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About the Author
Dr. Stephan A. Hoeller is the author of The Gnostic Jung and the Seven Sermons to the Dead, Freedom: Alchemy for a Voluntary Society, and The Royal Read: A Manual of Kabbalistic Meditations on the Tarot. He is associate professor of comparative religions at the College of Oriental Studies in Los Angeles, an organization interested in Jungian psychology, the Kabbalah, Tarot, classical Gnosticism, myth, and literature. Born in Hungary, he graduated from the University of Innsbruck in Austria. He resides in Hollywood, California.
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The Gnostic Jung and the Seven Sermons to the Dead
By Stephan A. Hoeller
Theosophical Publishing HouseCopyright © 1982 Stephan A. Hoeller
All rights reserved.
The Gnosis of C.G. Jung
A Science Born of Mystery
In this latter quarter of the twentieth century, few would deny the truth of the statement that depth psychology has proven to be one of the mightiest transforming forces of the culture of our era. Emerging from the dark alienation of consciousness that characterized the nineteenth century, the rediscovery of the unconscious mystery within the human mind has become very much like the biblical leaven that made an entire new world of the spirit rise before the eyes of past generations. The German philosopher Martin Heidegger spoke a great truth when he called the nineteenth century the darkest of all the centuries of the modern era; yet it was precisely at this time of the greatest obscuration of the light of the spirit that the two pioneering giants of the unconscious, Sigmund Freud and Carl Gustav Jung, were born, in 1856 and 1875 respectively.
Freud was a great discoverer, destined to unmask many things. Psychologists, as well as the public, are still slow to realize the debt of gratitude they owe him. A man of the old, narrowly materialistic school of science, whom only practical exigencies drove from the biologist's laboratory into the healing arts, Freud could do no other than use the patterns of thought of his times. By a tragically ironic twist of fate, the very man whose discoveries ultimately shook the very foundations of scientific rationalism remained himself chained to rationalistic and reductionistic dogma, which he guarded and defended with desperate conviction. Like Moses, he could not enter the promised land toward which he led others, the task of the final conquest thus falling to a younger man, a new Joshua of the mind, whose name was Carl Gustav Jung.
Who was Jung and how did he accomplish the crowning task of psychic pioneering? What were the sources of his prophetic insight into the most secret recesses of the human soul? From whence did he derive his wisdom?
All through Jung's long life (July 26, 1875 to June 6, 1961) people were puzzled by the curiously esoteric and magical overtones of his work. Here was a phenomenon hitherto unheard of in the world of the intelligentsia since the era of the Enlightenment. Symbols and images of dark and ancient power were resuscitated from the dust of their millenial tombs. Heretics and alchemists, mystics and magicians, Taoist sages and Tibetan lamas lent the treasures of their arcane quests to the wizardry of the modern Swiss Hermes. Gone were the mundane, personalistic preoccupations of the earlier psychoanalysis with its childhood traumas and infantile vagaries, and the gods and heroes of old were no longer regarded as the glorified masks of childish lusts and terrors. Like Venus arising from the foam of the sea, or Athena springing from the brow of Zeus, the archetypes arose from the prima materia of the collective unconscious; the Gods once again walked with men. Above these primeval creative waters of the psyche moved the spirit of one man, the genius of Jung. Well could the learned wonder and the wise be astonished, for a new era of the mind had come.
To those informed regarding the arcane disciplines and theories of the alternative reality tradition, sometimes called the perennial philosophy, or theosophia (divine wisdom), it soon became clear that certain parallels existed between Jung's teachings and what to them was long known as the path of initiation. As the noted esoteric poet and diplomat, Miguel Serrano, observed in his seminal small work, C.G. Jung and Hermann Hesse, it was as though there were a second language underlying the first in all of Jung's works. The analyst came to be a hierophant of the mysteries, while the patient became a neophyte, or disciple. Sickness revealed itself as a divided or incomplete condition and health as a state of spiritual wholeness. Analytical psychology began to appear as a dialogue between the individual and the universe, without destroying the personality or the ego after the fashion of some Buddhist and Hindu theories.
