Burning and Growing

The fourth speech of C.G. Jung's Seven Speeches to the Dead is considered one of the most significant; it is entitled Burning Bush and Tree of Life.

Burning and Growing

The fourth speech of C.G. Jung’s Seven Speeches to the Dead is considered one of the most significant; it is entitled Burning Bush and Tree of Life.

For Jung, these speeches[1] form a gnostic myth that reveals, in a sevenfold process, the divine fullness of being in human souls that feel as if they are dead.

It leads through their unconscious darkness to the conscious realisation of their own inner light. During this process, the whole nature-bound human being is transformed: he becomes aware of his innermost divine self as his true original nature.

The many images and symbols in this speech are based on an immeasurable abundance of past human developments. They are unconscious expressions of soul experiences, and of spiritual realities (archetypes), which contain the structure of mysteries (secrets of the soul yet to be revealed).

“Truth did not come into the world naked, but in types and images” [2], it says in The Gospel of Philip.

Eros and the tree of life

Jung contrasts the powerful archetypal soul images of “the burning and the growing” in this speech. They are two spiritual impulses that reveal a duality of irreconcilable chasms in our human soul. Their symbols are fire and water.

“The burning is Eros in the form of the flame. It shines by consuming […], flares up and dies away.”

“The growing is the tree of life, it flourishes by nourishing itself on living matter (…), the tree of life grows.”[3]

Fire and water are two fundamental basic elements of a polar nature. They form the primary male-positive and female-negative energies. They are not a ‘moral’ judgement, but they are interdependent interactions.

Fire symbolises the masculine energy: it radiates light and warmth, has a dynamizing effect, but also a drying and hardening effect; it moves vertically. Water stands for the “mother of life” in the image of the primordial sea; the primordial substance, which moves horizontally, has a receiving effect, is changeable; (it dissolves, evaporates, crystallises) and is an information carrier.

The burning corresponds to the energetic fiery impulse within the soul and its love (Eros), and urges a free, dynamic-creative change of being. The growing, on the other hand, points to an impulse of the soul that is unfolding and preservative of life that corresponds to the energy of water.

As a microcosm, the human being unfolds a differentiated consciousness of himself and of the life forms that immediately surrounding him, and at the same time he stands in a great nature and its consequences that touch him as a macrocosm. These two conditions determine the two directions of his life energies.

On the one hand, he strives for individual, free self-knowledge and creative development of his capacities, and at the same time he seeks the meaning of life as higher, “vertical”, spiritual unity. “The soul has meaning (logos) that grows richer and richer out of itself”, said Heraclitus, and the fiery-spiritual “dry soul [is] the wisest and most perfect”. Looking at much of humanity, he added: “They are deceived men, in the recognition of what is before their eyes …” [4]

Man, on the other hand, forms a collective community on a horizontal level:

“Men are weak and cannot bear their diversity, because they live close to each other and need the community to be able to bear their particularity”, it says in Jung’s myth.

Both powers, the burning and the growing, jointly create the civilisation and culture of our societies and yet live in two different soul-spiritual worlds. Ever new forms and structures emerge, become more complex over the course of time and must always be renegotiated together. The growing wants to preserve the acquired values and their traditions and its crystallising energy begins to extinguish the free flame of the burning. At this point, the two powers fight their “most fateful battle”.

The free, individual human being must overcome his own nature, transform it and grow beyond the growing. “It is not society that will lead the creative hero, but it is the other way round.” [5]

The psychic organism is a unity, and yet tremendous dual forces are always struggling within it for superiority. It is the two souls in our breast of which Goethe spoke. They are also the world spirits and gods, which in Greek mythology, interwoven in the cosmic world soul, wrestle with each other in a deadly struggle.

Both powers are part of the natural order of nature. Struggle for the preservation of life, evolution, decay and renewal are all energies of the dialectical law of nature. There is in it a peaceful sunrise and a violent volcanic eruption. The sweet nightingale is just as natural as the dangerous eagle. Man, who is himself part of this nature, can be loving and vicious. However, he also has the possibility, as the only being in nature, to penetrate to a new soul consciousness that lets him overcome his previous nature.

The desire, on the other hand, to intervene in the dynamics of nature and to unite its opposites arises from unconscious human, moral-abstract value-settings and is not given by nature. It has therefore always proved to be a great failure in history.

Rousseau’s concept of the human will, which in the state of nature is good and in a social contract subordinates itself to the will of all for the good of society, formulates a natural law that is based on the abstract idea of an ideal society of equals. It was abused and ultimately led to like-minded people – in order to protect their community – splitting off and excluding “other-minded people”. A vision that led not only to the phase of the “Reign of Terror” (1793 / 94) during the French Revolution, but also to many great catastrophes in human history.

