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Jung’s RED BOOK: Using Mandalas to Ground Your Awareness

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Today I want to discuss Jung’s RED BOOK (or, Liber Novus; 2009) as an example of how to use Totemic Representation to ground and illuminate your personal growth and development.

For a series of evenings starting from November 23 – December 25, 1913, just before the outbreak of WWI,then continuing for 16 years off and on after that, Carl G. Jung, founder of Depth, or Analytical, Psychology and the primary pioneer in the field of archetypal research, undertook an adventurous odyssey; he dived into the netherworlds of his own unconscious depths, and he returned to integrate his dreamlike encounters with the denizens of his unconscious domains within his conscious awareness. Using a form of contemplative practice that he termed “active imagination,” Jung sank willingly into a dreamlike awareness in order to encounter aspects and personae of his own Psyche that he would refer to as Archetypes.

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 To Jung, Archetypes exist in a “collective unconscious” dimension; that is, similar archetypal images or forms are found all over the world and often appear in myths and dreams in similar ways and with similar meanings, although the individual appearance of an archetype might have very individual, personal form and specific cultural relevance. Jung identified several collective archetypes in his active imagination scenarios: an Anima (feminine aspect of a man’s Psyche), Shadow forms, and a Mage sort of figure represented in Jung’s experiences as a philosophical guide or guru figure, Philemon. He also experienced many fairly idiosynchratic figures related to his personal relationships and to his academic, religious, and literary background studies.

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Some of Jung’s archetypal encounters lasted for several nights at a time, weaving a meaningful story.  Every night after his active imagination session, Jung recorded what he had experienced—including dialogue that had occurred with his archetypal figures—in a special journal he called his Red Book. He would sometimes paint some of the content of his experience in the Red Book, too. Every time a storyline had revealed its full significance to Jung, when he came out of his reveries that night he painted a special artistic image to represent his understanding of that archetypal encounter in the form of a circular Mandala (see link).

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A Mandala is a universal sort of artistic image, created in a Circular form within what might be a 4-corner outer frame and with a center image around which the rest of the picture aligns. Tibetan monks and Navajo Indian healers alike use Mandalas in healing and centering rituals. Mandalas represent Balance and the organized coherence and integration of what might otherwise be considered disjoint or even chaotic elements or forces. To Jung, his Red Book mandalas represented the “integration” of archetypal energies within his own Psyche or Soul as he came into greater understanding of their presence and significance.  This process of integrating archetypal energy forms is crucial within Jung’s broader psychological theory of Individuation which he developed more completely after completing his Red Book ‘Descent’ and reemergence.

Jung’s Red Book mandalas—which I can link to only indirectly here so as not to infringe on copyrights—are an excellent form of totemic representation. They served to literally ILLUMINATE the shadowy unconscious forms that might appear in Carl Jung’s dreams and reveries. The process of arranging these archetypal images in Mandala forms revealed the deeper significance of these forms to Jung; it represented the integrationof their MEANINGS within Jung’s holistic understanding of his own Psyche or Self.

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I certainly recommend reading Jung’s Red Book (there is a new Readers’ Edition available that makes this precious gem more accessible and affordable). Even more,I encourage you to engage in an ‘active imagination’ exploration of your own archetypal depths. In Life Paths–also in the next year of this blog that will begin in a couple of weeks from now– I’ll be offering an Archetype Dialogue process to help you discover aspects of your own unconscious archetypal influences that can be thought of as your own ensemble cast of archetypal Ally characters.

For now, though, I invite you to create a MANDALA to represent your LIFE DREAM. Place an image that represents your GOAL ACHIEVED (how you will feel or what your life will be like when you have fully integrated your Life Dream into your daily reality) in the center of a blank page. Around this Life Dream image, place other images or words and phrases to represent significant aspects of this Dream or representing the steps you can take to manifest your Life Dream.  You can refer to last week’s “Yellow Brick Road” and “Your Next Step” blog posts to find or develop material to use in filling out your totemic Life Dream Mandala image.

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I welcome your Mandala image or comments!