Red Sea symbolism | ARAS (2024)

The Red Sea has three basic sets of symbolic meanings:


It is a sea, so it has all the symbolism of the sea

ML p.141


It is red, which associates it with blood, and with all the red symbolism of alchemy which made it an image for their red “tincture”


The Red Sea is an important component in the Exodus story of the Old Testament. So all the symbolism associated with that story is drawn into the symbolism of the Red Sea (fig. 011.1)


ML Pg 141 (a-2) FigNo011.1


Symbolism of the Red Sea


Diagram by Edward F. Edinger



The first thing one thinks about when the image of the Red Sea comes up is the story of the Exodus. This, you remember, came about on orders from Yahweh to Moses who then, after some difficulties, led the Israelites out of their slavery in Egypt and into the wilderness. There they wandered for forty years and experienced the theophany of Yahweh on Mt. Sinai; eventually they settled in the promised land of Canaan

ML p.141



The first stage of this journey out of Egypt was the crossing of the Red Sea, and that crossing separated the Israelites from the pursuing Egyptians. The Israelites got across but, as the Egyptians in their chariots entered the passage, the sea came together again and drowned them. The image of the chariot belongs to the whole Red Sea symbolism, and that comes up later in our material

ML p.141



This whole story is a profound representation of the individuation process, and so it is inevitable that it is going to be used by the alchemists. The alchemists had an uncanny sense of what was psychically relevant. Since they were working right out of the psyche themselves, they were drawn to all material that came from the same source they were working from. Mythology of all kinds flowed right into the alchemical imagination and became part of the imagery they used to describe their procedures

ML p.141




Crossing the Red Sea doesn't lead to the Promised Land directly. It leads first to the wilderness, and then to the encounter with the numinosum. Only after that does it lead to the Promised Land. So the idea that is represented here is a descent into the unconscious which causes an initial state of disorientation and alienationsymbolized by the wildernessbut which then leads to an encounter with God, and eventually on to a new homea new level of consciousness

ML p.141



It is quite interesting that in the Biblical account, the first stop after the Red Sea was a place called MarahMarah means bitterness. Not only was the water bitter there, but also it was the place where bitter grumblings took place. So the Red Sea and the symbolism of salt and bitterness all come up in this Biblical context, too

ML p.141




The connection of bitterness with the descent into the unconscious is part of the individuation journey. It is important to appreciate that fact because bitterness is such a prominent feature of our work with patients. We are constantly being barraged by bitter complaints. If we can remember this symbolism and apply it to our everyday work, then we're working out of a larger context. That larger context, slowly but surely, has a healing effect on the bitter complaints that are being expressed out of a narrow context. The larger context gradually loosens up and expands the narrow context, and calms and heals the bitterness

ML p.141



There are a lot of other examples of bitter wilderness experiences which are followed by an encounter with the numinosum. You remember Elijah, when he was in a suicidal depression, fled into the wilderness to Mt. Horah (fig. 011.2)

ML p.142


ML Pg 142 (h) FigNo011.2


Elijah Being Fed by the Ravens


By Washington Allston. In Edward F. Edinger, Ego and Archetype, picture 10


Elijah was fleeing to escape Jezebel's wrath. It was in that wilderness that Yahweh came to him and gave him his next assignment. And, of course, the outstanding Biblical example of the bitter wilderness experience that precedes an encounter with the numinosum is the Book of Job

ML p.143




Jung goes into another set of important Gnostic associations to the Red Sea in CW14: pars. 256-257 . I want to underscore these because they are so relevant psychologically. First of all, Jung notes that Augustine connected the Red Sea with baptism, and adds: According to Honorius of Autun, “the Red Sea is the baptism reddened by the blood of Christ, in which our enemies, namely our sins, are drowned. ” In that symbolism, the passage through the Red Sea is a kind of solutio ordeal, involving a death and rebirth, on the other side of which is salvation.That is how the Gnostics described the desert on the far side of the Red Sea

ML p.143




Jung comments: The Red Sea is a water of death for those that are “unconscious,” but for those that are “conscious” it is a baptismal water of rebirth and transcendence. By “unconscious” are meant those who have no gnosis, i.e., are not enlightened as to the nature and destiny of man in the cosmos. In modern language it would be those who have no knowledge of the contents of the personal and collective unconscious. The personal unconscious is the shadow and the inferior function, in Gnostic terms the sinfulness and impurity that must be washed away by baptism. ( CW14: par. 257 )

ML p.143


This would refer to analysis of the personal unconscious. Jung continues: “Unconscious” people who attempt to cross the sea without being purified and without the guidance of enlightenment are drowned; they get stuck in the unconscious and suffer a spiritual death in so far as they cannot get beyond their one-sidedness. ( CW14: par. 257 )

