Carl Jung’s Red Book

The Visionary Swiss Psychoanalyst’s Secret Book of Dreams

<b>PICTURE THIS:</b> Carl Jung, the master of dream therapy, surreptitiously authored a secret book filled with his own ruminations, dreams, and hallucinogenic drawings — The Red Book.

What did you see in your dreams last night? Have you ever written them down in a journal?

Most people know that Carl Gustav Jung, the visionary Swiss psychoanalyst who founded the field of depth psychology and viewed a person’s inner life as a source of enlightenment and healing, spent a lifetime studying dreams and their meanings. Fewer people realize that the master of dream therapy himself surreptitiously authored a secret book filled with his own ruminations, dreams, and hallucinogenic drawings ​— ​The Red Book.

After a long, furtive, and mysterious journey that began almost 100 years ago, Jung’s Red Book, hidden for generations, can be viewed in a rare showing at Pacifica Graduate Institute in a six-week free exhibit. This unusual viewing of the remarkable masterpiece is made possible through a series of high-definition, digitally enhanced, and enlarged limited-edition fine-art prints from DigitalFusion, the premier specialist in archival digital capture, and brought to Santa Barbara by the Jung Foundation and Pacifica Graduate Institute.

During a crisis in Jung’s career, when he was in opposition to almost everyone in the nascent field of psychiatry, including his onetime mentor, Sigmund Freud; at a point when his marriage was threatened by an intoxicating affair with a younger analysand and professional collaborator; and when, in his own words, he was “menaced by a psychosis” by a “confrontation with the unconscious” and an “incessant stream” of visions, Jung began to secretly record not just his dreams but his hallucinations, his doubts, his demons, and his vanity. He first detailed them in a series of six black journals that came to be known as the “black books” and later transferred, refined, and illustrated his writings in a handmade, red leather-bound book, filled with thick cream-vellum paper, weighing nearly 10 pounds that Jung called simply, The Red Book.

The Book

In total, 77 large-scale digital prints were developed from the original pages of The Red Book, and upon viewing the suite of 23 individual 25″ × 38.5″ curated images on display at Pacifica, the vividness of Jung’s meticulous handiwork is evident.

“You are able to see Jung’s personal painting,” said Willow Young, a Jungian analyst at Pacifica Graduate Institute who is chair of the program in counseling psychology. “Jung’s visions, inner experience, and confrontation with the unconscious have come back to life.”

<b>PICTURE THIS:</b> Hidden for generations, the tome can be viewed in a rare showing at Pacifica Graduate Institute in a free six-week exhibit.

The massive Red Book is a lush, meticulous, hypnagogic work, chaotic but compulsively controlled, that Jung was driven to create. Yet despite his extraordinary care and attention, Jung never published it during his lifetime. He feared, perhaps correctly, that The Red Book could ruin his career.

Europe in the early 1900s was in upheaval: World War I raged, empires fell, social boundaries were changing, and an intellectual struggle was going on in the world of psychiatry and psychoanalysis. Scientists were just beginning to interpret their own dreams and those of others. Conflicting methods of interpretation grew into a test of the scientific authority and therapeutic promise. It was an intellectual, professional, and vainglorious battle waged not only on groundbreaking research into the human psyche, but also on the basis of personal and intimate accusations. Jung knew that his Red Book, should it be exposed, could be used against him professionally and personally.

Jung was already ostracized following his break with Freud, and he had resigned his position at the Burghölzli, a renowned psychiatric clinic in Zurich where he had treated the ramblings of delusional patients as material worthy of interpretation rather than as unintelligible ravings and had developed the first word-association tests validating the role of the unconscious. He also resigned as chair of the International Psychoanalytical Association, where he had been placed by Freud. Jung was acutely aware of the risks The Red Book posed to his reputation. So Jung buried his soul into his dream journal and hid it away to protect himself.

However, leading Jungian scholar Sonu Shamdasani believed that it was Jung’s intention for his “book of the soul” one day to be published and spent three years convincing the Jung Foundation and family to allow him to edit The Red Book for circulation. Shamdasani pointed to the fact that the text contains on several occasions the address “dear friends,” as if directed at an audience. And Jung let close friends have copies of transcriptions and even allowed patients to see the book, considering it a model for his clinical practice. But still the family was reluctant; Carl Jung died in 1961, and since then his heirs had kept The Red Book hidden away in a bank vault in Switzerland.

Shamdasani, an author, editor, and professor at the University College London Centre for the History of Medicine, waged a campaign to get the book published. Although not a Jungian, he studied Jung for decades and was drawn to the breadth of his psychology as well as his knowledge of Eastern thought. And despite Jung’s own claim that he was on the verge of mental collapse when he wrote the book, Shamdasani disagrees. “It wasn’t a breakdown. While he was doing this, he was maintaining his practice, seeing patients, attending to clerical work, and performing his duties with his family,” Shamdasani said. “This isn’t automatic drawing. It’s extraordinarily controlled. It’s not art therapy. Jung saw it as a religious quest. It was always intended for an audience.”

Shamdasani did finally get the family’s consent to his request; it took an additional 13 years to translate and edit The Red Book and finally arrange publication in 2009, along with more than 1,000 footnotes. “This has lasted longer than the Trojan War,” Shamdasani quipped. “Overall the narrative of the book is how Jung recovers his soul, recovers meaning in his life … and in so doing he created a psychology that creates a vehicle for others to regain meaning in their life.”

Jung considered The Red Book the genesis, nucleus, and the source of all his subsequent work on archetypes, the collective unconscious, and the process of individuation. It distinguished Jung from his mentor Sigmund Freud and laid claim to some of the most important discoveries regarding the human psyche. It makes one think that without The Red Book, Jung might have been a mere footnote in history.

