The Red Book & Active Imagination: Jungian Study Group
Dates: Aug. 2019 - Apr. 2020
An expedition is taking shape; a fabled old ship is getting ready to sail, and as a way of extending the invitation to embark with us, we would like to share some thoughts about the venture ahead of us...
The territory, as you may have heard, is the unfathomable sea of the Soul; a landscape so elusive and mysterious that any cartographer will do wise in admitting, in advance, that it can never be exhausted nor represented in any accurate way. However we do have attempts; brave or foolish pioneers who for one reason or another thrust out on “a night sea journey”, drifting towards ever-expanding horizons, always faced with the possibility of being swallowed whole by the dark forces of the abyss. One of these wise fools was Carl Gustav Jung, and his Red Book is the most immediate and direct description of what he encountered while at sea.
Written in a highly dramatic and “mythopoetic” tone—completely unheard of for the otherwise so well-respected Doctor—this work is a vivid documentation of both breakdown and breakthrough; a door to a startling and, for some, uncanny vision of the Soul. The years of The Red Book became a deep well from which Jung kept drawing water throughout all his life…
“It all began then; the later details are only supplements and clarification of the material that burst forth from the unconscious (...). It was the prima materia for a lifetime’s work.”
How are we to make sense of this remarkable work today—around 100 years after its conception? How might it guide or inspire our own exploration of our inner seas? What strange creatures might lie hidden in these obscure waters? And what insights might we gain from engaging in dialogue with them?
As you may have picked up already, our hope for the group is not only to study to The Red Book, but to make our own observations and complement our intellectual endeavours with more experiential and practice-based ones. Jung’s intention with The Red Book was not to make a “work of art” or to write a “mystical book”, but simply to respond to the wealth of material that was pouring out of his soul. Based upon his work with the Red Book, Jung developed a technique of expression which he called “active imagination”; a practice through which one seeks to express messages from the unconscious. Be it through painting, writing, drawing, singing, dancing, bodywork, it is a process of caring for the Soul through creative and embodied means.
This has little to do with “being creative” in the usual sense. Instead, it is about exploring the curious and curing effects that the world of imagination, the mundus imaginalis, can have on our lives. The Red Book calls for an engaged reading; one through which we can perceive its poetic phrases and images not only with the head, but also with the heart. One through which the book becomes not only an object to be studied, but also a living inspiration for our own imaginative work. In addition to reading and discussing the text and its images, we therefore plan to set aside 30-45 minutes each time for working with “active imagination”.
This will be through creative writing and meditative exercises, though we also plan to arrange one or two workshops during the fall in which we can engage with our imagination in other ways. This could include body-work, dancing, chanting/singing, cacao-ceremony/sound journey, image-work (collage-making) and/or painting.
Lastly, one or two distinguished guest lecturers may come on board and share a specialist’s perspective on The Red Book with us. Lector at Roskilde University Aksel Haaning and/or Jungian Analyst Henrik Okbøl are likely candidates. So besides our regular meetings every second week, there is a chance that other events related to our expedition will surface. We hope that you will choose to join us on this journey.