Catafalque: Carl Jung and The End of Humanity

Catafalque: Carl Jung and The End of Humanity

Hardcover, 848 pages

Published November 1st 2018 by Catafalque Press


1999638409 (ISBN13: 9781999638405)

Edition Language: English

Author: Peter Kingsley  

Synopsis written by Dr. Shane Eynon

Catafalque offers a revolutionary new reading of the great psychologist Carl Jung as mystic, gnostic and prophet for our time.

This book is the first major re-imagining of both Jung and his work since the publication of the Red Book in 2009–and is the only serious assessment of them written by a classical scholar who understands the ancient Gnostic, Hermetic and alchemical foundations of his thought as well as Jung himself did. At the same time, it skillfully tells the forgotten story of Jung’s relationship with the great Sufi scholar, Henry Corbin, and with Persian Sufi tradition.

The strange reality of the Red Book, or “New Book” as Carl Jung called it, lies close to the heart of Catafalque. In meticulous detail Peter Kingsley uncovers its great secret, hidden in plain sight and still–as if by magic–unrecognized by all those who have been unable to understand this mysterious, incantatory text.

But the hard truth of who Jung was and what he did is only a small part of what this book uncovers. It also exposes the full extent of that great river of esoteric tradition that stretches all the way back to the beginnings of our civilization. It unveils the surprising realities behind western philosophy, literature, poetry, prophecy–both ancient and modern.

In short, Peter Kingsley shows us not only who Carl Jung was but who we in the West are as well. Much more than a brilliant spiritual biography, Catafalque holds the key to understanding why our western culture is dying. And, an incantatory text in its own right, it shows the way to discovering what we in these times of great crisis must do.


Part 1: Mystical Fool. In Chapter 1 of Catafalque, Kingsley gives us the backdrop of his message. And his message is mystical and academic at the same time. Kingsley believes that Carl Jung and the Red Book have been misunderstood by Jungian scholars who cannot understand the profound implications of the Red Book without a deep understanding of the ancient mystical traditions that Jung himself understood very well. Kingsley is convinced that Jung has undergone a profound mystical experience of initiation that has allowed him to have direct contact with the divine and sacred. In this understanding of the Red Book, Kingsley explains to us that he too has been called to reveal his own contact with the sacred and divine, which has been rendered entirely artificial in the modern western cultures. The message he is carrying to us from the world of the Gods, is that the ‘western world’ is, in fact, in the state of collapse because it has lost its ability to relate to the divinity through the ability to have direct contact with the figures of the spiritual realm. The root of the passage into the spiritual realm and away from the insanity of a superficial and artificial western world full of selfishness, forgetfulness, reason, and disconnection is by replacing the suffering of this artificial world of our creation with the suffering of the Gods. We are therefore called to suffer for a reason greater than our own short existence, but rather for the efforts of the sacred to become conscious in this world. Here Kingsley points out this was Jung’s central therapeutic aim. To Jung’s understanding and vision, we cannot escape suffering in this life, but only when we take on the burden of suffering for the sacred and archetypal can our own individual suffering become bearable and sane. For this prescription and treatment, Jung was called a Mystical Fool.

Part 2: Back to the Source. In this chapter, Kingsley describes his own personal encounter with the Spirit of Jung on a spiritual pilgrimage he took to Jung’s Bollingen castle, the fairytale made real. Kingsley felt at this time, in his late teenage years, that Jung had directly offered to guide him through the rest of his life. Kingsley was to discover that Jungians do not truly understand Jung or the path of individuation. The path of individuation is extremely narrow and open to only a few who truly understand Jung’s intentions and deeper mysteries. In other words, Jung is a cryptic cypher that cannot be truly understood without understanding the key to mysterious. That key is the death of the ego and being overcome by the direct contact with the archetypal. That is, individuation is a death and rebirth cycle where the ego takes a back seat to the needs of the divine. For example, when Jung is saying that Christ is a symbol of the Self, he is not talking about some historical account of Christ, but a direct experience of the Christ within the psyche. That relationship with the divine paradoxically crushes the ego. The ego transforms from master to servant. Inflation is only a danger when the ego is unwilling to cede the driver’s seat, so to speak, to the divine and sacred. In other words, the experience of the sacred cannot be made through intermediaries, priests, or gurus. It can only be experienced directly within each of us as we lay aside our illusions and delusions. Unfortunately, very few people can accomplish this under the weight of western hyper-rationalism, which creates ever more potent webs of illusion. It is this hyper-rationalism and denial of the divine that is leading us towards destruction and annihilation. Kingsley warns us that this hyper-rationalism is really just an attempt to make ourselves unconscious and to fall into our own darkness.

