Reading The Red Book (44)

“Don’t be afraid to suffer – take your heaviness and give it back to the earth’s own weight.”

R.M.Rilke, “Sonnets to Orpheus”

We have almost reached the end of our journey through The Red Book. This post summarizes the final passages of Scrutinies. There is one more post due, which will be devoted to the appendices attached to Liber Novus.

After he spends four days in solitude, Jung is approached by a man wearing a turban, who looks like “a wise doctor.” The stranger says he brings joy and the art of healing that he learnt from women. He says to Jung, “I bring you the bliss of paradise, the healing fire, the love of women.” Jung acknowledges the danger of such a temptation with “women, books and ideas.” (1) In that moment the stranger morphs into Philemon, who compares Jung to Osiris. Philemon says that Jung will experience dismembering – he will be blown apart and scattered to the winds. It is hard not to think here of Jung’s psychology and its widespread appeal. Yet it often seems that the fragments of Jung’s knowledge are present all over the place while not many of us have access to or interest in the entirety of his work. Philemon also acknowledges the amazingly fertilizing quality of Jung’s psychology, comparing it to the inundation of the Nile:

“You will be a river that pours forth over the lands. It seeks every valley and streams toward the depths.”

Jean-Michel Basquiat, “The Nile”

Philemon also brings a metaphor of the Tree of Life, which will be embodied by Jung:

“You will hold the invisible realm in trembling hands; it lowers its roots into the gray darknesses and mysteries of the earth and sends up branches covered in leaves into the golden air.
Animals live in its branches.
Men camp in its shade.

It will stay green for a long time.
Silence abides in its treetop.
Silence in its deep roots.”

Jung understands in that moment that his path leads through devotion and love, and so he must remove the unnecessary ties that bind him with others. Only through solitude will he attain his “stellar nature” through connecting with the great mother:

“If I am bound to men and things, I can neither go on with my life to its destination nor can I arrive at my very own and deepest nature.”

At night Philemon approaches Jung again. He wears an earth-coloured robe and holds a silver fish. This well-known symbol of Christianity is a harbinger of the arrival of the most imposing figure – Christ himself. Philemon expresses his devotion to him and says that people “have learned no lesson from your awe-inspiring life.” To live like Christ, explains Philemon, means “to take their own life into
their own hands, faithful to their own essence and their own love.” Thus Christ is presented here as a symbol of individuation – the one who teaches people to live “without imitation.”

Edvard Munch, “Golgotha”

A subsequent encounter with Philemon bewilders Jung. He overhears the old magician speaking to the dead again and bestowing on them some horrible truths about the dark God:

“But the serpent of the God wants human blood. This feeds it and makes it shine. Not wanting to murder and die amounts to deceiving the God. … The God grows strong through human murder. The serpent grows hot and fiery through the drenching flood. Its fat burns in the blazing flame. The flame becomes the light of men, the first ray of a renewed sun, He, the first appearing light.”

Here Jung seems to be anticipating his later concept of God’s shadow, evil aspect. Jung resisted the notion of God being summum bonum – all good. Philemon also seems to ponder here the renewal and rebirth inherent in an act of destruction. But at this point the atrocities that accompany the birth of God are too terrifying to Jung.

This is followed by Jung’s repeat encounter with Elijah and his daughter Salome. Elijah is very distressed because he had heard that one God had died (this is the echo’s of Nietzsche’s influence). Jung confirms the news joyfully:

“Do you not know that the world has put on a new garb? That the one God has gone away; and that in turn many Gods and many daimons have come to man?”

In order to appease Elijah, who is still inconsolable, Jung says that the multitude of gods have sprung one from the one God, who has disintegrated into many. The soul has embraced this multiplicity, adds Jung. The multiplicity is captivating, says Jung. He admonishes Elijah and the spirit of monotheism that this old prophet stands for:

“That is your old and ingrained mistake, that the one excludes the many.”

In contrast, Salome says that “being and multiplicity” appeal to her.

Next Jung describes difficult dreams and the feeling of torment that besieged him. His soul visits him one night, offering consolation. She says that she has sent tormenting dreams to Jung so that his mind will turn to the Gods. She adds that Gods need humans as much as humans need the Gods because “the Gods need a human mediator and rescuer.” This seems to elevate the ontological status of humanity. Jung remarks:

“There is no longer any unconditional obedience, since man has stopped being a slave to the Gods. He has dignity before the Gods. He is a limb that even the Gods cannot do without. Giving way before the Gods is no more.”

This open defiance is not to the soul’s liking. She asks the lower and the higher Gods what they think of that and they both express outrage. They attempt to frighten Jung by sending him a dream, in which he is a horned devil. But Jung’s resolution is not broken and so the soul brings their message to Jung:

“The Gods give in. You have broken the compulsion of the law.”

Jung seems to have achieved freedom from one last bondage – that of the soul bound to the Gods. At this point in his interpretative guide to The Red Book, Sanford L. Drob notices the resonance of Jung’s insistence on the special status of humans in divine plan. He quotes from Jung’s letter to Reverend Erastus Evans (written in 1954):

“In a tract of the Lurianic Kabbalah, the remarkable idea is developed that man is destined to become God’s helper in the attempt to restore the vessels which were broken when God thought to create a world. Only a few weeks ago, I came across this impressive doctrine which gives meaning to man’s status exalted by the incarnation.”

As Drob explains, Jung refers here to the Kabbalistic concept of Tikkun ha olam, namely actions that humans can take to restore and repair the world.

David Ligare, “Landscape for Baucis and Philemon”

The final visionary encounter in Scrutinies takes place in Jung’s garden. Here Philemon is revealed as an incarnation of Simon Magus. Philemon says:

“Simon and Helena have become Philemon and Baucis and so we are the hosts of the Gods.”

Rembrandt, “Philemon and Baucis”

This is a rich statement that deserves long pondering. First of all, Simon Magus, as Ribi explains, was presumably a father of Gnosticism. (2) Ribi writes:

“Accounts of Simon’s life emphasize that he had a consort named Helena. Later critics asserted that Helena was a prostitute whom Simon had purchased in the Phoenician port of Tyre and then liberated. Simon told the tale differently, adding a mythic or archetypal dimension. He proclaimed that in Helena he found and liberated a deific feminine power hidden within physical creation. Helena was a manifestation of the divine Sophia (Wisdom); through her mediation, Simon had met the primal Epinoia. This term, Epinoia (imperfectly translated by the words “thought” or “conception”), appears often in subsequent Gnostic mythologies as the title for the first feminine emanation manifest within the primordial mystery of divinity.”

