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Jung's Dragons

Dreamed (or hallucinated?) 1917/1/3 or 1/17, plus a dream figure from 1913/12/18 by Carl Jung

Jung, in his massive Red Book, painted mandalas and images from dreams and (more often) dialogs in a hypnogogic state which he calls "active imagination". It's unclear if the follow sequence of dragon paintings are dream-based or not. What IS clear is that they form a clear progression: first, fiery and overwhelming, then sun-devouring but defeatable, then a rather Chinese guardian of the sacred.


I have a hazy memory of having read a short dream of Jung's, about a fire-snake living in and creating a volcano. But I can't find its source. Is this image, plate 54 in Jung's Red Book, a dream illustration? Jung's Red Book (p.284, footnote 126) says:

"in Dreams, Jung noted on January 3, 1917: "In Lib .nov. snake image III incent" [stimulus to snake image III in Liber Novus] (p. 1) This appears to refer to this image."
A dragon in a volcano; Plate 54 of Jung's 'Red Book'. Click to enlarge.
Unfortunately, I find no such note or date in my copy of Jung's Dreams, certainly not on page 1. Perhaps there's a typo, or they mean a private notebook with the same name as his published book Dreams. Or maybe I just missed it. The published Dreams is a dense read.

Anyway, hazy memory plus dead-end footnote vaguely hint that this volcano-dragon image may be a true dream, unlike most of Jung's illustrations in the Red Book. I'll add the dream if I ever find it.

(Next day:) Hmm! Red Book P.283 (footnote 129) may reveal the source dream:

In 'Dreams" Jung wrote: 1917/1/17: Tonight: awful and formidable avalanches come crashing down the mountainside, like utterly nightmarish clouds, They will fill the valley on whose rim I am standing on the opposite side. I know that I must take flight up the mountain to avoid the dreadful catastrophe. [Dreams usually has briefer versions of his dreams than the Black Books, his private journals.]

The following is a paraphrase of the entry in Black Book 6 for January 17 1917: Jung asks what it is that fills him with fear and horror, what is falling down from the high mountain. His soul tells him to help the Gods and to sacrifice to them. She tells him that the worm crawls up to Heaven, it begins to cover the stars and with a tongue of fire he eats the dome of the seven blue heavens. She tells him that he will also be eaten, and that he should crawl into the stone and wait in the narrow casing until the torrent of fire is over. Snow falls from the mountains because the fiery breath falls down from above the clouds. The God is coming. Jung should get ready to receive him. Jung should hide himself in stone, as the God is a terrible fire. He should remain quiet and look within, so that the God does not consume him in flames (p. 152f).

Is this the basis for his fiery worm in the mountain? If so, it's not a dream figure; only in his 'active imagination' (following up on the dream) does he blame the avalanche on heat from this dragon.

The avalanche echoes Jung's dreams and visions in 1913--freezes and floods warning of World War I. But this is 1917; the war's a fact. Those earlier dreams were social not psychological predictions; so why not this one too? Jung and his dreams do look forward--as consistently as Freud's look back to childhood. I'd argue this dream foresees that the devastation of the war--the heat of battle--will thaw and destabilize a frozen society. A long-term good.

Short-term, not so fun.


Here it's possible to fight back.

Fighting a dragon who ate the sun; Plate 119 of Jung's 'Red Book'. Click to enlarge.

Text below this image translates: "The accursed dragon has eaten the sun, its belly being cut open, and he must [now] hand over the gold of the sun, together with his blood. This is the turning back of Atmavictu, of the old one. He who destroyed the proliferating green covering is the youth who helped me to kill Siegfried."

NOTE: for 'now', the translation in the Red Book (p.304, footnote 126) has 'not'. This has to be a typo; the German is nun, 'now'.

"The youth who helped me to kill Siegfried": Jung's ally in his key dream Siegfried must Die. This is, then, a portrait of a dream-figure, but one acting in a consciously induced vision. In Jung's world there really is no border between dream, trance and waking imagination.

Atmavictu means 'breath of life'; clearly this isn't a simple image of good fighting evil. Instead the youth is winning the sun, enlightenment, self-awareness, through painful struggle. Atmavictu is a fantasy figure going all the way back to Jung's childhood. Red Book p.303, footnote 222 describes Jung's long history of picturing and sculpting this character in many forms--a trickster-guardian. If the word frenemy had been coined yet, Atmavictu would be it.


Night. A town. In the sky is a shining mandala. A dragon coils round it, looking more like a protective East Asian dragon than a European worm. Its body forms a rather yin-yang shape.

A dragon coiled round a shining mandala over a town at night; Plate 129 of Jung's 'Red Book'. Click to enlarge.

Time has passed. While this image is undated, the next is late 1922. From this time on, Jung turned more to Chinese and other non-European myths and esoterica. In 1928, Richard Wilhelm sent Jung a copy of The Secret of the Golden Flower, on Chinese alchemy; in its illustrations, Jung recognized motifs in his late paintings. But this dragon may be earliest glimmer of this Eastern dawn.

Whether or not you think this dragon Chinese or actively protective, as I do, you can't deny it's no longer hostile. The town is quiet; only one human figure looks up in wonder. We can fuss about details, but Jung has come to some peace with his dragons, and they with him. The three images show Jung's progress over a decade as he integrates his own Shadow. Milestones in dreamwork!

Sadly, Europe didn't face its societal shadow. The next holocaust was as bad as the previous trench-slaughter and plague.

--Chris Wayan

SOURCE: Jung's Red Book, plates 54, 119 & 129; notes based on footnotes to pages 284-285 and 303-304.

Dragon 1: nightmares - mountains - ice & snow - disasters - dragons - fire - volcanoes - how else to cope with avalanches: The Chute
Dragon 2: dragons - theft - competition & rivalry - warriors - violence - swords - blood - treasure - light
Dragon 3: nocturnes - cities - light - dragons - guardians - mandalas & symbols like the yin/yang
Series: dream paintings - Jung & Jungian dreams - recurring dreams & characters - dreamwork in general

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