitude, old age, and death. Saturn was the outermost planet known to the ancients, the furthest celestial body visible to the naked eye. Saturn was the guardian of the threshold, the last circle of the wandering planets inside the crystalline sphere of the fixed stars that encircled the cosmos.
The nature of the Forms is such they can be approached by the philosopher in thought, but never attained while he lives. So too it is with death, that direct knowledge of death is unattainable while alive; as one is dying one comes ever closer to death, yet does not ever fully know what it is until one has actually died. Just as Saturn represents the guardian of the threshold, death too may be such a guardian, standing at the gateway to the realm of Forms: the first Form to be attained by the soul may be Death itself.
How then does one spend one’s life preparing to cross this threshold, cultivating the philosophic way of life? If, as Socrates said in the Phaedo, there is a mirroring between sleeping and waking, death and life, what further insight can be drawn forth from these parallels? After death Socrates says we are released from our bodies and the soul is able, without hindrance, to contemplate the eternal Forms. In embodied life the philosopher strives for the Forms in thought, never fully attaining them but coming ever closer with practice. In the Apology Socrates describes what he sees as the two options for what comes after death: “either the dead are nothing and have no perception of anything, or it is, as we are told, a change and a relocating for the soul from here to another place.” Death is either “like a dreamless sleep” or a “change from here to another place” where one would encounter the “true jurymen who are said to sit in judgment there” and the “other demi-gods who have been upright in their own life.”  If death is the former, Socrates says “it is an advantage, for all eternity would then seem to be no more than a single night” and if it is the latter he says, “I am willing to die many times if that is true.” In the parallel between sleep and death, if the former is like a dreamless sleep then the latter, in which one meets gods and heroes, and encounters the realm of eternal Ideas, may be likened to a night rich with dreaming in which one encounters images strange and familiar, beings of all kinds from humans and animals, to mythic creatures, the living Earth, and gods and deities. Dreaming too is like entering into a realm of archetypes.
If death can be likened to entering a realm of dreams, what is it that the philosopher does in life to bring himself closer to that realm? The philosopher contemplates the eternal Forms, but what does this in practice look like? In the Symposium, as Socrates and Aristodemus are walking to the home of Agathon for dinner, Socrates begins to get lost in thought. “As they were walking, Socrates began to think about something, lost himself in thought, and kept lagging behind. Whenever Aristodemus stopped to wait for him, Socrates would urge him to go on ahead.” When Aristodemus arrives Agathon asks of him, “‘But where is Socrates? How come you didn’t bring him along?” So I turned around (Aristodemus said), and Socrates was nowhere to be seen.” Once Socrates has been located, standing still in contemplation on a neighbor’s porch, Aristodemus says, “‘Leave him alone. It’s one of his habits: every now and then he just goes off like that and stands motionless, wherever he happens to be. I’m sure he’ll come in very soon, so don’t disturb him; let him be.” What is it that Socrates is doing? He is clearly lost in thought, but to a degree beyond what most people do. He has the air of one lost in a dream but in waking life; perhaps in contemplating the realm of eternal Forms the philosopher becomes a daydreamer, meditating upon dreams more real than common life.
The Symposium takes place over the course of a single night, the story bookended by sunset and sunrise. Socrates is the only one to stay awake through the entire course of the night, departing quietly at dawn to go about his day. Within the narrative of the dialogue, another story is told of Socrates when he slips into one of his daydreaming states. The tale, spoken by Alcibiades, is worth quoting at length, as it gives a beautiful character picture of Socrates, this man who “as a whole . . . is unique; he is like no one else in the past and no one in the present—this is by far the most amazing thing about him.” So Alcibiades describes:
One day, at dawn, he started thinking about some problem or other; he just stood outside, trying to figure it out. He couldn’t resolve it, but he wouldn’t give up. He simply stood there, glued to the same spot. By midday, many soldiers had seen him, and, quite mystified, they all told everyone that Socrates had been standing there all day, thinking about something. He was still there when evening came, and after dinner some Ionians moved their bedding outside, where it was cooler and more comfortable (all this took place in the summer), but mainly in order to watch if Socrates was going to stay out there all night. And so he did; he stood on the very same spot until dawn! He only left next morning, when the sun came out, and he made his prayers to the new day.
