“Jung, Tolkien and the Hermeneutics of Vision”
Dr. Lance S. Owens
23 October 2015
California Institute of Integral Studies
The Philosophy, Cosmology and Consciousness Forum
Transcribed from youtube.com/video/GxVaxOco7kg and adapted for the web [PUNCTUATION, GRAMMAR, AND QUALITY PASSES STILL WIP] by James Edington in 2023
(A shout out to my introduction speaker tonight, Becca; the stuff she has done on Jung, The Red Book, and Tolkien is excellent. One of her presentations that was done [in this very room]—it's available on YouTube—if you haven't seen it, see it. It's good.)
I'm grateful to be invited to address this transdisciplinary forum. I was just saying before we got started that, in our own studies, we sometimes get so far down our own caves, our own lines of inquiry, lost in our own forests (and forces, too, I suppose)—psychic and real—that it gets lonely, and it's really nice to come out to seek dialogue—not in our idiolects or in our syntax or our study—but to rise up into a dialogue, a semantics of understanding and meaning, with other people. So I thank you for the opportunity.
But of course, each of us who comes to a transdisciplinary forum comes from a discipline. We have our language; we have our history. And I come to you tonight as a physician, and an historian. And those two things really are linked up. The art of the physician is in part an art of history. Physicians are students of a peculiar kind of history: the history of what happens to human beings. The events of nature, suffered by bodies, by minds, by psyches, by souls; they all are part of the pathology that brings people to a people to a physician. And every physician has heard at some point in their training that the most important part of making a diagnosis—of understanding why somebody has come for you—well, it's history. In fact, some people say there are 3 keys, and they are: history, history, and history. Sometimes you have to listen, and listen, and listen, until you hear. Or until the person you're listening to is able to give you the keys. In the listening to history, we look for patterns, patterns of understanding, maybe patterns of pathology—or perhaps patterns of health—there are those, too. And, as an ER doctor over the last—gosh, more than 35 years now—I have figured out that I've seen over 100,000 patients. I've heard lots of stories. You know, most of it falls easily into a diagnostic box—or a common pattern of health or pathology in life—simple things. But amongst those thousands and thousands (maybe over 100 thousand) there are a few cases that have branded themself in my memory; they're so peculiar—so strange—that they move beyond anything you could comprehend that could happen to a human mind, soul, body. Not many, but I remember those. And of course in my own life, I've met some pretty strange things too. Maybe it's just because I'm strange—I like strange things—I'm interested in what happens at the margins of life—margins of consciousness, even.
I want to share with you two of the most interesting case histories I have encountered—human histories, human stories. The names of the men are well enough known, but the complexities of their struggles with visionary events are little understood. And one might think, hearing some of the details of their stories, that they were just crazy. And when you get to the fringes of things, as a physician—when you hear things that don't fit patterns—that is often what happens. I see this a lot in clinical medicine: “Crazy story… must be a crazy patient.” Goes in the “crazy box”, and you move on. Don't do that with the story of Professor Tolkien and Dr. Jung.
General Introduction & Background
John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was born in 1892; he died in 1973. He was a professor—brilliant, distinguished professor of Anglo-Saxon Language—at Oxford University, where he also studied as an undergraduate. And of course, he is also the best selling author of the 20th century. (He's making a big dent on the 21st as well, right now.) There are more than 250 million copies of The Lord of The Rings in print (or so I read on Wikipedia)—and not quite as many more of his little story The Hobbit. (And, of course, the cinematic rendition of his masterwork, The Lord of The Rings, has been seen by untold millions—hundreds of millions, and perhaps even a billion—people.)
Carl Gustav Jung was 17 years older than Tolkien; he was born in 1875, he died around 12 years before Tolkien, in 1961. He was a physician; he, too, was a professor at his own alma mater, The University of Zürich; and he is known as a psychiatrist (or an “alienist”, as they used to call them. I love that word—an alienist—we don't say that so much any more, but it seems quite appropriate for a psychiatrist). He's perhaps less well known in popular culture than Tolkien, but certainly he's had a major influence upon the intellectual culture of the 20th century. And when his Red Book, a book he crafted—worked on for 16 years around the middle of his life—was finally published, after being sequestered and unseen for over—gosh—80 years, it quickly sold 100 thousand copies. (Now, that's no match for Tolkien, but then again, The Lord of The Rings doesn't cost $150 a copy, either.)
Interesting cases. Which is why I've spent a couple decades or more investigating the histories of these two men (probably more like 3 decades with Jung and maybe a couple decades with Tolkien), repeatedly listening—listening—to what they wrote and said, digging out the details, examining the private and primary accounts they left behind, and trying to comprehend what happened to the consciousness of these two men. And, based on that study, it's apparent to me (and to some others) that, at a seminal point in their lives, they each had an extended visionary engagement—an engagement with an imaginal realm—which they considered objectively real. They both struggle throughout the rest of their lives to record and to interpret those experiences. Both stories—these histories—have something to tell us about the expanse of consciousness. They present paradigmatic cases that expose a rare realm of human cognition, consciousness, experience, or—maybe more broadly stated—what it is to be human—human life. A study of their primary experiences and their parallel hermeneutics of those experiences opens new paths for understanding creative experience and the mystery of human consciousness.
Beginning in the years around the first World War, both John Ronald Reuel Tolkien and Carl Gustav Jung were summoned by their own unique natures and inclinations to take an exceedingly difficult journey of exploration. Both experienced it and described it as a journey of discovery into unknown realms. But it was not a journey taken in terms of time or temporal space; it was a passage across the quotidian borders of reality, into the atemporal realm of imagination. Jung and Tolkien each ventured into a world revealed by vision or imagination or fantasy—and each man employed all of those terms to describe what had happened to them. There—however one defines the visionary “there”—they met a reality—an independent autonomous objective fact. And it—”there”—had a story to tell.
They both felt they had discovered something precious, something vital, alive, something of signal importance, something they needed to share with the people of their time. And each man kept private accounts of his experiences—records of what he had seen and heard in his interactions with the imaginal. Both men labored for decades with meticulously crafted primary, manuscript accounts of this experience. And, strangely enough, (as we've heard) both men ended up calling the records of what they brought back from their explorations of the imaginal their “Red Book”.
During life, neither man finished or published his full record, his full account. Dr. Jung and Professor Tolkien recognized that their experiences were far from ordinary. What had happened to them was so strange, so rare, so non-ordinary that they struggled throughout their lives to find a way of explaining it. What words could one use to explain the reality of an imaginal world opened by vision, to vision, in vision. They toiled, trying to find a way of revealing—or at least interpreting—their observations to others. They both searched the annals of history for accounts of similar events—paradigms that might indicate similar experience—and by the end of their lives neither man felt he had succeeded in his efforts to have his experience understood.
