‘Withdraw into yourself and look; and if you do not find yourself beautiful as yet, do as does the sculptor of a statue … cut away all that is excessive, straighten all that is crooked, bring light to all that is shadowed … do not cease until there shall shine out on you the Godlike Splendour of Beauty; until you see temperance surely established in the stainless shrine-(Ennead, 1, 6, 9).
Category Archives: The Work
“…our first steps towards freedom require us to “remember ourselves” and in doing so “separate ourselves from ourselves”. As I understand it, this means in my psychological language to dis-identify with the reactive places we are caught in. In other words to make an object of the part of that is caught into whatever reaction is happening now. This is also what Robert Keegan’s 1994 “Subject / Object Theory” is all about, making objective, i.e. clear to ourselves, what we are identified with, bringing our unaware ground into consciousness so that we can relate to it, so that we can develop our awareness around it and start to understand it. So that we can start to look after ourselves in a new way.This is what therapy is all about, facilitating this movement of separating ourselves from ourselves in order to develop our awareness and understanding around that part of ourselves. This in the service of healing the unfinished trauma in its widest sense that we hold from our pasts and which unconsciously drives our compulsive reactive identifications. Just making this step into seeing that we are caught and that this is not the whole of ourselves, is such a profound and powerful one. ‘Remembering’ ourselves, i.e. connecting our split self back together again, opens the door to not only self-knowledge and understanding, but also to all the possibilities we have of being.Held trauma inevitably splits the heart and mind and body, and it is re-connecting these aspects of our whole together again that facilitates “self-remembering”. Or is it ‘remembering ourselves’ that enables them to re-connect? I’m not sure which way round it is, maybe both work simultaneously, or maybe we can get there from using either our ‘intention’ or ‘attention’.
The Black Sophia, Aurora Consurgens
The black figure represents the LUNAR Sophia, who has decended into matter and become caught in it.
“The black depths have covered my face and the earth is corrupt and sullied in my works, and darkness has fallen upon it, as I am sunk in the mire of the depths, and my substance has not been opened” ( From C.G Jung, Mysterium Conjunctionis)
According to Fulcanelli: ” In Hermetic symbolism, the black Madonnas represent the virgin earth, which the artist must choose as the subject of his work. It is the Prima Materia in its mineral state, and it comes from the ore-bearing seams buried deep beneath the masses of stone” (Fulcanelli, Le Mystere des Cathedrales.) Sophia in Gnosticism and in the Cabala bears both features of a virgin bride and those of the womb, the mater materiae. The seed that falls into it, according to the Aurora Consurgiens, produces a threefold fruit. And this fruit in her body is the tripartate Caduceus, the Christ-Mercury, the healing serpent, the curing water that flows into Hades to awaken the dead bodies of the metals and free his mother-bride.” From Alchemy & Mysticism, Alexander Roob
Here’s the content of the article I wrote that was published in Astraea magazine a few years ago. Copyright Jaq White.
In this article Jaq White examines the alchemical
symbolism in the ancient phenomena of the Black Madonna.
The Cosmic Cycle and the Black Madonna
“Nature comprehends the visible and invisible Creatures of the Whole universe. What we call Nature especially, is the universal fire or Anima Mundi, filling the whole system of the Universe, and therefore is a Universal Agent, omnipresent, and endowed with an unerring instinct, and manifests itself in fire and Light. It is the First creature of Divine Omnipotence.” (The Golden Chain of Homer Of the Generation of things, Part I Chapter 1 – What Nature is.)
The alchemists and medieval philosophers sought to imitate Nature and the Divine, and expressed the various stages of inner transmutation that leads to enlightenment and the “Philosopher’s Stone”, known as Spiritual Alchemy, through art and symbols. In paintings and illustrations there are depictions of a snake biting its own tail in a circular symbol known as the Ouroboros. In alchemic symbolism this represents, among other things, the final unifying stage of our dual nature, and becoming one with the Divine. It is the symbol of the All, the One. Another way of demonstrating the work needed to attain this inner unity is the image of two serpents apparently devouring one another. In some, the upper serpent is winged, which signifies the Universal World Spirit – the lower serpent signifies matter, the Virgin Earth, the earthly state. The upper winged snake is the Cosmic spirit that brings everything to life, that kills everything and takes all the forms of nature. It is at the same time everything and nothing. When the two serpents are united, they are said to have “devoured one another” and the result is the Ouroboros; one single serpent, devouring its own tail, to express the continuous cycle through the aspect of time.
