When Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Jung embarked on a prolonged journey of self-exploration he called his confrontation with the unconscious, the outcome was The Red Book, or Liber Novus (in Latin, the New Book), a large illuminated book he worked on between 1914 and 1930.
Jung referred to his imaginative or visionary venture during these years as his “most difficult experiment,” which involves a voluntary confrontation with the unconscious through willful engagement of what Jung later termed “mythopoetic imagination”. In his introduction to Liber Novus, Sonu Shamdasani explains:
From December 1913 onward, he carried on in the same procedure: deliberately evoking a fantasy in a waking state, and then entering into it as into a drama. These fantasies may be understood as a type of dramatized thinking in pictorial form…. In retrospect, he recalled that his scientific question was to see what took place when he switched off consciousness. The example of dreams indicated the existence of background activity, and he wanted to give this a possibility of emerging, just as one does when taking mescaline.
Found in this remarkable book, is a powerful and eerie conversation between Jung and The Cabiri, also spelled Cabeiri or Kabiri, Greek Kabeiroi. The Cabiri are a number of important deities, possibly of Pelasgianor Phrygian origin, worshiped over much of Asia Minor, on the islands nearby, and in Macedonia and northern and central Greece.
According to The Red Book’s footnotes, the Cabiri were the deities celebrated at the mysteries of Samothrace. They were held to be promoters of fertility and protectors of sailors…in 1940 Jung wrote: ‘The Cabiri are, in fact, the mysterious creative powers, the gnomes who work under the earth, i.e. below the threshold of consciousness, in order to supply us with lucky ideas. As imps and hobgoblins, however, they also lay all sorts of nasty tricks, keeping back names and dates that were ‘on the tip of the tongue,’…instead of laughing off the Cabiri as ridiculous Tom Thumbs he may begin to suspect that they are a treasure-house of hidden wisdom.
In this following passage taken from Liber Novus, Jung brilliantly describes his encounter with the Cabiri, which included an eerie dialogue and powerful questions and statements.
What serviceable forms rise from your body, you thieving abyss! These appear as elemental spirits, dressed in wrinkled garb, Cabiri, with delightful misshapen forms, young and yet old, dwarfish, shriveled, unspectacular bearers o f secret arts, possessors of ridiculous wisdom, first formations of the unformed gold, worms that crawl from the liberated egg of the Gods, incipient ones, unborn, still invisible. What should your appearance be to us? What new arts do you bear up from the inaccessible treasure chamber, the sun yoke from the egg of the Gods? You still have roots in the soil like plants and you are animal faces / of the human body; you are foolishly sweet, uncanny, primordial, and earthly. We cannot grasp your essence, you gnomes, you object- souls. You have your origin in the lowest. Do you want to become giants, you Tom Thumbs? Do you belong to the followers of the son of the earth? Are you the earthly feet of the Godhead? What do you want? Speak!
The Cabiri: “We come to greet you as the master of the lower nature.”
I: ‘’Are you speaking to me? Am I your master?”
The Cabiri: “You were not, but you are now.”
I: “So you declare. And so be it. Yet what should I do with your following?”
The Cabiri: “We carry what is not to be carried from below to above. We are the juices that rise secretly, not by force, but sucked out of inertia and affixed to what is growing. We know the unknown ways and the inexplicable laws of living matter. We carry up what slumbers in the earthly; what is dead and yet enters into the living. We do this slowly and easily; what you do in vain in your human way. We complete what is impossible for you.”
Those familiar with Terence McKenna’s description of the “Machine Elves”, entities the psychonaut claims he had encountered during several DMT (N,N-Dimethyltryptamine) trips, can quickly find striking resemblance and similarities between the entities roaming the DMT realm and the beings encountered by Jung during his voluntary confrontation with the unconscious.
McKenna reported that over the course of dozens of DMT trips, he was able to conclude that these machine elves, or gnomes, live underground in a large, dome-shaped room and want to show people how to “create things using language.” Anyone who has basic knowledge of psychedelic and psychonaut culture knows that the trips themselves are supposedly so strange and powerful that bringing back full stories or descriptions from even one DMT trip is nearly-impossible.
