Sacred Order and Restless Saturn

“The problem with introspection is that it has no end.”
― Philip K. Dick

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Cosmos

Although we easily recognize that life on planet Earth, and perhaps elsewhere, is possible because of the regularity witnessed within the solar system and beyond, dare we call fate that which influences the individual by a similar ordering principle? If not, then why?

cos·mos1
/ˈkäzməs,ˈkäzˌmōs,ˈkäzˌmäs/
noun

It may be easy to intellectually separate the idea that life depends on order to sustain the planet and every living being, from the idea that our lives are also ordered, and therefore, to a certain extent, fated, but in what way does fate provide order?

We pride ourselves on the ability to make conscious choices as we become more aware and responsive to the constraints that bind us, and because the more we can make choices, the less fated and more free the act of choosing makes us feel. But, how do we distinguish between a free choice and a fated one? There must be something in which we measure and compare possible outcomes against in order to categorize our actions as free or fated.

Neoplatonic-Sun

In the study of astrology, these questions of power, forces of fate and will, naturally arise. And so they should if we are to afford ourselves an opportunity to wrestle with their distinctions and correspondence within our practice and understanding astrology’s purpose.

Where the ancients found the ideas of fate and fortune usefully aligned to the constraints more naturally severe and apparent, and where choices that were contrary to the order of the state or tribe were often punished either by human or natural law, modernity, with its technological advances, allows us the luxury of seemingly going it alone through choices that may not always benefit the tribe. We are much less dependent on the tribe for our survival. We are also much more distanced from exactly what it is that we are dependent upon. To the ancients, many of our choices would seem frivolous, extravagant and self-destructive as we increasingly lose sight of the importance of our choices and the victims of their consequences.

Qualities of Time

Scholars of the myth contrast two kinds of time, secular and sacred, rational and mystical, forward-moving time and timeless circularity.

Hillman, James. The Force of Character: And the Lasting Life. Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

The idea of eternal time also carries with it the sense infinitude, that reality, the cosmos, even with its orderliness, has no bounds, no separations, no limits, no beginning and no end. Does this idea of the eternal contradict the notion of a cosmic order? Are order and chaos then, secret allies? It’s fascinating to both imagine and come to a fuller acceptance that from the seemingly finite state of human existence, it’s only through the mind and the nature of our experiences that we can envision eternity and finite qualities of time.

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Perhaps it is the emphasis on secular time, the 9-5 habits where attention of the things of the world seduce and enslave us, that have left us with less and less capacity for the experience of eternal time. The more distant these time qualities become, the more the impulse to choose the fast-food of technology keeps the clock-a-ticking, cutting us off from any experience of the eternal. Precious and few are those timeless states granted to us.

“The notion of a separate organism is clearly an abstraction, as is also its boundary. Underlying all this is unbroken wholeness even though our civilization has developed in such a way as to strongly emphasize the separation into parts.”
― David Bohm, The Undivided Universe: An Ontological Interpretation of Quantum Theory

Everyday experience is bound by the limits of our senses, language, thought, culture and the limits of our place within the cosmos, all of which do more to suggest a real separation of experience into discrete parts known as days, hours and moments. We can however, accept that this form of orderliness, through the constancy of the seasons, planetary and stellar motions, and observed through the delicacy of their finely tuned parameters are necessary to sustain life as we know it. Our linear observations about the cosmos, are perhaps, through the very suggestion of limits and boundaries, the very thing, that ironically, give way to the idea of the eternal.

“I’m so tired… I was up all night trying to round off infinity.”
― Steven Wright

How then, do we get at the idea of the eternal, let alone an experience of something both sacred and eternal?

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Within the seeming limits of human experience, there are for each of us, moments of discovery, insights, and understanding that bring coherence along with a sense of an expanding wholeness that we participate in; something transcendent, bigger and beyond the narrow confines of “me” and “you.” The more expansive one’s experience becomes, the less it seems to be only inside me, and the more it seems that we are all participants in something much, much grander than previously imagined.