The imagery of the sun in this story is prominent, with the period of thought or daydreaming beginning at dawn and not reaching completion until the following sunrise. In the Republic, Socrates gives the image of the sun as a metaphor for the Good. “This is what I called the offspring of the good,” he says, “which the good begot as its analogue. What the good itself is in the intelligible realm, in relation to understanding and intelligible things, the sun is in the visible realm, in relation to sight and visible things.” But, from an earthly perspective, the sun dies every night, descending below the horizon in a flaring forth of color. The sun pulls the clear definition of all that has illuminated, the bright hues of the landscape, into the underworld with it. To follow the images of the sun we must dream, or learn to contemplate them in thought or dialogue through the night.
Socrates, the only member of the Symposium to stay awake through the entire night, was in the same way caught in thought all through the long night during the summer campaign of which Alcibiades speaks. The work of the philosopher takes place within the embodied realm, for once he has passed the threshold of death he is no longer a lover of wisdom; he has attained wisdom and is no longer a practitioner of philosophia. To be a philosopher is to prepare to cross the threshold of death by always striving to remain in a state closest to death. Thus Socrates, the true lover of wisdom, stays awake through the night to try to consciously understand the Forms in their completeness, so he might recognize them once he too crosses with the Sun below the horizon. “As long as I draw breath and am able,” he says in the Apology, “I shall not cease to practice philosophy.”
The death of Socrates was a literal event in the life of Plato, but the dialogues that poured forth afterwards are a mythological eulogy that has elevated Socrates from human status to that of mythic daemon, a mentor and conscience to guide the dawning philosophical tradition as it walked across Greece’s borders and began its criss-crossing journey throughout the Eurasian continent, leading it eventually to cross the encircling seas and make its wanderings throughout other continents as well.
Socrates was executed at sunset. It is those who remain who are asked to contemplate the long night. It is those who remain who must await the dawn. But in that quiet twilight moment between the sun’s departure and the descent of dark night, we wait for the arrival of that first shining star, the wanderer who appears in the metaxic realm of dusk. As night deepens, the star known by the ancients to be the shining symbol of Love blazes forth ever brighter in the darkening western sky. Never far from the sun, this brightest of planets circles sometimes closer, sometimes further from the celestial image of the Good. It stands as a guide for those called to follow, to be lovers also of wisdom.
“Evening star, you bring all things which the bright dawn has scattered . . .” – Sappho
Plato. Plato: Complete Works. Edited by John M. Cooper. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1997.
 Plato, Phaedo, trans. G.M.A. Grube, in Plato: Complete Works, ed. John M. Cooper (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1997), 62, 71c.
Plato, Apology, trans. G.M.A. Grube, in Plato: Complete Works, ed. John M. Cooper (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1997), 27, 29a-b.
 Plato, Republic, trans. G.M.A Grube, in Plato: Complete Works, ed. John M. Cooper (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1997), 1022, 386a.
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.
The soles of my leather shoes are thin, allowing me to feel the contours of the path with each step. The thick layer of redwood leaves that slowly disintegrates into the rich canyon soil, soften the sounds of all the footsteps being taken around me. A meandering line of people are wending their quiet way along this forest path, each connected to one another, yet simultaneously enclosed in their own imagination-suffused worlds. The path bends to the right, taking a steep dive toward the clear, spring-fed creek. This is the place we cross, leaving the soft path momentarily, to leap from rock to rock, staying precariously above the chill waters below.
