Wheat and War

Verily, verily, I say unto you, еxcept a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.(John 12: 24)

Salvador Dali, “Blue Knot and Ear of Wheat next to a Castle”

Out of the numberless reasons why we are all so moved by the war in Ukraine, one has a symbolic source. It is wheat and what it evokes in our unconscious mind. I read these words today:

“Ukraine is the land of bread and wheat. Even in Egypt, bread and cakes are baked using Ukrainian flour. It’s the time of year to prepare the fields for sowing, but this work is not being done. The soil of the wheat fields is full of metal – fragments of shells, pieces of blown-up tanks and cars, the remains of downed planes and helicopters. And it’s all covered in blood. The blood of Russian soldiers who do not understand what they are fighting for, and the blood of Ukrainian soldiers and civilians who know that if they do not fight, Ukraine will no longer exist. In its place there will be a cemetery with a caretaker’s hut and some kind of governor general sent from Russia will sit and guard it.” https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/mar/13/ukraine-russia-war-putin-crimes-justice

Historically, the colours of Ukrainian flag were not conceived as “the blue sky over a field of wheat” but this association has taken strong root in people’s hearts. 

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is wheatsky.jpg

As “the basic and primordial” foodstuff, “wheat symbolizes the gift of life.” (1) As such, it has also been associated with immortality. In the most climactic moment of Eleusinian Mysteries, the greatest religious festival of the Ancient Greece dedicated to Demeter and Persephone, a single grain of wheat was displayed to the crowd to be contemplated in complete silence. This “conjured up the eternal cycle of the seasons” as well as evoked death and rebirth from the womb of Earth Mother. (2) The planted (buried) grain will come back as an ear of wheat with a multiple of grains.

Osiris with wheat growing from his body

Can we hope that the grain will sprout despite all that senseless death and destruction?

 Notes:

(1) Jean Chevalier, Alain Gheerbrant, The Penguin Dictionary of Symbols

(2) Ibid.

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Reading The Red Book (41) – Seven Sermons to the Dead

We have now reached the fifth Sermon to the Dead, which you will find in the third section of The Red Book called Scrutinies.

At the dawn of civilization Greece was inhabited by Pelasgians, who are viewed as the indigenous, pre-Hellenic population of Greece. The Greeks called them their ancestors. In his Greek Myths, Robert Graves attempted to reconstruct the creation myth of those ancient people. Stephan A. Hoeller draws our attention to the analogy of that myth to the content of the fifth and sixth Sermon to the Dead. (1) This is the myth as told by Graves:

“In the beginning, Eurynome, The Goddess of All Things, rose naked from Chaos, but found nothing substantial for her feet to rest upon, and therefore divided the sea from the sky, dancing lonely upon its waves. She danced towards the south, and the wind set in motion behind her seemed something new and apart with which to begin a work of creation. Wheeling about, she caught hold of this north wind, rubbed it between her hands, and behold! the great serpent Ophion. Eurynome danced to warm herself, wildly and more wildly, until Ophion, grown lustful, coiled about those divine limbs and was moved to couple with her. … So Eurynome was … got with child.

Next, she assumed the form of a dove, brooding on the waves and in due process of time laid the Universal Egg. At her bidding, Ophion coiled seven times about this egg, until it hatched and split in two. Out tumbled all things that exist, her children: sun, moon, planets, stars, the earth with its mountains and rivers, its trees, herbs, and living creatures.

Eurynome and Ophion made their home upon Mount Olympus, where he vexed her by claiming to be the author of the Universe. Forthwith she bruised his head with her heel, kicked out his teeth, and banished him to the dark caves below the earth.

Next, the goddess created the seven planetary powers, setting a Titaness and a Titan over each. Theia and Hyperion for the Sun; Phoebe and Atlas for the Moon; Dione and Crius for the planet Mars; Metis and Coeus for the planet Mercury; Themis and Eurymedon for the planet Jupiter; Tethys and Oceanus for Venus; Rhea and Cronus for the planet Saturn.”

Thoth tarot, The Universe

This primordial vision stands in contradiction to later creation stories. Here the celestial mother is the active, creating agent. Moreover, the seven classical planets are presided over by feminine and masculine deities as equals.

In the fascinating and profound Sermo V the feminine and masculine mysteries come to light. As Hoeller emphasizes, “one finds that the ideas presented here are far more complex and esoteric than the popularized version that found its way into the standard literature of analytical psychology.” We are far from the crude distinctions into Eros-driven women and Logos-driven men. Consider these opening lines:

“The world of the Gods is made manifest in spirituality and in sexuality. The celestial ones appear in spirituality, the earthly in sexuality.”

Spirituality (German Geistigkeit) is as divine as sexuality (German Geschlechtlichkeit). The latter word in the original German does not only mean what we understand as sexual activity but refers to gender (German Geschlecht) affiliation.

Philemon continues the sermon:

“Spirituality conceives and embraces. It is womanlike and therefore we call it MATER COELESTIS, the celestial mother. Sexuality engenders and creates. It is manlike, and therefore we call it PHALLOS, the earthly father.

The sexuality of man is more earthly, that of woman is more spiritual.

The spirituality of man is more heavenly, it moves toward the greater.

The spirituality of woman is more earthly, it moves toward the smaller.

The sexuality of man goes toward the earthly, the sexuality of woman goes toward the spiritual.”

Hoeller states that these two principles – the feminine logos, the Heavenly mother, who “comprehends” all as Sophia/Wisdom on the one hand, and the masculine Eros, the engendering Phallos on the other – are present in both men and women. All individuals partake in these qualities. He writes:

“Logos governs the spiritual in man and the sexual in woman, while Eros in turn governs the spiritual in woman and the sexual in man.

The phallic god, being unconscious, is perceived by man only by projection. Thus men project their dark, erotic side onto women, whom they then fear and desire at the same time, precisely because they fear and desire their own unconscious Eros.

One might say with but a slight exaggeration that feminine sexuality has its eyes wide-open to meaning, while masculine sexuality is blind.”

The unconscious feminine Logos, in turn, makes the woman intuitive, insightful and more spiritually aware while it also frees her from the traps of rationalization, so typical of the conscious masculine Logos.

In the sermon Philemon warns against identifying either with spirituality or sexuality by virtue of them being daimons, i.e. forces above and beyond our humanity:

“Spirituality and sexuality are not your qualities, not things you possess and encompass. Rather, they possess and encompass you, since they are powerful daimons, manifestations of the Gods, and hence reach beyond you, existing in themselves.”

We must not rigidly identify with either of these energies but rather be a vessel for both to intertwine. Only in this way will the cosmic egg hatch into being.

The last theme of the sermon refers to individuality (“singleness”) as opposed to community. As usual, Jung advocates right measure in everything:

“Community is depth, singleness is height.

Right measure in community purifies and preserves.

Right measure in singleness purifies and increases.

Community gives us warmth, singleness gives us light.”

I find the wisdom contained in the Seven Sermons timeless. At the present moment, when the world is horrified by the Russian aggression against Ukraine, India is about to celebrate the annual Maha Shivaratri, the sacred night of Lord Shiva. It is also an auspicious festival that celebrates the union of Shiva and Shakti. This seems to be a very potent moment when things are poised on the edge of the knife and we are all hoping that the worst will not happen. At the same time there has also been a true feeling of oneness, solidarity and community palpable here in Europe.

