Archive for the 'psychology' Category

Jul 16 2014

This Isn’t About YOU…

Some background:

I am not a psychologist. I am not a psychiatrist. I have a pretty solid knowledge base on things like Borderline and Narcissistic Personality Disorders – things I learned about the hard way. I am also pretty well-versed in Jungian thought, and have a reasonable understanding of Freud.

I have one of a handful of certifications in Dream Studies from an accredited university.  I have studied various dream work traditions, have written countless papers on dreams, written a three hundred page thesis on visitation dreams from the dead, covering the complete history of the phenomenon as viewed by anthropology, psychology, parapsychology, spiritual and religious traditions, and phenomenologically. I have presented my research at conferences and other speaking events.

I also suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, due to the above-mentioned hard-won knowledge of Borderline and Narcissistic Personality Disorders, as well as the complicated birth of my son, and the resulting issues that came with it (short version – almost lost him and his mother multiple times, he was born 10 weeks early, and spent a fair amount of time in the NICU, where if I wasn’t keeping track of his issues, I was also witness to the insanity of a multitude of issues for a number of other premature infants). We won’t even go into what my wife went through from this.

That’s her story to tell.

The meat of the matter:

Lately, I’ve noticed a  troubling pattern of behavior (I’d say “problematic” but I really hate that word in its current usage) occurring in a number of circles I travel in. Someone will ask for advice or help with a situation they have on hand.

People’s responses will make no sense.

“I’m having a problem with ____________ in my life, and I don’t know how to handle it. I could really use some advice.”

will often be met with

“Just accept that this is what the universe wants for you right now.”


“You just need to set your intentions properly!”


Meanwhile, the person asking the advice is getting no advice on how to deal with his very real, very visceral, actual problem. Instead, he is given a litany of prefabricated affirmations that don’t help him, but instead reaffirm the belief systems of those making them. “Please help me with some ideas” is now being responded to with reminders to him, and those making them, that one must believe certain things.

This is equivalent to the Jehovah’s Witnesses I once saw in Berkeley trying to get people to take Watchtowers while systematically ignoring the homeless camped out right next to them.

The platitudes, I believe, are directed more at the person making them, than the person soliciting advice. “Oh shit, bad things happen, I better remind myself that I shouldn’t go there, because my etheric body might be bruised.”  I’m not entirely sure this is a conscious process. I think, after a while, it becomes habit.

Tonight’s source of frustration (and, really, I do want to get this site back on track away from bitching about everything at some point), is a discussion wherein someone I presume to be a therapist solicited advice about helping a client who just gave birth, whose child is in the NICU, and who is having nightmares.

Hmm.  Do I know something about this?  Maaaaybe.

Originally, there weren’t many details. One person already had it figured out, though:

“I could almost guarantee that she’d be picking up on the energies in the hospital.”

So I asked for more information.  This is how I learned that things like the NICU were involved. After I found some of this out, I provided some of the background from above, and suggested:

“I know my wife and I have been dealing with PTSD for 2 and a half years now as a result of our own situation (kiddo is fine, btw), and still occasionally have nightmares dealing with material from that time. This could be a bit of a ride for her. Unfortunately, I’d say it’s also normal. I’d say deal with the trauma at hand, and don’t look for external stuff (hospital energies), otherwise you’re just avoiding what needs to be dealt with, and what is right in front of everybody’s nose.”

For still other people, the solution to the problem was simple.

“Theoretically, I would expect more permeable psychic boundaries when ill. And just imagine all those sick people with their bodies dreaming, a tapestry of pathological images that get muddled together. The chance of tapping into the images of others seems highly probable.”


“just the energy alone in a hospital, a place where people are usually ill and feeling their most vulnerable!”

and, my favorite:

“My personal experience of being in a hospital ER for a wasp sting last summer is that I left with lots of attachments – people who passed through the ER and hospital. As an energy worker and shaman I employed a friend to assist me and together we cleared the energies. This lady might want to work with someone to check and clear attachments.”

These types of responses seemed to become the norm, and I realized that nobody’s actually listening or taking into consideration the very real needs of the woman having the nightmares. Instead, what everybody was more interested in, was how badass of a “healer” they could be, because they could do things like be sensitive to energies, and clear them.

These things are great, and all, and I’ve seen some really amazing work done in this regard.

However, I think this may not be the time or the place to get excited about swooping in like the Shamanic Avenger and cleaning out the residual “hospital energies” that someone is inadvertently tuning into.  I’m sorry, but “I got stung by a wasp and I’m a shaman” does not qualify you to accurately assess this situation.

