Peacock’s Cry of Soul’s Splendour

I.“A Sufi legend, likely of Persian origin, suggests that god created spirit in the form of a peacock. Shown its own divine image in a mirror, the peacock was seized with awe and drops of sweat fell from which all other beings were created.“

Hope B. Wernes, The Continuum Encyclopedia of Animal Symbolism in World Art, entry: Peacock

Catalina Estrada, “Pavos“

Catalina Estrada, “Pavos“

II.“The serene and starry sky and the shining sun are peacocks. The deep-blue firmament shining with a thousand brilliant eyes, and the sun rich with the colors of the rainbow, present the appearance of a peacock in all the splendour of its eye-bespangled feathers. When the sky of the thousand-rayed sun … is hidden by clouds … it again resembles the peacock, which, in the dark part of the year … sheds its beautiful plumage, and becomes drab and unadorned; the crow which had put on the peacock’s feathers then caws with the other crows in funereal concert. In winter the peacock-crow has nothing left to it except its shrill disagreeable cry, which is not dissimilar to that of the crow. It is commonly said of the peacock that it has an angel‘s feathers, a devil’s voice, and a thief’s walk.“

Angelo de Gubernatis, Zoological Mythology, quoted by C.G. Jung in Mysterium Coniunctionis

Claude Monet, “Impression, Sunrise”

Herbert James Draper, “The Gates of Dawn“

Herbert James Draper, “The Gates of Dawn“

At winter solstice, peaceful, regenerative darkness slowly gives way to the life-giving radiance of the sun. With the break of dawn, the alchemical period of nigredo (blackness) gradually and in stages gives way to a splendid display of the peacock’s tail. The peacock is predominantly (but not exclusively) a solar symbol – its cry greets the rising sun, its splendid tail, as Hope B. Wernes wrote in The Continuum Encyclopedia of Animal Symbolism in World Art,“ fanned out in all its glory, shines like the sun.“ The symmetrical forms of light and colour on the peacock’s tail are symbolic of the expansion of consciousness occurring as a result of an encounter with the immaterial universal archetypal patterns (the peacock’s invisible aspect) and the material multiplicity of forms (the peacock’s visible aspect) present in the entire universe. In Mysterium Coniunctionis, C.G. Jung stated that the peacock stands for the unity of “all colors (i.e., the integration of all qualities).“ The peacock also symbolizes the “inner beauty and perfection of the soul.“ Jung extensively quotes from Khunrath’s alchemical work entitled Amphitheatrum sapientiae, where the peacock, as a symbol integrating all polarities, was called the “soul of the world, nature, the quintessence, which causes all things to bring forth.“

The Splendor Solis by Salomon Trismosin, Plate 16 Venus: Peacock’s Tail

The Splendor Solis by Salomon Trismosin, Plate 16 Venus: Peacock’s Tail

Susan Seddon Boulet, “Hera the Queen of the Gods“

Alphonse Mucha, "Peacock Princess"

Alphonse Mucha, “Peacock Princess”

The predominant colour of the peacock’s tail is green, which connects it with Venus as a ruler of the sign Taurus, and thus with “life, procreation and resurrection“ as a bird associated with Hera (Juno), Mother Queen of the gods. Says Jung: “Just as the Queen Mother or the mother of the gods grants renewal, so the peacock annually renews his plumage, and therefore has a relation to all the changes in nature.“

Jessie Arms Botke, “Black Peacocks with Japanese Persimmons“

Jessie Arms Botke, “Black Peacocks with Japanese Persimmons“

In Christianity, the peacock was likewise considered a bird of resurrection, a conviction which stemmed from the Aristotelian notion that the flesh of the peacock never putrifies.

Gerhard Dorn, another alchemist quoted by Jung, explicated the succession of alchemical stages of the opus in relation to colours and associated animal symbolism: “the ‘dead spiritual body‘ is ‘the bird without wings.‘ It ‘changes into the raven’s head and finally into the peacock’s tail, after which it attains the whitest plumage of the swan and, last of all, to the highest redness, the sign of its fiery nature.‘ This plainly alludes to the phoenix, which, like the peacock, plays a considerable role in alchemy as a symbol of renewal and resurrection, and more especially as a synonym for the lapis.“ The emergence of the peacock’s tail in the alchemical opus heralded the imminent successful end of the work and the attainment of its goal. It was believed by alchemists and in medieval lore that peacocks destroyed serpents and dragons, transforming their poison into the healing medicine.