I watch as the first person in this line of individuals begins to descend. Her arms flail slightly, not reaching for an object to steady her, yet monitoring her balance nonetheless. It seems she is about to fall and a ripple of concern echoes back through the group of waiting walkers, some expressed verbally, others merely in a position of body or facial expression. No, she assures us. She often can look as though she is about to topple off her feet, but this is just how she finds her balance. She apologizes for worrying anyone, and continues to make her wavering descent.
The next person, who is walking directly before me, begins to take careful steps down the winding way, with a greater steadiness in his footfall, but still with arms out to balance his movement. No one is concerned for his safety, however. His is not a gait that inspires uncertainty.
Without thinking I begin to move next along the trail. In a state of reflective curiosity I observe my own movement, fascinated by how the way I move might differ from those ahead of me now stepping or leaping from boulder to boulder over the cold stream. My arms are relaxed by my side, and I feel my footsteps fall evenly forward, one after the other. I find my balance like a line within myself. Why do I not use my arms? What is giving me this sense of stability? I recognize that I know this path, having walked it countless times from childhood into adulthood, and wonder if that history is built into my sense of balance now. My feet, my legs, the whole length of my body knows the placement of this path before my mind has a chance to reflect on it.
What, I ask myself, is movement? One usually thinks of movement as arising from the body of a person or other being who is moving with agency through the world. The uniqueness of movement seems to arise from the body and personality of the individual. Yet in this moment, as I watch myself and others navigate the winding, steep path by the stream, I realize how all movement is really a co-creation. Movement arises not from the individual’s agency but rather in the intermediate place between the individual—with all her history, personality, unconscious material, physical qualities, and so forth—and the dynamic contours of the surrounding world. The movement itself, although I might call it mine, is rather both mine and the world’s as we press into each other with each passing moment.
If a candle burns alone in the darkness, and the flame and its emanating light are all that exist, whence comes the darkness? If everything that exists is One, and the One is Good, whence comes evil? The paradox of Plotinus’s Neoplatonism is before us, the paradox of how all of existence emanates from the One and yet evil still operates in the world. For Plotinus, is evil real or an illusion? If all is One, is anything real, or is all an illusion? Finally, what is the role of the human being, the human soul—in relation, participation, unity, or differentiation—with the One? And with evil?
Neoplatonism was born in Rome through the writings and teachings of the Platonic philosopher Plotinus in the year 265 ce. Carrying forward Plato’s philosophy while drawing on 600 years of philosophical, religious, and cultural development in the Mediterranean, Plotinus conceived of a “suprarational mysticism” of the divine, the One without a second, in which the universe is a living continuum, from the inanimate matter of minerals to the luminosity of the gods. The One is all things, yet also it is no thing; in order for the One to generate being, it in itself is not being. The One exists, but it exists outside of being and time. “The One,” writes Richard Tarnas, “also called the Good, in an overflow of sheer perfection produces the ‘other’—the created cosmos in all its variety—in a hierarchical series of gradations moving away from this ontological center to the extreme limits of the possible.” The One is like the flame of a candle and the emanating light is the “other,” the overflowing of utmost perfection. A flame cannot help but emit light, and light cannot emanate without a source. They are inseparable, and yet distinct nonetheless. Jacob Sherman describes the emanation of the many from the One thus: “The doctrine of emanation of Plotinus. . . pictures the many as epiphenomena that proceed from the One but do not remain within the One. . . Plotinus’s One remains unmoved within itself, and the many are distinct from this One.” Although the One radiates all things into being, the One itself cannot be interacted with. The candle flame will burn us, while the light will not: the flame and light are distinguishable, and it is clear that while the flame creates the light, the light does not cause the flame.
As existence emanates from the One it radiates out in hierarchical gradations like the fading brightness of a candle’s light. The brightest, closest to the One, is the Intellect, which then radiates out to Soul. Tarnas writes, “The three ‘hypostases’—One, Intellect, and Soul—are not literal entities but rather spiritual dispositions.” Individual human souls, as well as the World Soul, derive from this hypostasis Soul. Again, there is no ultimate difference between these aspects of the One, but rather a more subtle distinction: the light further from the candle flame is distinctly less bright than the closer but it is the same light.