The word alchemy is thought to originate from the Ancient name for Egypt (Khem), the Black Land. The Ancient Egyptians were skilful workers in metals – there are scenes of metal-working found at Thebes and other locations, and the best known metals have identifiable hieroglyphic symbols that are defined by the determinative “of the earth/ground”. The Egyptians knew to employ quicksilver (Mercury) in the process of separating gold and silver from the native matrix, and the resulting (black) oxide was thought, allegedly, to possess powers. This black powder was identified with the underworld form of Osiris – those in the underworld are often depicted with black face and hands – and credited with similar magical properties. Alchemy is related to the black of Osiris through the connection of the black (fertile) earth, the belief that all light comes out of the dark, and all life comes out of the black; the colour black is associated with the source of creation. The alchemists were obsessed with the prima materia. They called it the black virgin, because its colour was black and it was virginal in the sense that no alchemical transmutation had been performed on the material.
The alchemist Nicolas Flamel wrote that the lower snake is the fixed and constant masculine element, and that the upper snake is the volatile and the black or dark woman. In alchemic terms, the first is linked with sulphur, warm and dry. The other is linked with quicksilver or the cold and moist. This employment of the quicksilver in practical metal-working has been referred to above, with regard to the Egyptians, and the same ideas are at work on the spiritual level, with the two snakes.
In what is believed to be the earliest known alchemical text – attributed to one Kleopatra of 4th Century Alexandria, there is an image of an Ouroboros with its head and upper half portrayed as black, and its tail and lower half shown as a speckled white. This correlates with the upper half or upper, winged snake as the Cosmic Spirit that takes all forms of nature, and is the volatile, black feminine aspect, while the lower half, or lower snake, can be identified with the fixed and constant masculine, the earthly state and matter.
Many well-known medieval alchemists were Christians, and some of the most beautiful illustrations involved symbolism representing well known Christian icons, such as Jesus, the Virgin Mary, the Mother Mary, and Adam. They also included Gnostic figures such as Sofia, the female aspect of the divinity, also known as Wisdom. It is pertinent at this point, to mention that in Gnostic beliefs, the Holy Spirit is female.
Many of the grand medieval cathedrals and churches in Europe keep unusual statues of the Virgin and Child – a black-skinned Mary nursing a black-skinned infant Jesus. These are known as the “Black Madonnas”, or “Black Virgins” and tend to be kept in the crypt or some other underground vault.
There are many known examples of statues and paintings of the Black Madonna, perhaps as many as 300 in France alone, and a surprising amount of the paintings and statues have an association with St. Luke, the patron Saint of painters – he is attributed with painting them whilst in the presence of the Virgin Mary, who revealed her mysteries to him during the sitting. He has also been credited with carving at least one of the statues – the wooden statue of Montserrat which, legend has it, was hidden in the Holy Grotto to hide it from the Moors. However, carbon dating suggests the statue originated in the 12th or 13th Century. Hiding the statue to keep it safe is the main reason given for these Madonnas being found in crypts and grottos. The unusual colouring of the Madonna is often explained as due to decay. There are claims that some of the statues were made from a black stone, probably obsidian, that was then given a pale skin-coloured covering to depict the recognised image of the Madonna and Child. As the pale skin colour wore off and the black base was exposed, this Madonna was then relegated to the crypt. In some churches (for example in Poland and Russia) there are iconic paintings of Mary and the Infant Jesus, also claimed to be by the hand of St. Luke, where the blackened skin has been attributed to smoke from candles, or ageing.
