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).

Sources:

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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