My little ego, even if only now and then, may burst open, giving way to an expanded sense of self and other, transcending the time-bound constraints and acknowledge its smallness in comparison to a greater unbound whole. To the ancients, this feeling, or realization of a greater intelligence has been referred to by many names: One, Anima Mundi, Infinite, God, Cosmos, Eternal, Self, Divine. No matter how imagined, or expressed, this unbounded sensation is perhaps one of the most mysterious experiences of all, and yet impossible to share, and especially, to define. Language, we see, remains the map, not the territory.

How then, throughout the long trail of human existence, does this idea of the eternal persist, especially as it seems so fleeting?

“Cosmos” indicates a world formed by aesthetics. “Cosmetics,” derived from kosmos, gives the clue to the early meanings of the Greek word, when it was linked with the dress of women, with decoration and embellishment, with all things fitting, in order, furnished, and arranged, and with ethical implications of appropriateness, decency, honor. The aesthetic imagination is the primary mode of knowing the cosmos, and aesthetic language the most fitting way to formulate the world.

Hillman, James. The Force of Character: And the Lasting Life. Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

The aesthetic imagination, rather than seeking to quantify the cosmos, mapping it, saving it for later, for time, permits the immediacy of its ordering and thereby participates through a knowing of the senses that also permits the transcending of time and orderliness, all the while accepting the imposition of limits on all creation, human and otherwise. It is then, the persistence, the constancy of our experience that gives us faith that the sun will rise again, but also that I will one day cease to exist. The coming and going is indeed a fated participation of the cosmos; the ordering ways of the universe. Cosmic ordering itself provides the necessary ground of our being; as a place for transcendence into eternal time. 

(To be continued…)

Meditations on Astrology

“Here vigour failed the lofty fantasy:
But now was turning my desire and will,
even as a wheel that equally is moved,
The love which moves the sun and the other stars.”

Dante’s last line in Paradise

Last December, shortly after my mother passed away, I signed up for Adam Elenbaas’s Hellenistic Astrology course*. How little I understood then the timeliness of this course of study with its potential for reseeding and sustaining me through the subsequent changes in my personal life. The class is difficult, challenging me to discipline my study habits and to align them with the teacher’s plan and vision – for learning now, and eventually, for practicing astrology on my own.

Here goes a first attempt at articulating some thoughts I have about astrology, which like alchemy, I see primarily as a practice for deepening my understanding of the human experience, where the map can align with the territory, revealing a new depth perspective of the landscape. There are countless details yet to incorporate before this new language can begin to be more fully articulated. Astrology itself, is a big world, filled with many diverse voices and perspectives.

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Practice

Astrology, in the most basic sense, is a way to see and discover the vast array of correspondences between heaven and earth, between the ideal or archetypal realm, and the everyday world of our lives and the patterns revealed over time. The astrological chart then, is an image of the skies from the perspective of Earth. The “wheel” shows the positions of the planets from two distinct perspectives:

  • Primary or geocentric motion: the clockwise east to west motion that we observe from sunrise to sunset.
  • Secondary, or heliocentric motion: the counter-clockwise motion of the planets relative to the constellations or zodiac.

Cosmology

Astrology, like alchemy, can provide yet another form or structure for an initiation into a personal experience of the eternal mysteries, the Divine will of the gods, of which we each share a portion of both their glory and fall, or what the ancients referred to as fate.

Fate: late Middle English: from Italian fato or (later) from its source, Latin fatum ‘that which has been spoken’, from fari ‘speak’.

Throughout human history, and in a variety of cultures, astrologers have provided us with the tradition of tending to the “wandering stars” as signifiers of power for their ability to move contrary to the backdrop of the fixed stars. Perhaps the awareness of this secondary motion, sparked the idea that we too, could either harness their powers, or be harnessed, depending on our knowledge and alignment with the heavens. If fate itself is a power, perhaps, we too, could understand it, or least be present to its impact upon us.