At this point, I felt compelled to try to steer this conversation back to the general vicinity of helpful:

“Not to be a colossal dick about this, but when you’ve just given birth, and your baby is in the NICU, “hospital energies” are the least of your problems, worries, or concerns. If someone had brought this up to either my wife, or myself at the time (and believe me, we’re both actually rather sympathetic to things of this nature), we probably would have punched them. If you want to go there with this person, great. But I would only do so after you’ve exhausted the angle of helping her work through the trauma. Otherwise, you’re avoiding the obvious, and ultimately doing the person no good.”

It was too late.

They all agreed that this woman’s nightmares and birth trauma were “a privileged time for dreaming” (not in the “check your privilege” sense), and her dreams are probably amazing, and wow, isn’t it great that the original poster would be able to witness them! (okay, I’m extrapolating that last part). The decided upon solution was to clear the psychic attachments that the woman had picked up from the assorted hospital energies.

I’m a little let down, if not unsurprised that rather than actually dealing with the difficult issue of this woman and her nightmares, the real interest lies more in reaffirming the particular world views of those offering the advice. “I believe in energies, and how they affect us so let’s avoid looking at trauma – because that’s scary – and offer some sort of vague externalized reason for the discomfort and pain that this person is feeling, rather than actually help them.

Becoming a psychotherapist, becoming a dream worker, even, is a seductive thing. You get to dress up and be a superhero or call yourself a shaman and feel all tingly in your etheric body. YOU HAVE POWER TO HEAL (or something).

Maybe I’m old fashioned, but going out and helping others is about them – not you. Going out and helping others, should benefit and aid them, not stroke your ego for how awesome and enlightened and powerful you are.

Because if it is, you have no business being in the business.

You help no one.

People have tried to use this approach with my wife, and with me.

It doesn’t help.

And as I said.

It just made us want to punch people.

Update: A thought has come to me this morning, which is that if one is going to posit such things as “hospital energies” and tapping into the collective traumas of those around you, would not the “healing energies” provided by the doctors, nurses, and staff have any counter-balancing effect?  Or is there a subtle suggestion that these dream-working “healers” are far superior to such things as western medicine?

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Mar 13 2014

tl;dr (New World Odor)

Published by under Personal,politics,psychology

It’s 2014, and somewhere along the way, we’ve lost our humanity, and the ability to see the (beautiful) complexity of each other’s souls.

I’m not entirely sure we ever had it, truthfully, but things seem to be hitting a fever pitch lately.

The short version is that interactions, discussions, debate, social discourse have all become about zero-sum games.

Zero-Sum Game:

A situation in which a gain by one person or side must be matched by a loss by another person or side. –The Free Dictionary

People and situations are being reduced to their most convenient (not even basic) components. We can’t even agree to disagree.

I’ve become fascinated by blind adherence to ideology, of late. Why are each of us so certain that we have the “right” answers, and everyone else is wrong? In a move that I’m sure will piss off at least a few people, I’m going to point my finger equally at the Right, the Left, Vegans, Feminists, Fundamentalists (of any religion), Integral Theorists, CSICOP, 9/11 Truthers, Tea Partiers, White Supremacists, Marxists, Fascists, Anti-Fascists, Libertarians, Objectivists, Holistic NewAge types, Anti-Vaccine people, and more.

Just because I haven’t included your particular paradigmatic belief system in this list does not make you automatically immune from what I am saying.

There is nothing sadder, in my opinion, than someone who not only claims to have all of the answers, but adamantly refuses to read or explore ideas beyond their limited worldview.

I don’t claim to have any answers, let alone “all” of the answers. I also read a lot on a variety of subjects.

The Truth!

The Truth!

Today, I got sucked into an argument with a 9/11 Truther.  I should know better.  I really should. There is nothing I can say or do that will convince him that I am anything other than one of the “sheeple.”  Because I’ve read a good chunk of the source material he’s referring to and remain unconvinced, he can only reply with

oh yeah cause it best to just eat doughnuts and scratch your dirty ass then know what your country is up to. The old “I don’t want to read or be informed of anything I have a latte chilling on the side board” argument. shallow waters evaporate quickly.

"You, for one, should welcome your new overlords!"

“You, for one, should welcome your new overlords!”

The main problem with this (besides the fact that I tend to avoid donuts) is that there’s an underlying assumption that if I just read this one thing, or just watch this one video, my mind will be blown wide open, I will see the light, I will finally realize that my entire life has been a lie.

