Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Excerpt from book: the Journey to Carl Jung's Retreat

“I wish that life should not be cheap, but sacred…the days to be as centuries, loaded, fragrant.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Entering Sacred Ground: Carl Jung’s Retreat: The Stone Tower of Bollingen

When you really know someone, you know what they like. And it should be simple to give others what they like, but it’s not. We often don’t even care enough to give ourselves what we need. But there are times when we do care and we do give.

This was one of those times. Peter cared. He knew what I wanted—he knew enough about me to know that if I was in Zurich there was only one thing I wanted—it was to see Carl Jung’s stone tower on the shores of Lake Zurich. Jung, the famous Swiss psychologist, was my spiritual mentor, and for me, this was a chance to visit a sacred site.

I knew that Jung started building his private retreat late in life and that it took him forty years to complete. I knew that few people had ever seen his private retreat, and yet I had always yearned to see the dream images painted on the walls of his study and to see the sculpted images he carved on the stones surrounding the tower. I’d seen photographs of him there in his eighties, pipe and book in hand, simply sitting and looking out over the waters. His sculpting tools and paints were sometimes shown in the background.

Jung’s sanctuary was evocative of medieval times with its turrets, archways and courtyard. He built this “temenos”—this sacred retreat, as a place where he could study alchemy and astrology during his years of exile from the Swiss psychoanalytic community. It was here that he carved Greek, Latin and astrological hieroglyphics into massive stones. Here on the shores of the lake, was the “orphan stone”—an abandoned block of stone that workers had left behind—a stone that Jung carved for himself in recognition of his 75th birthday. Peter, as a clay worker, could understand Jung’s comment: “I need not have written any books—it’s all here on the stone.”

And that was why we found ourselves outside the door in front of Carl Jung’s house one day. The devastating news was that we couldn’t go in. And what I had wanted to see was not actually there—it was over in Bollingen on the Eastern shores of the lake, and not at Jung’s family house in Zurich. So Peter took a photograph of me pretending to smile in front of the house we couldn’t go into, and then we retreated in despair.

However—the next day Peter had an idea. And by late afternoon we were kayaking along the gentle shores of Lake Zurich gazing up at Jung’s numinous stone tower.

“Shall we go ashore?” Peter asked.

I stared up at the imposing walls and the barred shuttered windows. This was not the kind of thing that Peter would usually suggest. He tended to be one who honored rules and regulations and was not one to trespass. This idea was so out of character for him; I must have looked at him as if he were crazy but I nodded my head.

“Of course,” I said. “A little adventure.” Peter knew me, and he cared. He wanted to do this for me.

And so we kayaked through the rocks and reeds along the shoreline till we hit ground. The ivy covered tower sat poised next to the lake. We could hear only the lapping of little waves on the shore and it appeared as if no one was in sight. There was a huge tree in front of us that looked like it had been struck by lightning. Could this be the same rumored tree that Jung had spent so many hours under—the one that had been struck by lightning the day he died?

We waded through the mud and held our breath as we approached the arched doorway of the tower. I could see the inscription Jung had carved over the door: “Vocutus Atque nonvocatus deus aderit”. I whispered to Peter: “It says: ‘Called or not called, God is present.’” I was certainly hoping no one else would be present but God. We could be in serious trouble for this.

“Come here,” Peter motioned to me. He tried the latch on the door, but it didn’t budge. Then, like a kid, Peter hoisted me up to look in through a window—an arched opening in the wall, and there was Philemon.

“He’s there! Philemon!” I exclaimed. I could see Jung’s painting of a wise old man on the curved walls of the study. He was huge, with the outstretched iridescent wings of the rare bird, the Kingfisher. Here was Jung’s beloved muse, his spiritual mentor. I had just shown Peter a copy of this the day before in the recently released “Red Book.” The book that was the journal Jung kept during those years of transition when he suffered the “divorce” from his mentor, Sigmund Freud. Some say, those were the years of his psychosis. For Jung, those were the years to paint, sculpt and play in the sand by the shores of the lake.

Peter lifted me down from the window. “Maybe we’re pressing our luck…I mean our time.” He looked at me as if he was hoping I’d had enough. We both knew there had to be some watchmen around here. I couldn’t believe how quiet it was.

Peters face flushed. What did it take for him to disobey, to trespass, like this? This was not his style. But he was doing it for me.

We started to carefully make our way back, approaching the rocky shore. I kept staring at the carved stones around me—and then I saw it. It was a bird, large, recently dead, and with the same outstretched wings as Philemon. It lay under a carved image of a serpent in a rock, and it had the same dark iridescent wings. I reached for it, but Peter pulled me away and hurried me towards the boat.

The land began giving way to sand, then mud, and suddenly I lost my balance among the tall water weeds. I could see through the murky water that one foot had sunk deep between two rocks. My foot was sinking deeper into the mud, and the tall grasses looked like they could be a camouflage for snakes. I tried to pull myself up, but my foot was stuck. I yanked the foot out--and fell back into the water.

“Aggh….”I yelled, a quick sharp pain shooting around my ankle. “It’s twisted!” I yelled again. And yet I could tell right away it was more than that. I wanted to dismiss the sensation and the after-feeling. It was as if I knew something, some little bone, had snapped; broken.

How can I say it? I just felt unhinged, a little broken. Shocked. There was a sense that my body wasn’t going to let me dismiss this “fall” so easily.

