In November of 1913, Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Gustav Jung began a deep exploration of his psyche by entering into visionary (or hallucinogenic) states of consciousness.
As he wrote in Memories, Dreams, Reflections (p.178), “I was sitting at my desk, and I just let myself drop.” He would fall into something like a light REM sleep or self-induced trance. – from IntroPsych
Jung referred to this work as his “confrontation with the unconscious.”
… Jung, who was then 38, got lost in the soup of his own psyche. He was haunted by troubling visions and heard inner voices. Grappling with the horror of some of what he saw, he worried in moments that he was, in his own words, “menaced by a psychosis” or “doing a schizophrenia.” – New York Times
The visions continued from late 1913 until about 1917, and began to subside by around 1923. Jung carefully recorded these visionary experiences in six black-covered personal journals (known as the “Black Books”) which provide a chronological ledger of these visions.
In 1915, Jung began artfully transcribing the draft text from the Black Books into the illuminated calligraphic volume that would subsequently become known as the “Red Book.” Jung commissioned the 11.57″ x 15.35″ red leather-bound book with 600 blank pages of paper suitable to create the text and images with the use of calligraphic pens, multicolored inks, and gouache (an opaque form of watercolor) paint.
(The initial seven sheets of the book were composed on parchment in a highly illuminated medieval style. The parchment was unfortunately unsuitable for use with Jung’s art materials – the paint chipped off and the ink bled through.)
On and off for the next 16 years, Jung would fill 191 of the 600 pages before abandoning his Red Book, with roughly one third of the source material from his Black Books never realized into artistic form.
In October of 2009, nearly fifty years after Jung’s death, the family of C. G. Jung have released the Red Book for publication in a beautiful facsimile edition, edited by Sonu Shamdasani.
The Holy Grail of the Unconscious at The New York Times