“When God, disgusted with man,
Turned towards heaven.
And man, disgusted with God,
Turned towards Eve,
Things looked like falling apart.
But Crow Crow
Crow nailed them together,
Nailing Heaven and earth together—
So man cried, but with God’s voice.
And God bled, but with man’s blood.
Then Heaven and earth creaked at the joint
Which became gangrenous and stank
A horror beyond redemption.
The agony did not diminish.
Man could not be man nor God God.
Crying: ‘This is my Creation,’
Flying the black flag of himself.”
Ted Hughes, “Crow Blacker than Ever” (from “Crow: the Life and Songs of the Crow”)
It is hard to find a better literary portrait of the inner disiunctio – the disintegrated, wounded personality at war with itself – than Ted Hughes’s collection of poems written some time after the death of Sylvia Plath. It is well known that she chose to end her life by means of a gas oven after finding out about his affair with Assia Wevill. What is much less known, though, is that six years later Wevill also committed suicide gassing herself together with their little daughter. Sylvia Plath is an icon of a feminist movement. Many believe that Ted Hughes “suppressed her genius, then broke her fragile spirit when he ran off with another woman” (quoted after The New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/2002/02/03/books/in-sylvia-s-shadow.html). In a poignantly prophetic poem called “On Looking into the Eyes of a Demon Lover” she wrote:
“Here are two pupils
whose moons of black
transform to cripples
all who look:
each lovely lady
who peers inside
take on the body
of a toad.
Within these mirrors
the world inverts:
the fond admirer’s
turn back to injure
the thrusting hand
and inflame to danger
the scarlet wound.
I sought my image
in the scorching glass,
for what fire could damage
a witch’s face?
So I stared in that furnace
where beauties char
but found radiant Venus
The poem strikes me with her typical combination of power and vulnerability, which render Plath’s writing so mesmerizing, emotionally raw and feminine.
The archetypal drama of love, death and rebirth lies at the heart of the alchemical coniunctio. In the previous post (https://symbolreader.net/2017/11/26/jung-on-alchemy-7-the-coniunctio-part-1-the-mercurial-fountain/), I focused on the first image in the series of twenty woodcuts comprising the sixteenth-century alchemical treatise Rosarium Philosophorum. In the next nine images the solar and lunar aspects of the soul depicted in the first image are personified as the King and the Queen. Their union leads to the emergence of the hermaphrodite, who is “the parent of the lapis,” i.e. the philosopher’s stone.
Regarding the second image, Jung points out in The Psychology of Transference:
“The two give each other their left hands, and this can hardly be unintentional since it is contrary to custom. The gesture points to a closely guarded secret, to the ‘left-hand path,’ as the Indian Tantrists call their Shiva and Shakti worship.”
It is apparent that there is an emotional and instinctual aspect to the encounter, though the pair are still fully clad. The four flowers, as was the case in the previous image, stand for the four elements while the fifth is the quintessence brought down from above by the White Dove – the Holy Ghost or the celestial aspect of Mercurius. McClean expands on this in his excellent analysis on the alchemy website:
“However, from above, from the higher spiritual realm indicated by the Star, a bird descends bearing a further two-blossomed flower and brings a stronger unity into the picture. Thus even at the beginning of the work, the alchemist will have help from the spiritual world. As he tentatively begins the task of uniting the inner polarities, spiritual help will descend to him as a gift, a spiritual grace. For the individual alchemist this will possibly take the form of perceptions, perhaps inspirational dreams, and positive realizations that give him an inner security, a sureness that he is on the right path.”
In illustration 3, “man and woman confront each other in unabashed naturalness,” says Jung in The Psychology of Transference. There is a uniting symbol between the couple, which they are both touching with their hands. The white dove appears as the mediating spirit signaling an impending union. “The two archetypal facets of the soul are here proffering to each other, in the form of flowers, an aspect of their forces,” comments McClean.
Next, the royal couple descend into a bath. They immerse themselves in the unconscious psyche because “our stone is to be extracted from the nature of the two bodies.” Jung comments:
“…the earth-spirit Mercurius in his watery form now begins to attack the royal pair from below, just as he had previously descended from above in the shape of the dove. The contact of left hands in Figure 2 has evidently roused the spirit of the deep and called up a rush of water.”
In illustration 5 the male and the female merge together in sexual intercourse, with the male being an active transformative force exerting influence on the passive female. The fruit of the union is a hermaphrodite being. The opposites have united and what follows is a cessation of all energy. But out of this deathly darkness, in McClean’s commentary “a masculine soul element …rises upwards … towards the realm of the Spirit.” And further on:
“Through this active penetration of the inner feminine by the masculine polarity of the soul, this aspect of the inner life has achieved a certain ability to ascend within the inner world to the realm of the Spirit.”
Shakti, the feminine aspect, chooses the way downward towards darkness, death, the earth and gross matter. She rests in inaction, experiencing “the primal darkness of the unconscious” (McClean). Shiva has ascended. In illustration 8 the motionless hermaphrodite is revivified by raindrops from “the spiritual clouds” (McClean). The feminine aspect of the soul is purified from above. Next, the male aspect reunites with the feminine. According to McClean, this phase of the coniunctio enables the soul to gain “a mastery over the lunar element within its being.” Illustration 10 presents the naked hermaphrodite with wings indicating spiritual development, standing on the lunar crescent. The Moon Tree is featured on the left, the raven on the right. The colours of the three snakes united in the chalice take us back to the first illustration of the mercurial fountain.
In his book Kinds of Power, James Hillman talks about deepening as a necessary aspect of growth, as “the downward direction refers to the deepening of feelings and relational insights.” In order to grow, the soul needs to descend and deepen into the lunar sphere of feelings. This is the essence of the alchemical White Stone.
Link to all the images:
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