Jung on Alchemy (9): the Coniunctio – part 3 – the Red Stone

Mircea Eliade, a Rumanian-born historian of religions, in conversation with Carl Jung

“We must sleep with eyes open, we must dream with our hands,

we must dream the active dreams of a river seeking its course, the dreams of the sun dreaming its worlds,

we must dream out loud, we must sing until the song sends out roots, trunk, branches, birds, stars,

sing until the dream begets and the red wheat of the resurrection is created from the rib of the sleeper…”

Octavio Paz, “A Broken Waterjar”

In an interview conducted by Mircea Eliade at the 1952 Eranos Conference, Jung spoke of the final stage of the alchemical opus as well as the mystery of the coniunctio. He saw the integration of the opposites, and especially of evil and blackness, as one of the greatest problems of psychology:

“For, as long as Satan is not integrated, the world is not healed and man is not saved. …

In the language of the alchemists, matter suffers until the nigredo disappears, when the “dawn” {aurora) will be announced by the “peacock’s tail” {cauda pavonis) and a new day will break, the leukosis or albedo. But in this state of “whiteness” one does not live in the true sense of the word, it is a sort of abstract, ideal state. In order to make it come alive it must have “blood,” it must have what the alchemists call the rubedo, the “redness” of life. Only the total experience of being can transform this ideal state of the albedo into a fully human mode of existence. Blood alone can reanimate a glorious state of consciousness in which the last trace of blackness is dissolved, in which the devil no longer has an autonomous existence but rejoins the profound unity of the psyche. Then the opus magnum is finished: the human soul is completely integrated.”

C.G. Jung, Memories, Dreams Reflections (https://archive.org/stream/MemoriesDreamsReflectionsCarlJung/carlgustavjung-interviewsandencounters-110821120821-phpapp02_djvu.txt)

Perhaps nowhere in literature can we find a better example of the soul work coming out of albedo and striving for rubedo than in Goethe’s Faust. Faust has reached the stage when he feels entrapped by his arid scholarly life; as he desires to win “the riches of experience”, he exclaims:

“I’ll take the frenzy, pain-filled elation,

Loving hatred, enlivening frustration.”

The evil demon Mephistopheles hears him and offers him a pact – Faust will give him his soul the moment he reaches what he has been striving for, namely the true essence of life (“was die Welt im Innersten zusammenhält”). The Devil, “part of that power which eternally wills evil and eternally works good,” spurs Faust on a journey of integrating his feminine and his feeling side, which the scholar had hitherto neglected. The Red Stone is the ultimate effort at integration and the embodiment of the inner truth. Like in Psalm 118:22, the stone that the builders (i.e. the ego) rejected, becomes the cornerstone for the newly-oriented, wider psyche.

Harry Clarke’s illustration to Faust

Jung distinguished four functions of the psyche: thinking, feeling, sensation and intuition. Thinking and intuition are active, masculine elements while feeling and sensation are receptive and feminine. They can be related to the four archetypal elements of creation: air (thinking), water (feeling), earth (sensation) and fire (intuition). The alchemical treatise Rosarium Philosophorum, which was subject of parts 7 (https://symbolreader.net/2017/11/26/jung-on-alchemy-7-the-coniunctio-part-1-the-mercurial-fountain/) and 8 (https://symbolreader.net/2018/02/17/jung-on-alchemy-8-the-coniunctio-part-2-the-white-stone/) of this alchemical series, can be viewed as a quest towards balancing the elements within the psyche.

In the previous posts, the first ten woodcuts were discussed, which culminated in the creation of the White Stone. The feminine, i.e. the feeling and sensing part of the soul, suffered through deep depression which turned this part of the soul inward and downward. The masculine, which is the thinking and intuiting part of the soul, ascended to the heavenly vault and subsequently sent the insights received there down in the form of purifying rain, which revivified the dying feminine part. Deep pain and suffering resulted in spiritual and noble detachment. In his own analysis of the woodcuts, Jungian analyst Gary Tomkins, observed that the hermaphrodite born out of this albedo stage is floating on the moon, in a state of dreamy detachment from the ground. There is grace in gaining philosophical distance from deep suffering; however, that is not the end of the opus.

Astrologer Gary P. Caton summarizes what is to come next thus:

“After the purging of the darker or unproductive passions in the nigredo, and the inner marriage of the albedo, it is time to re-engage the fiery passions toward more worldly goals once again. In real life, this simply means using the fires of inspiration kindled in the soul during albedo to produce the blood, sweat and tears necessary to make a dream real.”

Gary P. Caton, “Hermetica Tripticha: The Mercury Elemental Year”

In the text of the Rosarium the Stone is likened to an animal and a vegetable; it is said to be “compounded of body, soul and spirit.” In the White Stone part of the opus, as McClean points out, the masculine forces were active and dominant while in the Red Stone sequence it is the feminine aspect of the soul which enacts her work on the passive, receptive masculine (woodcut 11).

Rosarium Philosophorum, woodcut 11

Woodcut 12, called the Illumination, shows a solar disc descending into the mercurial waters of transformation.

Rosarium Philosophorum, woodcut 12

This is a truly fascinating development in the soul’s work. The masculine part of the soul has to go against its very nature and submerge itself in the water of the unconscious. Similarly in the Egyptian myth, the boat of the Sun god Re enters the Underworld. Woodcuts 14-16 are mirror images of woodcuts 7-9. In image 14 the feminine part of the soul (Luna) ascends to the heavens while the solar masculine journeys through the unconscious waters. Luna sends revivifying dew from above and proceeds to descend and unite with the masculine (Sol).