Here the parallels between Christ and Mary Magdalene are not to be overlooked. Similarly to Mary Magdalene, also Simon and Helena were vilified by early Christians. Further, rather than blindly obeying the Gods, Philemon and Baucis as well as Simon and Helena suggest a radically different relationship with the divine. Humans offer the gods hospitality as “hosts of the gods.” What is more, Satan (here named “the worm”) also has his place in the Garden. The divinity of darkness must be acknowledged. Philemon speaks to the shade of Christ, who is also present in the scene:

“Recognize, oh master and beloved, that your nature is also of the serpent. Were you not raised on the tree like the serpent? Have you laid aside your body, like the serpent its skin? Have you not practiced the healing arts, like the serpent? Did you not go to Hell before your ascent? And did you not see your brother there, who was shut away in the abyss?”

Christ acknowledges that what Philemon says is the truth and then adds what are the last words of Jung’s Red Book:

“I bring you the beauty of suffering. That is what is needed by whoever hosts the worm.”

The suffering and mental anguish that Jung endured while The Red Book was being created is once again mentioned in the Epilogue which he wrote in 1959 and added to the volume. One may argue that creating Liber Novus granted him healing unity amidst the dismemberment that his soul was going through in those dark years.

M.C.Escher, “Snakes”


(1) Sanford L. Drob, Reading The Red Book: An Interpretative Guide to C.G. Jung’s Liber Novus

(2) Alfred Ribi, The Search for Roots: C.G. Jung and the Tradition of Gnosis

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​You may have heard of two magical triangles, one of black, the other of white magic. The origins of that legend are impossible to fathom. The white magic triangle is said to include Lyon, Prague and Turin, while the black one is composed of San Francisco, London and Turin. Thus Turin becomes the focal point of both triangles. I have written about this fascinating city and its interplay of light and darkness here.

This year I had the opportunity to spend a few days in Lyon, the ancient capital of Gaul. The symbolism of light permeates its history and symbolic expression. Before the Romans founded the city they called Lugdunum, the area was inhabited by Celtic tribes. The meaning of the name Lugdunum is not completely clear. It may be connected to the Celtic god Lugh (Lughus) represented by a raven; it has also been suggested that the name means “Mount of Light.” (1) Undoubtedly, right at the beginning the magic of whiteness and blackness were intertwined in Lyon.

Lyon, Amphitheatre of the Three Gauls – the federal sanctuary of the Three Gauls

Lugdunum was a pivotal city for the Romans as the capital of the three Gauls. It was the place where the emperor was worshipped in an elaborate ceremony that took place annually in August, at the height of summer with the Sun in Leo. The modern name Lyon may come from Lugdunum but its connection with the word “lion” is undeniable, though not confirmed by linguists. Nevertheless, the likenesses of these beasts are ubiquitous in the city, starting with its coat of arms. Lyon was also a major cult place of Cybele, about whom I have written here. It is worth pointing out that already the Romans associated the city with the lion and used it as the emblem of the city. 

Lyon – coat of arms

France in general has long been connected with the symbolism of the lion. Specifically, Marianne – the female personification of the French Republic – is often depicted with a lion. She also wears a Phrygian cup, which connects her even more with Cybele, whose homeland was Phrygia. 

Statue of Marianne in Lyon

Different periods of history are co-present in the magical city of Lyon, located at a confluence of two rivers – the male Rhone and the female Saone. This bears the symbolism of flowing together of opposites and the Sacred Marriage of Heaven and Earth.

Nicolas et Guillaume Coustou, “La Saône et le Le Rhône” Museum of Fine Arts of Lyon

No wonder then that in Roman times the most worshipped deity of Gaul was Mercury, who stands for the union of opposites as well as being the god of magic. In Alchemical Studies Jung thus summarizes the role of Mercurius:

“The multiple aspects of Mercurius may be summarized as follows: (1) Mercurius consists of all conceivable opposites. He is thus quite obviously a duality, but is named a unity in spite of the fact that his innumerable inner contradictions can dramatically fly apart into an equal number of disparate and apparently independent figures. (2) He is both material and spiritual. (3) He is the process by which the lower and material is transformed into the higher and spiritual, and vice versa. (4) He is the devil, a redeeming psychopomp, an evasive trickster, and God’s reflection in physical nature. (5) He is also the reflection of a mystical experience of the artifex that coincides with the opus alchymicum. (6) As such, he represents on the one hand the self and on the other the individuation process and, because of the limitless number of his names, also the collective unconscious. (par. 284)

At the Gallo-Roman Museum of Lyon I was struck by the large number of Mercury artefacts and especially by a silver goblet with Gallic Gods dated to 1st century AD. Here is the detailed description from the museum:

“On the sides of the ovioid swelling can be seen from left to right, successively, a tree with a tuft of mistletoe, a wild boar, a seated man holding a purse in his left hand, the right hand picking up coins from the table: this is Mercury, identified by his two familiar animals, the tortoise and the raven … Further on, an eagle is perched on a mound and a snake winds itself around a tree. A man is seen, finally, reclining on a couch. … he is wearing a torques around his neck, …, his left arm supports a horn of plenty. Behind him is outlined a stag. In the god with necklaces, it is generally agreed we should see the image of Cernunnos, the horned god whose symbol animal was the stag.”

Mercury stele from the Gallo-Roman museum in Lyon

Cernunos shares with Mercury the chthonic and psychopomp associations. I pondered the Mercurial vibe of the city when I heard about the most famous features of the old town – the so-called traboules (Latin trans – cross, ambulare – move). These are secret covered passageways, originally used by silk merchants, who thus transported their wares in full protection from the rain. Here are just two examples:

Just round the corner from the Gallo-Roman museum and its adjacent Amphitheatre another landmark of the city is located. The Fourvière Basilica, overlooking the city from a hill, is visible from all corners of Lyon. Its whiteness is quite blinding and it has a white statue of Madonna on the main altar. The main architect was Pierre Bossan, who started his work in 1872. He was heavily influenced by the mystical Lyonese painter Louis Janmot. Bossan’s vision was to create “the palace of the most powerful of queens” – the Virgin Mary. (2) The sheer amount of Byzantine decorations, frescos, etc. is quite staggering. The most beautiful was the mosaic depicting The Council of Ephesus (AD 431), during which it was decided that Mary would be called Theotokos – the God bearer, thus emphasizing her divine status.

Council of Ephesus as depicted in the Fourvière Basilica
The entrance to the Basilica
The Black Madonna of Fourvière 

But what attracted me most in the Basilica was the Black Madonna – the Lady of Fourvière , also known as Notre Dame des Graces, housed in the side chapel. Her cult as well as the Baroque chapel date to the times before the current Basilica was erected. The statue is dated to the late 16the century. (3) When her chapel was ravaged by the Protestants in 1793, a gardener hid the statue. She was restored to her place in 1900 and crowned by the archbishop of Reims. The women of Lyon donated their own jewellery for her diadem. The magnificent crypt of the Basilica houses a large number of Black Madonna statues and paintings from around the world and a mosaic of seven deadly sins. The counterpoint to the dark crypt is the figure of Saint Michael aiming a spear at the dragon. As Gambier explains,

“… if we draw an imaginary line downward from the spear, we find the dove of the Holy Spirit on the keystone of the high church, the white virgin of the main altar, Saint Joseph dying under the altar of the crypt and the mosaics of the seven deadly sins of the crypt: an impressively concise link from the heavens to the earth and sinful humanity.”

