In 2020, the Philemon Foundation released The Black Books (TBB), a seven-volume collection of Jung’s private diaries ranging from 1913 to 1932. This is 11 years after the publication of The Red Book (TRB), which is an illustrated and augmented manuscript of the events from 1913 to 1916. This means that TBB are the raw material that Jung edited, reworked, and illustrated into what would become known as TRB.
Given the amount of overlapping material as well as the price of admission, it is worth spending some time looking at the differences and key features between TBB and TRB.
The end of the article will be spent discussing some of the new material found in TBB.
Comment on the Editions of The Red Book and The Black Books
The Red Book exists in two editions: the facsimile and the Reader’s Edition. Let’s look at their main differences.
First, only the facsimile has the art and illustrations (as well as Jung’s calligraphy) for which TRB is known for. This means that the Reader’s Edition can be a deal-breaker for many as the art is absent from that edition.
A second difference is the format. For all its qualities, the facsimile is an oversized (12 x 1.9 x 15.8 inches, or 30.4 x 4.8 x 40.1 cm) and heavy book (9.04 pounds, or 4.1 kg) that is highly impractical to use. This might sound like a petty complaint but, depending on the amount of space one has for study, reading TRB will test your patience, especially if you are reading it alongside TBB or a personal notebook. In that regard, the Reader’s Edition has a striking advantage over the facsimile.
A third difference is the price. If you are on a budget, the Reader’s Edition might be the only one you can afford.
Finally, only the Reader’s Edition can be purchased digitally. There are no officially available digital copies of the facsimile, though scanned versions are being shared online.
On their end, The Black Books can be purchased as a set of seven volumes or as a digital file.
A visual comparison between the Reader’s Edition (top left, bottom left) and the facsimile (top right, bottom right, bottom left). Note the size difference.
Should I Even Read The Red Book or The Black Books?
Despite its central importance, The Red Book is not a book for beginners.
My recommendation is to read at least one introductory book (such as Man and His Symbols; Memories, Dreams, Reflections; Modern Man in Search of a Soul), one intermediary book (Two Essays on Analytical Psychology, Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious, Symbols of Transformation, The Symbolic Life) and one overview (Jung’s Map of the Soul, Ego and Archetype, On Jung) before thinking about TRB. Then, it’s a matter of personal discernment when one feels ready to read TRB or should rather read more or something else.
Regarding The Black Books: given that TBB do not have any commentary and have difficult entries, it comes naturally that TBB should be read after TRB, especially after one has digested more of the Collected Works. I personally read TBB after finishing Mysterium Coniunctionis, arguably Jung’s hardest book.
Differences Between The Red Book and The Black Books
As said earlier, The Red Book and The Black Books are made of the same material with TRB being the final product and TBB having the unedited entries.
Remarkably, there is very little editing to the entries themselves. The main additions and editing of TRB are to be found before and/or after each entry. While some minor changes are there to help the flow of the text, the more substantial additions are comments explaining how one should understand the entry as an inner experience. These comments have some of the most profound lines that Jung has ever written and are the core of what makes TRB different from TBB (outside of the stunning art of the facsimile).
A more subtle difference is the writing style. I’ve always found that TRB has a luxurious, poetic, and profound prose. On the other hand, the experience of reading TBB feels hesitant, anxious, isolated, and lost. This gives TBB a more intimate look into Jung’s life and the overwhelming difficulties he went through in this time of his life.
Let’s look at both books around the first entry that they share in common: 12. Nov. 1913 (TBB, Vol 2), Refinding the Soul (TRB).
First, let’s compare the manuscripts (top: TBB, bottom: TRB).
Second, let’s have a look at the English translation (top: TBB, bottom: TRB). Notice how little editing there is in the actual entry compared to the additional commentary surrounding it.
As far as the entries go, the chronology is the same between both books and most entries are reproduced.
Looking at the entries that are exclusive to TBB, we find mostly Jung writing to himself or his soul as he doubts what is happening to him. One notable exception is an entry where Jung is visited by a “German who got bored by the German fatherland.” (Vol 4, 22. II. 14) While most of these exclusive entries are interesting to read, them being excluded from TRB is completely understandable in my estimation.