Hoping against hope, I found this quote in Vanamali’s book on Shiva:

“He has two natures—one wild and fierce, the other calm and peaceful. Of all the deities, he is the one most easily propitiated. Moreover, in compassion there is none to compare with him. He is the friend of the unfortunates…

He has a blue neck because he drank deadly poison in order to protect the world from it, keeping it in his throat rather than swallowing it, and it made his neck turn blue. … He is Chandrachuda (wearer of the moon), for he wears the crescent moon as an adornment for his hair. Like the waxing and waning of the moon, he is in tune with the rise and fall of the cosmic rhythm. He is Krittivasa, wearer of animal hides. His upper body is covered with the skin of the black antelope, the elephant hide covers his loins, and the tiger skin is his seat. By wearing the male kundala (a man’s earring) in his right ear and the female tatanka (a woman’s earring) in his left, he reveals his androgynous nature.” (2)

Adiyogi Shiva statue

The androgynous nature of Shiva himself as well as the deity called Ardhanarisvara, who is depicted as half-male and half-female to symbolize the union of Shiva with Parvati, point both to a reality beyond dualism, beyond conflict, where opposites are united. The coat of arms of Ukraine is a blue shield with a gold trident; the trident being also one of the most important attributes of Lord Shiva. It can only be touched by him or Shakti. It is solely used to restore peace and divinity in the universe.

Ardhanarisvara – the combined form of Shiva and Shakti, by Ashdei-San
Flag of Ukraine with coat of arms

Notes:

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

(2) Vanamali, Shiva: Stories and Teachings from the Shiva Mahapurana

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

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Frida Kahlo’s Symbolism of Life

Frida Kahlo stands today for much more than art; she is a symbol and an icon of feminism, a heroine of the disability rights movement, anti-racism movements and LGBT communities. Her boundless creativity drew no lines between life and art; she succeeded in transforming herself into a living work of art. But at the same time her humanity was reflected in the anguished gaze of her self-portraits. Her colourful Tehuana dresses covered her crippled right leg, magnificent shawls and Byzantine jewellery concealed her physical impairments while the corsets supported her shattered spine. Life accompanied by pain was frequently the theme of her art as was its mirror image – life-relishing defiance. The earthy, bodily and feminine dimension of her art stands in juxtaposition with its preoccupation with death and suffering.

Wearing earrings gifted to her by Picasso, photo by Nickolas Muray

André Breton, the co-founder of surrealism, famously said that her painting was like “a ribbon around a bomb.” Hayden Herrera, author of the most well-known biography of Frida, wrote that each of her painting was like “a smothered cry, a nugget of emotion so dense that one felt it might explode.” There was indeed a smouldering intensity in Frida, all-consuming inner fire and superhuman strength burning in a feeble, sick body of hers. Yet weak as she was, there was an undeniable carnal fire that jumps at the viewer of her self-portraits or photographs. The details of her biography are widely known. The mainstream narrative chooses to focus on her tempestuous lifelong relationship with Diego Rivera, whom she married twice. It is common knowledge that he was serially unfaithful and at the same time violently jealous of her also numerous romances – with both men and women. This post does not dwell on these facts.

Photo by Nickolas Muray

At the age of six Frida Kahlo contracted polio; a disease which crippled her right leg and gave her a limp. Also, it turned her into an introverted girl. She was “forced into the position of otherness” for the first time in her life. (1) To avoid looking weak, Frida took up soccer, boxing, wrestling, swimming and biking. In her childhood she was very close with her father Guillermo, who had come to Mexico as an immigrant from Germany. Hence Frida’s German sounding name, derived from the German word for peace. Together with her father they would spend hours developing photographs and walking in nearby parks, where she would collect “pebbles, insects, and rare plants along the river’s edge.” (2)

Frida Kahlo, “Fruits of the Earth”

When she was eighteen, the most fateful event of her life occurred. On September 17, 1925 the bus she was on collided with a streetcar in Mexico City. Herrera quotes Frida’s then boyfriend, who thus remembered the accident:

“Something strange had happened. Frida was totally nude. The collision had unfastened her clothes. Someone in the bus, probably a house painter, had been carrying a packet of powdered gold. This package broke, and the gold fell all over the bleeding body of Frida. When people saw her they cried, ’La bailarina, la bailarina!’ With the gold on her red, bloody body, they thought she was a dancer.”

And these were the horrific medical facts as related by Herrera:

“Her spinal column was broken in three places in the lumbar region. Her collarbone was broken, and her third and fourth ribs. Her right leg had eleven fractures and her right foot was dislocated and crushed. Her left shoulder was out of joint, her pelvis broken in three places. The steel handrail had literally skewered her body at the level of the abdomen; entering on the left side, it had come out through the vagina.”

She never fully recovered. The accident prevented her from having children, resulting in a number of miscarriages and abortions as well as numerous surgeries throughout her relatively short life. For a month following the accident she had to lie flat on her back, “enclosed in a box-like structure that looked like a sarcophagus.” (3)

Frida after her accident

In 1926 she painted her first self-portrait, in which she poses in a velvet dress against a dark background – the ocean and a night sky. Her fragile and vibrant beauty has here a somber air. At the back of the painting she wrote in German – Heute ist immer noch (Today still goes on, as Herrera translates it).  There is a blossoming quality about her despite the sadness. Her signature unibrow, compared to “the wings of a blackbird” by Diego Rivera, features prominently in the painting as does a shade of a moustache. Art historian Parker Lesley once wrote aptly about Frida’s peculiar “combination of barbarism and elegance.” (4) Even before she started wearing the famous Tehuana dresses, Frida here looks striking with her magnetic, arresting gaze. Frida once said about herself that her facial features were masculine; yet without a doubt she is an epitome of resplendent femininity.  She is also celebrated as a fashion icon, though she did not follow the trends of her time, one of which was the thin, epilated brow. Her sense of what is beautiful was timeless.

“Self-Portrait in a Velvet Dress”
Another self-portrait with brows in a shape of a humming bird

Her signature Tehuana dresses and rebozos (shawls), which she started to wear consistently after meeting Diego Rivera, were inspired by those of the women from the city of Tehuantepec in the Mexican state of Oaxaca. It is said to be a culture of confident, strong, intelligent women. Their traditional costumes, which consisted of an embroidered blouse, a long skirt and a large headdress worn on special occasions, was adopted by many educated Mexican women contemporary to Frida. Even her mother was photographed wearing such a costume.

Self-portrait in with a Tehuana headdress (1948)

The ritual of getting dressed for the day was a serious matter to Frida, says Herrera:

“People who watched the ritual of her dressing recall the time and care she took, her perfectionism and precision. Frequently she tinkered with a needle before donning a blouse, adding lace here, a ribbon there. … To go with the exotic costumes, Frida arranged her hair in various styles, some typical of certain regions of Mexico, some her own invention. She would sweep it upward, sometimes pulling it so tightly at the temples that it hurt, and then braid into it bright woolen ribbons and decorate it with bows, clips, combs, or fresh bougainvillea blossoms. One friend observed that when she placed a comb in her hair, she pressed its prongs into her scalp with a ‘coquettish masochism.’”

Much has also been written about her outstanding collection of jewellery. She did not mind the physical discomfort and would wear heavy rings on each finger, large earrings and sizeable necklaces. “She clanked like a knight in armour,” commented once Parker Lesley. Together with Diego Rivera she collected pre-Columbian art. For her necklaces she would use stone beads from archeological Maya sites. She received a pair of unique earrings from Picasso, an admirer of her art, who once wrote to Diego Rivera:

“Neither Derain, nor I, nor you are capable of painting a head like those of Frida Kahlo.” (5)

Most of the jewellery is now missing, as it was stolen immediately after Frida’s death:

“So desperate were people to have a memento of her that even as her body moved towards the crematorium fire, onlookers pulled at her rings.” (6)

Folk art not only informed her dress but also her art, which is often reminiscent of the so-called retablos. These are votive (devotional) paintings, sometimes in the form of ex-votos (“from a vow”), which show a life-threatening event such as an illness that a person survived thanks to an intervention of Mary, Jesus or a saint. Frida collected Mexican ex-votos art. Her paintings are a few symbolic levels higher than “ordinary” retablos but nevertheless they share their emotional genuineness in relating her physical distress.