Louis Janmot, “Poem of the Soul”, 18 paintings via

Lyon’s most famous festival is the 8 December Fête des Lumières. Then the monuments of the city become illuminated at night, creating the most fantastic and bright colours and shapes. The origins of the festival are religious. When a plague tormented the city in 1643, the gentry of Lyon made a petition to Mary to save the city. It was successful and the plague ended on 8 September – the Nativity of the Virgin. 8 September 1852 was chosen to inaugurate a 5.6-metre tall golden Virgin statue on the Fourviere Basilica. Unfortunately, the work was not finished due to flood and so the feast was postponed until 8 December – the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Festive illuminations were planned for that day but they had to be cancelled due to heavy rainstorm. When the rain subsided, the city dwellers took to the street with self-made lampions, candles and oil lamps thus inaugurating the first festival of light. (4)

For me the best parts of the City of Light were its dark and hidden corners. Like silk moths, which are nocturnal creatures, the city spins its best tales under the cover of darkness.


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(1) Gerald Gambier, Discover Lyon and its Historical Heritage

(2) Ibid.

(3) Gerald Gambier, Fourviere: A Symbolist Basilica

(4) Gerald Gambier, Discover Lyon and its Historical Heritage

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Reading The Red Book (43) – Seven Sermons to the Dead

We have now reached the seventh and final Sermon to the Dead, which you will find in the third section of The Red Book called Scrutinies. The dead come to Philemon and ask him to “teach us about men.” This sermon addresses the most portent of questions: who are we, humans, and what is our relation to divinity? We learn that an individual is a gateway. Through us humans passes “a procession of the Gods.” In every “eternal moment” new Gods come and go. Human do not create gods but they should be open to receiving them and let them pass through their gateways towards embodiment.

RWS Tarot – The Star

The Star is the most significant symbol that appears in the sermon. For Ribi, it stands for “the transcendental particularity of a person—the expression and symbol of the eternal in the individual, which stands superior to mortality and provides orientation and hope through the vagaries of life.” (1) Wanderers and navigators have been guided by the stars for centuries. In a similar way, “consciousness navigating its unknown darkness takes its bearings from the scintillations of psyche’s imaginal forms.” (2) An individual is a microcosm with all the stars of the universe encompassed within the dark skies of the psyche.

Gerhard Dorn, a sixteenth-century alchemist frequently quoted by Jung, wrote that in every man there is an “invisible sun.” Divinity and its light permeates everything – the underworld and the upper world. Agrippa von Nettesheim, author of Three Books on Occult Philosophy (1533) spoke in this context of the world soul – a “certain only thing, filling all things, bestowing all things, binding, and knitting together all things, that it might make one frame of the world.” (3)

Wilhelm Kotarbinski, “Evening Star”

The transcendental light of the world soul unites psyche and matter, planting divine sparkles (scintillae) in both. As Jung wrote,

“Since psyche and matter are contained in one and the same world, and moreover are in continuous contact with one another and ultimately rest on irrepresentable, transcendental factors, it is not only possible but fairly probable, even, that psyche and matter are two different aspects of one and the same thing. The synchronicity phenomena point, it seems to me, in this direction, for they show that the nonpsychic can behave like the psychic, and vice versa, without there being any causal connection between them.” (4)

In other words, in a miraculous moment of an archetypal constellation, the archetype that is ripe in the psyche materializes and becomes part of reality. These are the precious moments of synchronicity in our lives. But for such an incarnation to occur, gods need humans so as they can pass through the gateway of manifestation. The true kingdom of god is the individual soul or as Meister Eckhart put it, “God himself is blissful in the soul.” (5)

In the seventh sermon we also meet Abraxas again. As previously indicated, this terrifying deity stands for the physical drive, the carnal fire, the ultimate creative and destructive force of the psyche. As Hoeller explained, Abraxas is “the fiery force which acts as the primeval union of the opposites at the foundation of psychic life.” (6) After the sermon is over Philemon tells Jung, “What is time? Time is the fire that flares up, consumes, and dies down. I saved being from time, redeeming it from the fires of time and the darkness of time, from Gods and devils.” The dominion of the fiery god Abraxas, who personifies Time, loses its power in the face of enlightenment or in the event of death. In order to be like Philemon – “the eternal fire of light” and to step out of the transience of being and out of the domain of Abraxas– an individual has to become someone who is – like in Hinduist Tat Tvam Asi – Thou Art That, You are one with the Absolute. Only when Abraxas’ influence stops, can the light of the star take over and an individual can become one with the eternal.

Jung is now approached by “a dark form with golden eyes.” The mysterious figure says Jung can call him “death that rose with the sun.” He reminds Jung that death begins in the midst of life. He tells Jung:

“You will go to men as one veiled. Your light shines at night. Your solar nature departs from you and your stellar nature begins.”

Thus the fate of Jung seems to be sealed – he will bring the dark wisdom of the unconscious into the light.

In a final vision, brought to Jung by the dark one, Jung saw “the night, … the dark earth, and above this the sky stood gleaming in the brilliance of countless stars. And I saw that the sky had the form of a woman and sevenfold was her mantle of stars ….” Philemon asks the celestial mother to take Jung as her son. This, however, proves to be only possible after a period of solitude and purification that Jung must undergo. On that note Philemon disappears.


Footnotes to The Red Book offer more in-depth analysis of the significance of the last sermon to the dead. There Shamdasani quotes extensively from the Black Books – Jung’s private journals named after the black covers; these journals were actually the prima materia of The Red Book, so their colour is very apt. In the Black Books, Jung recorded a conversation with his Soul, who asked him if he wants to receive three or seven lights. He chooses seven lights. The Soul teaches: “The first light means the Pleroma. / The second means Abraxas. / The third the sun. / The fourth the moon. / The fifth the earth. / The sixth the phallus. / The seventh the stars.” The celestial mother and the sky are encompassed by the symbolism of the Star, adds the Soul. What is more, the six lights taken together form a bridge to the seventh light of the Star. This resonates with the Egyptian mythology, where the goddess Nut, who personified the starry night sky, had Geb, the Earth, for her husband. From their union Osiris, Isis, Set and Nephthys were born. One of Nut’s epithets was “She Who Holds a Thousand Souls.” (7) The mysterious great goddess of the star, who appeared in Jung’s vision, could also be associated with the Seven Sisters, that is the Pleiades star cluster. She could also be Binah, the Great Mother of the Kabbalah, who is associated with Saturn and the colour black. As the dark womb that gave birth to all, she reminds me strongly of the Black Madonna. In her mantle shine a million stars, each one unique and assigned to each and every one of us upon our birth.

