Symbolism of the Egg

I. “Set the egg before you, the God in his beginning.

And behold it.

And incubate it with the magical warmth of your gaze.”

II. “And I am the egg that surrounds and nurtures the seed of the God in me.”

Carl Jung, “The Red Book”

The Cosmic Egg from “The Red Book”

In the Ancient Greek Orphic tradition, Protogonos (First-born, Primeval), also known as Phanes (Manifestor) or Eros, is the first god hatched from the Cosmic Egg, which had a serpent wrapped around it. That primordial egg was believed to have come from Chronos (Time) and Ananke (Necessity) or Nyx (Night). Like the sun, he was imagined to drive a chariot and be the source of light, but unlike the sun he was considered invisible, perhaps like the yolk inside an egg. In an Orphic hymn “To Protogonos,” he is called “ineffable, hidden and brilliant”, “forever in whirring motion.” In this tradition heaven and earth were believed to have been made of the two halves of the eggshell.

Similarly, as Cirlot notes in his Dictionary of Symbols, in Hinduism Brahma hatched from an egg; also in Chinese belief the first humans sprung from an egg dropped by Tien to float upon the waters. The Egyptians were fascinated by the idea of “a secret animals growth [coming] about inside the closed shell” (Cirlot). Therefore they equalled the egg with the hidden, occult phenomena. Earle de Motte summarizes the role of the egg in Hermopolitan cosmogenesis in this way in his Egyptian Religion and Mysteries:

“… life in potentiality was the Cosmic Egg, laid on the primeval mound (the Island) by the ‘Great Cackler’ (Ibis, as Thoth). Ra … is said to have emerged from this Egg and created all life.”

By Tomasz Alen Kopera, via

The great symbolist Rene Guenon also wrote on the World Egg that it contains in seed all that the Cosmos will contain in its fully manifested state, all that is essential to create life. Ancient rituals of initiation placed the would-initiates in caves so that they can incubate and wait for a vision, which would bring them rebirth in the upper world “in the same way as the chick crawls out of the egg.” (quoted after The Book of Symbols by ARAS).

Hieronymus Bosch, “The Garden of Earthly Delights”, central panel – detail

Guenon adds that the World Egg is the navel of the world, occupying its very centre and radiating life outwards, like the Greek omphalos. In Mysterium Coniunctionis, Jung quotes from the alchemical treatise Turba Philosophorum: “The sun-point is the germ of the egg, which is in the yolk, and that germ is set in motion by the hen’s warmth.” “The Book of Symbols” summarizes the egg meaning in this way:

“The egg is the mysterious ‘center’ around which unconscious energies move in spiral-like evolution, gradually bringing the vital substance to light.”

Or, as it was put in theosophy, “within the egg, the universe is breathed out and breathed in.”

By Andrew Gonzalez, via


Juan Eduardo Cirlot, Dictionary of Symbols

Rene Guenon, Fundamental Symbols: The Universal Language of Sacred Science

C.G. Jung, The Red Book

The Book of Symbols: Reflections on Archetypal Images, by Archive of Research in Archetypal Symbolism (ARAS)

The Orphic Hymns, translation, introduction and notes by Apostolos N. Athanassakis and Benjamin M. Wolkow

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The Reality of Dreams in Henry Fuseli’s Art

Henry Fuseli’s portrait painted by James Northcote

Henry Fuseli’s paintings fire up the soul. What is special about this eighteenth-century artist is that he never painted from “nature” but rather he chose to cast his eye inwards and look for inspiration in the fiery depths of his soul. The themes of his art were myth, literature and gothic tales. The scenes depicted in his work are full of expression, the characters always in rapture, seized by extreme psychological states. The art can be described as sublime, lofty and ecstatic, as if the beholder was standing face to face with purely archetypal content, which has momentarily sprung up from the eternal substratum of the material reality.  It is reminiscent of Rudolf Otto’s idea of the numinous, meaning “”arousing spiritual or religious emotion; mysterious or awe-inspiring.” To quote Aldous Huxley’s Doors of Perception, the characters in Fuseli’s paintings stand trembling “face to face with some manifestation of the mysterium tremendum.” 

