Many decades later Jung commented thus upon these sermons: “All my work, all my creative activity, has come from those initial fantasies ... everything that I accomplished in later life was already contained in them, although at first only in the form of emotions and images.”
The seven sermons deal with the self as the androgynous being Abraxas, with the message that self-knowledge may be attained by the conscious assimilation of the contents of the subconscious, in order to achieve unity. The “dead” are those who stopped growing spiritually by not questioning their egos. By not growing, they are in essence the living dead.
Jung considered his own work a link in the golden chain from ancient gnosticism via philosophical alchemy to the modern psychology of the subconscious. Just as in those ancient texts, his work reveals a fragmented self in which the image of the divine may be found.
The author made his own translation of the sermons and provided a comprehensive preface, exegesis of the sermons and afterword in which he comments grippingly on Jung, gnosticism and the current era. His views on the survival of the pansophic/theosophic tradition (through the arts) are particularly enlightening.
Jung’s central doctrine of individuation is an ancient concept of the western esoteric tradition – the tendency of the individual consciousness not to surrender its light into nothingness. Unlike many eastern spiritual systems, the Western tradition never knew the permanent dissolution of the individual consciousness in the divine.
Already in the first sermon this question is discussed, i.e. how to remain an individual while simultaneously achieving an optimal degree of unity with the ineffable greatness of the pleroma within us. Jung gives us an undivided model of reality in which both causal and acausal connections, spirit and matter, are reconciled.
As for belief, Jung convincingly argues that human beings have a religious need - not a need for belief, however, but one for religious experience. This is a psychical experience that leads to the integration of the soul. Inner wholeness – gnosis – is achieved not by belief in ideas, but by experience.
In the place of a god to believe in, Jung thus offers us an existential truth that we can experience. He rejects the “god of belief” in favor of a symbol of lasting validity, and instead of the much abused concept of “belief”, he offers the power of the imagination as the way to gnosis, just as in the magickal and alchemical traditions.
The seven sermons are gripping and poetic, while the commentary is full of insight and enriched by quotes from inter alia the Nag Hammadi texts, Plotinus, Helena Blavatsky, Emerson and others. The most beautiful is a moving poem by the mystic Angelus Silesius, of which I quote a part:
“God is such as he is,
I am what I must be;
If you know one, in truth
You know both him and me.
I am the vine, which he
Doth plant and cherish most;
The fruit which grows from me
Is God, the holy ghost.”
This text, and Basilides’ thoughts on the pleroma (fullness of god), reminded me of Patti Smith’s song “Hymn” on her album Wave:
“When I am troubled in the night
He comes to comfort me
He wills me through the darkness
And the empty child is free
To take his hand, his sacred heart
The heart that breaks the dawn, amen.
And when I think I’ve had my fill
He fills me up again.”
I highly recommend this book as a bridge between psychology and religion, or rather the religious experience in the human psyche. It ought to be read together with William James’ “The Varieties of Religious Experience” and Richard Maurice Bucke’s “Cosmic Consciousness”, for a breathtaking metaphysical and metatextual experience.
on 6 April 1999
This book is a life-changer, a paradigm shifter. For understanding Jung the Gnostic and his enlightened works in the light of his roots in Gnosticism -- hell, just for a definitively clear enunciation of Gnosticism -- this book is a jewel. It is well-written and philosophically transforming. I intend to read it again, immediately.
on 22 October 2011
Richard Noll created quite a stir some years ago when he claimed that the Jungians were a bunch of sun-worshipping, neo-pagan cultic crackpots, and that Jung believed himself to be the Aryan Christ (of all people). These claims are made in Noll's notorious books "The Jung cult" and "The Aryan Christ". Regardless of what one may think of Noll's wilder claims, Jung has always fascinated real neo-Gnostics and New Age believers. I don't think that's a co-incidence. "Memories, Dreams, Reflections" shows Jung's worldview to be pantheistic, animistic, Gnosticizing and opposed to Christianity as traditionally conceived. Even his scientific pretensions are similar to the "scientism" of the later New Age.
The author of "The Gnostic Jung", Stephen Hoeller, is pro-Jung while interpreting the old man in a decidedly and explicitly Gnostic fashion. To Hoeller, Jung was a modern Gnostic, period. The book is published by Quest Books, the publishing arm of the Theosophical Society Adyar. Since it contains positive references to Madame Blavatsky, I suppose Hoeller is a member of TS Adyar.
The book contains the full text of "Seven Sermons to the Dead", the most explicitly Gnostic work of Jung, written under the pseudonym Basilides (the real Basilides was a Gnostic teacher in ancient Alexandria). According to "Memories, Dreams, Reflections", Jung's house in Switzerland was at one point haunted by the ghosts of deceased crusaders (!!). The restless spirits were not amused, and in order to calm them down, Jung wrote "Seven Sermons to the Dead". Satisfied, the ghost found peace and evaporated without further ado. Apparently, this story is supposed to be taken literally...
The sermons are quite brief, and the rest of Hoeller's book is an attempted exegesis of their contents and their baffling references to Abraxas, the Pleroma, the Star, and so on. I think Hoeller succeeds quite eminently in this endeavour. I don't like the Gnostics and I find Jung weird in the extreme, but I don't doubt that his "analytical psychology" was a kind of Gnosticism adapted to the modern world. In that sense, I feel a certain sympathy for the aims of the sun-worshipping, neo-pagan, cultic crackpot Stephan H. Hoeller.