Exploring Jung: Astrology Podcast

I participated in a wonderful conversation on the podcast Exploring Astrology with Adam Sommer, where we spoke about C.G. Jung’s natal chart, his transits during his Red Book period, and several other astrological topics. The podcast is available for download or can be listened to by following this link.

Jung Mandala

Introduction: A Comprehensive Exam on The Red Book of C.G. Jung

On this New Moon in the heart of spring, I wish to share my comprehensive exam on The Red Book of C.G. Jung, which has been my primary academic focus since the start of this year. This is the second of my two comprehensive exams for my dissertation on the Red Books of Jung and Tolkien. My first exam, on the works and context of J.R.R. Tolkien, can be found here. As with the previous exam, much of the material I’ve written will be part of my dissertation, so I am again not posting it in its entirety, but rather sharing the introduction to give a taste of the work. 

A Comprehensive Exam
The Red Book of C.G. Jung

“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.”
– C.G. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections[1]

“But your vision will become clear only when you look into your own heart. Without, everything seems discordant; only within does it coalesce into unity. Who looks outside dreams; who looks inside awakens.”
– C.G. Jung, Letter to Fanny Bowditch, October 22, 1916[2]


The sea, the mountains, the infinite expanse of stars, the fiery depths, the darkness of the abyss—the world recorded on the pages of C.G. Jung’s Red Book is not the physical domain of the outer world, the world of common day. It is the realm where dreams and fantasy visions arise. It is the wellspring of imagination. It is the natural habitat of the soul, the place where the depths of the psyche are encountered. Many creative individuals have attested to the existence of this second world and have recorded their experiences there in the forms of art, literature, and mystical revelation.Jung – The Red Book

Beginning in 1913, Jung began to engage with a series of profound, visionary fantasies, an encounter with inner images and figures that would change the course of his life. Some say that Jung had gone insane, others that he had received a revelation. Perhaps he had descended to the source where such visions emerge, whether such visions are the delusions of the insane, who are entirely severed from outer reality, or the revelations of the mystics who remind us, as Nietzsche says, that “the world is deep, deeper than day can comprehend.”[3] But rather than proclaiming himself a new prophet, Dr. Jung instead maintained his scientifically-oriented, empirical perspective: he sought an understanding of the origins of the visions, dreams, and fantasies. The journey toward understanding their source led him through the veil into the collective unconscious, the realm of archetypes.

In an effort to understand the meaning of his visionary wanderings, Jung chose to craft a record of his experience in an exquisite, leather-bound volume with the words Liber Novus—the New Book—etched in gold along its red spine. Sonu Shamdasani, editor of The Red Book, has described Jung’s unique project as “a literary work of psychology.”[4] Liber Novus can be seen as the meeting of many rivers, an intersection of psychology, art, literature, and religion—an expression of the efflorescence of human experience.

To enter into an understanding relationship with this unusual work, it must be situated: first in relation to Jung’s biography, and then in relation to the arena of world events in which Jung’s experiences were unfolding. Thus, I begin by focusing on this pivotal period in Jung’s life, drawing from several biographical perspectives and scholarly positions. Next, I look into the practice of active imagination to better understand the method Jung employed to engage with his emerging fantasies. From here I enter into a distillation of The Red Book itself, drawing forward a narrative summary of the three sections Jung composed: Liber Primus, Liber Secundus, and Scrutinies. Finally, I conclude by exploring the implications of The Red Book, first as it shaped Jung’s subsequent theories and writings, and secondly, how its publication in the twenty-first century has begun to change depth psychology, as well as our understanding of the ontology of imagination.

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

[2] C.G. Jung, C.G. Jung Letters, Vol. 1: 1906-1950, ed. Gerhard Adler and Aniela Jaffé, trans. R.F.C. Hull, Bollingen Series XCV: 1 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1973), 33.

[3] Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, trans. R.J. Hollingdale (London: Penguin Books, 2003), 333.

[4] Sonu Shamdasani, Jung Stripped Bare by His Biographers, Even (London: Karnac, 2005), 25, note 59.



Bair, Deirdre. Jung: A Biography. New York: Little Brown, 2003.

Brutsche, Paul. “On Aspects of Beauty in C.G. Jung’s Red Book.ARAS Connections: Image and Archetype 1 (2010).

Corbin, Henry. “Mundus Imaginalis, or The Imaginary and the Imaginal.” Translated by Ruth Horine. En Islam Iranien: Aspects Spirituels et Philosophiques, tome IV, livre 7. Paris, France: Gallimard, 1971.

Drob, Sanford L. Reading The Red Book: An Interpretive Guide to C.G. Jung’s Liber Novus. New Orleans, LA: Spring Journal Books, 2012.

Giegerich, Wolfgang. “Liber Novus, That is, The New Bible: A First Analysis of C.G. Jung’s Red Book.” Spring: A Journal of Archetype and Culture 83 (Spring 2010): 361-411.

Goldenberg, Naomi. “Archetypal Theory and the Separation of Mind and Body.” In Weaving the Visions: New Patterns in Feminist Spirituality. Edited by Judith Plaskow and Carol P. Crist, 244-55. San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row, 1989.

Hall, James A. Jungian Dream Interpretation: A Handbook of Theory and Practice. Toronto, Canada: Inner City Books, 1983.

Hannah, Barbara. Jung: His Life and Work. Wilmette, IL: Chiron Publications, 1997.

Hillman, James and Sonu Shamdasani. Lament of the Dead: Psychology after Jung’s Red Book. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2013.

Hoeller, Stephen A. The Gnostic Jung and the Seven Sermons of the Dead. Wheaton, IL: Quest Books, The Theosophical Publishing House, 1982.

–––––. “Jung, Kabbalah, and Gnosis.” Psychological Perspectives 55:2 (2012): 163-81.

Irvine, Ian. “Jung, Alchemy, and the Technique of Active Imagination.” In Alchemy and Imagination, part 3. Croydon, Victoria, Australia: Mercurius, 2010.

Jeromson, Barry. “The Sources of Systema Munditotius: Mandalas, Myths and a Misinterpretation.” Jung History 2:2 (2007): 20-26.

–––––. “Systema Munditotius and Seven Sermons: Symbolic Collaborators in Jung’s Confrontation with the Dead.” Jung History 1:2 (2005-2006): 6-10.

Jung, C.G. Aion: Researches into the Phenomenology of Self. 2nd edition. Vol. 9, part 2 of The Collected Works of C.G. Jung. Translated by R.F.C. Hull. Edited by H. Read, M. Fordham, G. Adler, and W. McGuire. Bollingen Series XX. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1968.

–––––. Analytical Psychology: Notes of the Seminar Given in 1925. Edited by William McGuire. Bollingen Series XCIX. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989.

–––––. “Answer to Job.” In The Portable Jung. Edited by Joseph Campbell. Translated by R.F.C. Hull, 519-650. New York: Viking, 1971, Penguin, 1976.

–––––. The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious. 2nd edition. Vol 9, part 1 of The Collected Works of C.G. Jung. Translated by R.F.C. Hull. Edited by H. Read, M. Fordham, G. Adler, and W. McGuire. Bollingen Series XX. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1968.

–––––. C.G. Jung Letters, Vol. 1: 1906-1950. Edited by Gerhard Adler and Aniela Jaffé. Translated by R.F.C. Hull. Bollingen Series XCV: 1. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1973.

–––––. “The Concept of the Collective Unconscious.” In The Portable Jung. Edited by Joseph Campbell. Translated by R.F.C. Hull, 59-69. New York: Viking, 1971, Penguin, 1976.

–––––. Mysterium Coniunctionis. 2nd edition. Vol 14 of The Collected Works of C.G. Jung. Translated by R.F.C. Hull. Edited by H. Read, M. Fordham, G. Adler, and W. McGuire. Bollingen Series XX. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1970.

–––––. “Psychology of the Transference.” In The Practice of Psychotherapy. Vol. 16 of The Collected Works of Carl Gustav Jung. Translated by R.F.C. Hull. Edited by H. Read, M. Fordham, G. Adler, and W. McGuire, Bollingen Series XX, 163-338. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1985.

–––––. “The Psychology of the Unconscious Processes.” In Collected Papers on Analytical Psychology, 2nd edition. Edited by Constance Long. New York: Moffat Yard and Company, 1917.

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

–––––. Symbols of Transformation. Vol. 5 of The Collected Works of C.G. Jung. Translated by R.F.C. Hull. Edited by H. Read, M. Fordham, G. Adler, and W. McGuire, Bollingen Series XX. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1956.

