For more than 80 years, the texts that shape the Red Book remained in the care of Carl Gustav Jung’s heirs until its publication in 2009.

For some it is the most influential unpublished work in the history of psychology, the New York Times after its publication called it “the holy grail of the unconscious”, and today we can speak of it as the work that marked all the later work of Carl Gustav Jung and that gave birth to his analytical psychology : the Red Book.

  • You can purchase the Red Book by Carl Gustav Jung through this link.

Carl Gustav Jung’s meeting with Sigmund Freud

The year 1913 was a turning point in the life of Carl Gustav Jung (among other things, especially marked by the intellectual separation with Sigmund Freud). Until today, what happened with him has always been a matter of discussion and controversy between Jungian analysts and other psychoanalysts . This episode has been called in various ways: a creative illness, an attack of madness, a narcissistic self-deification, a mental disturbance close to psychosis, a process of reunion with the soul, etc.

The point is that, during this period, Jung conducted an experiment with himself that lasted until 1930 and that he later recognized as his “confrontation with the unconscious” . The “confrontation” was narrated and portrayed in his work “The Red Book” which remained unpublished for more than eighty years and was described by Jung as the work that led to the development of a “technique for getting to the bottom of internal processes […] translating emotions into images […] and understanding fantasies that mobilized him underground” and which he later called active imagination.

Jung began the book by recording his fantasies in the so-called “black books” which he later revised and supplemented with various reflections. Finally, he transferred these texts calligraphically along with illustrations to a red book called Liber Novus.

Almost a century of mystery

For most of his friends, colleagues, and even his own family, the Red Book was always surrounded by mystery, for Jung was always jealous of his work. He only shared his intimate experiences written in the book with his wife Emma Rauschenbach and a few other people he trusted. In addition, he left his work on the book unfinished in 1930, attempting to return to it in 1959, but the epilogue remained unfinished.

Although Jung evaluated its publication, the most he showed of it while working on it was Seven Sermons to the Dead , printed and given by the author himself to a few acquaintances in 1916. The reason why he did not decide to publish the Liber Novus was simple: the work was still unfinished .

Although Jung maintained that the book is an autobiographical work, he was reluctant to publish it in the complete works as he considered it to be unscientific. After his death in 1961, the book’s legacy was passed on to his descendants, who, knowing that it was a unique and irreplaceable work, decided to keep it in a bank safe in 1983. After an extensive debate between the collaborators of his complete works and the group of Jung’s heirs, in the year 2000 its publication was authorized .

The book finally saw the light of day in 2009. Among the reasons that convinced the heirs to publish this work was the fact that it was the material that shaped all his later work and the development of analytical psychology.

The “Holy Grail of the Unconscious”

All of Jung’s later work is derived from the ideas presented in this book. Jung shapes almost in a prophetic and medieval way the study of the unconscious that he himself addressed in a symbolic way during those years . It is because of the abstract nature of the themes dealt with in this work that the book has a very marked structure.

The parts of The Red Book

In its published version, the work is divided into three parts: Liber Primus , Liber Secundus and the Scrutinies .

In the first one, the unconscious symbolic experiences lived by Jung from November 12 to December 25, 1913 are registered , where the figure of the hero understood by Jung as his superior psychic function takes place, who has to be killed by him so that his counterpart resurfaces and begins the process of individuation, not before meeting other archetypes such as the anima, the old sage, the sun god, etc.

In the liber secundus (elaborated from December 26, 1913 to April 1914) the successive encounters with other symbolic images are narrated, which are usually characters with whom Jung interacts promoting the awareness of processes and functions dissociated from Jung’s personality, and with this opening the possibility of achieving the transcendent function.

Finally, Scrutinies (which was not originally written in the red-covered notebook), which he wrote between 1914 and 1916 , has a less “poetic” content and is much more complex than the previous books , as it provides clues and notes from Jung himself for the understanding of his experiences in the previous books.

The consecration of his theories from the book

Jung wanted to develop a psychological model based on the visions narrated in the book, which became a great odyssey because it was difficult for the scientific community to accept. Although Jung’s personality was always shaped by pseudosciences such as alchemy, astrology, I ching, etc. Jung always strove to create a unifying theory between the role of the mind and physical phenomena.

The Red Book is a testimony to these efforts, as well as an essential subject of study for anyone interested in analytical psychology .

Bibliographic references:

  • New York Times article
  • Psychology and Mind article on the Daimon or creative impulse developed by Jung
  • Jung, C. G. (2012). The Red Book. Buenos Aires: El Hilo de Ariadna.