Nonetheless, both Tolkien and Jung affirmed in unequivocal statements that what they had discovered was indeed a living fact—a substrata of consciousness or an inherent natural function of consciousness—a province of experience intimately involved in life and in the story we call human history. It was, they both declared, the spring of a creative power that moved and transformed history.
How does one understand such experiences, such affirmations, such human lives? How did they understand themselves? How will we interpret them? These are the basic issues I've been dealing with—the questions I've been asking myself—for many years.
(“Jung and Tolkien, and the Hermeneutics of Vision”—strange title. I love it. The Hermeneutics of Vision, Vision and Hermeneutics…)
Language is rooted in human experience. The history of words harbors a chronicle of experience. And, of course, vision—vision—is a word with a legacy. According to the Oxford English Dictionary—which Professor Tolkien helped write (at least small sections of it) during his early career—in the English language, as evidenced in Middle English, reaching back to the 3rd century and then on through at least the Enlightenment period, in usages, the word vision predominantly meant—and I quote here from the OED—“something which is apparently seen otherwise than by ordinary sight, especially an appearance of a prophetic or mystical character; or having the nature of a revelation, supernaturally presented to the mind, either in sleep or in an abnormal state; the action or fact of seeing or contemplating something not actually present to the eye”.
Of course, we do look out through the eye's window, at a physical world, and meld things seen with our conscious perception—and that is what vision now, of course, most commonly means: looking out through the eye and seeing physical reality. But when our attention turns … �� again, what are we seeing? What are we envisioning? How do we interpret a vision (something which is apparently seen other than by ordinary sight)? Do we simply deny it, in its irrelevance to life? Call it meaningless? Declare it a sensory aberration? Are things seen within, with the second sight, in vision merely phantom shadows of outward reality? We pathologize this experience—if we allow it happens at all. Do we call it an illness of the mind? Or of the brain—a disorder of the brain? A disorder of perception of reality mediated by some natural and recurrent aberrancy of neural tissue—and here I say "natural" and "recurrent", because it does appear to be a fact of human nature, and (over millennia) it does seem to be recurrent.
Well, as a doctor, I know about the pathology of hallucination. I mean if you, later tonight, have a vision that you've been called, and the vision involves stripping off your clothing and walking through Union Square on your new journey, men in white coats won't come and put you in a padded van and take you to the funny barn; men in blue with Glock-45s on their belt will come and put you in handcuffs and bring you to see me, in an emergency room. Look, I've been doing this for a long time. I've met people in the midst of hallucination, psychosis, pathological vision states; that is something I see pretty darn common. And, you know, I've heard some pretty interesting stories! If I have time, sometimes I just sit down out of complete interest trying to find out what is going on in that human head; it's really interesting. Sometimes I can't help, but I do enjoy listening. (Well, I can “help”—💉 I can medicate, right? I can do away with the visions—if they're pathological).
But I've also heard private and detailed accounts from individuals who are most certainly not crazy about extraordinary events—visions they have had—visions of places persons and dialogic encounters—visions that quite unexpectedly obtruded into consciousness. It happens! And I'll assure you that some of—in fact, in general— these events are among the most important events in the lives of these people. I've been in close contact with people who've been through this (maybe I keep strange company), and these, sometimes, are the signal and orienting event in their lives—not necessary recurrent or continual, but signal events. And I know a little bit about that.
So we have to step back from the pathologizing and find that special domain of vision that I'm speaking about here. And I should also add: when these events happen, people often relate them in religious or spiritual traditional formats, because where else do you have a language—a hermeneutics—for this event? And, sometimes, that really takes it right into craziness (e.g. declaring yourself The Prophet in Union Square).
This other word—this strange word—“hermeneutics”: how does one interpret vision?
Hermeneutics is the art of interpretation—the art of moving meaning between domains of expression and understanding. Historically, the term was often linked with the Greek god Hermes, who was the one who brought messages from gods to men—the one who went betwixt realms, worlds, realities, communicating, translating—it is the art of Hermes. In Western tradition, the hermeneutic art originally centered on the interpretation of sacred writ—on how one should interpret prophetic, visionary biblical texts: Were these texts to be read as accurate and precise histories of real events, perhaps as “histories with a moral”? Or were they to be read allegorically? Or was there something else hidden—some other intention—in these supposed sacred and mythic accounts? And then (much later), from the early 19th century onward, hermeneutics moved into wider spheres—into methods, and the philosophical difficulties of interpreting any text—any creative human act or human work.
Tolkien and Jung, in their academic writings published during their lives, both concerned themselves with the hermeneutic art. They both applied their professional approaches to ancient texts and myths, and a couple of times Jung even referred to what he was doing as his “hermeneutic method”—his psychology was a hermeneutics. But, in private, each struggled with interpretive matters at a much more intimate and immediate level. Their task begun not with an interpretation of a text (their principle life task), but with the interpretation of visionary imaginative events—their own experience between two realms This is a primary hermeneutic (“Hermetic”, shall we say?) task: One stands between the realms, as messenger, trying to interpret what has happened. In my terminology—in my own idiolect—I call this the “primary hermeneutic problem”: you have a vision; you interpret it; you bring it to sensuous form. Now, that is a hermeneutic—an interpretive act—you're not working with a text; you're working with an event! And, if the event is visionary, well: how do you record it? How do you represent that, properly?
But then there, of course, is the next problem—and Tolkien and Jung both dealt with this—having brought the visionary experience into some perceptible form—into some composition of word and image—how did one then interpret the resultant thing? The resultant interpretive act, the sensuous concretization of vision or fantasy or imagination—what is it? Second level: was it a revelation? Is this a revelation text? Is it a myth—and, secondarily, is that, then, the source of all myth? Was it art? Was it the font of true art, the great Elven art? Or was it just Nature? Was it the nature of human beings to sometimes find themselves standing between two realities linking and interpreting dimensions one seen inwardly one seen outwardly? Was this a natural function of consciousness, even if the function had (as Jung suggested when he was at Oxford in 1938) atrophied in our age? In fact, when Tolkien was at Oxford in '38, he �� suggested that, if these things aren't happening to us, it may be that a human function—a natural function—is atrophying in our age.
And then, after going through those levels (primary and secondary), we come down to a real personal problem: how did one interpret oneself, the one who met and mediated two realities? What was it to live a life with such a commission—such a burden? Both men independently struggled with that, as well. It was a tough gig, and not many people understood.
The story of how they dealt with these complex issues—and I assure you they both did deal with them, and they consciously dealt with them—could fill a long book (and it might, if I ever get the damn thing written…), but, tonight, I can only give you some brief glimpses into this most peculiar tale—glimpses into two humans' struggle with vision and its interpretation.
With that prologue, that's the sort of approach I've been taking to the account I'm going to try to give you now: primary events, interpretive events, how the person understood themself in the midst of this matter.