A cosmic pair of opposites

The two powers are based on the cosmic primal principles of the masculine (fire) and the feminine (water) and are originally connected in a divine unity. However, the cosmos and all its creatures are subject to the processes of duality in the world of human experience. Their becoming and passing away takes place in the form of a polarity, as the breaking apart and the coming together of a force  shows itself in two different, opposing qualities.

This process is represented in the symbol of yin and yang: in the light-filled, masculine-spiritual-creative yang and in the dark, receiving, changeable feminine principle yin. Both contain the opposite pole as a point in their symbols: the yang in the yin and the yin in the yang. This points to the relationship and the simultaneous growth of the one in the other, the day in the night and the night in the day.

For Heraclitus, everything carries the opposite within itself and yet strives for an invisible harmony. “Harmonising the contradictory and creating the most beautiful unity out of the discordant” [6] in order to eternally struggle with each other again.

He sees in everything the dynamic movement of the original, spiritual fire within itself and only in this sense, he said, is the One at the same time the Many. It builds and destroys and yet shapes, according to an invisible lawful inner order, the ceaseless, evolving becoming of creation and its creatures. “This world order […], it was everlasting and is and will be its eternal fire, blazing according to measure and extinguishing according to measure.” [7] “The eternal and soul becoming, the complete impermanence of all that is real, which continually only works and becomes and is not, as Heraclitus teaches, is a terrible and numbing conception and in its influence is most closely related to the sensation with which someone loses confidence in the solidly founded earth during an earthquake,” Nietzsche said.[8]

Two God Devils

In Jung’s Fourth Speech, the two powers – the burning and the growing – are called two god-devils, for “good and evil unite in the flame, and good and evil unite in the growth of the tree. Life and love stand in opposition to each other in their divinity as a pair of opposites.”

Both powers are not only subject to the polar dynamics of light and dark, but in each of them there is still further, even greater opposition, and at the same time, cooperative relationships of good and evil.

Further, the Fourth Speech says: “Immeasurable, like the host of the stars, is the number of gods and devils. Innumerable gods await the incarnation […]. Man participates in the being of the gods, he comes from the gods and goes to the God.”

Jung draws attention here to the fact that the “immeasurable” number of all of the gods and devils corresponds to an equally great abundance in the non-spatial world of soul nature “which millions of years of living development have accumulated and organically condensed […]. And these images are not pale shadows, but powerful soul conditions […]”, which we are to bring into our consciousness and thus liberate.

In his myth, Jung recalls the rich imagery in the ancient Gnostic myths and emphasises the impoverishment and weakening of our souls when we simplify and rationalise them away in empty terms.  “By this you create […] the mutilation of the creature whose essence and aspiration is distinction.” “I can only stand still in the deepest admiration and awe before the abysses and heights of spiritual nature (…).” [9]

“Every star is a god and every space that a star fills is a devil. But the void of the whole is the pleroma,” the text continues. The light of a star (or any other force) is thus – according to the fundamental principle of polarity – carried and swallowed up again by its own dark, empty space. This “empty whole” is the pleroma, the empty fullness that carries, unites and dissolves all opposites.

In all earthly creatures the pleroma is torn into opposites. The active force of the opposites is the god Abraxas, who reveals the dialectical forces and urges them to reunite. “The active unites them. Therefore, the active is above both (…), for it unites the fullness and the emptiness in their effect.” [10] We earthly people experience the powers of the burning and the growing as two opposites separate from each other, as either good or evil, as light or dark efficacies.

The mystic John of the Cross described how he had suddenly felt himself in a dark night and then could only later realise that it was divine light.

A door opens to the freedom of the soul

During a long journey of experience, the human soul can experience that brief moment when the opposites within it suddenly stand still. It is the moment when its rhythmic change takes place from the light burning in the dark growing and vice versa. This narrow point of transition is the midpoint between the vertical and the horizontal movement of the two intersecting opposites. The point of intersection lies in the heart of the human being, which is the centre of the spiritual fire in his microcosm and also in the macrocosm. It forms the third, the balancing centre of the two polar powers.

In the lived “now” the heart of the human being opens and frees the soul from the strangulating grip of the unconscious, which calls forth the deceptive and painful effect of the opposites in it.

In this “now” the burning, the love (Eros), is also able to decide in favour of life and to renew it through its devotion. The soul now begins to sense the infinite wholeness of this event and says “yes” to the great power that reveals itself within it.

In his diary, Dag Hammarskjöld gives a testimony of such an experienced moment:

“I do not know who – or what – asked the question, I do not know when it was asked. I don’t even remember how I answered. But at some moment I answered “Yes” to someone – or something – and from that hour I was sure that life had meaning and that therefore the goal of my life was self-giving.” [11]

The “Yes” that the soul utters gives it the greatness that Jung means when he says: “But the inwardly great one knows that the soul’s long-awaited friend, the Immortal, has now come in reality to ‘lead captive his prisoner (Eph. 4:8).” [12]

The Self

Who is this long-awaited friend?

