Monday, October 09, 2006

From one infinity into another

My journey to India, in 1938, was not taken on my own initiative. It arose out of an invitation from the British Government of India …

By that time I had read a great deal about Indian philosophy and religious history, and was deeply convinced of the value of Oriental wisdom. But I had to travel in order to form my own conclusions, and remained within myself like a homunculus in a retort. India affected me like dream, for I was and remained in search of myself, of the truth peculiar to myself.

The journey formed an intermezzo in the intensive study of alchemical philosophy on which I was engaged at the time. This had so strong a grip upon me that I took along the first volume of the Theatrum Chemicum of 1602, which contains the principal writings of Gerardus Domeus. In the course of the voyage I studied the book from beginning to end. Thus it was that this material belonging to the fundamental strata of European thought was constantly counterpointed by my impressions of a foreign mentality and culture. Both had emerged from original psychic experiences of the unconscious, and therefore had produced the same, similar, or at least comparable insights.

… India honoured me with three doctorates, from Allahabad, Benares and Calcutta - representatives of Islam, of Hinduism, and of British-Indian medicine and science. It was a little too much of a good thing, and I needed a retreat. A ten-day spell in a hospital offered it to me, for in Calcutta I finally came down with dysentery. This was a blessed island in the wild sea of new impressions, and I found a place to stand on from which I could contemplate the ten thousand things and their bewildering turmoil.

When I returned to the hotel, in tolerably good health, I had a dream so characteristic that I wish to set it down here. I found myself, with a large number of my Zurich friends and acquaintances, on an unknown island, presumably situated not far off the coast on southern England. It was small and almost uninhabited. The island was narrow, a strip of land about twenty miles long, running in a north-south direction. On the rocky coast at the southern end of the island was medieval castle. We stood in its courtyard, a group of sightseeing tourists. Before us rose an imposing belfroi, through whose gate a wide stone staircase was visible. We could just manage to see that it terminated above in a columned hall. This hall was dimply illuminated by candlelight. I understood that this was the castle of the Grail, and that this evening there would be a “celebration of the Grail” here. This information seemed to be of a secret character, for a German professor among us, who strikingly resembled old Mommsen, knew nothing about it. I talked most animatedly with him, and was impressed by his learning and sparkling intelligence. Only one thing disturbed me: he spoke constantly about a dead past and lectured very learnedly on the relationship of the British to the French sources of the Grail story. Apparently he was not conscious of the meaning of the legend, nor of its living presentness, whereas I was intensely aware of both. Also, he did not seem to perceive our immediate, actual surroundings, for he behaved as though he were in a classroom, lecturing to his students. In vain I tried to call his attention to the peculiarity of the situation. He did not see the stairs or the festive glow in the hall.

I looked around somewhat helplessly, and discovered that I was standing by the wall of a tall castle; the lower portion of the wall was covered by a kind of trellis, not made of the usual wood, but of black iron artfully formed into a grapevine complete with leaves, twining tendrils, and grapes. At intervals of six feet on the horizontal branches were tiny houses, likewise of iron, like birdhouses. Suddenly I saw a movement in the foliage; at first it seemed to be that of a mouse, but then I saw distinctly a tiny, iron, hooded gnome, a cucullatus, scurrying from one house to the next. “Well,” I exclaimed in astonishment to the professor, “now look at that, will you …”

At that moment a hiatus occurred, and the dream changed. We – the same company as before, but without the professor – were outside the castle, in a treeless, rocky landscape. I knew that something had to happen, for the Grail was not yet in the castle and still had to be celebrated that same evening. It was said to be in the northern part of the island, hidden in a small uninhabited house, the only house there. I knew that it was our task to bring the Grail to the castle. There were about six of us who set out and tramped northwards.

After several hours of strenuous hiking, we reached the narrowest part of the island, and I discovered that the island was actually divided into two halves by an arm of the sea. At the smallest part of this strait the width of the water was about a hundred yards. The sun had set, and night descended. Wearily, we camped on the ground. The region was unpopulated and desolate; far and wide there was not a shrub, nothing but grass and rocks. There was no bridge, no boat. It was very cold; my companions fell asleep, one after the other. I considered what could be done, and came to the conclusion that I alone must swim across the channel and fetch the Grail. I took off my clothes. At that point I awoke.

Here was this essentially European dream emerging when I had barely worked my way out of the overwhelming mass of Indian impressions. Some ten years before, I had discovered that in many places in England the myth of the Grail was still a living thing, in spite of all the scholarship that had accumulated around this tradition. This fact had impressed me all the more when I realised the concordance between this poetic myth and what alchemy had to say about the unum vas, the una medicina, and the unus lapis. Myths which day has forgotten continue to be told by night, and powerful figures which consciousness has reduced to banality and ridiculous triviality are recognised again by the poets and prophetically revived; therefore they can also be recognised “in changed form” by the thoughtful person. The great ones of the past have not died, as we think; they have merely changed their names. “Small and slight, but great in might,” the veiled Kabir enters a new house.

Imperiously, the dream wiped away all the intense impressions of India and swept me back to the too-long neglected concerns of the Occident, which had formerly been expressed in the quest for the Holy Grail as well as in the search for the philosophers’ stone. I was taken out of the world of India, and reminded that India was not my task. But only a part of the way – admittedly a significant one – which should carry me closer to my goal. It was as though the dream were asking me, “What are you doing in India? Rather seek for yourself and your fellows the healing vessel, the servator mundi, which you urgently need. For your state is perilous; you are all in imminent danger of destroying all that centuries have built up.”

…Towards the beginning of spring I set out on my homeward voyage, with such a plethora of impressions that I did not nhave any desire to leave the ship to see Bombay. Instead, I buried myself in my Latin alchemical texts. But India did not pass me by without a trace; it left tracks which lead from one infinity into another infinity.

From: Memories, Dreams, Reflections by Carl Jung.


Bonita said...

Wonderful exerpt. I would think the vastness of India, and all of its rich textural riches would have a profound effect on any sensitive traveler. I have an old friend who visited about 25 years ago. He brought back a sitar, and learned to play it. He'd light incense, and his mind would wander, and we knew he longed to return.

Shirazi said...

Nice! And the image, I am keep ogling at!