Dr. Carl Gustav Jung
Writing in 1950, when Jung was 75 years old, he explained his situation 40 years earlier at the threshold of the visionary experience that produced his Red Book, the book he inscribed on its spine with a title, Liber Novus, the new book: “The psyche is not of today; its ancestry goes back many millions of years individual consciousness is only the flower and the fruit of a season, sprung from the perennial rhizome beneath the earth; and it would find itself in better accord with the truth if it took the existence of the rhizome into its calculations. For the root matter is the mother of all things.”
He recounted, looking back to what had happened to him on the threshold of this visionary event, that his intense study of mythologies which had taken place in 1909–1911 (when he was about 35 years old) forced him to conclude that without a myth a human is “like one uprooted, having no true link either with the past, or with the ancestral life which continues within him, or yet with contemporary society.” He continued on: “So I suspected that myth had a meaning which I was sure to miss if I lived outside it in a haze of my own speculations. I was driven to ask myself in all seriousness: ‘What is the myth you are living?’ I found no answer to this question, and had to admit that I was not living with a myth, or even in a myth …. So, in the most natural way, I took it upon myself to get to know ‘my’ myth and I regarded this as the task of tasks …. I simply had to know what unconscious or preconscious myth was forming me; from what rhizome, what root, I sprang.”
Beginning in the fall of 1913 (when he was about 38 years old) and continuing over the next several years, he confronted this portentious task of tasks. He later described it as a voyage of discovery to the other pole of the world; or, in other words, the place where the mirror image begins; and he found his myth. He found his “rhizome, the root from which [he] sprang”; and, more and more, he met the story of an age at its end, and a new epic beginning, a startling myth. He called it “my secret knowledge” for 40 years.
OK, what happened to Jung? That stuff I just read—people know that. He wrote that, published it in 1950—the question was: how the hell did he find his myth? What happened during these years? Biographers (and there are many, many biographers) have looked at this and said Jung had a psychotic break; he was mad. Henri Ellenberger, who wrote The History of the Unconscious, (which, by the way, if any of you are interested in consciousness studies, and that's not on your reading list: put it there) described it more kindly: he called it a “creative illness”. What the hell is a “creative illness”? Well, Ellenberger didn't make that clear; I mean, Jung had one; it was one; Jung's state was one of those… was he ill? I mean, did he need drugs? To fix his illness? “Creative illness”… pathologizing, still.
Only since publication of The Red Book in 2009, which publication was accompanied by 1,500 incredible notes by Dr. Sonu Shamdasani (and they're one of the most amazing editorial apparatuses I have ever seen,) contextualizing this entire book, giving it outlines, what had happened to Jung, and referring into all the vast spectrum of his work. Only after that publication 2009 had we really got any idea of what did happen to Jung.
I should add that Jung had had an openness to hypnagogic experiences; he'd come from a family where there were people who had had visions, including his maternal grandfather, who was the head of the Swiss Reformed Church in Basel; he was a visionary. His mother had seen spirits walking in the house at night. These were events he was aware of; he was a country boy; he was a farm boy; he lived outside Basel; these things were known in his culture, rural culture.
At the age of 38 (around 1913) Jung had been a doctor for 13 years; he was a psychiatrist; and for the first 9 or so of those he worked mainly at the Burghölzli hospital outside of Zürich with psychotic patients. He heard lots of stories. He had had a brief misadventure with Freud (really, it was brief: 5 or 6 years), years in which he determined that they saw things entirely differently. He had split with Freud, and he was on his own, and he came to the conclusion: he didn't know what was going on. As he said, “I had to accept that all my theories all my conceptualizations were wrong. I did not know…”
That year, in October 1913 (this is about a year before World War One broke out), as he was struggling with these many things, he was on a train going to his mother-in-law's house in Schaffhausen, and he had a vision; the train entered a tunnel, and he was looking at a book, and, suddenly, before his eyes, what he saw was a vision: he saw a vast wave of blood covering all of northern Europe, all the way up to the Alps. And in that sea—in that wave—he saw civilization, bodies, houses, floating, destroyed; he says the vision lasted about an hour. The same thing happened again two weeks later when he was on the same journey to visit his mother-in-law: same tunnel, same thing. The man thought, as a psychiatrist who had worked with psychotic patients for 13 years and neurotics and just normal people too, that maybe he was “doing a schizophrenia” as he called it. Maybe he was threatened with a psychosis. He had had visions; he went searching through all of his own story, trying to remember dreams, trying to figure out how he could understand this, maybe even abort what might be a psychotic event; finally, he knew he just had to give in; he just had to see what it was that was petitioning him; and so, on the night of the 12th of November of 1913, he sat at his desk; he reached into the drawer; he pulled out a journal that he had not written in for 11 years; and he addressed his soul. It's one of the most heart-rending verses I've read; and it starts: “My soul, my soul; where are you?”
He goes on; he's petitioning some contact; and then he determined that he had to just wait and see if he could get a response back. For 25 nights, he sat there, trying to turn off outward consciousness. He knew that dreams indicated that there was activity when consciousness was turned off; could he, in awakeness, remove himself enough from his concentration on the outer realm that this inner thing could show itself? Words started coming—soul words—words like “look into your depths”, ”hear the depths”; this went on for about 25 days. He had some dreams. It got to a point where he felt like, if he could engage a fantasy deeply enough, that maybe a fantasy might lead to more fantasy.
The only time I know about that he spoke about this stuff publicly was in 1925, to a private seminar; he told them: “What I did is: I imagined I was digging a hole. I had a shovel; and I would sit there imaginatively at my desk … just sitting here, in my mind, closing off the outward world, concentrating on the shovel, and the hole I was digging. Dig; dig; dig; feel the shovel; look at the dirt; feel the motion, the muscles moving (without them moving).” He was sure that a fantasy would lead to more fantasy. Finally, he got to a point, and it opened up; he saw a passage; he thought it was an entry to an old mine; he walked through the passage; there was a withered dwarf; there was a cave. He went into the cave; he heard screeching voices; there was muck on the ground. He walked across the cave. He saw a gem of light; he picked up the gem; he looked in through the gem; the gem was covering up an orifice; and he looked in. And there was this river; and in the river floated by the body of a dead hero, followed by a scarab, followed by a sun deep in the water; and then he saw snakes—thousands and thousands of black snakes—come down the walls surround the sun; and then blood came surging up from the hole. And that was the end of the vision. He told the seminar in 1925 that he discovered that his technique worked amazingly well, but he didn't have the foggiest idea what it meant. That was the beginning of his visionary event.