Contemplating the spiritual distinctions of the One brings into question the reality of the world, and particularly the reality of the individual human soul as individual. According to Plotinus, the human soul contains all the hierarchical stratifications of the One; part of the human soul never left the One, never left the core of the candle flame. Yet Plotinus also speaks of the soul’s descent away from the One, into incarnation, saying, “Those souls which descend deepest show their light furthest down.” What is being illuminated by their light? Once again, whence comes the darkness? Sherman writes,
Plotinus’s emanation cosmology sees the contraction of form as an isolated mass surrounded on both sides by two infinities; form floats upon the surface of the chaotic illimitation of nonbeing, and gazes heavenward to the infinite pleromatic vaults of the One’s ineffable simplicity.
This image portrays a dynamic tension between the One, which is outside of being, and the ‘chaotic illimitation of nonbeing’: what emerges between these two different yet parallel infinities is form, existence. A contradiction seems to exist in Plotinus’s thought, for although the One may not have a second, something else seems to exist in relationship to the One by its very nonexistence. All that emanates from the One Plotinus deems to be Good; thus the evil experienced within the world must either not emanate from the One—and therefore not exist—or, if evil is real, then it must be part of the One. Finally, in paradoxical contrast to these first two possibilities, perhaps evil does exist in such utter contrast to the One it can only be named nonbeing, which is what Sherman’s image seems to present. This third possibility appears to place, in a non-spatial sense, both the nonbeing of evil and the One that generates all things, outside of being itself.
Plotinus seems to hold contradictory views on the subject of evil throughout his writings. At times evil appears to be a presence on the edge of being, at the point when the emanation of the One ceases. At others evil seems to be a tangible part of the One expressed by the material realm. Finally, evil also appears to arise only in relationship: the relationship between soul and body, between spirit and matter, and in the interactions between incarnated individuals. Evil shifts from a noun to a verb; it is not a being but rather an action; there are no evil people, only evil deeds.
The individual soul moves away from the divine Intellect and descends into material reality by turning away from the totality of the One and instead focusing inward upon itself. The soul becomes “a deserter from the totality; its differentiation has severed it; its vision is no longer set in the Intellectual; it is a partial thing, isolated, weak, full of care, intent upon the fragment; severed from the whole; it nestles in one form of being.” By focusing on its own particularity the soul becomes particular, and thus an individual. Plotinus presents this movement of the soul as a fall, but he also affirms it as part of a larger movement “determined by the eternal law of nature.” He goes on to say that “there is no inconsistency or untruth in saying the Soul is sent down by God.” Yet once embodied the soul that exists on the periphery of the One’s emanation can potentially forget its origin, depending how far the soul descends. Plotinus writes, “As long as they have not touched the lowest region of process (the point at which non-being begins) there is nothing to prevent them rising once more.” This image gives the sense that non-being, which has a “point” at which it “begins,” is an actual entity, the infinite chaos beyond the One’s power.
Encountering the knowledge of evil and gaining an understanding of sin will not in itself harm the human soul—if that soul returns quickly to its source. According to some interpretations of Plotinus that evil exists outside the One as nonbeing, while according to others evil is present at the periphery of the One’s emanation in the material world. Tarnas writes,
The material world, existing in time and space and perceptible to the senses, is the level of reality furthest from unitary divinity. As the final limit of creation, it is characterized in negative terms as the realm of multiplicity, restriction, and darkness, as lowest in ontological stature—holding the least degree of real being—and as constituting the principle of evil.
It seems clear from this excerpt that matter, and the principle of evil, are on the periphery of the One’s emanation: they have the ‘least degree of real being’ rather than complete nonbeing. Yet, just as it is difficult to differentiate the exact location at which a candle’s light has completely faded and utter darkness begins, the distinction between the end of being and the beginning of nonbeing may be equally blurred.
