The above and the below

Once the serpent battle is over Jung goes through a process of alternating size perceptions until it slowly dawns on him that he is in a crater “at the bottom of the world.” The krater (mixing vessel) is a feminine vessel of spiritual transformation “that had no place in Freud’s patriarchal world” (Jung, 1965: 200). In the krater, the feminine plays a role equal to that of the masculine. Elijah and Salome are there together, and Elijah climbs up onto a Druidic altar, foreshadowing a sacrifice. Upon his realization as to where he is, Jung announces the basic premise of the teachings on equivalence, a Hermetic axiom common throughout the whole of antiquity, “Why, it is just the same, above or below.” This means that to ascend or descend makes no difference. The interface between the opposites is the place of psychic transformation. Heaven and hell, the higher and the lower, are unified when the masculine and the feminine are equal. Spielrein had this to say about the above and below:

The extension into the dark sea corresponds to the forging ahead into the dark problem. The merging of air and water, the mixing of above and below may symbolize that, in the Mothers (as Mephistopheles pictures it), all times and all places are fused. There are no boundaries between above and below. For this reason, Mephistopheles can say to the departing Faust, “Plunge then. - I could even say soar.”

(1994: 155-186)

According to the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus speaks directly to the concept of the above and below in a passage which amplifies the content in Jung’s vision:

When you make the two one, and when you make the inside like the outside, and the outside like the inside, and the above like the below, and when you make the male and the female one and the same, so that the male be not male nor the female female; and when you fashion eyes in place of an eye, and a hand in place of a hand, and a foot in place of a foot, and a likeness in place of a likeness, then will you enter [the Kingdom].

For Jung it was not much different: to ascend to the sun hero is to descend into the dark (castrating) mother. This descent is a necessary prelude to the death of his ego and an ascent into higher consciousness, and yet can only be accomplished when the gaze is confident of an indissoluble bond with the regenerating Mother of the Mysteries.


Then a most disgreeable thing happened. Salome became very interested in me, and she assumed that I could cure her blindness. She began to worship me. I said, “Why do you worship me?” She replied, “You are Christ.” In spite of my objections she maintained this. I said, “This is madness,” and became filled with skeptical resistance. Then I saw the snake approach me. She came close and began to encircle me and press me in her coils. The coils reached up to my heart. I realized as I struggled, that I had assumed the attitude of the Crucifixion. In the agony and the struggle, I sweated so profusely that the water flowed down on all sides of me. Then Salome rose, and she could see. While the snake was pressing me, I felt that my face had taken on the face of an animal of prey, a lion or a tiger.

(1965: p. 96)

From beginning to end, the possibility of the resolution of Jung’s shame and fears of an equal female completing him lies in the imagery of ancient mystery rites of Mithraic and Christian origin. Salome focuses her seductive intentions on Jung in order to regain her vision, and this contact sparks an initiation/deification mystery. Jung sees her only as the “side of the inferior function which is surrounded by an aura of evil” whose attentions can precipitate madness (the psychotic core of absolute shame). And yet it was Jung himself who maintained that revelation comes through the inferior function: it takes hold of us where we are most vulnerable and insecure. Jung fears that his identification with the figure of Christ, fashioned through the serpent’s seduction and penetration of his heart, will make him insane. This feeling is really coming from his loss of ego and his power over stance, the self-justification of cosmic heroism.

The serpent’s deification performance is reminiscent of Salome’s dance for her stepfather, King Herod, and the only mythological association Jung addresses. Here is Salome and John the Baptist’s story:

[Herod had had John] chained up in prison because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife [and his own niece], whom he had married. For John had told Herod, “It is against the law for you to have your brother’s wife.” As for Herodias, she was furious with [John] and wanted to kill him, but she was not able to do so because Herod was in awe of John, knowing him to be a good and upright man, and he gave him his protection. When he heard him speak, he was greatly troubled, yet he liked listening to him.

Herodias got her chance on Herod’s birthday, when he had a banquet for the nobles of his court, for his army officers, and for the leading figures in Galilee. When the daughter of the same Herodias came in and danced, she delighted Herod and his guests; so the king said to the girl, “Ask me anything you like and I will give it to you.” And he swore an oath to her: “I will give you anything you ask, even half my kingdom.” She went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?” And she replied, “The head of John the Baptist.” The girl at once rushed back to the king and made her request: “I want you to give me John the Baptist’s head, immediately, on a platter.” The king was deeply distressed, but, thinking of the oath he had sworn and in front of his guests, he was reluctant to go back on his word to her. Next thing, the king sent one of the bodyguards with the orders to bring John’s head. The man went off and beheaded John in the prison; then he brought the head on a platter and gave it to the girl, and the girl gave it to her mother. When John’s disciples heard about this, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.

(Mark 6:17-29)

Had Jung cared to probe any deeper into Salome’s significance, he might have discovered her roots in the myths of the succubi, most especially Lilith, the meaning of the serpent in connection to her, and their striking similarity to Mithraic imagery. In Symbols, Jung does make a cursory connection between the entwining serpent Lilith and Mithras (and his only mention of Lilith in his Collected Works):

The tree entwined by the snake may therefore be taken as the symbol of the mother who is protected against incest by fear. This symbol is frequently found on Mithraic monuments. The rock with a snake coiled round it has a similar meaning, for Mithras (and also Men) was born from a rock. The threatening of the new-born infants by snakes (Mithras, Apollo, Heracles) is explained by the legend of Lilith and the Lamia. Python, the dragon of Leto, and Poine, who devastated the land of Crotopos . . .

(1955: 260)

As her serpent aspect encoils, it becomes the dance, the “art” which Jung needs to integrate. She is the instrument of a sacred act that creates an attitude of sacrifice, images as Christ’s crucifixion. Salome’s worship is less the expression of an erotic situation, as it was with the Baptist, than a ritual act of the greatest numinous significance. The following is a passage Jung quotes from Holderlin in Symbols, words which amplify the meaning of his vision.

. . . shamefully

A mighty force wrenches the heart from us,

For the heavenly each demand sacrifice.

(p. 414)

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