In the introduction to a brochure accompanying the exhibition of his art in Kunstmuseum Basel, Eva Rufeli wrote:

“Henry Fuseli (Johann Heinrich Füssli) is in many respects an artist of transitions and transgressions. Geographically speaking, his biography links his Swiss origins with his adopted country, England; art-historically speaking he stands on the threshold between Classicism and Romanticism; and, finally his oeuvre develops from a close dialogue between literature and visual art. The renown of the artist, who polarized opinion during his lifetime and acquired the nickname of ‘the wild Swiss’ in London, was founded on the scandal-provoking picture The Nightmare…, which triggered both horror and fascination in the public when it was first exhibited at London’s Royal Academy in 1782.”

Henry Fuseli, “The Nightmare”

This world of dreams, which is the matrix of myth and symbol, was precisely where Fuseli felt at home. It is not easy to say which paintings that I saw at the exhibition affected me most. He wrote once, “Prostrate yourself before the genius of Homer!” and it is hard to ignore his wonderful rendering of ancient themes. Here the white goddess Leukothea offers the shipwrecked Odysseus her veil. You can read more about this myth in one of my previous posts devoted to The Odyssey.


In another Homer-inspired painting, Achilles sees the soul of his dead friend in a dream. When he reaches to embrace him, the apparition turns into smoke.


Fuseli was dubbed “Shakespeare of the canvas” by his contemporaries, perhaps because he was a huge admirer of Shakespeare and an avid theatre goer. The most striking to me were his artistic illustrations of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Macbeth.  Puck, the diminutive sprite loves to lead wayfarers astray in the nocturnal forest. Here he is depicted in sheer delight over the mischief he has managed.


In another one, Titania, bewitched by a love charm, tenderly caresses the ass-headed Bottom.

Henry Fuseli - Titania Awakes Surrounded by Attendant Faries - 1794

And from Macbeth nothing surpasses the famous Three Witches.


In one of his aphorisms, Fuseli stated that “reality teems with disappointment for him whose sources of enjoyment spring in the elysium of fancy.” But I believe Carl Jung might have redeemed his fears by saying in The Red Book that he “learned in the Mysterium: to take seriously every unknown wanderer who personally inhabits the inner world, since they are real because they are effectual.” Jung complained about “a scientific phobia against fantasy.” The inner world is not less effectual or less real that the outer one. What is more, the so-called physical reality was dreamed into existence from “the elysium of fancy” referred by Jung as the collective unconscious. In Fuseli’s “Creation of Eve” the divine apparition at the top of the painting is in fact the birthing force behind this miracle of creation.



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Inanna at the Ground of Being

 “Quiet, Inanna, the ways of the underworld are perfect. They may not be questioned.”

Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth: Her Stories and Hymns from Sumer,”

translated by Diane Wolkstein and Samuel Noah Kramer

Inanna’s Descent into the Underworld, illustration taken from “Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria” by Lewis Spence, via Wikipedia

Ereshkigal, Quuen of the Underworld, image via

In the well-known Sumerian myth, Inanna, wrapped in royal robes and adorned with her best jewels, decides to descend into the Great Below, where her dark sister Ereshkigal resides. Astrologer Austin Coppock, calls this place “the bottom, the lowest point in the heavens, the Imum Coeli, the private place, the underworld, where history is stored, where the dead go, where pain and wisdom collects.”  It is the place from which no traveller returns. Ereshkigal orders her gatekeeper to treat Inanna in the same way as anyone who enters the kingdom of the dead would be treated. At the seven gates which she passes and which may be likened to the seven visible planets, the great goddess is stripped of all attributes -“mes” as they were called in Sumerian mythology – that make her a queen, a priestess and a woman:

“As she enters, remove her royal garments. Let the holy priestess of heaven enter bowed low.”

In the most poignant and shocking moment in the whole poem:

“… Erishkigal fastened on Inanna the eye of death.

She spoke against her the word of wrath.

She uttered against her the cry of guilt.

She struck her.

Inanna was turned into a corpse,

A piece of rotting meat,

And was hung from a hook on the wall.”