What I find sad/entertaining/smh-inducing is that the minute someone challenges the merits of an argument, questions an assumption (or, hell, even asks a question, period), the average truther will respond with exactly this kind of rage-intensive ad hominem attack.

This tactic generally happens with fundamentalists of any ideology of belief system, by the way.

Not too long ago, I read Michael Barkun’s A Culture of Conspiracy: Apocalyptic Visions in Contemporary America (now in new, revised form!).

Aside from the obvious – that Barkun is really a shill for the New World Order (NOT) – the book offered some fascinating insight into how this sort of fundamentalism coalesces.

(Apologies for the long quote)

“[Colin] Campbell argued that cults emerge out of a supportive social and ideological environment, which he called the cultic milieu. This cultural underground encompasses [James] Webb’s concept of rejected knowledge, but is broader in two ways. First, it includes ‘all deviant belief systems,’ not merely those that find their way to occultism, though the occult remains a major component of the cultic milieu. But that milieu includes not simply beliefs and ideas but also their related practices, ‘the collectivities, institutions, individuals and media of communication associated with these beliefs.’…

“The cultic milieu is by nature hostile to authority, both because it rejects the authority of such normative institutions as churches and universities, and because no single institution within the milieu has the authority to prescribe beliefs and practices for those within it. As diverse as the cultic milieu is, however, Campbell finds in it ‘unifying tendences.’ One such tendency is its opposition to ‘dominant cultural orthodoxies.’..The very oppositional situation of the cultic millieu makes it wary of all claims to authoritative judgment. Its suspiciousness makes it intrinsically receptive to all forms of revisionism, whether in history, religion, science, or politics.

If disdain for orthodoxy is one trait of the cultic milieu, another is its fluidity. Ideas migrate easily from one part of the milieu to another, their movement facilitated by both a general receptivity to the unorthodox and a communication system of publications, meetings, and (more recently) interlinked Web sites. According to Campbell, ‘the literature of particular groups and movements frequently devotes space to topics outside its own orbit, including reviews of one another’s literature and advertises one another’s meetings. As a direct consequence of this individuals who ‘enter’ the milieu at any one point frequently travel rapidly through a variety of movements and beliefs and by so doing constitute yet another unifying force within the milieu.'” (pp. 25-26)

Stigmatized Knowledge:

“The domain of stigmatized knowledge claims may be divided into five varieties:

  • Forgotten Knowledge: knowledge once allegedly known but lost through faulty memory, cataclysm, or some other interrupting factor (e.g. beliefs about ancient wisdom once possessed by inhabitants of Atlantis)
  • Superseded Knowledge: claims that once were authoritatively recognized as knowledge but lost that status because they came to be regarded as false or less valid than other claims (e.g., astrology and alchemy).
  • Ignored Knowledge: knowledge claims that persist in low-prestige social groups but are not taken seriously by others (e.g., folk medicine).
  • Rejected Knowledge: knowledge claims that are explicitly rejected as false from the outset (e.g., UFO abductions)
  • Suppressed knowledge: claims that are allegedly known to be valid by authoritative institutions but are suppressed because the institutions fear the consequences of public knowledge or have some evil or selfish motive for hiding the truth (e.g., the alien origins of UFOs and suppressed cancer cures).

“Stigmatized knowledge appears compelling to believers not only because it possesses the cachet of the suppressed and forbidden, but because of its allegedly empirical basis. Some stigmatized knowledge appears to rest on nonempirical or antiempirical foundations – for example, knowledge claimed to derive from spiritual entities channeled through human intermediaries. To a striking extent, however, stigmatized knowledge rests on asserted empirical foundations: those who make the claims explicitly or by implication challenge others to test their facts against evidence…Yet the version of empiricism that operates in the domain of stigmatized knowledge has its own peculiar characteristics.

“In the first place, stigmatization itself is taken to be evidence of truth – for why else would a belief be stigmatized if not to suppress the truth? Hence stigmatization, instead of making a truth claim appear problematic, is seen to give it credibility, by implying that some malign forces conspired to prevent its becoming known. A presumption of validity therefore attaches to stigmatized claims, which greatly facilitates the flow of such claims through the cultic milieu…

“At the same time that stigmatization is employed as a virtual guarantee of truth, the literature of stigmatized knowledge enthusiastically mimics mainstream scholarship. It does so by appropriating the apparatus of scholarship in the form of elaborate citations and bibliographies. The most common manifestation of pedantry is a fondness for reciprocal citation, in which authors obligingly cite one another. The result is that the same sources are repeated over and over, which produces a kind of pseudoconfirmation…the multiplication of sources may leave the impression of validation without actually putting any propositions to the test.” (pp.  27-29)

I’ve noticed this trend not just in the Truther movement, but in the other areas I’ve mentioned above, as well.