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

McLynn, Frank. Carl Gustav Jung. London: Bantam, 1996.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Translated by R.J. Hollingdale. London: Penguin Books, 2003.

Owens, Lance. S. “The Hermeneutics of Vision: C.G. Jung and Liber Novus.” The Gnostic: A Journal of Gnosticism, Western Esotericism and Spirituality 3 (July 2010): 23-46.

–––––. “Jung and Aion: Time, Vision, and a Wayfaring Man.” Psychological Perspectives 54 (2011): 253-89.

Owens, Lance S. and Stephen A. Hoeller. “Carl Gustav Jung and The Red Book: Liber Novus.” In Encyclopedia of Psychology and Religion, 2nd edition. Edited by David A. Leeming. New York, Springer Reference, 2014. Accessed on May 2, 2016. http://link.springer.com/referenceworkentry/10.1007%2F978-1-4614-6086-2_9071.

Ribi, Alfred. The Search for Roots: C.G. Jung and the Tradition of Gnosis. Los Angeles, CA: Gnosis Archive Books, 2013.

Shamdasani, Sonu. C.G. Jung: A Biography in Books. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2012.

–––––. “C.G. Jung and the Red Book.” Paper presented at the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., June 19, 2010.

–––––. Jung Stripped Bare by His Biographers, Even. London: Karnac, 2005.

–––––. “Who Is Jung’s Philemon? An Unpublished Letter to Alice Raphael.” Jung History 2:2 (2007): 5-7.

Shamdasani, Sonu and John Beebe. “Jung Becomes Jung: A Dialogue on Liber Novus (The Red Book).” Psychological Perspectives 53:4 (2010): 410-36.

Sherry, Jay. “A Pictorial Guide to The Red Book.” ARAS Connections: Image and Archetype 1 (2010).

Von Franz, Marie-Louise. Alchemical Active Imagination. Boston, MA: Shambhala, 1997.

–––––. C.G. Jung: His Myth in Our Time. Translated by William H. Kennedy. Toronto, Canada: Inner City Books, 1998.

Wilhelm, Richard, trans. The Secret of the Golden Flower: A Chinese Book of Life. Orlando, FL: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1962.

Wilson, Colin. Lord of the Underworld: Jung and the Twentieth Century. Wellingborough, UK: The Aquarian Press, 1984.

Talking Tolkien and Jung on Rune Soup

I had the great pleasure of being interviewed by Gordon White, host of the London-based podcast Rune Soup. We discussed the synchronicity of the “Red Books” of Jung and Tolkien, as well as the role of the imaginal and the mythic in ecology. The podcast is available for download or can be listened to directly below.

Introduction: A Comprehensive Exam on the Works and Context of J.R.R. Tolkien

On this last New Moon of 2015, I am sharing the introduction to my comprehensive exam on the works and context of J.R.R. Tolkien, the composition of which has been my primary occupation over the last seven months. This is the first of two comprehensive exams to be written for my dissertation on the Red Books of Tolkien and C.G. Jung. Because much of the material in the exam will be included in my dissertation I am not posting it publicly, rather allowing it to gestate until the full book is ready to publish. But I wished to share something of the labor of love in which I have been most recently engaged.

A Comprehensive Exam
The Works & Context of J.R.R. Tolkien

“On the edge of a valley one of Professor Tolkien’s characters can pause and say: ‘It smells like elves.’ It may be years before we produce another author with such a nose for an elf. The professor has the air of inventing nothing. He has studied trolls and dragons at first hand and describes them with that fidelity which is worth oceans of ‘glib’ originality.”
– C.S. Lewis, Review of The Hobbit[1]

O Elbereth! Gilthoniel!
We still remember, we who dwell
In this far land beneath the trees,
Thy starlight on the Western Seas.
– J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring[2]


When Professor J.R.R. Tolkien of Oxford, England set out to write a mythology, he did not know he would end up writing one of the most beloved works of literature of the 20th century. Indeed, he did not know of Hobbits or the King of Gondor, or even of Mount Doom. But he did know about Elves, and Middle-Earth, the endless Sea, and the far shores of Faërie. He knew he wanted to write poems and tell stories that had a particular “quality of strangeness and wonder,” stories that would bring “the satisfaction of certain primordial human desires”: the desire “to survey the depths of space and time” and “hold communion with other living things.”[3] J.R.R. Tolkien – The Halls of ManwëAnd this he did, penning thousands of pages that came to tell the many myths of Middle-Earth.

Over the course of his lifetime, Tolkien published the books The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, the short stories Leaf by Niggle, Farmer Giles of Ham, and Smith of Wootton Major, and the book of poetry The Adventures of Tom Bombadil and Other Verses from the Red Book. He translated the medieval English poems Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, and Sir Orfeo, and wrote scholarly papers on Beowulf and the Ancrene Wisse. But, except for the twelve long years dedicated to the composition of his masterwork, The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien’s primary creative occupation was writing and re-writing the cosmogonic myths and epic tales of the Silmarillion, a book never published in his lifetime. Indeed, when he passed away in 1973, he left behind him “the serried ranks of box files that contained . . . like beads without a string, the raw material of ‘The Silmarillion.’”[4] As his publisher Rayner Unwin says: “although over the years some authors have written at greater length, few if any have left behind a more purposeful yet inchoate creative complexity than Tolkien.”[5] But, thanks to the decades-long effort of Tolkien’s son Christopher, the world can now read these pages, published as a compact narrative in The Silmarillion, and in the vast drafts and retellings found in Unfinished Tales and the twelve volumes of The History of Middle-Earth.

Who knows what form the Silmarillion may have taken if Tolkien had given it the same level of perfectionist revisioning that he gave The Lord of the Rings. But perhaps that is not how the tales of the Silmarillion were meant to be told. Perhaps they were meant to be received in the way primary myth is: with overlapping narratives and changing names, some stories drawn with great detail in both poetry and prose, others sketched as tales to be glimpsed in the background. Exploring the world of Middle-Earth can be like crossing a threshold into another realm, losing sight even of the pages in one’s hands, as far landscapes and poignant beauties pierce to the depths of one’s experience.

As his philological collaborator Simone D’Ardenne writes, “Tolkien’s personality was so rich, so diverse, so vast and so elusive” that to paint any portrait of his life will inherently be inadequate.[6] Although born in South Africa in 1892, Tolkien spent the majority of his life in England, only going to the European continent a few times, or occasionally across the water to Ireland. But this does not mean he was untraveled. Tolkien arguably explored more distant lands than many, but they are lands only found in the imagination. In this comprehensive exam I seek to understand Tolkien’s life and work in the context of his imaginal experiences, and the people and ideas that supported him in having them.

I begin with Tolkien’s family and friends, the literary midwives who helped him bring his mythology to birth. From there I turn to Tolkien’s artwork, the paintings, drawings, and sketches that he made before his writing had begun to take shape. I focus primarily on the early years when he was illustrating The Book of Ishness, although Tolkien continued throughout his life to make beautiful works of art to accompany his stories. From these images I shift to language, the subject that was central to the person Tolkien was. Not only was he a professional philologist and professor of Anglo-Saxon, first at Leeds University and later at Oxford, he was an artist of language as well, inventing words, grammar, and etymology for multiple languages of Middle-Earth. Finally, I turn to an exploration of Tolkien’s experience of the imagination, looking particularly through the lens of his theory of Sub-creation. To conclude, I touch on the connection between Tolkien’s work and The Red Book of C.G. Jung, the subject on which my subsequent dissertation will be focused.

Tolkien’s personality was multifaceted; one could encounter him as “the Christian, or the friend, the artist or the humanist, the father or the teacher,” as D’Ardenne writes.[7] Many possibilities are open to us for exploring who he was. In an obituary written long in advance of Tolkien’s death, his close friend C.S. Lewis says: “He was a man of ‘cronies’ rather than of general society and was always best after midnight (he had a Johnsonian horror of going to bed) and in some small circle of intimates where the tone was at once Bohemian, literary, and Christian.”[8] If he was best in his small circle of intimates, perhaps that is the place to meet him first—among his own Fellowship.

[1] C.S. Lewis, qtd. in Philip Zaleski and Carol Zaleski, The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings (New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015), 209.

[2] J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1994), 78.

[3] J.R.R. Tolkien, On Fairy-Stories, ed. Verlyn Flieger and Douglas A. Anderson (London, England: HarperCollinsPublishers, 2014), 4.

[4] Rayner Unwin, “Early Days of Elder Days,” in Tolkien’s Legendarium: Essays on The History of Middle-Earth, ed. Verlyn Flieger and Carl F. Hostetter (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2000), 247

[5]Unwin, “Early Days of Elder Days,” 6.