Part 3: The Sunset Way. What is really driving western culture at this point is egotism which desires to cutoff the suffering of consciousness. In other words, a collective suicide of the species. Americans and the American Psyche is particularly and singularly dangerous in Kingsley’s vision, as Jung points out, that American’s disregard of the ancestors and its ruthless love of mechanization and technology hold within it the seeds of its own destruction. America is inflated with the same Hero archetype which led Germany to unconsciously walk into nationalism, fascism, and two world wars. All of these problems, America and Americans collectively are blind to this in themselves. One way to look at this issue from Kingsley’s point of view is to see America as the penultimate ideal of Platonic philosophy. A county of rationality and led by philosopher kings, yet totally unconscious and ignorant of the underlying danger contained within the idolization of rationalism and Platonic philosophy. America and the western cultures have ruthlessly silenced their prophets and anyone who can ‘bring sight to the blind’ through the use of modern psychiatry and psychology. To Kingsley, the tragedy of Jungian psychology is that Jung himself foresaw this himself as revealed in the Red Book. Jung was a prophet who attempted the best he could to bring light to those few who could truly grasp the mysteries of his revelation. In the end, Jung knew this was futile, but left those few who could decipher his sacred mysteries a trail of breadcrumbs to follow, but to Kingsley, the worst interpreters of Jung are in fact Jungians.  Kingsley concludes that it is best that no one reads the Red Book at all, but rather, let those who can see find the Red Book.

Part 4: Catafalque. Kingsley takes us on his personal discovery of the keys out of the nightmare of western civilization. This route to discovery came through his study of Henry Corbin and the pre-Socratic philosophers who were hostile to the ideals of reason and rationality, but rather mystics interested in the spiritual struggles of mankind. This tradition was hidden in plain view by the keepers of this tradition held within the Sufi traditions of Islam. Ironically, the Persian Sufis had continually held onto the very thing needed for western culture to heal itself of its collective nightmare. This Persian Sufi tradition, just as Jung discovered, was the finding of one’s own personal internal teacher or guide, one’s own internal sanctuary, and one’s own internal secret. This seeking and finding of the inner world allows one to become detached from the will imposed by the collective. The collaboration between Corbin and Jung is, in Kingsley’s eyes, totally misunderstood and overlooked in terms of the prominence this relationship had on Jung and his thinking. Kingsley believes that much of Jung the Prophet wanted and desires was disregarded against his wishes. For example, he was firmly against the formation of any type of Jungian training or institutes, but they started, nonetheless. At the end of his life, Jung’s family kept many of his closest associates away from him but did take notes that were later shared with Marie Louise Von Franz. Kingsley believes, with some evidence, that many of Jung’s followers hid the most disturbing prophecies Jung made in his days of dying. These prophecies foresaw the end of the world with 50 to 60 years. Kingsley himself had similar visions that forced his to write Catafalque (the structure used to hold up a coffin). According to Kingsley, we are in the middle of the death process of western culture, and we have the choice to either awaken from our collective infantile psychology by learning what Native Americans call the ‘original instructions’, or watch the death of western culture as it takes all of humanity with it to the grave.

About the Author:

Peter Kingsley (born 1953) is the author of five books and numerous articles on ancient philosophy, including Ancient Philosophy, Mystery and Magic, In the Dark Places of Wisdom, Reality, A Story Waiting to Pierce You: Mongolia, Tibet and the Destiny of the Western World, and Catafalque: Carl Jung and the End of Humanity. He has written extensively on the pre-Socratic philosophers Parmenides and Empedocles and the world they lived in.