Look, I get how exciting it is to believe that you’ve magically solved the riddles, that you can see through the Matrix, and that you’re one of the Enlightened Ones.  It’s an awesome feeling.  Really.  And, more importantly, I’m honestly impressed with your desire to learn, and your (albeit limited) use of critical thinking. To quote the character Twist, from Spaced, “I really see what you were trying to do.”

But unless you turn that critical thinking onto your replacement paradigm, you’ve only traded one master for another, one dogma for another – The King is Dead, Long Live the King.



I’ve read a good chunk of 9/11 literature. I’ve seen just about every variation of Loose Change. I think there are some legitimate questions. But the answers provided to these questions lead me to further questions, which people seem to panic and get defensive (if not hostile) about when I ask them.

But if your ultimate goal is to “tip us towards the Light” (whatever that means), then you’ll have to be patient with me, and understand if I (and several million others) remain unconvinced by your arguments.

I’m waiting for proof.  Innuendo, guilt-by-association, and credibility-stretching connections between people and events aren’t enough.

You have yet to convince me. I’m sorry.

Finally, I would like to add that I am again, curious, if the insistence of fundamentalists that others join their cause is to give them a better sense of security in their beliefs. Safety in numbers.

So, in the meantime, I’m going to go back to “scratching my dirty ass” and drinking my latte.

You can keep the donuts.

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Nov 12 2013

Witch Way

A piece at The Blyssful Witch crossed my path this morning: The Whitewashing of Witchery in American Neo Paganism – The Taming of the Witch.

The author writes:

To understand witchcraft we must descent into the darkness of the deepest oceans of the mind. In our efforts to avoid facing the realities of human evil, we have tamed the witch and made her comic, dressing her in a  peaked cap and setting her on a broom for the amusement of children at Halloween.

Thus made silly, she can easily be exorcised from our mind, and we can convince our children-and ourselves-that ‘there is no such thing as a witch.’

But there is, or at least there was.

I am weary of the weak witch; that watery individual who lurks on the fringes of occult studies and Crafting, proclaiming to take the ‘higher’, moralistic road and for the sake of acceptability and temperance, decides to ignore the history and origin of Witchery in its true form.

The ‘menace’ in the Craft has been taken out and replaced by bland mediocrity; a mouth with no teeth, a religion and practice with no bite, no fervor, no sting and no power.

We are pale, insipid reproductions of the Wise Women and Cunning Men of our past.

How far we have fallen.

This arrived at precisely  the right time for me.  I’ve been undergoing a prolonged case of reluctance.

This reluctance was born out of a sense of betrayal that took over my life in 2008-2009.  This reluctance made me over-reliant on approval of others who either don’t understand, will never approve, or are apathetic. What I somehow forgot in the process is that this is fine.  I don’t need their understanding, I don’t need their approval, nor do I need them to even care. My avoidance of speaking and living my truth has become detrimental to myself, and is decidedly not the example I wish to set for my son. I can no longer afford to let “what will THEY say?” be a concern.

The Blyssful Witch continues:

The white washers have replaced the fear of hell with the fear of ‘karma’ or the three-fold law coming back to bite you in the ass.

They have replaced Christ and the Virgin Mary with the Lord and Lady.

They have replaced ‘love thy neighbor’ with ‘harm ye none.’

Not much difference really. What a fucking sad state.

To quote Peter Grey, “Modern dazed paganism often makes this mistake, choosing to take the palatable aspects of an imagined past and from the fashion an escape into an unrealized fantasy…In order to protect cherished beliefs that have been proved false, we often cling to fantasies…Modern pagan witchcraft… is beginning its arc of entropic decay of locked empty postures and meaningless gestures.”

(The Peter Grey quote is from his 2013 book Apocalyptic Witchcraft published by Scarlet Imprint – note to self: track down a copy).

This has been my biggest beef with just about every “spiritual” system I have come into contact with during my time in California – or at least most of the practitioners of them.  There are four powers attributed to the Sphinx: To Know, To Will, To Dare, and To Be Silent.

I will simply say that there is a lot of noise.  A LOT.

As Lao Tzu once said: “Those who know, don’t tell. Those who tell, don’t know.”

There is a line between “shaman” and “showman.”