A Mexican retablo
Votive paintings from the Black Madonna abbey in Einsiedeln

One of Frida’s earliest self-portraits steeped in the Catholic tradition is undoubtedly “The Broken Column.” This is Herrera’s description of it:

“Anguish is made vivid by nails driven into her naked body. A gap resembling an earthquake fissure splits her torso, the two sides of which are held together by the steel orthopedic corset … Inside her torso we see a cracked ionic column in the place of her own deteriorating spinal column; life is thus replaced by a crumbling ruin. With her hips wrapped in a cloth suggestive of Christ’s winding sheet, Frida displays her wounds like a Christian martyr; a Mexican Saint Sebastian…”

“The Broken Column”

According to Herrera, one of Frida’s paintings that especially resembled a retablo is “Tree of Hope, Remain Strong” (1946). In it, the sick Frida is accompanied by the guardian Frida, who acts as her own miracle worker. The blood that drips from her wounds is echoed by the red dress, which symbolizes strength and the will to live. Like the Holy Priestess of the Tarot with the Moon shining above her, the Tehuana Frida brings her soothing emotional presence, her unconscious lunar power to the exposed, vulnerable body of the sick Frida that lies in the desert under the relentless beams of the sun.

“Tree of Hope, Remain Strong”

The theme of fertility runs through the entirety of Frida’s oeuvre. She said once that her painting partly stems from an unfulfilled desire to be a mother. Not being able to bear children, she gave birth to the whole resplendent colourful world around her – the magnificent blue house (Casa Azul), which now serves as her museum, its garden, numerous pets (monkeys, a deer, dogs, parrots, doves and others) as well as her passion for cooking. The theme of roots is also vital, alluding to her desire to connect to the earth and also to honour her Mexican heritage. She was especially proud to have been nourished by an indigenous wet nurse as a baby.

Frida with Granizo
Frida Kahlo in her garden, photographed by Gisele Freund
Frida Kahlo photographed by Tony Frissell
“Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird” (1940)

“My Birth” is famously owned by the singer Madonna. It was painted in the year when Frida’s mother died (1932). A large infant’s head (Frida’s) emerges from the mother’s womb. In Herrera’s words:

“We see the infant’s large head emerging between the mother’s spread legs from the doctor’s vantage point. Heavy, joined eyebrows identify the child as Frida. Blood covers the inert, drooping head and skinny neck. The baby looks dead. A sheet covering the woman’s head and chest, as if she had died in childbirth, emphasizes the total exposure of delivery. As a substitute for the mother’s head, on the wall directly above her is a painting of another grieving mother, the Virgin of Sorrows pierced by swords, bleeding and weeping.”

“My Birth”

For me, this is a shattering image that shows how closely death and life were intertwined in Frida’s consciousness. Blood seems to have been such a crucial motif of her art and life. Even in her personal letters she spoke of it a lot. She once wrote to her great love, photographer Nickolas Muray, “To you, my loveliest Nick, all my heart, blood and all my being.”

The paintings that I am personally most attached to are “My Nurse and I” (1937) and “Roots” (1943). To me they are both indicative of Frida’s celebration of her connectedness with the fertility of the earth. In the former, as Herrera describes:

“The ducts and glands of the lactating breasts are revealed in a plant-like pattern on the breasts’ surface. … milk-like veins in a huge leaf in the background are engorged. The raindrops in the sky are ‘milk from the Virgin’ – as her nurse had explained to her. The virgin’s milk, the praying mantis and the caterpillar that are camouflaged against the stems and leaves of plants stand for the interconnectedness of every aspect of the natural world and in her own participation in the world.”

Similarly, in “Roots” Frida’s body is planted in the earth. As Herrera puts it, her dream of fertility is realized here as it is she who gives birth to a vine.

“My Nurse and I”
“Roots”

Frida’s very last painting was a still life depicting watermelons. She painted them at the age of 47, in 1954, shortly before she died. Herrera writes:

“It is as if Frida had gathered and focused what was left of her vitality in order to paint this final statement of alegría. Sliced and chopped, the pieces of fruit acknowledge the imminence of death, but their luscious red flesh celebrates the fullness of life. Eight days before she died, when her hours were darkened by calamity, Frida Kahlo dipped her brush in blood-red paint and inscribed her name plus the date and the place of execution, Coyoacán, Mexico, across the crimson pulp of the foremost slice. Then, in large capital letters, she wrote her final salute to life: VIVA LA VIDA.”

Frida Kahlo’s art cannot be classified as belonging to any art movements of her time. Surrealists celebrated her and tried to claim her but she said once:

“They thought I was a surrealist, but I wasn’t. I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality.”

The symbolism of her art is firmly rooted in the earth. Of her many passions life was perhaps the greatest.

“Flower of Life” (1943)

Notes:

(1) Frida Kahlo: Making Herself Up, by Claire Wilcox (Editor), published 2018 by Victoria & Albert Museum

(2) Hayden Herrera, Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo

(3) Ibid.

(4) Frida Kahlo: Making Herself Up, by Claire Wilcox (Editor), published 2018 by Victoria & Albert Museum

(5) Hayden Herrera, Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo

(6) Frida Kahlo: Making Herself Up, by Claire Wilcox (Editor), published 2018 by Victoria & Albert Museum

 Links

https://www.frameweb.com/article/the-va-unpacks-frida-kahlos-lifelong-home-to-curate-an-icon

https://www.vam.ac.uk/articles/unlocking-frida-kahlos-wardrobe

https://www.vam.ac.uk/articles/in-conversation-perspectives-on-frida-kahlo

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Reading The Red Book (40) – The Seven Sermons to the Dead

“One, two, three, but where, my dear Timaeus, is the fourth?”

Plato, “Timaeus”

We have now reached the fourth Sermon to the Dead, in which the dead demand of Philemon:

“Speak to us about Gods and devils, accursed one.”

The Seven Sermons may be viewed as an attempt on the part of Jung/Philemon to illuminate the deficiencies of official Christianity, which undertook to repress the feminine and the body:

“I have argued that Christianity was born out of a dichotomized worldview in which the cosmos is split between the celestial realm of pure, quiescent, undisturbed beauty and grace, and the lower fallen, material world which Christian doctrine teaches was God’ beautiful handiwork but was ruined, corrupted by human sin. … Human nature is … split in Christianity mirroring the dichotomy between the higher spiritual part and the powerful drives of the sinful flesh below. … One – spirit – is to be cultivated throughout life, the other – flesh – is to be overcome, risen above, even despised …

A dichotomized consciousness that repressed the shadow was the result. An intractable enmity against the flesh and its master, the Devil, the Lord of This World (Aeon) became institutionalized.” (1)

Francisco Goya, “The Bewitched Man”

Sharon L. Coggan illuminates in her book how the Greek God Pan evolved into the Christian Devil. Half-man, half-goat, he symbolized the melding of bestial, “primal, animalistic elements” with human, civilized qualities. (2) He thus embodied the Jungian conjunction of opposites. His horns stood for his “vital masculine, phallic essence … virility and lust.” (3) Interestingly, the Indo-European root of the word “horn” itself is related to both “crown” and “corn,” which in turn connects Pan with fertility and majesty. Etymologically, the name of the god is also connected to shepherding, watching, nourishing and fattening. (4) Arcadia, where Pan resided, was the land of the shadows, a rugged terrain in the north where the river Styx had its source. This was a terrain where the reign of civilization ended; it was the shadow and liminal land. (5) It seems that with the advent of Christianity, these vital, nourishing roots symbolized by Pan have been ripped out and cast away:

“Animal instinct was eschewed in favour of the vaunted reason and intellect – and the distorted result is the dulled instincts of the modern human and overreliance on the mind.” (6)

Moreover, the name Pan is naturally connected to the Greek word for “all.” This might have meant, as Macrobius saw it, that Pan was “the ruler of the universal material substance;” but Coggan sees the “all” as encompassing the whole psyche – also the unconscious, wild terrain. She features the Heiroglyphical Representation of Jupiter or Pan from Athanasius Kircher’s Œdipus Ægyptiacus, featured below:

Already in the Old Testament the goat served as a fitting canvas for projection of evil content. In the ancient scapegoating ritual (Leviticus 16) two goats were chosen by drawing lots. One was subsequently sacrificed to God, the other to the demon Azazel. The latter goat absorbed all the sins of Israel in a ritual performed by the High Priest. Why were goats such a fitting symbol for evil? One of the reasons, muses Coggan, might have been their inherent wildness and disobedience. How extraordinary that both “ornery” and “horny” are related to the word “horn”! (7) Rebellion was also what brought on the Satan’s fall.

