Friday Evening Lecture March 8th 7:00 p.m.
Beginning in the years leading up to the Great War, both C. G. Jung and J. R. R. Tolkien independently began to undergo profound imaginal experiences. They had each stepped across a threshold and entered into another world, the realm of imagination, the world of fantasy. Jung recorded these initially spontaneous visionary experiences, which he further developed using the practice of active imagination, in a large red manuscript that he named Liber Novus, although usually it is referred to simply as The Red Book. The experiences narrated in The Red Book became the seeds from which nearly all of Jung’s subsequent work flowered. For Tolkien, this imaginal journey revealed to him the world of Middle-earth, whose stories and myths eventually led to the writing of The Lord of the Rings, a book he named within its own imaginal history The Red Book of Westmarch. There are many synchronistic parallels between Jung’s and Tolkien’s Red Books: the style and content of their works of art, the narrative descriptions and scenes in their texts, the nature of their visions and dreams, and an underlying similarity in world view that emerged from their experiences. The two men seem to have been simultaneously treading parallel paths through the imaginal realm.
The revelations of this research hold deep consequences for modernity’s assumptions of a disenchanted world, and bring to the surface implications concerning the nature of imagination and its participatory relationship to the collective unconscious. In this presentation, I will point to the possibility that Tolkien and Jung are preliminary guides on a journey to the depths of an ensouled cosmos in which imagination saturates the very foundations of reality.
Jung’s Red Book and Active Imagination
When C. G. Jung entered into his confrontation with the unconscious beginning in 1913, the primary method he used to access the fantasies recorded in Liber Novus was the practice of active imagination. The technique of active imagination, which has a long lineage in the Gnostic and alchemical traditions, is at the core of Jung’s approach to analytical psychology.
In this workshop, participants will dive deeply into exploring the meaning of certain key visions and fantasies in Jung’s Red Book, interpreting the text and images in communal dialogue. The core of the workshop will be a guided group practice of active imagination, followed by a writing and drawing exercise that will allow participants to come into an objective relationship with the images that arise during the practice.
Breakup of Workshop Hours
10:00-11:30 – Introduction to theory and technique of active imagination; reading of segments from C. G. Jung’s Red Book and discussion and interpretation of the contents.
11:45-12:15 – Group discussion and interpretation of artwork from Jung’s Red Book and J. R. R. Tolkien’s Book of Ishness.
1:45-3:15 – Guided group practice of active imagination, working with an image or scene volunteered by a participant in the group; following this experiential exercise, participants will record their experience in writing, drawing, or both, depending on their inclination.
3:30-5:00 – Integration of exercise in active imagination, with participants sharing their experiences with the group; this will be followed by a reflection back on the theories presented in the first segment, to see how the theory and practice are in dialogue and mutually inform one another.
Becca S. Tarnas, PhD, is a scholar, artist, and editor of Archai: The Journal of Archetypal Cosmology. She received her doctorate in Philosophy and Religion from the California Institute of Integral Studies, with her dissertation titled The Back of Beyond: The Red Books of C.G. Jung and J.R.R. Tolkien. Becca received her BA from Mount Holyoke College in Environmental Studies and Theatre Arts, and MA in Philosophy, Cosmology, and Consciousness at CIIS. Her research interests include depth psychology, literature, philosophy, and the ecological imagination. She is currently teaching as an adjunct professor at Pacifica Graduate Institute.