When your weekend “shamanic” workshop includes a session on how to read animal entrails, then I’ll consider attending.

I am no longer interested in determining who is a huckster and who believes their own bullshit.  Both are equally frivolous pursuits.

It is time to move forward.

Am I giving up on Consciousness Studies and Dream Studies?  Hell no. But I am reclaiming and redefining them on my own terms.

I have a few ideas for projects, including one that doesn’t really have a name or a clear set of parameters to it – I only know it by what I am being called to read (mostly things that Those-Who-Would-Make-Me-Reluctant would hate if I thought for a moment they even knew what some of it was) as background material. 

The Blyssful Witch writes:

I will not be lumped together in the stew of acceptability and mediocrity that has been simmering on the back burners of modern paganism for the last few decades.

Nor will I, though I’m not talking about just paganism here.

I will not bow to gods that have no power and a practice that has no teeth.

Nor will I.

It’s time to push back.

It’s what I do.

“Serenity is a problem / When you get this close to Heaven / But you really want to see / The wonders of the underworld”Jhonn Balance


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Aug 02 2013

Meditations on Sol Niger, part III

‘Mr. Makepeace, do you really turn lead into gold?’

‘No, of course not. No one can do that. But if people think you’re foolish enough to try, they don’t bother to look at what you’re really doing. They leave you in peace.’

– Philip Pullman, Lyra’s Oxford

blacksunStanton Marlan, in Part I of this series, is quoted as calling the Black Sun a “paradox.” I have found it to be an elusive and enigmatic symbol. Indeed, I have found very little written on the image proper. Most sources will mention it, and then segue into a discussion of its properties, or more often, the alchemical processes associated with it – mortificatio, nigredo,, “blackening.”

In alchemy, nigredo, or “blackening” is a beginning stage in the alchemical opus. From nigredo, we move to albedo (“whitening”), and finally to rubedo (“reddening”). An interesting exercise is to look for alchemical processes in unlikely places, such as pop culture, or lowbrow humor. I can’t help but wonder at the alchemical possibilities of the old “What’s black and white and red all over?” jokes we used to tell as children. Sadly, the punchlines are about as cryptic as alchemical manuscripts (“a penguin with diaper rash,” “a panda with sunburn,” or “a nun with a bloody nose,” to name but a few) and don’t easily surrender their secrets!

The idea behind nigredo is that the old substance must die, in order to be reborn (first, purified via albedo, and then coming into its own in rubedo). This dying process is the mortificatio. Titus Burckhardt, in his book Alchemy (1997), describes the process as follows:

At the beginning of every spiritual realization stands death, in the form of ‘dying to the world.’ Consciousness must be withdrawn from the senses and turned inward. As the ‘inner light’ has not yet risen, this turning away from the outward world is experienced as a nox profunda (p. 186).

Lest this not sound intense enough, Jungian psychologist Edward Edinger (1994) reminds us that

Mortificatio is the most negative operation in alchemy. It has to do with darkness, defeat, torture, mutilation, death, and rotting. However these dark images often lead over to highly positive ones – growth, resurrection, rebirth – but the hallmark of the mortificatio is the color black (p.148).

Coupled with the mortificatio is the putrefactio, the rotting of the dead body.

Feces, excrement, and bad odors refer to the putrefactio. The common dreams of neglected or overflowing toilets which plague puritan minded people belong to this symbolism. Odor sepulcorum (the stench of the graves) is another synonym for putrefatio…worms accompany putrefaction…(p. 157).

Given this abundance of less-than-cheerful imagery, one is led to wonder why one would wish to embrace this process. Edinger righly points out that “one rarely chooses such an experience” (p. 172).

Yet from the darkness, comes light. In fact, as we will find out alter on, one cannot actually see light, except within the context of darkness. In addition, from death (literal or figurative) comes life. As a physical organic body decomposes, it feeds and nourishes all manner of life, from bacteria, to the aforementioned worms, to predators. The “fertilizer” we put in our gardens is simply a euphemism for shit and decaying matter.

At this point in the imagined dialogue, my friends might begrudgingly concede that I have a point, and after this quick glance into the darkness, return to the light once more.  After all, solar consciousness is very attractive. Things have never been accused of going “bump” in the day.