[6] Simone D’Ardenne, “The Man and Scholar,” in J.R.R. Tolkien, Scholar and Storyteller: Essays in Memoriam, ed. Mary Salu and Robert T. Farrell (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University, 1979), 33.

[7] D’Ardenne, “The Man and Scholar,” 33.

[8] C.S. Lewis, “Professor J.R.R. Tolkien: Creator of Hobbits and Inventor of a New Mythology” in J.R.R. Tolkien, Scholar and Storyteller: Essays in Memoriam, ed. Mary Salu and Robert T. Farrell (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University, 1979), 15.



Barfield, Owen. Poetic Diction: A Study in Meaning. Oxford, England: Barfield Press, 2010.

Caldecott, Stratford. The Power of the Ring: The Spiritual Vision Behind The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. New York, NY: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 2012.

Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Novato, CA: New World Library, 2008.

Carpenter, Humphrey. The Inklings: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams and Their Friends, London, England: HarperCollinsPublishers, 2006.

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

Chance, Jane, ed. Tolkien and the Invention of Myth. Lexington, KY: The University Press of Kentucky, 2004.

–––––. Tolkien the Medievalist. Routledge Studies in Medieval Religion and Culture. New York, NY: Routledge, 2003.  

Croft, Janet Brennan and Leslie A. Donovan, eds. Perilous and Fair: Women in the Works and Life of J.R.R. Tolkien. Altadena, CA: Mythopoeic Press, 2015.

Curry, Patrick. Deep Roots in a Time of Frost: Essays on Tolkien. Zürich, Switzerland: Walking Tree Publishers, 2014.

–––––. Defending Middle-Earth. Edinburgh, Scotland: Floris Books, 1997.

Dickerson, Matthew and Jonathan Evans. Ents, Elves, and Eriador: The Environmental Vision of J.R.R. Tolkien. Lexington, KY: The University Press of Kentucky, 2006.

Duriez, Colin. The Oxford Inklings: Lewis, Tolkien and Their Circle. Oxford, England: Lion Books, 2015.

–––––. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis: The Gift of Friendship. Mahwah, NJ: Hidden Spring, 2003.

–––––. Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings: A Guide to Middle-Earth. Mahwah, NJ: Hidden Spring, 2001.

Edwards, Raymond. Tolkien. London, England: Robert Hale Limited, 2014.

Flieger, Verlyn. “But What Did He Really Mean?” Tolkien Studies 11 (2014): 149-66.

–––––. Green Suns and Faërie: Essays on J.R.R. Tolkien. Kent, OH: The Kent State University Press, 2012.

–––––. Interrupted Music: The Making of Tolkien’s Mythology. Kent, OH: The Kent State University Press, 2005.

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

–––––. Splintered Light: Logos and Language in Tolkien’s World. Kent, OH: The Kent State University Press, 2002.

Flieger, Verlyn and Carl F. Hostetter, eds. Tolkien’s Legendarium: Essays on The History of Middle-Earth. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2000.

Garth, John. Tolkien and the Great War: The Threshold of Middle-Earth. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2003.

Hammond, Wayne G. and Christina Scull. The Art of The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2012.

–––––. The Art of The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2015.

–––––. J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist & Illustrator. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000.

Jung, C.G. 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.

Knight, Gareth. The Magical World of the Inklings. Cheltenham, England: Skylight Press, 2010.

Lang, Andrew. The Red Fairy Book. Mineola, NY: Dover Children’s Classics, 1966.  

Lee, Stuart D. ed. A Companion to J.R.R. Tolkien. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., 2014.  

Lobdell, Jared, ed. A Tolkien Compass. Chicago, IL: Open Court Publishing Company, 2003.

Lönnrot, Elias. Kalevala: Land of Heroes. Translated by W.F. Kirby. London, England: Everyman’s Library, 1966.

Milbank, Alison. Chesterton and Tolkien as Theologians: The Fantasy of the Real. New York, NY: T&T Clark, 2007.

Noel, Ruth S. The Languages of Tolkien’s Middle-Earth. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1974.

O’Neill, Timothy R. The Individuated Hobbit: Jung, Tolkien and the Archetypes of Middle-Earth. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1979.

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

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

Reilly, R.J. Romantic Religion: A Study of Barfield, Lewis, Williams, and Tolkien. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1971.

Salu, Mary and Robert T. Farrell, eds. J.R.R. Tolkien, Scholar and Storyteller: Essays in Memoriam. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University, 1979.  

Scull, Christina and Wayne G. Hammond. The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide, Vol. 1: Chronology. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006.

–––––. The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide, Vol. 2: Reader’s Guide. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006.

Shippey, Tom. J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2002.

–––––. The Road to Middle-Earth: How J.R.R. Tolkien Created a New Mythology. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2003.

Skogemann, Pia. Where the Shadows Lie: A Jungian Interpretation of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Wilmette, IL: Chiron Publication, 2009.

Tolkien, Christopher. Pictures by J.R.R. Tolkien. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1992.

Tolkien, J.R.R. The Adventures of Tom Bombadil. Edited by Christina Scull and Wayne Hammond. London, England: HarperCollinsPublishers, 2014.

–––––. The Annotated Hobbit. Annotated by Douglas A. Anderson. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2002.

–––––. Beowulf. Edited by Christopher Tolkien. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2014.

–––––. The Children of Húrin. Edited by Christopher Tolkien. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2007.

–––––. The History of Middle-Earth. Vol. 1-12. Edited by Christopher Tolkien. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2010.

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

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

–––––. The Monsters and the Critics. Edited by Christopher Tolkien. London, England: HarperCollinsPublishers, 2006.

–––––. On Fairy-Stories. Edited by Verlyn Flieger and Douglas A. Anderson. London, England: HarperCollinsPublishers, 2014.

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

–––––. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, and Sir Orfeo. London, England: HarperCollinsPublishers, 1995.

–––––. Smith of Wootton Major. Edited by Verlyn Flieger. London, England: HarperCollinsPublishers, 2005.

–––––. Tales from the Perilous Realm. London: England: HarperCollinsPublishers, 1997.

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

–––––. Unfinished Tales: Of Númenor and Middle-Earth. Edited by Christopher Tolkien. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1980.

Zaleski, Philip and Carol Zaleski. The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015.

Zimbardo, Rose A. and Neil D. Isaacs, eds. Understanding The Lord of the Rings: The Best of Tolkien Criticism. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004.



The City of Dreaming Spires

Magdalen Tower – Photo by Becca Tarnas

Magdalen Tower – Photo by Becca Tarnas

There is nothing quite like riding the train at magic hour, into the City of Dreaming Spires. I spent much of the day in London, including several important hours catching up with an old friend, having a fantastic brunch at The Breakfast Club in Soho, and walking through Hyde Park during the sunny, warm afternoon. As the day dwindled toward evening I walked from Warwick Avenue to Paddington Station, past canal boats floating low in the water covered in bright, chipping paint and overgrown planter boxes of flowers.

The departing sun set the sky alight in lavender, periwinkle, rose and indigo while the train sped toward Oxford. I chose to walk the mile and a half from the station to my lodgings in a friend’s college rooms so I could take in the city along the way. Sure enough I passed beneath the lit steeple of the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin, and not long after the tower at Magdalen College, where C.S. Lewis spent much of his teaching career. Crossing the bridge over the River Cherwell I could look back and see clearly why Oxford has been called the City of Dreaming Spires: the old college buildings send up spire after stone spire into the starry night air.

I arrived into my rooms which were warm and welcoming, filled with familiar books, including a shrine with Jung’s Red Book upon it. I found it somewhat amazing (although not surprising once I reflected on whose room I was occupying and our similar academic interests) that I had come halfway around the planet to study Tolkien’s visionary artwork, the contents of his Red Book, in the Bodleian Library, and right in my bedroom would be an accessible copy of the other Red Book to which I am comparing the results. It felt like an affirmation I was in the right place.

The Bodleian Library – Photo by Becca Tarnas

The Bodleian Library – Photo by Becca Tarnas

Early the following morning I awoke, soon to realize I was shaking—with anticipation, nerves, excitement, I wasn’t entirely sure. I planned to arrive at Admissions in the Bodleian at 9:00 am as they opened, and hopefully if all went well in getting my reader’s card I’d be meeting with the head archivist of the Tolkien special collection by 9:30. Walking through the streets of Oxford, down Queen’s Lane and under Oxford’s own Bridge of Sighs toward the library, I felt a deep sense of connection to this place. Ten years ago I once had the dream of attending this university, and now again that desire was reawakened. I could feel the past presence of those literary figures who had shaped me in such a formative way. Something in the heart of Oxford was calling to me once more.