That we are situated, a human body on this tiny planet, in such a largely unknown cosmos, when not taken for granted, is humbling. Perhaps through the recognition that astrology offers us a vision of alignment with the cycles of the planets, we might feel all the more that we too, must belong. We are after all stardust! In some ways, we have lost the sense of connection to the underlying powers of any unseen world, just as we no longer remember the stories of the ancient ones.

Viennese_zodiacI am grateful to have found an astrology teacher who suits me well. Adam is immersed in a variety of esoteric traditional studies (See his excellent series on the Hermetica), and views astrology as yet another practice that can mirror back to us the ways we are aligned, or misaligned as the case may be, to the cosmos. Through this embodied life, with all of its joys and sorrows, we are, all of us, offered an experience of something so much greater than what meets the eye.

Are we able to embrace the totality of our personal experience as necessary parts of the whole and so align ourselves into a radical acceptance of the need for cooperation with each other and the powers that be?

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Fear

Traditional, or Hellenistic astrology, unlike more modern forms, did not shy away from the idea that each of the planets held distinct qualities and influences, and with the exception of Mercury, were considered either benefic or malefic, depending on the qualities of their illumination. Jupiter, big and bright, is considered a benefic, and brings expansion and good fortune, Saturn, with its darker nature, and the farthest away of the seven known planets, was seen as malefic, associated with the time-bound, finite qualities of living beings and, until the more recent discoveries of Neptune, Uranus and Pluto, also served as the end of conceivable time and space.

The ancients, of course, were more vulnerable to the hardships of life, and hence, to a fear of the unknown with the need to seek and find meaningful tools for survival. The idea of fate, that the heavens could “speak” our predicament, was deeply embedded in day to day existence of many peoples and often related to” divine will” whose powers were transmitted through earthly conduits, such as demigods and royalty. To seek access to the divine gifts of the gods was a way to harness power for both mystical and political practices.

While some moderns might argue that rational thought replaced the superstitions of astrology, and that we are better off for it, one must not only ignore the technological context of objective reality in any given era, but might also reflect on the condition we now find ourselves in. If for us moderns, it is no longer true that we can directly experience the state of the world through feeling her mystery, awe, beauty, fear and joy, and if we have become incapable of seeing that the use of technology and political norms has brought us to the brink of destruction, then we are left with a meaningless “nothing but” world of bucket lists, calendar dates with a heap of destruction in their wake.

 

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The Natal Chart

As I am just beginning to learn the basics of reading a natal chart, useful patterns already begin to emerge. As I ponder the meanings of planetary positions, aspects, house placements and dignities, a story emerges that resonates deeply within me. 

Any form of an interior practice should, I think, take nothing on faith, but keep all questions front and center. As well, questioning need not deter one from engaging the practice. As with other forms of contemplative practices, trusting in the process as a potential for opening oneself deeper into reflection becomes another precious gift.

My prayer is for the humility to release me into current life changes; to stay with this new practice; to trust and accept in tending to the work, and that it may bear fruit worth sharing.

  • Along with the Nightlight Astrology class experience, I am also grateful to KoneKrusoKronos for his astrological reflections that can be found here:

https://konekrusoskronos.wordpress.com/2010/12/19/the-mother-of-all-sciences/

https://konekrusoskronos.wordpress.com/2010/01/29/astrology-spiritual-alchemy/

*The ideas presented here are strictly my own interpretations.

Story and Fate

You can say the human heart is only make believe
And I am only fighting fire with fire
But you are still a victim
Of the accidents you leave
As sure as I’m a victim of desire

Billy Joel

In his book, Healing Fiction, James Hillman compares the ideas of Jung, Adler and Freud as the influential backdrop within the therapeutic setting. He compares this modern psychological ritual to story telling, where within a contained space, the therapist and analysand each play a part through the plots and themes of personal pathology as a form of poiesis.

Psychoanalysis is a work of imaginative tellings in the realm of poiesis, which means simply “making,” and which I take to mean making by imagination into words. Our work more particularly belongs to the rhetoric of poiesis, by which I mean the persuasive power of imagining in words, an artfulness in speaking and hearing, writing and reading.

