In the Homeric epic the ODYSSEY, Odysseus visits the underworld. In Virgil''s AENEID, Aeneas visits the underworld. In Dante''s DIVINE COMMEDY, the character named Dante visits the underworld with Virgil as his guide through the Inferno and Purgatory. Figuratively...
In the Homeric epic the ODYSSEY, Odysseus visits the underworld. In Virgil''s AENEID, Aeneas visits the underworld. In Dante''s DIVINE COMMEDY, the character named Dante visits the underworld with Virgil as his guide through the Inferno and Purgatory.
Figuratively speaking, C. G. Jung, M.D. (1875-1961), the Swiss psychiatrist and psychological theorist, could be described as visiting the underworld of his psyche periodically over a number of years as part of his mid-life crisis. In his self-experimentation, he visited the underworld of his psyche through self-induced hallucinations - visual and auditory hallucinations.
Self-inducing hallucinations is a potentially dangerous practice, and I do not recommend it. Instead of doing it for ourselves, we can read Jung''s elaborate report of his experiences.
In 2009, Norton published Jung''s RED BOOK: LIBER NOVUS, expertly edited by the historian Sonu Shamdasani, translated by Mark Kyburz, John Peck, and Sonu Shamdasani. It is a handsome over-sized book that includes many informative footnotes by Shamdasani. Jung''s RED BOOK contains many of his works of art based on his visual hallucinations and the "fair" copies of the texts he produced in calligraphy based on his auditory hallucinations. In addition, some other material Jung recorded in connection with his encounter with the unconscious is included in three appendices.
In addition to the over-sized book, Norton also published the regular-sized book THE RED BOOK: LIBER NOVUS; A READER''S EDITION (2012). Both books contain the same textual material, but arranged differently. However, Jung''s paintings are not reproduced in the READER''S EDITION.
Everybody can remember having dreams when they were asleep. The psychological and neurological processes that are involved in producing dreams when we are asleep, are also involved in producing hallucinations when we are awake - visual and/or auditory hallucinations.
By the time when Jung undertook this extraordinary self-experimentation, he had a well-developed mystique about the so-called unconscious and about dreams. As a result of this mystique about the unconscious, he styled his extraordinary self-experimentation as his encounter with the unconscious. As a result of the mystique about dreams, he understood the visual and auditory hallucinations as dream-like experiences.
But at a certain juncture in his so-called encounter with the unconscious, he had a crisis. For help, he turned to a former patient of his named Antonia ("Toni") Wolf (1888-1952). She was somehow able to help him get through the crisis he had experienced as a result of his extraordinary self-experimentation. As a result of her helping him through that crisis, the two of them were close the rest of her life.
In the course of his extraordinary self-experimentation, Jung encountered an enormous number of visual and auditory hallucinations. He wrote out his recollections of many of those experiences. But then he transcribed many of his written accounts into "fair" copies in calligraphy - which look like medieval illuminated manuscripts. In addition, he used his artistic talents to make painting of some of the imagery in his visual hallucinations.
In short, Jung used three different ways to process and work through his self-induced hallucinations:
(1) he talked about them with Toni Wolff;
(2) he wrote out a rough draft and then made a fair copy of the same material in calligraphy; and
(3) he also made works of art representing certain key imagery from his visual hallucinations.
Jung may have also written about some of his experiences during his encounter with the unconscious in letters to Toni Wolff. But if he did, those letters have not come down to us.
In any event, because of the extent of Jung''s self-experimentation over a period of years, he had a lot of material to work through.
In 1925, Jung discussed his encounter with the unconscious in connection with his body of work up to that time. See the book INTRODUCTION TO JUNGIAN PSYCHOLOGY: NOTES ON THE SEMINAR ON ANALYTIC PSYCHOLOGY GIVEN IN 1925 BY C. G. JUNG, edited by William McGuire (1989); revised 2012 edition edited by Sonu Shamdasani (both editions published by Princeton University Press).