But let us return to the darkness, utilizing “lunar” consciousness to go gently into that good night, to see a number of points of view. I agree with Stanton Marlan when he says

…alchemical texts have traditionally spoken of [the] renewal as a transition from the blackness of the nigredo to the whiteness of the albedo, but I believe we have to be careful not to interpret this white outcome of the alchemical process in terms of literal color since there is a tendency in modern culture to see white and black as opposites. The whiteness of the albedo is simultaneously a developmental step in a series of alchemical processes and the illuminating quality intrinsic in the blackness of the nigredo process. The whiteness that the alchemists speak of is not a whiteness separate from blackness. On the contrary, to understand the ‘renewal’ that ‘follows’ the nigredo, one must go beyond simple dichotomies and see into the complexity of the blackness itself (2005, p. 99).

Edinger places the blackness as relative to the shadow in Jungian psychology. “The blackness, when it is not the original condition is brought about by the slaying of something” (1994, p. 150). I think this is accurate to a degree, but only part of a much larger picture. Nigredo is a process. One could argue that shadow parts of ourselves are created when we selectively “kill” potential aspects of ourselves in favor of other potentials. Yet to restrict our interpretation of the darkness to shadow is to severely inhibit ourselves, and our understanding of the Black Sun. As Marlan states,

…darkness historically has not been treated hospitably and…has remained in the unconscious and become a metaphor for it. It has been seen primarily in its negative aspect and as a secondary phenomenon, itself constituting a shadow – something to integrate, to move through and beyond. In so doing, it’s intrinsic importance is often passed over. This attitude has also been perpetuated in alchemy, which places darkness at the beginning of the work and sees it primarily in terms of the nigredo. Yet in its usage of the black sun there is a hint of a darkness that shines (p. 12).

We need to follow the dark light of the Black Sun through all of the fractal layers of the holographic reality to truly appreciate its power. Psychological alchemy may play an important part in the process of individuation, yet if alchemy is truly “above” as well as ‘below,” then there is a larger spiritual component as well. While alchemical processes can be found in just about every spiritual system, in the next installment of this series, I would like to turn to Sufism (as a matter of personal bias) to explore these ideas further.


Burckhardt, Titus. (1997). Alchemy: Science of the Cosmos, Science of the Soul. Louisville, KY: Fons Vitae.

Edinger, Edward F. (1994). Anatomy of the Psyche: Alchemical Symbolism in Psychotherapy. Chicago: Open Court.

Marlan, Stanton. (2005). The Black Sun: The Alchemy and Art of Darkness. College Station: Texas A&M University Press.

(to be continued)

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Jul 15 2013

Meditations on Sol Niger, part II

“And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as a sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood;” – Revelation 6:12

Before we plunge into the darkness, it might be best to lay some groundwork, and mention a few key concepts, and how I will be approaching them. Some of this will seem wildly off-topic at first, but will eventually coagulate (to borrow a term), into what I hope will illustrate how I am approaching the Black Sun, and why I am approaching it the way I am.

First, we must begin with the alchemical dictum, “as above, so below.” Hermes Trismegistus tells us in the Emerald Tablet that “what is below is like that which is above, and what is above is like that which is below, to accomplish the miracles of the One Thing.” At first glance, this statement would appear rather simple. Yet, upon contemplation, one quickly begins to appreciate the statement’s finer complexities. It is unfortunate, for instance, that linguistic restrictions and conventions lock us into the directionality of only “above” and “below.” It becomes habit to equate “above” with “good” and “below” with “bad,” or at least, “not as good.” This is not helped by reading the Latin version of the Tablet, which uses “superius” for “above” and “inferius” for “below” (Edinger, 1994, p. 231).

One could attempt to interpret “as above, so below” holarchically, mapping it to a Wilber-style AQAL model, but I am not entirely convinced this would be sufficient. Despite Wilber’s best intentions, there is still qualification of some levels being more desirable than others by many people I have met in the Integral community. How Wilber and Integral Theory distorts and confuses “evolution” with “entelechy” is a conversation for elsewhere.

As I perceive it, “as above, so below” speaks to a fractal pattern, or perhaps more appropriately, a holographic model of reality.


The “Black Sun” of the Mandelbrot Set duplicates itself through “all” layers of reality, in many directions. Each pattern resonates all the way “down” as well as all the way “up.” As Above, so Below.


I will avoid a lengthy discussion of the holographic model of the universe (Bohm and Pribram) here, but do want to touch on a few key points. First, a hologram is created by interference patterns of light. These interference patterns are similar to what occurs when the ripples from two stones dropped into the same pond collide with each other.