…Plot reveals these human intentions. Plot shows how it all hangs together and makes sense. Only when a narrative receives inner coherence in terms of the depths of human nature do we have fiction, and for this fiction we have to have plot.

Plot reveals to us the nature of the setting; the what, why, how and who, where cohesiveness brings the elements together as story; something that brings sense and meaning to our lives and upon reflection gives one the opportunity for understanding; who am I “in relation to.” Hillman refers to this as a need to found oneself within a story:

I need to remember my stories not because I need to find out about myself but because I need to found myself in a story I can hold to be “mine.” I also fear these stories because through them I can be found out, my imaginal foundations exposed.

Jules Verne-Hetzel_front_cover

Story may expose us, but if in some sense we can see the compelling nature of story, and see ourselves held, contained and carried along within it, we might also come to see its beauty and necessity. For how else can the telling happen outside of our compulsion as teller?

Has not story been with us for as long as we have any evidence at all for humanity’s past? And even those long ago cave paintings, upon one glance, do they not compel us into their story? Here is where notions of truth, law, fact and history might not be necessary, for where truth cannot be told, honesty may still prevail.

Because stories are not beholden to the truth, they carry necessity into a revelation of something beyond ideal and objectivity. And to be found, not just by any story, but “my” story, may remind me of that ongoing relationship between the inescapable subjective experience and the desire for belonging to that realm beyond one’s personal limits, even though objectivity may never be experienced as a timeless truth.

From the compulsive desire for its purity, truth and power may still serve us well as what urges our way forward, drawing us impossibly toward some unobtainable goal, and so, closer to each other, compelling within us a deeper understanding, acceptance, compassion and love, and as well into an imaginative vision that points beyond the limits of “me,” to the greater whole we belong to.

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How then does fate, if we can imagine such a thing, enter into the story? Fate may not mean fatalistic – for our death is in any case already a given. But fate can be understood as the conditions that contain us, imposing certain limits, both universal and personal in nature. If character reveals the constraints of our condition, determining probable outcomes, then fate is the revelation of the conditions, limits, assets and deficits acting upon us through time, endowing us each with uniqueness. Fate then, is the relationship between character and plot within the story that “founds” us.

Fate, in this sense, need not be understood as that which opposes free will, but rather, that which reveals something through relationship within the story, moving and shaping character as poiesis. Fate in this sense is where the plot reveals itself through character and impulse within the passions we feel for the stories images. Here is where we may be tempted to rescue the story itself, becoming the hero of our own life.

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But rather than pinning ourselves to any notion of actor vs. script writer, the conflicts in our storied lives could be understood as having a Dionysian quality, displaying a necessary tension as the drama within the story; that inescapable aspect of experience inherent within the nature of being as a “coming and going.” The beauty of seeing life as a story may lie in the notion that it saves us from the burden of looking only for truth by accepting the limits of our ability to know more than our share of it.

Dionysian consciousness understands the conflicts in our stories through dramatic tensions and not through conceptual opposites; we are composed of agonies not polarities. Dionysian consciousness is the mode of making sense of our lives and worlds through awareness of mimesis, recognizing that our entire case history is an enactment, “either for tragedy, comedy, history, pastoral, pastoral-comical, historical-pastoral, tragical-historical, tragical-comical-pastoral,” [34] and that to be “psychological” means to see myself in the masks of this particular fiction that is my fate to enact.

I would place ecstasies right alongside the agonies, where both heighten the capacity for losing ourselves in the story, believing in it, compelled by its necessity and the forceful enactment of our character. The question of fate and character makes clear life’s struggles. Through struggle, and the strange but enduring resistance we might bring to character and fate, both may harden and soften through the more humbling chapters of the story, inviting reflection as that which reveals to us a double nature; the character within and the writer of the story. So then what?