Comparisons have been made of the image of the Christian Madonna and Child with almost identical depictions of Isis, Goddess of Ancient Egypt, nursing her infant son, Horus. The Mother Goddess was also widely venerated by Europeans, albeit under many different guises. Nowadays, many of these goddesses are linked with Isis and, in some cases, temples in France have been attributed to Isis; for example, the town of Issoudun is so named because it is believed there was a Temple of Isis under the main hill. If so, the goddess might easily have been assimilated by Europeans into their pantheon of deities due to the similarity with Earth and Mother Goddesses such as Nertha. Pagan temples to Isis and other Mother/Earth Goddesses would in time be replaced by Christian churches, and images of the various Goddesses of the Earth were replaced by images of the Virgin Mary, Mother Mary, or Mary in other guises (Queen of Heaven etc.) Symbolically, caves, grottos and crypts have been associated with the womb – a cave representing the womb of Mother Earth in mythology. There are goddesses connected with the Cave-Mother symbolism, and among these Cave-Mothers we might include Mary, who gave birth in a rock-cut shelter.
Some believe that these statues of the Black Madonna are not Christian in origin; rather, they are representations of Isis and Horus that when discovered, were wrongly identified as the Virgin Mary and Infant Jesus – if so, this would certainly create the need for explanations as to why the statues were originally hidden. However, there is another possibility; the Black Madonna might never have depicted Isis but might well be an esoteric – possibly medieval – Christian symbol.
The link with medieval alchemy and esoteric or Gnostic Christianity has been demonstrated, and the use of the symbol of the Ouroboros shows an understanding of the Cosmic Cycle, as in the coupling of the above and the below, of matter and spirit in earthly man. The circular motion of the snake eating its own tail illustrates the continuity of time, and endless development.
This Cosmic Cycle is incorporated in the Christian Holy Trinity; albeit in completely masculine terms, with God as heavenly father, heavenly Holy Spirit and the divine son made of earthly matter. This was enabled through the coupling of the male Holy Spirit and the “living” Virgin Mary. In Egyptian mythology, the living Isis only conceives her son Horus after the death of Osiris. He procreates from the spiritual world, when he becomes God of the Underworld. This can be explained in alchemical terms, with the masculine Osiris, the black virginal prima materia and fixed male, uniting with the black, volatile, female, spirit of Isis his wife, conceiving and producing the Divine child Horus,
the Earthly representative of his father Osiris. The serpents have devoured one another, the Ouroboros is realised and so the Cycle continues.
The serpent has long been perceived as an enemy of Christians, and the use of serpent symbolism in Christian iconography is generally to portray sinfulness, temptation, and the fall of mankind. The serpent as a symbol of the Divine state of man would not have been acceptable, and is still not acceptable to many Christians. However, in the “Black Madonna” we have the same trinity expressed. The Black Virgin is, like Osiris, the father and the divine, male essence. The Black Mother is, like Isis, the mother and the divine, female essence, and the product of their union is the Ouroboros, Horus – the Christ.
The Black Madonna could be another representation of the All, the trinity – and an esoteric Christian symbol of the Cosmic Cycle.
“..for a lily blossoms upon the mountains and valleys in all the ends of the earth..” Jakob Bohme – Signatura Rerum (The Signature of All Things)
Fig. 2. Der Kleine Morgen. Collection Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg
“The painting consists of two separate parts, an interior and an exterior painting or “frame” that are connected to each other. The interior parting is dominated by a female figure that has often been interpreted as “Venus” or “Holy Mary”, while the child has been seen as “Eros” or “Jesus Christ”.12 Taking the exterior painting, I believe that the painting illustrates the Golden Age before the fall into matter as it is described in Jacob Böhme’s Aurora. The female figure illustrates Sophia, the divine wisdom while the child stands for the first man, the androgynous Adam. The idea of light, the fiat lux, is central to the painting. The top part is held in transparent primary colors, while the foreground already shows non-transparent features. The central axis of both the interior and the exterior picture is light and can therefore be understood as God (and his “female part” Sophia) being the central axis of all. The obvious reflection of light on the child’s body is mere a combination of internal and external light, of the sun and the divine glimpse inside the child.
The frame illustrates the fall into matter and the salvation of nature. At the bottom, the sun is darkened and two children – male and female – are fleeing from it, heading toward two other figures in the corners. Those are trapped under the roots of a plant, showing the entrapment into matter and their bodies fail to show the inner light. It is important to state here that even in this dark corner Runge does not use black, but only a very dark brown. He shows that, even in the darkest place, black (or evil) has not succeeded in taking over the world and that there is still hope for salvation.