Interference patterns such as these need not be generated only by light. Hans Jenny has done some incredible research into the construction of coherent form using sound waves. His work can be found by doing a simple web search for "Cymatics"

Interference patterns such as these need not be generated only by light. Hans Jenny has done some incredible research into the construction of coherent form using sound waves. His work can be found by doing a simple web search for “Cymatics”

An interesting and very applicable aspect of holograms is that if a hologram is destroyed, each piece of the hologram contains the information necessary to reconstruct the entire hologram. Much like the Mandelbrot sets, the information inherent in the hologram exists “above” and “below.” If reality is holographic in nature, as David Bohm, Karl Pribram, and others suggest, this presents us with a wide range of options. “This” universe we inhabit could be made of the holographic interference patterns of a certain spectrum of energies. Could there not be other spectra, as well?

To better understand this, let’s use the example of a DSL Internet connection. The idea behind DSL is that one’s copper telephone lines can actually support a number of bandwidths of energy, simultaneously. On the lower end of the bandwidth spectrum, is one’s voice signal. Copper can also conduct higher frequencies of energy at the same time, that will not interfere with the lower frequencies. Thus, one can continue to use one’s telephone lines for voice communications as well as high-speed Internet service, without having to sacrifice one for the other.

To illustrate this another way, on the freeway, there are several lanes of traffic, moving at various speeds. Yet (if all goes well), these lanes of traffic will never intersect with each other. They are all contained within the same freeway, however. Just as cars can switch lanes, I would suggest that it may be possible to tap into holographic realities created by spectra of energy that are not necessarily native to our normal “lane” of travel. Perhaps it is no different from an electron jumping from one shell to another, as it orbits a nucleus.

Just as the copper telephone wire is able to contain multiple bandwidths of energy (or the freeway, multiple lanes of traffic), perhaps there is an over-arching “omniverse” able to house different operating levels of reality based on different spectra of energy. Each “level” would contain the holographic information reflecting the reality of the omniverse.  It may be possible that it is through this sort of model that archetypes are able to operate. These other “realities” may also be those that are accessible to us in dreams, after death, through shamanic voyaging, etc., and are perhaps consistent with models put forth by the neo-Platonists, Ibn ‘Arabi, Kabbalists, multiple-universe theorists in physics, etc. This too, however, is bet left discussed elsewhere and elsewhen.

Before we set the controls for the heart of the Black Sun, I would like to address two of the archetypes (the Sun and the Moon), and our traditional ways of engaging them. Oftentimes, the terms “solar” and “lunar” are used to describe types of consciousness (or awareness). This is a dicey area, in that a strong case could be made that these are not archetypes at all, but rather animistic projections onto celestial bodies, originating with our primitive ancestors. Yet these archetypes and their associated forms of consciousness are a useful illustration for our discussion of the Black Sun.

I also find that one must exercise extreme caution when assigning gender roles to these archetypes, and to the types of consciousness they represent. While it may be popular in Jung, alchemy, and elsewhere to equate solar/male and lunar/female, I believe that if there are such things as “solar consciousness” and “lunar consciousness”, they are far more mysterious and interesting than simply “masculine” and “feminine.” Janet McCrickard, in her book Eclipse of the Sun: An Investigation into Sun and Moon Myths (1990), has written a fascinating refutation of the universality of the solar-masculine/lunar-feminine assignations, surveying traditions from around the world, where these gender roles are reversed. Interestingly, during her research, she encountered resistance not just from male academia, but from feminist and goddess-oriented groups as well. I believe her work is important, however. As she states,

To accept that the female Sun is a valid theme in the diversity of human religious thought, instead of rejecting her as a mistake, heresy, or irrelevance, has important consequences…in simple terms, the Sun Goddess by her mere occurrence challenges the rigidity of our spiritual thinking, disrupting those safe old categories by which we set such store, demanding that we pay up on our claims to be plural and holistic. In facing up to her, we thus expand our conception of what it means to be female, or male – or human (p. xxi).

I bring this up, because I will be discussing the Black Sun in terms of eclipse imagery. The eclipse and juxtaposition of solar and lunar consciousness is an event far more interesting when viewed without gender-political baggage. While there may be a precedent within alchemy to use the masculine-solar/feminine-lunar framework, I believe we can, to borrow a phrase, “transcend and include” these correlations. McCrickard’s chapter “The True Feminine” is particularly eye opening on the origins and dangers of the masculine-solar/feminine-lunar model. What happens if we look at solar and lunar consciousness through another lens?

