The Red Book

red book

The Red Book, also known as Liber Novus (Latin for New Book), is a 205-page manuscript written and illustrated by Swiss psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung between approximately 1914 and 1930, which was not published or shown to the public until 2009. It contain some of his most personal material, and during the sixteen years he worked on it, Jung developed his theories of archetypes, collective unconscious, and individuation. Until 2001, his heirs denied scholars access to the book.

Jung originally titled the manuscript Liber Novus (literally meaning A New Book in Latin), but it was informally known and published as The Red Book due to its red leather binding. The book is written in calligraphic text and contains many illuminations.

The book was begun after a falling out with Sigmund Fraud. Jung was associated with Freud for a period of approximately five years, beginning in 1907. Their relationship became increasingly acrimonious. When the final break came in 1913, Jung retreated from many of his professional activities for a time to further develop his own theories. Jung referred to the episode as a kind of experiment, a voluntary confrontation with the unconscious. Some biographers believe it was a psychotic episode.

Jung termed his technique active imagination. As he described it, he was visited by two figures, an old man and a young woman, who identified themselves as Elijah and Salome. They were accompanied by a large black snake. In time, the Elijah figure developed into a guiding spirit that Jung called Philemon. Salome was identified by Jung as an anima (inner self) figure. The figures, according to Jung, ‘brought home to me the crucial insight that there are things in the psyche which I do not produce, but which produce themselves and have their own life.’

About the Red Book, Jung said: ‘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.’  The Philemon figure represented superior insight and communicated through mythic imagery. The images did not appear to come from Jung’s own experience and Jung interpreted them as products of the collective unconscious.

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