Plotinus emphasizes that to be in a body is to be “apt to body-punishment,” and even goes so far as to say, “The soul is evil when it is thoroughly mixed with the body and shares its experiences and has all the same opinions.” To live a divine life as an embodied soul one must have “detachment from all things here below, scorn all earthly pleasures.” Lloyd Gerson elaborates on the point of the evil of matter:
As Plotinus reasons, if anything besides the One is going to exist, then there must be a conclusion of the process of production from the One. The beginning of evil is the act of separation from the One by Intellect, an act which the One itself ultimately causes. The end of the process of production from the One defines a limit, like the end of a river going out from its sources. Beyond the limit is matter or evil. (Emphasis added.)
In Gerson’s interpretation of Plotinus, matter, and therefore evil, are caused by an act of the One. However, Plotinus also indicates in the Enneads that matter is still able to participate in the Good of the One, in seeming contradiction with himself. He writes,
No principle can prevent anything from partaking, to the extent of it own individual receptivity, in the nature of Good. If, therefore, Matter has always existed, that existence is enough to ensure its participation in the being which, according to each receptivity, communicates the supreme Good universally. (Emphasis added.)
I emphasize Plotinus’s repeated point about matter’s individual receptivity because this indicates the limited participation matter is able to have with the Good. In turn, this excerpt of Plotinus can be contrasted with Tarnas’s interpretation of Plotinus’s Neoplatonism, which “portrayed nature as permeated by divinity, a noble expression of the World Soul. Stars and planets, light, plants, even stones possessed a numinous dimension.” This image of numinous nature appears to indicate an intimate participation of matter in the Good, implying that matter itself is not evil.
If matter itself is not evil, but a human soul becomes evil by being in a material body, how can this contradiction be reconciled? Returning to Plotinus’s statement about the soul in the body we can reinterpret his words slightly: ‘The soul is evil when it is thoroughly mixed with the body and shares its experiences and has all the same opinions.’ The body, and matter in general, is only evil when it becomes an object of desire that impedes a soul from returning to its divine source. Matter can only be the goal of desire for beings who are self-conscious and able to choose material desire, specifically human beings. “This is not because body itself is evil,” Gerson writes.
The evil in bodies is the element in them that is not dominated by form. One may be desirous of that form, but in that case what one truly desires is that form’s ultimate intelligible source in Intellect. More typically, attachment to the body represents a desire not for form but a corrupt desire for the non-intelligible or limitless.
Evil then can be interpreted not as an entity—it remains nonbeing—but as existing as an action. Acts of evil, or acts of any kind, take place within the unity of the One because the One is simultaneously a multiplicity. Plotinus writes, “In virtue of the unity the individual is preserved by the All; in virtue of the multiplicity of things having various contacts, difference often brings about mutual hurt; one thing, seeking its own need, is detrimental to another.” He goes on to speak of the action of the entire Cosmos coordinating the beings within it:
The beings thus co-ordinated are not the causes; the cause is the co-ordinating All; at the same time it is not to be thought of as acting upon a material distinct from itself, for there is nothing external to it since it is the cause by actually being all.
From this perspective, any punishments for wrongdoings, for temporary acts of evil, can be seen as medicine for the whole although they are experienced as suffering by the individual part. Furthermore, unmerited suffering, for example from disease or poverty, Plotinus considers accidental consequences of the greater actions of the All, and not as individual punishments.
As the One radiates out from itself, through Intellect, Soul, and on to incarnated materiality, the One’s emanations do not actually come into being until they look back at their source: their moment of contemplation is their moment of becoming. This brings up the question of what might happen if part of the emanation never looked back—would it never come into being? Might this be how evil can be present in the One’s creation? If something never looked back it would not come into being, making it nonbeing, meanwhile it is not a form of nonbeing that enters the One from outside. The monism is kept intact while the action of evil—of not looking back or literally re-specting the One—is accounted for within creation.
