Despite denials that would have left Shakespeare’s Queen Gertrude decidedly unconvinced, not to mention his repeated attempts to distance his psychology from anything that might be considered “metaphysical,” Jung could hardly be more deserving of the epithet “Gnostic.” A central aim of this book is to establish that there should be no doubt about the profound influence that the spiritual tradition generally referred to as Gnosticism had on both the formation of analytical psychology as well as Jung’s personal spiritual weltanschauung.
Towards the end of his life, Jung wrote in his memoirs, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, that the curious, unquestionably Gnostic, extract from his personal journal (The Red Book), which was published privately and titled, The Seven Sermons to the Dead—and which he attributed to the second-century Gnostic teacher, Basilides—preconfigured all the major ideas of his psychology. In other words, the nascent forms of the principal tenets of analytical psychology can be found in a Gnostic-inspired text. This book examines this profound Gnostic influence through an analysis of The Seven Sermons along with Jung’s essay, “The Transcendent Function,” both written in 1916, and which, the book argues, can be considered the two sides of the same coin, the latter containing the psychological method for coming to terms with the metaphysical concepts articulated mythopoetically in the former.
The book also makes the case for Jung’s Gnostic heritage by highlighting the many correspondences between both of Jung’s works and the cache of Gnostic texts found in Upper Egypt in 1945 and known as the Nag Hammadi Library. However, rather than claim the Jung ought to be considered a Gnostic, or that analytical psychology can be recast as a psychological interpretation of Gnostic philosophy, one of the book’s conclusions is that Jung belongs to the same general spiritual lineage that passed through the Gnostics and the medieval alchemists. Despite the recurring Gnostic themes in his work, there was a paucity of Gnostic texts available to Jung when forming his psychology, (the Nag Hammadi Library had yet to be discovered), and he was unable to establish a foundation for his theories in Gnostic philosophy. Instead, he claimed an uninterrupted intellectual chain from his psychology back through the alchemy of the middle ages to the Gnostics of antiquity.
Consequently, Jung sought confirmation of in ideas in alchemy, with three of his major works, including his final major work which he regarded as his opus, Mysterium Coniunctionis, devoted to alchemy. This book claims that alchemy can be considered to be, not a continuation of Gnostic philosophy, but an evolution on the same developmental trajectory as the Western spiritual myth. This development sees the Western myth, originally premised on a wholly transcendent divinity (Gnostic), shift to a myth that embraces an immanent divinity (alchemy in its psychological interpretation).
The Seven Sermons, and Jungian psychology more generally, might then be regarded as a further evolution of the living myth of Western spirituality in which, in a paradoxical way, the opposites are embraced and reconciled, and divinity can now be seen as both transcendent and immanent. This may well be the greatest legacy of Jung’s work.
In keeping with the essential, defining characteristics of both Gnosticism (cosmogony based on the emanation of pairs of opposites) and Jungian psychology (the integration of opposites), the approach taken for this book attempted to combine the “opposites” of an analytical treatment of the material with an experiential investigation of the topic using the author’s dreams. The intention of this approach was not only to provide a richer description of the transcendent function while facilitating a deeper understanding of the topic, but also to evoke the transcendent function during the process of the book’s writing in which the resultant “third thing” became the book itself.
Stuart Douglas is a dreamer and a heretic who completed his PhD in transpersonal psychology after an earlier career as a systems analyst. His specialist areas of interest include the intersection of Jungian psychology and Gnosticism and, more generally, ancient wisdom and contemplative traditions. When not pursuing these interests, or rendering unto Caesar, he spends his time hiking in the mountains or plotting his escape from the matrix. His book, White Bird, Black Serpent, Red Book, is published this week by Karnac.
Reviews and Endorsements
‘This is a rich, remarkable, startling and courageous book connecting Gnosticism with lesser-known aspects of Jung’s work. Because Gnosticism is inherently informed by the direct experience of the spiritual practitioner rather than by scholarship or rational inquiry it can seem a conceptually dense, overly complex and wilfully obscure tradition. Jung, particularly in his later, bolder, more personal work presents similar difficulties to academic analysis. Only a very subtle scholar like Dr Douglas, both deeply rooted in his own rigorous spiritual practice and grounded in this literature, could succeed in the profound, inspiring synthesis presented in this book.’
— The Most Reverend Timothy Mansfield, PhD, Ep. Gn., Bishop of New South Wales, Apostolic Johannite Church, Australia