Rosarium Philosophorum, woodcut 16

Woodcut 17 presents the creation of the Red Stone, a symbol of ultimate cohesion and reconciliation of opposites. The feet of the hermaphrodite are planted on the three-headed dragon symbolizing the interconnection of boy, soul and spirit. The solar tree has borne fruit of consciousness. The pelican is feeding its young with its own blood. This indicates, on the one hand, that the true would work demands sacrifice and brings suffering, while it also points out that the pathway to the divine leads through the heart. The white, red and black snake in the chalice are reminiscent of the first woodcut – the Mercurial Fountain. They are “the Virgin’s Milk ( the feminine receptive lunar forces in the soul), the Spring of Vinegar (the masculine sharp, penetrating solar forces in the soul) and the Aqua Vitae, the water of life (the inner source of soul energies),” according to McClean. The green snake held by the feminine half of the hermaphrodite corresponds to the vital, lifeful greenness of the three-headed dragon. The red stone of this image brings to mind the qualities of being earthy, tangible, vital, bringing passion, growth and productivity. The pelican also suggests deep emotionalism and self-sacrificing nurturing.

Rosarium Philosophorum, woodcut 16

The subsequent image (17) is especially important to me, as I remember I was particularly drawn to it when I discovered Jung and alchemy many years ago. In Mysterium Coniunctionis Jung writes that the green lion was viewed by alchemists as “a means of conjoining the tinctures between sun and moon.” He is also the mineral stone, which suggests earthiness and groundedness. Jung also quotes Mylius, who wrote that the green lion is actually Mercurius – “the whole elixir of the albedo and the rubedo and the aqua permanens and the water of life and death, and the virgin’s milk… and the fountain of the soul: of which who shall drink does not die … and it is this which mortifies and desiccates and moistens…”. The Green Lion symbolizes the deepest mystery of alchemy, which is hidden in the mercurial waters of the Collective Unconscious. Here it devours the Sun possibly to start the cycle all over again and also, like in woodcut 12, to initiate it into the dark mysteries of death and rebirth, as featured in the last woodcut of the series picturing the risen Christ.

Rosarium Philosophorum, woodcut 18

The penultimate woodcut (19) deserves special attention. Here the feminine is crowned and achieves exaltation, her unique role in the opus celebrated and acknowledged. This brings me back to Faust and the memorable last words of the play, sung by the Mystic Choir:

“All of the transient,
Is parable, only:
The insufficient,
Here, grows to reality:
The indescribable,
Here, is done:
Woman, eternal,
Beckons us on.”

This “growing to reality” is the essence of the Red Stone.

Rosarium Philosophorum, woodcut 19

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Turin like a Dream

Turin, twin churches at Piazza San Carlo

“Cities, like dreams, are made of desires and fears,” wrote Italo Calvino in Invisible Cities.  Though Turin is not the first Italian city I have fallen in love with, what I experienced there had not happened to me before. I went there with no expectations and stumbled upon the treasure chest of visible beauty and hidden meaning. Nietzsche identified with Turin and called the city dignified, Calvino marveled at its logic which opens the way to madness, while Giorgio de Chirico was so captivated by this “deep, enigmatic and disquieting” place that it inspired him to create his famous paintings of haunting cityscapes. He enthused about the unique Stimmung (atmosphere) of this curious city and he especially loved its long arcades and “mournful piazzas.” From my perspective, the haunting atmosphere of the city is undeniable. It is palpable even before one hears about the rich esoteric lore associated with Turin.

Giorgio de Chirico, “Turin Spring”

Looking at cities through the lens of myths and legends is not subpar to what can be found in historical chronicles. What a city dreams about itself flows like blood stream under the skin of its body of architecture. The truth of myth is deeper and more mysterious than the narrow fact checking. Officially, Turin was founded by the Romans, who built it exactly on the 45th parallel North with four entrances positioned in relation to the four cardinal points and where two rivers – Po and Dora met. The 45th parallel itself, positioned in equilibrium halfway between the North Pole and the Equator, was where many ancient civilizations flourished and where, incidentally, the best wines in the world are made.  According to esoteric traditions, Turin is a vortex point between the archetypal forces of light and darkness. It participates both in the triangle of white magic, together with Prague and Lyon, and black magic with San Francisco and London.

Turin – coat of arms

Further mysteries are uncovered by Alessandro Romboni in a video summarizing myths and legends of Turin. Some believe, for example, that a priest or even a brother of Osiris himself, founded the city and named it Turin to connect it to the god Apis, represented by the sacred bull. Before dismissing it as legend one has to wonder at the coincidence of the second most important Egyptian museum in the world having its home in Turin. The museum deserves a separate blog entry.  Jean-François Champollion, the renowned decipherer of the Egyptian hieroglyphs, uttered these evocative words when the museum was opened: “The path to Memphis and Thebes passes through Turin.” In his documentary Romboni states that Turin was born of the union of the rivers Po, representing the sun and the river Nile; and Dora, symbolizing the moon and the goddess Isis. Isis, as a matter of fact, has a firm presence in the city first of all thanks to the magnificent Bembine tablet of Isis housed in the Egyptian Museum (more on that in a future post) and secondly to the Church of the Great Mother of God which was supposedly erected where a former Isis temple stood. The church is supposed to hold the key to the legend of the Holy Grail, which is believed to be present in Turin.

