The Red Book by Carl Jung


Last night, I was at a lecture given by, Laurie Savlov, a senior Jungian analyst in Toronto, who has undertaken a monumental task—reading, understanding and lecturing about Carl Jung’s Red Book. Lots of people review books, you may say. What’s so hard about this one?

First of all, physically it is an imposing, awkward “coffee-table” sized book, measuring approximately 12”x 16” with about 370 pages and great number of images. But it’s not so much its size, but its vast, sprawling content that both fascinates and intimidates.

The Red Book was created by Carl Jung during the years 1913 through to 1930. This Swiss psychiatrist had a family life, a busy clinical practice, and was a lecturer, a student of philosophy, religion, mythology etc., and he devoted most evenings to exploring his own sub-conscious during those years. No one had ever conceived of or embarked upon such a project. Few people were aware that they had a subconscious. Fewer still, even today, pay much attention to it.

What is in this Red Book? It is an amazing collection of Jung’s fantasies—not dreams, but visions. How did he come by these visions? He developed a technique which he then used in his practice with his patients, which he called “active imagination.” He found that if he could permit mental images to rise up to him and into his conscious mindthey would change and develop right before his mind’s eye. It was important to not only let these images take on their own lives, but for the visualizer to try to step into the visions and engage whatever of whomever was appearing. From those visions, you would learn a great deal about the unconscious.

And so, the Red Book consists of a recording of the fantasies and/or visions which his subconscious and collective unconscious produced. In addition, he also wrote extensively in the book about his interpretation or contemplation of these visions. Later on, he created beautiful paintings to accompany some of these visions, which look very much like medieval, illuminated manuscripts. I think it is the sprawling nature of such immense material which makes it hard to know how to approach the Red Book. But after all, it welled up from the unconscious almost as if it came from a fount of nature. Which, I believe it did. It’s like trying to grasp a living thing in order to understand it.

Jung came to regard the book as the foundation of all his subsequent writings and his approach to analytic practice. Laurie Savlov’s opinion is that the work is really precognitive—that is, Jung was looking into the future of human affairs, thought and emotion.

The book was only published in 2009. Where had it been since his death in 1961. Apparently, it remained in Jung’s home for many years and then, his family stored it away in a Swiss vault. No one but his family saw it for many years. The work is so revealing of Jung, his methods and how he came to them that it is now thought that it is a real mother-lode for fresh interpretation of his many well know written works.

I must admit that when I bought my copy of the book, I was certainly daunted. I was almost overcome with a sense of frustration in not knowing how to get a hold of this monumental work. But I am not alone, apparently. Many people have felt this way and so their copy simply sits on a coffee table safe and secure as if it were still in that bank vault. But last night, Laurie Savlov gave us hope and inspiration to go back and try again!

This Red Book is most helpful to me as I am working on the third draft of a novel, provisionally entitled The Fate of Pryde, in which the subject is the visionary experience for my favourite artist Alexander Wainwright, protagonist of the Trilogy of Remembrance.

If you’d like to see The Red Book and the process of publishing it, go to You Tube http://ow.ly/3It9f . Apparently, the publisher only did an initial run of 5,000. In one year, it has sold 65,000 copies!

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About Mary E. Martin

Mary E. Martin grew up in Toronto, Canada. After earning an Honors Degree in History at the University of Toronto, she graduated with her law degree from Queens University, Kingston, Ontario. In 1973, she was called to the Bar of Ontario and began the general practice of law in Toronto, with emphasis on real estate, wills and estates and elder-care law. This law practice of more than 30 years was a great inspiration for The Osgoode Trilogy ("Conduct in Question," "Final Paradox" and "A Trial of One.") Her fourth novel, “The Drawing Lesson,” will be the first in the next trilogy, provisionally entitled “The Trilogy of Rmembrance.” She is also a photographer particularly with respect to her travels. She has had two commercial photography shows. Married in 1973, she and her husband live in Toronto. They have three adult children.
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2 Responses to The Red Book by Carl Jung

  1. Collin Carbno says:

    I ordered the great red book, not realizing that it was monster, was I surprised when it arrived in 2009. Good review.. thanks for giving it. It is certainly a fascinating book ….

    • Thanks for reading Colin. I understand that Jung is sometimes criticized for not having more structure to his work. I think that’s not really fair, because there is nothing more disorganized than the unconscious. It may be a challenge to get into it, but I think it’s well worth it.

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