The Legacy

Today, Jung’s influence is so pervasive that it can easily be taken for granted as a basic building block of Western culture. If you’ve ever embraced or rolled your eyes at a New Age philosopher, sat in a chair opposite a counselor instead of lying on a couch, discussed whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, or wondered at the results of a Myers-Briggs test, then you’ve felt the influence of Carl Jung.

If art therapy has been beneficial to you or your children or if you have studied in the crosscurrents of Eastern and Western religion and contemplated the notion of spirituality or attended Alcoholics Anonymous or meditated as a form of recovery, then you’ve experienced the far reaching effects of Jung’s work. He wasn’t perhaps the only source for these endeavors and understandings, but he was certainly a pioneer in exploring them.

<b>ILLUMINATING MANUSCRIPT:</b> “It could pass for a Bible rendered by a medieval monk,” art critic Peter Frank said of The Red Book. It just happens that Jung’s art is “dedicated not to the glory of God or king, but to that of the human race.”

Jung’s sway in art is legendary  ​— ​ artists as diverse as Jackson Pollock, Federico Fellini, and Martha Graham have cited his influence. And for better or worse, Jung is the original source, via his disciple Joseph Campbell, of Hollywood’s infatuation with “the hero’s journey” as a vehicle for box-office success. Although Jung warned against hero worship, Hollywood studio filmmaking has burdened every male hero and comic-book character with a dramatic arc based on the hero’s journey that has now been bludgeoned to death on the screens of American cinema.

But reading The Red Book reinvigorates and washes clean the over-used clichés of archetypal study and reasserts the authenticity of the inner journey. That is why The Red Book is so important. “Jungian content is so diluted today,” Shamdasani said recently, “that it’s like low-alcohol beer. This book has the real blood in it.”

Earlier this month, the symposium The Art and Transformative Psychology of C.G. Jung’s Red Book at Pacifica Graduate Institute proved that Jung’s Red Book has already taken on a new life of its own. Given the interdisciplinary presentations by the wide variety of speakers, this 100-year-old “encyclopedic palace of the imagination,” with its ornate calligraphy and psychedelic illustrations, its incantations and entrancing mandalas, and sometimes grisly painted panels, has already begun to be assimilated into our cultural understanding.

Depending on whom you ask, Jung’s Red Book is a dream book, visionary literature, a spiritual footprint, a portal into the active imagination, a cherished totem for followers, a rebellion against the psychiatric establishment, an entrance into another world, a bible for therapeutic Gnosticism, a model for patients or anyone who chooses to find their own way through an inner journey, a mind-altering LSD trip without drugs, a manual of spiritual alchemy for self-transformation and self-development, or simply a record of one man’s mental breakdown.

To art critic and Huffington Post contributor Peter Frank, it remains a great work of art. “It is an endlessly fascinating and staggeringly luxurious artifact, a thing of beauty and of magic,” he wrote. “It could pass for a Bible rendered by a medieval monk, especially for the care with which Jung entered his writing as ornate Gothic script.” It just happens that his art is “dedicated not to the glory of God or king, but to that of the human race.”

As such The Red Book asserts by its mere existence Jung’s clearest and most important departure from the psychiatry of Freudian inclinations. Rather than placing the therapist on a pedestal and treating the patient as cut off and unaware of his or her truth, Jungian depth psychology and dream analysis is a model for trusting oneself and one’s imagination and having the courage to face one’s own demons. It heralds the creative transformation of self.

According to Young, “It expands our capacity as therapists to receive the unconscious and the psyche and to trust the patient model for trusting yourself as opposed to telling a patient what is wrong with them.”

Pacifica Graduate Institute founding president Dr. Stephen Aizenstat stresses that The Red Book tells us not to be afraid of our dreams even if we’re under attack. “The secret of The Red Book story is being an adapter and utilizing your inner resources,” he said. “If you’re tapped into your creativity and ingenuity, it’s hard to be anxious and depressed and creative at the same time.”

The Wounded Healer

The Red Book begins with the words “the way of what is to come …” and Hugh Milstein, cofounder and president of DigitalFusion, said that after poring over these prints endlessly, he discovered something intriguing. “There’s a hidden egg, a little egg in almost every one,” he said. Then, pointing at a series of prints from The Red Book, he shows that “the egg starts to give off light and then to explode out.” Not being a Jungian scholar, he hesitates to draw a meaning from his observation. But clearly Jung meant for all of us to make up our own minds and to come to our own conclusions.

“There is only one way, and that is your way,” Jung writes at one point in The Red Book. “You seek the path? I warn you away from my own. It can also be the wrong path for you. May each go his own way. I will be no savior, no lawgiver, no master teacher unto you. You are no longer little children. … May each seek out his own way. The way leads to mutual love in community. Men will come to see and feel the similarity and commonality of their ways.”

Intrigued by stories of miraculous healing and alchemy as metaphor, Jung likely knew that in that period when he was writing The Red Book, he fit one of the archetypes he was most famous for defining ​— ​that of the Wounded Healer, the Wise Man, the Hermit on the mountain who retreats to rediscover the principles of healing, who humbles himself before visions of the divine.

As shown by figures in myth as ancient as Chiron (the centaur famous for his healing powers while suffering from a wound that would never heal) and Merlin the magician and his Shadow and as contemporary as Gandalf, Dumbledore, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and, of course, even Darth Vader, one must take the inner journey and follow one’s own path. So look for the hidden egg and follow it through Jung’s Red Book drawings and marvel at what it might have meant to Jung and what it might mean to you.


C.G. Jung’s Red Book exhibit runs through April 4 at Pacifica Graduate Institute’s Ladera Lane Campus (801 Ladera Ln.). For more information, call 969-3626 or visit


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