Peter Kingsley attended Highgate School, in north London, until 1971. He graduated with honours from the University of Lancaster in 1975 and went on to receive the degree of Master of Letters from the University of Cambridge after study at King’s College; subsequently, he was awarded a PhD by the University of London. A former Fellow of the Warburg Institute in London, Kingsley has been made an honorary professor both at Simon Fraser University in Canada and at the University of New Mexico. He has lectured widely in North America. Kingsley has noted in public interviews that he is sometimes misunderstood as a scholar who gradually moved away from academic objectivity to a personal involvement with his subject matter. However, Kingsley himself has stated that he is, and always has been, a mystic, and that his spiritual experience stands in the background of his entire career, not just his most recent work.[1]

Major themes

Kingsley’s work argues that the writings of the presocratic philosophers Parmenides and Empedocles, usually seen as rational or scientific enterprises, were in fact expressions of a wider Greek mystical tradition that helped give rise to western philosophy and civilisation. This tradition, according to Kingsley, was a way of life leading to the direct experience of reality and the recognition of one’s divinity. Yet, as Kingsley stresses, this was no “otherworldly” mysticism: its chief figures were also lawgivers, diplomats, physicians, and even military men. The texts produced by this tradition are seamless fabrics of what later thought would distinguish as the separate areas of mysticism, science, healing, and art.

Parmenides, most famous as the “father of western logic” and traditionally viewed as a rationalist, was a priest of Apollo and iatromantis (lit. healer-prophet). Empedocles, who outlined an elaborate cosmology that introduced the enormously influential idea of the four elements into western philosophy and science, was a mystic and a magician. Kingsley reads the poems of Parmenides and Empedocles as esoteric, initiatory texts designed to lead the reader to a direct experience of the oneness of reality and the realisation of his or her own divinity. A significant implication of this reading is that western logic and science originally had a deeply spiritual purpose.

Kingsley’s reading of early Greek philosophy and, in particular, of Parmenides and Empedocles, is at odds with most of the established interpretations. However, Kingsley contends that later ancient philosophers such as Plato, Aristotle, and Theophrastus, among others, misinterpreted and distorted their predecessors; hence, conventional scholarship that uncritically accepts their misrepresentations of the presocratics is necessarily flawed. Kingsley’s procedure is to read presocratic texts in historical and geographical context, giving particular attention to the Southern Italian and Sicilian backgrounds of Parmenides and Empedocles. Additionally, he reads the poems of Parmenides and Empedocles as esoteric and mystical texts, a hermeneutical perspective that, according to Kingsley, is both indicated by the textual and historical evidence and also provides the only way to solve many problems of interpretation and text criticism. In his more recent work, Kingsley argues that esoteric texts designed to record or induce mystical experiences can never be understood from an “outsider’s perspective”; understanding must come from a reader’s lived experience—or not at all.

Parmenides and Empedocles

Empedocles in Thomas Stanley History of Philosophy.

Kingsley presents Parmenides and Empedocles as representatives of a mystical tradition that helped give rise to western philosophy and civilisation and that is still available to people today. Kingsley argues that this tradition is of profound importance and has something essential to offer, both inside the world of academic philosophy and beyond in the wider, contemporary West.[7] Though Parmenides and Empedocles are often viewed as philosophical antagonists, Kingsley argues that beneath the superficial or apparent differences, the two men are profoundly united by the common essence of this one tradition, a connection that finds expression in their intimately connected understandings of reality, the body and the senses, language, death, and divine consciousness.