Peter was next to me in an instant and what I saw reflected back in his face was a tiny terror—a sense that I was paralyzed perhaps, or scared, or simply needing him. He swung his arm under me as I let myself collapse into his arms.

He carried me over onto the grass only a few feet away from the water’s edge and laid me down softly. I looked up at the sky and could see the outline of a burnt tree above my head. The beginnings of a shiver began creeping into me. Was it getting cold?

Peter laid his sweater over me. It seemed as if the winds had picked up and the sky was being painted colors. Those clouds weren’t there before; the sky wasn’t that shade of indigo.

I could see Peter looking around us, as if “help” would miraculously be there. Instead, I turned my head and saw it. There was a dead bird next to me. There was the Kingfisher: all black and silvery luminescent, and unmoving.

Closing my eyes, the pain became duller, but I knew I needed something. “The bird…” I whispered. The shock of seeing Jung’s painted bird there, lying next to me at that moment was the only thing in my mind. Somehow, if I could have that bird, I could be like the phoenix—I could be the one who could die and be reborn from her own ashes. I could be a phoenix. “I want it Peter. I want the bird!”

Peter looked down at me. He looked scared. He looked at the bird, then looked at me. The shivering got stronger. I closed my eyes tighter.

And then…it was as if I was beginning to see through my eyes: lights and golden mandalas were radiating through some deep darkness. And then they began looking like charts: There was Jung’s chart, and mine...and Peter’s chart-- all appearing and disappearing, overlaying each other. There was my chart with my Sun, Neptune and Venus all clumped together, and then Peter’s chart rising up into it like a developing photograph.

Peter’s Neptune was radiating through my Venus: the symbol of idealism in love…had I ever told him that? And then Jung’s mandala arouse, and I could see his South Node, the astrological point of past life connection, like a bright star conjoining my Neptune/Venus. Why hadn’t I seen this ancient connection before? Why hadn’t I seen this hint of interconnected past lives? Why was my body quivering?

And then I felt him. Peter laid his warm body across mine…completely. The weight and heat from his body permeated mine like a warm comforter on a cold winter’s day. I could feel the moisture from his breath and I breathed it in like an infusion.

The images of light and symbols began fading as I opened my eyes to Peter’s soft gaze. To say I had never felt this before was obvious. But to say I had never seen such love in his eyes was true. It brought me back.

“The bird, Peter, please, get it….” He looked at me as if I had just told him to shoot me—as if I were a wounded horse asking to be shot. “Just wrap him up and we’ll take him home.”

And then he got up. I watched him as he walked over to the Kingfisher. He stood staring down at the mythological bird for a moment, and I wondered what he knew about it--if he knew that it carried both good and bad omens. Jung must have seen the bird on these same shores before he painted them on Philemon, his other-worldly mentor.

Peter bent over the dead bird but I couldn’t see what he was doing at first. And then I saw—or heard—he was removing a wing. It had to be twisted off. Peter groaned a little. I squeezed my eyes shut and reminded myself that the bird couldn’t feel pain.

And then I could feel the pain in my ankle return, but more than that, what I really felt was the weight of my body and the pull of the earth underneath me--like a magnet. I too was being pulled apart and I didn’t know if I could release myself. I tried to control my breathing. I felt heavy, rooted here to this earth, wanting to be whole again. Yet I couldn’t move. Maybe I too, was a dead bird. Were my wings were being torn off?

Peter walked back to me, and I felt his hand on my chest, gently rocking me, and calling my name. I opened my eyes. He slowly waved a long feather in front of my eyes.

“You did it!” My eyes could see every detail, and a little breeze moved the feathers. “It’s like… a feather…a feather on the breath of God.” He placed the feather in my hand.

Then he leaned over and kissed me on the forehead, then on the nape of my neck, and finally on my lips. It was so soft and pure, like the first time we ever kissed.

“Come. It’s not meant for us to stay here any longer. Come…” and he scooped me up and carried me into the kayak.

In another hour we were back at the hotel, my ankle soaked with ice, my heart full and grateful. Why had this mattered so much? Why did it seem as if all that mattered now was Peter and the presence of a one small blue-black feather? Maybe heroic deeds happen in strange ways. What had been rescued?

“Called or not called, God is present.” Jung’s words—and a small heroic deed. A wounding and a flight…ah…we had approached the castle—the stone fortress—by water, and we had claimed a victory. A prize. It felt like a good omen. (c) "The Private Papers of A Reluctant Astrologer


  1. Appreciate your sharing. I live in Sacramento ~am a homeless refugee for now staying in transitional housing. Studying Senor Jung a bit.
    ~ Namaste @Peta_de_Aztlan

  2. I am just now reading this story. I really get it. It is intriguing, I too am drawn to Jung and read his autobiography when I was a teen. It has had a profound impact on me. Not long ago I downloaded a photo of Jung's retreat at Bollingen and used it as a "profile" pic. I also looked up a video made of his retreat on Youtube. I too long to go inside. I am so happy that your love took you there. I will say good bye for now. I am going to look up that video on Youtube again. Hahahaha.

  3. That is a great quote and really apt to those of us who are trying to get the most out of our limited time. Carl Jung was one of the most influential minds in the field of psychology and it would be fascinating to visit that tower. I like the comparison to a medieval building.

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  4. Great post. Thank you. I think readers of this post will enjoy and find of interest this Depth Psychology resource page, which is full of frees on and by Carl Jung and prominent Jungian Analysts. Here’s the link:http://www.psychotherapysussex.co.uk/depthpsychologyresources/

    Thank you for posting.

    Warm wishes