The soul’s encounter with evil is a necessity for the soul to be able to contemplate and respect the One. Plotinus writes, “Where the faculty is incapable of knowing without contact, the experience of evil brings the clearer perception of Good.” Matter is only considered evil when it impedes the human soul from returning to the One, yet paradoxically evil also seems to be necessary for the soul to know how to turn back toward the One, toward the Good. Gerson writes, “To deny the necessity of evil is to deny the necessity of the Good.” Evil’s role within the One is to produce a harmony that weaves through the notes of the melody of the Good. It is the self-consciously acting human soul that allows, through its actions, the necessity of evil to play its role in creation. The “negative reality” of evil, writes Tarnas, “plays a necessary role in a larger design, and ultimately affects neither the perfection of the One nor the well-being of the philosopher’s highest self”—the highest aspect of the human soul that always remains with the One. The very perfection of the One seems only to be completed by the dynamic harmony evil provides. The candle flame is brightest, and therefore contingent upon, the very darkness that lets it shines forth.
The human species has only one home in the cosmos, one place that has intimately nourished us into existence, has made us the powerful, independent beings we are. Our home is day by day falling further into illness, a body and soul sickness descending toward death that can be felt by each person with the sensitivity or openness to perceive it. The planet Earth is suffering and, often without awareness of the connection, her inhabitants suffer with her. Humanity needs to awaken to the intimate interconnection and dependence of the collective psyche of the Earth, or the anima mundi, of which each of our psyches are an integral part. Together the Earth and humanity need to heal, and simultaneously move towards a wholeness in which we each have the sense of security of truly being home in our world.
The healing that must take place begins on the individual level, but can only be true healing when placed within the context of the whole. An approach to this healing that has been emerging over the last few decades is the field of ecopsychology, a psychology of the human soul taken within the context of the anima mundi, the larger ensouled world. The term “ecopsychology” was coined by the cultural historian Theodore Roszak to broaden the context of psychology and marry it to the study of ecology. The root eco is derived from the Greek oikos, meaning “home,” and psyche comes from the Greek for “soul” or “animating spirit”; thus ecopsychology could be seen as a study of the ensouled home, or the study of the soul at home.
The modern West, inheriting the Cartesian dualism of a split between spirit and matter, has come to see the human being as an isolated island of subjectivity experiencing a soulless, inanimate world. As humanity has become increasingly individualistic during the modern era, our sense of alienation from the Earth, and ultimately the cosmos, has increased as well. “An existential uncertainty haunts the modern psyche,” as the ecofeminist Charlene Spretnak writes, as a result of this alienation and sense of homelessness. For the modern human, the environment is considered to be “out there,” the “background for economic purposes” from which we are almost completely dissociated. At most, the world may cause profound suffering for the human, but it does not suffer itself, for it has no inherent subjectivity.
For the millions of humans who spend the majority of their lives within the concrete confines of cities, this dissociation from the natural world deprives the soul of an essential contact that makes the human being whole and healthy. Yet merely leaving the urban setting to visit a protected wilderness is not enough to heal the afflicted soul, for the Earth itself carries the sickness of the disconnection and, as the “geologian” Thomas Berry writes, “… the health of the planet is primary while human health is derivative. We cannot have well people on a sick planet.” The disease, as the archetypal psychologist James Hillman observes, is in both the person and the world. The suffering Earth is speaking her pain through us, and as Sarah Conn has perceived, she “speaks the loudest through the most sensitive of us.”
In most contemporary psychology, an individual experiencing “pain for the world” is considered to be projecting their inner turmoil onto the inanimate environment outside. Any desire to connect in a more meaningful way with the Earth, such as speaking in conversation with the voices of nature, could indicate a certain instability of sanity in the individual. Roszak points out that little has furthered the agenda of industrial civilization more than the repression of the ensouled animation of the cosmos .