About 12 days later, right around Christmas, he entered into another vision. This one was different; it was not so evoked; it just opened. And I'll read just a little bit here (this occurred on 22 December 1913; this is what he told the seminar in 1925): “The next thing that happened to me was another fantastic vision! But, this time, I went much deeper; this time, it was a cosmic depth; it was like going to the moon, or like the feeling of descent into empty space.” In his Red Book in Liber Novus he recounts the vision—and this is his account; this is a primary hermeneutic; this is his recension of what he saw, what happened to him as he wrote it—here I quote from The Red Book: “I lay in a dark depth; an old man stood before me. He looked like one of the old prophets. A black serpent lay at his feet. Some distance away, I saw a house with columns. A beautiful maiden stepped out of the door. She walks uncertainly, and I see that she is blind. The old man waves to me. I follow him to the house at the front of a sheer rock wall. The serpent creeps behind. Suddenly a door opens on the right, onto a garden full of bright sunshine. We step outside, and the old man says to me, ‘Do you know where you are?’ Jung replies, ‘I am a stranger here, and everything seems strange to me, anxious, as in a dream. Who are you?’; and the man answers, ‘I am Elijah, and this is my daughter Salome.’” It goes on; it goes on; and it went on, actually, night after night, for 3 nights. Jung called this his “mystery play””his mysterium. At the conclusion of the first night's vision, Jung exclaims to Salome and Elijah “You are the symbols of the most extreme contradiction!” Elijah responds, “We are real; we are not symbols.” 10 years later, Jung penned a psychological reflection on this stuff (once again, private and unpublished), trying to figure out talk about who these figures were. He said, “they're certainly not intended [as] allegories; they have not been consciously contrived to depict experience, in either veiled or fantastic terms; rather, they appeared as visions.” Jung called this his mystery play. (Later on, Tolkien described this sort of experience as entering a Faëriean drama, Faërie story, and we'll get to that in a little while; just remember that parallel: entering a Faëriean drama, and entering the mystery play.)
For the next 2 months Jung voluntarily entered into these depths almost nightly. (And I should, here, step back and say: at the same time, the man was continuing his medical practice; he was seeing on average 5 patients a day. During this period, he was lecturing; he was teaching. He was not psychotic; he was continuing a normal life. He was serving in the Swiss Army during subsequent periods quite frequently. He wasn't sitting in a corner with drool coming down his face, lost in a psychotic event.) But they didn't keep going forever. The [main] intensity of these events really went from December on through February; they slowed down a little bit less by April; then pretty much stopped by June. But he would go in evenings, usually after dinner, and sit, and try to evoke these things and enter into them. Some of this stuff is really funny it's farcical; some of it is absolutely frightening. That's what The Red Book is; these events, and that period of time—this short period of a few months—really is the core of what Jung talked about in Liber Novus, The Red Book.
[0h46m52s] In his commentary on this material which he wrote I mean there's the primary this is the primary hermeneutic then he started doing the interpretation of what this had happened and 9 months later he started trying to figure this out and this is what he said trying to explain what had happened he said if you remain within the arbitrary and artificially created boundaries you will walk as between two high walls you do not see the immensity of the world but if you break down the walls that confine your view then the ancient sleeper awakens in you if you look outside yourself you see the far-off forest and mountains and above them your vision climbs to the realms of the stars and if you look into yourselves you will see on the other hand the nearby as far-off and infinite since the world of the inner is as infinite as the world of the outer. man lives in two worlds.
he spoke of what he was doing this primary hermeneutic this trying to record the visions and in the very introduction of The Red Book he gives this he says this speaking about well his attempt to express what had happened and he says “My speech is imperfect. Not because I want to shine with words, but out of the impossibility of finding those words, I speak in images. with nothing else can I express the words from the depths.” but at this point I should add there were no illustrations this was his manuscript he wrote this in the words themselves the phrasing the way he expressed himself was an image later as he composed The Red Book as he transcribed this into his book he wrote this manuscript let me just explain that so he thought he was going crazy OK except he wasn't he wasn't crazy these visions had come he didn't know what it was about throughout this period he had had many visions of the coming of a great devastation a war death and then in August of 1914 the first World War broke loose and he saw at that moment that what he had been through actually was part of a cultural moment a human moment that what was happening in him was an expression perhaps even revelatory precognitive of events that were about to transform his land his content his world. and it was at that point that he decided that this was an important work that he had to do something with it. he wrote the manuscript he wrote the commentary over the next months in 1914 to early 1915 and then he spent sixteen years trying to transcribe this material into his big Red Book with art with imagery added to the image of his words sixteen years. and during all this period he was also doing something else he was looking for those who might have shared a similar experience paradigmatic cases anything to indicate that what he had quite clearly experienced this visionary realm was a human experience and that there are records that he could use to relate what had happened to him. he did actually he wrote this book to others he thought he would publish it was only by the early 1920s he realized it was absolutely impossible there were people around him who thought he should publish it and he saw it was impossible, that no-one would understand this no-one could understand what had happened to him and it was at that point he really slowed down and then ended his transcription his attempt at the art of The Red Book he worked 16 years and did not finish it. he only entered about two-thirds of the manuscript material he had composed into the artistic calligraphic illustrated big red book, Liber Novus, “The New Book”. Then he went on to what I would call a secondary hermeneutics he had to develop a way of approaching such events in history in his history in human history he thought it was vital to do so and he spent the rest of his life working on that hermeneutics on that interpretive act of bringing people in to an understanding of such events in history looking for the paradigmatic cases and he laid out a number of them he was a historian a physician who was an historian looking for the history of this experience and if you read his collected writings I mean the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali � the meditations of Ignatius of Loyola Meister Eckhart these are all the texts Kundalini these were the things he was studying and looking at trying to understand what had happened to him and at the very beginning of his looking he thought he had found an analogue of his experience in the ancient writings of the Gnostics heretics (so called), visionaries creating new myths at the beginning of the Christian age J published several million words in his secondary hermeneutics without ever revealing the source at the end of life he spoke of these events as the “noumenous beginning which contained everything” everything he says began then everything else was the scientific elaboration the bringing into life that the noumenous beginning was then. well of course for the last I think Jung's been dead now for 50 years and Jung scholarship has been devoid of any knowledge of this material any way of contextualizing the source of his work it's turned into a clinical specialty where the man's vision the man's work was much much broader than a clinical therapeutic specialty he was looking at what it was to be human Dr. Sonu Shamdasani introduced The Red Book at The Library of Congress in 2010 they had a big museum show there and a conference and Sonu gave an amazing talk and again it's one of those things you can probably you can find on YouTube if you go looking. and Sonu talked about Jung's approach to Blake and Swedenborg visionaries and compare Jung's approach to these individuals what he'd said about them and then he concluded with these words this is what Dr. Shamdasani said “if, as Jung claimed, Dante and Blake clothed visionary experience in mythological forms, could we not pose the question: did Jung, in turn, attempt to clothe visionary experience in conceptual psychological forms? If so, the power and significance of his work does not reside in his concepts (which are familiar to us) but in the visionary experience which was at the back of them.” Dr. Shamdasani is the Philemon Professor of Jung history at the University College London he is in his mid-50s now he is certainly the most knowledgeable historian of Jung I know he's spent more than half his life involved in this stuff he spent now 20 years working on The Red Book, Jung's diaries from this period, his collected writings thereafter what was the man's conclusion? “The power and significance of his work does not reside in his concepts (which are familiar to us) but in the visionary experience which was at the back of them.” the visionary experience the primary experience and the primary hermeneutic as opposed to the secondary elaborations, hmm?