Having don the deed, Ereshkigal starts moaning “with the cries of a woman about to give birth.” She uncovers her breasts, while “her hair swirls about her head like leeks.” In her book Descent to the Goddess: A Way of Initiation for Women, Sylvia Brinto Perera identifies Ereshkigal with the Dark Goddess:

“She is the root of all, where energy is inert and consciousness coiled asleep. She is the place where potential life lies motionless – but in the pangs of birth…”

Ereshkigal’s “eye of death” is “the instinctual eye,” which allows the initiate to see beyond the rational, conscious patterns into what is “messy and full of affect,” says Perera. One stands naked in front of the Dark Goddess: her vision pierces all the masks, all the veils. But this confrontation carries a new vision with it: glimpsing the heart of  the ultimate reality brings a radical shedding, transformation and rebirth.

Inanna upon a lion with her emblem – the eight-pointed star


While other gods failed her, Inanna is brought to life thanks to the help of Enki, the wise sea-goat of the primordial fresh-water ocean, who was the god of wisdom and magic. Enki was sympathetic to Inanna’s quest because he had also been to the underworld and had made it back. His own underworld journey and return had made him into a shaman – the “generative, creative and empathetic male; … the culture bringer, not the preserver of the status quo” as Perera puts it. As a deity he may be viewed as a fashioner of images and thus the god of archetypes and a patron of hermeticism and alchemy. He presides over the downward path which is the path of the mystic. Diane Wolkstein summarizes traditional rites of descent after the Romanian historian of religion, Mircea Eliade. These involve “regression to a pre-natal state,” followed by death, dismemberment, suffering and rebirth/ascent. Those who return from the Great Below “carry within them the knowledge of rebirth and often return bringing to their culture a new world view.” Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth, does not know the underworld, which makes her understanding impaired. Wolkstein explains:

“Until her ear opens to the Great Below, her understanding is necessarily limited. In Sumerian, the word for ear and wisdom is the same. … It is said of Enki, the God of Wisdom and the King of the Watery Deep, who lives directly above the underworld, that his ears are ‘wide open’ and that ‘he knows all things.’”

To help Inanna, Enki fashions two creatures from dirt, who were neither male nor female. They are endowed with a precious talent of being able to mirror Ereshkigal’s emotions:

“She sighed:

Ah! My heart!

They sighed:

Ah! Ah! Your heart!”

The queen of the underworld wanted to bestow them with all manner of precious gifts, but they asked for the lifeless body of Inanna instead. When their wish was granted, They proceeded to revive the corpse with water and food of life.

However, the ways of the underworld are very strict and therefore it was demanded that someone else be sent Below to take Inanna’s place. When she returned to her kingdom, she realized that her husband Dumuzi was enjoying the absolute power and its privileges which he did not have to share. In his arrogance, he did not even notice that the earth was bare and the whole universe was mourning the disappearance of the goddess. Inanna’s reaction mirrors that of Ereshkigal:

“Inanna fastened on Dumuzi the eye of death. She spoke against him the word of wrath. She uttered against him the cry of guilt. ‘Take him away! Take Dumuzi away!”

In the end, though, Inanna agrees that Dumuzi will spend only six months in the underworld, while the remaining six months in the Underworld will be taken over by his sister, who sacrificed herself for her brother. Wolkstein explains the significance of this resolution:

“Inanna’s journey to the underworld has brought a new world order to Sumer. … By giving Dumuzi eternal life half the year, Inanna changes the cosmic pattern. … The king who enters the underworld once a year will emerge every six months renewed in feminine wisdom and inner strength to take over the leadership and vitality of the nation. Moreover, by alternating the descent between sister and brother, feminine and masculine, the women and men of Sumer … share in its necessary journey [to the underworld].”

In her book, Sylvia Brinto Perera analyzes the myth from the Jungian perspective, offering a number of angles. One obvious association is its connection with seasonal changes and “the dwindling and replenishing of the storehouse.” As Inanna personified the planet Venus, whose eight-year cycle “appears to rule growth and the multiplication of mankind,” (here Perera is quoting Rodney Colin, author of Theory of Celestial Influence) her disappearance from the sky may be linked with the agricultural cycle of death and regeneration, not unlike in the Egyptian myth of Osiris, which I have written about here .