The human relationship to the Earth in the West has become deeply riddled with pathologies as we almost blindly continue the unchecked destruction of our only home. The psychotherapist Ralph Metzner identifies some of humanity’s collective psychological disorders in his book Green Psychology, ranging from autism, to addiction, narcissism, amnesia, developmental fixation, repression, dissociation, and anthropocentrism. We have lost our ability for empathy and humility, our perception, and our sense of mystery. Hillman extends the vision of collective pathologies beyond the human sphere entirely, recognizing our psychological diseases manifesting in the world itself, in our food, our politics, our medicine, and even our language. He writes of “addictive” agriculture, “paranoid” businesses, “anorexic” or “catatonic” buildings, and “manic” consumption. Because, in some form or other, all people in industrial society participate in this pathological system, we become prone to these same diseases for the very reason these pathologies try to repress: we are intimately interconnected with every part of the world we inhabit. Conn, a practicing ecopsychologist, sees the symptoms of her patients “as ‘signals’ of distress in our connection with the larger context or as a defect in the larger context itself.” Whether we can identify the source or not, as the environmental activist Joanna Macy expresses, no one is exempt from this pain. For those who can understand the source of their pain, of their pathology, the ability to fully act on behalf of the Earth has often been so long denied it must be aroused by deep healing work, a profound therapy of the psyche.
In a personal correspondence to Roszak, the Australian rainforest activist John Seed speaks of the role therapy can play in the environmental movement: “Psychologists in service to the Earth helping ecologists to gain deeper understanding of how to facilitate profound change in the human heart and mind seems to be the key at this point.” Until quite recently, the scope of psychotherapy “stopped at the city limits,” but with the advent of ecopsychology, and other forms of reconnection between humanity and the Earth, as put forward by Roszak, Hillman, Berry, Macy, Conn, Metzner, and many others, that scope is at last broadening. Ecopsychology addresses the alienation felt by the modern human, and seeks to repair the sense of homelessness in the cosmos.
In assessing the pathological relationship modern humanity has with nature, Metzner questions whether some collective trauma, sustained from the terrors faced by early humans in the natural world, may have led to a form of shared amnesia and repression that severed our perception of the interconnection and harmony of the cosmos. If so, our healing process will have to address this trauma and begin to rebuild a new trust in the Earth. Like early humans we are still fully dependent on the Earth, but we hold far more power than primal peoples once did; with this power comes equal responsibility, for now not only is our survival dependent on the Earth, but the Earth’s survival has also become dependent upon us. One will not continue without the other, and as Berry describes, this “…is a community project. Only the community survives; nothing survives as an individual.”
A prevalent belief in Western civilization is that to address the needs beyond our individual selves we must first have our own lives together. Yet, because of the deep, though often veiled, interconnection of the human to the Earth, healing of the human and the planet must take place simultaneously. There cannot be a divorce between the two, for they are really one. Healing, as Conn writes, is “an exploration of ways to remember our wholeness, to reconnect with other humans and with the natural world.” We are not separate entities living on the Earth, but as the ecophilosopher David Abram observes, we are actually living in the Earth, walking hundreds of miles below the outer layers of the atmosphere. Our bodies our composed of the same elements as the Earth, the same as the entire cosmos. “We were mothered out of the substance of this planet,” Roszak writes, “Her elements, her periodicities, her gravitational embrace, her subtle vibrations still mingle in our nature, worked a billion years down into the textures of life and mind.”
If we are composed of the substance of the Earth, then not only our bodies but our psyches as well must be one with the Earth’s; we are differentiated souls forming and participating in one larger soul, the anima mundi. Our minds, rather than being solely our own, are rather facets of the consciousness of the planet, “…a power,” as Abram writes, “in which we are carnally immersed.” Conn discusses Arthur Koestler’s term “holon,” which indicates a self which is simultaneously a real individual but also an integral part of a larger whole. Each human psyche is a holon within the greater context of the anima mundi.