I entered first the oldest building of the Bodleian, which had many doors branching off the courtyard with signs over their doors reading Schola Naturalis Philosophae and Schola Moralis Philosophae, among several others. Soon I was redirected toward the Weston Library, a newer building although still seemingly old to my eyes. I entered Admissions, handed in the various forms explaining my research purposes along with three (three!) forms of identification. To my relief I was approved without much delay but, before handing me my reader’s card, I was to swear an oath aloud that ran four lines long:

Bodleian Library Oath

Then to the lockers where I left all my belongings except a pencil and blank sheets of paper, through the secure entryway, up the stairs and into the reading room. There I was met by the Tolkien archivist, a wonderful woman who has what I felt to be one of the most admirable and enviable positions in the library. We spoke for a little while about my research goals and then she set me up at a table with the first of four boxes of Tolkien’s artwork that I would be studying over this morning and the following.

The Reference Library in the Weston – Photo by Becca Tarnas

The Reference Library in the Weston – Photo by Becca Tarnas

My hands shook a little as I opened the first box, but I soon relaxed into the process, turning from one drawing to the next. What did I find there? Well, I’ve signed too many forms to risk revealing much here without the permission of the Tolkien Trust. But I’ll just simply say that I believe I found what I came for, that my thinking in these areas has been affirmed, and perhaps someday I will be able to express the fullness of what I saw in my dissertation. Much of Tolkien’s great art has been published already, for which I am immensely grateful. But a few pieces remain hidden which would be wonderful if they could be seen by the wider world. And the sequence itself of the artwork has its own story to tell.

After several hours and even more pages of notes I decided it was time for a change of scene, so I packed up and departed the library. I made a brief stop in Blackwell’s Bookshop, my favorite book store in the world that I hadn’t been inside of for about five years. Of course they had a whole Inklings section right up at the front, and I was able to get a copy of Verlyn Flieger’s edited edition of Tolkien’s fantastic essay “On Fairy-Stories,” first given in 1939 as the Andrew Lang lectures at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. They also had lovely little editions of several of Tolkien’s short stories; I limited myself to two: Smith of Wootton Major and The Adventures of Tom Bombadil and Other Verses from the Red Book, each with accompanying introductory and critical essays.

The Eagle and Child – Photo by Becca Tarnas

The Eagle and Child – Photo by Becca Tarnas

Lunch at the Eagle and Child pub seemed the only appropriate place to go next, so I walked up St. Giles to the legendary “Bird and Baby,” and was soon sitting in the back room with a pint and vegetable pie, gazing at oil portraits of Tolkien and Lewis and scribbling notes on my morning’s research.

That afternoon I met up with a family friend who happens to be teaching in Oxford for the next two months, so we spent the next several hours catching up and discussing ideas on an array of topics, from philosophy and religion, to literature and travel. We walked home through Oxford in the evening together, conversation still well underway.

Morning found me once again in the Sir Charles Mackerras Reading Room, pouring over more drawings. But finally the time came for me to depart and I left with reluctance. Would I have the opportunity to again be a researcher in these halls? I hope my life may take such a turn.

For the afternoon I had a special pilgrimage planned: a long walk from Oxford city center first to 20 Northmoor Road, where Tolkien and his family lived seventeen years, and then on a few more miles up to the Wolvercote Cemetery where Tolkien and his wife Edith are buried beneath one gravestone. It felt important to me to walk, to really put in the time and effort and make it to each place on foot.

20 Northmoor Road – Photo by Becca Tarnas

20 Northmoor Road – Photo by Becca Tarnas

I noticed as I was walking down Northmoor Road I was shaking a little again. The wooden gate bears a metal number 20, and bushes and blackberry vines grow about the entrance. Someone else has made their home here now, and it looks simple and well-kept. The only distinguishing feature is a small blue plaque near the gable of the roof stating:

J.R.R. Tolkien
Author of The Lord of the Rings
Lived here 1930-1947

I tried to imagine what it might have been like to live here, raising four children, preparing lectures, marking exams, and writing thousands upon thousands of pages of fantasy and Elvish lexicons during some of the spare hours in between. I peered at the smaller house next door, number 22, where the Tolkiens had lived for a shorter period before, from 1926 to 1930. Eventually I continued on my way, grateful to have glimpsed these two homes.

The walk up to Wolvercote Cemetary was actually much longer than I expected, and a few times I thought I might be lost. I started to worry I wasn’t going in the right direction, or worse yet that I was but had somehow mistaken the cemetery and was walking far out of my way for nothing. I departed the road I had been on, thinking perhaps the cemetery was further east. I began to walk down an unfamiliar road when suddenly I had a strong sense to turn around. I did, and following intuition more than anything else I realized I was now on Banbury Road, the very road the cemetery was meant to be on. Sure enough just several hundred feet further, and a little sign pointed me into a wide, grassy cemetery. A brass plaque indicated to follow the signs to Tolkien’s grave. I had made it.

The Tolkiens are buried right near the back of the cemetery, a modest plot with a granite stone at the head and a rose bush with a few blooms, their fading petals marking the end of summer. The stone reads:

Edith Mary Tolkien

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien

I cannot recount here all the emotions that arose in me at the sight of this grave. I’ll simply say it was a deeply meaningful experience, far more than I was even expecting. I spent a long time there. At one moment a strong wind picked up, shaking the trees. I was reminded of when the wind blew through the trees as Tolkien and Lewis were on Addison’s Walk by Magdalen College, the night that Lewis had his conversion experience, which Tolkien commemorated in his poem “Mythopoeia.” Finally I felt it was time to depart. As I turned away I saw a small, pure white feather on the ground. Rarely do I collect tokens of remembrance, but this time I felt the feather was for me.

The Tolkiens' Grave – Photo by Becca Tarnas

The Tolkiens’ Grave – Photo by Becca Tarnas

It was a joy to rest my feet as I sat on the upper deck of the bus back toward city center, right at the front window so I could see clearly the whole return journey. I felt in a place of great peace. Arriving back into the heart of Oxford, I walked over to Exeter College, where Tolkien studied as an undergraduate, and was able to enter with my newly acquired reader’s card. (“I’m a visiting researcher, may I enter the college?”) Passing the emerald green quad I entered first the chapel, where a tapestry of the Adoration of the Magi adorned the front left-hand wall. A copper bust of Tolkien stood near the back, not too far from the door. Although small, Exeter’s chapel is exquisite. From there I somehow found myself in the Fellows’ Garden, a peaceful lawn bathed in sunlight, trees and flowers scattered throughout, a large fig climbing the stone wall by the private college library. Toward the back right of the garden is a small pond filled with water lilies, and a stone staircase ascending the outer wall of the college. Coming to the top of the stairs I found myself with a spectacular view looking out toward the round Radcliffe Camera, the tower of the University Church just beyond it. Below me a crowd of tourists happened to be walking by, but up here on the wall of Exeter College I was secluded, in the peace of an idyllic garden where generations have come to study outside.

Exeter Fellows' Garden – Photo by Becca Tarnas

Exeter Fellows’ Garden – Photo by Becca Tarnas

After Exeter I went on to visit two more colleges: Christ Church College, which is by far the largest and wealthiest, with vast meadows stretching beyond it, and Magdalen, where C.S. Lewis was situated. Walking down the echoing corridor beside the Magdalen quad I had an internal image of black-robed students walking down these same halls, when suddenly I turned a corner and a whole choir of schoolboys in the very black robes I had been imagining processed down the passageway before me, turning quickly (and the smallest ones in the back shoving each other) into an arched doorway to the left. My footsteps carried me further until I passed out of the wrought-iron gates and across the small bridge over the River Cherwell onto the pathway of Addison’s Walk. Turning left I walked for a ways beside the river, stopping when I came to the next bridge and seeing to my right in the meadow a large herd of deer. All of the females and fawns were standing eating grass, while the two males with antlers—one significantly larger and presumably older than the other—sat on the ground on either side of the herd. After a moment in quiet reflection beside the deer, I turned back the way I’d come. I noticed a few things I had missed on the way in: a few large stumps that had been carved into thrones rooted directly into the ground, and a small moored boat that looked like it must belong to Ratty from Wind in the Willows.

Radcliffe Camera & University Church – Photo by Becca Tarnas

Radcliffe Camera & University Church – Photo by Becca Tarnas

By now completely exhausted from all my walking, I returned to the University Church which had a garden café at the bottom, and sat with a perfect cup of English tea and a scone, replete with clotted cream and strawberry jam. Just refreshed, I went to meet the same family friend I had joined the afternoon prior and we walked together over to Christ Church chapel to attend Evensong. It’s one thing to tiptoe into the college chapels when no one is there and take in the art and carvings on the walls, it’s another to come in when candles are lit and the air vibrates with the voices of young men and boys in the choir.