Hieronymus Bosch, "The Garden of Earthy Delights" (detail)

Hieronymus Bosch, “The Garden of earthy Delights” (detail)

Although I chose the quote by Gubernatis as the second motto for my article, I am not in agrrement with him about the cry of the peacock. I do understand, though, how the peacock as the symbol of wholeness (and as the bird of Venus) also embraces the shadow associated with the seductiveness of beauty, vanity and pride. A few years ago, I had something short of a mystical experience while walking through the Bruno Weber park and hearing peacocks‘cries.

Artist Bruno Weber in his sculpture park, https://www.zuerich.com/en/visit/culture/sculpture-park

Artist Bruno Weber in his sculpture park, https://www.zuerich.com/en/visit/culture/sculpture-park

There is a magnificent poem by Wallace Stevens called “Domination of Black,“ which features the symbolism of the cry of the peacock:

At night, by the fire,
The colors of the bushes
And of the fallen leaves,
Repeating themselves,
Turned in the room,
Like the leaves themselves
Turning in the wind.
Yes: but the color of the heavy hemlocks
Came striding.
And I remembered the cry of the peacocks.

The colors of their tails
Were like the leaves themselves
Turning in the wind,
In the twilight wind.
They swept over the room,
Just as they flew from the boughs of the hemlocks
Down to the ground.
I heard them cry — the peacocks.
Was it a cry against the twilight
Or against the leaves themselves
Turning in the wind,
Turning as the flames
Turned in the fire,
Turning as the tails of the peacocks
Turned in the loud fire,
Loud as the hemlocks
Full of the cry of the peacocks?
Or was it a cry against the hemlocks?

Out of the window,
I saw how the planets gathered
Like the leaves themselves
Turning in the wind.
I saw how the night came,
Came striding like the color of the heavy hemlocks
I felt afraid.
And I remembered the cry of the peacocks.

On a website Poet Tree (http://billsigler.blogspot.ch/2011/07/stevens-textplication-6-domination-of.html), I have come across a good interpretation of this poem. The author says:

“Dramatically, the poem moves through an extended comparison of a flickering fireplace fire with first the autumn leaves literally reflected from the outside into the room, then to the colors of peacocks tails (and the encroaching night to the dark green of hemlock trees). Then the noise the fire makes is compared to the noises of both peacocks and hemlocks (with some questioning of who is talking and listening to whom), and finally the planets in the sky seem like the same turning of the leaves, the changing of the seasons, a holistic sense of relatedness that soon resolves both in the fireplace and outside to darkness. This encroachment of night scares the speaker, but he remembers the cry of the peacock and feels better.

… hemlocks are evergreen trees that never change with the seasons, while peacocks replace their feathers annually. Thus, it’s quite easy to see a contrast between the elegant and artistic peacock and her strange cry signaling a continuation of life and the hemlock (also the name of the elixir which suicided the great philosopher Socrates) signaling the “domination of black” – the constant presence of death in our lives due to its unresolvable mystery.“

Interestingly, as can be read on an excellent website dedicated to constellations (http://www.constellationsofwords.com/Constellations/Pavo.html), the words “peacock” and “paean,” i.e. ‘a hymn, a song joy and triumph’ are related. Other cognates of the peacock (pavo in Latin) are ‘pavor’ (dread which strikes the heart) and ‘pave,’ as in “pave the way.”  The cry of the peacock in the poem becomes a true “mystical call,“ a voice from beyond addressing directly our incorruptible essence – the Soul – and beckoning us to cross the threshold of awakening.

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41 Responses to Peacock’s Cry of Soul’s Splendour

  1. Katalina4 says:

    Marvelous. What a glorious collection of images and thoughts….

  2. lampmagician says:

    Reblogged this on lampmagician and commented:
    anyhow, when i think of him or her,, i must remember the Fellini’s Amarcord…

  3. Pingback: Peacock’s Cry of Soul’s Splendour | lampmagician

  4. litebeing says:

    so deeply moving on multiple levels. My eyes are in bliss and my soul is smiling..
    Have a Blessed Solstice Monika

  5. cindy knoke says:

    fascinating and lovely!

  6. Reblogged this on Through the Peacock's Eyes and commented:
    Of course I just had to re-post this from one of my favorite bloggers, Symbol Reader! Namaste _/l\_

    • Hello Julianne, I actually hoped you would see it and find it agreeable. We share a fascination with the peacock. I think the peacock motif on your blog is maybe associated with the goddess Kuan Yin, whose attribute was a peacock’s feather as an emblem of watchful compassion. I usually focus on Western myth and lore because I feel more connected to it.
      Thank you for reblogging.
      Monika

      • You’re welcome! Yes, indeed I am drawn more towards the Eastern symbolism: that of Quan Yin/Avalokitisvara, and the peacock as the vehicle for Saraswati, my gravatar image. 🙂
        Have a wonderful Holiday Season and may the New Year be full of splendor for you!

