Pursuing Inner Images

“The power of Abraxas is twofold. You cannot see it, because in your eyes the opposition of this power seems to cancel it out.”

 

Seven Sermons to the Dead is a text written in 1916 by the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung and ascribed to the gnostic teacher Basilides. Somewhat in the style of the Red Book, yet more unified, the booklet was printed privately for Jung’s friends but not widely available until it appeared as an appendix in his autobiography Memories, Dreams, Reflections in 1961.

 

It can be read online at http://www.gnosis.org/library/7Sermons.htm

From the introduction:

“In November of 1913 Carl Jung commenced an extraordinary exploration of the psyche, or “soul.” He called it his “confrontation with the unconscious.” During this period Jung willfully entered imaginative or “visionary” states of consciousness. The visions continued intensely from the end of 1913 until about 1917 and then abated by around 1923. Jung carefully recorded this imaginative journey in six black-covered personal journals (referred to as the “Black Books”); these notebooks provide a dated chronological ledger of his visions and dialogues with his Soul.

The Red Book on the desk of C.G. Jung

The Red Book – Liber Novus
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Beginning in late 1914, Jung began transcribing from the Black Book journals the draft manuscript of his legendary Red Book, the folio-sized leather bound illuminated volume he created to contain the formal record of his journey. Jung repeatedly stated that the visions and imaginative experiences recorded in the Red Book contained the nucleus of all his later works.

Jung kept the Red Book private during his lifetime, allowing only a few of his family and associates to read from it. The only part of this visionary material that Jung choose to release in limited circulation was the Septem Sermones, which he had privately printed in 1916. Throughout his life Jung occasionally gave copies of this small book to friends and students, but it was available only as a gift from Jung himself and never offered for public sale or distribution. When Jung’s autobiographical memoir Memories, Dreams, Reflections was published in 1962, the Septem Sermones ad Mortuos was included as an appendix.

It remained unclear until very recently exactly how the Septem Sermones ad Mortuos related to the hidden Red Book materials. After Jung’s death in 1961, all access to the Red Book was denied by his heirs. Finally in October of 2009, nearly fifty years after Jung’s death, the family of C. G. Jung release the Red Book for publication in a beautiful facsimile edition, edited by Sonu Shamdasani. With this central work of Jung’s now in hand, we discover that the Seven Sermons to the Dead actually compose the closing pages of the Red Book draft manuscripts; the version transcribed for the Red Book varies only slightly from the text published in 1916, however the Red Book includes after each of the sermons an additional amplifying homily by Philemon (Jung’s spirit guide). [The Red Book, p346-54]

Base on their context, voice, content, and history, I suggest the Septem Sermones ad Mortuos might now properly be described as the “summary revelation of the Red Book.” Seen in this light, it becomes understandable why Jung chose this one section of his “revelations” for printing and distribution among his disciples.

Near the end of his life, Jung spoke to Aniela Jaffe about the Septem Sermones and explained “that the discussions with the dead [in the Seven Sermons] formed the prelude to what he would subsequently communicate to the world, and that their content anticipated his later books. ‘From that time on, the dead have become ever more distinct for me as the voices of the unanswered. unresolved and unredeemed.’ ” [The Red Book, p346 n78] Jung’s decision in 1916 to publish this single summary statement from the Red Book writings gives evidence of the importance he ascribed to the Seven Sermons. In this same context, Jung remarked to Aniela Jaffe:

“The years … when I pursued the inner images were the most important time of my life. Everything else is to be derived from this. It began at that time, and the later details hardly matter anymore. My entire life consisted in elaborating what had burst forth from the unconscious and flooded me like an enigmatic stream and threatened to break me. That was the stuff and material for more than only one life.”

I’m a fan of Stephan Hoeller, and his translation can be found here: http://www.gnosis.org/library/7Sermons_hoeller_trans.htm


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4 thoughts on “Pursuing Inner Images”

  1. V. interesting, but Jung was extremely psychically disturbed when writing this. The five volumes 9 i and ii, 12, 13 and 14 in the collected works are a more reliable source and the backbone of his psychological insights in reference to mysticism. He himself disliked being termed a mystic, preferring to see himself as a scientist.

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    1. Times of psychic disturbance can be extremely creative – I wouldn’t term him a mystic but I admire his willingness to push his own boundaries and to explore different states of consciousness. As long as we understand the power of our own imagination and how intrinsic it is in developing our own consciousness, we can be somewhat prepared for any ‘insights’. The difficulty is keeping a rein on our imagination, as the activities in the imagined world can become more real and more important to us than any other.

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      1. That’s certainly very true and I agree fully . Perhaps distinguishing between fantasy and creative imagination is one way of separating healthy from unhealthy imagination. But projection is mostly very active unconscious imagination and this determines much human inter-action. Interesting that Jung speaks of Abraxas very close to the god featured in Hesse’s ‘Demian’ novel .

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