The Statue of Faith standing in front of the Church of the Great Mother of God

The sacred marriage of opposites seems to permeate the mythical tissue of the city. Piazza Statuto is an eerie place and supposedly the “black heart” of the city. It is located in the West, where the sun sets. It was an area of executions and burials. The magnificent Frejus monument located there is supposedly guarding the doors to Hell. The monument is a tribute to those who died during the construction of a mountain tunnel between France and Italy. But from an esoteric standpoint, the angel atop the statue is Lucifer himself. Before heading to the “white” part of the city it is worth visiting Piazza Solferino. Besides the absolutely stunning Church of the Great Mother of God, this corner of the city made quite a powerful impression on me. The Angelic Fountain to be found there is said to be the gate to infinity. The two statues of giants pouring water from jugs symbolize the Pillars of Hercules, beyond which, according to Plato Atlantis was located and the realm of the Unknown started. The pillars warned the sailors to go no further, though Dante in Inferno mentions that Ulysses ignored the warnings and ventured beyond the pillars to gain knowledge of the unknown. On the left and right sides of the fountain respectively there are goddess allegories of Spring and Summer, symbolizing sacred and profane knowledge.

La Fontana Angelica

The white magic part of the city is located in the vicinity of the Royal Square. In the nearby cathedral the most famous relic of Christianity is preserved, namely the Shroud of Turin – the negative cloth bearing the imprint of Jesus, whose body was believed to be wrapped in it before resurrection. The frenzy and the controversy surrounding the shroud seems to be as palpable as ever. I do not pretend to have any definitive answers, but I share a deep conviction with many that there is a miraculous energy connected with this icon. On the wall of the cathedral one can spot a plaque with signs of the zodiac with the arrow pointing from Capricorn to Cancer, the signs of the solstices, associated with darkness and light. The Royal Square itself is quite wonderful from an architectural standpoint. The equestrian statues of Castor and Pollux are believed to be guardians of the threshold of the holy and unholy part of the city. They are the mythical Twins, one mortal, one divine, who further emphasize the ever-present duality of the city. To enhance the mythical power of the city even further, it is believed that three alchemical caves are located under Palazzo Madama, located to the right of the Royal Palace.

Piazza Statuto

Shroud of Turin; according to one of the theories, “The image of the Man in the Shroud was venerated by the Templars because it visibly demonstrated the central fact of Jesus’ teaching: the conquest of death. … Jesus transubstantiated himself in the grave through an act equivalent to a self-controlled nuclear explosion which transformed his flesh, blood and bone into a body of light—the resurrection body—and thereby conquered death. He attained enlightenment to the ultimate degree; he actually became light and is now revered as the Light of the World. That was the object of Templar worship.“ (via https://atlantisrisingmagazine.com/article/the-templars-the-shroud/)

Castor and Pollux at the Royal Palace of Turin

Turin, a city which on a symbolic level embodies unio oppositorum, played an influential role in the unification of Italy in the 19th century. It was the first capital of the newly united country. The ruling Savoy family practiced and preached religious tolerance, often snubbing the pope by inviting persecuted religious groups, including famous occultists and alchemists and even Nostradamus, who apparently left a plaque, now lost or perhaps hidden, with the following inscription: “Nostradamus stayed here, where heaven, hell and purgatory are. I am called Victory. He who honours me will be glorious, he who scorns me will be ruined completely.”

Mysteries upon mysteries prevail in the city. Tourists tend to overlook this corner of Italy but I cannot help thinking that it is the city itself that does not wish to be swarmed by a horde. I will be returning there, though bearing in mind that this is not a place for faint-hearted. The convergence of energies seems to be quite powerful. After all, it was in Turin where Nietzsche is said to have lost his mind.

Giorgio de Chirico, “Mystery and Melancholy of a Street”






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“Nocturne” by Octavio Paz

James Abbott McNeill Whistler, “Nocturne in Black and Gold”

Octavio Paz, “Nocturne”, translated by Eliot Weinberger

“Shadow, flickering shadow of voices.

The black river drags its sunken marbles.

How to speak of the assassinated air,

of the orphaned words,

how to speak of the dream?

Shadow, flickering shadow of voices.

Black scale of flaming irises.

How to speak the names, the stars,

the ivory birds of nocturnal pianos

and the obelisk of silence?

Shadow, flickering shadow of voices.

Statues pulled down from the moon.

How to speak, camellia,

the least flower among flowers,

how to speak your white geometry?

How to speak, oh Dream, your silence out loud?”


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Transcending Toxic Masculinity

Max Ernst, “Pieta or Revolution by Night”

There is a deep collective need to rewrite the scripts of masculinity. “Dig deeply into any man and one would find not only the lake of tears but a mountain of rage, layers of anger accumulated since childhood, slowly pushing its magma towards the surface, there to erupt,” says James Hollis in his book Under Saturn’s Shadow: The Wounding and Healing of Men. Toxic masculinity pervades our culture, keeping us all in shackles. Our culture offers no rites of passage into adulthood; and consequently men, as suggested by Tim Winton, author of The Shepherd’s Hut, are forced to construct themselves from spare parts, found on the heap of toxic waste of outdated cultural values. Lack of rites always means lack of soul depth.

