Snakes, Dreams, and Jung’s Red Book

Snakes, Dreams, and Jung's Red Book by Kelly BulkeleyPeople have reported dreams of serpents and snakes throughout history in cultures all over the world.  In terms of Jungian psychology, snake dreams have a powerful archetypal quality.  They give people an extremely memorable and uncanny experience of the “otherness” of the collective unconscious. Jung has a few things to say about the symbolism of serpents and snakes at various points in The Red Book:

“The serpent is an adversary and a symbol of enmity, but also a wise bridge that connects right and left through longing, much needed by our life.” (247)

“Why did I behave as if that serpent were my soul?  Only, it seems, because my soul was a serpent….Serpents are wise, and I wanted my serpent soul to communicate her wisdom to me.” (318)  (This comment comes after a long dialogue in active imagination with a great iridescent snake coiled atop a red rock.)

“I have united with the serpent of the beyond.  I have accepted everything beyond into myself.” (322)

“If I had not become like the serpent, the devil, the quintessence of everything serpentlike, would have held this bit of power over me.  This would have given the devil a grip and he would have forced me to make a pact with him just as he also cunningly deceived Faust.  But I forestalled him by uniting myself with the serpent, just as a man unites with a woman.” (322)

“The daimon of sexuality approaches our soul as a serpent.” (353)

These passages make it clear that Jung regarded snakes both negatively and positively, both as “chthonic devils” (318) and as indispensable guides for the soul.

From a Jungian perspective, snake dreams offer people the dangerous possibility of connecting with the wisdom of the collective unconscious and drawing strength from its archetypal energies.

Snakes, Dreams, and Jung's Red Book by Kelly Bulkeley

If you’re interested in learning more about snake dreams in history, scroll down the list to see this post. (titled “What Do Dreams of Snakes Mean?”)

If you’d like ideas about how to interpret snake dreams, see this post.

For more information about actual snakes, take a look at the website of the East Bay Vivarium.

Reading Jung’s Red Book

Reading Jung's Red Book by Kelly BulkeleyI’ve never read a book before that made my desk shake and tremble when I set it down.  That caused a minor atmospheric disturbance in my study every time I opened and closed the cover.  That required several changes of physical posture to view the contents of each page.  That should be considered, due to its alarming weight, a hazard to children, pregnant women, and the elderly.

My ambivalence starts here.  The florid design and gargantuan size of The Red Book by C.G. Jung (edited by Sonu Shamdasani) insists that we take this work Very, Very Seriously.  But we have to ask, is this how Jung wanted his unfinished private collection of fantasies and paintings to be presented to readers? 

He plainly did not want to publish it during his lifetime.  He left no clear directive one way or another about its fate after his death. 

By not expressly forbidding its posthumous publication, and by sharing the original text with his inner circle of family and friends, Jung indicated some willingness to make The Red Book a part of his public literary corpus. 

I doubt, however, that he would have felt comfortable with the grandiosity of this back-breaking tome, which literalizes to an almost absurd degree the metaphors of prophecy and revelation he used to describe his “confrontation with the unconscious” during the years 1913-1930.