Coggan’s book ends on a hopeful note.

“As the shadowed energies carried by the Devil are reincorporated into the new Christian spirituality, the heavy visage of the Devil will be lifted off to reveal the Goat God underneath. Pan will be liberated and allowed to return into our collective consciousness as a holy form, representing the powerful and lively energies of the earth, pure lust … and the unfettered beauty and horror of the natural world … When Pan can rise again … we can reinfuse our earth, our bodies, our instincts, our native disobedience, and our sexuality with a new holiness.”

She includes a beautiful Greek sculpture depicting Aphrodite, Pan and Eros, dated back to 100 BCE:

In sermo IV Jung does not speak of Pan but he invokes “two devil Gods.” He calls the first one the Burning One and the other One the Growing One:

“The burning one is EROS, in the form of a flame. It shines by consuming.

The growing one is the TREE OF LIFE. It greens by heaping up growing living matter.

Eros flames up and dies. But the tree of life grows with slow and constant increase through measureless periods of time.”

In Plato’s Symposium Diotima famously tells Socrates about Eros being “a mighty daimon,” that is a spirit that acts as an intermediary between humans and gods. In the fourth sermon Eros stands for the love and passion that “binds two together.” But Eros’s flame is consuming and volatile. In him good and evil are united, says Philemon. The meaning of the Burning One and the Growing One is thus interpreted by Stephan A. Hoeller:

“The Greeks declared that two world spirits dwell in the fabric of cosmic and human life and that they stand in mortal combat one with another. This combat is of such power and magnitude that we can by no means foretell its outcome. The growing spirit is the spirit of civilization; it ever seeks to create forms wherein life may expand, may build, and make itself more secure. The burning one, on the other hand, seeks life in movement, change, adventure, battle, and at times even in conflict and violence. The growing one is peaceful, the burning one is warlike; civilization is conserving and often conservative, while the opposing dynamism is revolutionary. Both forces are part of the natural order … War and peace, conservation and destruction, constructive evolution and destructive revolution are all part of nature. To identify nature with peace and serenity to the exclusion of war and fierceness is contrary to the evidence of observation. Is the peaceful sunset more natural than the erupting volcano? Is the nightingale more natural than the hawk?” (8)

It seems that Hoeller equates Eros with violent, unstable emotions of both love and war. He seems to stand for change that is spurred on by love or hate.

This fourth sermon, perhaps the most complicated and obscure of all of them, focuses on the symbolism of number four. Philemon says:

“Four is the devil, for he opens all that is closed.”

Quaternio was one of the most important concepts in Jungian psychology. Jung postulated enriching the Christian Trinity with the fourth missing element – the feminine, the earth, the shadow/devil. Four was also the number of incarnation and structure. It made the mandala complete and thus allowed the cycle to return to the beginning, standing as such for both creation and destruction.

Alfred Ribi thus analyzes the symbolism of number four and its relation to the Devil:

“Evidently, there is a gap between three and four. The missing fourth thing is something more than merely an additional unity. It poses a difficulty: it exists both in opposition to the three, the trinity, and yet is also as the one that encompasses and completes it. As the fourth function of consciousness, this is the one least accommodated or integrated; it is heavily contaminated by the unconscious and thus retains a degree of autonomy from consciousness. It often goes its own way to an astounding degree; because of the attachment to the unconscious, has about it something of the beyond, something ghostly. In the Christian trinity, the fourth is either the devil or the female.” (9)

Here he is referring to Jung’s theory of the four functions of consciousness – thinking, feeling, intuition and sensation. Jung posited that in each individual psyche one of these functions remains undeveloped, unconscious. It is the task of a lifetime to integrate it and make it conscious lest it erupts in its uncontrollable wildness.

The Fourth Sermon to the Dead is also an affirmation of polytheism, as Philemon states:

“The number of Gods and devils is as innumerable as the host of stars.

But woe unto you, who replace this incompatible multiplicity with a single God.”

The numerous pagan gods encompassed the richness of the human psyche much better than the monotheistic religions. Pan was only one of the many gods demoted to the status of dark demons by the triumphant Christianity.

At the end of the sermon Philemon bends down to kiss the earth and says: “Mother, may your son be strong.” He thus expresses his reverence for the fourth element repressed by mainstream religion – the dark gods and goddesses of the earth.

Edward Burne-Jones, “Pan and Psyche”
Peter Paul Rubens (workshop of) and Frans Snyder, “Ceres and Pan”

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Notes:

(1) Sharon L. Coggan, Sacred Disobedience: A Jungian Analysis of the Saga of Pan and the Devil, Lexington Books 2020, pp. 198-199

(2) Ibid., p. 9

(3) Ibid., p. 26

(4) Ibid., p. 41

(5) Ibid., pp. 42-43

(6) Ibid., p. 211

(7) Ibid., p. 165

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

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

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 41

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Black Madonna: An Icon of Mystery

St. Maria in der Kupfergasse, Cologne, Germany

“There is a grave aura about many of the Black Virgins, an expression of utter solitude so intense that the child on her knees or in the embrace of her left arm seems strangely appended. She sits, solitary, weighted, at the crossing-over place, the place where we fall, face down, and do obeisance. Rooted in her own aboriginal darkness, her eyes are opaque, blank, veiled in the deepest interiority. She sits deeply, a curtained container, a tabernacle, the eternally bloody cave of birth, disintegration, and rebirth. Sedes sapientiae. Seat of Wisdom.”

Meinrad Craighead, “Lodestone,” in The Moonlit Path: Reflections on the Dark Feminine, edited by Fred Gustafson, 2003, p. 79

Apophatic or negative theology teaches that the divine is ultimately unknowable and inexpressible in words. Standing face to face with the Black Madonna is an experience beyond words. What follows is perhaps a futile attempt to grasp at that mystery, which, I have come to realize, has become my personal Holy Grail.

The dark feminine is the divine face for our times. Her darkness needs to be juxtaposed with our deluded age of Enlightenment. We can see her as the angry Mother Nature and we can feel her fury as she emerges from the shadows determined not to take any more abuse. She stands firmly on the side of the excluded and the forgotten. Our Lady Aparecida, the Black Virgin patroness of Brazil, appeared to poor fishermen who found her in her nets. According to a legend, she was white before she fell into the river:

“Legend holds that the river turned the Virgin black. In the river she lay broken, on the bottom, like the people whom the Portuguese had enslaved and colonized, until the fishermen found her and made her their own.”