Years later, Jung himself experienced a breakthrough in his understanding of his own encounter with the unconscious when he read Richard Wilhelm''s German translation of THE SECRET OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER: A CHINESE BOOK OF LIFE and wrote a commentary on it. The 1929 German edition included a commentary by Jung. The entire 1929 German edition was translated into English by Cary F. Baynes (1883-1977). The English edition was published in 1931. Sadly, Richard Wilhelm (1873-1930) had died on March 2, 1930.
Subsequently, in the 1930s, Jung drew on his own understanding of his experiences in his encounter with the unconscious as he perceptively interpreted Friedrich Nietzsche''s THUS SPOKE ZARATHUSTRA. In Jung''s commentary on Nietzsche''s book, Jung sees Nietzsche composing this work as part of Nietzsche''s own proverbial mid-life crisis. In effect, Jung draws on his own understanding of his encounter with the unconscious to elucidate certain aspects of Nietzsche''s book. I say "In effect" here because Jung does not explicitly advert to his own experiences in his protracted encounter with the unconscious - or explicitly advert to his understanding of his own experiences. Nevertheless, he is "In effect" drawing on his own hard won understanding of his own experiences in certain points he makes about Nietzsche''s experiences.
See the two books titled NIETZSCHE''S ZARATHUSTRA: NOTES OF THE SEMINAR GIVEN IN 1934-1939 BY C. G. JUNG, edited by James L. Jarrett (Princeton University Press, 1988). Jarrett also edited the 1998 abridged edition.
UNDERSTANDING THE IMPORTANCE OF JUNG''S RED BOOK
Now, in the book THE ORIGINS OF CONSCIOUSNESS IN THE BREAKDOWN OF THE BICAMERAL MIND (Houghton Mifflin, 1977), Julian Jaynes argues that our human ancestors experienced auditory and visual hallucinations. If he is right about this, then Jung''s self-experimentation involved re-awakening the capacity of the human psyche to have auditory and visual hallucinations comparable to the hallucinations of our ancient ancestors.
But to what extent, if any, is the bicameral form of thinking still active and alive in educated people in Western culture such as Jung? If this bicameral form of thinking is still active and alive in educated people in Western culture today, then it is presumably involved in producing dreams when we are asleep, and in producing visual and auditory hallucinations when we are awake.
Let me now set forth a different framework for considering the breakdown of the bicameral form of thinking and the historical emergence of consciousness that Jaynes discusses. In the book RUIN THE SACRED TRUTHS: POETRY AND BELIEF FROM THE BIBLE TO THE PRESENT (Harvard University Press, 1989), Harold Bloom makes the following observation that is relevant to Jaynes''s discussion: "Frequently we forget one reason why the Hebrew Bible is so difficult for us: our only way of thinking comes to us from the ancient Greeks, and not from the [still residually bicameral] Hebrews" (page 28). Bloom explicitly refers to "Greek thinking and Hebrew psychologizing," and suggests that the two modes of thought and expression seem irreconcilable because they represent two antithetical visions of life. But I would say that the thought and expression in the Hebrew Bible represent what Jaynes refers to as the bicameral mind.
In the book JESUS AND YAHWEH: THE NAMES DIVINE (Riverhead Books, 2005), Bloom further elaborates his point about how deeply Greek thinking permeates the thinking of educated people in Western culture today:
"Whoever you are, you identify necessarily the origins of your self more with Augustine, Descartes, and John Locke, or indeed with Montaigne and Shakespeare, than you do with Yahweh and Jesus. That is only another way of saying the Socrates and Plato, rather than Jesus, have formed you, however ignorant you may be of Plato. The Hebrew Bible dominated seventeenth-century Protestantism, but four centuries later out technological and mercantile society is far more the child of Aristotle than of Moses" (page 146).
Basically, I agree with Bloom that educated people in Western culture today are dominated by the Greek tradition of thought. As he says, the origin of our Western sense of self is dominated by the Greek tradition of thought. However, if Jaynes is right about the bicameral mind of our human ancestors, including, I contend, the residually oral ancient Hebrews and early followers of the historical Jesus, then the bicameral mind that Jaynes discusses represents a deeper layer of the human psyche today. But does this make any difference? If it does, what difference does it make?