On the other hand, there are important entries that have been added to TRB (such as the visit by the Cabiri) and thus cannot be found in TBB.
New Content and Spoiler(?) Alert
The Red Book ends in the middle of Volume 6 of TBB. This means that the second half of Volume 6 and the totality of Volume 7 contain new material that has never been published. While the presence of new material is something to rejoice at, the absence of commentary makes the new entries quite obscure and difficult to understand.
Before I go further in my discussion of these new entries, I would suggest the reader stop here if he/she wants to keep intact the element of surprise and discovery, which is one of the best things about reading TRB or TBB. I will focus on some entries that can alter your reading experience of both books. If this is something you care about, consider coming back to this article after you’ve read them for yourself.
Comment on the New Content in The Black Books, Vol 6
The new entries in Volume 6 are mostly about Jung talking to his soul, which reads like a marital dispute at times. Two substantial entries stand out when the soul talks about the seven lights (i.e., Pleroma, Abraxas, sun, moon, earth, phallus, star), which provides an additional look at the gnostic cosmology from the Seven Sermons to the Dead.
There is also an entry where Jung meets once again with Elijah and Salome, leading to the explanation that Phanes, the hermaphroditic child God, has risen. Indeed, Phanes appears in this book for the first time. Here is an example of him talking: “My light streams from necessity. My star shines from your misery. My springs flow from the fullness of your life. Everything unlived is shadow and poverty for me. What has been lived nourishes my strength. Heed the emissary.” (Vol 6, 20. II. 17)
The end of Volume 6 reveals the link between Philemon and Phanes.
[Philemon says:] This man would like to know who I am. Did I not tell him who I was and who I am? I did not say who I will be. I will be Phanes. I will dissolve myself in his splendor when this man dies. I do not die, I am already Phanes, not a man but a flame of God. I was more earthy than earth. I was subterranean, I grew upward, I grew through this man. I overcame him. I am his work, what he has lived. He is not I. He belongs to earth.
Phanes is the eternal fire, the encompassing blaze, that will become invisible and visible, the eternal dawning.
I am Khidr, entering youth in old age. When my work is complete, I will have become the seed of the beginning.
This man is my work, which I have built from star seed. Yes, he plunged from the indeterminate and supplied the occasion for form.
He formed me, I formed him. He kissed the earth, and I, the sun.
As Atmaviktu, I committed the error and became man. My name was Izdubar. As such, I opposed him. He lamed me. Yes, the man lamed me and turned me into a serpent dragon. I became healed, as I recognized my error and the fire ate the serpent. And so Philemon developed. My form is his appearance. Before that, my appearance was form.
I am the master.
This man shall serve the opposites in renunciation. He shall humbly suffer the opposites. Therefore the mastery, the splendor, which is the mediator, comes to him. Who can bear this service? Only he who suffers it serving. He is his own master.
Have you truly listened to these words? So rise with me to the roof of my house.
Comment on the New Content in The Black Books, Vol 7
In full honesty, because of the amount of overlapping content, reading TBB up to Volume 7 was a disappointing experience. Even with the new material of Volume 6, I started to doubt the decision to publish a whole collection only for those few entries.
It’s thus with little expectations that I started Volume 7, the longest book of the set. To my great surprise, not only a lot happens in Volume 7 but the entries have the same authentic aura of mystery that I experience while reading TRB. Reading Volume 7 feels fresh. It is full of surprises and twists with new characters being introduced and is packed with dramatic revelations.
The main new character is Ka. After a long series of teaching from Philemon, Ka appears and is being introduced as Philemon shadow, though the situation quickly reverses.
[Ka says:] Will you finally listen? Am I less than Philemon? Is white better than black? Philemon called me his shadow. I call him my shadow. I am solid, he is thinner than air. His truth is a shadow, a breath, fleeting and already blown away. I am a rock of ages. Do you think that I am less than him, since I am damned to chase after my shadow? Is he not condemned to always precede me? He’s only my herald, my forerunner. What then comes, is me. I endure, he comes and goes. When he ascends where I have yet to climb, I am still with you long after he has gone. I am your truth, which endures, he is a fleeting light, a stray ray of sunlight. Hence listen to me?