Hollis reveals five secrets that men carry within and proceeds to explore them in his book:

  1. Men’s lives are as much governed by restrictive role expectations as are the lives of women

  2. Men’s lives are essentially governed by fear

  3. The power of the feminine is immense in the psychic economy of men

  4. Men collude in a conspiracy of silence whose aim is to suppress their emotional truth

  5. Because men must leave Mother, and transcend the mother complex, wounding is necessary

  6. Men’s lives are violent because their souls have been violated

  7. Every man carries a deep longing for his father and for his tribal Fathers

  8. If men are to heal, they must activate within what they did not receive from without

One of the most fascinating chapters in Hollis’ book deals with the mother – the one that “incarnates and models the archetype of life” and “embodies all sorts of messages about our relationship to the life force.” Her power is undeniable and this is why for centuries men have sought to diminish Her, since “one oppresses what one fears.” So many men live their lives gripped by the mother complex. They consciously and more often unconsciously define themselves in relation to the feminine. If they did not receive enough affection from their own mother, they will seek to turn their partners into “good mothers.” Some will seek to control women as a result of their unconscious fear of the power of the feminine. The ultra-masculine type does not understand that he is cutting off a vital part of himself and defining himself in stark opposition towards it. His life is as much dominated by the unrecognized power of the feminine as the “weak, effeminate man” whom he so much despises. While he playboy is “literally a boy at play; he can never be a man until he has wrestled his eros from the powerful mother-world within.”

Pablo Picasso, “Mother and Son on the Shore”

Transcending the mother complex must lead to pain and suffering. Our wounding carries soul gifts but unfortunately, very often the wounds that modern men suffer do not result in transformation. This is because we are devoid of rites of passage, as there are hardly any elder male mentors that could offer any guidance. The wounds rarely bring deepened consciousness. Because there are so few positive male role models, men are obliged “to function at the persona level, defining their reality primarily in terms of collective parameters such as salary, car, home, social status.”

The mother and the father are the two great archetypes governing our inner lives. Every archetype polarizes into light and darkness. The Great Mother creates life and takes it away, while the archetypal father gives strength and energy on the one hand but he can also crush the fragile psyche of the child. Hollis illustrates the negative father complex and its danger for the child by summarizing a short story by Kafka called The Judgement. In the story, a young man lives with his elderly tyrannizing father, while simultaneously and secretly exchanging letters with a male friend in a foreign country. The youth longs to emigrate but the father finds the letter and says to his son, “I sentence you to die by drowning.” The story ends with the son promptly and obligingly committing suicide by jumping into the river. Hollis comments:

“The complex… has the power to cut off his spirit, to tamp the fires of life and plunge him into the obliterating waters of the unconscious. So instead of bringing his son light, the father brings suffocating darkness.”

This is masterfully demonstrated by Kafka in the following exchange in The Judgement:

“Ah, George,” said his father, coming up at once to meet him. His heavy night shirt opened up as he moved and the ends of it flapped around him. “My father is still a giant,” said George to himself.

Then he spoke up: “It’s unbearably dark in here.”

“Yes, it certainly is dark,” his father answered.

“And you’ve shut the window as well?”

“I prefer it that way.”

Francisco de Goya, “The Colossus”

I have recently listened to an interesting podcast on planetary nodes (https://player.fm/series/the-exploring-astrology-podcast-2394776/exploring-planetary-nodes-with-mark-jones).  Adam Sommer was interviewing Mark Jones about the implications of a large number of planetary nodes being stacked around the Capricorn-Cancer axis. This particular configuration has been the sign of our times for a long time and will be further emphasized in 2020. What that means, according to Mark Jones, is that the world soul speaking to us through the planetary nodes is drawing our attention to the need of balancing the Capricornian toughness, ambition, relentlessness and austerity with the Cancerian softness, empathy and sensitivity. Our society was built on Capricornian values, which on the bright side have brought us structure and the whole backbone of civilization, but on the dark side resulted in competitiveness, rigid hierarchies and elitism, not to mention the permanent oppression of those considered weak. Also James Hillman was thinking along the same lines while writing his Senex and Puer, where he said this of the Senex archetype:

“As principle of coagulation and of geometrical order, it dries and orders, ‘builds cities’ and ‘mints money,’  makes solid and square and profitable, overcoming the dissolving wetness of soul emotionality.”

Furthermore, serving superficial values such as material status or professional success, has meant that one had to forego the soul’s calling. In his book Healing the Soul: Pluto, Uranus and the Lunar Nodes, Mark Jones explains that the evolutionary intention of the north node being in Cancer means that the soul is called upon to “recover the inner child and to allow the sensitive and expressive emotional nature to flow again unimpeded.” He adds that “this involves a process of identifying the positive aspects of responsibility (connected with Capricorn) so that the archetypal split between the two signs can be healed. This entails infusing “the family and societal structures of the past with the warmth and love that was missing.” A recovery of the inner child also connects with a greater value put on the feminine.

Among the greatest words ever written by Kafka were the ones included in a letter to his narcissistic and abusive father. Here they are:

“…it is, after all, not necessary to fly right into the middle of the sun, but it is necessary to crawl to a clean little spot on Earth where the sun sometimes shines and one can warm oneself a little.”