China Galland, “Raise up Those Held Down: A Pilgrimage to the Black Madonna, Mother of the Excluded, Aparecida, Brazil, in: The Moonlit Path: Reflections on the Dark Feminine, edited by Fred Gustafson, 2003, p. 216

Our Lady Aparecida

Some Black Madonna lore tells of the statue changing the colour gradually from white to black, but most icons have been black since the beginning. This speaks to the Dark Virgin’s power of instigating the alchemical process – she presides over the nigredo, during which the inessential and the insubstantial falls off, rots, putrefies. She is the Queen of Transmutation:

 “From the perspective of the ego, they are lethal forces. But without yielding to this composting and transcendent energy, no transformation is possible and therefore no renewal of life-force. As archetypal energies within the psyche, what these personages accomplish is the breaking down and transmutation of toxic substances, thereby fueling soul growth.”

Cedrus N. Monte, “At the Threshold of Psycho-Genesis/The Mournful Face of God”, in: The Moonlit Path: Reflections on the Dark Feminine, edited by Fred Gustafson, 2003, p. 16

Meinrad Craighead, “Hagia Sophia”

From this heap of compost new life force arises. What has been lost in the long age of patriarchy is returning. A new balance of forces is hopefully emerging. A world where the default human is not only a white male. The Black Madonna is at the symbolic centre of these changes. Arguably, she is the most ecumenical figure in Christianity. She may be able to bring together all faiths of the past and present. So much has been projected on her – she is the dark pagan goddess, she is Isis, the Throne of Wisdom, she is the dark Demeter, Artemis of Ephesus, Cybele, she is Mary – mother of God, she is Mary Magdalene – a female apostle and consort of Jesus Christ, she is “the black but beautiful” Shulamite from the Songs of Songs, she is the Queen Sheba, she is The Holy Grail and the Ark of Covenant sought by the Knights Templar in the Holy Land, she is the primordial African mother of the whole human race. She is the dark meteorite and the black Kaaba Stone from Mecca. She is Kali and the Black Tara.

Artemis of Ephesus

The mystery of her blackness has been explained by a plethora of extraordinary researchers. Is her blackness symbolic, as Jungian researchers insist, or is she black because she is the dark African mother, the primordial mother goddess such as Isis? The latter theory has been proposed by Chiavola Birnbaum. The former always revolves around the idea of blackness as the void, the primordial matter and earth that is both the fertile womb and the ultimate tomb. We come from her and we return to her. Like Kali, whose name is connected with Time, she is both the origin and the end. Like the colour black, she assimilates all into herself. I especially resonated with these words of Ella Rozett, the curator of the ultimate online resource on the Black Madonna:

“Shortly after I was asked for the first time to give a talk on the black Madonnas I was able to go to Loreto, Italy before the black Mother in the darkness of her little brick house. There I asked her directly about the meaning of her blackness. Listening with an empty, open mind and with my whole being, I felt that she was covering me with the darkness of her cloak as in a dark ‘cloud of unknowing’. In that darkness beyond words we communed. She did not give me any words then, but afterwards I felt assured that she reveals her secrets to those who love her. Those who dare enter the darkness of the ‘Cloud of Unknowing’ and the ‘dark night of the soul’ (St. John of the Cross) she draws into herself, like a ‘black hole’ draws in matter, and there, in that darkness, she teaches them. It’s like being in the womb of God: you know you are safely held and nourished. You grow without needing to understand how. Ever since then, I see Black Madonnas as a symbol for the womb of God.”

http://interfaithmary.net/black-madonna-introduction

Frida Kahlo, “My Nurse and I”

The same Ella Rozett writes this about the image of the famous Madonna of Guadalupe:

“The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe reveals her dark and light side in two ways: one, she radiates with the light of the sun, while standing on a dark moon, and two, a straight line runs down the middle of her dress, dividing it into a light and a dark side.

Virgen de Guadalupe

Thus she brings wholeness to the one-sided world, restoring a much needed balance. In a mysterious way she does not obliterate diversity but affirms it. Everyone and everything is covered by her mantle: she is the mother who does not exclude. In her black unity she lovingly contains all divisions. She makes our western idea of divinity full by enriching it with everything that we have cut off. Jung spoke of the civilized one-sidedness in his essay “A Psychological Approach to the Dogma of the Trinity”:

“The Platonic freedom of the spirit does not make a whole judgment possible: it wrenches the light half of the picture away from the dark half. This freedom is to a large extent a phenomenon of civilization, the lofty preoccupation of that fortunate Athenian whose lot it was not to be born a slave. We can only rise above nature if somebody else carries the weight of the earth for us. … But civilized man can live without the winter, for he can protect himself against the cold; without dirt, for he can wash; without sin, for he can prudently cut himself off from his fellows and thereby avoid many an occasion for evil. He can deem himself good and pure, because hard necessity does not teach him anything better. … The dark weight of the earth must enter the picture of the whole.” (CW 11, par. 264)

She takes us down to the world of chaos, where rigid control has to be renounced. She obliterates all rational signposts, all defense mechanisms designed to get rid of our fear and doubt. In her essay Cedrus N. Monte also said that “the inner shrine of darkness” is where the Dark Feminine abides to teach us that there is no spiritual path which will enable us to “get it right,” or “put an end to suffering, to existential chaos.” Rather, as Father Bede Griffiths wrote:

“The chaos is in God. Creation is chaos. … God is in the darkness, in the womb, in the Mother. … and yet the whole order of the universe is coming out of that chaos. I think that enlightenment is the union of this divine reality with the chaos of life, of nature, of matter, of the world.”

Father Bede Griffiths, “The Stroke – Discovering the Feminine,” in: The Moonlit Path: Reflections on the Dark Feminine, edited by Fred Gustafson, 2003, p. 245

There is no understanding without embracing confusion. Let the mystery of the Black Madonna remain unsolvable.

Our Lady of the Gate of Dawn, Vilnius, Lithuania

I have written about the Black Madonna before:

  1. https://symbolreader.net/2019/12/01/a-reedeming-darkness-of-the-black-madonna-2/
  2. https://symbolreader.net/2021/09/26/the-house-of-the-black-madonna/
  3. https://symbolreader.net/2020/08/07/the-black-madonna-of-hergiswald/
  4. https://symbolreader.net/2018/10/15/the-black-madonna-of-the-luminous-mountain-2/
  5. https://symbolreader.net/2018/01/07/the-black-madonna/
  6. https://symbolreader.net/2016/02/28/the-black-madonna-of-einsiedeln/
  7. https://symbolreader.net/2021/07/12/the-house-of-mary/
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Reading The Red Book (39) – Seven Sermons to the Dead

We are still focusing on The Seven Sermons to the Dead, which are part of Scrutinies, the final section of The Red Book. In my previous posts, I looked at sermons one and two while this one is dedicated to the third sermon and Philemon’s commentaries.

Sermo III is a close encounter with the “terrible” Abraxas, whom we already met in Sermo II. Here we learn that Abraxas’ power is “greatest, because man does not see it.” He is the union of the good that comes from the Sun and the bad that comes from the devil. Unlike the Christian God, who personifies the summum bonum (the highest good), Abraxas draws his power both from good and evil.

Jung was not happy with what he saw as characteristic of our Western mentality which is split between two “antagonistic personifications: God and the Devil.” (1) In Sermo III we read:

“What the Sun God speaks is life, what the devil speaks is death.
But Abraxas speaks that hallowed and accursed word that is at once life and death.”

What follows in the sermon is an enumeration of paradoxical qualities of Abraxas – “the hermaphrodite of the earliest beginning,” who is “the fullness that seeks union with emptiness.” In him unite the brightest light and the blackest darkness. And further:

“He is the life of creation.
He is the effect of differentiation.
He is the love of man.
He is the speech of man.
He is the appearance and the shadow of man.”