The sources of Jung's work remained a subject of conjecture for many decades. During his lifetime Jung shrouded the origins of his discoveries in a mantle of caution that often bordered on Hermetic concealment. He said again and again that everything he wrote was based on empirical evidence, indicating that no matter how esoteric and mystical much of his work appeared, it always rested on experience in the psychological field. Most persons took this to mean that Jung treated many patients, that he also had access to the practical research of many of his junior colleagues, and that his books were no doubt the result of data gathered from these sources. Of course, there were rumors which declared that he was a most unconventional scientist indeed, and that he associated with astrologers and men of religion. It was also whispered that he, himself, had occult and weird experiences, saw ghosts and consulted oracles.
It was not until after Jung's death in 1961 and especially after the publication of his remarkable autobiographical fragments, entitled Memories, Dreams and Reflections, that a continuous stream of progressively more daring revelations began to pour forth from the pens of his disciples and from posthumously published notes and letters of Jung himself. From these sundry disclosures we learn that between 1912 and 1917 Jung underwent an intense period of experience which involved a tremendous flooding of his consciousness from within by forces which he called archetypal but which previous ages would have declared to be divine and demonic. A certain amount of information regarding these experiences Jung communicated in confidence to various of his associates, but undoubtedly he experienced much more than he ever disclosed, indeed more than ever will be disclosed. The great explorer often called this experience, or rather cycle of experiences, his Nekyia, using the term whereby Homer described the descent of Odysseus into the underworld. At this time, so we are told, he withdrew from most external activities, with the exception of a modicum of his psychiatric practice. It is even reported that during this period he did not read any books, assuredly a great event in the life of such an avid student of every form of literature. Although he did not read, he wrote. His writing at this time consisted of the records of his strange, inner experiences which filled 1,330 handwritten pages, illustrated by his own hand. His handwriting at this time changed to one that was used in the fourteenth century; his paintings were painted with pigments which he himself made, after the fashion of the artists of bygone ages. He had some of the most beautiful paintings and scriptures bound in red leather and kept in a place of honor among his belongings; hence they became known as the Red Book. According to eye-witnesses, the writings of this period of his life fall into two distinct categories; some are bright and angelic, while others are dark and demonic in form and content. One is tempted to say that Jung, in the manner of other magicians, went through experiences belonging to the categories of Theurgic Invocation of gods and of Goetic Evocation of spirits and that he kept a "magical record" of each.
Fascinating as these facts about Jung's early transformation are in themselves, their true importance is only disclosed when we realize that there is evidence that much, if indeed not all, of his scientific work may be based on visionary revelations. The much-repeated adjective empirical, characterizing the sources of Jung's work, thus appears in an entirely new light. Jung's psychological science was indeed grounded in empirical elements, but these were not primarily of an external nature but consisted of the experiences and experiments he carried out in his own secret world, in the occult regions of his deepest unconscious. Of course, Jung is not "scientific" in the narrower sense of the word in use today in that he did not control variables and conduct careful, repeatable experiments. His "science" consisted in developing a systematized body of knowledge derived from observation and study and discovery of principles and meaning behind the area of his studies, using scientific standards of objectivity. He (and Freud) have an acceptable modern-day scientific ally in phenomenology, whose proponents consider the various modes of human consciousness as their primary data and construct hypotheses, theories and explanations based on these.
It may be useful to remember that Freud carried out much of his research in a manner like that of Jung. The great Viennese doctor discovered the secrets of dreams by way of analyzing his own dreams, and indeed he remained, perhaps, the only psychoanalyst never to submit to analysis by anyone else, discounting a brief discussion of a few of his own dreams with Jung on their common American voyage. Jung was not alone in seeking the company of occultists and unconventional mystics, for Freud was an avid visitor of the haunts of soothsayers, and nourished an important friendship with a crank scientist named Wilhelm Fliess. One is tempted to characterize Jung as a supremely rational antirationalist, while Freud could be called a very irrational rationalist. However, both were seeking the same thing: "More Light" (Goethe's famed Mehr Licht) concerning the mysteries of the psyche.