Frederic Leighton, “Elisha Raising the Son of Shunnamite”

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“Blessed is he who leaves” – “Flights” by Olga Tokarczuk



This year’s Man Booker international prize went to a Polish author, Olga Tokarczuk for Flights. It is an absorbing tale, or rather a collection of tales, devoted to the nomad in everyone of us. More than that, a large part of the novel revolves around the human body, which pulls us towards the ground. These two human instincts – to seek flight and to seek anchor are fundamentally irreconcilable. The Polish title of the book – Bieguni –refers to a fictional Slavic sect of wanderers, who believe that the world is ruled by Antichrist while the real God is in exile. The only way to “avoid the traps of the Antichrist” is to “get on the road”:


“For anything that has a stable place in this world – every country, church,
every human government, everything that has preserved a form in this hell –
is at his command. Everything that is defined, that spans from here to there,
that fits into a framework, is written down in registers, numbered, testified to,
sworn to; everything collected, displayed, labelled. Everything that holds:
houses, chairs, beds, families, earth, sowing, planting, verifying growth.
Planning, awaiting the results, outlining schedules, protecting order. …

Whoever pauses will be petrified, whoever stops, pinned like an insect, his
heart pierced by a wooden needle, his hands and feet drilled through and
pinned into the threshold and the ceiling.

This is why tyrants of all stripes, infernal servants, have such deep-seated
hatred for the nomads – this is why they persecute the Gypsies and the Jews,
and why they force all free peoples to settle, assigning the addresses that
serve as our sentences.
What they want is to create a frozen order, to falsify time’s passage. They
want for the days to repeat themselves, unchanging, they want to build a big
machine where every creature will be forced to take its place and carry out
false actions. Institutions and offices, stamps, newsletters, a hierarchy, and
ranks, degrees, applications and rejections, passports, numbers, cards, election
results, sales and amassing points, collecting, exchanging some things for

What they want is to pin down the world with the aid of barcodes, labelling
all things, letting it be known that everything is a commodity, that this is how
much it will cost you. Let this new foreign language be illegible to humans,
let it be read exclusively by automatons, machines. That way by night, in their
great underground shops, they can organize readings of their own barcoded

Move. Get going. Blessed is he who leaves.”

Olga Tokarczuk, “Flights”, translated by Jennifer Croft

The Panopticon

The above passage seems to be the central, defining moment of the book that nonetheless refuses to be pinned down by definitions. I think the novel can be viewed as a panopticon, which is a building, such as a prison or library, arranged in a way that all parts are visible from a single observation point.  It may well be that the sect of Bieguni are overseeing all the other wandering characters appearing in the book. One story that stayed with me the longest was the plight of a man whose wife disappeared suddenly and without a trace during their family holidays in Croatia. She did not take anything with her, which left him staring hopelessly at her earthly possessions:

“There’s an open pack of sanitary napkins. A pencil, two pens, one a yellow
Bic and the other with ‘Hotel Mercure’ written on the side. Pocket change,
Polish and Euro cents. Her wallet, with Croatian bills in it – not many – and
ten Polish zlotys. Her visa card. A little orange notepad, dirtied at the edges. A
copper pin with some antique-looking pattern, seemingly broken. Two
Kopiko sweets. A camera, digital, with a black case. A peg. A white paper
clip. A golden gum wrapper. Crumbs. Sand.

He lays it all neatly on the black matte countertop, every thing equidistant
from every other thing. He goes up to the sink and drinks some water. He
goes back to the table and lights a cigarette. Then he starts taking pictures
with her camera, each object on its own. He photographs slowly, solemnly,
zooming in as much as possible, with flash.”

Olga Tokarczuk, “Flights”, translated by Jennifer Croft

The cult of relics is present in all religions. Through their relics, the saints were believed to be bodily present. The protagonist’s wife seems to have taken flight; the objects she left are now like holy relics to him.  People who are no longer in our space and who were dear to us inhabit a mysterious new dimension, inaccessible to us. The only connection we have to them are the relics which spin a golden thread between here and there.

Giorgio de Chirico, “The Song of Love”




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The Suffering of Perseus and Medusa

“I wasn’t hurt enough when I should have been, Kino admitted to himself. When I should have felt real pain, I stifled it. I didn’t want to take it on, so I avoided facing up to it. Which is why my heart is so empty now. The snakes have grabbed that spot and are trying to hide their coldly beating hearts there.”

Haruki Murakami, “Kino”, a short story included in the collection “Men Without Women”

This is so typical of Murakami’s writing. Although the passage seems ascetic, it opens a vast psychological space. The snakes offer a startling image, which immediately brings to mind the myth of Medusa. I have already approached her here but Murakami made me think of her again. Coincidentally, I have recently seen a BBC documentary “Civilizations”, where in episode 5, “The Triumph of Art”, Simon Schama devoted some time to Benvenuto Cellini’s masterpiece “Perseus with the Head of Medusa.” Several years ago I was lucky to see the sculpture at the Piazza della Signoria in Florence. Schama marveled at the beauty of Medusa and at the emotional power of the whole piece. He said:

“All the ancients Perseuses and Medusas were contrasts between beauty as hero and grotesque Gorgon. Not here. Cellini has the genius crazy idea of making them interchangeably androgynously beautiful. Boy girl, girl boy both looking down, even the hairdos aren’t actually that different – tousled curls of writhing snakes. Cellini is a sorcerer, an alchemist. He has made hard metal sweat with the exertion of killing. He has turned that hot alloy back into liquid, the blood coursing through the hero’s body, the blood pouring from Medusa’s sliced away neck. And remember, even dead, her looks can kill you.”