Parmenides and Empedocles are united by, among other things, a somewhat unorthodox mysticism with respect to the body and the senses. Empedocles’ cosmology, both born out of and directed towards mystical experience, deeply influences the peculiarities of the spiritual path as he offered it. Empedocles described a cosmic cycle consisting of the uniting and separation of the four divine “roots,” or elements, of earth, aithêr or air, fire, and water. The divine power of Love (at times simply called Aphrodite), in Empedocles’ cosmology, brought the elements together into one, while the divine power of Strife separated them out from each other. For Empedocles, then, there is nothing in the cosmos that is not divine. Thus, there is nothing to “leave behind” as one travels the spiritual path. His mysticism is not what one might anticipate—the ascetic strain of shutting out the senses or dissociation from the body. While many forms of mysticism reject and renounce the supposed crudity of matter and the senses for something higher or loftier, Empedocles does not, teaching instead the conscious use of the senses themselves as a path to recognising the divine in everything—including oneself.[8] Similarly, Kingsley argues that the imagery and wording of the proem, or introductory part, of Parmenides’ poem record an initiate’s descent to the underworld and indicate a mystical background connected to the ancient practice of healing and meditation known as incubation.[9][10]

More than just a medical technique, incubation was said to allow a human being to experience a fourth state of consciousness different from sleeping, dreaming, or ordinary waking: a state that Kingsley describes as “consciousness itself” and likens to the turiya or samadhi of the Indian yogic traditions.[11] Kingsley supports this reading of the proem with the archaeological evidence from the excavations of Parmenides’ hometown of Velia, or Elea, in Southern Italy. This evidence, according to Kingsley, demonstrates that Parmenides was a practising priest of Apollo, and would therefore have used incubatory techniques as a matter of course for healing, prophecy, and meditation. As Kingsley notes, this physical evidence from Velia merely conforms to and confirms the incubatory context already suggested by the proem itself. In Kingsley’s understanding of this mystical tradition, the descent to the underworld is deeply connected with the conscious experience of the body—it is, in reality, a conscious descent into the depths and darkness of the very sensation of the physical body. Thus, in contrast to mystical paths that hope to “transcend” the physical, embodied state, Parmenides and Empedocles both find the divine in and through the body and the senses.

The deep sympathy between the teachings of Parmenides and Empedocles is also found in the central, logical part of Parmenides’ poem, often referred to as “Fragment Eight” or “The Way of Truth.” As Kingsley notes, Parmenides’ logic aims at demonstrating that reality is changeless, whole, unborn and immortal, and one—a description strikingly similar to the ways in which absolute reality is described in many mystical traditions, such as Advaita Vedanta, Zen, and Dzogchen. That this is no mere material or metaphysical monism is indicated by the initiatory motifs of the proem; the setting and hymnal language of Fragment Eight; the unnamed goddess as the speaker of these words; and the figure of the historical Parmenides as priest of Apollo. Kingsley reads Parmenides as saying that this “ultimate reality” is not on some supercelestial plane, but rather is very simply the reality of the world all around us. We live in an unborn and deathless world of oneness, wholeness, and changelessness—but we are unable to recognise it because mortal perception itself is dualistic. Thus, as in Empedocles, everything in Parmenides’ cosmos is divine—and, importantly, the divine is not “somewhere else,” but rather, right here and now.[12]

Language, too, plays a crucial role in the teachings of Parmenides and Empedocles, and there are deep affinities here as well. Parmenides’ nameless goddess consistently mimics those mortal habits of duality responsible for our imperfect perception of reality in her elenchos, or spoken demonstration, caricaturing the “twin-headed” mortals to whom she is speaking, using divine logic to reveal unity. Thus, the “truth” of Fragment Eight is distinctly paradoxical and reflects the apparent duality and paradox of undivided reality. The goddess’ cunning use of language, humour, and paradox to undermine what she calls “mortal opinion” and establish reality indicates the fundamental importance of the word in Parmenides’ teaching. When Empedocles continues the line in his poetry, the same profound importance accorded to the word in Parmenides is very much in evidence. Empedocles tells his disciple that his words are actually living things with consciousness and will. His words are esoteric seeds that must be planted in the earth of the body and tended with good will, purity, and attention—since they possess the power, if treated properly, to germinate and grow into divine awareness. Empedocles’ poetry contains what is needed for this organic process to take place.[13]

Parmenides and Empedocles are also united by a shared understanding of death and, in particular, its role in the mystical path. While all readings of Empedocles recognise that his cosmology involves the four roots of earth, air or aithêr, fire, and water, united by Love and separated by Strife, Kingsley differs radically from most readers of Empedocles, ancient and modern, with respect to the ordering and significance of the cycle. He argues that most readings of Empedocles are grossly incorrect and essentially backwards, noting that Empedocles begins each cycle with the elements in a state of separation, followed by a blending under the influence of Love, then finally a return to the original state of separation under Strife. This, however, is not some kind of cosmic pessimism, unless one misunderstands what Empedocles is really saying.

