Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Magician, pp. 312-330

In this long section of Liber Secundus we are introduced to Philemon, the “magician” who later introduces Jung to the Gnostic mysteries via the Seven Sermons to the Dead. Jung tells us that Philemon’s “magical rod lies in a cupboard together with the sixth and seventh books of Moses and the wisdom of Hermes Trismegitsus.” Interestingly, Jung himself kept The Red Book in his kitchen cupboard at Kusnacht, where it remained even for years after his death. Of further note, the Sixth and Seventh books of Moses is a book of Kabbalistic magical spells that was published in 1849 by Johann Schiebel, who claimed, without warrant, that the spells were derived from ancient Talmudic and Kabbalistic sources.

The introduction of “magic” provides Jung with the opportunity to discuss the role of reason and unreason in the search for one’s soul. Jung says, “Whenever I want to learn and understand something I leave my so-called reason at home and give whatever it is that I am trying to understand the benefit of the doubt. I have learned this gradually, because nowadays the world of science is full of scary examples of the opposite” (313).

With regard to the nature of magic Philemon tells Jung, “there is nothing to understand…Magic happens to be everything that eludes comprehension.” The difficulty with magic is precisely the difficulty of existing without reason. However, since reason declines with old age, most magicians are advanced in years.

Jung makes a number of other interesting observations about magic. We learn that “It is an error to believe that there are magical practices that one can learn. One cannot understand magic. One can only understand what accords with reason. Magic accords with unreason, which one cannot understand. The world accords not only with reason but with unreason” (314). Further, “Magical understanding is what one calls noncomprehension…One calls incomprehensible workings magical.”

“Where reason abides, no one needs magic. Hence our time no longer needs magic. Only those without reason needed it to replace their lack of reason.” But it is thoroughly unreasonable to bring together what suits reason with magic since they have nothing to do with one another.”

“But it is another thing for whoever has opened the chaos in himself…We recognized that the world comprises reason and unreason; and we also understood that our way needs only reason but also unreason.”

“But one can be certain that the greater part of the world eludes our understanding…a part of the incomprehensible, however, is only presently incomprehensible and might already concur with reason tomorrow.”

“The practice of magic consists in making what is not understood understandable in an incomprehensible manner.”

“If one opens up chaos, magic also arises.”

“One can teach the way that leads to chaos, , but one cannot teach magic. One can only remain silent about this, which seems to be the best apprenticeship.”

How can we understand this series of pronouncements that link magic, with “unreason,” “noncomprehension,” and inner chaos? We can begin by turning to Jung's Psychological Types, which as we know was written during the same period that Jung was composing TheRed Book. There (p. 454, par. 773) Jung says that he uses the term “irrational” “not as denoting something contrary to reason, but something beyond reason, something, therefore, not grounded on reason.” This, he informs us, includes “elementary facts,” for example, “That the earth has a moon, that chlorine is an element, that water reaches its greatest density at for degrees centigrade.” Chance, and the accidental features of objects and events also included under the heading of the irrational.

While we might question some of Jung’s examples, it is clear that for him, “unreason” is that which is at least currently beyond reason and comprehension. While certain things that today exist in the “forest” of incomprehension and unreason may some day enter the “clearing” of knowledge and reason, for Jung, there is also an essential irrational, an essential incomprehensible, an essential unknown. (An example of this might be the non-answer to Heidegger's famous question, "Why is there anything at all?"). It is the belief in the existence and significance of an essential unknown that is one of the features that distinguishes Jungian thought from much of contemporary psychology. Indeed, Jung’s respect for the essentially unknowable places him in close proximity to the mystics. For example, according to the Jewish mystics, the infinite God, Ein-sof (literally, “Without End”):

cannot be an object of thought, let alone of speech, even though there is an indication of it in everything, for there is nothing beyond it. Consequently, there is no letter, no name, no writing, and no word that can comprise it (I. Tishby. The Wisdom of the Zohar, p. 234.)

The locus classicus of the Kabbalah, the Zohar describes Ein-sof as:

the limit of inquiry. For Wisdom was completed from ayin (nothing), which is no subject of inquiry, since it is too deeply hidden and recondite to be comprehended. From the point at which its light begins to extend it is the subject of inquiry, although it is still more recondite than anything beneath, and it is called the interrogative pronoun, “Who?” Hence “Who (Mi) created these”, and also, “From the womb of Whom (Mi) came forth the ice”; as much as to say, that about which we can inquire but find no answer (Zohar 1:30a. The Zohar, Sperling and Simon Vol. 1, p. 114.

Jung equated the infinite God with the unconscious, as the two were for him, psychologically indistinguishable, and he regarded the unconscious as containing an element of the essential unknown. In his “Relations of The Ego to the Unconscious,” (1928) Jung later wrote, “There is little hope of our being able to reach even an approximate consciousness of the self, since however much we make conscious there will always exist an indeterminate and undeterminable amount of unconscious material which belongs to the totality of the self.”

In contrast to those of a positivist or naturalistic viewpoint who hold that the entire cosmos, including the human mind, is a rationally ordered system that will be progressively subject to the conquest of human theory and knowledge, Jung held that the deepest, most interesting layers of the soul, present themselves as insuperable mysteries that are essentially impenetrable to human reason, and further that it is only through a confrontation with such mysteries and the psychological chaos that results from this confrontation that one can fully encounter one’s soul and become individuated as a Self. This, for Jung, is the “magic” of Philemon, and indeed of a true depth psychology. In a letter to Hans Schmid, dated Nov 6, 1915 (See Red Book, p. 237 n. 337) Jung writes: “the core of the individual is a mystery of life, which dies when it is grasped…That is why, in the later stages of analysis, we must help the other to come to those hidden and un-openable symbols, in which the seed of life lies securely hidden like the tender seed in the hard shell.”

Six months after Jung's letter to Schmid, a young philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, who would soon become the the darling of logical positivism, wrote in his notebooks, "The I, the I is what is deeply mysterious," (L. Wittgenstein, Notebooks, Trans. G.E. M. Anscombe, p. 80e) and less than three yaers later: "We feel that even when all possible scientific questions have been answered, the problems of life remain completely untouched." According to Wittgenstein, "There are, indeed, things that cannot be put into words. They make themselves manifest. They are what is mystical." (Tractatus Logico Philosophicus 6.52, 6.522, Trans. Pears and McGuiness, Routledge & Kegan Paul).


  1. Very interesting blog. Thank you.

  2. Without a doubt, Jung was one of the greatest intellects of the last century. Maybe number one. I'm afraid I cannot offer much of anything substantive to this discussion,I'm in a blank awe. Maybe that's similar to being connected to the Ein Sof....or maybe not.

  3. When you quote Jung here, I'm not sure of the reference. For example, you state, "Jung says, “Whenever I want to learn and understand something I leave my so-called reason at home and give whatever it is that I am trying to understand the benefit of the doubt. I have learned this gradually, because nowadays the world of science is full of scary examples of the opposite”" (313). Page 313 refer to what book? The Red Book?

  4. Thank you for your excellent post.

    Here are links to two groups which focus on Dr. Jung's work and Depth Psychology:



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