In 1917 at the conclusion of his great descent into his personal, spiritual underworld, Jung was faced with a portentous choice. He could have taken his revelations at face value, perhaps published them as some sort of off-beat religious tome, and thus joined the ranks of the great occult writers of his time like H.P. Blavatsky and Rudolf Steiner. Instead, Jung decided to remain within the field of his chosen scientific discipline, namely depth psychology, but not without utilizing the 1,330 pages of mysterious and archetypal revelatory material to enrich his scientific work. There is good reason to suspect that Jung, throughout his entire life, continued to draw on this record of secret lore and to incorporate elements of it in his numerous books as he deemed fit. There is incontrovertible evidence available that he did this in the case of the first great work which he authored after his personal transformation, namely his book Psychological Types, published in 1921. While afflicted with contagious whooping cough and thus isolated from his usual patients, he dictated the manuscript for this work at an incredibly furious pace, completing the first 583 pages in six weeks time. He subsequently confessed to the Dutch poet Roland Holst that Psychological Types was written entirely on the basis of the material contained in thirty pages of his Red Book.
As one might expect, Jung maintained a constant contact with the mysterious sources that inspired his Red Book throughout his life. He remained an inspired—some might say haunted—revelator for the rest of his days. His scientific work never represented a compartment of his existence that would or could be separated from his mystical and prophetic life; the two were intricately and inexorably interrelated. Jung the mystic guided and inspired Jung the scientist, while the physician and psychologist supplied balance and common sense to stabilize and to render practical the messages of the archetypal gods and demons. Thus was the epochal work of Carl Jung conceived and executed. In both its content and intent, it was an example of the precious principle of coniunctio oppositorum, the union of the polarities that ever produces the elixir of ultimate meaning.
The corpus containing Jung's original experiences of the unconscious from the period of his great transformation was never made available to the public by him. The attitude of his heirs appears to be, if anything, even more secretive in this regard than Jung's had been. It appears at the time of the writing of these words (1982) that any hope or expectation one may nourish for the publication of this material is not likely to be fulfilled for some time to come. Thus we are left with Jung's scientific works and very little more. Still, in this category of more we find at least one most remarkable document which tells us a great deal about the sources of Jung's psychology. This is a small work, hardly more than a diminutive monograph, although the significance of its contents may easily elevate it to an item of major importance in the study of Jung's message and mission. The work we refer to is known as The Seven Sermons to the Dead.
Preaching to the Dead
Carl Jung permitted the publication of only one solitary fragment from the vast amount of archetypal material which he wrote under mysterious inspiration in the early part of his career. It was written in a short time sometime between December 15, 1916, and February 16,1917. According to Jung's statement in his autobiographical fragments, it was written in three evenings. The writing of this small book was heralded by weird events and was replete with phenomena of a para-psychological nature. First, several of Jung's children saw and felt ghostly entities in the house, while he himself felt an ominous atmosphere all around him. One of the children dreamt a religiously colored and somewhat menacing dream involving both an angel and a devil. Then—it was a Sunday afternoon—the front doorbell rang violently. The bell could actually be seen to move frantically, but no one visible was responsible for the act. A crowd of "spirits" seemed to fill the room, indeed the house, and no one could even breathe normally in the spook-infested hallway. Dr. Jung cried out in a shaky and troubled voice: "For God's sake, what in the world is this?" The reply came in a chorus of ghostly voices: "We have come back from Jerusalem where we found not what we sought." With these words the treatise, which is entitled in Latin Septem Sermones ad Mortuos, commences and then continues in German with the subtitle: "Seven exhortations to the dead, written by Basilides in Alexandria, the city where East and West meet."