The_arrow_of_old_Wahraz_kills_Masruq,_the_Ethiopian_King_of_Yemen

The double nature that we experience through reflection can serve as a force for reimagining the story forward. Although we may not be the only writer of the story, or actor on the stage, what comes clear to us through the passing of time, are the subtle possibilities of plot twists and turns, that because we are already participating in, we now can see anew the part that we play. Perhaps though, the possibility for this sort of intrusion into character and fate, requires something be made of the distinction between the character and the writer. While the character within the story is that which is revealed, where do we find the writer?

If the writer is unknown, therein lies the necessity for an ongoing unknowing as praxis. The fictional self, the written, or Hillman’s, “founded,” when not confined to literal notions of cemented identities, shows us possibilities, each revealing some aspect of reality which without the writer remain unrealized:

If Asclepius is archetypal figure of the healer, Hermaphroditus is the archetypal figure of healing, the psychic healing of imagination, the healing fiction, the fictional healer for whom no personal pronoun fits, impossible in life and necessary in imagination. This figure also helps us revalue the antithetical mode of thinking. It becomes a Siamese-twin mode of insight. One is always never-only-one, always inseparably bound in a syzygy, insighting from a member of a pair. [9] Within these tandems we become able to reflect insight itself, to regard our own regard.

“To regard our own regard,” is akin to Jeffrey Kripal’s notion of authoring the impossible into the possible, where we risk moving out of the story and into the chair of the writer. But for the relationship to be a living one, the syzygy must remain present to us. As well, an opening, if we are to find one within the syzygy, needs our willing submission. To do otherwise, would impose a sense of ownership which risks the closing off of the source which remains as other, and that which would facilitate the story, its characters and our fate.

Except as noted, all quotes: Hillman, James. Healing Fiction . Spring Publications. Kindle Edition.

The Story So Far

Case history: our public, outer life, a collection of facts, figures, biography and stats.

Soul history: the private interiority of identity, memory, feeling, reflections, dreams and beliefs.

In his book, Healing Fiction, James Hillman says:

“We can regard history from the viewpoint of soul. By carefully collating what happened, history digests events, moving them from case material to subtle matter. Hidden in this fantasy is a tenet of my faith: soul slows the parade of history; digestion tames appetite; experience coagulates events. I believe that had we more experiencing there would be need for fewer events and the quick passage of time would find a stop. And then I believe that what we do not digest is laid out somewhere else, into others, the political world, the dreams, the body’s symptoms, becoming literal and outer (and called historical) because it is too hard for us, too opaque, to break open and to insight.”

But neither case nor soul history ever provides a final and complete truth, much as we may imagine particular goals. It’s not that truth does not exist, or that it’s relative to other truths, but that any perspective is a limitation, including only what the lens can see and the heart is open to.

Identity, an accumulative sense through time of being myself and not another, also defines others through distinctions and likenesses, distinguishing us externally as a self among other selves.

Time marks us with habits, memories and limitations through which a distinct version of a story is imagined as fact and takes up residence in our hearts. Although the whole truth of our selves and others can never be wholly seen, we weave a continuous story through the assemblage of historical facts. Digital bits plucked out of an analog background, although never to be grasped fully, can be intuited.

Often disguised and lived through us as fact, story begins in imagination and fantasy, and presupposes an ending, a conclusion already present and working in us. Character continually forming and aiming us at our particular fate.

The stories premise is the conclusion seeking to resolve the tension inherent in living through its characters and plot.

“Therapy requires the fiction of literal realities as the primary material to work on. It must have the raw in order to cook. So we begin with a classical anamnesis. But this move is not in order to be grounded in facts, but because these factual stories are the primal matter in which the psyche of the patient is stuck.

Here is the apparently soulless abyss, the unformed, unpsychological material full of sibling data, economic figures, passage through welfare centers, aches and pains and needs, not yet “worked up” into a plot: it’s all prior to fermentation.”

Through framing our and other’s identity the story bumps against the indiscernable analog field, gathering suspense and building plot through the motion of time. Our story tells us how we got from there to here, where we are, and where we’re going. It’s the past arriving but also the present speculating on where we are going.