Thus, after a beautiful dinner and evening, my time in Oxford was coming to a close. The following morning I packed everything up and walked back toward the train station the same way I had walked in. An autumn mist had descended on the city, turning the morning Sun’s light into diffused rays that scattered across the yellow stones and fading trees. I felt a reluctance to leave this place. But if I am meant to return to the dreaming spires at some point in the future then I must trust that I will.

Dreaming Spires by Morning Light – Photo by Becca Tarnas

Dreaming Spires by Morning Light – Photo by Becca Tarnas

Re-Enchantment in Canterbury

The River Stroud and the Westgate Gardens – Photo by Becca Tarnas

The River Stroud and the Westgate Gardens – Photo by Becca Tarnas

Canterbury: I couldn’t have imagined a better place to hold a conference titled Re-Enchanting the Academy. Although cars run on the narrow streets and the ninety-degree angles of contemporary buildings can be found throughout the city, one can feel the Chaucerian age palpably. Cobblestones, thatched roofs, white walls between dark wooden beams that seem to bow out at the middle, as if the centuries are weighing on the building like a elderly man carries a potbelly. Canals and bridges, gardens and stone walls, crawling ivy touched by the crimson blush of early autumn—the air seemed to tingle with enchantment, but an old, slow enchantment, one that has settled deep into the stones along with the overgrown moss.

English Redwood – Photo by Becca Tarnas

English Redwood – Photo by Becca Tarnas

I came in to Canterbury after a non-stop flight from San Francisco to London Heathrow, and an adventure of trains and tubes, until I was deposited at the Canterbury East station as I approached twenty-four hours of being awake. Trailing my little suitcase I walked up the exceedingly narrow cobbled sidewalks to a hostel I’d booked ahead. A brief wander into town later and my first cup of English tea, I fell into a jet-lagged sleep.

Or tried to. For a variety of reasons I had a terrible night at the hostel and, desperate for a sense of peace and solitude, I checked out early the next morning and managed to find a lovely hotel right in the heart of Canterbury. For the rest of my stay I was grateful to myself for making this decision, so that I might have the space, comfort, and rest to engage fully in the conference. I must say, something about that first difficult night has made all the pleasures of the rest of my trip so far all the sweeter.

Greyfriars Chapel – Photo by Becca Tarnas

Greyfriars Chapel – Photo by Becca Tarnas

After getting my hotel situation sorted, I had a few hours to myself to wander in the morning sun. My feet carried me to the Westgate Towers that have stood at the entrance to the old city for six hundred years. Through the gate I found myself on a bridge over the Stour River, and stretching away on either side of the river were the beautiful Westgate Gardens, a meandering array of lawns, flowers, stone arches, twisting trees, and pathways. I even came across a California redwood, who had adapted to the English soil by growing up with curves and twists, rather than tall and straight like the redwoods on my home coast. I also found my way to Greyfriars Chapel, a small chapel built in 1267 that spans a narrow river.

Eventually the time came to meet Patrick Curry, one of the keynote speakers of the conference, for lunch at the Goods Shed near the Canterbury West station. Goods Shed is a large, barn-like structure filled with stands where piles of colorful organic produce are arranged, and counters selling cheeses, breads, meats, fish, and deserts. Moments later Patrick and his partner walked through the door, and we sat down to an exquisite lunch together: cappuccino, elderflower elixir, a vegetarian platter of grilled squash and eggplant, tomato toast, creamy soup, poached egg, and several other tasty arrangements. Among our topics discussed was Patrick’s new book, Deep Roots in a Time of Frost: Essays on Tolkien, of which he kindly gave me a copy.

St. Martin's Priory – Photo by Becca Tarnas

St. Martin’s Priory – Photo by Becca Tarnas

Lunch led us straight to the conference, which Patrick opened with his talk: “The Enchantment of Learning and the Fate of Our Times.” He addressed the need to leave the door open to enchantment, but not to try to force or tame it. One cannot make enchantment happen, one can only cultivate the conditions that allow for its occurrence. With that note to start on we set off on three days of presentations, usually two tracks running simultaneously. The conference was held primarily in St. Martin’s Priory at Canterbury Christ Church University, a gorgeous brick building surrounded by truly enchanting gardens, filled with roses, apple trees, and even a labyrinth set up for one of the conference workshops.

Presentations ranged from psychogeography to depth psychology, the Book Fairy (that moment when you encounter just the right passage or phrase that sets you off on a new train of thought or research), astrology and astrological music, poetry and myth, and the need to re-invite the feminine, the body, and the Earth back into the academy. One issue I brought up in relation to some of the material was the need to address patriarchy both inside and outside the academy, without shaming men who want to be allies, and without recreating an essentialist gender binary. Through this conversation I encountered a wonderful astrologer, who happened to have been friends with my Dad for twenty years. We found that not only did we share a common astrological world view, but her sister is also a harpist! As we chatted together walking merrily home at sunset I felt like I had somehow found my fairy godmother.

My own presentation took place on Saturday afternoon, the third on a panel with the Jungians Jean Hinson Lall and Roderick Main, both of whom I was honored to follow. I presented on my dissertation work, Jung’s and Tolkien two Red Books, and found I had a receptive and supportive audience with wonderful questions and feedback. For me the dialogue carried on long into the evening and the conference dinner.

Conference Labyrinth – Photo by Becca Tarnas

Conference Labyrinth – Photo by Becca Tarnas

The magnificent Canterbury Cathedral was just a street away from my hotel, so I woke up early Sunday morning to attend communion, primarily from the desire to see and feel the cathedral from the inside in a role that wasn’t a tourist. The air was so still as I approached, my footsteps echoing on the cobblestones and my breath visible in the morning air. Entering inside I was overwhelmed by the majesty of the building, the long stone steps leading higher and further into the nave. This cathedral was founded by St. Augustine in 597 BCE when he came over from Rome to be the first Archbishop of Canterbury, and over the centuries it was expanded and rebuilt, including in 1070 after a major fire destroyed much of the cathedral. I felt a profound mixture of emotions, in part inspired by the minimal attendance in relation to the grandeur of the building. Turning inward I could feel the centuries upon centuries of people who had come here to worship, able to see and hear in my imagination the full crowds that once would have overflowed this hall. Yet now all was nearly quiet.

Ritual. If we are to revive enchantment we need ritual, but it must be ritual that is meaningful for who we are now. Perhaps for many we are in a time between rituals, seeking the meaning that will enchant.

Soon the conference was coming to a close. I was amazed to find that many of the ideas brought forward, presented by individuals from several parts of the world, were frequently ones I had encountered in some form at CIIS. Over the course of the weekend I came to value at a new level the education I am getting at my little institute in California. Yet to engage with so many others specifically on these topics was invaluable.

A final stop at the Goods Shed once again for a piece of quiche, and Patrick and I hopped on the train to London. From there new explorations would soon ensue…

Canterbury Cathedral – Photo by Becca Tarnas

Canterbury Cathedral – Photo by Becca Tarnas

Announcement of Events

I am delighted to announce two events coming up later this year at which I will be presenting. The first event is the conference Re-Enchanting the Academy at Christchurch Canterbury University in England, which will take place September 25-27. I will be presenting on my ongoing dissertation research into the synchronistic parallels of the two “Red Books” of C.G. Jung and J.R.R. Tolkien. The abstract for my presentation is available here: The Synchronicity of the Two Red Books: Jung, Tolkien, and the Imaginal Realm. The Re-Enchanting the Academy Conference Program is now available as well and it looks like there will be a fantastic line-up. I’ll be presenting on Saturday afternoon during the panel session from 1:30-3:00 pm.

Jung - Dragon

Painting by C.G. Jung for The Red Book.

Since the opportunity to go to England does not arise every day, I will be staying a couple weeks in the British Isles to do research in the Tolkien archives at the Bodleian Library of Oxford University, the institution where Tolkien both attended school as an undergraduate and taught as a professor for much of his life. I am hoping to come across some artwork of his, particularly from his early sketchbook entitled The Book of Ishness, that has not yet been published. Who knows what further parallels may lie between the art of the Professor and the great Swiss Doctor? I will also get to travel to Cambridge University to visit my wonderful dissertation chair Jacob Sherman, who is currently holding the three-year post of University Lecturer in Philosophy of Religion.

Tolkien – Smaug

Painting by J.R.R. Tolkien for The Hobbit.