Benvenuto Cellini, “Perseus with the Head of Medusa”

The myth of Medusa can be interpreted on so many different levels. For Valerie Estelle Frankel, author of From Girl to Goddess: The Heroine’s Journey Through Myth and Legend, the myth pertains to the haling of the wounded shadow. When Medusa is raped by Poseidon in Athena’s temple, the goddess is so outraged that she turns Medusa into a monster. This frozen monster form serves as defense against a deep trauma:

“Medusa is safe forever in her monster form, safer even than Athena in her armor. This form has defenses: the venom of the snakes, the banishment to the impenetrable underworld, and the famous petrifying gaze. Medusa’s stare is the ultimate power—one that says “No, don’t come any closer!

Medusa dwells in the underworld, crouched in the safety of this still half-life, where nothing changes, where no one dies or is born or is harmed.”

On the one hand, the head of Medusa represents “a source of feminine power raped by male authority.” However, she may also stand for the wounded heart, the bottled up fury of all of us, regardless of gender. Comes Perseus as the wounded masculine hero:

“Medusa senses someone is there and turns her gaze on him. But he is a victim as she is, cast into the seas by his grandfather, ignored by his father, with mother and self endangered by the patriarchy in the form of King Polydectes. Perseus holds the mirror that to inner self, but more, he is Medusa’s inner self, the frightened child behind the rage-filled gaze that Medusa cannot outstare.

Confronted with this wounded hero so like herself, Medusa succumbs and allows her barriers to be broken, allows her return to the world above. This, like all growth, requires great pain; Perseus’ sword slices Medusa’s head from her body. But there is also glorious birth as children, once sired by Poseidon, spring forth: Pegasus, beloved of the Muses, and the golden hero Chrysaor. Walling herself off has resulted in stagnation, isolation, as Medusa rages and nurses her wounds. But until now, she has failed to grow beyond them. With a sword-strike, with a mirror, Perseus opens her to her painful past, forcing her to confront it, accept it, and move forward. Medusa is no longer frozen, unable to give birth to her desires and needs. She can finally return to life.”

Master Cellini managed to show just that in his sculpture – Perseus and Medusa united in their human suffering.

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On Play

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, “Children’s Games”

The vision of the world as an unfolding game is a very alluring idea. Once you start viewing all reality through that lens, it is quite hard to step back into ordinary perception. In Hinduism, the concept of Lila, divine play, is used to describe the creative, joyful and spontaneous activity of Brahman, the supreme existence and the Divine Ground of All. “It is a spirit leaping forward to be pursued and enjoyed and, ultimately, understood,” as it was expressed by an anonymous theosophy master here . From that perspective, the world arose as play and it unfolds as such. At the deepest level, to paraphrase Krishnamurti, the purpose of life is nothing but living itself.

Betty Heimann, a German professor of Sanskrit and a renowned expert on Indian studies, who died in 1961, wrote the following on the relation of the concept of Lila to time:

“As regards the concept of Time, lila represents continuity. It is well worth noting that the Greeks from the time of the pre-Socratics establish the necessity of a ‘kairos,’ of the adequate moment when to start with adequate means to achieve one single purpose and intent. India, on the other hand … never felt the need of the effortful moment and directed purpose for one single end. Instead of limiting herself to a ‘kairos,’ a straight line towards a certain end, she thinks in series of continuing receding preceding waves: polar existence is ever present, simultaneously and successively. Heraclitus, then, the Western thinker who more than all others approaches the Indian world of thought, significantly grasps the concept of the ‘aion,’ the creative continuity of time and life force, under the simile of an ever youthful child at play. In his Fragment 52 he asserts that the ‘aion’ is a child playing with dice. The supreme government of the world lies in the hands of a child.”

From University of Ceylon Review vol. III, No.2,1945,pp 29-34, link http://dlib.pdn.ac.lk/bitstream/123456789/899/1/Betty%20heimann.pdf

Shiva and Parvati at the game of dice

The Puranas (ancient Hindu texts) contain a story of Shiva playing the game of dice with Parvati. This game can be viewed as a metaphor of how the world came into manifestation, a tale of the birth of consciousness, as writes Richard Smoley in The Dice Game of Shiva: How Consciousness Creates the Universe. Shiva personifies pure consciousness, the self itself (Purusha) while Parvati stands for the contents of consciousness, i.e. the world or experience (Prakriti). Before the universe is manifested, consciousness and its contents are united in primordial sleep. The dice game introduced to the divine pair by a demon of discord symbolizes “the beginning of manifestation,” as self and the other (Shiva and Parvati) begin to consciously relate. Having been defeated in the game, Shiva, unperturbed, simply retreats to the forest. As Smoley explains, consciousness can detach from experience:

“You are not your thoughts; you are not your feelings; you are not even your actions. This realization in expressed in the myth of the dice game: Shiva, having ‘lost’ all his attributes to Parvati, goes off, unruffled, to the forest to live the life of an ascetic. Purusha has no attributes; they all belong to prakriti; that is why purusha always loses the game. But since these attributes are not part of it to begin with, it loses nothing in actuality.”

The dice itself embraces consciousness and experience in its symbolic construction. A marvellous explanation of the symbolic meaning of the dice can be found on the Theosophy Trust website here . As a cube, the dice symbolizes the earthly manifestation (prakriti). However, it is a well-known fact that the top and bottom faces of the dice always add up to seven, which is a holy number with rich symbolic significance. First of all, it reconciles the square of matter with the heavenly triangle (three being a number symbolically linked with god and goddess). Like the rainbow bridge, the number seven links the unmanifested divine reality with the manifested earthly realm. According to Cirlot, the author of the Dictionary of Symbols, the seventh day of rest after six days of creation corresponds to the centre and the return to the Divine Source. For more on number seven, see here .