The underworld is a magical and archaic dimension, whose depths are “ecstatic,.. transformative,… pre-verbal, often pre-image.” From this “undifferentiated ground of being” comes rebirth and new, deeper awareness. Inanna’s story, similarly to the myth of Demeter and Persephone, is also a story of initiation into the mysteries. Inanna was the first goddess who sacrificed herself “for a deep feminine wisdom and atonement,” continues Perera. She knowingly submits to transpersonal forces. Inanna’s transformation into “a piece of rotting meat” symbolizes “the incarnation of cosmic, uncontained powers into timebound, corrupting flesh, continues Perera.” Like Sophia, she descends through the planetary spheres to incarnate down on the earth. From the psychological perspective, Ereshkigal’s untethered emotional expression points to the liberation of the repressed feeling content. At the end of the poem, Inanna experiences the same fury in relation to her consort, Dumuzi, who was the only one not mourning her disappearance from the face of the earth.

The return of Inanna restores fruitfulness to the earth. Perera remarks that this is a metaphor for the Goddess’s return to the Western culture. The Goddess Inanna is an emblem of full femininity which cannot be constrained by labels such as mother, daughter, lover, virgin or harlot. She is all that and more. Perera summarizes her archetypal qualities, portraying her as a goddess of the heavens, but both of gentle rains and terrible storms. While the Greek myth compartmentalized feminine archetypal qualities into a number of female deities, the Sumerians imagined a total Goddess. Because she cannot be pinpointed to one category, she rules borderlands, transitions and the liminal regions where energies cannot be contained. Though she is the goddess of fertility and the land’s bounty, she is also known as the goddess of war. Her chariot is pulled by seven lions; at times she is accompanied by a scorpion. She is also the goddess of sexual love, who claims her needs assertively and openly, asking her consort to “plow her vulva.” She is both mother and maiden, described as “eternally youthful” and “fierce.”

Mesopotamian Tree of Life

Yet she also nurses an ancient wound, which has made her into “a wanderer.” When she was a young goddess, “in the first years, in the very first years”, she rescued a huluppu tree which had been uprooted by a violent storm. She planted it in her sacred grove in Uruk. Diane Wolkstein calls “The Huluppu Tree” one of the world’s first recorded tales of genesis. In her essay “Inanna and the Huluppu Tree: One Way of Demoting a Great Goddess,” another researcher Johanna Stuckey puts forward that the huluppu tree is in fact the World Tree, which is the axis connecting Heaven, Earth and the Underworld.

The huluppu tree of Inanna’s myth had three creatures that inhabited it: the snake, the bird Anzu and the female demon lilitu, the antecedent of Lilith. In Carl Jung’s Alchemical Studies (CW volume 13) there is a chapter called “The Philosophical Tree.” According to Jung, the tree with the bird and the serpent stands for alchemical opus and its realization. The snake “represents the mercurial serpent, which as the chthonic spiritus vegetativus rises from the roots into the branches.” It connects the tree to the Underworld, while the divine storm-bird Anzu links the tree with Heaven. Wolkstein points out that Lilith, the first bride of Adam, who refused to be underneath him, is portrayed less negatively in The Zohar, which is the foundational work of Jewish mysticism and which says that Lilith  was granted “dominion over all instinctual, natural beings, ‘over every living creature that creepeth.’” This would link her to the Earth. Wolkstein concludes:

“Lilith forms with the Anzu bird and the snake a triad of sexual, lawless creatures who live outside the bounds of the Sumerian community…”

For Jung, the tree is “the seat of transformation and renewal” and as such it has feminine and maternal significance. In the Huluppu tree myth, Inanna is a young goddess at the threshold of life. The descent to the Underworld is long way ahead at that point. The tree may be also viewed as a symbol of her psyche – the unconscious, underworld roots, the bodily consciousness symbolized by the trunk of the tree and the heavenly self, i.e. the tree’s branches. Inanna weeps in despair when she notices the three intruders living in the tree. She does not understand yet that they are there to herald her rebirth. She asks Gilgamesh for help and he obliges, violently getting rid of the creatures and uprooting the tree. He presents Inanna with a bed and a throne made from the wood of the tree. In return, Inanna gives Gilgamesh a pukku and a mikku, objects whose significance is not clear to researchers. But one thing is certain: he uses her gifts carelessly, which brings suffering to the women of Uruk. As a consequence, the earth opens and the gifts of Inanna fall into the underworld. Johanna Stuckey sees the destruction of the huluppu tree in the following terms:

“The destroying of the huluppu tree meant that human beings could no longer count on Inanna and the World Tree to maintain the cycle of life and death. Instead, they were now facing a terrifying, linear world.”