Prof. John Ronald Reuel Tolkien
One of the most common questions I'm asked by fans of Tolkien and by people involved in Tolkien studies is “Did Tolkien believe in elves?”—And I've been asked that question a few times; people know of my interests—and I have an answer: No. Tolkien did not—did not—believe in elves. Tolkien knew elves. He had met many. He knew their names; he knew their stories; he knew their sorrows. He knew their elven art. And the question that usually follows up to that is “Well, so, what you're saying, then, is—Tolkien was crazy?” And, you see—that's the box. Where do you put this experience, hmm?
That's why I think, when you have paradigmatic cases, you need more than one. Otherwise, it's what I call the “chop sui” problem—it's the sui generis—it's just one-of-a-kind. “Well, what kind is it? / It's that one kind.” You need to bring things into context, into that transdisciplinary dialogue. You need to look at these human experiences side by side, before you start contextualizing. By gosh! It's not just the "one-of-a" kind; it is the human kind. Does that make sense? And that's why I found it so critically important to look at these two figures and their approaches together and believe me I'm not trying to force this stuff together it doesn't work you can't do that as a scholar validly I mean people do it but I really tried to see does it fit and I conclude it does.
So what happened to Tolkien? What happened to John Ronald Reuel, and what was his hermeneutics of vision (and here I'm going to abbreviate it's painful for me to abbreviate I'm going to exercise infinite compassion or at least focused compassion tonight and abbreviate) well Tolkien had some interesting experiences as a young man, too. some people are more visual as Tolkien wrote in later life with their visionary experience some are more auditory Jung said exactly the same thing in a long essay and early in life Tolkien really had an amazing sense of language when he discovered as a young teenager the language Anglo-Saxon he felt he already new it it came to him just quite naturally in the same early years maybe later teenage years he started experiencing what he called his ghost words ghost well Tolkien was interested in words he was a philologist by profession the word goes all the way back into Indo-European roots it's in Sanskrit as well, “��”, it means a spirit, a soul a spirit-world word a ghost soul word. and these words would come to him they'd come fully-formed with meaning he explained later on that most frequently they came as nouns but there were adjectives fewer verbs that would come. “Eärendil”, “Ainur”, “Valar”, “Ilúvatar”, “Melkor”, “Varda”, “Silmaril”, “Elbereth Gilthoniel”, “Lúthien”, “Tinúviel”… words. And he imagined this was in some unknowable manner an echo of his own original language. He kept a notebook with him in later years when these words would come obtruding into consciousness he would write them down he would write down the meanings and then as a philologist he'd try to figure them out figure out what other words are related to them how they evolved and the words evolved into complex languages and then Tolkien became convinced that language was related to a mythology. that languages were formed in mythologies meanings were involved and related to mythologies the languages� part of the stories I think it was in 1913 or 1914 he was walking in the English coast stormy sea coast of England and a name came to him “Eärendil” it seemed significant in immense ways he went home and he wrote a poem about it a fragment it was a mythic image of Eärendil, the one who had sailed across the western sea into the sky. and he knew it was part of something he sent the poem to a friend one of his dear school friends and the friend wrote him back a letter he says well you know that's really very interesting but what's it about and Tolkien's response was “I don't know. I'll have to find out.” (Emphasis added.) Not “I will have to create something.—gosh, I'll have to make up the rest of that story, won't I?”—“I'll have to find out.” Tolkien spent the next 40 years of his life finding out. this figure remains a key in his mythology for decades. many things opened up in this time
[An aside]: Becca's talk covered some of this stuff very well and also I have about 5 hours of Tolkien lectures online which are illustrated I have some of the illustrations of things he was doing during this period if you're interested in this go look in there you can find more
by 1915 after he had graduated from Oxford he was deeply in love he married and he got sent to war. in July 1st, Lt. Tolkien was at the Somme. at the beginning of the Battle of the Somme the most horrendous sacrifice of the first world war in the first day of the battle 20 thousand british soldiers died over the next 4 months of the battle there were over 1 million casualties over 250 thousand dead although the exact number is not really known and they were dead and lying wounded over 600 meters of French mud. Tolkien saw it all he was a Signal Officer he was at the fronts trying to communicate the carnage at the front to the Commanding Officers at the back he witnessed it 2 of his 3 best friends died at the Somme. Tolkien at the end of October realized the battle was winding down almost over became ill he started developing high fevers he was diagnosed as having trench fever which was an unknown disease marked by high fevers and aching joints it was thought to be contagious now we think it was probably conveyed by something carried by the lice in the trenches of which all the men were infested and he was sent home to England to hospital at that moment the elven mythologies really opened up. he began writing. he had a little school notebook and in December while he was in hospital he started writing the first of his elven stories they're called the Lost Tales they're not complete stories they're not literary works they're condensations of things that were working on him. but some of those tales stuck with him they were foundational to everything he did thereafter one was the story of Beren and Lúthien Tinúviel a man who fell in love with an elven princess and to win her hand had to win back a stolen gem of light a gem stolen by a force of evil in this world you know I'll just say this in passing people have said well maybe Tolkien had PTSD hmm well I've been a physician working in a Veterans Administration hospital part-time as a professor taking care of people with PTSD now for 20 years I've seen people with PTSD from World War 2 onward through all those conflicts and believe me I'm seeing a great deal of it right now believe me this wasn't PTSD I know what that is I see that this may have been a therapeutic move for Tolkien but it was not a manifestation of a disorder maybe it was his therapeutic move.
then something extraordinary happened in 1919 Jung wrote a cosmogonic myth what's a cosmogonic myth it's like a story of the coming to consciousness the coming to being the coming to reality of a world of us you don't run into these very often I should add in 1916 Jung did exactly the same thing he also wrote an amazing cosmogonic myth these are the sources of religions the key texts of religious movements and I must say he called it the ����� the music of the gods and I've read this myth again and again and I must tell you and I can't go into any of the details here I know of only one myth in history that coincides with this myth and that is the Manichaean myth the myth of the prophet Mani now I'll say no more than that other than send you looking if you want to go looking.