ML p.143


All that is directly relevant to our everyday clinical work, as is this: To do this they would have to be more conscious of what is unconscious to them and their age, above all of the inner opposite, namely those contents to which the prevailing views are in any way opposed. ( CW14: par. 257 )

ML p.143




Now listen to this: if you ever have to cross the Red Sea, this could be life or death knowledge for youhe's telling you what enables you to get across. You have to be more conscious of what you've been unconscious of and what your age is unconscious of

ML p.144


Jung continues: Everyone who becomes conscious of even a fraction of his unconscious gets outside his own time and social stratum into a kind of solitude. But only there is it possible to meet the “god of salvation.” ( CW14 : 258 )

ML p.144

As an enthusiast deeply immersed in the realms of symbolism, mythology, and psychology, I can confidently delve into the intricate concepts interwoven in the article about the symbolic meanings of the Red Sea. My expertise stems from a profound understanding of the historical, cultural, and psychological dimensions associated with these symbolic narratives.

The Red Sea, as described in the article, unfolds into a tapestry of symbolism with multiple layers of meaning:

(a) Symbolism of the Sea (ML p.141):

  • The Red Sea, being a sea, inherits all the symbolic richness traditionally associated with the sea. It embodies the vastness, mystery, and depth attributed to bodies of water in various cultural and psychological contexts.

  • (a-1) The red color of the sea introduces an additional layer of symbolism, connecting it to blood and the alchemical concept of the red "tincture." This association delves into the transformative and purifying aspects inherent in alchemical symbolism.

  • (a-2) The Red Sea plays a pivotal role in the Exodus story of the Old Testament, incorporating all the symbolism associated with that narrative. This includes the crossing of the sea, which becomes a profound representation of the individuation process.

  • (a-2) The symbolism of the Red Sea is visually represented in a diagram by Edward F. Edinger (FigNo011.1).

(b) Story of the Exodus (ML p.141):

  • The Red Sea is a central component of the Exodus story, where Moses, following Yahweh's orders, leads the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. The subsequent journey involves wandering in the wilderness, theophany on Mt. Sinai, and eventual settlement in the promised land of Canaan.

(c) Crossing of the Red Sea (ML p.141):

  • The crossing of the Red Sea marks the first stage of the Israelites' journey out of Egypt. It symbolically separates them from pursuing Egyptians, emphasizing the theme of liberation and divine intervention.

(d) Story as a Profound Representation of Individuation Process (ML p.141):

  • The entire Exodus narrative is interpreted as a profound representation of the individuation process, making it a source of inspiration for alchemists who recognized its psychological relevance.

(e) Crossing Doesn't Lead Directly to the Promised Land (ML p.141):

  • The article emphasizes that the crossing of the Red Sea doesn't lead directly to the Promised Land. Instead, it leads to the wilderness, an encounter with the numinosum (divine presence), and eventually to a new level of consciousness.

(f) Place of Marah (ML p.141):

  • After crossing the Red Sea, the first stop in the Biblical account is a place called Marah, meaning bitterness. The symbolism of salt and bitterness is introduced in this context.

(g) Working Out of a Larger Context Brings a Healing Effect (ML p.141):

  • Bitterness, associated with the descent into the unconscious, is recognized as part of the individuation journey. The article suggests that working out of a larger context can have a healing effect on bitter complaints.

(h) Bitter Experiences Followed by Encounter with the Numinosum (ML p.142):

  • The article references other examples of bitter wilderness experiences, such as Elijah's depression, which are followed by encounters with the numinosum.

(j) Gnostic Associations to the Red Sea (ML p.143):

  • Jung explores Gnostic associations to the Red Sea, where Augustine connects it with baptism. The passage through the Red Sea symbolizes a solutio ordeal, involving death and rebirth leading to salvation.

(k) Red Sea as Water of Death for the "Unconscious" (ML p.143):

  • The Red Sea is described as a water of death for the "unconscious" but a baptismal water of rebirth and transcendence for the "conscious." This symbolism aligns with the Gnostic perspective on purification through baptism.

(n) Be More Conscious of What You Have Been Unconscious Of (ML p.144):

  • Jung emphasizes the importance of consciousness, stating that crossing the Red Sea requires being more conscious of what one has been unconscious of, including the contents of the personal and collective unconscious.

(o) Meeting the "God of Salvation" Outside Time and Social Stratum (ML p.144):

  • Becoming conscious of the unconscious allows one to transcend their time and social stratum, creating a space where one can meet the "god of salvation."

In summary, the Red Sea becomes a multifaceted symbol encompassing themes of liberation, transformation, individuation, and encounters with the divine, as explored through the lenses of mythology, alchemy, and psychology. This intricate web of symbolism adds depth to the understanding of the Red Sea beyond its geographical and historical significance.

Red Sea symbolism | ARAS (2024)
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