In the book ORALITY AND LITERACY: THE TECHNOLOGIZING OF THE WORD (Methuen, 1982), the American cultural historian and theorist Walter J. Ong, S.J. (1912-2003), perceptively discusses Jaynes''s theory of the bicameral mind:
"[T]he early and late stages of consciousness which Julian Jaynes (1977) describes and relates to neurophysiological changes in the bicameral mind [involving the right and left hemispheres of the brain] would also appear to lend themselves largely to much simpler and more verifiable description in terms of a shift from orality to literacy. . . . The `voices'' [of the Gods supposedly coming from the right hemisphere of the brain, according to Jaynes''s theory] began to lose their effectiveness between 2000 and 1000 BC. This period, it will be noted, is neatly bisected by the invention of the alphabet around 1500 BC and Jaynes indeed believes that writing helped bring about the breakdown of the original bicamerality [involving the two hemispheres of the brain]. The ILIAD provides him with examples of bicamerality in its unselfconscious characters. Jaynes dates the ODYSSEY a hundred years later than the ILIAD and believes that wily Odysseus marks a breakdown into the modern self-conscious mind, no longer under the rule of the `voices.'' Whatever one makes of Jaynes''s theories, one cannot but be struck by the resemblance between the characteristics of the early or `bicameral'' psyche as Jaynes describes it - lack of introspectivity, of analytic prowess, of concern with the will as such, of sense of difference between past and future - and the characteristics of the psyche in oral cultures not only in the past but even today. . . . Bicamerality may mean simply orality. The question of orality and bicamerality perhaps needs further investigation" (pages 29-30).
As far as I know, the question of orality and bicamerality has not been further investigated since 1982. For example, it is not investigated in the essays gathered together in the book REFLECTIONS ON THE DAWN OF CONSCIOUSNESS: JULIAN JAYNES BICAMERAL MIND THEORY REVISITED, edited by Marcel Kuijsten (Julian Jaynes Society, 2006).
In effect, Jung''s auditory hallucinations can be used to support Jaynes''s theory about the voices in the bicameral mind. As I have suggested, all of us have human psyches similar to Jung''s. Therefore, all of us have the latent potential for experiencing voices as Jung did and, according to Jaynes, as our pre-literate ancestors did.
Now, Ong never tired of referring to Eric A. Havelock''s perceptive book PREFACE TO PLATO (Belknap Press/ Harvard University Press, 1963). In this book Havelock works with the contrast between the Homeric mind and the Platonic mind. In addition, Havelock aligns the Homeric mind with oral culture and the Platonic mind with distinctively literate culture. In the passages quoted above from Bloom, Bloom in effect aligns educated people in Western culture with the Platonic mind that Havelock discusses. In other words, formal education in Western culture for centuries have provided the cultural conditioning in the distinctively literate mind that Havelock refers to as the Platonic mind.
However, as Ong mentions, Jaynes finds examples of the bicameral mind in the ILIAD. So the bicameral mind as discussed by Jaynes can be aligned with the Homeric mind as discussed by Havelock.
Havelock describes the Homeric mind as using imagistic thinking. Jung''s paintings in THE RED BOOK make it clear that his visual hallucinations involved imagistic thinking.
Next, because Ong himself was a Jesuit priest, I want to point out here that Jesuits make two 30-day retreats in silence (except for daily conferences with the retreat director) following the SPIRITUAL EXERCISES of St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit order. Pope Francis, the first Jesuit pope, made two such 30-day retreats as part of his Jesuit training.
The instructions in the SPIRITUAL EXERCISES instruct people of how to proceed to carry out certain spiritual exercises (also known as meditations or contemplations) that involve using imagistic thinking to imagine, say, well-known biblical scenes.