speaking of the stuff that was happening much later [Tolkien] wrote in letters he said of these things “they arose in my mind as given things as they came separately so too the links grew and absorbing � continually interrupted labor yet always I had the sense of recording what was already there somewhere not of inventing.” (Emphasis added.) And what did he think he was doing in those early years? He explained years later what he was doing I had a mind to make a body of more or less connected legend running from the large and cosmogonic to the level of the romantic fairy tale which I would dedicate simply to England to my country this is 1950 another letter in 1956 he said that the venture he had undertaken was to precisely to restore to England an epic tradition and to present them with a mythology of their own he was trying to create a mythology Jung remember mythology finding a mythology living needing a mythology he felt England needed a mythology
but what's a mythology isn't that a given thing received from past from history from peoples from ancient times from ancient superstitions aren't myths sort of canonical Tolkien was trying to fracture canon fracture the sense of a canon of myth a new myth for a new time for his people this is what that young man back from the war writing those myths moving on for the next 20 years writing was thinking. he worked into the night on these things I mean Tolkien was a busy man he had a full professorial schedule he taught a full 7 lectures he was a � of the University he had all these damn department meetings and things to go to and all the administrative affairs which some of you probably take doing with great joy but Tolkien didn't he was doing this stuff and then he would sit at night late into the night doing his mythological work. and he didn't know what he was doing what was this hermeneutic he tried writing this stuff in the form of fairy stories simple he tried doing it in poetry couplets in alliterative verse he wrote some of this stuff in Anglo-Saxon he did some of it in Elven what was the hermeneutic what was the appropriate voice for conveying what he had been doing and he had no intention no thought that he could get it published then of course in 1937 a children's story a story he told his children ends up in the hands of a publisher gets published and The Hobbit is a hit in England first printing 3 thousand copies is selling and all of a sudden Tolkien is known for that it was embarrassing in a way. he says that people at Oxford used to rouse him you know “Professor, how's your Hobbit doing?” You know, the Professor of Anglo-Saxon Literature known for his Hobbit-story. well and it was at this point I mean Tolkien had worked up on this what I call that secondary hermeneutic sort of trying to describe what it is you have been doing he had done this with his lecture on Beowulf at the British Academy in 1936 and he went now he received an invitation to St. Andrew's to give a lecture the Andrew Lang lecture and he determined he was going to talk about what he had been doing he called the lecture ”On Fairy Stories” but you know what he wasn't interested in talking about fairy stories he started out his entire lecture by saying you know what people call fairy stories they aren't fairy stories that's not what I'm talking about he wanted to talk about Faë-rie, the experience of the imaginal. and so in the first part of the lecture he just moves away from all of that stuff the lecture was written in '39 I mean this is details you don't need to know but I'll tell you anyway 'cause that's what I do we don't have the text of the original lecture but over the next 3 years he worked on a draft manuscript of the final published edition, and he published it—and he cut out the best parts! There are things he said as he was authoring this material that were really self-revelatory, but when he finally got to the final text, he cut this stuff out; it was unknown for years and years and years; finally, it was published—just a few years ago—of his draft manuscripts, Verlyn Flieger and Douglas A. Anderson went through, and they edited all this stuff out, and the stuff he said is amazing—the stuff he was afraid to say in public—and, really, it's a key text. (There was another key text, that I can't get to tonight, but this is a key text.) He started a draft introduction (the one he didn't use) and [in it] he said “The Land of Fairy is wide and deep and high … in that land, a man may (perhaps) count himself fortunate to have wandered, but its very mystery and wealth make dumb the traveler who would report. The fairy gold (too often) turns to withered leaves when it is brought away. All that I can ask is that you will receive my withered leaves, as a token at least that my hand once held a little fairy-gold.” (Emphasis added.) Well, he cut that out. But I love that line, because you know what Jung said about his early experiences? This is what Jung wrote, at the end of his life, about his early experiences—he said “I felt that at some time or the other I had passed through the valley of diamonds, but I could convince no-one that the specimens I brought back were more than pieces of gravel.” You see that parallel? You've been there. What'd you bring back? How difficult it is to interpret!
Well, let me just [share] some excerpts; this is material where see Tolkien has done this primary stuff he's done the recension�of his myths for years now he's talking on what [he's] done … so he asked “what is fairy?” and, once again, he's not talking about fairy-stories “Faë-rie” would be equivalent to what Jung would call the "collective unconscious" the realm archetypal realm imaginative realm. so he sais “What is fairy? It reposes in a view that the normal world—tangible, visible, audible—is only an appearance. Behind it is a reservoir of power which is manifest in these forms. If we can drive a well down to this reservoir, we shall tap a power that can not only change the visible forms of things already existent, but sprout up with a boundless wealth forms of things never before known—potential, but unrealized.” Later in the notes, he puts in this other thing, he starts talking about this Faërian drama he said the difficult task was to enter this fairy realm and “see it, in action and being, as we see our objective world, with the mind free from the limited body.” (Emphasis added.) A Faërian drama. To see it "as" we see our objective world—you see that immediacy of vision. To enter a Faërian drama with a free mind… then he says something else—and this is exactly like Jung—he says “an essential � power of fairy is thus the power of making immediately effective by will the visions of fantasy.” (Emphasis added.) This is exactly what Jung was trying to do in 1913 and 1914 winter make effective by will visions. Tolkien goes on further in an attempt to describe what it was like to be in a Faërian Drama. He [continues], “‘Faërian drama’—those plays which according to abundant records the Elves have often presented to men—can produce Fantasy with a realism and immediacy beyond the compass of any human mechanism. As a result, their usual effect on a man is to go beyond belief. If you are present at a Faërian drama you yourself are, or think that you are, bodily inside its Secondary World. The experience may be very similar to dreaming … But, in Faërian drama, you are in a dream that some other mind is weaving—and the knowledge of that alarming fact may slip from your grasp.” I believe Tolkien was talking about something he had experienced. you think you are there. Now this is, of course, again, a description of what Jung was talking about, in his own annals of experience!
“Did Tolkien know elves?”—the question—“What did he mean by ‘Faërian drama’?” This is the stuff that has been tossed around in Tolkien studies for the last few decades and very little-understood (as Becca quite correctly said in her introduction) but in the last issue of Tolkien studies it's an annual the 2014 edition came out last fall Verlyn Flieger perhaps one of the best known and perhaps one of the best Tolkien scholars she's been a professor at the University of Maryland she's now I believe in her 80s I think she's retired from her professorship she is the one who edited the notes the draft material On Fairy-Stories that I've just reading from she's been all through the archives of the ���� at Oxford an amazing scholar and a cautious scholar but from the very beginning of her books it was clear that she saw something about Tolkien that others weren't and she finally did it she finally said it she wrote a paper called But What Did He Really Mean?” and in that paper (which, if you're interested in Tolkien studies, you should look at) what she said is: he meant what he said. He said lots of things, but when he said this stuff about Elves—about visions—he meant it. It had happened. Oh, she's a cautious scholar, she's a little soft on the edges on some of those affirmations… but then she gives this final quote—it's well-known to most Tolkien scholars—it was written by a woman who knew him well, who worked on translations from Middle English with him—a long-time partner—and she (this friend of Tolkien's) writes this: “I said to him once, ‘You broke the veil, didn't you, and passed through?’ Which in fact he did, and which he readily admitted.” (Emphasis added.) No wonder, therefore, that he could recapture the language of the fairies. “Passed through”—what does that mean? Consider his comment, “the power of making effective, by will, the vision of Fantasy.” Perhaps that is that he meant.