  7. herongrace says:

    Years ago my then partner and I lived in a big old wooden house on a beautiful creek. 1 morning we awoke to some noisy clattering on our verandahs. 3 peacocks, a male with his 2 females decided they liked our place and more or less moved in. We had a big old jacaranda tree outside our kitchen. We found out they belonged to a couple who had just moved in down the road. They told us their last place had a big jacaranda tree that the peacocks slept in, so the birds preferred our place. Ah well, they were very colourful visitors at least. Anyway a short while later our bemused tolerance was rewarded when the male moulted. What a treasure trove of colour! Not just the spectacular long green feathers, but other beautiful feathers various lengths and sizes and that iridescent bright blue. So I would wander around gathering them. I made lots of broach ornaments and wands and gave them to people and had vases full of fab feathers.

  8. ptero9 says:

    Beautiful images and associations Monika! I have a fondness for the peacock too. Their astonishing presence frightened me as a child, especially the whooshing sound made as they raised their feathers.

    In Hillman’s Alchemical Psychology, he devotes much time to the peacock. Here he quotes Proust which also speaks to the mystical experience:

    “The plumage of an ocean green and blue like the tail of a peacock. And what I found myself enjoying was not merely these colors but a whole instant of my life on whose summit they rested.” 

    • Wonderful quote, as shamelessly beautiful as the peacock. I have that book by Hillman on my to do reading list. I imagine he must have written very insightfully about the peacock.
      It is true that peacocks have a startling, perhaps not comforting presence. I know there are some images of the Buddha with the peacock, so perhaps this symbol has something to do with the experience of satori?
      Thank you, Debra.
      P.S. Have been cracking my head about those lemurs but so far nothing… They are unbelievably cute, though. I hope to get back to you on this. Have a blessed solstice.

      • ptero9 says:

        Ahh, Satori, an awakening? That would be fitting, I think. What better way to show such fullness of beauty?

        I should have mentioned too about the lemurs, that they are also Island creatures. Upon reading that, I remembered your island post and the conversation about special island power. If ever I could go to Madagascar (not too likely), I would jump at such an opportunity.

        I plan to review Hillman’s Alchemical Psychology soon, as the class resumes in early January. I hope to continue blogging about it. Alchemy is certainly in the category of lifelong practice for me now.

        I think dream constellations are one of those things that simmer and percolate. I threw it out there to see is something like that might happen. It’s entirely experimental to my thinking.

        Yes Solstice blessings to you too!
        xxx

      • I am also planning a course of serious alchemical studies. It really is a lifelong practice. I am looking forward to your blogs on the classes you will be attending.

  9. Great post, Monika, and I love the images you selected. As I read this, I recalled an experience when I was in my teens. After a long evening of mind expansion, I was walking in the early morning in Florida and came upon a peacock, which spread it’s tail feathers. I remember feeling like it had a thousand eyes, all staring into my soul. Anyway, I hope you have a blessed solstice, and thank you for all your enlightening and inspiring posts.

    Jeff

  10. I imagine many of us have a fascination of the peacock and the extraordinary beauty that draws us to the magnificence of all life. This post is absolutely wonderful… Thank you for sharing. Barbara… Happy solstice today…

  11. karmellee62 says:

    Truly exquisite, like the peacock, like the great alchemical work of transformation, your posts are most treasured and soul affirming, blessings to you on this solstice…….

  12. Pingback: Peacock’s Cry of Soul’s Splendour | symbolreader | radupopescublog

  13. What a stunningly beautiful post both visually and knowledgeably.. 🙂 So loved the poem you included to Monika.. Wishing you a wonderful Peaceful Christmas.. Love and Hugs Sue xox

  14. Thank you Monika. Wallace Stevens is one of my favourite poets and I adore Fellini and had quite forgotten that scene with the peacock. What a blessing to explore this tapestry with art and thoughts from far and near.

  15. fallenAngel says:

    Very nice selection of images and thoughts indeed…. Wish you a very pleasant winter solstice or Blessed Christmas. On a more somber note, the peacock reminds me of the Yezidi’s current fate. To the Yezidi’s (most likely founded by a Suf master) the peacock was the first form of the Supreme God and one of the Seven Great Angels. Stumbled over this, by investigating/writing about Sufism… http://www.yeziditruth.org/

    • Peacock Angel! I am extremely touched and saddened by the fate of the Yezidis. It is fascinating that Dionysus was one of his emanations in other world religions. I am very grateful to you for sharing this. Have a blessed Festive Season.
      All my best
      Monika

  16. Pingback: Peacock’s Cry of Soul’s Splendour | Reason & Existenz

  17. Pingback: Healing Spread: Question 1 – Seraphin Perihelion

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