Our Lady of Guadalupe


(1) Alfred Ribi, The Search for Roots: C.G. Jung and the Tradition of Gnosis

(2) The Book of Symbols, Reflections on Archetypal Images, ARAS, edited by Ami Ronnberg

(3) quoted by Alfred Ribi

(4) C.G. Jung, The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche (vol. 8 of CW), par 418

(5) C. G. Jung, Psychological Types (vol. 6 of CW), par 418

(6) Stephan A. Hoeller, The Gnostic Jung and The Seven Sermons to the Dead

(7) M. M. Meleen and T. Susan Chang, Tarot Deciphered: Decoding Esoteric Symbolism in Modern Tarot


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Between Hermes and Mnemosyne: Jung and Warburg

In the part of Homeric Hymn to Hermes, in which Hermes and Apollo exchange gifts, Hermes sings about the origins of the gods:

“And the first of the gods that he commemorated with his song was Mnemosyne, Mother of Muses, for the son of Maia was a follower of hers.”

In his Hermes, Guide of Souls, Karl Kerenyi equates the goddess Mnemosyne with the source. He writes:

“She is memory as the cosmic ground of self-recalling which, like an eternal spring, never ceases flowing.”

Kerenyi adds that Mnemosyne is Hermes’ daimon of fate; for he has no choice but to carry memory “as inherited knowledge of all primordial sources of being.”

Dant Gabriel Rossetti, “Mnemosyne”

One such son of Hermes, possessed by ancestral memory, was C.G. Jung, another – Aby Warburg. The latter – Jewish German art historian, born in 1866 (nine years before Jung) – had a lot in common with the Swiss psychiatrist, though the two never met. As the war was approaching, both him and Jung had dreams of the continent engulfed in blood. (1) As Schama puts it,

“Beneath the smooth marble façade of classicism, there was, Warburg had discovered early in his career, a primal energy, periodically suppressed and controlled by rational discourse, but always capable of boiling up from its deep sources and engulfing civilization.”

The scholar, argued Warburg towards the end of his life, must go beyond logic towards magic, in order to confront the symbol and its pulsating, primal and pagan underpinnings. Symbols are never rational. In the case of Warburg, and possibly also in the case of Jung, this bold assertion was preceded by a period of psychotic depression.  Warburg spent five years in a clinic for the mentally ill on Lake Constance in Switzerland, not too far from the birthplace of Jung.

But before his time in the clinic, Warburg had made a journey to New Mexico desert in order to observe and experience the work of symbols among Hopi Indians. Such a journey was not a usual practice for the theoretically-oriented scholars of that era. Warburg was especially interested in “the snake dances, in which the Indians, each August, threw live snakes at serpentine images of lightning to ensure the harvest rains.” (2)

In 1923, after a few years of being incarcerated in the Swiss clinic, he delivered a lecture on the Hopi rituals and thus declared his return to sanity. He said during the lecture that both primitivism and modernity share the same symbolic bedrock. He also asserted that all cultures are connected through “the archive of memory.” As Schama concludes,

“By declaring the permanence, the timelessness, of delirium, Warburg won his release from the asylum.”

Giorgio de Chirico, “Eternity of the Moment”

In 1927, two years before his passing, Warburg started to compose an atlas of pictures which he called Mnemosyne. It was a collection of images that were thought to demonstrate the endurance of symbolic forms since antiquity until our times. Today Warburg institutes carry on his unfinished work. What Schama marvels at, is the atlas’s “eloquence of peculiarity.” He compares it to “a … mosaic of discrete pieces of our nature from which a coherent image might emerge.” Because God is hidden in the details, as Warburg famously said.

a panel from the Mnemosyne Atlas

Link to Warburg Institute in London:


(1) Simon Schama, Landscape and Memory

(2) Ibid.


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Painting the Sun

I. “Turner’s favourite colour was yellow. He spent hours studying its myriad iterations, using more yellow pigments than any other …

Turner admired yellow’s optical power. Bright and warm, it jumps out at us from a distance and forces itself on the retina … Turner believed that yellow was the foremost of the three primary colours because it was the closest to white, to light, and therefore to the sun. … Though he wasn’t a straightforwardly religious man, Turner was a lifelong worshipper of nature. The whole world, he thought, was bathed in a divinity that originated in the sun.

In his unfinished “Norham Castle, Sunrise” (c. 1845) Turner didn’t paint a solar orb directly but invoked it with a cloud of lemon-posset yellow. For all its lyrical beauty, the painting has a curiously destabilizing effect on the eye, oscillating uncomfortably between visibility and invisibility. … That is because Turner’s sun and sky are insoluminant – they are equally bright, which creates mayhem in the visual system. To the part of the brain that mostly processes luminance the sun is invisible, but to the part of the brain that mostly processes colour it is easily distinguished from the blue sky around it. … his sun overwhelms our visual apparatus just like the real one.

Norham Castle, Sunrise c.1845 Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851 Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856

The most potent of all Turner’s suns is “Regulus” … More arson than artwork, “Regulus” is almost too incandescent to look at. When it originally went on display in London, critics advised the public to shield their eyes to avoid injury … In one sense Turner hadn’t simply painted the sun but recreated it… He, like Prometheus, had stolen fire from the gods and so become divine in his own right.”

James Fox, “The World According to Colour: A Cultural History”

J.M.W. Turner, “Regulus”

II. “The elements of visual art have long been held to be color, shape, texture, and line. But an even more basic distinction lies between color and luminance. Color can convey emotion and symbolism, but luminance alone defines shape, texture, and line. ‘Colors are only symbols,’ Pablo Picasso once wrote. ‘Reality is to be found in lightness alone.’

A monochromatic rendering of “Impression, Sunrise” reveals that Monet painted the sun at exactly the same luminance as the gray of the clouds. If he had rendered it in a strictly representational style, the sun would have been brighter than the sky by a factor too large to have been duplicated with pigments. If he had made the sun lighter—which is closer to the way it would appear in reality—it would have lost its quavering luminosity and would have seemed, paradoxically, less bright. Rather than appearing as a source of light, the sun would have looked like a cutout affixed to the clouds. By rendering the sun the exact luminance as the sky, Monet achieved an eerie effect: his orange sun appears to pulsate across the
grayish-green water.”