OK, visions myths stories good reading if you like that sort of reading interesting lives paradigmatic is there more a message now here well here one starts working with his own vision his own intuition his own sense of life there was something that Jung found in The Red Book that he called "his secret knowledge" it's clearly present in the visions and in his commentary on the visions written for his Liber Novus his Red Book. and I wrote a long paper on this that you can find online called Jung and Aion, if you want to go looking for it. Jung had seen in his visions not only the coming of a war but the coming to an end of an age. he felt that we had actually lost our myths that a new myth of consciousness a new myth of what it was to be human maybe what might be called a new type of god story was about to begin taking formation. he saw that in human consciousness there had been major ages he called them aeons periods of thousands of years reaching back 6 thousand years the christian age the 3rd age was coming to an end we were at a time of catastrophic danger if we did not face the fact of the imaginal of the vision which is our nature of the stories us which in this age are trying to come to the surface. be known be heard be found be written and perhaps be interpreted we were in� trouble late in life he said the world hangs by a thread and that thread is the psyche the soul and its imaginal words languages forms myths and you know Professor Tolkien worked on his mythology for 40 years it grew from foundation in layers through ages to a 3rd age this book that has sold 250 million copies been made into movies seen by untold hundreds of millions of people is about the end of an age a task a conflict my intuition is that these imaginal stories have meaning it's been suggested to me and I've thought it myself that if we do indeed survive for 500 years and look back at this age asking from that perspective far away what our myths were what were the foundational myths what were the important stories we told what were our religious stories I thought that The Red Book of Jung and Tolkien may be on the list of foundational mythologies of a new human consciousness maybe that's a prophesy and maybe not that is my intuition give it some thought this is an interesting subject these men these men deserve our attention
at the doorway of Shelob's Lair in The Lord of The Rings Sam realized that the story he was in was a very old story it went all the way back to Beren and Lúthien the story that well that Tolkien first heard after the Great War “and he looked at Frodo and he said ‘Don't the great tales never end?’ ‘No, they never end, as tales,’ said Frodo, ‘but the people in them—the people in them come and go when their parts ended�.’” We have our part, now, in the tale now being told, Tolkien and Jung did as well we shall see where it goes.
Q: about the gradations� between various interpreted technologic experiences with imaginal realms you mentioned words like psychotic and pathologies and it seems also a question of containership within the interpretive mediums we were discussing because maybe what is safe at one moment for an individual to be in and experience and feel as real for them maybe is not safe in another context so I'd be curious about � you have planned� with that duality we still ��
Wow. Yeah, that's really a core question, because it has to do with, well “creative illness” vs. “pathology” vs. “psychosis”, doesn't it? You know, what is the protected realm? What is the "safe" realm? Let me just give you my experience from dealing with people. when this stuff happens people think they're crazy and they go looking for contexts and it can drive people over the edge. if they can find a context or a contextualization for what's happening to them it gives them space it gives them a safer space and you know what that's one of the reasons I'm standing up here talking to you about this stuff just to give our age contextualizations. as I look at a room of people as many as are here I suspect some of you have had experiences like this and you probably didn't have a context for it we need contexts other than “I am the New Prophet” or “I am Psychotic” Jung really was a psychiatrist and was troubled so I'm not suggesting that these are easy events to tolerate when Tolkien came back from the Great War he was writing these myths he was in hospital with men who had PTSD men who had “shell shock” as it was known men who were wounded seriously in mind and body all around him and he was doing his mythology writing these tales at that time and maybe that was his therapy
so I don't know that a person should go looking for this stuff and then I would also step back and add that Tolkien at the end of his life said some things which would indicate that he felt an experience such as he had had of that depth and magnitude only happens once in a generation and Jung felt somewhat the same there are levels of this stuff which are really rare and the ability of a human being to endure it and deal with it and not be driven mad and this is if you look at Jung's work when he went back looking at examples of people who'd been through this a lot of them were pretty much over the edge he was trying not to go over the edge so I'm not suggesting to you that it's not dangerous it might be but in some way we have to contextualize it and bring it into a wider dialogue of non-pathology in some cases
Q: It seems like if Jung and Tolkien had met and been able to talk to each other and support each other through all that and yet they didn't I'm wondering why not the logistical why but the big why
Well as a matter of fact (and this is something I want to talk about I'm glad you asked the question) Tolkien did know a good deal about Jung now and in fact he had what I think may have been imaginal conversations with Jung that he wrote down so I've asked this question obviously myself as like "what sort of a conversation would these guys have had" now Tolkien was younger, Jung older, his experiences took different forms and went over a different period of time but Tolkien was a Dean� at Oxford in 1930� and he was a Roman Catholic he was part of the Roman Catholic community at Oxford which was not very large and at Oxford there was a group called The Black Friars it's the friary of the Dominicans there were and this is detailed there were 3 Catholic fathers in the priory and Black Friars who were extremely interested in Jung one of them was in an analysis during the 1940s when Tolkien was writing On Fairy-Stories Tolkien's had mass at Black Friars he's served in mass you know helped the priest in mass he knew all of these guys one of them was in correspondence with Jung in 1937 and Jung wrote him and said when I come to Oxford in '38 I want to meet with you at Black Friars Jung received an honorary Doctorate of 6 or 8 were given that summer trinity term 1938 Jung was one Tolkien was almost certainly at that ceremony it's a big ceremonial Father Victor White� became a very good one of the Black Friars was in correspondence with Jung after the war he was in analysis during the '40s and he actually became a very close friend of Jung's from '46 onward it is inconceivable that Tolkien didn't know something about Jung but even more interesting those notes I just read you from On Fairy-Stories well those are notes and he kept notes on things he wanted to talk about on pages that were reproduced by Verlyn Flieger one of the things he wanted to talk about and she actually reproduced this page in her book “Jung and the collective unconscious” that was on his list of things he wanted to talk about in his paper On Fairy-Stories which he did not and then in 1944 when he really almost had a nervous breakdown he went through this long imaginative dialogue and a figure shows up in this who is a chemist or an alchemist and a psychoanalyst and he's the only person in these dialogues who understands vision and dream and takes them seriously his name is Dole� Barret� in the story and if you read through it it's like oh my god he's in analysis with Jung he's having an imaginative analysis well I mean it's a long story I would have loved to give a lecture on that one too but we can't go there tonight so I think they would have had a very interesting I think probably by '44 if Tolkien and Jung could have sat down together it would have been a damn interesting conversation