According to Kingsley, if one follows Empedocles’ words carefully, one sees that the elements, while separate, exist in a state of immortality and purity. When they are brought together by Love or Aphrodite they are essentially seduced into incarnate, mortal existence and mixture—and thus an existence foreign to their true natures of immortality and purity. Consequently, when they are separated again by Strife, this is not cause for lament: it is the liberation of the elements from the unnatural and forced condition brought about by Love and a return to immortality and purity. This reading of Empedocles is highly suggestive of similar Orphic and Pythagorean views of incarnation, divinisation, and death. Parmenides, in turn, travels to the depths of the underworld—the world of death—and meets a goddess whom Kingsley identifies as Persephone, the queen of the dead. It is only by making this journey that Parmenides is able to learn the truth about reality and mortal opinion and return to the world of the living with his prophetic message. Thus, both Empedocles and Parmenides, like other mystics, find wisdom, healing, and eternal life in what most people suppose to be the dark and grim reality of death. As Kingsley puts it, the essential requirement for travelling this spiritual path is that, “You have to die before you die.”

Finally, both Parmenides and Empedocles stress the necessity of reaching divine stillness by embracing motion wholeheartedly. In Parmenides, the imperfect perception of reality as changing and moving ultimately gives way to a perception of its perfect stillness. In Empedocles, the eternal motion of the cosmic cycle gives way to motionlessness. However, for a human being actually to perceive the stillness of reality, a quality of supreme attentiveness, beyond anything mortals are capable of, must be cultivated. The Greeks, Parmenides and Empedocles included, called this divine attribute mêtis, a quality possessed by the gods and given by them, under special circumstances, to mortals who had earned their favour. The union of divine grace and conscious, human co-operation makes it possible for the divine quality of mêtis to be cultivated and eventually come into being—an outcome described by Kingsley as a “flowering of consciousness.”

Kingsley continues to work to return the tradition of Parmenides and Empedocles to consciousness, inside the academic world and also beyond. Plato and Aristotle, who defined the parameters of western philosophy without being fully aware of or sympathetic to the esoteric context in which Empedocles and Parmenides spoke, continue to exert an enormous influence both over our understandings of Parmenides and Empedocles as well as our notions of what philosophy is. Kingsley aims to make the lost awareness of Parmenides and Empedocles, as well as the reality of their tradition, available again. (Wikapedia, 2020)


Catafalque is a book that amplifies the themes of the Red Book in a manner to enhance its ties to the ancient Greek mystery schools and those traditions. Kingsley rather brilliantly shows us the parallel between the Red Book and the ancient Greek mystical traditions. It contains within it a conclusion that ‘Western Civilization” is at an end and has spent itself out through its overreliance on the physical and material world. In doing so, it became unbalanced. In many ways, Catafalque is a continuation of the themes in the Red Book with a conclusion that Western Civilization is a ‘walking corpse’. It is indeed bleak in many ways, if you perhaps identify with the ideals of ‘Western Civilization’. Therefore, the course we will embark on to continue or studies of the Red Book from Kinsley’s point of view requires a counterpoise. In the coming study of Catafalque we will look at Kingsley’s one-sidedness and examples of making pronouncements without key understandings of other mystical traditions and understanding of ‘prophecy’ outside of the ancient Greek systems. The course will therefore explore the esoteric and mystery schools from around the globe to compare them to the ancient Greek methods of inner exploration Kingsley understands. Within these comparison, we can find that each esoteric tradition has a different foundation and attitudinal ‘essence’ that forms and shapes our experiences of interiority and the archetypal.


Shaw 2020 The Cry of Merlin: Carl Jung and the Insanity of Reason January 17, 2020

Gregory Shaw on Peter Kingsley

Wikipedia, 2020

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