According to McKenna, at about minute one or two of a N,N-Dimethyltryptamine trip, one may burst through a chrysanthemum-like mandala, and find:
There’s a whole bunch of entities waiting on the other side, saying “How wonderful that you’re here! You come so rarely! We’re so delighted to see you!” They’re like jeweled self-dribbling basketballs and there are many of them and they come pounding toward you and they will stop in front of you and vibrate, but then they do a very disconcerting thing, which is they jump into your body and then they jump back out again and the whole thing is going on in a high-speed mode where you’re being presented with thousands of details per second and you can’t get a hold on [them …] and these things are saying “Don’t give in to astonishment”, which is exactly what you want to do. You want to go nuts with how crazy this is, and they say “Don’t do that. Pay attention to what we’re doing”. What they’re doing is making objects with their voices, singing structures into existence. They offer things to you, saying “Look at this! Look at this!” and as your attention goes towards these objects you realize that what you’re being shown is impossible. It’s not simply intricate, beautiful and hard to manufacture, it’s impossible to make these things. The nearest analogy would be the Fabergé eggs, but these things are like the toys that are scattered around the nursery inside a U.F.O., celestial toys, and the toys themselves appear to be somehow alive and can sing other objects into existence.
References to such encounters can be found in many cultures ranging from shamanic traditions of Native Americans to indigenous Australians and African tribes, as well as among Western users of these substances.
The similarities here re undeniable. Jung’s Cabiri work under the earth; while the Machine Elves live underground in a dome-shaped room. The Cabiri are described as mysterious and creative powers, and the Machine Elves can create unbelievable, fractal objects and new autonomous beings, not to mention the similarities in terms of knowledge, wisdom. Those who have visited the DMT realm also often describe encountering jesters, which could also be associated with Jung’s Cabiri as they, according to The Red Book, also lay all sorts of nasty tricks.
Samothrace, Modern Greek Samothráki, is a Greek island in the northern Aegean Sea off the Thracian coast, where pre-Hellenic religious practices were identified. After this comparison between the two mysterious entities, one could make a conclusion that Carl Jung’s Cabiri are the same as Terence McKenna’s Machine Elves. This could indicate that an ancient pre-Hellenic cult had experimented with altered states of consciousness, either by using psychedelic substances or other meditative and mystical practices that initiated such powerful and moving visions.
Those who have visited the DMT realm, most notably Terence McKenna, claim that what they encountered was “more real than real”, stating that it was not hallucinations but rather another dimension veiled by our daily lives and encounter in our dimension. McKenna believed that the elves are literal and actual beings that exist in another dimension, while Jung held that the Cabiri were autonomous projections of one’s own unconscious mind.
Perhaps the two explanations provided by the two greats are actually one, perhaps the DMT realm and our unconscious mind are two faces to the same dimension, which includes infinite vaults of esoteric wisdom and knowledge. Perhaps we ought to frequent this dimension more often, or at least once during our lifetime on this earth, a visit which could unlock deeply-hidden treasures that would help us navigate not only our material lives, but also consciousness itself.
Other realms described throughout history that bear resemblance to the DMT dimension, include the journey outlined in the Tibetan Book of the Dead.
Bardo Thodol, which roughly translates to ‘ Liberation Through Hearing During the Intermediate State’, is one of the best known works of the Nyingma literature. The text widely known as ‘The Tibetan Book of the Dead’, is meant to guide one through the experiences consciousness goes through after death, in the Bardo, the interval between death and the next rebirth.
According to Britannica, although tradition attributes the Bardo Thodol to Padmasambhava, the Indian Tantric guru (spiritual guide) who is credited with introducing Buddhism to Tibet in the 7th century, the book was likely composed in the 14th century.
Bardo Thödol is a funerary text recited to ease the consciousness of a recently deceased person through death and assist it into a favorable rebirth. The first English translation of the Bardo Thodol was titled ‘The Tibetan Book of the Dead’ by Walter Evans-Wentz due to its similarities with another funerary text, the Egyptian Book of the Dead.
In his commentary on the Bardo Thodol, late Chogyam Trungpa explained that Bardo means “gap,” or interval of suspension, and that Bardo is part of our psychological make-up. Bardo experiences happen to us all the time in life, not just after death. The “Bardo Thodol” can be read as a guide to life experiences as well as a guide to the time between death and rebirth.
Death holds up an all-seeing mirror, ‘the mirror of past actions’…in which the consequences of all our negative and positive actions are clearly seen and there is a weighing of our past actions in the light of their consequences.