Is this an illusion? “From Old French illusion, from Latin illūsiō, from illūdere, from in- (“at, upon”), + lūdere (“to play, mock, trick”)” Who is the narrator and who does the story, the characters and plot serve? Is it for the sake of the end, or is it for the sake of the display of characters? What if the play, the story of our lives enacted, carries the goal within itself? A play for the sake of play, ecstasy and love.

In dreams, the dreamer’s world divides into characters to tell another story. The characters, plots and settings show us a shadow world not always congruent with our dayworld story. Here, we who would be one, divide and multiply into shadow characters and sub plots, sometimes hardly recognizable to our waking self.

Perhaps the play becomes play, ecstatic with desire and love through knowing, a) there is a story, b) someone is telling it, and c) there are characters, plots, beginnings and endings shaping your character and your fate. Through the practice of precise imaginings and retelling, you may then see how a particular premise is directing the stories conclusion. You are the author, the characters and the plot of the story of your life. But not the you sitting on the outside in the directors chair, not the digital you, but the analog you coming through you from deep within the source of the scenes.

“Healing begins when we move out of the audience and onto the stage of the psyche, become characters in a fiction (even the godlike voice of Truth, a fiction), and as the drama intensifies, the catharsis occurs; we are purged from attachments to literal destinies, find freedom in playing parts, partial, dismembered, Dionysian, never being whole but participating in the whole that is a play, remembered by it as actor of it. And the task set by the play and its god is to play a part with craft, sensitively.”

What if every aspect, each conflict, plot and sub plot were understood less as the me I think I am and more as an unseen force of character living through me? Unseen force meaning, the characters and personifications inherent in a universe much bigger than anything we can imagine, that seeks a living voice through the unique particularity and peculiarity of your circumstances.

William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) – The Youth of Bacchus (1884)Public Domain

Hillman uses the Greek god Dionysius, whose motif was that of display and drama, to help us see our lives as a participation in story, dramatic figures on a world stage, not as an illusion, but as necessary parts in the display of the greatest show there is:

“If the structure of Dionysian logic is drama, the particular embodiment of Dionysian logic is the actor; Dionysian logos is the enactment of fiction, oneself an as-if being whose reality comes wholly from imagination and the belief it imposes. The actor is and is not, a person and a persona, divided and undivided – as Dionysus was called. The self divided is precisely where the self is authentically located – contrary to Laing. Authenticity is the perpetual dismemberment of being and not-being a self, a being that is always in many parts, like a dream with a full cast. We all have identity crises because a single identity is a delusion of the monotheistic mind that ”would defeat Dionysus at all costs.”

And finally:

“We have been long led to believe that logos can be defined only by Olympian structures, by children of Zeus and Athene, or by Apollo or Hermes or Saturn – logos as form, as law, as system or mathematics. But Heraclitus said it was a flow like fire; and Jesus that it was like love. Each god has its logos, which has no single definition but is basically the insighting power of mind to create a cosmos and give sense to it. It is an old word for our worst word, consciousness. Dionysian consciousness understands the conflicts in our stories through dramatic tensions and not through conceptual opposites; we are composed of agonies not polarities. Dionysian consciousness is the mode of making sense of our lives and worlds through awareness of mimesis, recognizing that our entire case history is an enactment, “either for tragedy, comedy, history, pastoral, pastoral-comical, historical-pastoral, tragical-historical, tragical-comical-pastoral,”  and that to be “psychological” means to see myself in the masks of this particular fiction that is my fate to enact.”

All quotes from Hillman, James (2012-02-14). Healing Fiction. Spring Publications, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

 

 

Becoming the Vessel

In reviewing last week’s session of the Jung Platform’s class on James Hillman’s book, Alchemical Psychology, I want to reflect more on the place and nature of the vessel in the work. Hillman says:

“You are the laboratory; you are the vessel and the stuff going through the cooking.  So, too, the fire is an invisible heat, a psychic heat that clamors for fuel, breathing room, and regular loving consideration. How to build the heat that can dry up the soggy, soggy dew, melt the leaden oppressions, and distill a few precious drops of intoxicating clarity?”