Margaret Livingstone, “Light Vision” via

Monet, “Impression, Sunrise”

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Matar Kubileya (Cybele)

I. “Numinous sites of the preorganic life, which were experienced in participation mystique with the Great Mother, are mountain, cave, stone, pillar, and rock – including the childbearing rock – as throne, seat, dwelling place, and incarnation of the Great Mother. … It is no accident that stones are among the oldest symbol of the Great Mother Goddess, from Cybele and the Stone of Pessinus (moved to Rome) to the Islamic Kaaba and the stone of the temple in Jerusalem, not to mention the omphaloi, the navel stones, which we find in so many parts of the world. “

Erich Neumann, “The Great Mother”

II. “Yoke your swift chariot drawn by bull-slaying lions

Of you were born gods and men, you hold sway over the rivers and over all the sea.

queen whom the drum delights, all-taming savior of Phrygia, consort of Kronos, honored child of Sky, frenzy-loving nurturer of life…”

Orphic Hymn 27 – To the Mother of the Gods

The mother, mātár in Sanskrit, like the great primordial sea, takes us back to the source and origin (fons et origo) of all that exists. One of the oldest images of the Mother Goddess, which we know of, stem from Çatalhöyük – a settlement, which flourished in Anatolia (today’s Turkey) around 7000 BC. The Seated Woman of Çatalhöyük is depicted while giving birth with a head emerging between her legs. She is flanked by two mountain lions. The image is distinctly royal; she appears to be enthroned. Subsequently and most probably Anatolians inherited the same Mother Goddess, followed by Hittites, Phrygians, Lydians, Greeks and then by the Romans. Not all scholars, however, see a clear line of succession here. Not all accept the single archetypal source of the image of the Great Mother portrayed with beasts by her side.

The Seated Woman of Çatalhöyük

But all researchers seem to agree on “the evanescence of her place of origin.” (1) There can be no clear-cut beginning of a figure so primordial. In Anatolia she bore a simple name – Matar – with an occasional epithet Kubileya – of the mountains. Her role was both to protect the wild, rocky landscapes and the city. With a hawk by her side and two lions as her companions, she was the guardian of the cycles of death and life. She was the original Potnia Theron, which was an Ancient Greek word for “Lady of the Animals.”

Cybele from Museum of Anatolian Civilizations
Areyastis monument – Phrygian mountain shrine to the great goddess

Phrygians, who came after Anatolians to the area now known as Turkey, portrayed her in the form of a naiskos (plural naiskoi), which looked like a representative doorway cut in mountain rock. This was “an entrance to the mountain dwelling of the goddess,” (3) whose shrine was hidden in the recesses of untamed nature. Usually there was a mountain spring integrated within the shrine. Matar was a mature woman, stately, heavily draped with a high headdress, known in Greek as polos.(4) At the Phrygian sanctuary of Pessinus she was worshipped as a simple black stone – probably a meteorite. It was from here that her cult was transferred to Rome in 205 BC, but not before she was embraced by Ancient Greece, where she was renamed Kybele or simply called Meter.

Aslankaya (lion rock) from the Phrygian valley (as Roller describes, the goddess is accompanied by lions, each places a front paw on her head; she holds a lion cub by its hind legs so that its head swings down; there are two more lions on the sides of the rock monument

In Greece, where the Minoan great goddess of caves and mountains was not forgotten, she fell on fertile ground. In Homeric Hymn 14 the formerly Anatolian, now Greek, the goddess is hailed as “the Mother of all gods and all humanity too, who rejoices in the racket of castanets and drums, in the bleating of flutes, in the cries of wolves and gleam-eyed lions, in echoing mountains and thick-wooded dens.”

Her cult in Ancient Greece was a double-track one. On the one hand, the Greeks assimilated the Great Anatolian Goddess into their own mystery cults. They made Hermes her companion, for he conducted the mortal souls into mystery rites. Hekate and Dionysos, who shared with her the propensity for pulsating, trance-inducing music and dance, were also associated with her. The initiated apparently carried snakes over their heads, but that is the extent of our knowledge about her mystery rites (5). Also the tympanum (hand drum) was included in her attributes by the Greeks. Lynn E. Roller quotes an extant fragment of a testimony of one of the initiates:

“I have eaten from the tympanum, I have drunk from the cymbal, I have carried the ritual vessel, I got under the veil.”

Kybele with a lion on her lap, Hekate and Hermes visible on the pillars

In an altered mental state, the mystai (initiates) got into direct contact with the goddess. Naiskoi were popular in private cult of the goddess – they were the miniature versions of the monumental rock carvings of Anatolia and functioned as votive offerings.

Athenian Naiskos with Cybele

Moreover, the cult of Kybele had a public expression in Greece. Her ecstatic rites were scorned by some of the Greeks, though. They could not stand her uncivilized wildness or her foreign origin. When she was adopted by the Greeks and later by the Romans, she became a mysterious goddess in exile:

“In the heart of the classical Greek polity, the Mountain Mother evokes a mute landscape of ancient liminality that is at once foundational and disquieting.” (6)

Yet even the Greeks had to acknowledge her power, uncomfortable as it seemed. They erected a temple for her in the very centre of the Athenian Agora. This was the famous Metroon. Here her shrine and city archives formed a unity. She was referred to as “the privileged guardian of written justice.” (7) With utmost respect Solon, the Athenian statesman, addressed Kybele as “Black Earth, the Great Mother of the Olympians.” It is important to stress that she was the only foreign goddess embraced by the Greeks. It is most probable that the figure of Attis, her tragic lover, who committed self-castration, was introduced into her cult in Greece, yet he became much more prominent in Rome. It would seem that in Anatolia the goddess had been without a consort.

The Roman part of her story is full of pomp and spectacle. In 205 BC the Romans consult Sibylline books. These were books of prophecy stored at the Temple of Jupiter and consulted in times of grave need. The Sibyl responds that Magna Mater must be brought to Rome from her sanctuary near Mount Ida (Pessinus) or the foreign enemy will destroy the empire. The Romans bring the black meteor to Rome and place the statue of Magna Mater in the representative Temple of Victory on the Palatine. It is said that after her arrival in Rome, crops were bountiful and the enemy withdrew. (8) The black stone was positioned where the goddess would have her face. She became the ultimate icon of mute mystery.

The Magna Mater did not come to Rome alone. She was transferred with an entourage of exotic, effeminate priests known as the Galli. Her cult was very much public. Everybody was able to see the wild rites performed in the goddess’s honour. The Romans were especially mistrustful towards the foreign priests, who castrated themselves in wild frenzy in the most climactic moment of the celebrations. Lucretius, Roman poet and philosopher, described Cybele’s parade in detail. She was placed in the lion-drawn chariot, which was carried by the Galli. Lynn E. Roller emphasizes the Roman contempt for the eunuch priests with their “feminine dress and manners, high-pitched voices, long wild hair, garish costume.” Yet the Galli were an object of desire of both men and women and their erotic liaisons were numerous. This official scorn and secret desire was part and parcel of the ambivalent Roman Magna Mater cult.