If people follow the instructions in the SPIRITUAL EXERCISES, then they are engaging in a form of meditation that I will style here as guided meditation - at least up to a certain point. But there is a culminating instruction to cap off the meditation by carrying on a conversation with the figure involved in the relevant biblical scene - say, Jesus, or Mary. Of course we have no way of knowing how this culminating instruction worked out for Ong when he made his two 30-day retreats, nor do we know how this worked out for all the other Jesuits such as Pope Francis who made two 30-day retreats following the SPIRITUAL EXERCISES as part of their Jesuit training.
Now, Jung''s self-induced hallucinations did not involve using guided meditations. So we can describe his self-experimentation as involving unguided imagistic meditations. (Of course we should note that there are also forms of meditation that do not involve imagistic thinking. Those forms of meditation involve non-imagistic meditation.)
From Jung''s reports in THE RED BOOK, it appears that at times he did indeed engage the figures in conversations - and they carried one their side of the conversations with him. But did St. Ignatius Loyola and perhaps other Jesuits experience conversations with biblical figures in which the biblical figures carried on their side of the conversations?
After all, the grieving followers of the deceased historical Jesus had visual and auditory hallucinations in which the deceased Jesus spoke with them. St. Paul famously experienced a visual and auditory hallucination in which the figure known as Jesus the Christ spoke to him. In the history of Christianity, there are also examples of visual and auditory hallucinations in which a figure speaks to the person.
Now, would making two 30-day retreats following the SPIRITUAL EXERCISES lead people to conjoin the Above (ego-consciousness) and the Below (the unconscious) as discussed in Jung''s RED BOOK (page 370 in the over-sized edition; page 577 in the READER''S EDITION)? Not necessarily, but it could happen to certain people because 30-day retreats following the SPIRITUAL EXERCISES involve each retreatant in introspection about his or her life.
I said above that self-inducing hallucinations is a potentially dangerous practice. But so are Ignatian guided meditations and non-imagistic forms of meditation. For an approach to meditative reflection and introspection that is not potentially dangerous, I recommend the daily practice of awareness that Anthony de Mello, S.J. (1931-1987), advocates in his posthumously published book THE WAY TO LOVE: MEDITATIONS FOR LIFE (2012) and elsewhere. Practiced daily over an extended period of time, this practice of awareness can help engender the conjoining of the Above and Below.
For an accessible discussion of auditory hallucinations, see Daniel B. Smith''s book MUSES, MADMEN, AND PROPHETS: RETHINKING THE HISTORY, SCIENCE, AND MEANING OF AUDITORY HALLUCINATIONS (Penguin Press, 2007).
In conclusion, we can all be grateful to Jung for preparing his elaborate report about his visit to the underworld for us. By engaging in the potentially dangerous practice of self-inducing hallucinations and then preparing such an elaborate report of his visit to the underworld, he saved us from indulging in the potentially dangerous practice of self-inducing hallucinations.
In the present essay, I have attempted to depotentiate our pathologizing of auditory and visual hallucinations, as Smith has also attempted to do in his book mentioned above. If Jaynes''s theory is to be believed, auditory hallucinations that he refers to as voices were relatively commonplace in our bicameral ancestors in pre-literate cultures.
By depotentiating auditory and visual hallucinations, I hope to persuade people today to look over Jung''s RED BOOK.
I want to say that I do not expect auditory and visual hallucinations to become as common in our contemporary secondary oral culture as Jaynes suggests that they were in pre-literate cultures. But I do hope that they will become more understandable.
I do not know if all vision quests culminated in visual hallucinations. But the basic spirit of the vision quest is a sound idea. I would even go so far as to say that the SPIRITUAL EXERCISES of St. Ignatius Loyola involve the basic spirit of the vision quest.
In THE RED BOOK, Jung refers to his search or quest for his soul. Basically, this is what the spirit of the vision quest is about. No doubt Jung himself found his mission in life through his encounter with the auditory and visual hallucinations he describes in THE RED BOOK.
But this implies that people who have not undertaken a vision quest have not found their souls. This would presumably include most of the educated people in Western culture that Bloom refers to in the passages quoted above.