Although he helped her originally, Gilgamesh later turns against the goddess, ridiculing her as “fickle and unreliable.” Perhaps Inanna’s journey to the Underworld can be interpreted as her search for her cut-off roots. Perera laments:

“Constricted, the joy of the feminine has been denigrated as mere frivolity; her joyful lust demeaned as whorishness, or sentimentalized and maternalized; her vitality bound into duty and obedience. This devaluation produced ungrounded daughters of the patriarchy, their feminine strength and passion cut off, their dreams and ideals in the unobtainable heavens, maintained grandly with a spirit false to the instinctual patterns…”

I recently listened to In Our Time podcast dedicated to the Epic of Gilgamesh. I had to cringe many times when Ishtar (Inanna) was derided by the scholars for her alleged brutality towards her lovers. In a similar way, Harold Bloom of The New York Review of Books, who wrote a review of Wolkstein and Kramer’s book Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth, belittled the goddess, emphasizing her vindictiveness and ignoring all her other qualities. You can read Wolkstein’s response to that unfortunate review here.  It seems that the mainstream culture is still not ready to integrate the many-sided goddess because women are still denied the right to express a full range of emotions.

According to Perera, the pairing of Inanna/Ereshkigal is an emblem of the full spectrum of femininity. In the Upper World Inanna is the goddess of “active engagement” both in love and war, Down Below Ereshkigal is “disinterested in the other and alone”.  Both goddesses change into the polar opposite when they encounter each other. Ereshkigal starts displaying awareness while Inanna becomes a passive initiate, as Perera explains further:

“The cross-fertilization between the two goddesses has a profound effect on each of them and on their creative capacities; it ultimately changes the relationship between upper and lower worlds and creates a new masculine-feminine balance in the upper world.”

As Inanna enters the Underworld, Ereshkigal becomes conscious and starts to suffer, while Inanna loses consciousness and merges with the Unconscious.

The myth of Inanna’s descent is the myth of the Great Round. First, Ereshkigal’s husband, the Bull of Heaven, is slayed. What this means is that the patriarchal principle no longer sustains the feminine, who needs to descend to meet the Great Goddess and to find nourishment in her earthy depths.  The earth cannot be fertilized from above, so the Goddess sacrifices herself and becomes “the meat of the underworld, its food and rotting fertilizer.” The empty source needs to be replenished. Again Perera summarizes:

“She needs to sacrifice her dependence on the patriarchal gods to find her true home in the basic feminine and processual ground of being.”

This, to me, beautifully summarizes the essence of the myth.



Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth: Her Stories and Hymns from Sumer,

translated by Diane Wolkstein and Samuel Noah Kramer

C.G. Jung, Alchemical Studies, Volume 13 in the Collected Works

Sylvia Brinton Perera, Descent to the Goddess: A Way of Initiation for Women

Johanna Stuckey, “Inanna and the Huluppu Tree: One Way of Demoting a Great Goddess” retrieved from

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Odysseus’ Return from the Dead in the Vision of Tadeusz Kantor

Tadeusz Kantor

Cricoteca in Krakow

Cricoteca, the Centre for the Documentation of the Art of Tadeusz Kantor (1915-1990), a Polish avant-guarde artist, stage designer and, above all, a celebrated theatre director, is a striking addition to the unique architecture of Krakow, Poland. I found their permanent exhibition devoted to his art captivating. The section where I spent most time was dedicated to Kantor’s staging of The Return of Odysseus. Since The Odyssey is perhaps the central myth of my spiritual path, I was thrilled to find yet another proof that it is alive and pertinent to any historical reality. Let me quote from a lecture by Professor Mirosław Kocur, which you can find here:

“In 1944, in the town of Kraków, then occupied by the German military forces, Tadeusz Kantor … was planning to stage at the main Kraków Railway Station, crowded with Nazi soldiers and police, The Return of Odysseus – a drama by another Polish visionary Stanisław Wyspiański (1869-1907). At that time the Nazis were in full retreat and Kantor envisaged Odysseus as a German Soldier coming home by train after the German surrender at Stalingrad (02.02.1943). A war criminal and a traitor, Odysseus was also coming from the world of ancient fiction to the real world. At the dirty and ugly station nobody would notice him, nobody would care who he is and what he did. There was no Ithaca anymore. The station was an embodiment of a reality of a lower order.

