Jung’s dream about kneeling before the highest presence

(Extract from MDR, pp.217-220. Parts are cut out not to compromise copyright)

…The problem of Job in all its ramifications had likewise been foreshadowed in a dream. It started with my paying a visit to my long-deceased father. He was living in the country — I did not know where. I saw a house in the style of the eighteenth century, very roomy, with several rather large outbuildings. It had originally been, I learned, an inn at a spa, and it seemed that many great personages, famous people and princes, had stopped there. Furthermore, several had died and their sarcophagi were in a crypt belonging to the house. My father guarded these as custodian […]

The Bible my father held was bound in shiny fishskin. He opened it at the Old Testament — I guessed that he turned to the Pentateuch — and began interpreting a certain passage. He did this so swiftly and so learnedly that I could not follow him. I noted only that what he said betrayed a vast amount of variegated knowledge, the significance of which I dimly apprehended but could not properly judge or grasp. I saw that Dr. Y. understood nothing at all, and his son began to laugh […] On the contrary, his argument was so intelligent and so learned that we in our stupidity simply could not follow it. It dealt with something extremely important which fascinated him. That was why he was speaking with such intensity; his mind was flooded with profound ideas. I was annoyed and thought it was a pity that he had to talk in the presence of three such idiots as we.

The two psychiatrists represented a limited medical point of view which, of course, also infects me as a physician. They represent my shadow — first and second editions of the shadow, father and son.

Then the scene changed […] We then entered the house, and I saw that it had very thick walls. We climbed a narrow staircase to the second floor. There a strange sight presented itself: a large hall which was the exact replica of the divan-i-kaas (council hall) of Sultan Akbar at Fatehpur Sikri. It was a high, circular room with a gallery running along the wall, from which four bridges led to a basin-shaped center. The basin rested upon a huge column and formed the sultan’s round seat. From this elevated place he spoke to his councilors and philosophers, who sat along the walls in the gallery. The whole was a gigantic mandala. It corresponded precisely to the real divan-i-kaas.

In the dream I suddenly saw that from the center a steep flight of stairs ascended to a spot high up on the wall — which no longer corresponded to reality. At the top of the stairs was a small door, and my father said, “Now I will lead you into the highest presence.” Then he knelt down and touched his forehead to the floor. I imitated him, likewise kneeling, with great emotion. For some reason I could not bring my forehead quite down to the floor — there was perhaps a millimeter to spare. But at least I had made the gesture with him. Suddenly I knew — perhaps my father had told me — that that upper door led to a solitary chamber where lived Uriah, King David’s general, whom David had shamefully betrayed for the sake of his wife Bathsheba, by commanding his soldiers to abandon Uriah in the face of the enemy.

I must make a few explanatory remarks concerning this dream. The initial scene describes how the unconscious task which I had left to my “father,” that is, to the unconscious, was working out. He was obviously engrossed in the Bible —Genesis? — and eager to communicate his insights. The fishskin marks the Bible as an unconscious content, for fishes are mute and unconscious. My poor father does not succeed in communicating either, for the audience is in part incapable of understanding, in part maliciously stupid […]

Poltergeist phenomena usually take place in the vicinity of young people before puberty; that is to say, I am still immature and too unconscious. The Indian ambiance illustrates the “other side.” When I was in India, the mandala structure of the divan-i-kaas had in actual fact powerfully impressed me as the representation of a content related to a center. The center is the seat of Akbar the Great, who rules over a subcontinent, who is a “lord of this world,” like David. But even higher than David stands his guiltless victim, his loyal general Uriah, whom he abandoned to the enemy. Uriah is a prefiguration of Christ, the god-man who was abandoned by God. “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” On top of that, David had “taken unto himself” Uriah’s wife. Only later did I understand what this allusion to Uriah signified: not only was I forced to speak publicly, and very much to my detriment, about the ambivalence of the God-image in the Old Testament; but also, my wife would be taken from me by death […]

I had to submit to this fate, and ought really to have touched my forehead to the floor, so that my submission would be complete. But something prevented me from doing so entirely, and kept me just a millimeter away. Something in me was saying, “All very well, but not entirely.” Something in me was defiant and determined not to be a dumb fish: and if there were not something of the sort in free men, no Book of Job would have been written several hundred years before the birth of Christ. Man always has some mental reservation, even in the face of divine decrees. Otherwise, where would be his freedom? And what would be the use of that freedom if it could not threaten Him who threatens it?

Uriah, then, lives in a higher place than Akbar. He is even, as the dream said, the “highest presence,” an expression which properly is used only of God, unless we are dealing in Byzantinisms. I cannot help thinking here of the Buddha and his relationship to the gods […] He has even been given the power to annihilate Creation in its essential aspect, that is, man’s consciousness of the world […] The dream discloses a thought and a premonition that have long been present in humanity: the idea of the creature that surpasses its creator by a small but decisive factor.

(Extract from C.G. Jung, “Memories, Dreams, Reflections”, pp.217-220.)

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