The second event which I am announcing is a lecture and workshop offered through the Idaho Friends of Jung in Boise, taking place November 13-14. I will be presenting on the same subject as above, but will have both the Friday evening lecture and the Saturday morning workshop to delve more deeply into the material through dialogue with the participants. The descriptions of the lecture and workshop are available here: The Synchronicity of the Two ‘Red Books’: Jung, Tolkien, and the Imaginal Realm.

Thank you all so much for the support that has allowed me to be bringing these ideas further out in to the world!

The Synchronicity of the Two Red Books: An Astrological Analysis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Figure 1: C.G. Jung’s Birth Chart

Figure 1: C.G. Jung’s Birth Chart

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

Figure 2: Jung’s First Red Book Vision

Figure 2: Jung’s First Red Book Vision

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

Figure 3: The Beginning of Tolkien’s Mythology

Figure 3: The Beginning of Tolkien’s Mythology

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

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

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

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

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

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

Figure 4: Jung’s Flood Vision

Figure 4: Jung’s Flood Vision

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Earendel Poem

Figure 6: Tolkien’s Earendel Poem

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

Figure 7: Jung’s First Encounter with Philemon

Figure 7: Jung’s First Encounter with Philemon

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[3] Tarnas, Cosmos and Psyche, 355.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Tarnas, Cosmos and Psyche, 93.

[7] Ibid, 356.

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

[9] Jung, The Red Book, 210.

[10] Tarnas, Cosmos and Psyche, 412.

[11] Ibid, 411.

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

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

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

[15] Tarnas, Cosmos and Psyche, 209.

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

[17] Tarnas, Cosmos and Psyche, 294.

[18] Ibid.

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

[20] Tarnas, Cosmos and Psyche, 417.

[21] Tarnas, Cosmos and Psyche, 418.

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

The Two Red Books: A Talk at Esalen

This is a condensed version of my presentation on “The Red Book and the Red Book: Jung, Tolkien, and the Convergence of Images” given in the fall of 2014 at Esalen Institute. The longer presentation is available here, and the accompanying paper can be found here. For further exploration, the methods section of my dissertation is also available.

The Synchronicity of the Two Red Books: Dissertation Methods & Methodology

“Perhaps the path or method of re-search done with soul in mind is simply a recognition that all our acts of knowing are attempts at remembering what we once knew but have forgotten. Perhaps all our attempts at re-search are sacred acts whose deep motive is salvation or redemption. Maybe all our re-search reenacts the Gnostic dream of the fall of soul into time and its desire to return home.”
– Robert Romanyshyn[1]

Red Book Dragon

The journey of this dissertation began with the intuition of a synchronicity. The first time I beheld The Red Book of C.G. Jung I felt an echo in my memory: J.R.R. Tolkien also had a Red Book, The Red Book of Westmarch, that he claimed was the supposedly fictional source from which he had translated his stories The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Yet, besides the titles, there was no reason to suppose any similarity existed between the two Red Books; no reason except that my intuition was telling me to look further, to find out if there might perhaps be more in common between these seemingly disparate works than would ordinarily be expected.

As I started preliminary research on this topic I began to find uncanny similarities between many of the images and experiences recorded in Jung’s Red Book and several of the stories and pieces of artwork from Tolkien’s oeuvre. Furthermore, I found that both men were having experiences of what Jung came to call “active imagination” beginning in the same year—1913—and continuing for several years thereafter. The images from this time period provided the seminal material that both men spent the next forty years developing in their work. The further I investigated, the more the similarities revealed themselves, until I began to question what the implications were of the synchronicity of the two Red Books. If Jung and Tolkien were simultaneously having experiences of active imagination that led them each to create art and writing with many similarities in style and content, what did this indicate about the sources of these experiences? If these findings were not to be dismissed as mere coincidence, then what did they imply about the nature of imagination? Such thoughts led me to the formulation of the primary research question of my dissertation: What implications might the imaginal experiences of Jung and Tolkien have for the modern disenchanted world view that has led to our current ecospiritual crisis, and how might a greater understanding of imagination lead to a shift in consciousness? My preliminary thesis statement is that the experiences of these two men point to the ontological reality of an imaginal realm, which holds significant implications for overturning the disenchanted world view that has contributed greatly to the ecological crisis.

Because of the nature of my inquiry, and the manner in which the research topic revealed itself, the methodological approach to this dissertation must be one that affirms the importance of imagination and intuition in the research process. Therefore I will be using an alchemical hermeneutics, as developed by Robert Romanyshyn, as my primary research methodology because it is an approach that aims to “keep soul in mind,”[2] and emphasizes the importance of imagination, intuition, feelings, dreams, synchronicity, and the myriad other expressions of the unconscious that emerge in the research process. Alchemical hermeneutics is what Romanyshyn calls an imaginal approach to research, an approach that complements other methods, rather than seeking to replace them.[3] Thus, I will be taking a mixed methods approach to this research topic, with each method filtered through the imaginal lens of alchemical hermeneutics.

“When one designs a method,” Romanyshyn writes, “one is mapping out the journey that one will take from that place of not knowing one’s topic to that place of coming to know it.”[4] For my dissertation research I will be employing an array of methods to address the multiple levels of the topic: literary, artistic, biographical, historical, and archetypal analysis, which will each be engaged from an imaginal research perspective. If alchemical hermeneutics is the path mapped out for my research journey, I see these different forms of comparative analysis as the supplies I have in my pack to aid me along the way. Each of these methods will come in handy at different points on the journey, depending on what the terrain of the research is at the current moment.

“Method is also who the researcher is in the work, who he or she is as he or she continuously opens a path into a work. Method is an attitude that pervades the whole process of research as a journey.”[5] My choice of an alchemical hermeneutics will not only shape the results of my research, it will shape me along the way. According to Romanyshyn, “dissertation writing can become an aspect of the individuation process.”[6] As I am transformed by the process of researching and writing, my methodological approach will be transformed as well. This is what Romanyshyn refers to as the hermeneutic circle:

Within the embrace of this circle of understanding, the knower approaches a text with some foreknowledge of it, which in turn is questioned and challenged and amplified by the text, thereby transforming the knower who returns to the text with a different understanding of it.[7]

For example, when I first approached Jung’s Red Book, I had already been steeped for a decade and a half in the stories, languages, and images of Tolkien’s world of Middle-Earth. This reserve of knowledge, which I was already shaped by, in turn shaped how I approached my initial reading of Jung’s Red Book. Yet, after delving more deeply into the content of Jung’s imaginal experiences, the way in which I viewed Tolkien’s stories, and his process of creating them, began to shift as well. As Romanyshyn points out, “the topic chooses the researcher as much as, and perhaps even more than, he or she chooses it.”[8] I had the sense that something in the material was asking me to explore it, although the calling seemed to be taking place below the conscious level. One way in which alchemical hermeneutics differentiates from traditional hermeneutics is that is seeks to bring the unconscious of the researcher into the process of research itself. Romanyshyn describes this recursive dialogue between the researcher and the material as the hermeneutic spiral:

One task of an alchemical hermeneutic method is to deepen the hermeneutic circle by twisting it into a spiral. The researcher, then, follows the arc of the hermeneutic circle, but in such a way that the engagement of the two takes into account the unconscious aspects of the researcher and the work.[9]

The imaginal approach to research is particularly well-suited to this topic because it seeks to recreate through methodology Jung’s and Tolkien’s own imaginal methods in producing their material. Romanyshyn writes, “In a sense, we might say that alchemical hermeneutics is the offspring of the encounter between the tradition of hermeneutics and depth psychology.”[10]

Before unpacking further the pertinent aspects of alchemical hermeneutics, I would like to look at the more specific methods I will be using throughout this research journey. As mentioned previously, I will be using literary, artistic, biographical, historical, and archetypal analysis, depending on which aspects of Jung and Tolkien I am studying. Both men expressed themselves primarily through writing, therefore I will be using literary analysis to compare the texts they each produced. To narrow the scope of which texts I will analyze, I am focusing on material directly related to or produced by imaginal means—in Tolkien’s case the stories, poems, and languages that he composed, and in Jung’s case the narrations of his experiences of active imagination, recorded primarily in The Red Book. I will be comparing the content of these texts, and at times the style, although the fact that they were originally written in different languages—English and German, respectively—will have to be taken into account.