Q: the idea that everything of Jung's came out of this materia� of The Red Book how do you square that with for instance the publication of Psychology of the Unconscious or Symbols of Transformation where you already have this very clear recognition of different kinds of thinking you have the �� journey the amazing proliferation of mythological ��� I ��� but since it's all there � I'm pretty sure � the originals they probably ��� as compared with the ��
Yeah, the CW5—the published version—he did rewrite that. and the original version you can get that it's on the internet actually and it's a little bit different translation yeah and it was actually Beatrice Hinkle was the translator of that it was published in 1916 the Psychology of the Unconscious it's a little bit more primitive so what I'd say is Jung was thinking about this stuff a great deal and obviously he was but if you read the original volume that he wrote in 1912 it is chaotic the guy is in chaos and he felt he was in chaos with this material it's just like this and that and here and there and this myth and that myth and mother myths and you know sacrificial myths it's all there and that's what I read that quote that he wrote in 1950 to the revised edition of the � volume 5. and then he says you know I was dealing with this stuff and then I thin Jung was working with all this stuff probably since he was 4 years old dealing with it he had been in a period of what Dr. Shamdasani calls a period of self-alienation and the period of self-alienation started really as he got out of medical school into his psychiatric work in his early relationship with Freud he was really �� alienated but he was still working with this stuff and when it got to the fracture point he had to go back in so a lot of the concepts were there but when he starts The Red Book what he says is you know I have to give up with my concepts and I have to go to the original experience and that's what he did then so I think that the what came after the Red Book period is immensely more complex and deep than the chaos of the first book in 1912 although that was his entrypoint that was the beginning of his journey that's when it became clear to him that he had to go
Q: maybe like a ��� ��?
Yeah, it was! That's exactly how he saw it.
Q: I'm curious for us today the idea of Jung removing his attention and awareness from external reality in order to make space for the unconscious to emerge and form and he could participate in which is well known within Eastern traditions of meditation and imaginative practices and he did a lot of research in Kundalini Yoga … I'm curious if you have any thought for those of us say in the West I know Jung had referred to the importance of �� Dalai Lama �� staying within Western tradition, Western myths, Western practices and I'm curious what you think about those of us encountering these depths what it means especially in this new-age mixing-pot where a lot of people are going East and practicing Eastern things studying Eastern teachings what you think about that for folks more Western and we try to reclaim our own myth and our own practices
It's what some people need to do, period. Look, Jung said a lot of the stuff he did he was negative … he dissuaded Westerners to go into Eastern practices he felt that it was alien to their psyche alien to their nature and there was a great deal of wealth in the Western tradition the people who would get disoriented and he saw it happen but at the same time you have to understand in the 1920s and '30s we're talking about Annie Besant and theosophy and some of the stuff that was available was not nearly at the level of what we now have I mean the Dali Lama wasn't going to Zürich in 1930 you weren't having authentic teachers of these levels coming to the transdisciplinary dialogue we're in a different stage right now of our cultural interchange and I think we've matured also culturally which allows some of those openings to occur in ways they did not occur for the British neurotic showing up in Zürich in 1928 so I think that if that's where it goes for you that's where it goes however the whole idea of transdisciplinary or of East–West dialogue is critical so yes you go but do you bring and what do you bring what do you bring back what's the interchange I think we really are growing and so you can't just take it one way or the other you have to really grow these things and you know I've… sort of been down that road myself I've looked at the Christian tradition the Western tradition pretty deeply I've found a lot in it a lot of it's been contextualized by my study of eastern traditions
Q: I love this phrase you use of Tolkien … knew elves and the thought came to mind as you were saying that is even the word "Elf" doesn't really convey who it was he encountered and he struggled with finding the name that translated �� he initially called them "Gnomes" coming from "gnosis" I think he was probably wise in a way to drop that 'cause what did you all picture when I said "gnomes" 😏 and calling them the �� �� more elegant but so through this I kind of want to draw you out because you did mention the creation myth the ����� and its particular relationship to the Gnostic creation myth and so—
OK well first yeah I cut that out of my "compassionate abbreviation" which really was not much of an abbreviation tonight yeah you know Tolkien was trying to understand these tales that were coming to him and give names to � thing the name that first presented itself in 1917 and which he used earlier you can see it in his notebooks when he gets back from the war is that he'd “gone to visit the Gnomes” and linguistically the Gnomes were the Gnos-tics, the γνῶστικοί�, the knowers and he found out that a lot of people thought "the Gnomes" were you know like a northern European lawn ornaments or something it didn't quite work in his mythology btw if you want to give me something for Christmas I want a really nice set of Gnomes for my lawn… but anyway so he changed the name and ��� or you know but in his etymology in his philological terminology it still meant the same thing "the knowers" so this is all that struck me since I'm interested in Gnosticism is that here Jung is the first place he goes looking for this stuff and the first place he thinks he finds it is in Gnostic mythology and here Tolkien is within 3 years of that Tolkien is imaginatively meeting Elves who identify themselves to him he didn't "make up" this name remember these are "ghost names" "spirit names" these are names that came to him not just creations he discovered and the name he discovers for these people is the knowers well that is peculiar isn't it and then the myth the music of the gods the Ainur so he writes this in 1919 we don't know much about when he wrote it other than he wrote it on the back of some stuff he was working at at the Oxford University Press in 1919 and it's just this amazing creation myth I mean you can read it in a simple way but if you actually take the elements and put them together it is amazing and I said it was like the Manichaean myth, buy me a drink and give me about 2 hours and we'll talk about that first of all to explain what I mean by that I have to explain who Mani was what Manichaeans were what the intricacies of Manichaean mythology are like what the sources of Manichaean mythology are like what the central myth is and then you have to say what are the Ainulindalë like? what are the Ainur… and then start—but, if you do that I don't know if I can do that in two hours especially after a Scotch but if you do do that and I've done it you'll come away like "whoah, what a myth—what a myth" and it is a cosmogonic myth this myth as Christopher Tolkien said of his father's mythology there are a couple things that came very early that really never changed throughout his entire mythology and this cosmogonic myth the Ainulindalë or the music of the Ainur music of the gods never changed it was cosmogonic myths are foundations of mythology and this was the foundation of his mythology how he equated this with his Roman Catholicism is quite a mystery but so it goes I guess the Gnomes told him what are you gonna do I mean that's what they said what are you gonna do