Dancing with the cycles of death and resurrection – a scholarly and a personal take.
Part One: The initiation rite as the alchemical process, sensuality as the alchemical elixir.
As we are collectively finding ourselves, still, in a massive descent/death journey, with new, more potent strains of the virus arising, with our freedom of movement continuing to be impeded, with natural disasters on the rise globally, with increased financial and health strain on all populations, there is a natural propensity to try and make sense of it all and to find meaning within it all: it has now become a necessity for the sake of our sanity and the continuation of life on Earth.
In the following six-part blog series, I will be sharing my perspective in relation to the universal life/death/life cycle as an initiation rite and descent/ascent journey, which at its root, and has always had, and forever will, hold the intention of alchemy. Based on this, I will provide anecdotes of my own personal journey of the past year, with subsequent interpretation using depth psychology discourse. The aim is to inspire the reader to partake in the alchemical potentiality of the chaos we found ourselves in, by way of transformation, transmutation and ultimately transfiguration.
Each one of us can safely say that we have been through at least a couple of cycles of life/death/life ourselves, and that with each metaphorical death and resurrection, we came out “changed” on the other side. Aside from taking the inevitable aging process into account, this process of “soul forging” is all the more evident when we considered ourselves as we currently are, in comparison to one, five, ten or twenty years ago. Regardless of where we are individually on this journey, the life/death/life cycle is alchemical in nature and transformative in principle, and it acts as a process. Alchemy can be defined as the process of taking something ordinary and turning it into something extraordinary, sometimes in a way that cannot be explained. In the context of spiritual alchemy, in order for a journey to be truly alchemical as an initiation rite, it is required that the initiate displays high levels of endurance:
In the words of Clarissa Pinkoles Estes, 'The Handless Maiden is about a woman's initiation into the underground forest through the rite of endurance. The word endurance sounds as though it means "to continue without cessation," and while this is an occasional part of the tasks underlying the tale, the word endurance also means "to harden, to make robust, to strengthen," and this is the principal thrust of the tale, and the generative feature of a woman's long psychic life. We don't just go on to go on. Endurance means we are making something.'
The Great Work of Alchemy, as explored and documented at great lengths by Carl Jung, is often described as a series of four stages represented by colours:
1) nigredo, a blackening or melanosis 2) albedo, a whitening or leucosis 3) citrinitas, a yellowing or xanthosis 4) rubedo, a reddening, purpling, or iosis
These four stages can be likened to the four difficult tasks which, in the Greek story of Psyche and Eros, Psyche committed to, for the sake of “qualifying” as being a worthy wife to Eros. It was through these tasks that Psyche (a metaphor for the Soul) evolved and transfigured from an unripe soul to a ripe soul. Only once Psyche went through the alchemical process of engaging with each of the four tasks, and succeeding at that with the help of spirit animals, was she declared fit to be Eros’s lawful wife and was she granted the boon of transfiguration from mortal woman to Goddess, by means of the ambrosia offered to her. Accordingly the alchemical process then involves the distillation of the useful out of poison, in other words harvesting the good from a challenging situation and in doing so, being transformed, transmuted and transfigured as a result.
Some clarity around the use of these terms may be useful: To transform has been defined as to make a marked change in the form, nature, or appearance of; to change completely the appearance or character of something or someone, especially so that that thing or person is improved. Transmutation on the other hand, involves a complete change from one thing into another. Yet still, the word transfigured is derived from the Greek verb ‘metamorphoo’, meaning “changed in form” or “transformed.” This implies that to transfigure is to be transformed into something more beautiful or elevated – a metamorphosis has taken place, based on being exalted, glorified, or spiritually changed. The process of spiritual alchemy draws on the phenomena of transformation and transmutation and the end-product of alchemy is that of being resurrected as a transfigured (an exalted, immortal) being, not unlike the story of Jesus’s death and resurrection.
After having buried what no longer serves you in the ground and proclaiming new life, you have accrued soul force or dark matter on the alchemical journey. In essence, as a transfigured being, you are still the same person with the same attributes, likes/dislikes, family of origin, etc., but now there are more octaves to you as you soul has been galvanised. Throughout his novella The Great Return, Arthur Machen describes how one perceives life as a transfigured being: “eyes that had been growing dim now saw clearly, and saw a world that was like Paradise. Through a transformation of their senses…..to witness that which is always present, but unseen- the doxified (or glorified) reality of creation.”.
Here’s to drinking the alchemical elixir of immortality, in embracing life as a beautiful and sensual experience, regardless of circumstance! Perhaps with these accompanying pictures you will notice the manifestation of spiritual alchemy in form, from me being a somewhat naïve student twelve years ago, to present day time, as a more refined being on a spiritual quest of service and love. To be continued in Part two….