— ’The Tibetan Book of the Dead’ by Walter Evans-Wentz
According to Anuttarayoga Tantra (Highest Yoga Tantra), only during the process of dying can we achieve liberation from the cycle of existence. The Tibetan Book of the Dead divides the intermediate state between lives into three Bardos:
- The Bardo of Dying, which features the experience of the “clear light of reality”, or at least the nearest approximation of which one is spiritually capable
- The Bardo of Experiencing Reality, which features the experience of visions of various Buddha forms, or the nearest approximations of which one is capable
- The Bardo of Rebirth, which features ‘karmically’ impelled hallucinations which eventually result in rebirth, typically ‘yab-yum’ imagery of men and women passionately entwined
The Bardo of Dying describes a dissolution of the self, a falling away of external reality, with the remaining consciousness experiencing the true nature of mind as a dazzling light or luminosity.
The Bardo of Experiencing Reality describes lights of a wide range of colors and visions of wrathful and peaceful deities; yet one should not be afraid of these visions, as they are nothing but projections of mind.
Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Jung highly revered The Tibetan Book of the Dead, considering it a great psychological work. This view came primarily due to the symbolic nature of the work, describing peaceful deities, as well as wrathful ones, who drink blood, lick brains and chop heads.
The psychological significance of these visions can be best understood through this excerpt taking from Walter Evans-Wentz’s English translation of The Tibetan Book of the Dead:
Accordingly, the Peaceful Deities are the personified forms of the sublimest human sentiments, which proceed from the psychic heart — center. As such, they are represented as the first to dawn, because, psychologically speaking, the heart — born impulses precede the brain — born impulses. They come in peaceful aspect to control and to influence the deceased whose connection with the human world has just been severed; the deceased has left relatives and friends behind, works unaccomplished, desires unsatisfied, and, in most cases, he possesses a strong yearning to recover the lost opportunity afforded by human embodiment for spiritual enlightenment. But, in all his impulses and yearnings, karma is all — masterful; and, unless it be his karmic lot to gain liberation in the first stages, he wanders downwards into the stages wherein the heart — impulses give way to brain — impulses.
Whereas the Peaceful Deities are the personifications of the feelings, the Wrathful Deities are the personifications of the reasonings and proceed from the psychic brain — center. Yet, just as impulses arising in the heart — center may transform themselves into the reasonings of the brain — center, so the Wrathful Deities are the Peaceful Deities in a changed aspect. As the intellect comes into activity, after the sublime heart — born impulses subside, the deceased begins to realize more and more the state in which he is; and with the super-normal faculties of the Bardo — body which he begins to make use of — in much the same manner as an infant new — born in the human world begins to employ the human plane sense — faculties — he is enabled to think how he may win this or that state of existence. Karma is, however, still his master, and defines his limitations. As on the human plane the sentimental impulses are most active in youth and often lost in mature life, wherein reason commonly takes the place of them, so on the after — death plane, called the Bardo, the first experiences are happier than the later experiences.
— ‘The Tibetan Book of the Dead’ by Walter Evans-Wentz
The third and last Bardo is that of reincarnation, in which the soul is pulled into another body to start a new life, often but not always in the physical world. Tibetan Buddhists believe that the best world to be born in is the physical world, due to its great opportunity for spiritual growth and realization.
If the individual does not reincarnate in the physical world, he or she will go to one of the other five worlds of rebirth, which includes the heaven worlds, the hell worlds, the world of hungry ghosts, the demigod worlds, and the animal worlds. Each of these is believed to be limited and inferior to obtaining another body in the material world. This is because they exist mostly to receive good or bad karma (the results of previous actions), and are not considered places to create new karma.
The Bardo of Rebirth consists of a series of images determined by the soul’s karma that lead to psychic portals that draw the soul into a womb. The soul’s reaction to those karmic images determines which portal the soul enters and in which womb the soul ends up. The Tibetan tradition gives detailed advice on which representations to choose and which to avoid in order to gain a desirable rebirth. Once reborn, the karma of impulse manifests to influence the person’s actions and reactions in their new life.
The average person is said to spend a period of about forty-five days in the second Bardo. However, passionate souls with strong desires or those responsible for evil acts in their most recent life are said to reincarnate almost immediately. In exceptional cases, the individual can stay in the Bardo state for longer periods, and be drawn into its currents awaiting rebirth.
With such terms as real, actual, virtual and hallucinations, the waters are muddied and the true purpose and meaning are lost. Instead of trying to accurately and rationally define these entities and the realms they are found in, one ought to deeply meditate and contemplate the lessons and truths offered during these awe-inspiring journeys of meaning.