The wrestle of Jacob - Gustave DoreSuffering can frequently be a catalyst to move us into the deeper uncharted waters in which we can, by necessity, dispose ourselves to the alchemical work. Drifting aimlessly, we’re sometimes not even sure if we are still afloat. Sometimes though we can transform our suffering, by making ourselves available to experience that dark night in which we can’t know yet where we’re going.

We must now, at least for a little while, feel the acute aloneness that comes when the world no longer makes any sense.

But until we can acknowledge the darkness around us, that the cold aloneness like an endless deep-sea has cut us off from others, with a growing fear that we may not make it back to shore, we may never need to confront the angel who waits for us to say yes to the invitation to enter into a unique cosmic wrestling match.

“In Greece, in the Asklepian temples where “patients” went to find healing by dreaming, they incubated for a period of time devoting themselves to focused brooding and right procedures in order to be blessed by a beneficent dream. In the Bible, Jonah, abandoned by his shipmates, had to remain for a time in the belly of a great whale sunk in the depths of the sea. In that darkness he generated heat, lost his hair. Solitary confinement; utter internality. This is the Nekyia, the night sea journey through the underworld made also by Odysseus, Aeneas, and Hercules, and by Eurydice, Inanna, Persephone, Psyche, by Orpheus, by Christ.”

Neither a journey for journey’s sake or to get to some place of our choosing, nor a way to fix ourselves or the world, it is perhaps a journey of necessity because reaching the edge of the sea with still no land in sight, tired, lonely and hungry, this is where you now find yourself.

“Whether this underworld is frigid and ghastly or burning with the hots of hell, it is a realm characterized by temperatures suitable only for demons, ghosts, heroes and heroines, goddesses and shades who are no longer altogether of the upper world.”

While it may be that “not all who wander are lost,” some of us will very much find ourselves leaving the upper world, without a map, a compass, or even a boat. Even our friends and family become strange to us, all is dark and everything we once thought we knew ceases to make any sense and no longer interests us. None of the old ways work anymore.

“Outsiders. Marginals. Alchemy is a profession of marginals; those at the edge. Those who live from their own fires, sweating it out, self-sustaining their own temperatures which may be at variance with the collective climate.”

In our modern world, the difficulty of the alchemical work, the profession of marginals, lies in our need and willingness to be alone, suffering until we can make our own compass, one which will chart a course of our own making. We moderns are soft, accustomed to traveling together, looking to experts to remind us to wear a seatbelt or a helmet, avoiding harm at all cost. There is much shame around getting hurt, we are to be held accountable. No longer optional, we must fill out the accident report, insurance claim, pay our liability insurance, all the while hoping to mitigate the harm done with “no-fault” policies.

Old Woman stretching out her hands to the fire - Pablo PicassoSo, how do we accept being in the margins, enough to let go of our need to be “on top of it” and in control. What will happen in accepting the invitation to wrestle the angel?

When you find yourself already at the edges, in the margins, and you know that you’ve already come too far and there is no turning back, that is when you might finally see that you have become the vessel and that you are also the substance.

In the vessel and substance that we have now become, we can prepare to do the great work. In alchemy there is first off the matter of the heat, and as the scintilla, or spark of our suffering has just lit the fire, we’ll need to turn our attention to its properties.

“If alchemy is the art of fire, and alchemists, “artists of fire,” as many texts repeat, then the alchemist must be able to “know” all the kinds of fire, degrees of fire, sources of fire, fuels of fire. And, the alchemist must be able to fight fire with fire, using his own fire to operate upon the fires with which he is operating. Working the fire by means of fire. Nature works on nature. Alchemy, an art of nature, a natural art that raises the temperatures of nature.”

All quotes from Hillman, James (2011-10-10). Alchemical Psychology (Uniform Edition of the Writings of James Hillman) Spring Publications, Inc.. Kindle Edition.