Fascinatingly, the territory of Pessinus was located close to ancient Troy, which was the mythical birthplace of Aeneas, the legendary ancestor of the Romans. These two seemingly independent facts coalesced in the Roman mind. Cybele’s cult was now related to Roman ancient ancestry. According to Ovid, the ship that carried Magna Mater to Rome was built from the sacred pine trees of Mount Ida. Aeneas had used the same pine wood to build the ships, in which he escaped from the conquered Troy. Thus, the pine became one of the key symbols of Magna Mater. What is more, Attis was believed to have drawn his last breath under a pine tree, too. In Ovid’s Metamorphosis he even transformed himself into a pine tree. Similarly, the self-castrated priests of the Magna Mater sought the ultimate merging with their goddess. They wanted to become her.

Cybele on a cart drawn by lions, via MET

By no other group was Cybele more vilified than by the emerging new Christian religion. It has been even suggested that she may have been an inspiration for the Whore of Babylon from Revelation 17. Nevertheless, some researchers have suggested that at the dawn of Christianity Mother Mary took on a lot of the attributes of The Great Mother of the Gods. In particular, Philippe Borgeaud wrote:

“This fusion showed itself to be possible nowhere better than in Constantinople itself.

The historian Zosimus specifies that Constantine ordered that an image of the Mother be brought into his new capital… He had the statue brought from Kyzikos…, the very same place where the Argonauts had long ago founded the most ancient cult of the Mother of the gods. … So, instead of the Trojan goddess, he brought in an even more ancient one…

Nonetheless, the new capital aimed at being, above all, a Christian city. Zosimus, with thinly veiled bitterness against the Christians, … reported that Constantine had caused the statue from Kyzikos to be ‘mutilated.’ He had had ‘the lions taken off that flanked her sides and modified the position of the hands: whereas before, she had seemed to hold back the lions, she had now been transformed into a kind of pious figure, her eyes looking toward the city and protecting it…

… the Mother of the gods had lost her ancient attributes and assumed the loving, protective stance of … the Mother of God … But she did not forget her origins.”

Our Lady of Lyons (France) – an ancient place of Cybele cult


(1) Philippe Borgeaud, Mother of the Gods: From Cybele to the Virgin Mary, trans. Lysa Hochroth (The John Hopkins University Press, 2004)

(2) Ibid.

(3) Eugene N. Lane, ed., Cybele, Attis and Related Cults: Essays in Memory of M. J. Vermaseren (E.J. Brill, 1996)

(4) Lynn E. Roller, In Search of God the Mother: The Cult of Anatolian Cybele (University of California Press, 1999)

(5) Ibid.

(6) Philippe Borgeaud, Mother of the Gods: From Cybele to the Virgin Mary, trans. Lysa Hochroth (The John Hopkins University Press, 2004)

(7) Ibid.

(8) Lynn E. Roller, In Search of God the Mother: The Cult of Anatolian Cybele (University of California Press, 1999)


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Reading The Red Book (42) – Seven Sermons to the Dead

“… what they rejected will be most valuable to them.”

Philemon’s words uttered after the sixth sermon to the dead

We have now reached the sixth Sermon to the Dead, which you will find in the third section of The Red Book called Scrutinies. This sermon is worth quoting here in its entirety:

“The daimon of sexuality approaches our soul as a serpent. She
is half human soul and is called thought-desire.
The daimon of spirituality descends into our soul as the
white bird. He is half human soul and is called desire-thought.
The serpent is an earthly soul, half daimonic, a spirit, and
akin to the spirits of the dead. Thus too, like these she swarms
around in the things of earth, making us fear them or else having
them arouse our craving. The serpent has a female nature, forever
seeking the company of those dead who are spellbound by the
earth, and who did not find a way across to singleness. The
serpent is a whore. She courts the devil and evil spirits; she is a
mischievous tyrant and tormentor, forever inveigling the most
evil company: The white bird is a half-celestial soul of man. He
abides with the mother, descending from time to time. The bird
is manlike, and is effective thought. He is chaste and solitary,
a messenger of the mother. He flies high above the earth. He
commands singleness. He brings knowledge from the distant
ones, who have departed before and attained perfection. He
bears our word up to the mother. She intercedes, she warns, but
she is powerless against the Gods. She is a vessel of the sun. The
serpent descends and cunningly lames the phallic daimon, or
else goads him on. She bears up the too-crafty thoughts of the
earthly, those thoughts that creep through every hole and cleave
to all things with craving. Although the serpent does not want to,
she must be of use to us. She flees our grasp, thus showing us the
way, which our human wits could not find.”

Ende (c. 975), “Allegorical conclusion of the Christological cycle. The bird and the snake”

In Ancient Greece and in the Hellenistic period Daimons were believed to be guiding spirits or mediators between the mortal and divine realm. The etymology of the word “daimon” was connected with distributing or allotting destinies to human beings. (1) They were paradoxical beings “never quite divine nor quite human,” “neither spiritual nor physical but both.” (2) There could have been good (agathoi) or evil (kakoi) daimons. The good daimon was often depicted in the form of a serpent.  In “The Development of Personality” Jung spoke of the voice of an inner man, which calls us on and endows us with a vocation (Latin vocare – to call). He called this inner man “a private daimon” citing Socrates as a prominent example of a personality who followed the call of his daimon.

Fresco from shrine at a house in Pompeii showing an offering to the serpent Agathos, 1st century A.D.

Jung analyzes the symbolism of the snake in Aion (Collected Works 9ii). There he states that the serpent stands for the wisdom of the instincts and it possesses supernatural wisdom. (2) That wisdom is the treasure guarded by the snake. At the same time, the “unrelatedness, coldness, and dangerousness” of the snake is both terrifying and fascinating. The frightening and redeeming wisdom of the snake darts out of the unconscious completely unexpectedly, tearing down the psychological defenses of an individual. In alchemy the serpent symbolism is related to Mercurius and the two winding snakes of his caduceus. As Jung writes in Aion, “the serpens Mercurii is a chthonic spirit who dwells in matter, especially in the bit of original chaos hidden in creation, the massa confusa or globosa.” (3) Alfred Ribi adds this to the symbolic portrait of the serpent:

“The snake, as the presence of spirit in the material, represents, on the one hand, the same fascination it evinces, occasioning all the complications that come of projection. On the other, it stands for the fear of concrete reality, which would lead to full incarnation.” (4)

Votive relief of Aristomenes to Zeus Meilichios (4th cent. B.C.)

In the sixth sermon, the serpent takes on a role of “the daimon of sexuality.” She is called “a thought-desire” (German Wunschgedanke). Hoeller explains that the name indicates that “the serpent of sexuality has its main principle of motivation in desire, and that its thoughts are thus ever rooted in desire.” (5)

She seems to also have absorbed some characteristics of the shadow or the evil daimon. She is as seductive as the Indian goddess Maia, weaving her tapestry of projections that entangle an individual in a web of projections. The sermon says that she “goads on” or “lames” the phallic daimon, who is a deity that Jung encountered in a visionary dream as a very young boy. He recalls the dream in Memories, Dreams, Reflections:

“In the dream I was in this meadow. Suddenly I discovered a dark, rectangular, stone-lined hole in the ground. I had never seen it before. I ran forward curiously and peered down into it. Then I saw a stone stairway leading down. Hesitantly and fearfully, I descended.