When the sermon is finished Jung, in utter confusion, speaks to Philemon. He complains he cannot fathom the cruel contradictory nature of Abraxas. But Philemon tells him that this terrible God is not to be understood – he is just to be known. And, as it was said in the sermon, it is wise to fear him and redemption belongs to the one who does not resist him.

A print from Bernard de Montfaucon’s L’antiquité expliquée et représentée en figures with images of Abraxas (via Wikipedia)

Alfred Ribi compares Abraxas to nature, which is amoral, relentless and full of riddles. He also posits similarities between Abraxas and the alchemical Mercurius, who also united the opposites being both material and spiritual (2). In CW 13 (par. 284) Jung said this of Mercurius:

“(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.”

From the point of view of Stephan A. Hoeller, Abraxas embodies “the principle of irresistible activity.” He is the sheer psychic energy of “titanic magnitude.” (3) This deity has a human body, head of a rooster and serpents for legs. His chariot is drawn by four white horses. The rooster symbolizes “vigilant wakefulness” and is related to the sun, whose rising it announces at dawn. The cry of the rooster dispels the night’s demons and “sounds things into existence or awareness.” (4) The cock, the alternative word for the rooster, alludes to its phallic and fecundating power. Interestingly, Hermes, who was born at dawn, would sometimes take the form of a rooster when guiding souls to the underworld. (5) The serpent legs of Abraxas refer to his dark, chthonic and instinctual wisdom. Altogether Abraxas signifies “an equilibrated state of dynamic union.” In the figure of Abraxas opposites are united “without the terrors of moral judgment and fearful opposition.” He reconciles light and darkness by transcending both. He brings together the lower world of the instincts (evoked in the sermon by the figures of Pan and Priapos) with the spiritual heights. Poised between the two, he relentlessly generates Life.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is this.jpg
Yama holding the Tibetan Wheel of Life (notice the rooster and the serpent in the centre)
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is wheel-of-samsara-temple-uig.jpg
Wheel of Samsara from the Temple of the Thousand Buddhas in La Boulaye, France

The numerical value of the name Abraxas totals 365 both in Hebrew and Greek. 365 is emblematic of the totality of time, over which Abraxas rules. Hoeller says that Abraxas both makes and unmakes time. He entangles and disentangles the temporal knots of necessity. But he also signifies the timeless moment, “the eternal one” positioned outside of “time both in its linear and its cyclic aspects.” Because his name is composed of seven letters, it also stands for the powers of the seven classical planets, which simultaneously restrict us with their fateful knots and also act as creative stepping stones of ascension and spiritual liberation from material constraints.

Hoeller thus concludes his analysis:

“Between the two opposites, God and Devil, betwixt and between the night and the day, at the very crack of the dawn, stands the majestic chanticleer, the rooster-headed god of cosmic and psychic energy, drawing his strength from both the night and the day and preparing to race with his chariot drawn by the white steeds of the dawn to a world beyond earth and stars, out of time and out of mind.”

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 42.jpg
Mantegna Tarocchi, Mercurio

Notes:

(1) C.G. Jung, A Psychological Approach to the Dogma of the Trinity, CW 11, par. 791

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

(3) Stephan A. Hoeller, The Gnostic Jung and The Seven Sermons to the Dead. All the subsequent quotes come from this book, unless otherwise indicated.

(4) (10) The Book of Symbols, Reflections on Archetypal Images, ARAS, edited by Ami Ronnberg, p. 328

(5) Ibid.

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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 40

Reading The Red Book – part 41

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Hermopolis: the City of Beautiful Renewal

“Let us praise Thoth, the exact plummet of the balance,
from whom evil flees,
who accepts him who avoids evil,
the Vizier who gives judgement,
who vanquishes crime,
who recalls all that is forgotten,
the remembrancer of time and eternity,
who proclaims the hours of the night,
whose words abide for ever.”

Hymn to Thoth written by Horemheb, the last pharaoh of the 18th Dynasty of Egypt

Statuette of an ibis, the Vatican museum

Thoth, the Ibis-headed God of writing, magic and wisdom, inventor of hieroglyphs, was also the god of the moon. He was “the reflection of the sun (Ra) in whose absence he fills the darkness of the night with his moonlight.” (1) The shape of the ibis’s beak was reminiscent of the crescent moon. There was a connection with Thoth and the heart; first of all the Egyptians would draw an ibis as a hieroglyph for the heart; secondly, Thoth played a major role in the weighing of the heart ceremony:

“If the weight of the heart was found to be equal to that of the feather [of Maat], the deceased is deemed by Thoth as having led a ‘true life,’ namely having been true of heart and tongue.” (2)

Detail from the Papyrus of Hunefer, Thoth recording the result of the ceremony standing on the right (via Wikipedia)

Maat, the goddess of truth, justice and the cosmic order, was also one of the consorts of Thoth. Through his association with the moon and the heart, Thoth was a deity that embodied the intelligence-of-the-heart, to use the term invented by René Adolphe Schwaller de Lubicz, the brilliant French Egyptologist and mystic. For him, this type of intelligence is distinct from “the cerebral intelligence” in that it is a vehicle to reach the divine through the development of cosmic consciousness.

Thoth was also the god of healing, as he was the one “who brings justice, who healed the Sacred Eye” of Horus, which the son of Osiris had lost in the battle with Set. (3) The symbolism of the eye of Horus (called Udjat or Wedjat eye in Egyptian) encompasses healing, insight, wholeness, integrity, integration of opposites and defense against evil. (4)

Wedjat amulet via https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/552777

Before the Hellenistic city of Alexandria was established, Thoth had his own divine city in Egypt. The Greeks called it Hermopolis because they associated Thoth with their own Hermes. The original ancient Egyptian name of the city was Khmnu, which means “the city of eight” or the city of the Ogdoad – a group of eight deities associated with a creation myth of Hermopolis. (5) Eight gods emerged from the primordial waters of chaos – four male gods with frog’s heads and four female deities with serpent’s heads:

God Nun and his consort/daughter Nunet (fluidity and water)

Heh and Hehet (infinity and air)

Kek and Keket (darkness and fire)

Amen and Amunet (hiddenness and earth) (6)

In another version of the myth, the Mound of Flame emerged from the waters, on its top a celestial goose laid a cosmic egg, out of which sun the creator was hatched. In still another version, a lotus bud appeared on the surface of the waters. When it opened, it revealed a sun god as a child. (7)

I wrote at length about the symbolism of the lotus here, but I love how Mervat Nasser notices that this flower, which opens with the sunrise and closes at dusk, symbolized the notion of Being for the Egyptians:

“Like death resurrected, new life springs from the inertness and hiddenness. What this meant was that the act of being was never separate from non-being, and that creation was never a one-off incident, but something that entailed constant repetition.” (8)

She speaks of the crucial moment of “not-yet-being,” when opposites are united and there is yet no strife.

“The Blue Egyptian Water Lily” by Joseph Constantine Stadler

Because of this symbolism Hermopolis represented for the Egyptians “a place of beautiful renewal.” (9) The county where the city of Thoth was located was called the Nome of Wenet – literally the district of the hare. This beautiful lunar animal was represented by the hieroglyphic sign, which signified the essence of life or simply “being,” explains Nasser. This same hieroglyph was often encircled by the serpent ouroboros, strengthening the symbolism of the eternal renewal.