Ka describes himself as the builder of “the temple, full of eternal beauty, the palaces of death, the grave chambers of the Gods.” (Vol 7, 10. II. 18)
When Ka meets Philemon, he lays out a devastating criticism.
[Ka talking to Philemon:] Philemon, stop! Your speech is hollow. […] Do you believe that you can hoodwink me with [your speech]? The red of your mantle is blood, living human blood. It testifies against you from eternal justice. It cries of crimes against the innocent. Human blood will do just fine to stain your mantle.
[Philemon responds:] Truly, you speak spoke no lie. I am a crime of the Gods against man. His betters commit crime against him. My hand is red from the blood of the guiltless. I tore the eternal good from his flesh.
Ka. Shameless one, come to judgment. I will reveal your devious ways. Did you not hide in this man? Have you not forced me onto his way, so that I have to give him the terrible shadow? Have you not set the hounds of hell nipping at his heels?
Phil. You speak the truth. I hid myself in this man. I wed him to the daughter of the great mother, that spans heaven and earth. Didn’t he give her female form, didn’t he love her?
Ka. And did you beget the shameful and clandestine, dreadful worm with her? Your daughter? Incest!
Phil. Didn’t the worm spring from red fruit? The golden seed that rose up streaming throughout heaven? Didn’t the man stretch out his arm toward eternal beauty?
Ka. You stole it from him. You robbed the minor of his possession. You betrayed his faith and loyalty. You made him a slave for the sake of your lust for power. What is your beauty to him, which is paid for with blood, with innocent blood? What do you give him? Have you counted out a payment? Nothing, liar, your hand is empty.
With the addition of Ka, the “false splendor” of Philemon is revealed and contrasted by Ka’s impenetrable shadow. This entry forces us to reevaluate the position of Philemon and to balance it with Ka. Jung’s soul comments:
[Jung’s soul says:] You call [Philemon and Ka] the blessed ones? Did you see the “blessed ones” caught, creeping around, peering at holes through which one could escape into a distant twilight? But they do harm to you, because you still empower them and call them the blessed ones. So they claim for themselves what belongs to you. You will be robbed. Both are cunning, clever beyond all measure. One gives you a false splendor and the other gives you a false shadow. Do you now see, who the master is? Where does the upper blessed come together with the lower blessed one? In the mediating everyday, it seems to me.
[Jung’s I says:] You say the most astonishing things.
We’re now halfway into the book and Jung’s soul provides one of the longest entries in Volume 7 which is a source of utter confusion and clarity. I’ll quote only the beginning:
[Jung’s soul says:] But you can’t do your work as long as Philemon and Ka are the ‘sublime ones’ and you are just the seed between two magnets. Your God is a world. He forms the world and the Gods, grant him the power. But if you look toward the world, then the Gods rule and your God is weak. But your God is strong if you stay by him, if you give him the force of your longing. Your God is both powerful and weak. If you give him force, you draw his world power to yourself. If you give him no force, his world power leaves you and turns itself against you. Respect for and disdain of the Gods—that is the mystery. Whoever fails to grasp this mystery travels the four false ways, either in the world, or to the daimons, or in the past and the Below, or in the future and the Above. Respect for and disdain of the Gods begins with respect for and disdain of oneself and takes string precedence over respect and disdain of men, animals, plants and lifeless objects. Instead of respect and disdain you may above all also say love and hate, since some enclose love in respect and hate in disdain, whereas others however enclose respect in love and disdain in hate. No foggy language. Your speech is slippery.
[…] Remoteness from God is procession along the 4 false ways, it is crucifixion, it is Abraxas. The 4 false ways are: being one with the outer worldly being, being one with the soul, being one with splendor, Philemon, being one with the shadow, Ka.
By this point, the reader should have a good impression that TBB contains more of the same inscrutable mystery that can be found in TRB. This can have the destabilizing effect of leaving the reader more confused than he was at the beginning. On my end, I can only be grateful that there is a public testimony that shows how to not fall prey to the abysmal depths of the human experience.
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