At the bottom was a doorway with a round arch, closed off by a green curtain. It was a big heavy curtain of worked stuff like brocade, and it looked very sumptuous. Curious to see what might be hidden behind, I pushed it aside.

I saw before me in the dim light a rectangular chamber about thirty feet long. The ceiling was arched and of hewn stone. The floor was laid with flagstones, and in the center a red carpet ran from the entrance to a low platform. On this stood a wonderfully rich golden throne. I am not certain, but perhaps a red cushion lay on its seat.

It was a magnificent throne, a real king’s throne in a fairy tale. Something was standing on it which I thought at first was a tree trunk twelve to fifteen feet high and about one and a half to two feet thick. It was a huge thing, reaching almost to the ceiling. But it was of a curious composition: it was made of skin and naked flesh, and on top there was something like a rounded head with no face and no hair. On the very top of the head was a single eye, gazing motionlessly upward.”

Odilon Redon, “Onnes (Christ and the Serpent)

Hoeller says that this underground phallic god was “inwardly feminine” and lay hidden in the “recesses of physical nature and in the instinctual forces of the human psyche itself.” He is the engendering, creative force, the light of nature (lumen naturae), of which Paracelsus wrote:

Paracelsus, like all the philosophical alchemists, was seeking for something that would give him a hold on the dark, body-bound nature of man, on the soul which, intangibly interwoven with the world and with matter, appeared before itself in the terrifying form of strange, demoniacal figures and seemed to be the secret source of life-shortening diseases. The Church might exorcise demons and banish them, but that only alienated man from his own nature, which, unconscious of itself, had clothed itself in these spectral forms. Not separation of the natures but union of the natures was the goal of alchemy. From the time of Democritus its leitmotiv had been: ‘Nature rejoices in nature, nature conquers nature, nature rules over nature.’ This principle is pagan in feeling and an expression of nature worship. Nature not only contains a process of transformation—it is itself transformation. It strives not for isolation but for union, for the wedding feast followed by death and rebirth. Paracelsus’s ‘exaltation in May’ is this marriage, the ‘gamonymus’ or hierosgamos [a sacred marriage] of light and darkness in the shape of Sol and Luna. Here the opposites unite what the light from above had sternly divided.” (6)

This slithering, serpentine presence permeates all nature, down to its most hidden underground nooks. It is an animating force; one that enlightens the universum of gross matter from within. It makes half of the human soul while the other half belongs to the daimon of spirituality, portrayed in the sermon as the white bird. His name is desire-thought (German Wunschgedanke). That means that his chief impulse is abstract thought, which creates effects in the world. In the previous sermon Philemon spoke of the celestial mother, who resides in the heavens and rules spirituality. It is with her that the white bird lives, descending from time to time to the earth with a message from the mother.

Susan Seddon Boulet, “Eagle Woman”

Like the underground phallic god, who has a feminine snakelike soul, also “the celestial bird-woman conceals a masculine core.” (7) We are used to seeing the feminine as earthly and the masculine as celestial but the sixth sermon challenges our preconceived ideas. First of all, as the Chinese doctrine of yin and yang teaches, each quality has an admixture of its opposite. Polarities are engaged in a constant dance, merging into one another in the process known as enantiodromia – the transformation of polarities into their opposites over time.

Hoeller emphasizes that both sides of this polarity were important to Jung. Therefore Jung instructed his family to inscribe the following on his tombstone: “Primus homo de terra terrenus: secundus homo de caelo coelestis” (The first man is of the earth, earthly; the second man is heavenly and from heaven)” from the first letter of Paul to the Corinthians.

As the sermon ends, Philemon stays to talk to Jung. The revelations of the sermon left Jung in awe of Philemon’s enlightening wisdom. Philemon pronounces himself free “from the cycle of births, and from the revolving wheel of endless happening.” The dead, to whom Philemon is preaching, are however still not ready to listen as they keep protesting. They continue to be trapped in between worlds.


(1) Cat Rose Neligan, Discovering Your Personal Daimon

(2) par. 370

(3) par. 371

(4) Alfred Ribi, The Search for Roots: C.G. Jung and the Tradition of Gnosis

(5) Stephan A Hoeller, The Gnostic Jung and The Seven Sermons to the Dead

(6) C.G. Jung, Alchemical Studies (CW vol. 13), par. 197

(7) Stephan A Hoeller, The Gnostic Jung and The Seven Sermons to the Dead


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Reading The Red Book – part 1

Reading The Red Book – part 2

Reading The Red Book – part 3

Reading The Red Book – part 4

Reading The Red Book – part 5

Reading The Red Book – part 6

Reading The Red Book – part 7

Reading The Red Book – part 8

Reading The Red Book – part 9

Reading The Red Book – part 10

Reading The Red Book – part 11

Reading The Red Book – part 12

Reading The Red Book – part 13

Reading The Red Book – part 14

Reading The Red Book – part 15

Reading The Red Book – part 16

Reading The Red Book – part 17

Reading The Red Book – part 18

Reading The Red Book – part 19

Reading The Red Book – part 20

Reading The Red Book – part 21

Reading The Red Book – part 22

Reading The Red Book – part 23

Reading The Red Book – part 24 

Reading The Red Book – part 25

Reading The Red Book – part 26

Reading The Red Book – part 27

Reading The Red Book – part 28

Reading The Red Book – part 29

Reading The Red Book – part 30

Reading The Red Book – part 31

Reading The Red Book – part 32

Reading The Red Book – part 33

Reading The Red Book – part 34

Reading The Red Book – part 35

Reading The Red Book – part 36

Reading The Red Book – part 37

Reading The Red Book – part 38

Reading The Red Book – part 39

Reading The Red Book – part 40

Reading The Red Book – part 41

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The Spellbinding Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao

“The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, looked like something out of an alien hallucination—a swirling collage of warped metallic forms that appeared to have been propped up against one another in an almost random way. Stretching into the distance, the chaotic mass of shapes was draped in more than thirty thousand titanium tiles that glinted like fish scales and gave the structure a simultaneously organic and extraterrestrial feel, as if some futuristic leviathan had crawled out of the water to sun herself on the riverbank. When the building was first unveiled in 1997, The New Yorker hailed its architect, Frank O. Gehry, as having designed ‚a fantastic dream ship of undulating form in a cloak of titanium,‘ while other critics around the world gushed, ‘The greatest building of our time!‘ ‘Mercurial brilliance! ‘ ‘An astonishing architectural feat!‘

Dan Brown, “Origin”

Despite Dan Brown‘s proneness to exaggeration and hyperbole, my impression of the Guggenheim Museum was a similar mixture of shock and awe. The building has an organic feel and yet it is obviously artificial and futuristic, the combination which I do not normally go for. Having admired it in various times of the day, I noticed it looked different each time. The blinding light of the day morphed into soothing sepia towards the evening. It seems to shimmer and float – it seems ungraspable, uncanny. Yet the combination of sinuous and vertical lines is not disconcerting at all. Unlike the majority of modern architecture, this building seems harmonious and comforting. The titanium tiles look very natural. Maybe because O. Gehry had them laid in a pattern used in traditional roofing instead of going for a futuristic design. He referred to them as “the skin oft he building“ to complete the ubiquitous organic metaphor.