Of course, this idea has never materialised. Kantor had to stage his play in a private apartment. But still people who let him do it were risking their lives, as was the artist himself. There was a Nazi police station on the other side of the street and at any moment the Germans could break in. Moreover, the performance itself referred to the war events directly. When Odysseus directed his bow towards the suitors, the audience could hear the rattle of a machine gun coming from the real loudspeaker stolen from the street. …

There was not a set design or props; the performance was staged in a room destroyed by the war. The spectators were not separated from the artists. There was no isolated space for illusion. Everything had to be real. But the reality of wartime was the reality of the lowest order. The objects used in the performance were the “poor objects” found on the street. “This everyday REALNESS – explained Kantor, who was the best commentator of his own works – which was firmly rooted in both place and time, immediately permitted the audience to perceive this mysterious current flowing from the depth of time when the soldier, whose presence could not have been questioned, called himself by the name of the man who had died centuries ago”. Only the huge canon was artificial: made of wood, it placed the war in the realm of fiction. Or more accurately: in the realm of death.”

The room of Odysseus

Drawing by Tadeusz Kantor

Another scholar, Martin Paul Leach, quotes Kantor’s commentary on the appearance of Odysseus’ room:

“In the room where The Return of Odysseus took place I did not make any decorations and there was no division between the stage and the house, so practically there was no borderline which usually marks the area of the stage, the space of illusion … . I said to myself that the room had to be real. I created a room destroyed by the War; it was real, because there were thousands of such rooms in Poland at that time. The room in Stryjenska’s flat had to be made up so that it looked destroyed. We damaged the walls so that bricks and rubble were seen; we broke up some of the floor; we brought old cardboard boxes from the attic; they were covered with lime and dust, and the spectators sat on them.”

“Finally, I make a decision to accept the empty and colorless whitewashed walls of the room as part of [the] ‘artistic work’. The walls are bare, naked. They cordon off the room. An awfully e m p t y world. And in this emptiness—USELESS WRECKS. Under the wall-heaven, there lies a long and heavy gun barrel.

Odysseus sits on it. Somewhere on the other end of this world-room, there is a piece of poor, simple wooden plank— remains of a shipwreck. A Wreck. Maybe at the very end, ‘on the horizon,’ under the wall, the audience will be seated. But still the reality of this room— these walls—heaven produce imaginary illusion. I would like to paint them myself—using grays and whites— an empty canvas. Maybe this can never happen, that a real, living space of a room, a room in which we live, becomes part of the domain of imagination; that this real room becomes a site of events, situations, objects, and people, belonging to imagination; that life is mixed with illusion; reality with art.”

Returning to Kocur, his final remarks on Kantor’s take on Odysseus are quite insightful:

“But Kantor was an eternal pilgrim himself, he internalized the great Homeric myth by repeating the journey of Odysseus with his art and with his life. In 1955 he founded Cricot 2 Theatre, named after the theatre of painters, which existed in Kraków in the years 1933-1939. The French-sounding term “cricot” was an anagram from Polish “to cyrk”, “this is a circus”. Kantor’s theatre never had any legal status or any building for staging performances. It was a genuine travelling troupe. The world of performance was Kantor’s real home and his journey was a spiritual one, towards self-discovery.

Kantor’s travelling theatre was the twentieth century version of an old Greek myth. Like Odysseus he went into the realm of Death and then returned to discover himself in his own art.”

Odysseus in Hades

At the entrance to the exhibition, Kantor’s Little Manifesto is quoted, from which comes the following excerpt:

“It is not true that MODERN man is a spirit which has vanquished FEAR … It is not true! FEAR exists: fear before the outside world, fear before our destiny, before death, fear before the unknown, before nothingness, before the void … It is not true that the artist is a hero or an audacious and intrepid conqueror as a conventional legend would have it … Believe me! he is a POOR MAN without arms and without defence who has chosen his PLACE face to face with FEAR in full awareness! It is from awareness that fear is born.“

In this humble acceptance of humanity I see Kantor’s honesty of the highest rank.