Besides the common name of The Red Book, what originally drew my attention to the potential similarities between Jung’s and Tolkien’s work was a resonance in the style and content of their artwork. Not only were there common images of dragons, cosmic trees, eyes, and mandalas, but there were deeper similarities that I could feel intuitively but were not explicitly on the surface. These were images that seemed to be expressing the entrance into an internal world, an imaginal world, the realm of psyche. An analysis of these images has to take place on multiple levels. On the one hand, the images can be analyzed for specific content, compared to each other as well as to other artwork produced at the time. Is the resonance in style particular to Jung and Tolkien, or does it reflect a larger artistic style of that cultural period in history? On the other hand, the artwork can also be analyzed symbolically, not only when there are shared appearances between Tolkien’s and Jung’s art, but also when the images differ aesthetically yet might symbolically be pointing toward a congruent meaning.

Hermeneutics is the art of interpreting and coming to understand symbols as expressed in texts and images. An alchemical hermeneutics seeks to approach this act of interpretation by recognizing that a symbol can never be exhausted, for the very nature of a symbol is that it presences what is absent. Romanyshyn writes,

Interpretation is always a “failure” because what is present in the symbol remains haunted by what is absent. . . . Interpretation at the level of soul is not just about deciphering a hidden meaning, it is also about a hunger for the ordinary presence that still lingers as an absent presence.[11]

In my approach to the images created by Jung and Tolkien, both in text and in art, I am not only reading what the symbols contained therein are explicitly communicating, but also what is implicit in their very existence. I am asking of these symbols not only what they are expressing, but why. What meanings do these symbols point towards? The meaning of symbols can unfold eternally: “Alchemical hermeneutics,” Romanyshyn writes, “is not, therefore, only about arriving at meaning as a solution. It is also about the continuous dissolution of meaning over time in relation to the unfinished business in the soul of the work.”[12] As I walk the path of my research I have to come to recognize that the path does not end, I will only choose to stop treading it at a certain moment. As Romanyshyn goes on to say, “there is never simply an ‘after’ of the work, a time when, after the work is finished, it is done.”[13]

In addition to literary and artistic comparative analysis, I will also be doing biographical and historical analysis. I believe that life context is essential to understanding any person’s work, particularly when the material is as intimate as the Red Books are to their authors. Therefore, I will delving into all the available biographies of both Tolkien and Jung, looking for how the external experiences of their lives may have shaped their imaginal explorations. In order to put their life stories into context I will also be looking at the historical landscape in which Jung and Tolkien lived their lives. What cultural, political, ecological, and other pertinent factors were shaping their experiences? How did their imaginal experiences and expressions relate to or differ from their contemporaries? Looking at the larger context in which Jung and Tolkien were each having their imaginal experiences will shed light on the significance of the similarities in their work, whether the correlations are unique to them or are reflective of the culture and historical situation at large.

The final method I will be using to approach this research will be archetypal analysis. There are two ways in which I will be using the archetypal lens: one will be identifying the archetypes present in the stories and symbols expressed by Tolkien and Jung in their works, and the second will be using the empirical data of archetypal astrology to explore the birth charts, world transits, and personal transits relevant to the area of research. The latter archetypal method will illustrate the correlations between the movements of the planets and the manifestations of their archetypal energies in world events as well as in the personal lives of Tolkien and Jung. Thus, this aspect of archetypal analysis will be done alongside the biographical and historical readings of the material. The astrological perspective can shed light on the collective energies manifesting in world events during specific time periods, or on the energies being carried by individuals as reflected in their personal transits and natal charts. For example, the primary years of creative imagination for Jung and Tolkien, beginning in 1913, took place under the opposition of the planets Uranus and Neptune, which archetypally correlates 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.[14]

Recognizing that these transits were taking place can bring greater illumination to the imaginal experiences Jung and Tolkien were undergoing during this time.

The same archetypal eye that can recognize the astrological patterns manifesting in both personal and worldly events can also be turned inward to interpret the stories and images expressed in the Red Books. The second form of archetypal analysis will therefore be done in conjunction with the literary and artistic analysis discussed before. An archetypal lens will allow the symbols inherent in the material to speak a common language, allowing correlations to be more discernible.

One final methodological approach I am taking to my dissertation research is the analogical approach used by Daniel Polikoff in his book In the Image of Orpheus: Rilke: A Soul History. This method can be seen as a means of encompassing the five methods I just delineated and unifying them into a multivalent, symbolic lens. The analogical approach allows the researcher to recognize analogies between artistic expression and life event, or between life event and archetype, or between archetype and myth, and so forth. By reading through the many layers present, the meanings of the symbols in the work can continue to reveal themselves indefinitely.

While the empirical orientation of this dissertation is the identification of similarities between Jung’s and Tolkien’s Red Books, the deeper question at work in the research is what the implications are of these correlations. Therefore, not only are the similarities of import, but the differences are as well. If the similarities in their work point toward a common experience of the imaginal realm, what do the differences indicate? As I approach these questions in my research I have to be careful not to impose my own preconceived ideas onto the material, but rather remain open to what is being communicated directly to me by the work. As Romanyshyn writes,

Not so impatient to engage the work in any conscious way, not so quick to irritate the work into meaning, the researcher who uses the alchemical hermeneutic method is content to dream with the text, to linger in reverie in the moment of being questioned, as one might, for example, linger for a while in the mood of a dream.[15]

Here is both the gift and the challenge of an imaginal approach to research, because it can be such a trial to stay with the material when no clear answers seem to be arising, when the meaning or understanding one is searching for is not on the surface. Romanyshyn goes on:

Thus, the alchemical hermeneutic researcher begins with a kind of emptiness. It is an emptiness that has the qualities of patience and hospitality, which leave the researcher continuously open to surprise, an openness that, in having no plans, simply invites the text—the work—to tell its tale.[16]

When I first began my research on the Red Books there were times when I was sure that I would find nothing, no correlations to back up the intuition I had that some relation existed between these works. Yet, as Jung wrote, intuition “is not concerned with the present but is rather a sixth sense for hidden possibilities.”[17] I felt I had to surrender myself to whatever the text wanted to reveal. Romanyshyn speaks of how “The ego as author of the work has to ‘die’ to the work to become the agent in service to those for whom the work is being done.”[18] It may not even be clear for whom the work is being done, but that too is part of the surrender of ego to the soul of the work. “Within an imaginal approach,” Romanyshyn writes, “that larger tale to which one is in service is the unfinished business in the soul of the work, which makes its claims upon a researcher through his or her complexes for the sake of continuing that work.”[19] An essential part of the imaginal approach is recognizing that the work itself has soul, and has agency. The work guides the researcher as much as the researcher guides the work.

Soul means many things to many different people, and its elusive meanings have changed and evolved over millennia as well. From the depth psychological perspective soul, or Psyche, is primary. We exist in Psyche’s realm. “Soul is not inside us,” Romanyshyn writes. “It is on the contrary our circumstance and vocation. It surrounds us, and we are called into the world, as we are called into our work, through this kind of epiphany.”[20] Not only is the researcher ensouled, the researcher’s work is as well. An alchemical hermeneutics acknowledges that embeddedness in soul and seeks to articulate it, to give “voice to the soul of one’s work” by “allowing oneself to be addressed from that void, which depth psychology calls the unconscious.”[21]

How does one listen to the void? How does one open oneself to the unspoken wisdom of the unconscious? In an imaginal approach, this orientation is called a poetics of the research process. Not literally drawing on poetry, it is a means of entering into mythopoetic consciousness. In Romanyshyn’s words: “A poetics of the research process, then, is a way of welcoming and hosting within our work the images of the soul, a way of attending to more than just the ideas or facts, and it requires a different style, a different way of being present.”[22] More specifically, “A poetics of research invites the researcher to become the work through the powers of reverie and imagination and then let go of it.”[23] Traditional hermeneutics does not explicitly give a place to reverie and imagination in its methodological process, yet they are epistemological forces shaping the work nonetheless, although oftentimes unconsciously. A poetics of research allows the knowledge and understanding born from reverie the space to unfold. “In reverie,” says Romanyshyn, “we are in that middle place between waking and dreaming, and, in that landscape, the borders and edges of a work become less rigid and distinct. . . . In reverie, the work takes on a symbolic character and is freed of its literal and factual density.”[24]