Play as an activity, not only the one involving the dice, has a way of transporting the participants from ordinary life to the realm of enchantment. In a classic book Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play Element in Culture, written in the 1938 by a Dutch scholar J. Hiuzinga, humans are imagined as always engaging in ludere – Latin for to play. Play transcends the immediate needs of life; it denotes “a stepping out of ‘real’ life into a temporary sphere of activity with a disposition all of its own.” Play creates beauty and order that it brings temporarily to the mundane sphere of chaos and confusion. It draws a magic circle around the play activity and, similarly to a ritual, “transports the participants to another world.” Huizinga asserts firmly that all the “great archetypal activities of human society are all permeated with play from the start.” For him, play is older than culture and society. What is more, culture and society arise from play:

“As a rule the play element gradually recedes into the background, being absorbed for the most part in the sacred sphere. The remainder crystallizes as knowledge: folklore, poetry, philosophy, or in the various forms of judicial and social life.”

The crystallized seriousness of our institutions, of all civilization, of all our truths and duties, rests on a magic cloud of enchanted play.

The Theosophy Trust website also contains an entry devoted to symbolism of games (https://www.theosophytrust.org/626-games). Through games, “the potential perfection inherent in the macrocosmic plan may be gradually realized in the microcosmic nature of man.” In games universal truths are embodied, for they offer “means of transcending the ephemeral flux of external appearances.” The ball is seen as an object with magical powers:

“To release these powers has been part of the fascination of the game, and when the powers represent a victory over various obstacles or even darkness itself, the result is truly cathartic for both players and spectators. Pitting oneself against objects, forces, others or even against oneself releases and cleanses the emotions, whilst onlookers purge themselves of anger, malice and frustration.”

But, how to explain the violence, addictions and other distortions that haunt human as the playing animal? From a theosophical perspective, this shows the humankind’s inability to come to terms with the deeper level of the psyche, where the universal game between good and evil is being eternally waged. Gamblers, in turn, are merely revealing their contempt for authority and the restrictions of living in the society:

“They are thereby displaying a perverse unwillingness to accept their own legitimate karma as well as the collective karma in which they find themselves enmeshed.”

Via https://www.theosophytrust.org/702-the-dice

Eric Berne, the Canadian psychiatrist famous for creating the theory of transactional analysis and applying game theory to psychiatry, believed that children are born princes and princesses until their parents turn them into frogs. A healthy ego, according to transactional theory, should be able to switch between the roles of a child, parent or adult according to needs and circumstances. However, I agree with Rilke about one thing: “…we are always closest to the center of our lives at the point where according to our own means we most closely resemble the child!” (found in “Letters on Life”)

Jan Steen, “Card Players Quarrelling”

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Native Americans: Stories in Stone

I. “Whenever, in the course of the daily hunt, the red hunter comes upon a scene that is strikingly beautiful or sublime–a black thundercloud with the rainbow’s glowing arch above the mountain; a white waterfall in the heart of a green gorge; a vast prairie tinged with the blood-red of sunset–he pauses for an instant in the attitude of worship.”

Charles Eastman, “The Soul of the Indian”

II. “In the world where I was raised, life has only a brief moment of flowering — the time of physical strength for men, the season of youthful beauty and childbearing for women. All else is a time of becoming or a time of decline. Rather than looking at our lives like the seasons, where each has a richness that belongs to no other, we look at them like a flower that moves from bud to bloom to gradual decay and death. Only the time of bloom is seen as the fullness of life. Native people like Joe do not see life this way. They see it as a passage through spiritual seasons where we gain knowledge and richness as we pass from one season to the next. Only a person in winter has seen them all, so only a person in winter is granted the respect that comes with full spiritual knowledge. Far from being vestigial or in eclipse, the elders, who have lived through all of life’s seasons, are the honored ones, the crown jewels of the Native family.”

Kent Nerburn, “Voices in the Stones: Life Lessons from the Native Way”

III. “There were ideals and practices in the life of my ancestors that have not been improved upon by the present-day civilization.”

Luther Standing Bear

Luther Standing Bear

Mount Rushmore is a landmark with complicated history. The portraits of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln were carved onto the Black Hills rock, which is sacred to Native Americans, who were granted this territory in a treaty of 1868. The treaty read, “As long as the rivers run and the grasses grow and trees bear leaves, Paha Sapa, the Black Hills, will forever and ever be the sacred land of the Indians.” Like many promises bestowed on Native Americans, this one was also broken. After gold was found there, the Hills were immediately seized by the whites. The land is still under dispute.

Black Hills National Forest, via Wikipedia

Some thirty kilometres from Mount Rushmore another leader’s portrait is being carved onto rock – the statue of Crazy Horse, a Lakota warrior. The memorial was commissioned by Henry Standing Bear, to be sculpted by Korczak Ziolkowski, an American sculptor of Polish descent. Ziolkowski worked on the monument for thirty-six years, until his death. Throughout that time, he refused to take any salary. He carved his own epitaph, which can be viewed on the site:

“KORCZAK Storyteller in Stone
May His Remains Be Left Unknown.”

