Jung's Seven Sermons of the Dead

by Fred Scampato

In 1912, Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung broke with his mentor, Sigmund Freud. In a nutshell, Jung did not agree with Freud's importance of the role of sex in the study of the mind. The next seven years would be spent dealing with patients in his practice and developing his own ideas, resulting in his stepping out of the shadow of Freud. With the freedom to express himself came the terror of stepping into the unknown. This parting with Freud also resulted in Jung's parting with all that was known. All that was stable. The result was a period of seven years, from 1913 through 1919 when he experienced a series of visions, dreams and fantasies. Jung has described this period of his life as his "Nekyia", a Greek word which describes a decent into the underworld. Today, some would say that he was experiencing his dark night of the soul.

During this period of his life, Jung spent much time trying to make sense of the dreams and visions which he was experiencing. In 1916, he had a particularly interesting experience which he recounts in his "Memories, Dreams and Reflections":

"Around five o'clock in the afternoon on Sunday the front door bell began ringing frantically. It was a bright summer day; the two maids were in the kitchen, from which the open square outside the front door could be seen. Everyone immediately looked to see who was there, but there was no one in sight. I was sitting near the doorbell, and not only heard it but saw it moving. We all simply stared at one another. The atmosphere was thick, believe me! Then I knew that something had to happen. The whole house was filled as if there were a crowd present, crammed full of spirits. They were packed deep right up to the door, and the air was so thick it was scarcely possible to breathe. As for myself, I was all a-quiver with the question: 'For God's sake, what in the world is this?' Then they cried out in chorus, 'We have come back from Jerusalem where we found not what we sought.' That is the beginning of the 'Septem Sermones. . .

Then it began to flow out of me, and in the course of three evenings the thing was written. As soon as I took up the pen, the whole ghostly assemblage evaporated. The room quieted and the atmosphere cleared. The haunting was over."

The result was a short pamphlet entitled "Seven Sermons of the Dead." Unlike his other writings, Jung chose to write this pamphlet as if it was scripture that he had he had received it in a vision from above. When he published it, he did so anonymously and credited Basilides of Alexandria as the author. As Basilides was a Christian Gnostic of the 2nd century, it is generally accepted that Jung had attempted to write a contemporary tract on Gnosticism.

There are many varied definitions of Gnosticism and it is consequently, difficult to determine what Jung understood it to mean. I believe that Jung saw it as a personal search for the divine spark within the individual searcher. This search begins with the individual not knowing where to look. Through trial and error, the individual searches everywhere for the divine. Through the Gnostic focus on diligent self-examination, the conscious individual can unite with the divine spark which lies within the person. This results in the reintegration into the divine realm.

Jung would later attempt to distance himself from the Gnostic movement but would incorporate some of its characteristics into the psychological realm in order to create a body of thought that would mesh with more practical and generally accepted ideas. As a man of science, Jung could not readily afford to be ridiculed by his colleagues, so he filtered many Gnostic ideas into a context (psychology). This type of transference had been done before. Most notably, people like Emerson and Thoreau took religious ideas and successfully transplanted them into literature, thus making those ideas more powerful in the process.

What is the essence of a human being? What motivates and drives us as a species? Biology only accounts for half the equation and philosophy must complete it in order to find an answer. That is essentially what Jung was after. There must be an answer or explanation for existence. He attacked this issue by breaking it down into concepts that were familiar. A key part to this attack was placing divine energy everywhere. There was no particular thing one had to see, worship or understand. It is the idea that divinity is all around us and can be seen in common manifestations. Simple daily tasks, routines and experiences are capable of revealing truth and meaning. There is no one particular object, person or experience that entitles us to be enlightened. We exist in a world of opposites and contradictions that allows our own internal processing to make sense of the world around us. Our differences are our strengths and at no time is that more apparent than when we have to make sense out seemingly random and contradictory situations that confront us.

Although we may strive to understand the specific components that influence our lives, Jung cautions that it is a fruitless exercise. This idea is very closely related to tenets in Eastern philosophy. There must be a certain amount of surrender involved in finding peace. There are simply too many complicated situations that arise and expecting to find answers is beyond the human capacity to understand the particulars. Opposites must exist merely as a matter of contrast. The world cannot exist in the absence of competing forces. These forces emphasize our differences and these differences act to expand our consciousness. That explains our gravitational pull toward the opposite. We are instinctually drawn in opposite directions despite practical voices that continually tell us to remain static. It is natural to expand and this is what is responsible for our continual growth and evolution as human beings.

Jung is convinced that divinity is within us and that is why he believes it is useless trying to understand the gods. Humans have all the previously mentioned elements at their disposal so it is only logical to turn our gaze inward, taking all these opposite principles and distinctive experiences and tailoring our own philosophical/religious and psychological suits. If we are to pray to a god, shouldn't it be unique and fit our expectations as determined by the lives we have lived? The only resolution in that scenario is ultimately settled by you: the thinker and "experiencer" of the reality that has unfolded over the course of a lifetime.

Bio: Fred Shahrooz Scampato is half Roman Catholic Italian and half Islamic Iranian, hence he has been a bridge builder or mediator his entire life. His interest in the esoteric arts, likewise, focus on the unifying aspects of spiritual thought. Give him two subjects on the occult and you're guaranteed that he'll find something in common with them.

Copyright © 2002 Fred Shahrooz Scampato