The Hare hieroglyph over water

The Picatrix, a book of magic and astrology originally written in Arabic in the eleventh century, gives us a breathtaking description of this hermetic city of wonders:

“In this text, the city is described as having fruitful trees and a lighthouse with ‘a spherical cupola’ that flooded the city with a different coloured light each day of the week. It also had ‘four gates guarded with statues of priests’ … and whoever wanted to learn a science ‘went to its particular statue, stroked it with his hand and then stroked his breast, thus transferring the science to himself.” (10)

Seshat at the Temple of Luxor via Wikipedia

There was also the Temple of Thoth in Hermopolis, which may be regarded as a prototype of the Temple of Solomon – the ultimate expression of divine geometry. Here the role of another consort of Thoth is crucial. Her name was Seshat and she was the goddess of writing, of measurement and the ruler of books. No foundation ceremonies of temples could take place without her. Her emblem was the seven-pointed star or the seven-petaled flower. Thus she symbolized the notion of divine harmony and divine cosmic order. (11) Number eight, on the other hand, which is associated with Thoth, bears the quality of intermediation between the square and the circle, between heaven and earth, says Cirlot in his Dictionary of Symbols. Hermes/Thoth was indeed a divine intermediary between the realms. Eight is also a symbol of regeneration (eight for the infinity of cycles) and “is associated with the two interlacing serpents of the caduceus, signifying the balancing out of opposing forces or the equivalence of the spiritual power to the natural,” adds Cirlot.

Dr Mervat Abdel-Nasser, the author of the book that I partly based my post on, is the founder of New Hermopolis. In the final chapter she describes it as an ecological retreat centre “for those who seek to truly belong to a world where barriers and frontiers no longer exist.” The centre was created with the Hermetic idea of oneness in mind. She quotes from the Hermetica:

“The All is not many separate things,

but the Oneness that subsumes the parts.”

In the square pond on the grounds of New Hermopolis the founders succeeded in reviving the Egyptian blue lotus, a species considered to be extinct.

Notes:

(1) Mervat Nasser, The Path to the New Hermopolis: The History, Philosophy and Future of the City of Hermes, Rubedo Press 2019, p. 18

(2) Ibid., p. 21

(3) Ibid., p. 22, the quote comes from Coffin Texts, a collection of ancient Egyptian funerary spells 

(4) Ibid., p. 24

(5) Ibid., p. 27

(6) Ibid.

(7) Joyce Tyldesley, Myths and Legends of Ancient Egypt, Penguin 2010, p. 70-71

(8) Mervat Nasser, The Path to the New Hermopolis: The History, Philosophy and Future of the City of Hermes, Rubedo Press 2019, p. 68

(9) Ibid., p. 29

(10) Ibid., p. 33

(11) John Anthony West, Serpent in the Sky: The High Wisdom of Ancient Egypt, Quest Books 1993, p. 48

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Reading The Red Book (38) – Seven Sermons to the Dead

Shiva Mahadeva from Elephanta Caves

We are making our way through The Seven Sermons to the Dead, which are part of Scrutinies, the final section of The Red Book. In my previous post I looked into the genesis of the sermons while this one focuses on the second sermon and Philemon’s commentaries.

The dead ask a portentous question at the beginning of the sermon:

“Where is God? Is God dead?”

This is of course reminiscent of Nietzsche’s famous words announcing the death of God – Gott ist tot. In his The Search for Roots: C.G. Jung and the Tradition of Gnosis, Alfred Ribi refers us to a passage of Jung’s Psychology and Religion (CW 11). There Jung said that when Nietzsche announced the death of God he was merely diagnosing “a widespread psychological fact.” Yet the Western arrogance cannot hold. The ego, says Jung, cannot kill God – that “unknown quantity in the depths of the psyche.” It does not rest with people “to decide whether they will create a ‘God’ for themselves or not.” The godlike powers within the unconscious psyche are “despotic” and “inescapable,” emphasizes Jung and adds:

“We do not create ‘God,’ we choose him.”

By which he means that the psychological thirst for ‘God’ could also be destructive – the spirit we crave could mean simply alcohol or any other addiction. That which wields power over the ego can be described as godlike. Needless to say, what we do not create, we cannot destroy, either.

Philemon begins his teaching in the second sermon by answering the question posed by the dead. He says:

“God is not dead. He is as alive as ever. God is creation, for he is something definite, and therefore differentiated from the Pleroma. God is a quality of the Pleroma, and everything I have said about creation also applies to him.”

Ribi calls this a shocking statement, for how can we claim that God was created? Philemon adds that although God has emanated from the Pleroma (the godlike fullness and the ground of being, which I discussed more fully in my previous post), Pleroma is still his essence. In this way, God is different from the rest of creation because his essence is “effective fullness.” Together with the devil God is the first manifestation of the Pleroma. In this sermon God is equated with Helios – the sun god. His opponent is the devil, whose essence is “effective emptiness” juxtaposed against the “effective fullness” of God/Helios. According to this doctrine, says Ribi in his book, God is not all powerful because his opposite – the devil – can always thwart him.

The process of creation is the process of differentiation, Philemon teaches:

“Everything that differentiation takes out of the Pleroma is a pair of opposites, therefore the devil always belongs to God.”

Both God and the devil share the quality of “effectiveness.” I had to check the German original to understand more deeply what is meant by effectiveness. The German word here is “das Wirkende,” i.e. that which acts, that which works. God and the devil are the inextricable working (dynamic, as Ribi puts it) powers of creation and destruction.

Now Philemon says that “das Wirkende” (“the effectiveness”) in fact stands above both God and the devil. This raw energy is “a God above God.” As Philemon teaches,

“This is a God you knew nothing about, because mankind forgot him. We call him by his name ABRAXAS. He is even more indefinite than God and the devil.”

In his Visions Seminar, quoted by Shamdasani in the footnotes to The Red Book, Jung described Abraxas as a supreme Gnostic deity and “a time god.” He called Abraxas monstrous, as he was often depicted with the head of a rooster, the body of a man and the serpent’s tail:

“It is a monster because it is the life of vegetation in the course of one year, the spring and the autumn, the summer and the winter, the yea and nay of nature. So Abraxas is really identical with the Demiurgos, the world creator. And as such he is surely identical with the Purusha, or with Shiva.”

Marc Chagall, “The Rooster”

Ribi explains that while in the Seven Sermons Abraxas is indeed portrayed as the supreme God, he was not so for the Gnostics. Ribi states: “…this Sermon incorporates distant echoes of Gnosticism, and is in essence an independent autonomous creation.” But if we suspend our disbelief and assume that Jung was indeed channeling the teachings of the Gnostic Basilides in his seven sermons, perhaps we should accept the supremacy of Abraxas without question.

At the end of the sermon Philemon states that while the workings of God and the devil may be described as definite, Abraxas, who is pure manifestation of the essence of the Pleroma, has no definite effect (“keine bestimmte Wirkung” in German). Abraxas is the effect, he constitutes That Which Works/Acts – “die Wirkung überhaupt.” He may also be described as “force, duration, change,” concludes Philemon.

The sermon ends but as usual Philemon stays to answer Jung’s questions. Jung is terrified of the dreadful Abraxas, who includes everything and “to whom good and evil and human suffering and joy are nothing.” He wonders why Jung wants to teach the dead about such a God. Philemon explains that the dead have already rejected both the loving God and the wicked devil. The dead have already rejected the split into the good/creative God and the evil/destructive devil taught by the mainstream Christianity. In The Gnostic Jung and The Seven Sermons to the Dead, Stephan A. Hoeller explains Jung’s lack of acceptance of this dualism:

“The simplistic notion represented by exoteric religion is that we have God, who is light, goodness, positiveness, affirmation, and benevolence, while on the other hand we have the principle of evil, envisioned primarily as the absence of good, an abyss of negativity, denial, malevolence. This religiosity declares that it is the duty of the human being to struggle against the negative pole and to strive toward the positive pole. Thus the good is within God, the bad outside God, and we are between the two, trying to follow the good but usually failing to do so with any degree of effectiveness. Jung was profoundly dissatisfied with this view and felt that it was psychologically unsound.”