Hillman, the champion of soul and the anima mundi, sees the world soul as pervading all things, not only the natural world but each human-made object as well, animating trees, rivers, mountains, lions, and butterflies, but also the concrete roads, street lamps, bridges, buildings, and books and pencils too. We are forever caught in a dance of animating each other, human projecting upon the world, the world projecting upon the human, and also the world projecting upon all other facets of itself. Because of this living interplay we are able to perceive the Earth’s suffering within ourselves, feeling it as our own, because it is our own. Hillman recognizes that “the soul of the individual can never advance beyond the soul of the world, because they are inseparable, the one always implicating the other.”
As humanity broadens its sense of self to encompass the Earth, our care for self will extend to the planet as well. If we approach Carl Jung’s idea of the collective unconscious, or Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s concept of the noosphere, as a part of the larger anima mundi, we can begin to uncover what Roszak calls the “ecological unconscious.” The ecological unconscious can “be drawn upon as a resource for restoring us to environmental harmony.” This can lead to the development of what Arne Naess has named the “ecological self,” a conception of the individual self always identified with and embedded in the larger context of the Earth environment.
One way to develop the ecological self and tap into the ecological unconscious is through the ecopsychological practice of bioregionalism. A bioregion is an area of land defined not by human boundaries but by the contours and features of the land itself, often a watershed, land enclosed by bodies of water, or changes in climate or elevation. By coming to intimately know the features of the bioregion in which we each make our home, we can develop a sense of place and belonging, a connection to the spirit of the land which is the spirit in us as well. If we acquaint ourselves with the soul of the land, we can come to know the anima mundi and thus come to know ourselves. Hillman writes, “We pay respect to it simply by looking again, re-specting, that second look with the eye of the heart.”
Part of the process of ecopsychology is actively engaging with the land, engaging with respect, or looking again to see what we could not previously. Conn describes some of the ways in which we can engage, from gardening and restoration work, to participating with environmental groups, to conducting rituals in nature. Each of these practices connects us to our bioregion, rebuilding a sense of home and harmony. Conn concludes her essay “When the Earth Hurts, Who Responds?” by saying:
The goals of therapy then include not only the ability to find joy in the world, but also to hear the Earth speaking in one’s own suffering, to participate in and contribute to the healing of the planet by finding one’s niche in the Earth’s living system and occupying it actively.
The entire universe is connected as one in the beginning of time, to the moment the cosmos flared forth. Those ties still remain, often hidden, waiting to be uncovered through patient healing work. As they are uncovered, humanity can see that to heal ourselves is to heal the Earth and to heal the Earth is to heal ourselves. Thus, together the planet and the human species will both be able to move toward wholeness, to see ourselves as integral holons in a larger sphere. We can once again come to realize we were always at home, in ourselves, in the Earth, in the cosmos.
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Berry, Thomas. Evening Thoughts: Reflecting on Earth as Sacred Community. San Francisco, CA: Sierra Club Books, 2006.
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Hillman, James. The Thought of the Heart and the Soul of the World. Putnam, CT: Spring Publications, Inc., 2007.
Metzner. Ralph. Green Psychology: Transforming Our Relationship to the Earth. Rochester, VT: Park Street Press, 1999.
Roszak, Theodore, Mary E. Gomes, and Allen D. Kanner, ed. Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth, Healing the Mind. San Francisco, CA: Sierra Club Books, 1995.
Roszak, Theodore. Person/Planet. Garden City, NY: Anchor Press, Doubleday, 1979.
Spretnak, Charlene. The Resurgence of the Real: Body, Nature, and Place in a Hypermodern World. New York, NY: Routledge, 1999.
 Charlene Spretnak, The Resurgence of the Real: Body, Nature, and Place in a Hypermodern World (New York, NY: Routledge, 1999), 222.