Seven Sermons to the Dead
Seven Sermons to the Dead (Latin: Septem Sermones ad Mortuos) are a collection of seven mystical or "Gnostic" texts privately published by C. G. Jung in 1916, under the title "Seven Sermons to the Dead, written by Basilides of Alexandria, the city where East and West meet." Jung did not identify himself as the author of the publication. Septem Sermones ad Mortuos might now best be described as the "summary revelation of the Red Book." This is the only portion of the imaginative material contained in the Red Book manuscripts that C.G. Jung shared more or less publicly during his lifetime. To comprehend the importance of the Septem Sermones, one must understand the events behind the writing of the Red Book itself—a task ultimately facilitated by the epochal publication of Jung's Red Book in October 2009 (C. G. Jung, The Red Book: Liber Novus, ed. Sonu Shamdasani, Norton, 2009). Dr. Shamdasani's extensive introduction and notes on the text of the Red Book provide a wealth of previously unavailable primary documentation on this crucial period of Jung's life.
In November 1913 Carl Jung commenced an extraordinary exploration of the psyche, or "soul." He called it his "confrontation with the unconscious". During this period Jung willfully entered imaginative or "visionary" states of consciousness. The visions continued intensely from the end of 1913 until about 1917 and then abated by around 1923. Jung carefully recorded this imaginative journey in six black-covered personal journals (referred to as the "Black Books"); these notebooks provide a dated chronological ledger of his visions and dialogues with his Soul.
Beginning in late 1914, Jung began transcribing from the Black Book journals the draft manuscript of his legendary Red Book, the folio-sized leather bound illuminated volume he created to contain the formal record of his journey. Jung repeatedly stated that the visions and imaginative experiences recorded in the Red Book contained the nucleus of all his later works.
Jung kept the Red Book private during his lifetime, allowing only a few of his family and associates to read from it. The only part of this visionary material that Jung chose to release in limited circulation was the Septem Sermones, which he had privately printed in 1916. Throughout his life Jung occasionally gave copies of this small book to friends and students, but it was available only as a gift from Jung himself and never offered for public sale or distribution. When Jung's biographical memoir Memories, Dreams, Reflections was published in 1962, the Septem Sermones ad Mortuos was included as an appendix.
It remained unclear until very recently exactly how the Septem Sermones ad Mortuos related to the hidden Red Book materials. After Jung's death in 1961, all access to the Red Book was denied by his heirs. Finally in October 2009, nearly fifty years after Jung's death, the family of C. G. Jung released the Red Book for publication in a beautiful facsimile edition, edited by Sonu Shamdasani. With this central work of Jung's now in hand, we discover that the Seven Sermons to the Dead actually compose the closing pages of the Red Book draft manuscripts; the version transcribed for the Red Book varies only slightly from the text published in 1916, however the Red Book includes after each of the sermons an additional amplifying homily by Philemon (Jung's spirit guide). [The Red Book: Liber Novus, p346-54]
A commentary upon the work was written by Stephan A. Hoeller. When Hoeller inquired with the editor of The Red Book, Sonu Shamdasani, about the relationship of the two books, Shamdasani said that the Seven Sermons was like an island, but the Red Book is like a vast continent.
Notes and references
- Septem Sermones ad Mortuos. http://www.gnosis.org/library/7Sermons.htm
- The Search for Roots C. G. Jung and the Tradition of Gnosis, Alfred Ribi, Foreword by Lance S. Owens (Gnosis Archive Books, 2013); ISBN 978-0615850627, pp. 14-16. (Available online: https://www.academia.edu/6922841/The_Search_for_Roots_C._G._Jung_and_the_Tradition_of_Gnosis_Foreword_by_Lance_S._Owens_)
- "Carl Gustav Jung and The Red Book: Liber Novus" by Lance S. Owens and Stephan A. Hoeller Encyclopedia of Psychology and Religion, 2nd edition (New York, Heidelberg, Dordrecht, London: Springer Reference, 2014) https://www.academia.edu/6922901/C._G._Jung_and_the_Red_Book
- Stephan A. Hoeller, The Gnostic Jung and the Seven Sermons to the Dead, Quest Books; 1st ed. 1989, ISBN 0-8356-0568-X
- Hoeller, Stephan. Jung and the Red Book — Lecture Part 3, Video Lecture by Dr Hoeller, at gnosis.org
- The Seven Sermons to the Dead. Complete text of C. G. Jung's Septem Sermones ad Mortuos with translations from the original German by H. G. Baynes and by Stephan A. Hoeller.
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