1.“White and red combined are the colour of the mysterious rose, the whiteness of milk and the redness of blood, the white of light and the redness of fire.”
Eliphas Levi, “The Book of Splendors”
2.“Blood is the first incarnation of the universal fluid; it is the materialized vital light. Its birth is the most marvellous of all nature’s marvels; it lives only by perpetually transforming itself, for it is the universal Proteus. The blood issues from principles where there was none of it before, and it becomes flesh, bones, hair, nails . . . tears, and perspiration. It can be allied neither to corruption nor death; when life is gone, it begins decomposing; if you know how to reanimate it, to infuse into it life by a new magnetization of its globules, life will return to it again. The universal substance, with its double motion, is the great arcanum of being; blood is the great arcanum of life.”
Eliphas Levi, quoted by Madame Blavatsky in “Isis Unveiled”
Many years ago, at the time when I studied alchemy for hours every day, I had a vivid dream whose climax involved blood gushing forward in jets from a man’s liver. The vividly red blood flew through the air in tiny red droplets and landed on my books. Black flies started feasting on it. Gruesome as it may sound, the dream was a revelation. To me it felt like it meant that all my learning would be infused with life and energy carried by blood.
Blood of life flows through our veins. The tissues of our bodies form the substance of our heredity. Our blood ties are our fate. Blood is also symbolically linked with death, often a violent one. Its colour is the result of the high content of iron, a metal associated with Mars, the fiery god of war. Blood is fiery water. It is not surprising that Mars is associated with blood since he represents “the masculinity of the body, rather than the masculinity of the spirit,” as Liz Greene puts it in Astrology of Fate. And the body belongs to the Goddess. Ares emerged from the world of instinct and “the old matriarchal realm of flesh.”
In the old times, blood was people’s constant companion: women felt the pungent smell of blood on their newborns, there were no tampons to diffuse and absorb the menstrual blood before it can be seen or smelled, when warriors died in combat or when people sustained mortal wounds, nobody was sanitized and rushed to hospital. Nowadays we experience blood shedding vicariously through fiction, movies and TV shows. But the memory of history’s violent bloodbaths still runs through the veins of our unconsciousness. When the advent of Christianity ushered in the Age of Pisces, forgiveness and mercy teachings of Jesus were not subsequently adopted by many of his followers. The ritual of Holy Communion was meant to be an atonement for the atrocities committed during the Age of Aries, and a symbolic transference of the teachings of Christ to his disciples:
“When Jesus says, ‘Drink … this is my blood,’ what else was meant, it was simply a metaphorical assimilation of himself to the vine, which bears the grape, whose juice is its blood – wine. It was a hint that as he had himself been initiated by the ‘Father,’ so he desired to initiate others. His father was the husbandman, himself the vine, his disciples the branches.”
Blavatsky, “Isis Unveiled”
Moving away from symbolism to the realm of literal meaning, the Inquisition spilled torrents of blood in the whole of Europe. This infamous torch has been taken over by religious terrorists in our times.
Blood is synonymous with life itself, always in motion, ceaseless in its circulation. It is the opposite of “stagnation, absorption, calcification from old age, and death,” says Madame Blavatsky in Isis Unveiled. When we feel most alive, when we experience passion, jealousy, or other overpowering emotions, blood rushes through our veins, we breathe faster, our cheeks redden. As Cirlot noticed in his Dictionary of Symbols:
“In cases of relationships as close as that between blood and the colour red, it is evident that both are reciprocally expressive: the passionate quality characteristic of red pervades the symbolism of blood, and the vital character of blood informs the significance of the colour red.”
Color red is the theme of one of my favorite novels – My Name Is Red by Orhan Pamuk. In one of the chapters it is actually the color red which speaks to us:
“I hear the question upon your lips: What is it to be a color?
Color is the touch of the eye, music to the deaf, a word out of the darkness. …
I am so fortunate to be red! I’m fiery. I’m strong. I know men take notice of me and that I cannot be resisted.
I do not conceal myself: For me, delicacy manifests itself neither in weakness nor in subtlety, but through determination and will. So, I draw attention to myself. I’m not afraid of other colors, shadows, crowds, or even of loneliness. How wonderful it is to cover a surface that awaits me with my own victorious being! Whenever I’m spread, I see eyes shine, passions increase, eyebrows rise and heartbeats quicken. Behold how wonderful it is to live! Behold how wonderful to see. Behold: Living is seeing. I am everywhere. Life begins with me and returns to me.”
In Mysteries of the Dark Moon, Demetra George devotes considerable space to the significance of the menstrual time for a woman, and equates this time with the symbolism of the dark moon. Menstrual blood was sacred for many ancient cultures. Demetra George writes that menstruation time is “a woman’s most powerful time of month, a time when her psychic and spiritual energies are most highly sensitized.” Because men feared the women’s psychic powers during that time, they created laws to isolate women while they were bleeding. A menstruating woman withdraws from others because she needs to nurture herself and draw from her psychic power within. What is more, “because a woman’s greatest sexual desire occurs around her period, men became terrified of what they perceived to be her assertive, voracious sexuality that would devour them.” Apparently, if we want to distill the wisdom of the ancients we may say that the flow of blood changes women into powerful sorceresses full of erotic fury, channeling the dark goddess. Of course in the West we call it PMS.
The Egyptian goddess Sekhmet wore red garments. In one of the myths associated with her, Sun god Ra sent her to punish humanity, but she fell into frenzy doing it and got inebriated on the blood she was drinking. That put the whole humanity in danger of extinction. Ra made Sekhmet drink beer colored by red dye to deceive her and thus subside her frenzy. In India, the dark goddess Kali was a counterpart of the Egyptian Sekhment. She was the one who drank blood. The blood of Kali was believed to have had regenerative qualities. As Barbara Walkers wrote in Women’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets:
“In Kali’ s cave-temple, her image spouted the blood of sacrifices from its vaginal orifice to bathe Shiva’ s holy phallus while the two deities formed the lingam-yoni, and worshippers followed suit, in an orgy designed to support the cosmic life-force generated by union of male and female, white and red.”
As usual, Jung’s reflections on the color red and the feminine strike me as the deepest and most appealing:
“The relation of the love-goddess to red dates back to ancient times. Scarlet is the colour of the Great Whore of Babylon and her beast. Red is the colour of sin. The rose is also an attribute of Dionysus. Red and rose-red are the colour of blood, a synonym for the aqua permanens and the soul, which are extracted from the prima material and bring ‘dead’ bodies to life. … The stone … is the son of this whore. …
Certain of the ecclesiastical symbols prove to be acutely dualistic, and this is also true of the rose. Above all it is an allegory of Mary and of various virtues. Its perfume is the odour of sanctity… At the same time it symbolizes human beauty (venustas), indeed the lust of the world (voluptas mundi).
Like the rose, the figure of the mother-beloved shines in all the hues of heavenly and earthly love. She is the chaste bride and whore who symbolizes the prima materia, which ‘nature left imperfected.’”
C.G. Jung, “Mysterium Coniunctionis,” CW vol. XIV, pars. 420-422
In alchemy rubedo (reddening) is the crowning stage of the opus. Having achieved illumination outside the body in the Albedo (whiteness) stage, during Rubedo the adept returns to the earth in order to fully incarnate his new enlightened consciousness into the body’s flesh and blood. The alchemical gold, claimed Greek alchemists, was “the red blood of silver.” The Red Sea had to be crossed in order to reach the Promised Land. We all have to cross our own sea “bloodied with wounds and sacrifice” (Cirlot, Dictionary of Symbols).