For Jung, in this Gnostic writing, he is the inner self of man, which is present in us from the beginning of our lives as a divine force like “a single star in the zenith”. The true self is the spiritual spark of the divine fire in the heart of man. It lies at the centre of the human microcosm and unites the conscious and unconscious within him to one wholeness. “Nothing is between man and his God, provided man can avert his eyes from the flaming spectacle of Abraxas.”

Jung sees Christ as the archetypal symbol of the self. It is said of Christ that he is a “cosmic primal power” of the spiritual firepower of the sun, which is set “above all principalities, authority, power, dominion […] not only in this world, but also in the world to come” (Eph. 1, 21 ff). In him, therefore, all the active archetypes are summarised and fulfilled, because in him “all things in all are fulfilled through more life, more fullness, more power”. [13]

Through Christ, the Pleroma becomes a symbol of fullness. For Jung, the Self is this inherent principle in man that strives for fullness and wholeness.

His ego is the conscious aspect of this power, which gradually becomes aware of the unity and multiplicity of this self when, after a long maturing process, it surrenders to the soul’s process of cognition. In the process, the soul gradually supplements collective with individual values, and values and precepts instilled by external authorities are consumed by the fire of the burning and replaced by its own inner laws.

“You can compare the doctrines with the element of water and the fulfilment of these doctrines with the element of fire” and then the human being becomes “… the master builder” who brings about the “unity between water and fire”.

From now on, the Self can work in the purified consciousness with the help of a corresponding attitude of life on the part of the human being, without the latter being able to fully grasp the Self. The Self is perceived as “the other”, which, however, only makes the new consciousness possible through its absolutely different being resp. its wholeness. Thus a human being has the goal of his longing in his inner being, just as the caterpillar carries its potential for completion as a butterfly within itself.

For Jung, the path of the soul-spiritual growth of the human being is a process of self-evaluation, because the self begins to carry out the inner process of transformation in the human being. Jung calls it an individuation process because the word individuum emphasises the inner indivisible (from lt. individuum = the indivisible) conscious wholeness of the human being.[14]

His I is the conscious aspect of this power, which gradually becomes aware of the unity and multiplicity of this Self when, after a long maturing process, it surrenders to the soul’s process of cognition. In the process, the soul gradually replaces collective values with individual values, and values and precepts instilled by external authorities are consumed by the fire of the burning and replaced by its own inner laws. “Indeed, you can compare the doctrines with the element of water and the fulfilment of these doctrines with the element of fire”. [15]

From now on, the Self can work in the ego with the help of a corresponding attitude of life on the part of the human being, without the latter being able to fully grasp the Self. It is perceived as “the other”, which, however, only makes consciousness possible through its absolutely different being, that is, through this opposition. Thus a human being has the goal of his wholeness in his inner self, just as the caterpillar carries its potential for completion as a butterfly within itself.

Jung said: “It is not I who create myself, but rather I happen to myself.”

[1] C.G. Jung (1875-1961), the founder of Analytical psychology, wrote the treatise Septem Sermones ad Mortuos (Seven Speeches to the Dead) after he had experienced a profound crisis at the age of about 40 following his separation from his teacher Sigmund Freud. On the Seven Speeches to the Dead, see the article Science, born of the Mystery of the Soul  The quotations from this speech are set in italics.
[2] Stephan A. Hoeller, Der gnostische Jung, 1st edition, Calw 1987, p. 152
[3] Ibda, The Fourth Speech – Burning Bush and Tree of Life, pp. 125-153
[4] Heraklit, Fragmente, Munich and Zurich 1986, p. 35 and 21 (in the German edition)
[5] Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces“, quoted by C.G. Jung (in: Der gnostische Jung, p. 133-134)
[6] Heraklit, ibid., p. 9
[7] Ibid., p. 15
[8] Friedrich Nietzsche, Heraklit, in: Texte der Philosophie, Munich 1973, p. 8-9
[9] Stephan A.Hoeller, ibid., quotation by C.G. Jung, p. 153
[10] Confere the first three speeches of the Myth and the article in Science, born of the Mystery of the Soul
[11] Stephan A.Hoeller, ibid., p. 137-138
[12] Ibid.
[13] Alfred Dedo Müller, Prometheus oder Christus, Leipzig 1944
[14] C.G. Jung, Das Selbst in der Tiefenpsychologie, s. Selbst in Wikipedia
[15] Catharose de Petri, The Living Word, Haarlem 1990

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Date: August 10, 2023
Author: Sibylle Bath (Germany)
Photo: fireplace-Henning Sørby auf Pixabay CCO

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