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The Black Madonna of the Luminous Mountain

The Shrine of Our Lady of Jasna Góra (Luminous Mountain or Clarus Mons) in Częstochowa, Poland, houses a most unique image of the Black Madonna. It is a Byzantine icon of the Hodegetria type (from Greek “She who shows the way) made in the twelfth century, damaged in the fourteenth century and repainted by an Italian master. In 1430 a band of Hussites raided and robbed the monastery. They tore off the painting from the altar, stripped it of its valuables and cut the face of Madonna with a sword. As they threw the painting to the ground it broke in three pieces. The painting was subsequently brought to Krakow, where it underwent restoration. The face cuts were highlighted with paint. After this act of sacrilege the Shrine started booming and the number of pilgrims rose every year. While Poland did not exist on the map of Europe having been partitioned among Prussians, Russians and Austrians, the Shrine offered a place of refuge in turmoil and mourning. Also in Communist times it was one of the few places of freedom. The banner displayed in front of the monastery reads, “Here we have always been free.”

The miraculous image is said to possess healing powers. Her cult in Jasna Góra is ecstatic, with people praying, writing down supplications and even circling her icon on their knees in an act of circumambulatio. For the Catholics, she is the crowned Queen of Poland. The icon does indeed have a powerful, magical presence, piercing the onlookers and reminiscent of the energy of Black Tara, projecting infinite compassion. The cult of the painting goes back to the cult of divine images, which was already common in Ancient Egypt. The painting is in fact treated as the divinity. The image of the Black Madonna was painted on three linden tree boards, similarly to the statue of the Black Madonna of Einsiedeln carved in the same kind of tree. Fascinatingly, this brings to mind Philyra, the mother of Chiron, who was the wouded, compassionate and gentle healer of the Greek mythology. His mother was turned into the linden tree when he was born, which makes him the son of the linden tree.

The symbolism of the Black Madonna is rich and almost unfathomable. I have tried to approach it a few times here, recently by writing this in another post:

“In our daily world biased towards clarity, obviousness, growth, achievement and tangible benefits, the Black Madonna is an omen of wholeness that we have lost on the way. She heals by making whole, soothes and warms the cold hearts, projecting boundless forgiveness and compassion. She is not always meek, but can be quite defiant and disruptive in relation to the stale status quo. Like the unconscious, she is the great balancing force. The weak, the sick, the disenfranchised, the disempowered, women, strangers, outsiders and foreigners, have all sought refuge under her mantle. “

The Polish Shrine was established by the monks of the Order of Saint Paul the First Hermit, similarly to Einsiedeln, which also has eremitic roots. Saint Paul of Thebes is believed to have spent all of his life living alone in a cave in the desert until the age of 113. In the Paulinian iconography, St Paul is depicted with a palm, a raven and two lions; the palm provided him with leaves for clothing, the raven was bringing bread, and the lions dug out his grave with their claws when he died.

The coat of arms of The Order

Above the Black Madonna’s forehead the artist painted a six-pointed star. It is not visible in photos because it is quite subtle and luminous. The hexagram is a well-known symbol balancing fire and water, the masculine and the feminine. Because of the icon’s green background, one has to think about the heart chakra, which is also associated with this colour and, what is more, the six-pointed star is included in its depictions.

The Heart Chakra

Like her Swiss sister, also the Polish Black Madonna is placed in the beautiful black-coloured chapel. Also similarly to the Black Madonna of Einsiedeln, She has got a number of ceremonial robes of dazzling quality. There is a diamond robe, a coral-pearl one, an amber-diamond one, one made of seeds but perhaps the most awe-inspiring is the blue one made from gold, silver, platinum and titanium, owing its blue colour to opals, labradorites and saphires. Meteorites from the Moon, Mars and Mercury found in China, Morocco, the USA, Poland and Siberia are also blended in this robe together with rock pieces from the Grotto of the Annunciation of Nazareth.

As if all of these magical wonders were not enough, the Chapel houses a unique work of art, namely the Way of the Cross portrayed as a series of paintings by a contemporary Polish artist Jerzy Duda-Gracz. In those truly amazing images Jesus is shown as lonely and misunderstood by his own believers. The artist commented on his approach saying, “Loneliness of God, Loneliness of Man among one’s closest folks, family, friends, believers, followers, and loneliness in the crowd.” I could not help thinking that the Jesus portrayed by this artist is very close in spirit to the Black Madonna in her simultaneous humanity and divinity.

Jerzy Duda-Gracz, Golghota of Jasna Góra

a Polish video called “Black Madonna” featuring Kora, a renowned singer who died of cancer this year

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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 (

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 ( and 8 ( 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

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 (  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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