The story oft he museum’s creation is quite inspiring. In the 1980s Bilbao was in deep crisis due to a major industrial collapse. The previously life-giving estuary oft he river had been abandoned due tot he collapse of shipyard industry. The city’s council thought of a non-Orthodox solution. To revive the desolate river bank. It may be said indeed that the building was born out of the water and that it breathed new life into the gloomy city. As a result, Bilbao was completely renewed and transformed so much so that it is now one of the wealthiest in the whole country. The construction started in 1993 and the museum was opened in 1997.

In order to enter the museum, one needs to go downstairs. This is unique and made me think of going into the belly of the whale. It seemed like a natural movement towards the unconscious. Inside the structure there is almost complete freedom of movement. The atrium forms a nexus with no assigned linear order of visiting any rooms. This reminded me of a medieval plaza, from where various streets radiated. Each visitor can choose the order according to what beckons them at a given moment. The visit was thus very relaxing and not overwhelming, as is the case with many museums.

The art inside and outside is quite unique.  My imagination was mostly captured by Maman outside, the giant walk-in sculpture The Matter of Time inside, the sculpture How Profound is the Air, and last but not least, by a precious few paintings by Anselm Kiefer, who is one of my favourite artists. You can view the works by following the links below:

I used some information found in this book in writing my post:


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The Three Black Madonnas of the Basque Country

In the north of Spain lies a mysterious Basque country with its language Euskera, which has no relation to any other language in the world. The people of that region are descendants of the oldest indigenous population of Europe. Some researchers claim they were related to Etruscans and Cretans. The main deity of this ancient folk was Mari – the mother goddess. Because it is such an old matriarchal culture, it is not surprising that the region has not less than three Black Madonnas! After all, they do tend to appear in places of ancient goddess worship, especially the chthonic goddess. In this connection I recommend reading the following article dedicated to the pivotal role of witchcraft in Basque culture:

An old legend speaks of seven black virgins, who left the hermitage of San Sebastián de Ataun to settle in other hermitages in Gipuzkoa (a region of the Basque Country with the capital in San Sebastian). Four of these Virgins are no longer in the area but three of them are to be found in churches along Camino del Norte, which is the coastal way of St James leading from Irun to Santiago de Compostela.

In Irun we encounter the first Virgin called the Juncal – Lady of the reeds. She was found by the river and placed at the main altar of the city’s basilica. I suspect her image has been whitened but she used to be black originally. My original impression upon seeing her – without any previous knowledge – was a feeling of surprise that she is not black. The image is Romanesque and Spanish sources confirm her original blackness. You can view more images here:


The second Black Virgin is to be found in the vicinity of Hondarribia in the Sanctuary of Guadalupe. Her altar is flanked by two ships.  Here is more information about her:

Her sanctuary is located on a steep hill overlooking the city. The chapel is dark, the only source of light being the Black Madonna herself. It is indeed a supernatural apparition. At the back of the chapel there is an image of the Mexican Virgin of Guadalupe.


The third Black Madonna is a patroness of San Sebastian. She is to be found in Basilica of Santa Maria del Coro (St Mary of the Choir). It is a tiny figure placed in the centre of an elaborate altar. Her robes are silver. It is said that previously there was a primitive church there, dedicated to the Virgin Beltza (Black Virgin), located at the foot of Mount Urgull, which is a hill that overlooks the city.

San Sebastian

All the photos were taken by me. On the symbolism of the Black Madonna, please check numerous other previous posts on my blog (use the search function).

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Symbolism of Walls

“Our love was born

outside the walls,

in the wind,

in the night,

in the earth,

and that’s why the clay and the flower,

the mud and the roots

know your name”

Pablo Neruda, “Epithalamium”, translated by Donald D. Walsh

Stanisław Wyspiański, “Planty o Świcie” (Planty – i.e. city park in Krakow, Poland, at Dawn)

I love to stroll around old cities encompassed by walls. There is a feeling of womblike safety attached to it. Border walls, however, which are currently proliferating worldwide, seem more ominous. Symbolism of walls oscillates between the themes of separation and protection. In his Dictionary of Symbols, Cirlot cites the Song of Songs, in which Shulamite says of herself: “I am a wall.” But even the mother’s protection can feel stifling and oppressive.

In an interesting book on the history of walls, which I have read recently and which spurred me to write this, the author asserts emphatically that without the walls no civilizations could have been created. Walls made it possible to dedicate human lives to higher, spiritual goals as opposed to the constant fight for survival in the face of external threat:

“The creators of the first civilizations descended from generations of wall builders.” (1)  

Cirlot refers us to the rich symbolism of Egyptian hieroglyphs, in which the wall is a sign connected with “rising above the common level” towards transcendence.

A lion from Ishtar Gate (the eighth gate to the inner city of Babylon)

The clash between wall builders and those who chose the free existence outside it has shaped civilization. For example, Spartans, who built no walls, expressed disrespect towards those safely ensconced within city walls:

“Yet the walls also stygmatized the builders on the eyes of the warriors, who questioned the courage and manliness of those who chose to live in cages. Over time, the gulf between those who would build walls and those who would roam freely across a world without boundaries only grew wider. The coexistence of workers and warriors was never peaceful.” (2)

Franz Kafka wrote a story called “The Great Wall of China,” whose narrator is an unnamed inhabitant of a Southeast Chinese province, situated close to Tibet. The story asks fundamental questions about humankind’s relationship with the law, symbolized here by the great wall. Kafka seems to be saying that we cannot function outside the wall/the law, though its the impermeability is an illusion, as there are many gaps in it:

“In fact, there are said to be gaps which have never been built in at all, although that’s merely an assertion which probably belongs among the many legends which have arisen about the structure and which, for individual people at least, are impossible to prove with their own eyes and according to their own standards, because the structure is so immense.”

Yet Kafka has no doubt that walls may stand in direct contradiction to the chaos of human nature, and impermanence is their fundamental feature:

“Human nature, which is fundamentally careless and by nature like the whirling dust, endures no restraint. If it restricts itself, it will soon begin to shake the restraints madly and tear up walls, chains, and even itself all over the place.”

Nicholas Roerich, “Great Wall of China”


(1) David Frye, Walls: A History of Civilization in Blood and Brick

(2) Ibid.


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