Philemon finishes his commentary with these words and dashes away:

“Therefore I teach them the God who dissolves unity; who blasts everything human, who
powerfully creates and mightily destroys.”

There is more on Abraxas, this “veritable God Devil” as Hoeller “christened” him, in the third sermon.

Abraxas stone (Britannica)

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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 39

Reading The Red Book – part 40

Reading The Red Book – part 41

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My Octopus Teacher: the Soul and Her Beloved

I. “It is not necessary that you go out of your house. Remain by your table and listen. Do not even listen, only wait. Do not even wait, be completely still and alone. The world will offer itself to you to be unmasked; it cannot do otherwise, in ecstasy it will writhe before you.”

Franz Kafka, The Zürau Aphorisms

II. “It came to me that the soul is like a castle made exclusively of diamond or some other very clear crystal. In this castle are a multitude of dwellings, just as in heaven there are many mansions. At the center is the most important dwelling of them all where the most secret things unfold between the soul and her Beloved.”

Teresa of Ávila

Minoan Octopus vase from Palikastro, ca 1500 BCE

In the documentary film My Octopus Teacher the narrator (Craig Foster) finds his lost soul. It reveals herself to him as an octopus – an ancient, totally bizarre sea creature with highly-developed cognition. A beloved motif in the Cretan art, “the octopus is related to the spider’s web and the spiral, both being symbolic of the mystic Centre and of the unfolding of creation,” writes Cirlot in his Dictionary of Symbols. The eight arms of the octopus contain neurons, which means that the animal’s cognition is both central (located in the brain) and peripheral. Number eight is symbolically fitting here, since eight is bound to the infinity emblem, which in turn is connected to the caduceus with its two twined serpents. In Kabbalah eight is linked to Hod, the eighth Sephira. Its keywords are splendor, thoughts, communication and absolute intelligence. The magical image associated with this Sephira is Hermaphrodite, the child of Hermes and Aphrodite. Eight is also connected with the wisdom of the cycles as well as death and regeneration.

This makes the octopus an ideal canvas for psychological projection so beautifully shown in the documentary. For Craig she is both the anima and Mercurius – a psychopomp that guides him through her underworld. A broken man, as he describes himself at the beginning, he decides to look for healing in a very cold underwater kelp forest near his native Cape Town. He decides to dive without a wetsuit so that he can experience the underwater environment without any barriers. There he encounters a curious octopus that captivates him and so he decides to visit her every day for a year. What starts as a semi-scientific venture turns into an encounter with the Beloved. In his own words, he becomes “sensitized to the Other” and even suffers the feelings of “dismemberment” when she gets attacked by a shark and loses a tentacle.

The sixteenth-century Spanish mystic Teresa of Ávila distinguished between a spiritual engagement of the soul and a spiritual marriage. Craig is definitely spiritually engaged, which means that he tries to carefully guard his boundaries. And yet the most touching moments are when the separation between him and the creature starts to loosen, when he starts to think and feel like her. As Teresa of Ávila wrote in The Interior Castle:

“But in total union no separation is possible. … The spiritual marriage…is like rain falling from the sky into a river or pool. There is nothing but water. When a little stream enters the sea, who could separate its waters back out again? Think of a bright light pouring into a room from two large windows: it enters from different places but becomes one light.”

When the soul experiences such a union, muses Saint Teresa, it “is taught so many different things that she could never fit together a thousandth of them, no matter how many years she labored with her mind to create some kind of systematic order.” The lessons Craig received from his octopus teacher are manifold. Among other things she teaches him about relatedness and loving awareness, but also about death and sacrifice. The life of every female octopus ends after she lays her eggs, making way for a new cycle of life. By the same token, Craig experiences his soul rebirth.

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Autumn

Ferdinand Hodler, “Autumn Evening”

Whenever autumn is in full colour, I always remember the alchemical dictum “Nature rejoices in nature, nature conquers nature, nature rules over nature.” In volume 13 of Collected Works, Jung explained it in the following way:

“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.” (par. 197)

And in the most beautiful and memorable chapter of James Hillman’s Alchemical Psychology, he focuses on yellowing (citrinitas) – the third stage of the alchemical opus, which follows nigredo and albedo and precedes rubedo. On the one hand:

“Yellow signifies a particular kind of change – usually for the worse: withering leaves, aging pages, and long-stored linen, old teeth and toenails, liver spots, peeling skin, indelible stains of food and semen. The process of time shows as a yellowing. The alchemists spoke of it as ‘putrefaction’ and ‘corruption.’ “

And yet, he continues:

“The German gelb and the Latin galbus and galbinus derive from roots meaning radiant and shining, like gold; so the Homeric Achilles and Apollo are yellow-haired, blond, fair, and sunlit. In addition, the most luminous of all hues (least saturated) is yellow and the yellow spot in the middle of the retina is where vision is most acute.”

Paul Gauguin, “By the Stream, Autumn”

There is both godlike perfection and earthly corruption in yellow. And yet the beauty of autumn leaves, their radiance is mesmerizing. Nature rejoices in this moment. It is as if for a moment a normally hidden unconscious lumen naturae (light of nature) became visible. From the scientific perspective, as trees stop producing chlorophyll, their green colour fades and other colours, which had been there all along, are revealed. This pertains especially to the yellow.

The bitter sweet melancholy of autumn may be connected with the meaning of the alchemical stage of yellowing, as Hillman says:

“…during nigredo there is pain and ignorance; we suffer without the help of knowledge. During albedo the pain lifts, having been blessed by reflection and understanding. The yellow brings the pain of knowledge itself. The soul suffers its understanding.

…the yellow brings the pain of further knowledge derived from piercing insights, critical, cruel, the slings and arrows of seeing sharp and true, insights that arrive suddenly together with the fire and fear regarding the cowardice, jealousy, choler, and decay that taints…”

The final stage of the alchemical opus is rubedo, where we bring the results of all the insights of the previous stages into the world. We create and manifest. I have tried to find out why some trees turn red in the autumn and apparently it is a totally different process than yellowing. Some trees actively produce the red pigment in autumn and scientists are not sure why. You can read more about that here. While being human always means suffering under the yellow yoke, not all (only few?) of us reach the rubedo stage of individuation.

But what we see around ourselves in peak autumn are all colours, not just the yellows and the reds; the green is not yet gone, some flowers have not withered, there are plenty of colourful fruit around and the sky can be as azure as in peak summer. Alchemy spoke of cauda pavonis – the peacock’s tail – the radiant colours which appeared all at once, like the white prism breaking into a rainbow. This is by no means an orthodox interpretation, just my own flight of fancy, but I always thought that the stages of the alchemical opus are not necessarily akin to a ladder that the souls climb. In other words, it is not an evolution but an endless transformation and none of the stages are more valuable than others.

Recently I was astounded to find a book, which resonated with my thoughts. I have not finished reading it yet but here is a quote from the Introduction:

“All life, in order to develop, must pass through an irreducible multiplicity of forms, a whole population of bodies that it dons and discards with the same ease as it changes outfits from one season to the next. Every living being is legion. Each one stitches together bodies and ‘selves’ like a seamstress, like a body artist constantly modifying their appearance. Every life is an anatomical fashion show of variable duration. To think the relationship between this multiplicity of forms in terms of metamorphosis rather than in terms of evolution, progress, or their opposites, is not just to free oneself of all teleology. It means also, and above all, that each of these forms has the same weight, the same importance, the same value: metamorphosis is the principle of equivalence between all natures, and the process that allows this equivalence to arise. Every form, every nature, comes from the other and is equivalent to it. They all exist on the same plane. They each have a share of what the others have, but in different ways. Variation is horizontal.”

Emanuele Coccia and Robin Mackay, Metamorphoses

Georgia O’Keeffe, “Lake George, Autumn”
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