Part of my research process has been learning to cultivate these moments of reverie while in direct relationship with Jung’s and Tolkien’s material, particularly while doing the literary and artistic analysis. When reading Jung’s Red Book for the first time, I created a ritual practice around the reading to honor the feeling I had that I was approaching a sacred text. The practice was in some ways communicated to me by the confluence of my embodied reaction to the material and the text itself. At first I would sit down to read with the intention of taking in as much material as possible, as I might with any other text I was researching. But I began to find after about eight pages I would emotionally shut down and disconnect from what was on the page; I was saturated, and literally could absorb no more. I would sit staring at the page wondering what had happened. Romanyshyn speaks of the role the body plays in our research, and that one should pay attention to those moments when we disconnect from the text, when we seem to drift off intellectually and depart from ourselves and what is present before us.[25] Something important is being communicated in that moment, and instead of reprimanding ourselves for “spacing out” we can instead learn to cultivate that place of reverie. One lesson I received from paying attention to this moment of splitting off from the text was that its richness could not be digested if I sought to take in too much at once. Therefore, I created a daily practice of reading eight pages—no more and no less—of The Red Book at a pace where I could absorb more of the material, and also be absorbed into the material. Such an approach, according to Romanyshyn, “deepens research and makes it richer by attending to the images in the ideas, the fantasies in the facts, the dreams in the reasons, the myths in the meanings, the archetypes in the arguments, and the complexes in the concepts.”[26]

Another aspect of my daily practice with Jung’s Red Book was that I only read from the original text. The Red Book has been published with the same size pages as Jung’s original manuscript, making it a weighty volume fifteen inches in height and eleven inches wide. Jung created The Red Book to look and feel like a medieval manuscript, and when one sits and reads it one cannot help but feel like a monk pouring over an ancient text. One must sit up at a table to read the book because it is too heavy to hold in one’s lap; the turning of each page feels like an accomplishment, giving the sense that the turning of a leaf has its consequences. Although a reader’s edition, as well as digital versions of the text, are available, I had an intuition I would learn more from the volume if I sat with its weight each day and learned from it at the emotional and physical levels, as well as at the intellectual level.

When approaching Tolkien’s work I developed a few different practices to bring the same care and reverence as I was bringing to Jung’s Red Book. I have read much of Tolkien’s oeuvre repeatedly over the course of my life, and to a high degree have internalized much of the content. When I came across a correlation in Jung’s work, it usually triggered my memories of some passage or aspect of Tolkien’s stories that I had read years before. The texts I was consulting of Tolkien’s, in the initial research, were a part of me, imprinted on my memory and soul. In some ways, my own memory could be seen as one of the texts being consulted in the research. Therefore, I decided to try to bring my memory even more consciously into the process. Certain passages I chose to memorize, to internalize the exact wording of Tolkien’s writing. For me this was another way of attending to the poetics of research, to become one with the poetics of the material. Another way in which I sought to bring ritual practice into my reading of Tolkien’s work was reading certain stories out loud with my partner. By presencing the language to each other, hearing the shape of the words—particularly the words of languages that Tolkien invented—gave greater life to the text and allowed the imaginal experience to lift off the page. Both sitting with Jung’s Red Book and reading Tolkien’s stories out loud became practices of trying to recreate their own imaginal experiences, of attempting to come to a greater understanding of their journeys into the realm of the imagination.

From these practices of physically sitting with the weight of the texts, as well as with the artwork created by both men, I realized that another part of the research I wish to undertake is to travel to the homelands of Tolkien and Jung to attempt to find any additional artwork in their archives that have not yet been published. In the Bodleian Library in Oxford, England is an archive of Tolkien’s work that I know contains several pieces of artwork not previously published. I am particularly interested in a series of drawings from his unpublished sketchbook The Book of Ishness, which is a series of imaginal drawings created at the exact same time as the early years of Jung’s Red Book period. While some of the images have been published in Hammond and Scull’s J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist & Illustrator, a footnote in that book lists the titles of the many drawings from the series that remain unpublished. I am curious to see if any of these bear a resemblance to more of Jung’s artwork. Thus I would also want to travel to archives in Zürich, Switzerland where the papers and artwork of Jung are held, to see what other images of his have not been published.

Approaching research from a place of reverie can open unexpected doorways into the research topic. For example, my research question regards the nature of imaginal experience, and one day when I was sitting with The Red Book I closed my eyes after reading a particularly beautiful passage about the sea. As I my eyelids descended, an inner world opened up before me: I had the sense of diving into a still pool in a forest glade and of swimming down, down, down. Long past the moment I felt I should have touched the bottom I was still descending. Then, instead of touching the base of the pool, I found myself surfacing from another body of water. The world had inverted, turned upside down. The waters in which I found myself swimming stretched as far as the eye could see under a grey sky, wan sunlight illuminating the backs of the clouds. As I began to swim forward I saw the white shores of what seemed to be an island. I swam up to the beach and pulled myself from the waters. A forest grew not far from the water’s edge, and I walked through the soft sands on a path under the trees. As I began to ascend the path, the vision started to fade and I reopened my physical eyes to The Red Book lying open before me.

This experience was not looked for in my analyses of Jung and Tolkien, but it gave me an experiential understanding of what active imagination felt like. Imaginal experiences born of reverie or dreams—of sleep or waking—can contribute to the methodological approach to the research. However, as Romanyshyn writes, “dreams as portals into research are not the data of research.”[27] While the content of this vision will not be a part of my dissertation, the experience of it has shaped me and therefore will implicitly shape the nature of the work.

The subject of my dissertation is the descent into soul, the threshold into the world of the imagination that both Jung and Tolkien seemed to have crossed on their life journeys. Part of what I am attempting to understand was their own methodological approach to those journeys. As Romanyshyn writes, “the descent into the depths of soul is easy. Finding our way back, however, is the art and is the work.”[28] The Red Books were Tolkien’s and Jung’s means of finding their way back from the world of soul. By treading the path again and again it becomes easier for others to follow in their footsteps. In creating a methodology I am attempting to find the maps they used on their imaginal journeys, and to survey the terrain in my own right.

Part of the intuition that drew me into this research was a sense of recognition of the experiences both Jung and Tolkien had undergone. At age nine when I first encountered the realm of Middle-Earth by having The Hobbit read aloud to me, I acknowledged that there was something deeply familiar about this territory. The sound of the names, the feeling of the places and the people all seemed to be echoing something I had somehow known before. When, over a decade and a half later, I encountered Jung’s Red Book I had that same sense of familiarity, and again could not place from whence it came. This very feeling Romanyshyn addresses as why we are drawn to do the research that we do, what in the work calls us forth to attend to it. He writes, “Research with soul in mind is re-search, a searching again, for something that has already made its claim upon us, something we have already known, however dimly, but have forgotten.”[29] The process of research is that of anamnesis, the un-forgetting that is the philosopher’s quest, as Plato articulates. The inexplicable affinity and familiarity the work holds for the researcher is the soul of the work calling to the soul of the researcher. It is a call to action within the realm of soul itself. That call ignites the desire to remember, to re-search, to find what we sense is there. As quoted in the epigraph opening this essay, “Maybe all our re-search reenacts the Gnostic dream of the fall of soul into time and its desire to return home.”[30]


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

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

Hillman, James. Re-Visioning Psychology. New York, NY: Harper Perennial, 1992.

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

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

Polikoff, Daniel. In the Image of Orpheus: Rilke: A Soul History. Wilmette, IL: Chiron Publications, 2011.

Romanyshyn, Robert. The Wounded Researcher: Research with Soul in Mind. New Orleans, LA: Spring Journal Books, 2007.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[1] Robert Romanyshyn. The Wounded Researcher: Research with Soul in Mind (New Orleans, LA: Spring Journal Books, 2007), 268.

[2] Romanyshyn. The Wounded Researcher, 9.

[3] Ibid, 259.

[4] Romanyshyn. The Wounded Researcher, 215.

[5] Ibid, 273.

[6] Ibid, 270.

[7] Romanyshyn. The Wounded Researcher, 221.

[8] Ibid, 4.

[9] Ibid, 222.

[10] Romanyshyn. The Wounded Researcher, 235.

[11] Romanyshyn. The Wounded Researcher, 225.

[12] Romanyshyn. The Wounded Researcher, 233.

[13] Ibid, 262.

[14] Richard Tarnas, Cosmos and Psyche: Intimations of a New World View (New York, NY: Viking Penguin, 2006), 356.

[15] Romanyshyn. The Wounded Researcher, 223.

[16] Ibid, 224.

[17] C.G. Jung, qtd. in Romanyshyn. The Wounded Researcher, 291.

[18] Romanyshyn. The Wounded Researcher, 6.

[19] Romanyshyn. The Wounded Researcher, 83.

[20] Ibid, 9.

[21] Ibid, 15.

[22] Ibid, 12.

[23] Romanyshyn. The Wounded Researcher, 11-12.

[24] Ibid, 87.

[25] Ibid, 296-7.

[26] Romanyshyn. The Wounded Researcher, 12.

[27] Romanyshyn. The Wounded Researcher, 98.

[28] Ibid, 15.

[29] Romanyshyn. The Wounded Researcher, 4.

[30] Ibid, 268.