Thus, the plant grows upwards, toward the lighter spheres and the red flower of the amaryllis bears a child, raising its arms. Its body reflects the light of the inner painting, the light of Sophia. In the top part of the frame you can see a lily and a winged child kneeling on its blossom. It has lost its sexual features and is bowing towards the top center of the exterior painting: Rays of light surrounded by small heads are reflected on a blue background. Taking the copper-print version of Der Morgen into account, which can be understood as an earlier work on the same theme, these rays symbolize God (fig. 3). In the copper-print, Runge uses the Hebrew name, while in the color version God “loses” his specific Jewish-Christian connotation and becomes a universal concept.” From http://www.theosophyforward.com/index.php/theosophy-and-the-society-in-the-public-eye/411-the-influence-of-jacob-boehmes-theosophical-ideas-on-the-farbenlehre-theory-of-colors-by-philipp-otto-runge.html?start=1
Jakob Boehme’s Aurora – Illustrated pdf file http://ia600401.us.archive.org/28/items/JacobBoehmesAurora-ElectronicText-edition/Jacob-Boehme-Aurora-electronic-text.pdfJakob BoehmeAuroraThat is theDaySpring.OrDawning of the Day in the OrientOr MorningRednessin the Rising of the SUN.That isThe Root or Mother ofPhilosophy, Astrology & Theologyfrom the true Ground.
Or a Description of Nature
The kabbalistic-alchemical altarpiece in Bad Teinach – Copyright Adam McLean From the Hermetic Journal 12, Summer, 1981, pages 21-26.
“The Kabbalistic-Alchemical Altarpiece in a small church in the town of Bad Teinach near Calw in Germany, is, I believe, of the greatest esoteric value.
I have at present little information on its outward history, though it is dated 1673 and seems to have been prepared at the instigation of Princess Antonia (1613-1679), so I will therefore concentrate in this article on the symbolism of the painting.
The painting’s central panel, which is all we shall concern ourselves with here, shows us a Rose Garden surrounded by a hedgerow bearing red and white roses. Outside the garden in the background on the left is a four-square military camp, while on the right we see a city founded on a circular plan. In the centre foreground, a bowered gate opens into the garden and a female figure is seen standing upon the threshold, pausing at her entry to gaze at the wonders before her. She bears in her right hand her flaming heart, while on her left she leans upon a staff in the form of an anchor cross. Thus she represents the Soul of Man standing at the threshold of spiritual illumination, with the fire of enthusiasm and love burning within the heart, and the anchored foundation of the Soul in the central mystery of the Cross of Christ.
The Soul gazes into the garden, and here we are reminded of the Rosarium or Rose Garden of the Virgin, the medieval picture of the enclosed domain in which the human soul can commune with the Sophia-Wisdom aspect of the Spirit. Within this Rose Garden are two realms – a circular garden and a domed Mystery Temple. The soul must first traverse the circular garden before the soul reaches the outer court of the Temple which stands upon a podium of seven steps.THE CIRCULAR GARDEN
The garden is centred upon the figure of the resurrected Christ, standing upon a rock and holding his Cross. From his body there flows a stream of blood forming a pool at the centre of the circle. Around him the garden is segmented into three rings of twelve flower beds each bearing their own particular plants, and we see 12 figures standing around the circumference of the inner ring (which is within the pool of the Christ Blood). These twelve figures are constellated with an array of symbols which are too complex to analyse here, but for example they appear with various animals, they hold symbolic objects, have certain colourings and they each stand at sacred trees which grow at the boundary of the inner ring. These trees are as follows, counting clockwise from the figure just to the right of the Christ :-
Laurel – Cypress – Willow – Fig – Cedar – Fir – Olive – Apple – Pomegranate – Almond – Palm – Oak.”
For the rest of the description, please see here: http://www.levity.com/alchemy/bad_teinach.html
“An alchemist is seen in physical form below this magnificent scene wearing a coat of stars, white one side and dark on the other. He stands in a grove of trees, each of which bears a symbol of the planetary metals and twelve fundamental substances. The alchemist holds a twin-bladed axe in either hand reinforcing the division of opposites in the manifest world. Yet he stands upon the backs of two lions sharing one head. This indicates his powers of discrimination and freedom from the opposites.”
The Heart of the Hermetic Tradition