The definition of solar and lunar consciousness that resonates the most with me, is the one provided by Christopher Bache, in his book Dark Night, Early Dawn: Steps Toward a Deep Ecology of the Mind. It is his definition that I wish to embrace in my discussion of Sol Niger. Solar consciousness, per Bache, is the light of the daytime. It allows us to explore and understand the world around us, our immediate environment, and the external world. Lunar consciousness is the illuminated night, where we can see the true sky, and realize there are other worlds, other suns, and that we are not alone. There is mystery. If the sun invites us to explore the exterior world, the moon not only allows us to know there are other worlds “out there”, but “in here”, as well. Night brings sleep, and with it, dreams, and the ability to more directly experience the imaginal realms. As above, so below.


Bache, Christopher M. (2000). Dark Night, Early Dawn: Steps Toward a Deep Ecology of the Mind. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Edinger, Edward F. (1994). Anatomy of the Psyche: Alchemical Symbolism in Psychotherapy. Chicago: Open Court.

McCrickard, Janet. (1990). Eclipse of the Sun: An Investigation into Sun and Moon Myths. Glastonbury: Gothic Image Publications.

(to be continued)


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Jul 10 2013

Meditations on Sol Niger, part I

“…true philosophers make dying their profession and find it less alarming than others…” – Plato

sunA number of years ago, I found myself at the Albatross, a bar in Berkeley. A number of us had decided to enjoy a celebratory beer or three at the end of our classes for the quarter. One of my friends brought along her boyfriend, who was not a fellow student. With a “stranger” in our midst, conversation naturally shifted to what areas of Consciousness Studies and Dream Studies held each of our interests. After explaining my interest in survival of bodily death and Visitation Dreams, I was chided by the outsider in the group for focusing on “dark” things.

“If you focus on the darkness, you will never have abundance in your life.”

According to him, light was good, and beautiful. Darkness was bad, and to be avoided. The more I sat with this conversation, the more I became angered by it. To begin with, he and I seemed to have radically different definitions of “abundance.” He believed that I could have a house (or two), cars, money, and as many women as I could possibly want, simply by giving up the darkness, and “embracing the light.” Who knew it was that simple?

As for me, I’m not even sure that “abundance” (whatever that is), is the “goal.”

More importantly, however, I believe it is sometimes too easy to fall into the darkness=bad/light=good paradigm, and to avoid the things that make us uncomfortable.

I have been accused of being “dark” most of my life. Yet, if one knows me well, they will know that ultimately I am an optimist – a frustrated optimist.

It is perhaps natural that as I studied alchemy, I found myself gravitating towards the symbol of the Black Sun, or Sol Niger. As Stanton Marlan posits in the Introduction to his book The Black Sun: The Alchemy and Art of Darkness (2005),

The black sun is  a paradox. It is blacker than black, but it also shines with a dark luminescence that opens the way to some of the most numinous aspects of psychic life (p. 5).

James Hillman also addresses the hidden treasures of the darkness, in The Dream and The Underworld (1970).

It is not difficult to transpose psychology’s conceptual mythology to the mythology of the underworld, nor is it difficult to envision the relationship between dayworld and nightworld as the hero’s descent and our modern notions of the unconscious as reflections of Tartaros and Styx, Charon and Cerberus, Hades and Pluto. Pluto, especially is important to recognize in our euphemistic references to the unconscious as the giver of wholeness, a storehouse of abundant riches, a place not of fixation in torment, but a place, if propitiated rightly, that offers fertile plenty. Euphemism is a way of covering anxiety. In antiquity, Pluto (‘riches’) was said as a euphemistic name to cover the frightening depth of Hades. Today, the ‘creative’ unconscious euphemistically conceals the processes of destruction and death in the deeps of the soul (p. 20).

Death and destruction will be important alchemical processes when we look at the image of the Black Sun, and I will address them later. It would be easy to explore the darkness and confront Sol Niger strictly as a psychological phenomenon. But in keeping with the alchemical dictum, “as above, so below,” we are severely limiting our perception if we do. We can learn from the darkness and the Black Sun on every level we find it. By doing so, we can find a much larger and more complete understanding; one that will ultimately show that there is no need to fear the dark or what may be lurking in the shadows. Jung(1989) himself encourages us, advising us that “the darkness has its own peculiar intellect and its own logic, which should be taken very seriously” (p. 255).


Hillman, James. (1979). The Dream and the Underworld. New York: Harper Perennial.

Jung, Carl G. (1989). Mysterium Coniunctionis. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Marlan, Stanton. (2005). The Black Sun: The Alchemy and Art of Darkness. College Station: Texasa A&M University Press

(to be continued)


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