Even a superficial reading of the treatise reveals that it is written in the manner of second century Gnosticism and uses largely the terminology of that era. The very subtitle reveals the name of the famous gnostic sage Basilides, who taught in Alexandria in Hellenistic Egypt around the years A.D. 125-140. To Basilides, in fact, does Jung seem to attribute the authorship of the document itself, thus suggesting to some an element of mediumship and (or) automatic writing. In this regard it may be necessary to remember that for many centuries it was customary for authors of spiritually toned literature not to sign their own names to such works but to ascribe them poetically to someone whom they considered to occupy a position superior to their own. The celebrated Zohar of the Kabbalistic corpus is thus fictitiously attributed to Rabbi Shimon ben Jochai, its real author being unknown. It is more than likely that C. G. Jung utilized this time-honored exercise in poetic humility when using the name of Basilides as the author of the Sermons. Yet, the parapsychological element contained in the phenomena surrounding the writing of the treatise was freely acknowledged and emphasized by Jung, even to the extent of applying to it the words of Goethe in the second part of Faust: "It walks abroad, it's in the air!" One thing is certain: this is an unusual work, written under most unusual circumstances.
Excerpted from The Gnostic Jung and the Seven Sermons to the Dead by Stephan A. Hoeller. Copyright © 1982 Stephan A. Hoeller. Excerpted by permission of Theosophical Publishing House.
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Table of Contents
Part I: The Gnosis of C.G. Jung,
A Science Born of Mystery,
Preaching to the Dead,
What in the World Are Gnostics,
Jung and Gnosticism,
Jung and the Pansophic Gnosis,
Towards a New Gnosis,
Part II: The Seven Sermons to the Dead (Text of Original Translation of the Sermons.),
Part III: Interpretation of the Seven Sermons,
The Preamble—The Sage, the City and the Dead,
The First Sermon: The Empty Fullness,
The Second Sermon: Helios, Image of God,
The Third Sermon, Part 1: Abraxas, The Heavenly Chanticleer,
The Third Sermon, Part 2: Jung's Unknown God,
The Fourth Sermon: Burning Bush and Tree of Life,
The Fifth Sermon: The Two Communities—Mother City and Father Fortress,
The Sixth Sermon: The Serpent and the Dove,
The Seventh Sermon: Homeward Bound Among the Stars,
Appendix: Translator's Note,
Quintessential Gnostic Glossary,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Any student of Jung has seen the Gnosticism (sometimes lightly cloaked) in his many works. His vocabulary alone stands as proof. One can read the words: Pleroma, pneuma, Sophia, Psyche, demiurge, etc., only so many times before the connection is made. These words come straight out of second, third, and fourth century Christian Gnosticism. Jung's understanding of early Christian Gnosticism is remarkable, seeing that the Nag Hammadi scriptures weren't found until 1945, and not translated from their early Egyptian Coptic until much later. I like to envision Jung digging through old dusty and forgotten texts of Irenaeus and Hippolytus (renowned, if not infamous, early heresy hunters) searching for their takes, and quotes, of early Gnosticism. It must have been a real detective story! Or, was it... Stephan Hoeller, a noted Gnostic himself, publishes Jung's "Seven Sermons to the Dead". Jung never published this work, but did refer to it in his own "Memories, Dreams, Reflections". Jung reports that on a Saturday evening in 1916 his entire family experienced "parapsychological phenomena". On the following day "the whole house was filled as if there were a crowd present, crammed full of spirits...Then they cried out in chorus, 'We have come back from Jerusalem where we found not what we sought.' That is the beginning of the Septem Sermones." He 'wrote' the Seven Sermons to the Dead in three evenings. Jung attributes its writing to Basilides, an ancient Gnostic teacher from Alexandria. One wants to imagine that the work was 'channeled' either directly from Jung's own unconscious or perhaps from Basilidies himself. It is a shame that Jung never published this work himself, making its attribution certain. Still, I find no reason to doubt Hoeller. He clearly explains how it came into his possession and how he came to publish it. The 'seven sermons' comprise only 15 pages of this book, but they are worth the price of the book. Hoeller's commentary is insightful and informative. His understanding of Jung, and Jung's Gnosticism, testifies to Hoeller's many years of study on that subject. It's a real 'page turner' for anyone seriously interested in the Gnosticism of Jung...