Crazy Horse Memorial

Rather paradoxically, throughout his short life Crazy Horse consistently refused to be photographed. He did not want anyone to know his face and yet his carved head is 27 metres high. Perhaps there is no other way of raising public awareness about the First Nations but to erect a giant memorial as a counterpoint to the existing White American one. But the Native soul is in actuality humble and alien to ostentation. This was beautifully expressed in a landmark book by Charles Eastman, who was a physician and an activist of Santee Dakota, English and French ancestry. In The Soul of the Indian: An Interpretation, he wrote:

“There were no temples or shrines among us save those of nature. Being a natural man, the Indian was intensely poetical. He would deem it sacrilege to build a house for Him who may be met face to face in the mysterious, shadowy aisles of the primeval forest, or on the sunlit bosom of virgin prairies, upon dizzy spires and pinnacles of naked rock, and yonder in the jeweled vault of the night sky!”

Charles Eastman

Quite different, much less conspicuous but not less powerful stone carvings are mentioned in another worthy book devoted to the spirituality of Native Americans, namely Voices in the Stones: Life Lessons from the Native Way by Kent Nerburn. He recalls a time when two of his Native American friends accompanied him to see ancient carvings on stones known as petroglyphs, located east of the South Dakota border. The two Indians, father and son, did not try to rationalize the Great Mystery; they did not strive to understand the meaning of the ancient carvings, but instead performed an ancient ritual that involved burning sage over the rocks.

Nerburn explains that In Native American tradition, everything has a voice, the whole nature calls out to us with the voice of the Great Mystery. The stones and the soil call to us with the voices of our ancestors who died or who were buried there. In some places, such as The Wounded Knee or in Auschwitz, the stones and the earth speak louder, so the more sensitive of us have to cover their ears.

In a striking passage from Carl Jung’s Memories, Dreams, Reflections, he remembers an encounter with an older of the Taos Pueblo in New Mexico, who said to him:

“How cruel the whites are: their lips are thin, their noses sharp, their faces furrowed and distorted by holes. Their eyes have a staring expression. They are always seeking something. What are they seeking? The whites always want something, they are always uneasy and restless. We do not know what they want, we do not understand them, we think that they are mad.” I asked him why he thought the whites were all mad. “They say they think with their heads,” he replied.

“Why, of course. What do you think with?” I asked him in surprise.

“We think here,” he said, indicating his heart.”

When such two radically different visions and ways of living clash, disaster ensues. If stones were taken to represent atrocities committed on Native Americans, the Wounded Knee massacre would be the last stone thrown on top of a high mountain. A particularly distressing to me was the story of the Osage murders, of which I had been unaware. This nation was repeatedly stripped of their land until, finally, they managed to acquire some barren, unfriendly rocks in Oklahoma, which no one else wanted. The situation changed drastically when oil was discovered in the area and the Indians got extremely wealthy. As a result, they immediately became target of “theft, graft and mercenary marriage.” They were kidnapped, shot and poisoned often by those that posed as their friends or who were their spouses in the eyes of the law. In four years dubbed as the Reign of Terror sixty Osage Indians were murdered. Most of the murders were never prosecuted.

The words of Martin Luther King who said that he American nation was born in genocide express a shameful truth that cannot be hidden any longer. Historian Howard Zinn agrees:

“And so, Indian Removal, as it has been politely called, cleared the land for white occupancy between the Appalachians and the Mississippi, cleared it for cotton in the South and grain in the North, for expansion, immigration, canals, railroads, new cities, and the building of a huge continental empire clear across to the Pacific Ocean. The cost in human life cannot be accurately measured, in suffering not even roughly measured. Most of the history books given to children pass quickly over it.”

And yet, the Native Way is neither buried nor forgotten. Quietly, the wheel of history is turning again. As Nerburn puts it in the epilogue to his book, “We could destroy the First Peoples physically, but we could not erase their presence from our hearts. And so we hid them, buried them deep in our cultural psyche, just as we had buried so many of them in the earth they once had called their own. They became the shadow of our cultural guilt.“


At the Wounded Knee site

American Indians are so much more than the shadows. Their teaching us about the Great Spirit that unifies all opposites, bringing about the necessary reconciliation, appeals to ever increasing number of people. The indigenous values of respect for nature and inclusion are making a relentless resurgence. We are slowly realizing that domination has to be replaced by understanding, as Nerburn writes, “…your task in life is not to dominate, but to understand; to learn the rules of the universe and come into right relationship with them.”






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“Stone” by Charles Simic

“Go inside a stone
That would be my way.
Let somebody else become a dove
Or gnash with a tiger’s tooth.
I am happy to be a stone.

From the outside the stone is a riddle:
No one knows how to answer it.
Yet within, it must be cool and quiet
Even though a cow steps on it full weight,
Even though a child throws it in a river,
The stone sinks, slow, unperturbed
To the river bottom
Where the fishes come to knock on it
And listen.

I have seen sparks fly out
When two stones are rubbed.
So perhaps it is not dark inside after all;
Perhaps there is a moon shining
From somewhere, as though behind a hill—
Just enough light to make out
The strange writings, the star charts
On the inner walls. “

Stone Circle in Węsiory, Poland; photo by Elwira Kruszelnicka (more magnificent photos of the place here: http://elwirak.com/blog/2015/02/19/stone-mystery-in-wesiory/)

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Jung on Alchemy (8): the Coniunctio – part 2 – the White Stone

“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.


The agony





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
burning darts

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
reflected there.”

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.”

via http://www.levity.com/alchemy/roscom.html

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.

Image 3

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.”

Image 5

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.”

Image 8

Image 9

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.

Image 10

Image 10

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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